4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Manuscripts & Manuscript Copying Timeline


8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

The Oldest-Known List of Titles and Occupations Circa 3,200 BCE

A proto-cuneiform clay tablet (VAT 15003) from the Eana (Eanna) district, Uruk IV period, preserved in The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, records the oldest-known version of a list of titles and occupations, known as the Standard Occupations List. 

"Such lists, known as 'lexical lists,' were used to train scribes and also served to organize knowledge. This scribal exercise from the early Uruk IV writing stage represents what was apparently a favorite version of such compilations. it content was copied many times in the subsequent Uruk III period (about 180 frams of it are preserved), and it was the model for numerous mofied and exapned forms of such lists. The popularity of such standardized lists is indicated by  the fact that they were repeatedly copied and recopied down through the Akkadian dynasty (twenty-third century BC) nearly a millennium after their creation" (Woods, Teeter, Emberling (eds) Visible Language. Inventions of Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond [2010] No. 46, with color images of obverse, reverse and a composite drawing of the archaic lexical list).

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The Oldest Known Medical Papyrus Circa 1,800 BCE

The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus (also Kahun Papyrus, Kahun Medical Papyrus, or UC 32057) is the oldest known medical text on papyrus. It was found at El-Lahun, Egypt (Faiyum, Kahun, كاهون‎) by Flinders Petrie in 1889  and first translated by F. Ll. Griffith in 1893 and published in The Petrie Papyri: Hieratic Papyri from Kahun and Gurob.

The papyrus concerns women's complaints—gynaecological diseases, fertility, pregnancy, and contraception. "The text is divided into thirty-four sections, each section dealing with a specific problem and containing diagnosis and treatment, no prognosis is suggested. Treatments are non surgical, comprising applying medicines to the affected body part or swallowing them. The womb is at times seen as the source of complaints manifesting themselves in other body parts."

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“Accurate Reckoning for Inquiring into Things, and the Knowledge of All Things, Mysteries . . .All Secrets” Circa 1,650 BCE

The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus. (View Larger)

Dating from the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt, the Rhind Mathematial Papyrus is the most significant document of Egyptian mathematics. It was copied by the scribe Ahmes from a now-lost text from the reign of Amenemhat III (12th dynasty). The manuscript  is 33 cm tall and over 5 meters long, and is written in hieratic script. It is dated  Year 33 of the Hyksos king Apophis and also contains a separate later Year 11 on its verso likely from his successor, Khamudi.

"In the opening paragraphs of the papyrus, Ahmes presents the papyrus as giving 'Accurate reckoning for inquiring into things, and the knowledge of all things, mysteries...all secrets'."

Alexander Henry Rhind, a Scottish antiquarian, purchased the papyrus in 1858 in Luxor, Egypt.  It was apparently found during illegal excavations in or near the Ramesseum. The British Museum acquired it in 1864 along with the Egyptian Mathematical Leather Roll, also owned by Rhind.

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The Oldest Surgical Treatise Circa 1,600 BCE

The Edwin Smith Papyrus, the most detailed and sophisticated of the extant medical papyri, is the only surviving copy of part of an ancient Egyptian textbook on trauma surgery, and the world's oldest surgical treatise. Written in the hieratic script of the ancient Egyptian language,  it is based on material from a thousand years earlier. It consists of a list of 48 traumatic injury cases, with a description of the physical examination, treatment and prognosis of each. When the papyrus was discovered it was about 15 feet long in roll or scroll form.  In 1862 it was purchased in Luxor, Egypt by Edwin Smith, an American Egyptologist and collector and dealer in antiquities. Sometime in the 19th century it was cut into 17 columns. Coincidentally, Smith was born in Connecticut in 1822 – the same year Egyptian hieroglyphic was decoded by Champollion. After Smith's death in 1906 his daughter donated the papyrus to New York Historical Society. From 1938 through 1948, the papyrus was at the Brooklyn Museum. In 1948, the New York Historical Society and the Brooklyn Museum presented the papyrus to the New York Academy of Medicine, where it is preserved today. 

"The text begins by addressing injuries to the head, and continues with treatments for injuries to neck, arms and torso, where the text breaks off. Among the treatments are closing wounds with sutures (for wounds of the lip, throat, and shoulder), preventing and curing infection with honey and mouldy bread, and stopping bleeding with raw meat. Immobilisation was often advised for head and spinal cord injuries, which is still in practice today in the short-term treatment of some injuries. The use of magic for treatment is resorted to in only one case (Case 9).

"The papyrus also describes anatomical observations in exquisite detail. It contains the first known descriptions of the cranial sutures, the meninges, the external surface of the brain, the cerebrospinal fluid, and the intracranial pulsations. The papyrus shows that the heart, vessels, liver, spleen, kidneys, ureters and bladder were recognized, and that the blood vessels were known to be connected to the heart. Other vessels are described, some carrying air, some mucus, while two to the right ear are said to carry the breath of life, and two to the left ear the breath of death. The physiological functions of organs and vessels remained a complete mystery to the ancient Egyptians."

♦ You can scroll through a virtual scroll of the Edwin Smith papyrus on the website of the National Library of Medicine at http://archive.nlm.nih.gov/proj/ttp/flash/smith/smith.html. When you click on the text button on the site you see the new translation of that portion of the papyrus made by James P. Allen of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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The Most Extensive Record of Ancient Egyptian Medicine Circa 1,550 BCE

Papyrus Ebers (View Larger)

Written in Hieratic, the 110 page Papyrus Ebers is the most extensive surviving record of ancient Egyptian medicine.  "It contains many incantations meant to turn away disease-causing demons and there is also evidence of a long tradition of empirical practice and observation.

"The papyrus contains a treatise on the heart. It notes that the heart is the center of the blood supply, with vessels attached for every member of the body. The Egyptians seem to have known little about the kidneys and made the heart the meeting point of a number of vessels which carried all the fluids of the body — blood, tears, urine and sperm.

"Mental disorders are detailed in a chapter of the papyrus called the Book of Hearts. Disorders such as depression and dementia are covered. The descriptions of these disorders suggest that Egyptians conceived of mental and physical diseases in much the same way.

"The papyrus contains chapters on contraception, diagnosis of pregnancy and other gynaecological matters, intestinal disease and parasites, eye and skin problems, dentistry and the surgical treatment of abscesses and tumors, bone-setting and burns."

Edwin Smith, who also owned the Edwin Smith Papyrus, bought the Ebers Papyrus in 1862. It was said to have been found between the legs of a mummy in the Assassif district of the Theban necropolis. It remained in Smith's collection until at least 1869 when it was offered for sale in the catalog of an antiquities dealer, described as "a large medical papyrus in the possession of Edwin Smith, an American farmer of Luxor." It was purchased in 1872 by the German Egyptologist and novelist Georg Ebers, and is preserved in the University of Leipzig Library.

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In Ancient Egypt Only the "Book of the Dead" Papyri Were Commercially Produced Circa 1,550 BCE – 50 BCE

Detail from the Papyrus of Ani, showing Ani and his wife entering at left.  Please click to see complete image.

Detail of image showing cursive hieroglyphs.  Please click to see complete image.

Detail from plate 6 showing the name "Ani, The Scribe." Please click to view entire image.

Detail from plate 12 showing the name "Ani, The Scribe" in a different hand.  Please click to view entire image.

It is doubtful whether any book trade, as we understand the term, existed in ancient Egypt because literacy was limited to an elite group, chiefly scribes and priests. Instead information was transmitted by oral tradition or proclamation. It is believed that a small number of literate people may have personally copied texts that they needed. Only copies of the Book of the Dead, a funerary text used from the beginning of the New Kingdom, around 1550 BCE to around 50 BCE, were written for sale.  Some copies of this work have the place for the name left blank, to be filled in later.  Close study shows that the name of the owner was sometimes written in by a later scribe with different handwriting, suggesting that these funeral papyri were maintained in inventory before sale.  It is thought that illiterate people also wanted to possess the Book of the Dead, which guaranteed protection against the dangers of the afterlife, in order to add it to their tomb furnishings.

"A Book of the Dead papyrus was produced to order by scribes. They were commissioned by people in preparation for their own funeral, or by the relatives of someone recently deceased. They were expensive items; one source gives the price of a Book of the Dead scroll as one deben of silver, perhaps half the annual pay of a labourer. Papyrus itself was evidently costly, as there are many instances of its re-use in everyday documents, creating palimpsests. In one case, a Book of the Dead was written on second-hand papyrus.

"Most owners of the Book of the Dead were evidently part of the social elite; they were initially reserved for the royal family, but later papyri are found in the tombs of scribes, priests and officials. Most owners were men, and generally the vignettes included the owner's wife as well. Towards the beginning of the history of the Book of the Dead, there are roughly 10 copies belonging to men for every one for a woman. However, during the Third Intermediate Period, 2/3 were for women; and women owned roughly a third of the hieratic paypri from the Late and Ptolemaic Periods.

"The dimensions of a Book of the Dead could vary widely; the longest is 40m long while some are as short as 1m. They are composed of sheets of papyrus joined together, the individual papyri varying in width from 15 cm to 45 cm. The scribes working on Book of the Dead papyri took more care over their work than those working on more mundane texts; care was taken to frame the text within margins, and to avoid writing on the joints between sheets. The words peret em heru, or 'coming forth by day' sometimes appear on the reverse of the outer margin, perhaps acting as a label.

"Books were often prefabricated in funerary workshops, with spaces being left for the name of the deceased to be written in later. For instance, in the Papyrus of Ani, the name "Ani" appears at the top or bottom of a column, or immediately following a rubric introducing him as the speaker of a block of text; the name appears in a different handwriting to the rest of the manuscript, and in some places is mis-spelt or omitted entirely.

"The text of a New Kingdom Book of the Dead was typically written in cursive hieroglyphs, most often from left to right, but also sometimes from right to left. The hieroglyphs were in columns, which were separated by black lines - a similar arrangement to that used when hieroglyphs were carved on tomb walls or monuments. Illustrations were put in frames above, below, or between the columns of text. The largest illustrations took up a full page of papyrus.

"From the 21st Dynasty onward, more copies of the Book of the Dead are found in hieratic script. The calligraphy is similar to that of other hieratic manuscripts of the New Kingdom; the text is written in horizontal lines across wide columns (often the column size corresponds to the size of the papyrus sheets of which a scroll is made up). Occasionally a hieratic Book of the Dead contains captions in hieroglyphic.

"The text of a Book of the Dead was written in both black and red ink, regardless of whether it was in hieroglyphic or hieratic script. Most of the text was in black, with red used for the titles of spells, opening and closing sections of spells, the instructions to perform spells correctly in rituals, and also for the names of dangerous creatures such as the demon Apep. The black ink used was based on carbon, and the red ink on ochre, in both cases mixed with water.

"The style and nature of the vignettes used to illustrate a Book of the Dead varies widely. Some contain lavish colour illustrations, even making use of gold leaf. Others contain only line drawings, or one simple illustration at the opening. Book of the Dead papyri were often the work of several different scribes and artists whose work was literally pasted together. It is usually possible to identify the style of more than one scribe used on a given manuscript, even when the manuscript is a shorter one. The text and illustrations were produced by different scribes; there are a number of Books where the text was completed but the illustrations were left empty" (Wikipedia article on Book of the Dead, accessed 05-06-2012).


In 1842 Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius named this class of papyrus when he edited papyrus Turin 1791 as an exemplar, and had it published in Leipzig in 1842 as Das Todtenbuch der Ägypter nach dem hieroglyphischen Papyrus in Turin mit einem Vorworte zum ersten Male Herausgegeben. This was the first printed edition of The Book of the Dead. The modern numbering of the Book of the Dead spells (BD 1-165) is derived from Lepsius's edition of this papyrus.

(This entry was last revised on April 4, 2014.) 

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The Papyrus of Ani Circa 1,275 BCE – 1,250 BCE

Papyrus from the Book of the Dead of Ani.

The Papyrus of Ani was written in cursive hieroglyphs and illustrated with color miniatures in the 19th dynasty of the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt, c. 1275-1250 BCE, for the scribe Ani. It is among the most richly illustrated of all surviving copies of the Book of the Dead, which was also called the "Book of Going Forth by Day". The text usually contained declarations and spells to help the deceased in their afterlife.  

The papyrus excavated from the tomb of Ani in Thebes, and was purchased in 1888 by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge for the collection of the British Museum where it remains today. Before shipping the manuscript to England Budge cut the seventy-eight foot scroll into thirty-seven sheets of nearly equal size, damaging the scroll's integrity.  In 1890 the British Museum issued a large folio color facsimile of the thirty-seven sheets entitled The Book of the Dead: Facsimile of the Papyrus of Ani in the British Museum, with an introduction by Peter le Page Renouf. This was followed in 1895 by E. Wallis Budge's The Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani in the British Museum, the Egyptian Text, with interlinear transliteration and translation, a running translation, introduction etc. 

More recent scholarship is: The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day, The First Authentic Presentation of the Complete "Papyrus of Ani", Introduction and commentary by Dr. Ogden Goelet, Translation by Dr. Raymond O. Faulkner (1998).

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1,000 BCE – 300 BCE

Standardization of the Homeric Texts Possibly Begins Circa 750 BCE


Many scholars believe that the Iliad is the oldest extant work of literature in the ancient Greek language, making it one of the first works of ancient Greek literature. It is believed that the Odyssey, sequel to the Iliad, was composed after the Iliad. Both epic poems, products of the oral tradition, may have undergone a process of standardization and refinement out of older material around 750 BCE. The standardization of the Homeric texts may have been caused by the Athenian tyrant Peisistratos (d. 527/8 BCE) who reformed the recitation of Homeric poetry at the Panathenaic festival, which he initiated. This reform may have involved the production of a canonical written text. A tradition concerning the role of Peisistratos in the standardization of Homer was current in the ancient world; however, T. W. Allen, in his classic work, Homer: The Origins and Transmission (1924) refuted this theory in his chapter "Pisistratus and Homer."  

When the Homeric poems would have taken on a fixed written form is debatable. According to the traditional 'transcription hypothesis', a non-literate 'Homer' dictated his poem to a literate scribe in the 6th century or earlier. However, in view of the way that texts were written on papyrus before the Hellenistic period, a canonical text would probably have been impossible at this time. Reynolds & Wilson wrote:

"Finally it should be emphasized that the text as arranged on the papyrus was much harder for the reader to interpret than in any modern book. Punctuation was usually rudimentary at best. Texts were written without word-division, and it was not until the middle ages that a real effort was made to alter this convention in Greek or Latin texts (in a few Latin texts of the classical period a point is placed after each word). The system of accentuation, which might have compensated for this difficulty in Greek, was not invented until the Hellenistic period, and for a long time after its invention it was not universally used; here again it is not until the early middle ages that the writing of accents becomes normal practice. In dramatic texts throughout antiquity changes of speaker were not indicated with the precision now thought necessary; it was enough to write a horizontal stroke at the beginning of a line, or two points one above the other, like the modern English colon, for changes elsewhere; the names of the characters were frequently omitted. . . . Another and perhaps even stranger feature of books in the pre-Hellenistic period is that lyric verse was written as if it were prose; the fourth-century papyrus of Timotheus (P. Berol. 9875) is an instance, and even without this valuable document the fact could have been inferred from the tradition that Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 257-180 BCE) devised the colometry which makes clear the metrical units of the poetry (Dion. Hal. de comp.verb. 156, 221). It is to be noted that the difficulties facing the reader of an ancient book were equally troublesome to the man who wished to transcribe his own copy. The risk of misinterpretation and consequent corruption of the text in this period is not to be underestimated. It is certain that a high proportion of the most serious corruptions in classical texts go back to this period and were already widely current in the books that eventually entered the library of the Museum of Alexandria" (Reynolds and Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd ed. [1991] 4-5).

"Though evincing many features characteristic of oral poetry, the Iliad and Odyssey were at some point committed to writing. The Greek script, adapted from a Phoenician syllabary around 800 BCE, made possible the notation of the complex rhythms and vowel clusters that make up hexameter verse. Homer's poems appear to have been recorded shortly after the alphabet's invention: an inscription from Ischia in the Bay of Naples, ca. 740 BCE, appears to refer to a text of the Iliad; likewise, illustrations seemingly inspired by the Polyphemus episode in the Odyssey are found on Samos, Mykonos and in Italy in the first quarter of the seventh century BCE. We have little information about the early condition of the Homeric poems, but Alexandrian editors stabilized the text in the second century BCE, from which all modern texts descend" (Wikipedia article on Homer, accessed 11-27-2008).

(This entry was last revised on 05-03-2014.)

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Ezra Introduces Public Reading of the Torah Circa 536 BCE

Ezra the Scribe

After the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian captivity abpit 536 BCE Ezra the Scribe introduced public reading of the Torah.

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The Elephantine Papyri: One of the Most Ancient Collections of Jewish Manuscripts Circa 450 BCE

One of the oldest collections of Jewish manuscripts, dating from the fifth century BCE, the Elephantine papyri were written by the Jewish community at Elephantine (Arabic: جزيرة الفنتين‎, Greek: Ελεφαντίνη) , then called Yeb, an island in the Nile at the border of Nubia. The Jewish settlement of Elephantine was probably founded as a military installation about 650 BCE, during the reign of Manasseh of Judah, to assist Pharoah Psammetichus I in his Nubian campaign. The dry soil of Upper Egypt preserved documents from the Egyptian border fortresses of Elephantine and Syene (Aswan). Hundreds of these Elephantine papyri survived, written in hieratic and Demotic Egyptian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic, and consisting of legal documents and letters, spanning a period of 1000 years. 

"Though some fragments on papyrus are much older, the largest number of papyri are written in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Persian Empire, and document the Jewish community among soldiers stationed at Elephantine under Persian rule, 495-399 BCE. The Elephantine documents include letters and legal contracts from family and other archives: divorce documents, the manumission of slaves, and other business, and are a valuable source of knowledge about law, society, religion, language and onomastics, the sometimes surprisingly revealing study of names...." (Wikipedia article on Elephantine papyri, accessed 12-09-2013).

Porten, Bezalel et al, The Elephantine Papyri in English. Three Millennia of Cross-Cultural Continuity and Change (1996). 

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The Derveni Papyrus, The Earliest Surviving European Manuscript Circa 420 BCE

On January 15, 1962 during the widening of the national road leading from Thessaloniki to Kavala in Greece workers discovered several large cist graves at Derveni, roughly 10 km to the north of Thessaloniki. Among the remains of the funeral pyre on top of the covering slabs of what was designated tomb A a charred papyrus roll was discovered. This ancient Greek papyrus roll, dating from around 420 BCE, is the earliest surviving European manuscript, as distinct from papyri found in Egypt or the Middle East. Designated the Derveni papyrus, it is "a philosophical treatise that is an allegorical commentary on an Orphic poem, a theogony concerning the birth of the gods, produced in the circle of the philosopher Anaxagoras in the second half of the 5th century BC." It has also been called "the most important new piece of evidence about Greek philosophy and religion to come to light since the Renaissance."  

Betegh, The Derveni Papyrus. Cosmology, Theology and Interpretation (2004).

In April 2014 the Greek text and English translation of the Derveni papyrus were available from the IMOUSEION Project at the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard at this link.

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300 BCE – 30 CE

The Royal Library of Alexandria: The Largest Collection of Recorded Information in the Ancient World Circa 300 BCE

The Royal Library of Alexandria, associated with the Museum or Mouseion at Alexandria (Μουσεῖον τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας), was probably founded around 300 BCE under the reign of Ptolemy I Soter or Ptolemy II. Though it was the largest library in the ancient world, and the repository of so much Greek literature that was eventually passed down to us, and also so much that was eventually lost, the number of papyrus rolls preserved at Alexandria at its peak, or any other time, is unknown. At its peak, the number of rolls that it might have held has been estimated by numerous scholars, without any reliable evidence, from as many as 400,000 to 700,000 to as few as 40,000, or even less. A typical papyrus roll probably contained a text about the length of one book of Homer.

Writing in 2002, American classical scholar Roger Bagnall argued that very high numbers of rolls traditionally estimated by scholars to have been held by the Royal Library of Alexandria, such as 400,000 to 700,000 rolls, may reflect modern expectations rather than the extent of written literature that may have been produced by ancient Greek writers: 

"The computer databank of ancient Greek literature, the Thesurus Linguae Graecae, contains about 450 authors of whom at least a few words survive in quotation and whose lives are thought to have begun by the late fourth century. No doubt there were authors extant in the early Hellenistic period of whom not a line survives today, but we cannot estimate their numbers. Of most of these 450, we have literally a few sentences. There are another 175 known whose lives are placed, or whose births are placed in the third century B. C. Most of these authors probably wrote what by modern standards was a modest amount—a few book-rolls full, perhaps. Even the most voluminous authors of the group, like the Athenian dramatists, probably filled nor more than a hundred rolls or so. If the average writer filled 50 rolls, our known authors to the end of the third century would have produced 31,250 rolls. . . .

