Scrolls in the database have been grouped into twenty-two categories based upon their content and likely function. Descriptions of these categories and suggestions for additional reading on each can be found below.


Amulet rolls are written objects that function without the act of reading. Though they contain writing, these rolls are intended to be worn or carried in order to deliver their owner from evil such as disease or demons. One common use of amulets was in the form of birth girdles designed to aid in childbirth. The content of these rolls could include prayers, charms, magical images, depictions of saints, and copies of the psalms. Amulet rolls do not have consistent dimensions. Some are meters long and others are only as long as ten centimeters. This variation is due to the fact that these rolls are meant to be transported tightly rolled in special capsae containers (sing. capsa). Amulet rolls were used across Europe and were written in Latin as well as vernacular European languages. The amulet rolls in our database span the 13th to the 17th centuries.

For further reading, please consult:

Stork, Hans-Walter. “Spätmittelalterliche Gebetsbücher in Rollenform in Überlieferung Und Bild.” Gutenberg Jahrschrift 20 (2010): 43–78.

Skemer, Don C. Binding Words: Textual Amulets in the Middle Ages. Magic in History. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006, 214-217, plate on p. 214.

Skemer, Don C. “Amulet Rolls and Female Devotion in the Late Middle Ages.” Scriptorium 55 (2001): 197–227.

ARCHIVAL ROLLS (see also Legal and Financial Rolls)

Archival rolls contain important records meant to be preserved. Such rolls commemorate spectacles and official events. The scroll format adds importance to such records. Examples of archival scrolls include the marriage certificate of 10th-century Byzantine Empress Theophano and the Swan Roll of Norfolk, a record of the owners of each swan in the Broadland Area of England. Archival rolls take on a number of physical features but most are likely to contain illustrations or enhanced length as a means of heightening their commemorative effect.

For further reading, please consult:

Ticehurst, N.F. “The Swan-Marks of West Norfolk.” Transactions of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society 12, no. 5 (1929): 581–630.

ARMA CHRISTI (see Prayer Rolls)

Arma Christi (lit. “weapons of Christ”) rolls contain prayers in verse which correspond to each of the wounds of Christ’s Passion. The most common of these is the “O Vernicle” prayer praising Christ for his suffering and asking for protection from sins. In addition to their prayers, Arma Christi rolls also serve multimedia functions. Some of them are measured to be the length of Christ’s body and most contain illustrations with images of the weapons used to wound Christ. Just as the length of the Arma Christi roll reflects Christ’s body, so too the images of weapons are drawn to scale. The wounds of Christ may also be the subject of life-sized illuminations. The use of the scroll as a medium for these documents allows illustrations of the wounds of Christ to be seamlessly fitted alongside the text without the need to turn a page to continue a prayer or find the next wound. Arma Christi rolls are typically written in English verse, though they can also be found in Latin and Dutch. Most were made in the 15th and 16th centuries.

For further reading, please consult:

Edsall, Mary Agnes. “Arma Christi Rolls or Textual Amulets?: The Narrow Roll Format Manuscripts of ‘O Vernicle,’” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 9, no. 2 (2014): 178–209.

Robbins, R. H. “The ‘Arma Christi’ Rolls,” The Modern Language Review 34, no. 3 (1939): 415–21.


Calendar rolls contain organized depictions of the days of the week or the days of each month. Along with their primary function of displaying calendrical data, these rolls often include astronomical tables or almanac information. Others use their calendars for prognostication about future events. As a result of these characteristics, some calendar rolls read horizontally rather than vertically. This atypical orientation could result from aesthetic rather than practical considerations. The calendar rolls within the database span the 13th to 16th century and appear in Latin, Dutch, and Middle English.

For further reading, please consult:

Bühler, Curt F. “Prayers and Charms in Certain Middle English Scrolls”, Speculum 39 (1964), 270-287.

CHRONICLES (see also Trees of Christ)

Chronicling the past was a common function for scrolls in the Middle Ages. These rolls describe a succession of events or persons in one or multiple timelines. The scroll is an excellent writing format for such documents, communicating information without page breaks and allowing future information to be added to the end of the roll. Chronicle rolls are among the longest scrolls and many contain illustrations alongside their text. Lists of popes and emperors abound among these rolls. Chronicle rolls in the database have been dated from the 11th to the 16th century and appear in German, Latin, French and English.

