The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a book hand used in ancient Slavonic manuscripts; it was written in the Cyrillic alphabet with letters of a precise, geometric form. There were different varieties of ustav in different epochs and areas. The oldest extant Cyrillic texts of the East and South Slavs were written in ustav; these included the East Slavic Ostromir Gospel, Arkhangel’sk Gospel, and Mstislav Charter and the South Slavic Savvina Kniga, Codex Suprasliensis, and Enino Apostle. Ustav was originally used for religious service books and edifying books as well as for gramoty (letters and official documents).

In Old Russian manuscripts of the 11th and 12th centuries the ustav book hand, written on parchment, was severe and elegant in form. The lines were straight and the letters symmetrical and evenly spaced. In the 13th century some of the letters acquired new shapes: the tops of the letters B(V), K, and Ж (Zh) became shorter and the crossbars of the letters N, H, Ustav, ѥ, and Ѥ(Iu) were raised. The number of abbreviations with tituli and long letter (ascending or descending) increased. In the 14th century a new type of ustav appeared, based on the innovations of the preceding century; its letters were slightly higher and narrower.

Ustav was the predominant book hand in Old Russia until the late 14th and early 15th centuries; beginning in the 15th century it was replaced by poluustav. In South Slavic Cyrillic texts the ustav letters often sloped to the right, variant forms of certain letters were used, and older forms of the letters were retained longer.

The book hand of the oldest Slavonic manuscripts written in Glagolitic—the Kiev Fragments, Codex Zographensis, and Codex Marianus—is also considered to be ustav. In Russian writings on Greek paleography the uncial book hand with its vertical, separated letters is called ustav. The script of the Russian beresto writings (letters and documents written on birchbark) is also considered to be a type of ustav. The Soviet philologist E. F. Karskii used the term “new ustav” to refer to the painstaking, formal handwriting used in richly illuminated and bound books of the 15th to 17th centuries; these were normally made not with parchment but paper.


Lavrov, P. A. Paleograficheskoe obozrenie kirillovskogo pis’ma u iuzhnykh slavian. Petrograd, 1914–16.
Karskii, E. F. Slavianskaia kirillovskaia paleografiia. Leningrad, 1928.
Cherepnin, L. V. Russkaia paleografiia. Moscow, 1956. (Contains bibliography.)
Tikhomirov, M. N., and A. V. Murav’ev. Russikaia paleografiia. Moscow, 1966.
Shchepkin, V. N. Russkaia paleografiia, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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