"To look at matters another way, just, 2,871,000 words of Greek are preserved for all authors known to have lived at least in part in the fourth century or earlier. Adding the third and second centuries brings the total to 3,773,000 words (or about 12,600 pages of 300 words each). At an average of 15,000 words per roll, this corpus would require a mere 251 rolls. Even at an average of 10,000 words per roll the figure would be only 377 rolls. It was estimated by one eminent ancient historian that the original bulk of historical writings in ancient Greece amounted to something like forty times what has survived. If so, our estimate would run to an original body of 10,000 to 15,000 rolls. This may be too low, but is it likely that it is too low by a factor of thirty or forty, and that only one word in 1,500 or 2,000 has survived? . . . (Roger S. Bagnall, "Alexandria: Library of Dreams," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 146 (2002) 348-62, quoting from 352-53).

Traditionally the Alexandrian Library is thought to have been based upon the library of Aristotle. By tradition it is also believed, without concrete evidence, that the much of the collection of rolls was acquired by order of Ptolemy III, who supposedly required all visitors to Alexandria to surrender rolls in their possession. These writings were then copied by official scribes, the originals were put into the Library, and the copies were delivered to the previous owners.

The Alexandrian Library was associated with a school and a museum. Scholars at Alexandria were responsible for the editing and standardization for many earlier Greek texts. One of the best-known of these editors was Aristophanes of Byzantium, a director of the library, whose work on the text of the Iliad may be preserved in the Venetus A manuscript, but who was also known for editing authors such as Pindar and Hesiod.

Though it is known that portions of the Alexandrian Library survived for several centuries, the various accounts of the library's eventual destruction are contradictory. The Wikipedia article on the Library of Alexandria outlined four possible scenarios for its destruction:

  1. Julius Caesar's fire in The Alexandrian War, in 48 BCE
  2. The attack of Aurelian in the Third century CE
  3. The decree of Theophilus in 391 CE. (Destruction of pagan literature by early Christians.)
  4. The Muslim conquest in 642 CE, or thereafter.

♦ Other factors in the eventual destruction of the contents of the Alexandrian Library might have included the decay of the papyrus rolls as a result of the climate. Most of the papyrus rolls and fragments that survived after the Alexandrian Library did so in the dry sands of the Egyptian desert. Papyrus rolls do not keep well either in dampness or in salty sea air, to which they were likely exposed in the library located in the port of Alexandria. Thus, independently of the selected library destruction scenario, because of decay of the storage medium, or as a result of fires, rodent damage, natural catastrophes, or neglect, it is probable that significant portions of the information in the Alexandrian library were lost before the library was physically destroyed.

Whatever the circumstances and timing of the physical destruction of the Library, it is evident that by the eighth century the Alexandrian Library was no longer a significant institution. 

(This entry was last revised on March 22, 2014.)

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The Dead Sea Scrolls 300 BCE – 68 CE

A column of the Copper Scroll found in Cave Three.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves near Khirbet Qumran, on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea have been dated between 300 BCE and 68 CE, on the basis of historical, paleographic, and linguistic evidence, as well as carbon-14 dating. Because they date from the late Second Temple Period, when Jesus of Nazareth lived, the Dead Sea Scrolls are older than any other surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures, except for the Nash Papyrus, by almost one thousand years. They are preserved in The Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

“Most of the scrolls were written in Hebrew, with a smaller number in Aramaic or Greek. Most of them were written on parchment, with the exception of a few written on papyrus. The vast majority of the scrolls survived as fragments—only a handful were found intact. Nevertheless, scholars have managed to reconstruct from these fragments approximately 850 different manuscripts of various lengths.

"The manuscripts fall into three major categories: biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian. The biblical manuscripts comprise some two hundred copies of books of the Hebrew Bible, representing the earliest evidence for the biblical text in the world. Among the apocryphal manuscripts (works that were not included in the Jewish biblical canon) are works that had previously been known only in translation, or that had not been known at all. The sectarian manuscripts reflect a wide variety of literary genres: biblical commentary, religious-legal writings, liturgical texts, and apocalyptic compositions. Most scholars believe that the scrolls formed the library of the sect (the Essenes?) that lived at Qumran. However it appears that the members of this sect wrote only part of the scrolls themselves, the remainder having been composed or copied elsewhere” (Shrine of the Book. Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls, accessed 12-24-2009).

In September 2011 The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls website, a partnership between the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and Google, made five of the scrolls searchable online as part of a project to provide searchable online facsimiles of all the scrolls.

In December 2012 the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library was launched by the Israel Antiquities Authority in partnership with Google Israel, making high resolution images of the scrolls freely available. The site was launched 11 years after the completion of the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, initiated and sponsored by the IAA, and 65 years after the first scrolls were unearthed in the Caves of Qumran.

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The Beginnings of Latin Literature Circa 300 BCE

"Athough written records may have existed from very early times, Latin literature did not begin until the third century B.C. Inspired by Greek example, it was probably committed from its first beginnings to the form of the book which had long been standard in the Greek world, the papyrus scroll" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd. ed. [1991] 8-19).

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The Guodian Chu Slips: "Like the Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls" Circa 300 BCE

Several of the Guodian Chu Slips. (View Larger)

The Guodian Chu Slips (Chinese: 郭店楚簡; pinyin: Guōdiàn Chǔjiǎn), comprising about 804 bamboos slips, or strips, containing "12072" Chinese characters, were discovered in 1993 in Tomb no. 1 of the Guodian tombs in Jingmen, Hubei, China. The tomb was dated to the latter half of the Warring States period, and it is thought that the texts were written on the bamboo strips before or close to the time of burial.

"The tomb is located in the Jishan District's tomb complex, near the Jingmen City in the village of Guodian, and only 9 kilometers north of Ying, which was the ancient Chu capital from about 676 BC until 278 BC, before the State of Chu was over-run by the Qin. The tomb and its contents were studied to determine the identity of the occupant; an elderly noble scholar, and teacher to a royal prince. The prince had been identified as Crown Prince Heng, who later became King Qingxiang of Chu. Since King Qingxiang was the Chu king when Qin sacked their old capital Ying in 278 BC, the Chu slips are dated to around 300 BC.

There are in total about 804 bamboo slips in this cache, including 702 strips and 27 broken strips with 12072 characters. The bamboo slip texts consist of three major categories, which include the earliest manuscripts of the received text of the Tao Te Ching, one chapter from the Classic of Rites, and anonymous writings. After restoration, these texts were divided into eighteen sections, and have been transcribed into standard Chinese and published under the title Chu Bamboo Slips from Guodian on May 1998. The slip-texts include both Daoist and Confucian works, many previously unknown, and the discovery of these texts in the same tomb has contributed fresh information for scholars studying the history of philosophical thought in ancient China. According to Gao Zheng from the Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the main part could be teaching material used by the Confucianist Si Meng scholars in Jixia Academy. Qu Yuan, who was sent as an envoy in State of Qi, might have taken them back to Chu (Wikipedia article on Guodian Chu Slips, accessed 01-31-2010).

" 'This is like the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls,' says Tu Weiming, director of the Harvard Yenching Institute (HYI), who has played a key role in the preservation of, accessibility to, and research on the Guodian materials since 1996.  

"The 800 bamboo strips bear roughly 10,000 Chinese characters; approximately one-tenth of those characters comprise part of the oldest extant version of the Tao Te Ching (also known as Daodejing), a foundational text by the Taoist philosopher Laozi, who lived in the sixth century B.C. and is generally considered the teacher of Confucius. The remaining nine-tenths of the writings appear to be written by Confucian disciples, including Confucius' grandson Zisi, in the first generation after Confucius' death. (Confucius lived from 551 to 479 B.C.) These texts amplify scholars' understanding of how the Confucian philosophical tradition evolved between Confucius' time and that of Mencius, a key Confucian thinker who lived in the third century B.C.  

" 'With the discovery of these texts, I think you can say that the history of Confucianism itself will have to be rewritten,' says Tu. 'And by implication, the history of ancient Chinese philosophy in general will have to be reconfigured.' " (http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2001/02.22/07-ancientscript.html, accessed 01-31-2010).

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A "Wild" or "Eccentric" Papyrus of the Iliad Circa 275 BCE

Fragments of the Iliad, Books XXI-XXIII, dating from circa 275 BCE, and preserved at the Bodleian Library (MS. Gr. class. b.3 [P]) were recovered from cartonnage, the material made of waste papyrus used to make mummy cases in Egypt. Cartonnage of this type has proven to be a rich source of fragments of literary texts on papyrus.

"Literary papyri of this early date are by no means common, and this one has the added interest of being one of the best examples of what are sometimes called 'wild' or 'eccentric' papyri of Homer. The text deviates substantially, e.g. by the omission or addition of whole lines, from the standard version later established by the Alexandrian scholars." 

"Bibl.: P. Grenf. II. 4 (bought from B. P. Grenfell in 1896) + P. Hibeh 22 (given by the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1909). Other fragments are in Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek (P. Heidelberg 1262-6) Pack 2 no. 979. For a full discussion see S. R. West, The Ptolemaic papyri of Homer (Papyriologica coloniensia, 3), Cologne 1967, 136-191" (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, No. 1.)

(This entry was last revised on 04-29-2014.)

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The Septuagint Circa 250 BCE – 50 CE

The Septuagint (LXX), the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Koine Greek, may have been produced at Alexandria, Egypt in stages, starting about 250 BCE. The Alexandrian community then included the largest community of Jews, including a group of scholars who prepared the translation.   

“The Septuagint derives its name (derived from Latin septuaginta, 70, hence the abbreviation LXX) from a legendary account in the Letter of Aristeas of how seventy-two Jewish scholars (six scribes from each of the twelve tribes) were asked by the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus in the 3rd century BC to translate the Torah for inclusion in the Library of Alexandria. In a later version of that legend narrated by Philo of Alexandria, although the translators were kept in separate chambers, they all produced identical versions of the text in seventy-two days. Although this story is widely viewed as implausible today, it underlines the fact that some ancient Jews wished to present the translation as authoritative. A version of this legend is found in the Talmud, which identifies 15 specific unusual translations made by the scholars. Only 2 of these translations are found in the extant LXX.”

“The oldest witnesses to the LXX include 2nd century BC fragments of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (Rahlfs nos. 801, 819, and 957), and 1st century BC fragments of Genesis, Exodus,Levitcus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Minor Prophets (Rahlfs nos. 802, 803, 805, 848, 942, and 943). Relatively complete manuscripts of the LXX include the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus of the 4th century AD/CE and the Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th century. These are indeed the oldest surviving nearly-complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language; the oldest extant complete Hebrew texts date from around 1000” (Wikipedia article on Septuagint, accessed 11-29-2008).

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The Mawangui Silk Texts Circa 175 BCE

A Taoist text preserved on silk and discovered in Mawangui in 1973.

The Mawangdui Silk Texts (Chinese: 馬王堆帛書; pinyin: Mǎwángduī Bóshū), texts of Chinese philosophical and medical works written on silk, were found buried in Tomb no. 3 at Mawangdui, in the city of Changsha, Hunan, China in 1973. 

"They include the earliest attested manuscripts of existing texts such as the I Ching, two copies of the Tao Te Ching, one similar copy of Strategies of the Warring States and a similar school of works of Gan De and Shi Shen. Scholars arranged them into silk books of 28 kinds. Together they count to about 120,000 words covering military strategy, mathematics, cartography and the six classical arts of ritual, music, archery, horsemanship, writing and arithmetic" (Wikipedia article on Mawangdui Silk Texts, accessed 01-31-2010).

Most of the Mawangdui Silk Texts are preserved in the Hunan Provincial Museum.

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The Great Isaiah Scroll, the Only Nearly Complete Biblical Book Surviving Among the Dead Sea Scrolls Circa 100 BCE

The Isaiah Scroll. (View Larger)

The Great Isaiah Scroll is the best-preserved and the only nearly complete biblical book in the cache of 220 biblical scrolls discovered in Qumran on the northwestern coast of the Dead Sea. It is one of the original seven scrolls discovered in Cave One at Qumran in 1947. Isaiah was the most popular prophet of the Second Temple period: 21 copies of the scroll were found in Qumran. The text includes the familiar unfulfilled prophecy:

“and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

In September 2011 the entire Great Isaiah Scroll was published online as part of the The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls project sponsored by the Israel Museum's Shrine of the Book and Google.

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The Oldest Surviving Manuscript of Latin Poetry Circa 50 BCE – 25 CE

The Roman poet, orator and politician Gaius Cornellus Gallus, prefect of Egypt from 30 to 26 BCE, enjoyed a high reputation among his contemporaries as a man of intellect, and was considered by the poet Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) to be the first of the elegiac poets of Rome. He is known to have written four books of elegies chiefly on his mistress Lycoris (a poetic name for Cytheris), a notorious actress, and he is thought to have been an inspiration for the Latin elegiac poet Sextus Propertius, and the Latin poet Albius Tibullus as well as Ovid. Yet his literary reputation is entirely based on heresay since until the late 20th century only one pentameter of his had survived.

In 1978 excavations at Qasr Ibrim yielded a papyrus fragment containing nine lines by Gallus. Qasr Ibrim was originally a major city perched on a cliff above the Nile, but the flooding of Lake Nasser after the construction of the Aswan High Dam transformed it into an island, which remains a major site for archaeological investigations. The Gallus papyrus is designated PQasrIbrîm inv. 78-3-11/ (L1/2). It consists of five fragments of papyrus which join to make a single piece 19.4 cm wide by 16.3 cm high. The papyrus was published with very extensive analysis by R. D. Anderson, P. J. Parsons and R.G.M. Nisbet in "Elegiacs by Gallus from Qasr Ibrîm," Journal of Roman Studies 69 (1979) 125-55, including color reproductions of portions of the papyrus.

Among some of their observations:

"At all events, we have here the remains of a Roman book, very probably of the reign of Augustus, quite possibly of the lifetime of Gallus himself. It is, with PHerc 817 (Carmen de bello Aegypticaco), by far our oldest MS of Latin poetry." (p. 128) [PHerc 817 is not later than 79 CE.]

"The text is written in a small formal upright bilinear bookhand. This is among the earliest examples (very possibly is the earliest example) of the style, which in many features anticipates the 'canonized' (that is, ossified) Rustic Capital of iv A. D. and after.

"The book can be dated from its archaeological context, more precisely (c.50-20 B.C.) or less precisely (c.50 B.C.- A.D. 25). It therefore provides one of the few fixed points in the early history of Latin literary scripts." (P. 135)

"Given the rarity of early Latin books, it is not easy to assess this one. The script is small and neat and deftly executed, less gawky than PHerc 817, less ostentatiously stylish than in PHer 1475; despite wide inconsistences of ornament, letter-shape and even ductus (which indeed may have been the norm before canonization set in), an elegant calligraphic performance. This, with wide margins, certainly suggests a good professional copy. On the other hand, the apex is not written, in contrast to some other early MSS, and a clear mistake is not corrected, although the employment of a corrector was—for scholars at least—an essential part of proper book production. This mixture of features may be a matter of date, of quality or of both. We cannot even tell whether the book was imported from Italy, or copied (under Gallus' prefecture) in Egypt." (p. 138).

"Scholars used to believe, in the absence of any surviving poetry by Gallus and on the basis of his high reputation among his contemporaries, that his poetical gifts were little short of those of Virgil. A nineteenth-century British classicist famously asked, 'What would we not barter of all the epics of empire for ten lines of Gallus?' The discoveries at Qasr Ibrim have now given us nine lines of Gallus. Coincidentally, one of them mentions Lycoris, ('saddened, Lycoris, by your wanton behaviour'), confirming their authorship. Possibly atypical, these surviving lines are of disappointing quality. They are written in a Latin more Lucretian and Catullan than Virgilian, and a certain roughness in the composition recalls Quintilian's judgment that Gallus's style was durior (rather harsh). Their sentiments are conventional, and show little trace of originality" (Wikipedia article on Cornelius Gallus, accessed 03-01-2014). 

According to Anderson, Parsons and Nisbet, PQasrIbrîm in. 78-3-11/1 (L1/2) (case 7, item 84) is preserved in the Cairo Museum.

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Virgil Composes the Ecologues, the Georgics and the Aeneid 42 BCE – 19 BCE


Between 42 and 19 BCE Publius Vergilius Maro composed the Ecologues, the Georgics,  dying before the Aeneid was complete. Virgil's (Vergil's) writings were widely copied in the Middle Ages. Manuscripts of his poems are among the earliest surviving literary codices in Latin.

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30 CE – 500 CE

The Oldest Surviving Substantial Collection of Buddhist Manuscripts: The Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism Circa 50 CE

In September 1994, the British Library Oriental and India Office Collections acquired a collection of twenty‐nine fragments of manuscripts written on birch bark rolls in the Gāndhārī language and the Kharoṣṭhī script. They were said to have been preserved inside a clay pot, also bearing an inscription in the same language, in which they had been buried in antiquity. However, before their acquisition by the British Library they had been removed from the pot and forced inside thirteen modern glass jars, during which they were damaged considerably. After their acquisition by the British Library the rolls underwent a thorough restoration process. Analysis of these birch bark rolls indicates that they date from about the first century CE, making them the oldest Buddhist manuscripts, as well as the oldest Indian manuscripts known. 

"The texts were written with a reed pen and black ink on scrolls consisting of sections of birch bark, which in most cases were glued together to form long strips. In general, the texts were written continuously over the recto and verso sides of the scroll, but in a few manuscripts only the recto is inscribed. All of the texts are incomplete and have suffered from varying degrees of loss and damage, in many cases severe. This is attributable in large part to the instability of old birch bark, which becomes extremely fragile and usually survives only in favorable conditions such as when it is placed in an airtight container. In all cases the upper parts of the scrolls have been completely lost, since this is the part that is most vulnerable to wear, being exposed on the outside when the scrolls are rolled up from the bottom. Although it is impossible to extrapolate any precise measurements from the original lengths of the complete scrolls, it appears that the largest and best-preserved specimens, such as fragment 15, whose surviving portion is about 115 centimeters long, might represent approximately half of the original scroll. The loss of the upper portions of the scrolls is particularly troublesome because it is at the top of the scrolls that we would expect to find titles and/or colophons of the texts, at least in the case of those written continuously on both sides. Due to these circumstances, such colophons are not found (but for one partial exception. . .) which renders the task of identifying the texts immeasurably more difficult" (Richard Salomon, Ancient Buddhist Texts from Gandhāra. The British Library Kharoṣṭhī Fragments [1999] 22).

"The exact findspot of these manuscripts is unfortunately unknown. But in the past several manuscripts of the same type have been reported to have been found in or around Haḍḍa near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, although none of these have ever been published and most of them apparently are now lost. It is therefore likely that the new manuscripts came from the same region. This area closely adjoins the region known in ancient times as Gandhāra, the homeland of the Gāndhārī language and Kharoṣṭhī script, which were current from about the third century B.C. to the fourth century A.D." (http://www.ebmp.org/p_abt.php, accessed 01-19-2013).

"Although the British Library fragments are comparable to the Dead Sea scrolls and the Nag Hammadi manuscripts in that they give actual samples of the textual corpus of a much earlier phase of Buddhist tradition than had been previous available, they are unlikely to contain anything as radically unfamiliar as appeared in their Christian counterparts. The survey of the new fragments carried out to date, the results of which are summarized in the rest of this book, has revealed nothing that is startlingly as odds with early Buddhist doctrine as previously understood, nor is there much reason to expect that further analysis will turn up anything that will be. The importance of the new collection is on a different and perhaps less spectacular level, though this does not diminish its importance. These fragments give us an unprecedented direct glimpse into the contents of what appears to have ben a monastic collection or library of the Dharmaguptaka school in or around the first half of the first century A.D., and they are by far the earliest such sampling of a Buddhist textual corpus that has ever been found. It is likely, though not quite certain, that the British Library fragments are the oldest Buddhist fragments yet known, and in any case they are definitely the oldest coherent set of manuscript material" (Salomon, op. cit., 9-10).

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One of the Oldest and Most Complete Diagrams from Euclid Circa 75 CE – 125 CE

The diagram, which accompanies proposition five of Book II of the Elements, is preserved in the University of Pennsylvania. (View Larger)

One of the oldest and most complete diagrams from Euclid’s Elements, a fragment of papyrus found among the rubbish piles of Oxyrhynchus in 1896-97 by the expedition of B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt, is dated between 75 and 125 CE. It is preserved at the University of Pennsylvania.

"The diagram accompanies Proposition 5 of Book II of the Elements, and along with other results in Book II it can be interpreted in modern terms as a geometric formulation of an algebraic identity - in this case, that ab + (a-b)2/4 = (a+b)2/4 (although the relationship between Euclid's propositions and algebra, which he did not possess, is controversial)."