A special category is the French “Chronique universelle,” which, give a history of the entire world which usually begins at Genesis and ends in the year in which the scroll was created. These scrolls reference important biblical events such as the Great Flood and the Nativity as well as historical events such as the Fall of Troy and the Empire of Charlemagne. Typically, the World Chronicle Roll demonstrates a genealogical lineage of the region’s current rulers alongside of the important biblical figures such as Adam and Eve. World Chronicle Rolls are frequently some of the most lavishly illustrated and largest scrolls. Most contain large roundel illustrations corresponding to the text of major events. The largest World Chronicle Roll is 1775 cm long and 65 cm wide. World Chronicle Rolls are typically found in Latin or French. None are dated before the 15th century.

For further reading, please consult:

Carlino, Laura. Cronache universali in rotulo nel tardo Medioevo: la storia per immagini nel ms. 258 della Biblioteca statale di Cremona. Rome: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 1997.

Cleaver, Laura. “Past, Present and Future for Thirteenth-Century Wales: Two Diagrams in British Library, Cotton Roll XIV.12.” Electronic British Library Journal, 2013, 1–26.

Davis, Lisa Fagin. La Chronique Anonyme Universelle: reading and writing history in fifteenth-century France. London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2014.


Scrolls classified as Dramatic are those containing plays and actors’ roles. Some containing the parts of all characters of a play whereas others only have a portion of a larger work. Such rolls could have been used as a portable and lightweight tool for rehearsal or performance. The rolls represented here are written in various languages and come from the 13th to the 16th century.

For further reading, please consult:

Lalou, Elizabeth. “Les Rolets de Théâtre: Étude Codicologique” in Actes Du 115e Congrès National Des Sociétés Savantes, Avignon, 1990, 51–71. Paris: Editions du CTHS, 1991.

Ranke, Friedrich, ed. Das Osterspiel von Muri, Nach Den Alten Und Neuen Fragmenten Herausgegeben. Aarau: H.R. Sauerlander, 1944.


Ecclesiastical rolls, as their name indicates, are scrolls which primarily contain Church matters and records. A potential effect of keeping Church records on rolls is that they connect the present document written in roll format with the previous centuries of the Church when the scroll was the primary writing medium in use. The Ecclesiastical Rolls in the database, which span the 10th through the 14th century, contain various materials such as the elections to bishoprics, lists of relics, notes from Church councils, and codes of Canon Law.


Elizabethan New Year’s Gift rolls record the gifts given and received by Queen Elizabeth of England as a part of the New Year’s ceremonial gift exchange between the Crown and English nobles. This ceremony began in the mid-thirteenth century, but it was the Tudors who started to archive the exchanged gifts. The New Year’s Gift rolls from Queen Elizabeth stand out in their consistent format and serve as important records of economic conditions. Our database contains twenty-eight Elizabethan New Year’s Gift Rolls, all written in English, ranging in date from 1559 to 1603.

For further reading, please consult:

Roberts, W. A. Elizabethan Court Rolls of Stokenham Manor in South Devon, 1560-1602. Kingsbridge: WA Roberts, 1984.


Two types of Royal Genealogical Rolls are found in numbers significant enough to warrant their own categories among all other Medieval Scrolls, French and British Royal Genealogies. These rolls trace the lineages of British and French kings from a variety of different starting points ranging from Adam and Eve to Saxon lords. Many of these rolls contain elaborate illustrations of parallel familial genealogies covering centuries of history. Genealogical rolls can be very long, and are one of the most common forms of medieval scrolls. The medium of the scroll is ideal for emphasizing unbroken lines of succession and for adding additional sections to the document, should the need arise. The text of these rolls, which may be written in Latin, French or English, is often written around roundels containing images of rulers.

For further reading, please consult:

Anglo, Sidney. The British History, in Early Tudor Propaganda. Manchester: John Rylands Library, 1961.

Tyson, Diana B. “The Manuscript Tradition of Old French Prose Brut Rolls,” Scriptorium 55 (2001): 107–18, BL4.


Heraldic Rolls or Rolls of Arms document and display the coats of arms of noble families. This heraldry may or may not be accompanied by text explaining the imagery or naming the houses.

For further reading, please consult:

London, H. S. Rolls of Arms of Henry III. Aspilogia, III. London: Society of Antiquaries, 1957.

Wagner, Anthony. A Catalogue of English Medieval Rolls of Arms. Aspilogia I. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2009, pp. 14-16.


Especially in England, but also elsewhere, official records were kept on rolls. Chancery, exchequer, court and other rolls preserve official decrees, records, and statues. Petent rolls, Close rolls, Charter rolls, and Fine rolls, are among the official documents of English administration. These rolls are not generally included in this database, which seeks to survey literary rolls.
Of note is the Exchequer style of Statute Roll, composed of several membranes laid on top of one another, all attached to the same umbilicus along the top margin of each sheet. Like manor court rolls, these function by flipping the pages around the central umbilicus to locate the desired information.

