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An invaluable research tool for all those scholars and libraries interested in the writers, texts and manuscripts of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. Those who are interested in the writers, texts and manuscripts of Antiquity and the Middle Ages know how difficult it is to identify a particular work encountered by chance in a manuscript, or, when studying or publishing a particular text, to make an inventory of all the manuscripts in which it appears. These difficulties arise primarily from the manner in which literary works circulated prior to the invention of printing. Before Gutenberg, the text had a life of its own, independent of its author, and was modified from copy to copy. It is not only the text that changed; titles might vary and authorial attributions could shift. There was a tendency to ‘lend only to the rich’, and Ovid, St Augustine and St Bernard found themselves credited with a host of apocrypha. The incipit or first words of a work thus remain the surest means of designating it unambiguously. In a sense, the incipit, by virtue of its invariability, is the identity card of the text. Standing apart from the diversity of attributions and titles, the incipit guarantees the presence of a particular text.

Aims and Scope

The incipit serves as a link between the text and the manuscript.

The search software of In Principio enables to answer two main questions about the incipit:

  1. who is the author and what is the title of the text?
  2. which manuscripts contain the text?
In Principio database: screenshot of an Incipit

In Principio: view of an Incipit

Key features

  • Over one million records from three major institutions and libraries, supplemented with a growing number of individual collections
  • Partners: the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
  • Approximately 25,000 new entries each year
  • A search screen providing guidance by offering ten search fields that enable precise searching
  • Multilingual search interface (English, French, German)


In Principio is realised in partnership with the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (Paris, France), the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library (Collegeville, MN, USA) and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France).


English version (PDF)

Subscriptions and contact information

Please contact Brepols Publishers for:

  • a 30-day free trial period for institutional users
  • a price quotation
  • details on, or a specimen of, the licence agreement

Contact information:

Brepols Publishers
Begijnhof 67
B – 2300 Turnhout / Belgium
Fax: +32-14-428919

Related blog Posts

For more information or news, please go to the blog Posts.

Related Databases

See also the Library of Latin Texts.



© 2017, Functional Design :Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes, Hill Monastic Manuscript Library and Brepols Publishers S.A.

© 2017, Database : IRHT, HMML and Bibliothèque nationale de France
© 2017, Publication Rights : Brepols Publishers S.A.

Terms and conditions

Terms and conditions.

For more information:


Can be found here (PDF).

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