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The Characteristics of Roman Papyrus Rolls Circa 80 CE

Figure nine from Clark's 'The Care of Books,' depicting a Roman reader with his scroll. (View Larger)

"The length and width of the roll depended on the taste or convenience of the writer. The contents were written in columns, the lines of which ran parallel to the long dimension, and the reader, holding the roll in both hands, rolled up the part he had finished with his left hand, and unrolled the unread portion with his right. This way of dealing with the roll is well shewn in the accompanying illustration (fig. 9) reduced from a fresco at Pompeii. In most examples the two halves of the roll are turned inwards, as for instance in the well-known statue of Demosthenes in the Vatican. The end of the roll was fastened to a stick (usually referred to as umbilicus or umbilici). . . .

"These sticks were sometimes painted or gilt, and furnished with projecting knobs (cornua) similarly decorated, intended to serve both as an ornament, and as a contrivance to keep the ends of the roll even, while it was being rolled up. The sides of the long dimension of the roll (frontes) were carefully cut, so as to be perfectly symmetical, and afterwards smoothed with pumice-stone and coloured. A ticket (index or titulus, in Greek ... [sillubos or sittubos]), made of a piece of papyrus or parchment, was fastened to the edge of the roll in such a way that it hung out over one or the of the ends. . . .

Figure ten of Clark's 'The Care of Books,' depicting a book box or capsa.

"The roll was kept closed by strings or straps (lora), usually of some bright colour; and if it was specially precious, an envelope, which the Greeks called a jacket (. . . [dipthera]), made of parchment or some other substance, was provided. . . .

"When the number of rolls had to be carried from one place to another, they were put into a box (scrinium or capsa). This receptacle was cylindrical in shape, not unlike a modern hat-box. It was usually carried by a flexible handle, attached to a ring on each side; and the lid was held down by what looks very like a modern lock. The eighteen rolls, found in a bundle at Herculaneum, had doubtless been kept in a similar receptacle..

"My illustration (fig. 10) is from a fresco at Herculaneum. It will be noticed that each roll is furnished with a ticket (index or titulus). At the feet of the statue of Demosthenes already referred to, and that of Sophocles in the Lateran, are capsae, both shewing the flexible handles" (Clark, The Care of Books [1901] 331-32).

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The First Mention of Literary Works Published in Parchment Codices 84 CE – 86 CE

A portrait of Martial.

The first mention of literary works published in parchment codices is found in Martial, a Latin poet from Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) best known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published in Rome between 86 and 103 CE. In poems written during the years 84-86 he emphasizes their compactness, their handiness for the traveller, and tells provides the name of the shop where such novelties can be bought (I.2.7-8):


qui tecum cupis esse meos ubicumque libellos 
   et comites longae quaeris habere uiae, 
hos eme, quos artat breuibus membrana tabellis: 
   scrinia da magnis, me manus una capit. 
ne tamen ignores ubi sim uenalis et erres 
   urbe uagus tota, me duce certus eris: 
libertum docti Lucensis quaere Secundum 
   limina post Pacis Palladiumque forum. 

You who long for my little books to be with you everywhere and want to have companions for a long journey, buy these ones which parchment confines within small pages: give your scroll-cases to the great authors - one hand can hold me. So that you are not ignorant of where I am on sale, and don't wander aimlessly through the whole city, I will be your guide and you will be certain: look for Secundus, the freedman of learned Lucensis, behind the threshold of the Temple of Peace and the Forum of Pallas.       (Translated by Nick, http://martialis.blogspot.com/2004_06_01_archive.html#108637752590707142, accessed 02-28-2014).

 "Athough there is one surviving fragment of a parchment codex written about A.D. 100 (the anonymous De Bellis Macedonicis, P. Lit. Lond. 121) the pocket editions that Martial was at pains to advertise were not a success. The codex did not come into use for pagan literature until the second century; but it rapidly gained ground in the third, and triumphed in the fourth" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd ed., [1991] 34).

"The poet Martial, writing in or near 85 A.D., described codex books, though not using that term for them. In perhaps the clearest of his several references, he described a book containing the works of Homer in 'muliplici pelle,' much-folded or many-layered leather. The context of his references suggests that the codices he had in mind were curiosities, his general point being that by this means (as compared to the standard alternative, the roll) a substantial text could be contained in quite a small, handy volume. His precise meaning is not certain; some scholars have conjectured that Martial was describing books in minature scripts" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 4).

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The Romance Papyrus Circa 100 CE – 200 CE

The Romance Papyrus. (View Larger)

The Romance Papyrus (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, cod. suppl. gr. 1294, also known as the Alexander papyrus) is one of the few surviving scraps of classical literary illustration on papyrus. It contains two unframed illustrations about an unknown romance set within the columns of text. The fragment is 340 by 115 mm. It was acquired by the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 1900.

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Translation of the Bible From Greek into Coptic Circa 100 CE – 250 CE

The Crosby-Schoyen codex, a Coptic bible circa 300, and the oldest book in private ownership. (View Larger)

“Translation of the Bible into Egyptian, written in the Coptic Script, dates back to the second century AD. At first, some missionaries translated orally or informally from Greek into Egyptian, certain passages to use in their missionary work. In the last half of the Second Century, Pantaenus, the missionary philosopher, came to Alexandria and became the head of the Theological School. Later on St. Demetrius the first became the Bishop of Alexandria. He was the first known Egyptian to be bishop of that city. The presence of those two sparked a concerted effort to spread Christianity among the Egyptian peasants. Thus the Coptic script was officially christianized for use in translating the Scriptures as needed in the missionary work. This was done to ensure the uniformity of the Christian teachings to be given to the new converts.

“The first translations were in the form of passages mainly from the Gospels. Later on, the whole books were translated. Probably the Gospels were translated first, followed by the Acts in the New Testament. Among the Old Testament books, Psalms followed by Genesis was probably the early order of translation. Eventually the entire New Testament was translated, followed by the Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Poetic Books and the Historical Books in that order. . . . This translation process may have lasted about a century or even more. Keep in mind that all the translations were done from the [koine] Greek whether it was Old or New Testament Books. Except on rare occasions, the Hebrew Old Testament was never utilized by the Christians of Egypt" (http://www.stshenouda.com/newsltr/nl3_2.htm, accessed 01-26-2009).

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The Earliest Known Fragment from a Papyrus Codex of the New Testament Circa 100 CE – 160 CE

The recto side of the Saint John Fragment. (View Larger)

Dating from between 100 and 160 CE, the Saint John Fragment (P52), a fragment from a papyrus codex written in Greek, is generally accepted as the earliest extant record of a canonical New Testament text. The front of the fragment (recto) contains lines from the Gospel of John 18:31-33, and the back (verso) contains lines from verses 37-38. The fragment measures only 3.5 by 2.5 inches (9 by 6.4 cm) at its widest. It is conserved at the John Rylands Library at Manchester.

" . . . the dating of the papyrus is by no means the subject of consensus among critical scholars. The style of the script is strongly Hadrianic, which would suggest a date somewhere between 125 and 160 CE. But the difficulty of fixing the date of a fragment based solely on paleographic evidence allows for a range of dates that extends from before 100 CE past 150 CE.

"The fragment of papyrus was among a group acquired on the Egyptian market in 1920 by Bernard Grenfell. The original transcription and translation of the fragment of text was not done until 1934, by Colin H. Roberts. Roberts found comparator hands in papyri then dated between 50 CE and 150 CE, with the closest match of Hadrianic date. Since the contents would unlikely have been written before circa 100 CE he proposed a date in the first half of the second century. Over the 70 years since Roberts' essay, the estimated ages of his particular comparator hands have been revised (in common with most other undated antique papyri) towards dates a couple of decades older; while other comparator hands have subsequently been discovered with possible dates ranging into the second half of the second century" (Wikipedia article on Rylands Library Papyrus 52).

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The Sole Surviving Example of Roman Literary Cursive Script and the Earliest Example of a Parchment Codex Circa 100 CE – 250 CE

The fragment of De Bellis Macedonicis, the oldest suriving remains of a Latin manuscreipt written on parchment rather than papyrus. (View Larger)

British Library Papyrus 745, a fragment of a anonymous work entitled De bellis Macedonicis, found at Oxyrthynchus, Egypt, and acquired by the British Museum in 1900, is the oldest surviving remains of a Latin manuscript written on parchment rather than papyrus. Thought to date from about 100 CE, it is the sole surviving example of Roman Literary Cursive Script, and because it is written on both sides of the parchment, it is also "the earliest example of a membrane [parchment] codex, of the type advocated by the poet Martial in the first century" (Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 [1990] no. 4 and plate 4.)

"Athough it was possibly written as early as AD 100, De Bellis has certain letterforms which have unmistakable Uncial character. And, most significantly, it used a slanted pen angle which was copied by all the early Uncial scripts. . . ." (Stan Knight, Historical Scripts from Classical Times to the Renaissance [2009] 35).

According to Brown, palaeographer E. A. Lowe dated this fragment in the third century CE.

Bischoff, Latin Palaeography:Antiquity and Middle Ages (1990) 9.

(This entry was last revised on 08-18-2014.)

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In the "Cave of Letters" Discovery of Papyri Recording Israel's Second Century Revolt Against Roman Rule 132 CE – 135 CE

In 1953 the "Cave of Letters" was discovered by Bedouin of the Ta`amireh tribe in the desert near the border of Israel and Jordan on the west shore of the Dead Sea. The cave is in a ravine called the Nahal Hever, about 20 km south of the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. This cave eventually yielded papyri recording Israel's second century revolt against Roman rule, as well as a unique cache of business documents of, Babatha, an upper middle class woman in Israel at the time.

The location came to the attention of Israeli authorities after the sale in 1953 of some letters written by Simon Bar-Kokhba, the Jewish leader of the Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE. These letters were found in the caves of a canyon called Wadi Murraba. At the time the Israel Department of Antiquities conducted a preliminary exploration, but did not take further action until more documents from the Bar-Kokhba Revolt were sold to scholars in Jordan. On March 23, 1960 four groups of scientists and qualified experts began their exploration of the desert region with the assistance of the Israeli Defense Forces. Former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces and archaeologist Yigael Yadin led a team that found the "Cave of Letters."

This cave included very significant finds of artifacts and textiles, including a complete set of clothes worn by Jews of the 1st and 2nd century. Letters found in the cave included very detailed letters and orders by Simon bar Kokhba. In a second search of the cave in 1961 artifacts and objects of everyday living were found in a hidden crevice, along with a bundle of documents and six reeds containing papyri rolled inside them. Discovered in a leather pouch along with two other documents, these documents record various land transactions, some being dealt with by Bar-Kokhba’s administrators during his first year as President of Israel. Another one described the terms in which the lands of En-gedi, an oasis in Israel, would be leased. Another larger bundle of documents would be known as Barbatha's (Barbata's) cache. This group is of particular significance for the light it sheds on the business life and legal rights of an upper middle class Jewish woman at the time. 

"Babatha was a Jewish woman who lived in the port town of Maoza in modern-day Jordan at beginning of the 2nd century CE. . . . The documents found include such legal contracts concerning marriage, property transfers, and guardianship. These documents, ranging from CE 96 to 134, depict a vivid picture of life for an upper-middle class Jewish woman during that time. They also provide an example of the Roman bureaucracy and legal system under which she lived.

"Babatha was born in approximately 104 CE in Maoza. Most likely the only child or the eldest daughter, she inherited her father’s date palm orchard upon her parents’ deaths. By 124 CE, she had been married and widowed with a young son, Jesus. She was remarried by 125 CE to Judah, owner of three date palm orchards in Ein Gedi, who had another wife and teenage daughter. It is uncertain whether Babatha lived in the same home as the first wife or if Judah traveled between two separate households, as polygamy was still allowed in the Jewish community.

"The documents concerning this marriage offer insight to her status in the relationship. In their marriage contract, Judah’s debts become part of her liability, indicating a financial equality. In 128 CE, a legal document shows that Judah took a loan without interest from Babatha, showing that she had control of her own money despite the union. Upon Judah’s death in 130 CE, she seized his estates in Ein Gedi as a guarantee against his debts which she had covered as stated in the marriage contract.

"Another document of importance concerns the guardianship of Babatha’s son. In 125 CE, Babatha brought a suit to court against the appointed guardians of her orphaned son, citing their insufficient disbursement of funds. The document contains Babatha’s petition that full guardianship responsibility of her son and his property be transferred to her control.

"The latest documents discovered in the pouch concern a summons to appear in an Ein Gedi court as Judah’s first wife, Miriam, had brought a dispute against Babatha regarding their late husband’s property. Therefore, it is assumed that Babatha was near Ein Gedi in 132 CE, placing her in the midst of the Bar Kokhba's revolt. It is likely that Babatha fled with Miriam and her family from the imminent violence of the revolt. Because the documents were never retrieved and because twenty skeletal remains were found nearby, historians have suggested that Babatha perished while taking refuge in the cave" (Wikipedia article on Babatha, accessed 02-23-2014).

"Many of the papyri in the Babatha archive, including the marriage contract . . .were what are called 'double documents.' The text would be written twice on the same papyrus, with one copy written about the other. The upper (inner) portion of the papyrus [roll], with the first copy, was rolled up and fastened with string to protect the text and prevent tampering with it. The second copy, on the lower (outer) portion [of the roll], would be accessible, and its veracity could be checked, if necessary by comparison with the upper text. 'Double documents' are rare in Egypt. . . but evidently more common further east, as they are found also at Dura Europos . . . " (Grubbs, Women and the Law in the Roman Empire: A Sourcebook. . . . [2002] 131).

The story of the discovery of the the "Cave of the Letters" was vividly retold in a fine illustrated book by Yigael Yadin entitled, Bar-Kokhba. The rediscovery of the legendary hero of the second Jewish Revolt against Rome (1971). In his book Yadin reproduced the letters from Simon Bar-Kokhba that were discovered, along with the large number of other artifacts. In chapter 16 he described the life and trials of Babtha (Babata) based on her documents. The chapter includes excellent photographs of the documents showing how the original bundle of documents looked, how the documents looked when the bundle was opened, and the problems of opening and reading the individual documents. 

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The Form of the Manuscript Book Gradually Shifts from the Roll to the Codex Circa 150 CE – 450 CE

Several of the leather-bound codices of the Nag Hammadi Library. (View Larger)

Between about 150 and 450 CE the form of the manuscript book shifted from the roll to the codex. However, the transition was very gradual as the traditional roll format had been functional for over 2000 years. The transition may not have been "complete" until the fifth century.

"Ultimately, as its etymology indicates, the codex book evolved from wooden tablets, often with wax-filled compartments, used in ancient Rome for more or less ephemeral jottings and figurings. A group of such tablets, tied or hinged together, was known as a caudex / codex, a word originally indicating a tree trunk or block of wood (and, in Terence, a blockhead). At some stage before the Christian era folded parchments (membranae) came to be used for the same ephemeral purposes, and then were eventually adopted for permanent storage of written matter, even literary texts; and by the third century A.D. the term 'codex' had become assimilated also to these non-wooden objects" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 4).

The fourth century saw a revolution in book production which made it possible to make books large enough to hold the whole Bible in one volume. Of these, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus survived to the present. The codex also allowed the development of bindings which were protective as well as decorative. Bindings would have increased the longevity of codices versus rolls, and over time this would have been recognized as a significant advantage. T.C. Skeat also argued that there may have been cost savings in the production of information in codex form versus the traditional papyrus roll.

In his brief but highly significant monograph, Early Christian Books in Egypt (2009) Roger Bagnall took issue with the traditional view that closely associated the development of the codex with early Christianity, showing that the number of surviving Christian documents in codex form relative to the number of surviving non-Christian documents in codex form during the transitional period from the first through fourth centuries CE is proportionate to the overall percentages of Christian versus non-Christian documents surviving from the period. These statistics he correlated with the ratio of estimated Christian population versus the non-Christian population in Egypt during the same period. He also documented the high cost of producing books by hand during the first centuries of Christianity, showing that book ownership would mainly have been limited to government, the moneyed classes, or religious institutions, thus bringing into doubt the notion that Christians adopted the codex form of the book because it was associated with a form of notebook used by the "common man." One of the numerous examples he used is the so-called Theban Magical Library, a collection of non-Christian books, including many of the most famous magical papyri, which was acquired by institutions in Leiden and London in the nineteenth century, possibly from a single find in a tomb in the West Bank at Thebes, Egypt. Five of the thirteen items in this library are fourth century codices; eight are third century rolls. Bagnall observes that the dates of the rolls versus the codices correspond to the time in which the codex form is thought to have become dominant, the fourth century. His other observation was that these collections of Egyptian magical spells can in no way be called Christian documents. He concluded by retracing the origins of the codex to the Roman use of tablets strung together, suggested that no neat explanation for the transition from the roll to the codex will be found, and suggested that this transition in the form and function of the book was a "social and cultural transformation" that occurred over several centuries throughout the Roman empire, resulting from the "choice by local elites to adopt Roman ways."

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The "Hawara Homer" Circa 150 CE

Recto of papyrus containing lines from Homer's Illiad, found at Hawara. (View Larger)

The ten frames of the so-called "Hawara Homer," preserved at the Bodleian Library (MS. Gr. class. a. 1 [P]) and dated about 150 CE, were discovered lying rolled up under the head of a mummified woman by W. M. Flinders Petrie in the cemetery at Hawara, Egypt.

"William Flinders Petrie excavated at Hawara in 1888. After working in Medinet el-Fayum (Arsinoe) and Biahmu, he moved on to the site south of Arsinoe and took the 60 workers he had already employed at the former sites with him. The results of his excavations at Hawara were published in 1889 in his "Hawara, Biahmu, and Arsinoe". The papyrological material said to have been found at Hawara was studied by Prof. Sayce and published on pages 24 to 37 of that volume. Sayce gave a general description of the great papyrus roll which contains parts of books 1 and 2 of the Iliad (the "Hawara Homer"), emphasizing the importance of the variants, and edited the texts of the most complete documents, some of them in a very preliminary way.

"J. G. Milne undertook a new edition of 37 of these papyri in the Archiv für Papyrusforschung 5, 1913, 378-397. He did not work on the Hawara Homer but concentrated on the smaller literary texts and gave a proper publication of some more documents. The texts which were not reconsidered in Milne's publication were reprinted in Sammelbuch I (nos. 5220, 5223, 5224).

"When Flinders Petrie brought his finds back to England, the material was divided between several institutions. The Hawara Homer was given to the Bodleian Library in Oxford (where it still is today), while all the other papyrological material stayed in London and was given to the Department of Egyptology at University College London. In 1948, the young professor of Papyrology, Eric Turner received permission from the then Professor of Egyptology, J. Czerny, to take the Hawara papyri to the Department of Greek and Latin at UCL and to keep them there in his custody. A letter from 16 June 1949 confirms the transfer of the papyri. They were kept in a secret place in the department for more than 50 years.

"As usual, Flinders Petrie did not give precise indications, as to where the papyri were found on the site. He just mentions that the region north of the pyramid "was the usual place for burials in the early Roman period , when gilt cartonnage busts were used. Papyri from the Ist and IInd cent. AD are also usual in the soil here, and for some way north" (p. 8, no. 11; cf. the map on plate XXV in the book)" (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/GrandLatMisc/hawara/, accessed 04-27-2014.)

"The script is a fine rounded capital hand of large size. In the left-hand margin of frame 10 there are some critical signs of the type developed by the Alexandrian scholars. There are also some brief scholia in which Aristarchus (216-144 B.C.), the greatest of the Hellenistic critics, is named." (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of the Classics, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, No. 3).

Illustrated in Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd ed., 1991, plate 1.

(This entry was last revised on 04-27-2014.)

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Commercial and Private Book Trade in 2nd Century Egypt Circa 150 CE

"If the book trade had come to stay, then the commercial copying and selling of texts did not replace their private reproduction and circulation, in Rome or elsewhere. . . . [an] interesting papyrus letter (P. Oxy.2192) alludes to private efforts to obtain texts in Egypt in the late second century. That letter carries a postscript in the hand of the sender that reads: 'Make and send to me copies of books 6 and 7 of Hypsicrates' Characters in Comedy. For Harpocration says that they among Polion's books. But it is likely that others, too, have got them. He also has prose epitomes of Thersagorus' work on the myths of tragedy.' Here the writer asks his correspondent to make copies of books that he wants and suggests an individual who owns them who might permit them to be copied. Following this postscript is a note written in a different hand. it reads: 'According to Harpocration, Demetrius the bookseller has got them. I have instructed Apollonides to send me certain of my own books, which you will hear of in good time from Seleucus himself. If you find any, apart from those I possess, make copies and send them to me. Diodorus and his friends also have some which I haven't got.' It is not certain who appended this note; it was probably added by a member of the letter writer's circle as a supplement to the preceding postscript. The letter reveals a group of friends who acquired books by making copies from exemplars owned by friends who lived elsewhere (Harpocration, Polion, Diodorus, and their circle). Yet there is mention of the bookseller Demetrius, who could serve as a fall-back source. Here, then, in provincial Egypt we see the independent coexistence of private and commercial means of obtaining books.