For further reading, please consult:

Skemer, Don C. “From Archives to the Book Trade: Private Statute Rolls in England, 1285-1307.” Journal of the Society of Archivists 16 (1995): 193–206.


Liturgical Rolls contain the prayers and instructions for ritual use in the liturgy. Most of these formulations can be found elsewhere in codex form. Pontifical rolls record specific episcopal rites. The south Italian Exultet rolls, often elaborately decorated, contain the blessing of the candle for the vigil of Easter. Liturgical Rolls can be found both in Greek and in Latin as well as in other Western European languages and range from the 10th to the 16th centuries.

For further reading, please consult:

Cavallo, Guglielmo, Giulia Orofino, and Oronzo Pecere, eds. Exultet: Rotoli Liturgici Del Medioevo Meridionale. Rome: Istituto poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Libreria dello Stato, 1994.

Kelly, Thomas Forrest. The Exultet in Southern Italy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Suski, Andrzej Wojciech, Giacomo Baroffio, and Manlio Sodi. “Rotoli Liturgici Medievali (Secoli VII-XV). Censimento E Bibliografia,” Rivista Liturgica 101, no. 3 (2014): 603–21.


Map or Guide rolls encompass scrolls which provide directions and instructions for reaching destinations and also informational geographic maps. Among such rolls are Pilgrimage rolls. These particular map rolls sometimes tell the tale of a pilgrim’s journey to holy sites; others are guides which give geographical and directional information to assist would-be pilgrims on their own journeys. Other kinds of rolls list wondrous or important sites within specific cities such as Rome. The rolls in the database are written in Latin and French.

For further reading, please consult:

Bosio, Luciano. La Tabula Peutingeriana. Rimini: Maggioli, 1983.


These rolls often they employ complex diagrams and elaborate illustration. The choice of the scroll as the support for writing was surely to enhance the appearance of these documents as authoritative or ancient. The so-called Ripley alchemical scrolls are elaborately illustrated. The Medical and Alchemical Rolls in the database are typically English in origin. They originate between the 11th and 16th centuries.

For further reading, please consult:

McCallum, R. Ian. “Alchemical Scrolls Associated with George Ripley.” In Mystical Metal of Gold, edited by Stanton J. Linden (New York: AMS Press, 2007), pp. 161–88.

McCallum, R. Ian. “The Ripley Scroll of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.” Vesalius 2 (1996): 39–49.;


Mortuary Rolls were created at the death of an abbot, abbess, bishop or other esteemed member of a religious community. The roll was be circulated by a courier to other monastic communities or churches in the region; at each stop, prayers and requests for prayer were added. There are over 170 Mortuary Rolls and fragments cataloged in the database mostly originating from French, English or Italian religious communities. The longest of these rolls is almost 13 meters in length. These rolls date from the 9th century to the 16th century.

For further reading, please consult:

Dufour, Jean. Les Rouleaux Des Morts. 4 Vols. Monumenta Palaeographica Medii Aevi. Series Gallica. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009.


Music Rolls are so named because they contain musical notation. They are distinguished here from Liturgical Rolls when their content is not liturgical in nature. Music Rolls in the database date from the 13th to the 15th century and contain texts in German, Latin, French and English.

For further reading, please consult:

Kügle, Karl. “Two Abbots and a Rotulus: New Light on Brussels 19606.” In Quomodo Cantabimus Canticum? Studies in Honor of Edward H. Roesner, ed. D.B. Cannata, G. Ilnitchi Currie, R.C. Mueller, and J.L. Nádas. Middleton, WI: American Institute of Musicology, 2008, pp. 145–85.

Hoppin, Richard H. “A Musical Rotulus of the Fourteenth Century,” Revue Belge de Musicologie 9 (1955): 131-142.

Hohler, Christopher. “Reflections on Some Manuscripts Containing 13th Century Polyphony.” Journal of Plainsong and Medieval Music Society 1 (1978): 2–38.


Poetry Rolls are those scrolls which hold poetic content, either a single long text or a collection of poems. One of these scrolls, British Library add. MS 23988, displays several poems in different hands written on both sides of the scroll. The longest scroll in the database stands at 182 centimeters. Poetry Rolls in the database span the 12th to the 15th centuries and are written in English, Latin, French and German.