"We know that some of individuals named in this letter--Harpocration, Polion (Pollio), and Diodorus--were professional scholars, known for their lexigraphical work. The books requested are scholarly, not books that have popular appeal, so it is surprising that the bookseller Demetrius might have them. One would expect a bookseller to deal in popular literature, as apparently was the case with the Roman booksellers we know by name. In a setting where a scholarly community was active, an astute dealer probably did not disdain service to that clientele. Yet, as a rule, classical texts and especially scholarly tools and studies circulated principally if not exclusively through private channels. The practices of Cicero in late republican Rome, of the scholarly circle in Oxyrhynchus in the late second century, and of Libanius and his fellow scholars in fourth-century Syrian Antioch, widespread as these were in time and place, all attest that private copying and circulation formed the persistent norm for professional scholars.

"The reason for this was not only the limited market for scholarly works. The quality of commercial copying was not particularly high, whereas scholars were fastidious, at least about their books. The complaints voiced by many ancient writers about the quality of commercial copies were consistent and continuous. The employment of mediocre copyists and the failure to collate copies and exemplars--practices that Strabo (13.1.54) encountered in Alexandria as well as Rome--resulted in books that did not meet the scholarly standard" (Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church. A History of Early Christian Texts [1995] 92-93.)

Turner, Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (1971) no. 68 (p. 114) reproduces the text and an excellent black and white image of P. Oxy.2192.

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One of the Oldest Papyrus Codices of the New Testament Circa 175 CE – 250 CE

Papyrus 46 (P-46), an incomplete papyrus codex containing most of the Pauline epistles in Greek, remains one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of some of the earliest Christian documents, which were originally written circa 51-58 CE. P-46, estimated to have been written between 175 and 250 CE, is also one of oldest surviving manuscripts of the New Testament. The provenance of the papyrus is unknown, although it was probably originally discovered in the ruins of an early Christian church or monastery. Following its discovery in Cairo, the manuscript was broken up by the dealer. Ten leaves were purchased by Chester Beatty in 1930; the University of Michigan acquired six in 1931 and 24 in 1933. Beatty purchased 46 more in 1935, and his acquisitions now form part of the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri– eleven codices of biblical material.

Dating of this manuscript is problematic with dates ranging from the first century CE to the third century CE.  See Griffin, The Paleographical Dating of P-46 (1996).

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"Attic Nights" : Lack of Arrangement Makes its Own Kind of Arrangement Circa 180 CE

About 180 CE Roman author and grammarian Aulus Gellius published  Noctes Atticae (Attic Nights), a miscellaneously arranged commentary, or compilation of notes on the Latin language, law, philosophy, history, antiquarianism and other subjects. Gellius claimed that he assembled his commentarii from the initial notes or annotationes he made from books that he read or statements that he heard that he wanted to remember:

"I used to jot down [annotabam] whatever took my fancy, of any and every kind, without any definite order or plan; and such notes I could lay away as an aid to the memory, like a kind of literary storehouse" (quoted by Blair, Too Much to Know. Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age [2010] 82).

Attic Nights is divided into twenty books, of which all have survived in some form except book eight, for which we have only the index. The work is devoid of any formal sequence or standard arrangement, which, in itself is a kind of arrangement. Though Gellius was not considered a major author in antiquity, his work was exploited by pagan and Christian authors. 

The oldest surviving manuscript of Noctes Atticae is one of the oldest parchment codices surviving from antiquity. It is a fourth century palimpsest (manuscript A of the text) written in rustic capitals that is preserved in the Vatican Library (Vat. Pal. lat. 24). In Codices Latini Antiquiores I (1934) no. 74 E. A. Lowe described it as follows:

"Palimpsest, primary script (for the upper script, Vetus Testamentum in uncial aec. VII-VIII, see No. 68a). Forty-four leaves survive, each folded in two and now foliated: 72, 79, 80, 82-85, 87-99, 102-121, 129-176. The leaves now unbound and kept between cardboard. Size (when opened out) 195 x 150 mm. (105 x 105 mm.) in 2 columns of 13 lines averaging 10 letters to the line. Ruling on the hair-side, which is outside, apparently after folding; single bounding lines enclose each column. Prickings to guide ruling sometimes intercolumnar but more often, apparently, on the outer bounding line. Gatherings of ten; one survives complete, and a second lacks one bifolium only. In each quire the first and the last page are left blank—an extraordinary practice found also in Vatic. Regin. La. 2077 (Cicero, Verrines; see No. 115) but the last page has the quire-mark q followed by a Roman numeral in large sloping cursive placed in the centre of the upper half of the page. Abbreviations: ,  =bus, que: R'=rum at line-ends; P.R. = populus Romanus. Omitted N at line-ends marked by a simple stroke after the vowel. Script is Rustic capital of a striking type, written probably with a reed, and showing marked contrast between fine and thick strokes—an example of extreme technical ability: B, F, L often rise above the other letters; F, G and last stroke of U descend below the base line; Y has a peculiar shape- a straight stem supporting a slant s-like top. Blank spaces carefully calculated were left for the Greek texts cited but were never filled.

"Origin uncertain. A scribe's signature on foll. 173v-172, the first page of a quire, seems to read: COTT.A..SCRIPSIT. The Gellius was erased for rewriting ca. saec. VII-VIII. The MS. was probably at Lorsch during the eighth century. Later it was at Heidelberg, whence it was removed to the Vatican in 1623."

By the end of Antiquity the text of Gellius disappeared; it was unknown to authorities such as Isidore of Seville and the Venerable Bede.

"At this time must have come the split in the transmission, whereby Books 1-7 circulated separately from 9-20- a time which also saw the loss of all of Book 8 (including the lemmata), the lemmata to Book 19 and many of those to 20, and the end of the work (20, 10.7-11.5)" (P.K. Marshall in Reynolds (ed) Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics [1983] 176-77 ff, outlining the transmission of the text through various families of manuscripts during the Middle Ages.) See also Holford-Strevens, "Aulus Gellius," Grafton, Mott, Settis (eds) The Classical Tradition (2010) 386-87.

Gellius's Noctes Atticae first appeared in print from the press of Sweynheym and Pannartz, In domo Petri de Maximis, in Rome on April 11, 1469. It was edited for the press by Giovanni Andrea Bussi, Bishop of Aleria. ISTC No.: ig00118000. Ten printed editions of the text appeared in the 15th century, all from Italian presses.

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Grief at the Loss of a Personal Library: Rediscovery of a Long Lost Treatise by Galen on Books and Libraries 192 CE

In 2005 a long lost treatise by the Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire Claudius Galenus (Galen of Pergamon) entitled Περι αλυπιας (On Consolation from Grief) was discovered by scholar Antoine Pietrobelli in the Monastery of the Vlatades (Moni Vlatadon) in Thessaloniki, central Macedonia, Greece. The manuscript, identified as Vlatadon 14, dates from the fifteenth century. In what is known as the first auto-bibliography, Peri ton idion biblion (De Libris propriis liber, On his Own Writings), Galen referred to Περι αλυπιας, but the last evidence of the text was preserved by the 13th century physician and writer Joseph ben Judah ibn Aknin, who paraphrased and/or translated extacts of it into Hebrew. Rediscovery of the complete text is considered one of the most spectacular finds ever in ancient literature.

Galen was motivated to write Περι αλυπιας in 192 CE after a large portion of his library, his supply of medicines and medical instruments, and wax molds for the casting of new instruments that he had invented, and other valuable items were destroyed when a devastating fire burned the Temple of Peace (Forum of Vespasian) and nearby storehouses on the Via Sacra, the main street of ancient Rome, where his property was kept. Galen chose to keep his library there because the storehouse also held some of the imperial archives, and was kept under military guard. The fire that destroyed Galen's library also burned all the public libraries on the Palatine Hill.

Galen's Περι αλυπιας provides significant information on the use of the codex form of the book in the second century CE, on the general vulnerability of books and texts, and on the production, copying, dissemination and storage of information, including the operation of Rome's imperial public libraries and Galen's use of them. It also provides information on the "consolation genre" of writings in antiquity, 

Galen's newly discovered text was first translated into English by Clare K. Rothschild and Trevor W. Thompson as "Galen: 'On the Avoidance of Grief,' " Early Christianity 2 (2011) 110-129, from which I quote selections interspersed with my comments:

In the fire Galen lost rare texts, including copies of what might have been autograph manuscripts of ancient grammarians, orators, doctors and philosophers, that were available nowhere else:

" 13 It is, therefore, neither possible to find any of the rare books and the ones ‘nowhere else kept’, nor (possible to find) the common ones sought out for the accuracy of the text . . . which include two Homeric works, the Plato of Panaetius, and many other such works, since those writings – which, in the case of each book, the men after whom the books were named either wrote them or had them copied – were preserved inside (the libraries). And, in fact, copies of books from many ancient grammarians were kept (there), also those of rhetoricians, physicians and philosophers."

He also lost texts which he had personally corrected for new editions:

"14 In addition to these (books) so important and so numerous, I then lost on the same day all the books that, after correction, had been written by me onto a pure text, books with unclear and errant readings throughout the texts – planning to produce my own edition. The writings were worked to (the point of) accuracy so that neither was something added nor words taken away, not even a paragraphos – single or double, or a coronis – (a siglum) appropriately placed between books. What is there to say about the period or comma? As you know, they are very valuable in unclear books, so that one who pays attention to them does not need an interpreter."

He lost books that had been miscatalogued in public libraries, including a work by botanist and successor to Aristotle at the Peripatetic school, Theophrastus:

"16 Further, these things will especially distress [λμπειν] you; I found outside (the libraries on the Palatine) books recorded in the so-called catalogs – some in the libraries on the Palatine and some, on the contrary, which clearly do not belong to the author to whom they are ascribed [i.e., in the catalogs] – neither with respect to style nor thought similar to him [i.e., the author]. I also found [books] of Theophrastus, in particular those on scientific matters 

17– there are also his books on plants expounded in two extended treatises – everyone has them. And, there was the tractate in precise agreement with Aristotle, that I discovered and copied, which is now lost. In the same way, both (the books) of Theophrastus and of some other men of old were not reported in the catalogues, some although recorded in them, are no longer extant. I found, then, many of these in the libraries on the Palatine, but some, on the contrary, I prepared."

On this section Matthew Nicholls, "Galen and Libraries in the Peri Alupias," Journal of Roman Studies 101 (2011) 123-42 makes several particularly meaningful points on pp. 135-36, which I quote. (The links are my additions):

"The document to which Galen refers here was probably not a specific catalogue of the Palatine library itself, still less a shelf list in the modern sense: the usual Galenic sense of the adjective καλουμενος is either to flag an unusual technical term, which πιναςι is not, or to refer to a particularly well-known example. It is possible that the Palatine's catalogue was well-known enough to qualify for such a description, but Galen seems to expect his correspondent of the PA, an anonymous friend from his schooldays who was probably still resident in Pergamum, to be familiar with it, so a general reference work with a life outside the Palatine library building seems more likely— Catalogue with a capital C. The Budé commentary identifies it as the Alexandrian catalogue, but another good candidate that fits both descriptions—a work of especial relevance to the books Galen saw in the Palatine library and a book-list well-known enough to have an independent value—is the Catalogue descended from the lists of Aristotle's library drawn up in late Republican Rome by Tyrannio and then Andronicus of Rhodes, which would fit the subject matter of the books discussed above and is confirmed as current in the second century A.D. by Plutarch.

"Even if Galen is not talking of a catalogue with a particular relevance to the Palatine library, his testimony is important, the first clear reference to a Roman library user actually consulting a catalogue in the conduct of his research. Such a catalogue, tracing its roots back to Callimachus' homonymous Alexandrian Pinakes, was supposed to give a comprehensive list of works by a given author or in a given field; for its use in a library context we can compare Quintilian's conclusion to a long list of Greek poets with an airy reference to a similar-sounding type of document. . . .

"Galen seems to have been able to consult this Catalogue within the Palatine library, comparing its contents to the shelf-holdings. The copy he used for that purpose have been his own or the library's (in which case one might have expected it to be rather more accurate). His working assumption seems to have been that the books on the shelves of the Palatine library would reflect the lists in the catalogue, so that both would ideally be complete testaments of the outputs of the authors they house. It is the exceptions to this assumption that exercise Galen; in his excitement at finding a 'lost' work by an important author—one on the shelf but not in the Catalogue—or at proving the Catalogue's identification wrong by his analysis of a unique book, Galen is consciously presenting himself as the heir to the to Alexandrian (and Pergamene) library scholars of the Hellenistic age. . . ."

Galen went to great trouble to copy of some these texts because the papyrus rolls were deteriorating as a result of the humid climate. It has long been known that papyrus may be preserved for centuries in dry climates such as the Egyptian desert, but deteriorates rapidly with humidity:

"19 These (books), then, did not cause me a small pain when copying them. As it is, the papyri are completely useless, not even able to be un-rolled because they have been glued together by decomposition, since the region is both marshy and low-lying, and, during the summer, it is stifling."

The timing of the fire was exceptionally unfortunate because Galen had had all of his works duplicated as was planning to move copies of everything to his home in Campania in a short time:

"21 For all (of my works) intended for publication were already transcribed in duplicate, not counting those that were to remain in Rome. On the one hand, my friends at home [i.e., Pergamum] were requesting that all of the works composed by me be sent to them in order that they may place (them) in a public library – just as, in fact, some other (friends) already placed many of my works in other cities – and, on the other hand, I was planning to have copies of everything in Campania.

"22 For this reason,then, there were duplicates of all of my (works), excluding those that were to remain in Rome, as I said.

"23a So, the fire broke out at the end of winter. I planned, at the beginning of summer, to transport to Campania both those (works) that were meant to remain there [i.e. , at Campania] and those that were to be sent to Asia when the Etesian winds blow." 

Besides his own works which he lost, Galen lost invaluable medical recipes that no one else had, recorded in parchment codices. After the poet Martial's reference (84-86 CE) to the codex form of the book, this is the earliest reference to the codex book that I have seen:

"31 What then, you will say, is even greater than all the things mentioned that might be able to cause distress? Well, I will tell you this: I was entrusted with the possession of the most remarkable medical recipes, such as no one else in the entire Roman world (possessed) – fortune, in part, contributing to this and I myself, in part, contributing equally.

"32 In fact, two-fold fortune granted me each (of the recipe collections) along the way. The first of which is as follows: A certain rich man of those around me hastened to find knowledge concerning effective medications, with the result that he purchased some recipes in the amount of more than one hundred gold coins. He set about this task in such a way as to purchase not only all the recipes that were held in esteem by (physicians) today in Asia, but also by those (physicians) of the past.

 "33 These medical recipes were preserved with the utmost care, in two parchment codices that a certain one of the heirs – himself most dear to me – gave to me of his own accord without being asked." 

Pertinent to Περι αλυπιας, a chapter entitled "Galen's Library" by Vivian Nutton published in Gill, Whitmarsh and Wilkins (eds.) Galen and the World of Knowledge (2009) is of considerable interest. From it I quote a brief section that appeared on pp. 20-21:

"It is clear that Galen's library must have been enormous. It is not just that he wrote so many titles; many of his treatises were in several books, each occupying a single book roll, so that one must imagine at least six or seven hundred rolls containing his own writings alone. In addition shorthand writers took down his words and copied out whatever other treatises he wanted for his own purposes. It is very likely that his was among the largest ancient collections of medical books, along with that of that voracious reader, the Elder Pliny, but any attempt to place Galen and others, along a spectrum of medical bibliophiles is doomed to failure. Both Celsus, the author of On Medicine, and Rufus of Ephesus were men of considerable learning, but establishing their sources is far from easy, and next to impossible for other doctors. Papyrological and archaeological evidence for medical libraries is ambiguous at best. . . . Galen's own comments about the books available to his less fortunate colleagues imply that they owned a mere handful of books. He recommends epitomes of his own more voluminous writings as more suitable for those who had neither the time nor the inclination to involve themselves with long and complicated expositions. His demands in On Examinations for a basic knowledge of a canon of distinguished authorities from the past presume that any competent physician would have a substantial library, but it is also clear from surviving tracts that much of this 'essential learning' could be gained from handbooks and summaries of one kind or another. But undoubtedly there were other healers with substantial resources, even if, as Galen complains, they did not spend as much as he did on books. . . ."

(This entry was last revised on 09-17-2016.)

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The Diptych Document Format 198 CE

An unusually well-preserved diptych dated 198 CE in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, shows how this document format was used during the Roman empire.

"The diptych contains the appointment of a guardian for a woman by the prefect of Egypt. The main body of the text inscribed on the wax is in Latin, followed by a subscription written in Greek by an amanuensis on behalf of the woman, who was illiterate. On the outside there are copies of these sections and a list of the names of seven witnesses, all written in ink directly on the wood. The diptych was originally tied shut and sealed with the seals of the witnesses to prevent tampering with the inner text, the authenticated version, while the exterior text remained available for consultation" (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of the Classics, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, no. 32.)

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The Egerton Gospel: One of the Earliest Known Fragments of Any Gospel Circa 200 CE

The front side of the first Egerton papyrus fragment.

The Egerton Gospel, a group of three papyrus fragments preserved in the British Library, are among the earliest known fragments of a papyrus codex of a previously unknown Gospel. They were found in Egypt and sold to the British Museum in 1934. The fragments are now dated to the very end of the 2nd century AD. A fourth fragment from the same papyrus has since been identified in the papyrus collection of the University of Cologne

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The Making of a Gospel Book Circa 200 CE – 300 CE

“Following the custom of the Synagogue, the Scriptures of the Old Testament were read at the primitive Christian assemblies. According as the Canon of the New Testament was decided on, certain extracts from it were included in these readings. Justin tells us that in his day, when the Christians met together, they read the Memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of the Prophets (First Apology 67). Tertullian, Cyprian, and other writers bear witness to the same custom; and in the West the order of lector existed as early as the third century. For want of precise testimony we do not know how the particular passages were decided on. Most likely the presiding bishop chose them at the assembly itself; and it is obvious that on the occurrence of certain festivals the Scripture relating to them would be read. Little by little a more or less definite list would naturally result from this method. St. John Chrysostom in a homily delivered at Antioch exhorts his hearers to read beforehand the Scripture passages to be read and commented on in the Office of the day (Homilia de Lazaro, iii, c. i). In like manner other Churches would form a table of readings. In the margin of the manuscript text it was customary to note the Sunday or festival on which that particular passage would be read, and at the end of the manuscript, the list of such passages, the Synaxarium or Capitulare, would be added. Transition from this process to the making of an Evangeliarium, or collection of all such passages, was easy. Gregory is of opinion that we possess fragments of Evangeliaria in Greek dating from the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, and that we have very many from the ninth century onwards (according to Gregory they number 1072). In like manner, we find Lectionaries in the Lain Churches as early as the fifth century. The Comes of the Roman Church dates from before St. Gregory the Great (P.L., XXX, 487-532." (quoted from the New Advent Encyclopedia article on Evangeliaria).

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The Transition from the Roll to the Codex Resulted in Both Survival and Destruction of Information Circa 200 CE – 400 CE

"The break between Antiquity and the Middle Ages is mitigated by two significant factors that account for the literature which survived. First, the Christian foundations of medieval European civilization were already being built in late Antiquity out of the literary materials of Roman education, while the public book trade still flourished. Western Christianity, we sometimes forget, was first of all a Roman religion, the official faith of the empire in Antiquity. When the primarily monastic Latin Roman Church set forth to convert the pagan North under the direction of Pope Gregory I and his successors, it was able to carry along with its faith the civilization, including the books, of late Antiquity.

"Along with the change in faith, a second change in late Antiquity contributed materially to the survival of ancient literature into the Middle Ages: the transposition of the bulk of ancient literature from the traditional papyrus roll to the recently adopted parchment codex occurred during the relatively stable circumstances of the Late Empire, between roughly AD 200 and 400, so that, in effect, ancient civilization had entrusted Roman literature to a much more durable vessel than the papyrus roll in which to make the transition to the Middle Ages. Ironically, it has proved to be the moments of major change in physical form—which one might expect to have increased the texts' chances of survival—that have seen the greatest volume of physical loss: the changes from roll to codex, from tribal scripts to Caroline minuscule, and from script to print; for once a body of literature is consigned to a new physical form, what remains in the old form, now redundant, is discarded" (R. Rouse," The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns  [ed] The Legacy of Rome. A New Appraisal [1992] 42-43).

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Origen's Hexapla: Made Possible by the Codex Form, and the First Codices to Display Information in Tabular Form Circa 234 CE – 253 CE

After his arrival in Caesaria, Palestine, from Alexandria, in 234 Christian scholar and theologian Origen (Ὠριγένης Ōrigénēs or Origen Adamantius) undertook compilation of the Hexapla, an elaborate tool for textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible containing the Old Testament written in six parallel columns laid out across each page opening, in a series of large, thick codices. The project is thought to have taken roughly 20 years to complete, by Origen with a team of assistants and scribes, some of whom may have been slaves. To undertake his scholarly work Origen collected a very significant library, though we have little understanding of its precise contents. 