For further reading, please consult:

Schröbler, Ingeborg. “Zur Überlieferung Des Mittelateinischen Gedichts von ‘Ganymed Und Helena.’” In Unterscheidung Und Bewahrung. Festschrift Für Hermann Kunisch Zum 60. Berlin: Walter de Gruyber, 1961, 321-330.

Rouse, Richard H. “Roll and Codex: The Transmission of the Works of Reinmar von Zweter.” In Paläographie 1981: Colloquium Des Comité International de Paléographie. München, 15.-18. September 1981, edited by Gabriel Silagi, 107–23, XI – XV pl. Münchener Beiträge Zur Mediävistik Und Renaissance-Forschung 32. Munich: Arbeo-Gesellschaft, 1982.


Prayer Rolls are so named because their main contents takes the form of prayers for devotional (as opposed to liturgical) use. They are distinct from Amulet Rolls when their efficacy rests in the recitation of prayers and not the transport of the scroll itself. Prayer Rolls hold many types of prayers including pleas for the intercession of particular saints, penitential psalms and litanies, and prayers to be said at certain holy sites.. Prayer rolls come from the 14th and 15th centuries and are written in Latin, Dutch, French, and English.

A particular group of prayers rolls are the Arma Christi Rolls (see above).

For further reading, please consult:

Collins, A. J. “A Book of Hours in Roll Form,” The British Museum Quarterly 4, no. 4 (1930): 111.

Drimmer, Sonja. “Beyond Private Matter: A Prayer Roll for Queen Margaret of Anjou,” Gesta 53, no. 1 (2014): 95–120.


Some scrolls contain recipes for the preparation and cooking of food. These Recipe Rolls can hold over a hundred recipes for sauces, meats and other dishes. The scroll format, useful because it can be extended, has evident drawbacks in the kitchen. The Recipe Rolls in the database come from the 13th and 15th centuries and are written in French and English.

For further reading, please consult:

Hieatt, Constance B., and Sharon Butler, eds. Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.


Statute Rolls are legal documents on which are recorded the legislations and laws of communities or individual Lords. These scrolls can either serve as the official institution of statutes or as evidence of a judgment between two parties. There are many Statute Rolls in existence, but only a few are located in this database. This is due to the small literary value of Statute Rolls since most of these scrolls are created for record keeping purposes only. Of note, however, is the Exchequer style of Statute Roll found in 14th century England. These scrolls are composed of several membranes laid on top of one another, all attached to the same umbilicus along the top margin of each sheet. These scrolls function by flipping the pages around the central umbilicus to locate the desired information.

For further reading, please consult:

Skemer, Don C. “From Archives to the Book Trade: Private Statute Rolls in England, 1285-1307.” Journal of the Society of Archivists 16 (1995): 193–206.


Scrolls featuring Trees of Christ (or Genealogia Christi,) explain the ancestry of Christ to their readers either through a list of names or by a series of genealogical images. One form of these scrolls is particularly noteworthy, the “Compendium Historiae” of Peter of Poitiers (Petrus Pictaviensis). The Compendium contains a series of drawings designed educate clerics in biblical history. Trees of Christ can be found dating between the 12th to 16th centuries. Most are written in Latin.

For further reading, please consult:

Cahn, Walter. “The Allegorical Menorah,” in Tributes in Honor of James H. Marrow: Studies in Painting and Manuscript Illumination of the Late Middle Ages and Northern Renaissance, ed. by Jeffrey F. Hamburger and A. S. Korteweg (London: Harvey Miller, 2006), pp. 117–26.

Monroe, William H. “A Roll Manuscript of Peter of Poitiers’ Compendium,” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, no. 65 (1978): 92–107.

Moore, Philip S. The Works of Peter of Poitiers, Master in Theology and Chancellor of Paris (1193-1205). Notre Dame, IN: The University of Notre Dame, 1936.


In this category are scrolls which do not fit into other classifications. Some of the scrolls listed as Varia Rolls in the database include a swordplay instruction scroll, a scroll predicting the future, and a record of a Templar trial.


Vitae Rolls are scrolls which record the lives of saints. These scrolls usually contain illustrations depicting scenes from the saint’s life alongside a narrative text. They can be oriented either horizontally or vertically, and they can be either very long or very short. Vitae in the database are found in the 11th through 14th centuries. Most are composed in Latin.

For further reading, please consult:

Branner, Robert, “The Saint-Quentin Rotulus.” Scriptorium 21 (1967): 252–60.

Buccolo, Marco, “Un antico antifonario sul verso del Rotulo di San Teobaldo,” Alba Pompeia 10 (n.d.): 82–90.