Origen was the first Christian biblical scholar, and the first Christian scholar to undertake the study of Hebrew. His Hexapla was not only a massive scholarly achievement in the early days of Christianity, but also a landmark in book history, since the Hexapla was undoubtedly the largest scholarly endeavor in the early history of Christianity—a work so large in terms of sheer information quantity that it could only have been written in a series of large codices, the format of the book that was gradually replacing the papyrus roll between 100 and 400 CE. In papyrus roll form the Hexapla would have occupied hundreds of rolls, and would have been virtually impossible to use, a consideration which would have assured that the codex format was employed. The volumes of the Hexapla were also presumably the first codices to display information in tabular form– a form that Origen appears to have invented.

It is estimated that the original Hexapla consisted of about 6000 folio pages in perhaps 40 codices, and that because of the immense cost of its production- perhaps 150,000 denarii based on Diocletian's price edict- it probably existed in only a single complete copy. This copy may have been preserved in the library of the bishops of Caesarea for several centuries, but was lost in the Muslim invasion of in 638, if not earlier. The three column page format of the large codices of the Hexapla is thought to have been influential on the four column format of the other large codex produced about a century later, which did survive— the Codex Sinaiticus. It is, of course, also likely that the Hexapla was used in editing the Bible text recorded in the Codex Sinaiticus. Origen's table format was also influential on the development of Eusebius's table format in his Chronicon.

Because so little physical evidence survived from the transitional period from the papyrus roll to the codex during first four centuries CE, details that we have of Origen's Hexapla and its relationship to Eusebius's Chronicon and to the Codex Sinaiticus are significant markers for this critical early period in book history. Only a few small fragments of codices have survived from the third century, and nothing from that date confirms the tabular form of the Hexapla, or even that it was written in codex form. For confirmation of the layout of the codex page openings of the Hexapla we depend upon later evidence: two early manuscript fragments that survived. The first is a palimpsest from the Cairo Genizah in which the 8th century Greek text of a portion of the Psalms in the columnar form of the Hexapla was overwritten in Hebrew. This leaf, preserved at Cambridge, was first reproduced by Charles Taylor in Hebrew-Greek Cairo Genizah Palimpsests from the Taylor-Schechter Collection, Including a Fragment of the Twenty-Second Psalm According to Origen's Hexapla. (1900),plates 1 and 2. (I discovered this publication detail when I acquired a copy of Taylor's book in 2016.) More recently the leaf was reproduced on p. 97 of Grafton & Williams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book. Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea (2006) On p. 99 of the same work the authors reproduce a diagram showing the layout of the partial Hexapla leaf showing its actual linear and columnar arrangement in white and a hypothetical reconstruction of the original folio page opening in six columns in gray. The other fragment, coincidentally also of the Psalms, preserved in the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana in Milan, was written in Greek minuscule circa 900, and palimpsested with a 13th or 14th century Greek text.

For further support of the written format of the Hexapla we depend upon the account of Jerome:

"Our best ancient evidence for the form and content of the Hexapla comes from Jerome, writing in Palestine at the end of the fourth century. Jerome knew the work well. Not only did he possess Hexaplatic volumes of his own, which he used extensively in his translations and commentaries, but he also consulted the original at Caesarea. In a brief aside in commentary on the pseudo-Pauline letter to Titus, he gives a detailed account of the work. Jerome says that in the original Hexapla preserved at Caesarea:

"the very Hebrew words, too, are copied in their own letters, and expressed in Greek letters in the neighboring column. Aquila also, and Symmachus, the Septuagint, and Theodion hold their places. But for not a few books, and especially those which among the Hebrews are composed in verse, three other editions have been added, which are called the fifth, sixth, and seventh translations; they are considered authoritative though the names of the translators are lost." 

"Jerome thus confirms the presence of a Hebrew column in Hebrew letters as well as a column in Greek transliteration, which gives an unambiguous description of the order of the columns" (Grafton & Williams, op. cit. 91).

Study of surviving fragments of Origen's Hexapla continued over the centuries. The first edition considered comprehensive was Bernard de Montfaucon's Hexaplorum Origenis quae supersunt (2 vols., 1713). This was superceded by the edition of Frederick Field (1875). 

(This entry was last revised on 02-24-2016.)

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One of the Few Scraps of Classical Literary Illustration on Papyrus Circa 250 CE

The Heracles Papyrus. (View Larger)

The Heracles Papyrus, preserved in Oxford at the Sackler Library (Oxyrhynchus Pap. 2331), is a fragment of about the labors of Heracles dating from about 250 CE. It contains three unframed colored line drawings of the first of the Labors, with the strangling of the lion set within the columns of cursive text. Found at Oxyrhynchus, it is one of the few surviving scraps of classical literary illustration on papyrus. The fragment is 235 by 106 mm.

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The Crosby-Schoyen Codex: One of the Earliest Extant Papyrus Codices, Probably from the Earliest Monastery Library Circa 250 CE

The Crosby-Schøyen Codex, a papyrus codex in Sahidic (a dialect of Coptic) from Alexandria, Egypt, consists of 52 leaves, of which 16 are missing, 15x15 cm, written in 2 columns, (10 x12 cm), 11-18 lines in a bold large Coptic uncial, with 3 decorated cartouches. Its fifth and final text is written in a single column, 12 lines. Dating from about 250, it is one of the earliest extant codices, showing the adoption of the codex form of the book by early Christians. In 2013 it was the earliest codex in private hands.

The five texts in the Crosby-Schøyen Codex are:

  1. Bible: Jonah
  2. Bible: 2 Maccabees 5:27 - 7:41
  3. Bible: 1 Peter
  4. Melito of Sardis: Peri Pascha 47 - 105
  5. Homily, An Unidentified Sermon for Easter Morning

The codex represents the earliest known complete text of the two books of the Bible, Jonah and 1 Peter. Of 1 Peter there is also a Greek papyrus slightly later, circa 300, from the same hoard, now in the Vatican Library. The Schøyen 1 Peter is copied from a Greek exemplar written before 2 Peter existed, that is circa 60-130 CE. It is the single most important manuscript of 1 Peter. Texts 2 and 4 are also the earliest witnesses. Text 5 is unique, and probably the oldest extant Christian liturgical manuscript. 

The codex derives from the hoard known as the "Bodmer Papyri", consisting of 9 Greek papyrus rolls, 22 papyrus codices and circa 7 vellum codices in Greek and Coptic. These manuscripts are now mainly located in the Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, Genève, and the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. They are part of what is known as the Dishna papers, which may have belonged to the library of one of the earliest monasteries associated with the first monastic order, the Pachomian order, Faw Qibli, Egypt. In his book, The Story of the Bodmer Papyri. From the First Monastery's Library in Upper Egypt to Geneva and Dublin (2011) James M. Robinson traced the unusually complex provenance of the Bodmer Papyri, documented the history of their publication in the 20th century, and made the case that these papyri were originally part of the library of the first Christian monastery. Robinson's view is not universally shared. The rolls and codices from the library were buried in a large sealed jar probably during the Arabic conquest of Egypt in the seventh century, and were not found until 1952.

The provenance of the Crosby-Schoyen Codex is among the most complicated of all the so-called Bodmer Papyri:

 "1. Copied from exemplars in Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria (3rd c.); 2. Monastery of the Pachomian Order, Dishna, Egypt (4th-7th c.); 3. Buried in a jar in the sand (7th c.-1952); 4. Hasan Muhammad al-Samman, Abu Mana (1952); 5. Riyad Jirjis Fam, Dishna (1952); 6. Phocion J. Tano, Cairo (1952-); 7. Sultan Maguid Sameda, Cairo (until 1955); 8. University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi (1955-1981); 9. H.P. Kraus, New York (1981-83); 10. Vinsor T. Savery, Houston, Texas (Pax ex Innovatione Foundation, Vaduz, Liechtenstein) (1983-1988); 11. Sotheby's 6.12.1988:29. 41 fragments from the beginning of the codex, that came apart in 1952: 1.-6. As above; 7. Dr. Martin Bodmer, Genève (1952-1967); 8. Prof. William H. Willis, Durham, North Carolina (from 1967); 9. Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, "P. Duk. inv. C125" (until 1990), acquired by exchange in April 1990, and rejoined to the main codex June 1990" (http://www.schoyencollection.com/Coptic.htm, accessed 11-25-2010). 

(This entry was last revised on 04-21-2014.)

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The Earliest Known Greek Manuscript of the Four Gospels Circa 250 CE

Papyrus 45 (P. Chester Beatty I), an early New Testament manuscript in codex form, was probably created around 250 in Egypt. It contains the texts of Matthew 20-21 and 25-26; Mark 4-9 and 11-12; Luke 6-7 and 9-14; John 4-5 and 10-11; and Acts 4-17. The manuscript is preserved in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland, except for one leaf containing Matthew 25:41-26:39, which is preserved in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna (Pap. Vindob. G. 31974).

"On its discovery in 1931, this remarkable survival became the earliest known Greek manuscript of the Four Gospels by at least 100 years. Originally comprising around 220 leaves arranged in gatherings of two leaves, the manuscript demonstrates that Christians used the book (or codex) form for their Scriptures rather than the roll format, from an early date. The papyrus fragments also show that the Four Gospels circulated together. Most of the surviving fragments of the text consist of sections of the Gospels of Sts Luke and John, but enough of the text from the other two Gospels and Acts remains to enable the overall content and structure of the codex to be identified. The texts that they preserve reveal that there were slightly different versions of the Gospels circulating by the beginning of the third century. For example, verse 24, starting ten lines down, includes the additional words 'the birds of heaven' in the phrase 'Consider the ravens: they do not sow or reap', language that is similar to that found in St. Matthew's account (6:26)" (Reeve [ed.] Sacred. Books of the Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam [2007] 64-65).

(This entry was last revised on April 13, 2014.)

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Pamphilus Establishes a Library and Scriptorium and is Executed During the Diocletianic Persecution of Christians 275 CE – 309 CE

A map of Israel, with Caesarea Maritima highlightd in blue. (View Larger)

Between 275 and his martyrdom in 309 Pamphilus of Caesarea (Pamphilius), presbyter, and teacher of Eusebius, devoted his life to searching out and obtaining copies of manuscript texts, some of which he copied himself. He established a library that may have contained 30,000 manuscripts, and a scriptorium at a Christian theological school at Caesarea Palaestina, now Caesarea Maritima, a town on the coast of Israel between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Because of this library Caesarea was the capital of Christian scholarship in the 3rd century.

"This Pamphilus was of a noble family in the Phoenician city of Berytus [Beirut], where he received his early education. Probably in the early and mid-280's, he studied in Alexandria under the presbyter Pierius, who was himself known as 'the Younger Origen.' From there Pamphilius seems to have come to Caesarea, where his great learning in philosophy and theology enabled him to open a successful school at Caesarea. Pamphilus' school could boast no unbroken descent from Origen's school, because there was no continuous sucession of masters at Caesarea between Origen and Pamphilus. . . ." (Carriker, The Library of Eusebius of Caesarea [2003] 12-13).

During the Diocletianic persecution, the last and most bloody persecution of Christians before Constantine established Christianity as the Roman state religion, Pamphilus was arrested and imprisoned in November 307. He was executed and martyred on February 16, 309. 

"By the end of 307 Pamphilius was arrested under the orders of Urbanus, the local Roman governor, tortured cruelly, and placed in prison. Yet, in prison and suffering from his torture wounds, Pamphilius did not remain idle but continued editing the Septuagint and with Eusebius, wrote a Defense of Origen that he sent to the confessors in the mines of Phaeno, Egypt [i.e. South Palestine, "in a mining area lying east of the Wadi Arabah, between the south end of the Dead Sea and Petra."]

"After being in prison for two years, Pamphilius was ordered killed by the new governor, Firminius. He was then beheaded on February 16, 309 with several of his disciples. In his memory Eusebius called himself Eusebius Pamphili, to denote his close friendship with Pamphilius" (Orthodox Wiki article on Pamphilius, accessed 02-02-2013).

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One of the Earliest, Most Widely-Used Cross-Indexing Systems Circa 280 CE – 340 CE

A portrait of Eusebius of Caesarea. (View Larger)

The Eusebian canons or Eusebian sections, also known as Ammonian Sections, are the system of dividing the four Gospels used between late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. They are usually attributed to the Roman historian, exegete, and Christian polemicist and Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea who was active between 280 and 340. The sections are indicated in the margin of nearly all Greek and Latin manuscripts of the Bible, and usually summarized in Canon Tables at the start of the Gospels . There are about 1165 sections: 355 for Matthew, 235 for Mark, 343 for Luke, and 232 for John; the numbers, however, vary slightly in different manuscripts. These tables represent a way for the reader to move back and forth between related sections in the texts, and are an early organizational structure and cross-indexing system.

"Until the nineteenth century it was mostly believed that these divisions were devised by Ammonius of Alexandria, at the beginning of the third century (c. 220), in connection with a Harmony of the Gospels, now lost, which he composed. It was traditionally believed that he divided the four Gospels into small numbered sections, which were similar in content where the narratives are parallel. He then wrote the sections of the three last Gospels, or simply the section numbers with the name of the respective evangelist, in parallel columns opposite the corresponding sections of the Gospel of Matthew, which he had chosen as the basis of his Harmony. Now it is believed that the work of Ammonius was restricted to what Eusebius of Caesarea (265-340) states concerning it in his letter to Carpianus, namely, that he placed the parallel passages of the last three Gospels alongside the text of Matthew, and the sections traditionally credited to Ammonius are now ascribed to Eusebius, who was always credited with the final form of the tables.

"The tables themselves were usually placed at the start of a Gospel Book, and in illuminated copies were placed in round-headed arcade-like frames of which the general form remained remarkably consistent through to the Romanesque period. This form was derived from Late Antique book-painting frames like those in the Chronography of 354. In many examples the tables are the only decoration in the whole book, perhaps other than some initials. In particular, canon tables, with Evangelist portraits, are very important for the study of the development of manuscript painting in the earliest part of the Early Medieval period, where very few manuscripts survive, and even the most decorated of those have fewer pages illuminated than was the case later" (Wikipedia article on Eusebian Canons, accessed 11-26-2008).

Wright, Alex. Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages (2007) 83-85.

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Early Christian Papyrus Codices in Coptic Bindings 300 CE – 350 CE

Codex IV found at Nag Hammadi. (View Larger)

In 1945 twelve papyrus codices, plus eight leaves from a thirteenth, were found by a local peasant near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammâdi. The manuscripts had been buried in a sealed jar. Eleven of the codices were in their original leather covers. This collection of codices in Coptic bindings, called the Nag Hammadi Library, comprised fifty-two mostly Gnostic tractates or treatises, dating from about 300 to about 350, and documenting a ". . . major side-stream of early quasi-Christian thought. . . formerly attested only by the anti-heretical treatises of orthodox Christianity. . . ." (Needham).  The best-known of these works is probably the Gospel of Thomas, of which the Nag Hammadi codices contained the only complete text. They also included three works belonging to the Corpus Hermeticum, and a partial translation/alteration of Plato's Republic. The Nag Hammadi texts were all Coptic translations of works that had been originally written in Greek.

In his "Introduction" to The Nag Hammadi Library in English, 3rd ed. (1984) James M. Robinson suggested that these codices may have belonged to a nearby Pachomian monastery, and may have been buried after Bishop Athanasius condemned the uncritical use of non-canonical books in his Festal Letter of 367 CE.

This collection of codices represents one of the most extensive collections of early papyrus codices in Coptic bindings.

"The Nag Hammadi codices are written on papyrus. Their language is Coptic, the native language of Egypt as recorded in the third century A.D. and after. Coptic script is a modification of the Greek alphabet, reflecting the fact that, in its written form, Coptic was essentially the language of Egyptian Christianity, whose early literature (including the heterodox Gnostic texts) was in large part translated from the Greek. The Nag Hammadi codices were written and bound in the first half of the fourth century, presumably within a religious community. The site of the find was near Chenoboskion, where in the early fourth century a monastery was established by St. Pachomius, the founder of coventional Christian monasticism. The burial of the Gnostic writings may have followed a fourth-century purge there of heretical literature.

"The volumes consist of single-quire codices, of as many as seventy-six leaves each; in two cases, two or more distinct codices, were found together in one volume. The covers are made of prepared goatskin or sheepskin. The upper covers have flaps, similar to those later routine on Islamic bindings. . . , extending over the fore-edge and folding around to the lower cover. Leather thongs are attached to the flaps, by means of which the volumes could be wrapped up and tied. Some of the volumes also have remains of thongs on the top and bottom of the covers. The covers are more than simply wrappers, for their insides are lined with papyrus cartonnage, built up into boards over which the turn-ins of the covers were folded and glued or tied. To secure the quire in its cover, two pairs of holes were stabbed through the fold of the leaves, one pair toward the top, the other toward the bottom. A leather thong was passed through each pair, then either through the spine of the cover itself, or through a strip of leather guard, and its ends tied together. If leather guards were used, they were glued to the inside fo the covers, so that in either case the codex as attached to the cover. Several of the bindings are decorated, the most elaborate being that of Nag Hammadi Codex II. Its covers are scribed with fillets, dividing them into cross and X- (or St. Andrew's cross) patterns. Additional simple scrollwork patterns were added in ink, and what appears to be an ankh, or crux ansata, was drawn at the top of the upper cover" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings: 400-1600 [1979] 5-6).

Apart from those in the Morgan Library and Museum, most of the Nag Hammadi codices are preserved in the Coptic Museum in Cairo.

(This entry was last revised on 04-21-2014.)

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Costs of Professional Writing Measured by the Normal Length of a Line in a Verse of Virgil 303 CE

Piece of the edict in Pergamonmuseum Berlin.

Bust of Diocletian, Roman emperor at the end of the third century AD.  In 301, in an effort to control inflation, he implemented the Edict on Maximum Prices.

"At the time of the conversion to Christianity, Rome had twenty-eight libraries within its walls and book production was so well established a line of business that Diocletian, in his price edict [Edict on Maximum Prices (also known as the Edict on Prices or the Edict of Diocletian; in Latin Edictum De Pretiis Rerum Venalium)] set rates for various qualities of script: for one hundred lines in 'scriptura optima', twenty-five denarii; for somewhat lesser script, twenty denarii, and for functional script ('scriptura libelii bel tabularum'), ten denarii. The unit of valuation was the normal length of line in a verse of Virgil [Vergil]. The extent of a work is given in these units at the end of some manuscripts (stichometry), and stichometric lists survive for biblical books and for the writings of Cyprian" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages [1990] 182).

Laufer, Diokletians Preisedikt (1971).

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As a Result of Diocletian's Edict, Police Seize Thirty-Four Biblical Manuscripts in Africa May 19, 303 CE

On February 24, 303 Diocletian's first "Edict against the Christians" ordered the destruction of Christian scriptures and places of worship across the Empire, and prohibited Christians from assembling for worship.

"The police investigation of 19 May 303 into the Cirta (now Constantine) community in Africa reported the seizure of thirty-four biblical manuscripts: one very large, five large, two small, twenty-five of unrecorded size and one made up of four unbound quinions. The figures could suggest that there were a large number of Bible manuscripts in fourth-century Africa. Very many more must have been made when Christianity had survived the persecutions of Diocletian and as it expanded in the following centuries to the barbarian West. Even if Christianity was never to be planted as densely and as intensely in much of the barbarian West as it had been in Africa in the fourth and fifth centuries, there must have been thousands of Latin books of the Bible available in the centuries before 800; indeed they were so numerous that some, no longer wanted or appropriate, came to be discarded and their parchment reused for other texts before that date. [Footnote to the quotation: Examples of discarded fifth-century texts include: Paris, Bibliothèque National, lat. 6400G (fols. 113-30), Acts and Apocalypse (Old Latin) with a fragment of the Catholic Epistles (C[odices]L[atini] A[ntiquiores] v, 565) reused in the seventh to eighth centuries; Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, lat. 1 (fols. 1-10, 17-18, 20-1, 23-6, 31-5, 38-40, 44, 49), Kings (Old Latin) (CLA III, 389) reused in eighth-century Bobbio; Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, lat. 5763 + Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August Bibliothek, Weiss 64, Judges and Ruth, (CLA 1, 41) also reused in eighth-century Bobbio. Not all reused texts were Old Latin.] Of these probably thousands only 363 have survived and are listed in the palaeographical guide to Latin manuscripts before 800, E. A. Lowe's Codices Latini Antiquiores" (McGurk, "The oldest manuscripts of the Latin Bible," IN: Gameson (ed) The Early Medieval Bible: Its production, decoration and use [1994] 1).

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The Codex Vaticanus Circa 325 CE – 350 CE

A page from the Codex Vaticanus. (View Larger)

The Codex Vaticanus, a 4th century uncial manuscript of the Septuagint and the New Testament, is, along with the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the two extant 4th century manuscripts of the Old and New Testament in Greek, the language used by the early Christians. Some experts estimate the date of the Codex Vaticanus as slightly prior to the Codex Sinaiticus. The Codex Vaticanus was written on sheets of parchment in a three-column format in Biblical majuscule in scriptio continua, without word division, punctuation or pagination, by two or three different scribes.  Quires are numbered in the margin. Its page format is considerably smaller than the Codex Sinaiticus, with its pages currently measuring 27 x 27 cm. Its place of origin is uncertain; Rome, southern Italy, Alexandria, and Caesarea have been proposed.

Originally the manuscript must have been composed of 820 parchment leaves, but it appears that 71 leaves have been lost. Currently, the Old Testament consists of 617 sheets and the New Testament of 142 sheets. Pages 1519-1536 containing Hebrews 9:14 through Revelation, were lost and replaced by a 15th century minuscule supplement.

"The manuscript is believed to have been housed in Caesarea in the 6th century, together with the Codex Sinaiticus (the same unique divisions of chapters in the Acts). It came to Italy – probably from Constantinople – after the Council of Florence (1438–1445)" (Wikipedia article on Codex Vaticanus, accessed 12-05-2010).

During the 10th or 11th century the fading ink of the codex was written over, so that the original characters are obscured.

The manuscript has been housed in the Vatican Library for as long as it has been known to scholars; it was included in the Vatican Library's earliest catalogue in 1475.

The Codex Vaticanus was first reproduced in engraved semi-facsimile as Bibliorum sacrorum graecus codex Vaticanus auspice Pio IX. Pontifice Maximo collatis studiis Caroli Vercellone Sodalis Barnabitae et Josephi Cozza Monachi Basiliani editus (Rome, 1868). In December 2013 a digital facsimile of this 1868 edition was available from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 04-27-2014.)

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The Text of Pappus's Mathematical Collection is Based on a Single 10th Century Manuscript Circa 325 CE – 950

Vat. gr. 218 fols. 39v-40r, two pages of the earliest surviving copy of Pappus's 'Collection.' (View Larger)

Pappus of Alexandria (Πάππος ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς) was one of the last great Greek mathematicians, astronomers and geographers of antiquity. His main work, in eight books and titled Synagoge or Collection, did not survive in complete form; its first book is lost, and its other books are lacking portions. Besides a record of Pappus's own work, the Synagoge  is a major source — sometimes the only source — for the work of Pappus's predecessors.

In addition to his Synagoge, Pappus is known for Pappus's Theorem in projective geometry. Virtually nothing is known of his life; even the traditional understanding that he taught at Alexandria cannot be confirmed, and the belief that he had a son named Hermodoros, to whom he dedicated the seventh and eighth books of the Synagoge, is only one possible interpretation of ambiguous language.

The earliest surviving copy of Pappus's text, and the basis for all later versions, is Vat. gr. 218, a 10th century manuscript of the Synagoge written on parchment and preserved in the Vatican Library. The manuscript seems to have been in the Vatican library by 1311 or possibly by 1266, but it does not seem to have been copied until much later. Pappus's Collection was first published in print in the Latin translation and commentaries of Federico Commandino issued by Francisco de Franciscis Senense of Venice in 1588. Because the first book was lost, and the edition did not include book two, the 1588 edition began with book three. The missing book two was first published by John Wallis in Oxford in 1688.

Bulmer-Thomas, Ivor, "Pappus of Alexandria," Dictionary of Scientific Biography 10, 293-304.  Thanks to Juan José Betancur Muñoz who pointed out in an email to me that Pappus's use of Έρμοδωρε τέκνον in his reference to Hermodoros "signifies a certain filial relation between the two persons in the sentence; however, it does not imply necessarily a father-son relation." (This entry was last revised on 11-14-2014.)

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Contantine Orders Fifty Luxurious Bibles for the Churches of Constantinople 326 CE – 327 CE

Because of the remarkable increase in the number of Christians after the conversion of Constantine's court to Christianity, Constantine's new capital city of Constantinople contained many churches which needed Bibles for divine service. In the twenty-first year of Constantine's reign, 326-327, Constantine wrote to Eusebius in Caesarea requesting him to furnish fifty copies of the Bible, well written and easy to read. Funds for their production were to be provided by the rationalis (finance manager) of the diocese of Oriens (Dioecesis OrientisἘῴα Διοίκησις), and arrangements were made for their transport by official channels. In his Life of Constantine, Book Four, Chapter XXXVI, Eusebius quotes a letter from Constantine in Greek expressing this desire, one translation of which follows: 

"Chapter XXXVI.—Constantine’s Letter to Eusebius on the Preparation of Copies of the Holy Scriptures.

“ 'Victor Constantinus, Maximus Augustus, to Eusebius.

“ 'It happens, through the favoring providence of God our Saviour, that great numbers have united themselves to the most holy church in the city which is called by my name. It seems, therefore, highly requisite, since that city is rapidly advancing in prosperity in all other respects, that the number of churches should also be increased. Do you, therefore, receive with all readiness my determination on this behalf. I have thought it expedient to instruct your Prudence to order fifty copies of the sacred Scriptures, the provision and use of which you know to be most needful for the instruction of the Church, to be written on prepared parchment in a legible manner, and in a convenient, portable form, by professional transcribers thoroughly practiced in their art. The catholicus of the diocese has also received instructions by letter from our Clemency to be careful to furnish all things necessary for the preparation of such copies; and it will be for you to take special care that they be completed with as little delay as possible. You have authority also, in virtue of this letter, to use two of the public carriages for their conveyance, by which arrangement the copies when fairly written will most easily be forwarded for my personal inspection; and one of the deacons of your church may be intrusted with this service, who, on his arrival here, shall experience my liberality. God preserve you, beloved brother!' ” 

 Eusebius followed this with Book 4, Chapter 37: "How the Copies were Provided," the pertinent sentence of which is quoted from the same translation:

"Such were the emperor's commands, which were followed by the immediate execution of the work itself, which we sent him in magnificent and elaborately bound volumes of a threefold and fourfold form."

The final phrase, εν πολυτελως ησκημενοις τευχεσι τρισσα και τετρασσα διαπεμψαντων ημων, has long intrigued bible scholars and book historians as a possible clue to the format of the bibles supplied. According to the Wikipedia article on "Fifty Bibles of Constantine," (accessed 12-29-2013), the phrase has been interpretted several different ways:

  1. Codices were prepared in three or four volumes – Bernard de Montfaucon;
  2. Codices were sent in three or four boxes – F. A. Heinichen;
  3. Codices were prepared in with three or four folios – Scrivener;
  4. Text of the codices was written in three or four columns per page – Tischendorf, Gebhardt, and Gregory, Kirsopp Lake;
  5. Codices were sent by threes or fours.

Version 4 was used by the discoverer of the Codex Sinaiticus, Constantin von Tischendorf, and others, including Kirsopp Lake in his paper, "The Sinaitic and Vatican Manuscripts and the Copies Sent by Eusebius to Constantine" to argue that the Codex Sinaiticus and also the Codex Vaticanus, which were written in a four and three narrow column format respectively, were among the fifty bibles supplied by Eusebius to Constantine. However, Lake admitted that the phrase was ambiguous and could just as well have meant the same as version 5, "three or four copies at a time." Version 5 was the interpretation accepted by Timothy Barnes in his study, Constantine and Eusebius (1981) 124.

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The Codex Sinaiticus Circa 330 CE – 360 CE

The Codex Sinaiticus. (View Larger)

The Codex Sinaiticus (formerly known as the Codex Sinaiticus Petropolitanus) was written in Koine Greek in the mid-4th century, by at least three scribes. The codex was written in uncial majuscule in scriptio continua, without word division, punctuation or pagination; it incorporates two ancient methods for numbering its quires, and it also incorporates a version of the system of numbering the paragraphs of the Gospels developed by Eusebius of Caesarea. It was written in a four-column format except for the poetical and wisdom literature in which a two-column format was used. This is the only surviving biblical manuscript employing the four-column page format, and it has been suggested that this is reminiscent of the papyrus roll format rather than the codex. It is thought that the codex was written somewhere in Asia Minor, Palestine (Caesarea?) or Egypt.

The Codex Sinaiticus is unique among ancient manuscripts for the number of corrections that were made to it by ancient correctors.  In his monograph on the codex (reference below, p. 76) D. C. Parker states that there may be as many as 27,000 corrections to the text. The number of corrections and the care in which they were made suggests, according to Parker, the importance that may have been given to this manuscript early in its history.

Originally the Codex Sinaiticus contained the Old Testament, according to the canon of the Greek Septuagint, including the books known in English as the Apocrypha, (but without 2 and 3 Maccabees), along with the New Testament and two other early Christian books—the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas. The complete codex originally consisted of at least 97 quires, each containing 8 leaves or 16 pages, incorporating a total of 776 leaves. In its current form the codex comprises just over 400 leaves, each of which measure 380 mm (15 in.) high by 345 mm (13.5 in.) wide. In size and extent this represented a quantum leap from the papyrus codices in which early Christian documents were most typically written. Most papyrus codices are thought to have contained only one of the Gospels, and the most it is thought that could have been incorporated in the largest papyrus codex would have been the Gospels and Acts.

Compared to the smaller papyrus codices, from the standpoint of book history the completion of the Codex Sinaiticus on parchment may represent an achievement comparable to Gutenberg's invention of printing by movable type more than 1000 years later. However, just over half of the original book survived, now dispersed between four institutions: St Catherine's Monastery in Sinai (where the manuscript was discovered), the British Library, Leipzig University Library, and the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg. At the British Library the largest surviving portion - 347 leaves, or 694 pages - includes the whole of the New Testament. The other institutions hold portions of the Septuagint, which also survived almost complete, plus the Epistle of Barnabas, and portions of The Shepherd of Hermas

After his conversion to Christianity the Emperor Constantine  commissioned fifty Greek Bibles for the churches of his new capitol, Constantinople, and ever sincer the Codex Sinaiticus was discovered it was speculated that the Codex Sinaiticus was among those commissioned. However, there is no evidence to substantiate this speculation. None of the fifty copies has ever been conclusively identified.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the Codex and podcasts about the manuscript were available from the British Library at this link.

All surviving portions of the Codex were joined in a virtual electronic edition at Codexsinaiticus.org.

♦ Please use the exact phrase keyword search under Codex Sinaiticus to locate several other entries in this database pertinent to this codex as it appears in book history over the centuries.

For a general guide to the codex see  Parker, Codex Sinaiticus. The Story of the World's Oldest Bible (2010).

♦ It is one thing to write about a book; it is another thing altogether to see it and handle it; I would never even dream of being allowed to handle this priceless volume. However, in February 2014 I acquired through Amazon.com the full color facsimile edition of the Codex Sinaiticus published by the British Library and Henrickson Publishers in 2010. I noticed this facsimile when it was originally advertised, but resisted purchasing. Then, when it appeared that the facsimile was being remaindered, I acquired a new copy for only $300, plus only $3.99 shipping. I emphasize only $3.99 because the facsimile in its double shipping box weighed 15.5 kg or over 35 pounds, and even though it was sent by media mail, the seller obviously had to pay far more to ship it than Amazon would allow them to charge. Like the priceless original codex, the facsimile is a stunningly impressive volume 43 x 35.5 cm, very finely printed on heavy art paper, and very sturdily bound in a strong slipcase. The volume is 8.5 cm thick. The "Reference Guide" included with the volume indicates that the publishers had to reduce the images of the pages very slightly, by approximately 5%, "to bring the pages down to the maximum size which could be bound by machine." Through hefting this volume and paging through it one can get a sense of the magnificent physicality of the achievement that is the Codex Sinaiticus.

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The Earliest Surviving Manuscript of the Old Latin Gospels Circa 350 CE

Folio from Codex Vercellensis. (View Larger)

Preserved in the Museo del Tesoro del Duomo (Capitulary library and archives) of Vercelli, in the Province of Vercelli, Italy, the Codex Vercellensis Evangeliorum written on purple vellum is the earliest surviving manuscript of the old Latin Gospels ("Codex a"). The old Latin texts— also designed Vetus Latina, Vetus Itala, Old Italic— is the collective name given to Biblical texts in Latin that were translated before Jerome's Vulgate Bible became the standard for Latin-speaking Western Christians.

The Codex Vercellensis was written in the usual order of the Western Church— Matthew, John, Luke and Mark, but it no longer contains the last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark. Tradition has it that it was written under the direction of bishop Eusebius of Vercelli. Because the codex was used for the taking of oaths in the early Middle Ages, much of it is either difficult to read or destroyed, so that a significant portion its text is known primarily from writing by later copyists or editors. It was restored and stabilized in the early twentieth century.

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The Oldest Surviving Manuscript of the Comedies of Terence Circa 350 CE – 450 CE

Dating from the fourth or fifth century, the Codex Bembinus (Vatican Library Vat. lat. 3226) is the oldest surviving manuscript containing all or portions of the six comedies, or Fabulae, of Terence. It is written in Rustic Capitals

"The marginal gloss is in a Cursive Half-Uncial, the handwriting of the educated person of late Antiquity which, as in this example, would often be used for annotation of formal works. It consists of a rapid form of Half-Uncial, as the name suggests" (Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 [1990] no. 7, plate 7).

In the middle of the 15th century the manuscript belonged to Gianantonio de' Pandoni (Porcellio) when in 1457 it was acquired by humanist Bernardo Bembo. It later passed into the collection of humanist, collector and archaeologist Fulvio Orsini, and entered the Vatican Library in 1600.

Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd. ed., (1991) 36.

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The Earliest Surviving Document of the Christian Book Trade and Stichometry Circa 350 CE – 825

The earliest surviving document recording the Christian book trade is a stichometric price-list of books of the Bible and of Cyprian's works, the Indiculum Caecilii Cypriani orignally written in Africa, probably in Carthage shortly after 350. The charges for writing in Latin are calculated on a per line basis, using the length of a typical line of Virgil (Vergil) or 16 syllables, as the standard, or stichos. Lines measured in this way were called stichoi (στιχοι or επη) from the Greek standard based on the length of an average Homeric hexameter, similarly consisting of 16 syllables. Our source for this Greek writing standard is Galen, De Placitis Hippocratis et Platonis (On the Opinions of Hippocrates and Plato) Viii.I. 

One motive that the anonymous author of this text seems to have had was to provide a method of checking up on dishonest scribes and booksellers. He wrote:

"Because the index of verses in Rome is not clearly given, and because in other places too, as a result of greed, they do not preserve it in full, I have gone through the books one by one, counting sixteen syllables per line, and have appended to each book the number of Virgilian hexameters it contains" (Translated in Rouse & McNelis, 205). 

In their study of the Indiculum Caecilii Cypriani Rouse & McNelis (reference below) state (p. 202) that "the use of stichometry seems to die in the Latin West in late antiquity."

The earliest surviving text of this work is the collection of texts called Cod. Sang. 133, preserved in the Abbey library of St. Gall (St. Gallen), and probably written there in the late 8th or early 9th century. Chronologically, the next surviving copy of this text is Vitt. Em. 1325 (formerly Cheltenham or Phillipps 12266), written at Nonantola Abbey in the 10th or early 11th century, and now preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma.

Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne (2007) 2. Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages (1990) 184. Rouse & McNelis, "North African literary activity: A Cyprian fragment, the stichometric lists and a Donatist compendium," Revue d'histoire des textes, 30 (2000) 189-238.

♦ Special thanks to Jean-Baptiste Piggin, whose 5-28-2011 post in his Macro-Typography blog regarding the Cod. Sang. 133, enabled me to revise and improve this database entry on 05-29-2011.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of Cod. Sang. 133 was available at this link.

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"To Fronto Belongs the Unique Distinction of Surviving Solely as the Lower Script in No Fewer than Three Palimpsests" (Reynolds) Circa 350 CE – 475 CE

A bust of Fronto. (View Larger)

The writings of Roman grammarian, rhetorician and advocate, Marcus Cornelius Fronto, were

"cut to pieces in the Dark Ages. Any author may fall on hard times, when parchment is scarce and other texts are more in demand, but to Fronto belongs the unique distinction of surviving solely as the lower script in no fewer than three palimpsests, which range in date from about 350 to 475.

"The first preserves a few words from the end of his Gratiarum actio pro Cathaginiensibus. It is part of that remarkable manuscript Vatican, Pal. lat 24, which is a tissue of ancient codices, largely of classical authors and Italian in origin, which were reused in Italy to make up a copy of the Old Testament. The Fronto fragment (ff. 45 and 53, CLA I. 72) is written in rustic capitals of s. IV-V [4th to 5th centuries]; the text was discovered by Angelo Mai in 1820 and published by him in 1823.

"The extensive remains of Fronto's Correspondence are transmitted as the lower script of Milan, Abros. E. 147 sup. + Vatican lat 5750, written in an uncial hand of the later fifth century, presumably in Italy; it was rewritten in the seventh century, probably at Bobbio, where it was later housed, with a Latin translation of the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon. Both parts were discovered by Mai, the Ambrosian in 1815, the Vatican in 1819, and published in 1815 and 1823 respectively. The first, in particular, suffered disastrously from his heavy use of chemical reagents.

"It seemed, until 1956, that further gains to Fronto's text could come only from strenuous emendation and decipherment; but in that year Bernhard Bischoff pointed out that a third manuscript, published as early as 1750 and conjecturally ascribed to Fronto (then undiscovered) by Dom Tassin in the Nouveau traité de diplomatique, contained fragments of Epit. ad Verum 2.1 which actually overlap with the Milan palimpsest. This is one leaf of Paris lat 12161 (pp. 133-4,CLA v. 629) rewritten  probably at Corbie, the late seventh or early eight century with Jerome and Gennadius, De viris illustribus. The original script, a sixth century uncial, may perhaps belong to southern France, in which case we have what could be a remnant of the last flowering of rhetorical studies in Gaul" (Reynolds ed., Texts and Transmission [1983] 173-74).

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The Earliest of Two Surviving Examples of Codices Written Entirely in Roman Square Capitals, and the Earliest Manuscript with a Large Ornamented Initial Letter at the Beginning of Each Page Circa 350 CE

One of the four leaves of the Vergilius Augusteus that resides in the Vatican Library.(View Larger)

The Codex Augusteus of Virgil, or the Vergilius Augusteus, was once thought to have been created in the Age of Octavian, the first Roman Emperor, but was later estimated to have been written in the fourth century CE. This and the Codex Sangallensis, are the only surviving examples of ancient manuscripts written entirely in Square capitals, a style of writing that was extremely complex and time consuming, and most often reserved for display headings. The Codex Augusteus also contains the earliest surviving examples of large ornamented initial letters at the beginning of each page. 

Square capitals were generally reserved for display purposes, or for use in monumental epigraphic inscriptions (scriptura monumentalis). "The angular letter-forms, with their frequent changes of angle and their serifs, were difficult to achieve with the reed pen (calamus) hence the preference for more rounded book scripts" (Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 [1990] no. 1 and plate 1).

"According to Lowe, the Codex was almost certainly written in Italy. The script is the creation of the broad pen whose edge is held parallel to the base line; the position of the arm for which, according to the cut of the pen, gives thick perpendiculars and thin sub-strokes. It is a position, also, that requires to be maintained by a constant effort of the will if the letters to is to remain consistent throughout. Accordingly, when, as often, the o is tilted, it is probably against the intention of the scribe" (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 49).

Only seven leaves of the manuscript survive, of which four are in the Vatican Library (Vat. Lat. 3256), and the remaining three in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Lat. fol. 416.) The manuscript was probably written in Italy. By the 15th century it was in St. Denis, Paris. The four leaves in the Vatican Library belonged to the jurist, humanist and bibliophile, Claude Dupuy. He gave two leaves to the humanist, historian and archaeologist Fulvio Orsini in 1574, and gave him the other two in 1575.  

Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores I (1934) no. 13.  Lowe, "Some facts about our Oldest Latin Manuscripts," Bieler (ed) E. A. Lowe. Palaeographical Papers 1907-1965 (1972) 189.

Stan Knight, Historical Scripts from Classical Times to the Renaissance (2009) B3 (pp. 26-27, with excellent images).

(This entry was last revised on 08-15-2014.)


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The Earliest and Largest Part of the Surviving Text of Cicero's De re publica Was Preserved in a Palimpsest Circa 350 CE

Vat. Lat. 5757, a fourth century palimpsest of Cicero's De re publica (De res publica, De republica) preserved in the Vatican Library represents the largest part of the surviving text of this text. It was palimpsested in the seventh or eighth century with a commentary of St. Augustine on the psalms. The palimpsest was formerly in the library of Bobbio Abbey.

In 1819-1822 Cardinal and philologist Angelo Mai discovered and published the undertext of the palimpsest. Ironically, Cicero's first century BCE political text had been preserved when the vellum leaves were copied over with a religious text at a time during the Middle Ages when interest in classical texts was minimal, and vellum was very expensive. Before Mai's discovery "Scipio's Dream" was the only larger excerpt of the text that was known to have survived the Middle Ages. Somnium Scipionis survived because it was the subject of a commentary (Commentarii in somnium Scipionis)  by the early fifth century Roman writer Macrobius, who excerpted large portions. Both Macrobius and his readers in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were mainly interested in its discussion of astrology and astronomy, especially given the loss of the rest of the text. An enterprising copyist early in the textual tradition appended a copy of the Somnium to a copy of Macrobius's Commentary, but this copy appears to be inferior to the text available to Macrobius, who wrote during the twilight of the Roman Empire before the destruction of most of the Roman libraries. The text that accompanied Macrobius's commentary became so popular that its transmission was polluted by multiple copies—so many that it became impossible to establish a stemma for it. The other fragments of De re publica are mainly quotes found in the work of other authors, including Augustine and the Roman grammarian Nonius Marcellus. Through the discussion of Cicero's treatise by these authors the main topics of each book in Cicero's work can be surmised.

Cardinal Mai's discovery was one of "the first major recoveries of an ancient text from a palimpsest, and although Mai's techniques were crude by comparison with later scholars', his discovery of De Republica heralded a new era of rediscovery and inspired him and other scholars of his time to seek more palimpsests" (Wikipedia article on De re publica, accessed 09-14-2010). 

(This entry was last revised on 07-10-2014.)

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One of the Earliest Treatises on Indian Medicine, Written on Birch Bark 350 CE – 550

Dated to the Gupta era, between the 4th and the 6th century CE, the Bower Manuscript, preserved at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, was written on birch bark in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit using the Late Brahmi script or Gupta script. The manuscript preserves one of the earliest treatises on Indian medicine (Ayurveda). The medical parts (I-III) may be based on similar types of medical writings antedating the composition of the saṃhitās of Charaka, Suśruta, and thus rank with the earliest surviving texts on Indian tradition medicine, or Ayurveda.

"The text is written on 51 pages of birch bark leaves of an oblong shape, in the form of those of an Indian pothī. The birch bark of the large portion of the manuscript is of a quality much inferior to that of the smaller portion. The hole for the passage of the binding string is placed about the middle of the left half of the leaves. This placement of the string hole and the oblong form of the leaves point to an imitation of palm leaf pothīs from Southern India by the scribes of Kucā [Kucha].

"The seven parts of the manuscript are written in an essentially identical script, the Gupta Brahmi script, which places the manuscript in the Gupta era (4th to 6th centuries). Hoernle placed the ms. in the 4th century on grounds of paleography, but palaeographical studies. . . present compelling evidence for a later date of about the first half of the 6th century.

"Hoernle distinguished four scribes who wrote parts I-III, part IV, parts V and VII and part VI, respectively. He identified the first and third of these as natives of India who had migrated to Kucā. To judge from the style of writing, the scribe of parts I - III originally came from the northern, the two scribes of parts V-VII from the southern part of the northern area of the Indian Gupta script. The writer of part IV may have been a native of Eastern Turkestan. All four writers must have been Buddhist monks, residing in a monastery near Kucā. The ultimate owner of the whole series of manuscripts, whose name appears to have been Yaśomitra, must have held a prominent position in that monastery, for the bundle of manuscripts was contained in the relic chamber of the memorial stūpa built in his honour" (Wikipedia article on Bower Manuscript, accessed 01-19-2013).

A. F. Rudolf Hoernle, The Bower Manuscript; Facsimile Leaves, Nagari Transcript, Romanised Transliteration and English Translation with Notes. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing India,1893-1897. A Sanskrit Index was published in 1908, and a revised translation of the medical portions (I,II,and III) in 1909; the Introduction appeared in 1912. 

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The Earliest Dated Codex with Full-Page Illustrations 354 CE

Title page from the Chronography of 354. (View Larger)

The Chronography of 354, also known as the Calendar of 354, is an illuminated manuscript produced for a wealthy Roman Christian named Valentius for the year 354. It is the earliest dated codex with full page illustrations; however none of the original survived. It is thought that the original may have existed in the Carolingian period, when a number of copies were made, with or without illustrations. These were copied during the Renaissance.

♦ The Calender of 354 is signed by Furius Dionysius Filocalus, with the word "titulavit," as creator of the titles which "display great calligraphic mastery. Whether or not he also executed the drawings is unknown" (Alexander, Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work [1992] 4), but Furius Dionysius Filocalus is the first known name associated with the production of a specific book.

"The most complete and faithful copies of the illustrations are the pen drawings in a 17th century manuscript from the Barberini collection (Vatican Library, cod. Barberini lat. 2154.) This was carefully copied, under the supervision of the great antiquary Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, from a Carolingian copy, a Codex Luxemburgensis, which was itself lost in the 17th century. These drawings, although they are twice removed from the originals, show the variety of sources that the earliest illuminators used as models for manuscript illustration, including metalwork, frescoes, and floor mosaics. The Roman originals were probably fully painted miniatures.

"Various partial copies or adaptations survive from the Carolingian renaissance and Renaissance periods. Botticelli adapted a figure of the city of Treberis (Trier) who grasps a bound barbarian by the hair for his small panel, traditionally called Pallas and the Centaur.

"The Vatican Barberini manuscript, made in 1620 for Peiresc, who had the Carolingian Codex Luxemburgensis on long-term loan, is clearly the most faithful. After Peiresc's death in 1637 the manuscript disappeared. However some folios had already been lost from the Codex Luxemburgensis before Peiresc received it, and other copies have some of these. The suggestion of Carl Nordenfalk that the Codex Luxemburgensis copied by Peiresc was actually the Roman original has not been accepted. Peiresc himself thought the manuscript was seven or eight hundred years old when he had it, and, though Mabillon had not yet published his De re diplomatica (1681), the first systematic work of paleography, most scholars, following Schapiro, believe Peiresc would have been able to make a correct judgment on its age" (Wikipedia article on the Chronography of 354, accessed 11-25-2008).

In December 2013 a digital facsimile from the Codex Vaticanus Barberini latinus 2154 (=R1) as reproduced in Josef Strzygowski, Die Calenderbilder des Chronographen vom Jahre 354, Series: Jahrbuch des Kaiserlich Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. vol. 1. Berlin:G. Reimer (1888), was available at this link. That website also included much valuable scholarly apparatus. A digital version of Strzygowski's complete work was available at this link.

The standard printed edition is Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex-Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity (1990).

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The Codex Bezae Cantabridgensis Circa 375 CE – 425 CE

A page from Codex Bezae Cantabridgensis. (View Larger)

The Codex Bezae Cantabrigensis (Cambridge MS Nn.2.41), a codex of the New Testament dating from the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century, was written on vellum by a single scribe in an uncial hand, with Greek and Latin texts on facing pages. Consisting of 510 leaves written in one column per page out of, perhaps, an original 534, it includes most of the four Gospels and Acts, with a small fragment of the Third Epistle of John. Its Latin version is one of a small handful of manuscripts which document the development of the Latin version of the Bible before Jerome's Vulgate, which was commissioned in 382.

"No known manuscript has so many and such remarkable variations from what is usually taken to be the normal New  Testament text. Codex Bezae's special characteristic is the free addition (and occasional omission) of words, sentences, and even incidents. . . ." (Metzger & Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament. Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration 4th ed [2005] 71).

Where the manuscript was written is uncertain. Places proposed for its origin include southern France, Africa, Egypt, Palestine, and Berytus (Beirut).

"The manuscript is believed to have been repaired at Lyon in the ninth century as revealed by a distinctive ink used for supplementary pages. It was closely guarded for many centuries in the monastic library of St Irenaeus at Lyon. The manuscript was consulted, perhaps in Italy, for disputed readings at the Council of Trent, and was at about the same time collated for Stephanus's edition of the Greek New Testament. During the upheavals of the Wars of Religion in the 16th century, when textual analysis had a new urgency among the Reformation's Protestants, the manuscript was taken from Lyon in 1562 and delivered to the Protestant scholar Theodore Beza [Theodore de Bèze] the friend and successor of Calvin, who gave it to the University of Cambridge, in the comparative security of England, in 1581, which accounts for its double name" (Wikipedia article on the Codex Bezae Cantabridgensis).

The Codex Bezae is preserved at Cambridge University Library. In December 2013 a digital facsimile was available from Cambridge at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 03-16-2014.)

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The Syriac Sinaiticus: The Oldest Translation of the Bible Circa 375 CE

The Syriac Sinaiticus,  a late 4th century codex also known also as the Sinaitic Palimpsest or the Codex Syriacus, contains a translation of the four canonical gospels of the New Testament into Syriac. It is the oldest translation of the Bible into any language. In 778 CE it was palimpsested with a vita (biography) of female saints and martyrs. The Syriac Sinaiticus is the oldest copy of the gospels in Syriac, and one of two surviving manuscripts (the other being the Curetonian Gospels) that are conventionally dated to before the Peshitta, the standard Syriac translation of the Bible.

The codex was discovered in the library of Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai in February 1892 by Semitic scholar Agnes Smith Lewis, who visited the monastery with her identical-twin sister and Semitic scholar Margaret Dunlop Gibson. The following year the sisters returned with a team of scholars that included J. Rendel Harris, to photograph and transcribe the work in its entirety. The manuscript immediately became a central document in tracing the history of the New Testament, both because of its extremely early date, and as evidence for how Greek New Testament manuscripts were understood by Aramaic speaking communities during that period.

In 1894 Agnes Smith Lewis published Catalogue of the Syriac mss. in the Convent of S. Catharine on Mount SinaiShe described the Syriac Sinaiticus as no. 30 in the catalogue on p. 43, and illustrated a page opening.

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Herald of Christianity and Magus: One of the Oldest Surviving Illustrated Codices Circa 380 CE

Vergilius Vaticanus

The Vergilius Vaticanus (Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225; also known as the Vatican Virgil or Vatican Vergil) is an illustrated manuscript written in Rome in rustic capitals toward the end of the fourth century, containing fragments of Vergil's (Virgil's) Aeneid and Georgics. It is one of the oldest sources for the text of the Aeneid,  and one of the oldest surviving illustrated codices on any subect. Therefore some of its images represent firsts in book illustration. For example, the image of the seige of Troy on leaf 19 recto is probably the oldest image of warfare in a codex.

The Vatican Virgil is also the oldest of three surviving lllustrated manuscripts of classical literature. The two others are the Vergilius Romanus (circa 450) and the Ambrosian Iliad (Ilias Ambrosiana) (493-508). Before passing into the Vatican Library, the Vergilius Vaticanus, of which seventy-five leaves survive, belonged to the humanist and poet, Giovanni Giovano Pontano, to the poet, literary theorist and cardinal Pietro Bembo, and to the humanist, historian and archaeologist, Fulvio Orsini.

"It is Italy that has left us the greatest legacy of books and literature from the late Roman world. In the Italy of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries there were probably still stationers who employed scribes to produce books and well as scribes and artists who worked independently. The Codex Vaticanus [same as Vergilius Vaticanus] of Virgil and the Quedlinburg fragment of the Book of Kings in the Vetus Latin version are two products of this professional scribal activity from the end of the fourth century. Both manuscripts might have originated in the same scriptorium" (Bernhard Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne [2007] 3-4).

Note: In his dating of the Quedlinburg fragment, and his consideration that both might have been produced by the same shop, Bischoff, who originally wrote his essays in German between 1966 and 1981, differs from later scholarship. 

"Even as the Roman empire collapsed, literate men acknowledged that the Christianized Virgil was a master poet.. . . . The Aeneid remained the central Latin literary text of the Middle Ages and retained its status as the grand epic of the Latin peoples, and of those who considered themselves to be of Roman provenance, such as the English. It also held religious importance as it describes the founding of the Holy City. Virgil was made palatable for his Christian audience also through a belief in his prophecy of Christ in his Fourth Ecologue. Cicero and other classical writers too were declared Christian due to similarities in moral thinking to Christianity.

•"In the Middle Ages, Virgil was considered a herald of Christianity for his Ecologue 4 verses (Perseus Project Ecl.4) concerning the birth of a boy, which were read as a prophecy of Jesus' nativity.

•"Also during the Middle Ages, as Virgil was developed into a kind of magus, manuscripts of the Aeneid were used for divinatory bibliomancy, the Sortes Virgilianae, in which a line would be selected at random and interpreted in the context of a current situation" (Wikipedia article on Virgil, accessed 12-03-08).

Possibly coincident with the type facsimile publication in 1741 of the text of the fifth century Codex Mediceus of Virgil, an edition of the illustrations of the Vergilius Vaticanus and the Codex Romanus engraved by Pietro Santi Bartoli was published in Rome: Antiqvissimi Virgiliani codicis fragmenta et picturae ex Bibliotheca Vaticana : ad priscas imaginum formas a Petro Sancte Bartholi incisae. Romae : ex Chalcographia R.C.A., apud Pedem Marmoreum, 1741. This contained 58 engraved plates reproducing images from the Vergilius Vaticanus plus 6 additional illustrations from the Codex Romanus. Catalogue records indicate that Bartoli's images may have been first published separately in 1677.

In 1782 Bartoli's engravings were reissued in an excellent edition combining images from both Virgil manuscripts together with related images from ancient engraved gems depicting events in Virgil.  The new edition was entitled Picturae antiquissimi Virgiliani codicis Bibliothecae Vaticanae a Petro Sancte Bartoli aere incisae accedunt ex insignioribus pinacothecia picturis aliae veteres gemmae et anaglypha, and published in Rome by Venantius Menaldini. The frontispiece, engraved title and dedication of this edition are spectacular. The 1782 edition contains 124 images plus the engraved frontispiece, title, and dedication.

In 1899 the Vatican Library issued a black and white facsimile of the Vatican Vergil as the first of its facsimile series, Codices e vaticanis selecti phototypice expressi, vol. 1. In 1980 they followed this with a facsimile in color as Codices e vaticanis selecti phototypice expressi, vol. 40. The best and most exact facsimile was issued by Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz, Austria in 1984. That edition reproduced the manuscript and its 19th century red morocco binding precisely, and included a commentary volume in English by David H. Wright. The definitive study of the manuscript, which places it within the artistic and cultural context of its time, is Wright's The Vatican Vergil. A Masterpiece of Late Antique Art (1993).

Reynolds, Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics (1983) 434.

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The Last Major Surviving Historical Account of the Late Roman Empire Circa 385 CE

About 385 Roman historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, wrote Res gestae libri XXI, the last major surviving historical account of the late Roman empire. His work chronicled the history of Rome from 96 to 378, although only the sections covering the period 353 - 378 remain extant.

“This is the history of events from the reign of the emperor Nerva to the death of Valens, which I, a former soldier and a Greek (miles quondam et Graecus), have composed to the best of my ability. It claims to be the truth, which I have never ventured to pervert either by silence or a lie.” (Amm. Marc. 31.16.9)

“An accurate and faithful guide, who has composed the history of his own times without indulging the prejudices and passions which usually affect the mind of a contemporary.” (Edward Gibbon)

The above quotations are from the introduction to the Ammianus Marcellinus Online Project directed by Jan Willem Drijvers of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. This site concerns the biography, bibliography, editions, translations, commentaries, concordances, etc. of Ammianus Marcellinus.

"His [Ammianus's] work has suffered terribly from the manuscript transmission. Aside from the loss of the first thirteen books, the remaining eighteen are in many places corrupt and lacunose. The sole surviving manuscript from which almost every other is derived is a ninth-century Carolingian text, Vatican lat. 1873 (V), produced in Fulda from an insular exemplar. The only independent textual source for Ammianus lies in Fragmenta Marbugensia (M), another ninth-century Frankish codex which was taken apart to provide covers for account-books during the fifteenth century. Only six leaves of M survive; however, before this manuscript was dismantled the Abbot of Hersfeld lent the manuscript to Sigismund Gelenius, who used it in preparing the text of the second Froben edition (G). The dates and relationship of V and M were long disputed until 1936 when R. P. Robinson demonstrated persuasively that V was copied from M. As L.D. Reynolds summarizes, 'M is thus a fragment of the archetype; symptoms of an insular pre-archetype are evident.'

"His handling from his earliest printers was little better. The editio princeps was printed in 1474 in Rome by Georg Sachsel and Bartholomaeus Golsch from 'the worst of the recentiores', which broke off at the end of Book 26. The next edition (Bologna, 1517) suffered from its editor's 'monstrously bad conjectures' upon the poor text of the 1474 edition; the 1474 edition was pirated for the first Froben edition (Basle, 1518). It wasn't until 1533 that the last five books of Ammianus' history was put into print by Silvanus Otmar and edited by Mariangelus Accurius. The first modern edition was produced by C.U. Clark (Berlin, 1910-1913). The first English translations were by Philemon Holland in 1609, and later by C.D. Yonge in 1862" (Wikipedia article on Ammianus Marcellinus, accessed 12-29-2013).

The editio princeps of Ammianus Marcellinus, Historia, libri XIV-XXVI, edited by Angelus Sabinus, was issued in Rome by printers Georgius Sachsel and Bartholmaeus Golsch on June 7, 1474. ISTC. No. ia00564000. In February 2014 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 05-06-2014.)

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The Oldest Datable Uncial Manuscript, Probably Written in Hippo Regius, Africa 396 CE – 426 CE

Most of the earliest surviving Uncial manuscripts were written in Northern Africa. The oldest datable Uncial manuscript is a copy of Augustinus, Libri II ad Interrogata Simpliciani, etc. (St. Petersburg, Public Library Ms. Q. V. 1, 3), written between 396 and 426 CE probably in Hippo Regius , the ancient name for the city of Annaba, Algeria. This was described by E. A. Lowe, in Codices Latini Antiquiores XI (1966) no. 1613, and the Supplement  to C.L.A. (1971) p. ix, and plate 3A. Lowe wrote:

"Written probably in Africa, to judge by the script of one of the two hands though the other is manifestly trained in the Italian manner. African origin is supported by W. M. Green's brilliant hypothesis that the volume was produced at Hippo in the author's early episcopacy. This renders it one of the most precious in the entire C.L.A. series. The manuscript belonged to Corbie where it is mentioned in several catalogues. Came to Saint Germain-des-Prés in 1638, where it bore the number 254. Acquired by Peter Dubrowsky [Dubrovsky] in 1791 and by the Imperial Library in 1805."

"It has been suggested that the Uncial script was deliverately devised, at the time when Constantine was Emperor (AD 306-337), as a specifically Christian bookhand to replace the Square and Rustic capitals used for 'pagan' classics. However, there are some ancient scripts and inscriptions with certain Uncial characteristics, which clearly pre-date the time of Constantine. The Timgad inscription of the 2nd or 3rd century, also has letters which are very similar to Uncial forms (see Stanley Morison, Politics and Script, page 63).

"Furthermore, the existence of some early Christian texts written in Rustics, like the fragment of the Gospel of John (Aberdeen, University Library, Papyrus 2a) and the Epistle to the Ephesians (Florence, Ms. Laur. P./S. 1, 1306), as well as at least one 'pagan' author, Cicero, written in the 4th century in Uncials (Vatican, Ms. Lat. 5757), cast doubt on this common assertion" (Stan Knight, Historical Scripts fron Classical Times to the Renaissance [2009] B6 (p. 33)

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"The Earliest Evidence for Tooling on a Leather Bookbinding" Circa 400 CE

Page 215 of MS G.67, depicting the acts of the apostles. (View Larger)

An illuminated manuscript on vellum of the first half of the Acts of the Apostles (G. 67) written in Coptic of the Middle Egyptian dialect around the year 400, and presumably the first half of a two-voume set, is preserved in the Morgan Library and Museum.

"There is a miniature in the final quire of a crux ansata flanked by two peacocks and bearing three smaller birds. It is the earliest-known Coptic miniature. The place of discovery of this Coptic Acts has never been revealed, but it appeared in the antiquarian book trade in 1961 together with a Coptic Gospel of Matthew that must have belonged to the same find. This latter is now in the possession of William Scheide. Its script is very similar to that of the Glazier Acts, its dialect is the same, and the leaf size of both manuscripts is very nearly identical. Their small format suggests that they were made for private use. The Glazier Acts was originally dated as early as the fourth century, but recently a more generalized dating in the fifth century has been argued.

"The binding of the Scheide Matthew is now quite damaged, with loss of the entire spine or backstrip, but was identifical in type to that of the Glazier Acts. Apart from its boards, all that now remains are carbonized portions of the hinging strips. At least two other Coptic codices, also dated to the fifth century, still retain bindings of this type. One of them is in the Morgan Library, M. 910: a complete Coptic Acts, in the Sahidic dialect. Though severely damaged and partly distingetrated, from what remains the system of wooden boards, backstrip, hinge strips (four), and wrapping strips can be clearly reconstructed. The other example, a Sahidic Mark and Luke, is in the Palau-Ribes collection of the University of Barcelona.

"The fine state of preservation of the Glazier Acts binding, and especially of the goatskin backstrip is so fresh as to have cast some suspicion on its authenticity. However, considering the even more ancient Nag Hammadi find, it should not be assumed a priori that the binding is too good to be true, and that leather could not survive and remain flexible for so long. There have been various losses; the backstrip once extended at both ends, so that it could be folded over the top and bottom edges of the leaves for additional protection. The top extension is now frayed, and that at the bottom has been torn away. Two of the three wrapping strips survive, one only partially; and two of the bone securing pegs terminating the strips. Neither strip is now attached to the board. There are only remains of what were originally two plaited leather place marks, once laced into the upper board, one into the lower. In addition to fillets, the backstrip was stamped with a small tool of concentric circles, a common Coptic decorative pattern repeated on the bone pegs. This is the earliest evidence for tooling on a leather bookbinding.

"Three Egyptian bindings dated to the sixth century have survived in bindings which appear to exhibit later, fancier evolutions of this style; two are in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and one in the Freer Gallery, Washington. The techniques of these bindings have not been entirely deciphered, but in all three examples, the number of hinging holes on the boards was greatly increased, to three dozen or more. In none of the three are there any signs of linkage between sewing and covers--with with the Glazier Acts and others of its group, only glue held the covers to the codex. The backstrips of the two Chester Beatty bndings were stamped with pictorial tools. The wooden covers of the Freer Gospels (a Greek text, but of Egyptian origin) are painted with portraits of the evangelists, two on each cover. It is generally thought that these painted figures were added later, perhaps in the seventh century, and were not part of the orignial conception of the binding. The evangelists are depicted holding codices, a traditional iconography, and it is curious to note that these are quite clearly represented as possessing jewelled covers. . . . "(Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbinding: 400-1600 [1979] 9-10).

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At the Beginning of the Dark Ages Production of New Manuscripts Essentially Ceased Circa 400 CE – 600

"There is a tendency to write about ancient literature and late antique manuscripts as if they vanished, all at once, in the chaotic centuries often called the Dark Ages—to see the history of transmission in this period largely in terms of large-scale physical destruction. Such a picture is slightly out of focus. Yes, the period AD 400-600 saw a great deal of destruction; but then, destruction from fire and the elements was not new to Roman history. The exceptional element was that the production of new manuscripts ceased; the market for new books rapidly diminished and, once the market dried up, the means of production disappeared. This was not so much a result of the physical destruction of either the readers or the bookshops, but rather because the traditional audience, namely the Roman senatorial class, within a couple of centuries dwindled in size and recycled itself as an ecclesiastical class with its own, albeit small, means of producing manuscripts.

"Lack of production, of course, does not equal lack of use—in many respects, quite the opposite. The newly emerging societies cherished Roman coins, and clipped them to make the smaller denominations appropriate to their greatly reduced money economy, since they did not mint large quantities of precious metals of their own. In similar fashion, Roman books whether papyrus or parchment continued to serve the needs of the shrinking literate class—not new books, but the enormous residue of the antique book trade that reposed in public and private libraries. These slowly gravitated to ecclesiastical libraries (locus of the new literate class), to be sent north with the missionaries. Benedict Biscop, for example, had no difficulty finding books to carry north to Norhumbria when he visited Rome in the 670s; but these were old books, already a century or two older than he.

"What is remarkable is the length of time that Christian Rome and its infrastructure endured. As we have suggested, Roman civilization, centred on the city, the forum, and the public baths, which was once thought to have been destroyed by the Visigoths and Ostrogoths who sacked Rome in the course of the fifth century, is now generally recognized as having remained, though undeniably altered, reasonably intact until the middle of the sixth century; indeed, the external trappings of this civilization were gladly appropriated by the Ostrogothic kindom of Theodoric (475-527), whom both Boethius and Cassiodorus served. The physical devastation of Roman Italy occurred, ironically, through the reassertion of imperial power—the reappearance in 540 of Byzantine armies in Italy under the emperor Justinian's general Belisarius. Rome changed hands five times in these campaigns.

"What survived Belisarius' legions fell to the Lombards, the last of the tribal groups to move into Italy. Any city, such as Milan, that opposed the Lombard advance was razed; those like Verona that opened their gates survived unharmed. It is no wonder, then, that little of ancient Milan, city of Ambrose, survived—or, conversely, that Petrarch in the fourteenth century could find what was probably a late antique manuscript of Cicero's letters to Atticus in Verona. Remarkably, the Roman aqueducts still functioned in the time of Pope Gregory I (pope 590-604); but gradually the Roman ruling class was replaced or absorbed by Lombard (or, in Gaul, by Frankish) peoples who had little need, or even less ability, to maintain the physical infrastructure of Roman civilization: the forum, public baths, roads, libraries, temples. As they became unnecessary, they were increasingly neglected. Eventually they served the only useful purpose left to them, becoming the quarries that provided the cut stone from which early medieval basilicas and royal palaces were built" (Rouse," The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns (ed) The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 44-45). [As usual, the links are my addition.]

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The "Architecture" of Early Latin Gospel Books 400 CE – 800

In 1961 Patrick McGurk issued Latin Gospel Books From A. D. 400 to A. D. 800. Of the approximately 1566 codices that survived from this period McGurk identified and studied 138 Gospel books in European libraries, and one in St. Petersburg. McGurk's study grew out of his 1954 doctoral disseration which was titled The Architecture of Latin Gospel Books before A. D. 800, and some of the most useful aspects of his 1961 book were his general observations on the structure of Gospel books— what he called "architecture." I quote some of his more interesting observations below:

"Those Gospel books that survive from the two hundred and fifty years between A. D. 400 and A. D. 650 are uniform both in their appearance and in their scribal traditions. They are nearly all written in that clearly set book hand, uncial, and their gatherings are noramally quaternions. Had they been written one, two or three centuries earlier, they would probably have been more varied in their make up and in their script, and would thus have reflected a more formative period in the making of codices; as it is, the range of tentative book hands in which many 3rd, 4th and 5th century classical fragments are written, and the variety of quires and formats found in the Chester Beatty papyri and in the earlier Greek and Coptic Christian books are absent from our 5th, 6th and 7th century uncial Gospels. Because they are so uniform and so numerous, they form the common classical standard by which the deviations of later Gospel books can be measured. (McGurk p. 7)

"Colophons like margins were given generous allowance of space [in the earliest Gospel books]. In the earliest Greek papyrus rolls the colophon was given only a little space; its function seemed either to give a heading to a particular work or else to announce its end; explicitum nobis usque ad su cornua librum. The colophons of the Chester Beatty papyri look reserved and discreet when contrasted with the florid creations of the Codex Alexandrinus. The colophon provided many of the sober uncial manuscripts with the only scope or theme possible for ornament. Again and again, it is found not squeezed at the bottom of a column as in the rolls, but filling a whole page and adorned with dashes and swirls, ropes, ivy leaves and dots. Eventually, the colophon written in large monumental capitals across a single page, acquired the appearance of an inscription; it is the quality that imitations like the incipit pages of the Franco-Saxon school or the description pages of Royal I.E. VI tried to posess. Specifically Christian colophons are found in only three of the earlier Gospel books." (McGurk 9-10)

"The opening of Gospels are not distinguished by the use of a different script; they are marked by a restrained austere intial letter and one or two lines in a differently coloured ink. The initials are not until the 7th century made the subject or ornament or decoration. And with the exception of the Cambridge Corpus Gospels . . . no book survives with illustrations. The Cambridge Gospels possessed at least two cycles of pictures, arranged in compartments in a rectangular box, and these were placed one in the middle (at the end of St. Mark) the other at the end, of the book. In this way, the Cambridge Gospels differed both from the Eastern picture Gospels, which concentrated their illustrations with the Canon Tables at the head of the book, and from books like the Codex Sinopensis or the Virgil Vaticanus, which distributed their pictures throughout a text. In addition, a picture of the evangelist and his symbol, accompanied by more Gospel miniatures, prefaced each Gospel, those for Matthew, Mark and Luke facing the opening page of the Gospel text, that for John facing the first page of the prologue to John, a variant position found in some later books, both Latin and Greek. The Cambridge Gospels, which, in its layout of the uncial script on a page, is as disciplined as the other uncial books, bears witness to the existence of illustration in some early Latin Gospel codices" (McGurk 10)

"The unformity of the uncial books down to about A. D. 650 constrasts with variety and indiscipline of books later than that date, and ilustrates the unifying scribal work of the Roman church. It is true that most of these early books were probably written in Italy and that therefore the uniformity may only reflect an Italian cohesion. But recent work in epigraphy as well as comparison between manuscripts attributed to different parts of the Roman world do not reveal fundamental differences inscript or in methods of arranging apage or making up a book in France and Italy, Africa and Spain. When the Gothic version of the Gospels was sent down in codex form, its arrangement, appearance and structure were the same as those of the codices of the Latin world. The initials, the colophons, the Gospels grouped in sets of quires, the silver ink, the purpose purachement, the very script of the Codex Usaliensis [Codex Argenteus] are those of the Brescia or Verona Gospels.

"The emergence of barbarian scripts—and of the barbarian kingdoms—is reflected in changes in the structure and lay out of the Roman Gospel book. And the surviving numbers of Insular Gospel books, as well as the fact that the finest books of the Carolingian period are made in Northern Europe, reflect a switch in eccleiastrical energy and direction. The changes in the lay out of a page and arrangement of a codex introduced by Insular and Continental scribes had a permanent effect, and the Carolingian books, in spie of their self-conscious classicism, adopted many scribal distinctions which had first made their appearance in the 7th and 8th centuries—distinctions in the use of scripts in the first lines, on first pages, in colophons, and in prefaces. These aspects of Carolingian scribal methods—the earliest copying of classical forms and the conserving of post-classical themes—can be paralelled in Carolingian poetry. The Carolingian Gospel books, like the themes of Gottschalk or the elegiac metres of Alcuin, looked back to a Late Antique world tinged by the intervening centuries of barbarism. If the early purple codices of Verona nd Brescia had not survived, the Carolingian Metz Gospels. . . . would have presented the modern palaeographer with a good approximation of their models. They could never have been more than approximations because the Metz books have the same relation to their models as Italian Renaissance copies of inscriptions have to their originals or the early Humanist hand has to the Caroline minuscule" (McGurk 18-19).

(This entry was last revised on April 13, 2014.)

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One of the Few Surviving Sources for the Administrative Structure of the Late Roman Empire Circa 420 CE

The Notitia Dignitatum is one of the few surviving manuscripts documenting the administrative organization of the eastern and western Roman empires, listing several thousand offices from the imperial court down to the provincial level. It is considered relatively up to date, with the expected problems and omissions, for the Western empire circa 420 CE, and for the Eastern empire circa 400 CE.

"Notitiae were lists or catalogues, also referred to as latercula. Such lists were typical of the systemization of that characterized the late Roman bureaucracy. The variety of extant notitiae. . . can be broken down into four categories: provincial lists, urban catalogues, episcopal lists, and the Notitia Dignitatum" (Bowersock et al [eds.] Late Antiquity. A Guide to the Postclassical World [1999] 612).

One of the most significant surviving early copies of this text was made for the bibliophile Pietro Donato, bishop of Padua, in January 1436, while Donato was presiding over the Council of Basel. In addition to the exchange of ideas, long meetings such as this Council were also places to which manuscripts and scribes could be brought for copying and exchange, and new works could be disseminated to readers who would take their copy back to their home region possibly for further distribution by copying at their local scriptorium.

Donato's manuscript, which also includes several other texts, including the geographical compilation, Liber de mensura orbis terrae, by the Irish monk Dicuil composed in 821, and the De rebus bellicis, was given the general title Cosmographia Scoti. According to a note in Donato's hand in the manuscript, the exemplar from which the manuscript was copied was a "vetustissimus codex" from the library of Speyer Cathedral. This late 9th or early 10th century manuscript, most of which no longer survives, is generally known as the Codex Spirensis. The manuscript is known to have existed in 1542, but was lost before 1672; only a single leaf of the Codex Spirensis survives today at Maihingen (HS. I,2,2°.37). It was used in the binding of a record book which dates from 1602-3. (Thompson 11).

Later in the fifteenth century Donato's copy of the Codex Spirensis came into the possession of A. Maffei at Rome, and passed into the collection of manuscripts assembled by the Venetian Jesuit Matheo Luigi Canonici. After Canonici's death his collection was purchased in 1817 by the Bodleian Library.

The miniature paintings in the Donato's copy of the Notitia Dignitatum were by Peronet Lamy, an illuminator who worked for Amadeus VIII of Savoy, later elected Pope by the Council, as Felix V. The manuscript is preserved at the Bodleian Library, and according to their exhibition catalogue from 1975, the same scribe and illuminator prepared another copy of the collection that is preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

"The Notitia Dignitatum is a unique document of the Roman imperial chanceries. One of the very few surviving documents of Roman government, it details the administrative organisation of the eastern and western empires, listing several thousand offices from the imperial court down to the provincial level. It is usually considered to be up to date for the Western empire in the 420s, and for the Eastern empire in 400s. However, no absolute date can be given, and there are omissions and problems" (Wikipedia article on Notitia Dignitatum, accessed 11-29-2008).

Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, no. 146.

Thompson, A Roman Reformer and Inventor. Being, a New Text of the Treatise De Rebus Bellicis with a Translation and Introduction (1952) discusses the history of the various early copies of the Codex Spirensis, which preserved the text of the Notitia Dignitatum as well as De rebus bellicis, and other works.

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An Early Fifth Century Palimpsest Circa 425 CE

A section of the Codex Ephraemi from the National Library in Paris, containing Matt. 20:16-23. (View Larger)

The Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, an early fifth century palimpsest, and the last of the four great uncial manuscripts of the Bible in Greek, was preceded by the Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Alexandrinus and the Codex Vaticanus. It was named "Rescriptus" because in the 12th century Greek translations of the treatises of Ephraem the Syrian were written over the biblical text that had been washed off its vellum pages, forming a palimpsest. However, the effacement of the biblical text was incomplete, and beneath the text of Ephraem what was once a complete Bible, containing both the Old and New Testaments, could eventually be deciphered.

The manuscript was probably written and preserved in Constantinople. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Codex was brought to Florence by an émigré scholar, and in 1533 Catherine de' Medici brought it to France as part of her dowry. From the Bourbon royal library it was eventually transferred to the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The first complete collation of the New Testament text was made by Johann Jakob Wettstein (1716). In 1834-1835 potassium ferricyanide was used to bring out faded or eradicated ink, and Constantin von Tischendorf made his reputation when he deciphered the very difficult to read texts, and published the Greek New Testament in 1843 and the Old Testament in 1845.

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The Earliest Surviving Copy of the Vulgate Gospels Circa 425 CE

Codex Sangallensis 1395, designated by Σ, is the oldest surviving Latin manuscript of the New Testament in the Vulgate translation by Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin (Vetus Latina) translations. The manuscript was written at Verona on vellum in half-uncial in the early fifth century, and contains marginalia which have been related to notes added to an earlier exemplar probably by Jerome, and by a second unknown scholar. 

The text was edited by C. H Turner and published as The Oldest Manuscript of the Vulgate Gospels (Oxford, 1931). Turner believed the manuscript was a copy made for personal and not public use. McGurk supported this view citing E. A. Lowe's note in CLA VII, 984 of its "pleasingly irregular" half-uncial "in contrast to the regular and formal uncial of many contemporary books), and from the scholarly and non-liturgical character of the marginalia" (McGurk, "The oldest manuscripts of the Latin Bible," IN: Gameson, ed. The Early Medieval Bible: Its production, decoration and use [1994] 20, see also p. 6).

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of Codex Sangallensis 1395 was available at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 08-10-2014.)

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The Introduction of Christianity to the Irish 431 CE

"Christianity probably came to Ireland late in the 4th century, through channels that have left no record. It is known that there were communities of Christians in the country by 431, as Prosper of Aquitaine's Chronicle noted that Palladius, ordained by Pope Celestine, had been sent as first bishop in that year to the 'Irish believing in Christ'. Patrick, a Briton seized at the age of sixteen from his family estate by Irish raiders and brought to Ireland with many thousands of other captives, evangelized late in the 5th century and became celebrated as the apostle of the Irish. Founder of the church of Armagh, he left a significant written record in the form of his Confession and a letter to the soldiers of Coroticus (who had conducted a raid from Britain on Irish Christians), both of which survive in the early 9th-century Book of Armagh. Thanks to the efforts of Patrick and other missionaries, Christianity took root in Ireland, supplanting sun-worship, idols and abominations (as Patrick expressed it). According to the 7th-century biography by Tírechán, when Patrick crossed the River Shannon he took 'fifty bells, fifty patens, fifty challices, altar stones, books of the law [and] books of the Gospels, and left them in the new places. While the numbers may be exaggereated, they make clear the need that the new religion had for altar furnishings and books, to be used for private devotion, for missionary work, and for the celebration of the eucharist at the altar" (Meehan, The Book of Kells [202] 19). (The hyperlinks are mine).

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The Codex Alexandrinus Circa 450 CE

The Codex Alexandrinus, a fifth century manuscript containing the majority of the Septuagint and the New Testament, is, along with the Codex Sinaiticus, and the Codex Vaticanus, one of the earliest and most complete manuscripts of the Bible. It derives its name from Alexandria, Egypt where it resided for a number of years. The manuscript contains the Gospels in Byzantine text-type and the rest of the New Testament in Alexandrian text-type,

In 1621 the codex was brought to Constantinople by Cyril Lucar, who was first a patriarch of Alexandria, then later a patriarch of Constantinople. "Lucar was involved in a complex struggle with the Turkish government, the Catholic Church, and his own subordinates. He was supported by English government and presented the codex to James I in 1624, as a gratitude for his help. The codex was presented through the hands of Thomas Roe, . . . the English ambassador at the court of the Sultan. King James died before the manuscript started for England, and the offer was transferred to Charles I in 1627. It became a part of the Royal Library, British Museum and since 1973 of the British Library. It was saved from the fire at Ashburnham House (the Cotton library) on 23 October 1731, by the librarian, [Richard] Bentley."

The origin and history of the manuscript is unusually complicated and unclear:

"The manuscript's original provenance is unknown. Traditionally Alexandria is pointed as a place of its origin and it is the most probable hypothesis. Cyril Lucar was the first who pointed Alexandria as the place of origin of the codex. This popular view based on an Arabic note from 13th or 14th century, on folio 1 reads: 'Bound to the Patriarchal Cell in the Fortress of Alexandria. Whoever removes it thence shall be excommunicated and cut off. Written by Athanasius the humble.' 'Athanasius the humble' is identified with Athanasius III, Patriarch of Alexandria from 1276 to 1316.

"F. C. Burkitt questioned this popular view as the first. According to Burkitt, the note reads: 'Bound to the Patriarchal Cell in the Fortress of Alexandria. He that lets it go out shall be cursed and ruined. The humble Athanasius wrote (this).' The manuscript had been found on Mount Athos, and the manuscript might have been taken to Egypt by Cyril in 1616, and that all the Arabic writing in the manuscript could have been inserted between that date and 1621, when Cyril was elected Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. On this suppposition 'Athanasius the humble' might have been 'some person of Cyril's staff who had charge of his library'. According to Burkitt's view the codex was found on Athos, but it was written in Constantinople, because it represents a Constantinopolitan text (now known as the Byzantine text). This hypothesis was supported by Kirsopp Lake.

"Frederic G. Kenyon opposed to the Burkitt's view and argued that Cyril firmly believed in the Egyptian origin of the codex. A. S. Fulton, the Keeper of the Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts (in the British Museum), in 1938 re-examined the Athanasius note, and gave it as his opinion that on palaeographical grounds it could be dated 13th to 14th century and that the 17th century was excluded. In 1945 T. D. Moschonas published a catalogue of the library of the Patriarch of Alexandria, in which he printed two Greek notes, both from 10th century manuscripts of John Chrysostom, inserted by the Patriarch Athanasius III. The two notes must have been written between 1308 and 1316. Although the note in the Codex Alexandrinus is entirely in Arabic, and therefore no identity of hand the Greek notes can be expected, the similarity of wording leaves no doubt that this also is the work of Athanasius III.

"According to Skeat the note in the codex indicated that the manuscript had not previously been in the Patriarchal Library in Alexandria. The manuscript was carried from Constantinople to Alexandria between 1308 and 1316, together with two mentioned above manuscripts of Chrysostom. It remained in Alexandria until 1621, when Cyril removed it once to Constantinople. Whether was originally written in Constantinople or in Alexandria, is another question. Skeat did not try to give the answer on this question ('if any future scholar wishes to claim a Constantinopolitan origin for the Codex Alexandrinus, it is at least open to him to do so'). This view was supported by McKendrick, who proposes an Ephesian provenance of the codex.

"A 17th century Latin note on a flyleaf (from binding in a royal library) states that the manuscript was given to a patriarchate of Alexandria in 1098 (donum dedit cubicuo Patriarchali anno 814 Martyrum), although this may well be 'merely an inaccurate attempt at deciphering the Arabic note by Athanasius' (possibly the patriarch Athanasius III). The authority for this statement is unknown." (Wikipedia article on Codex Alexandrinus, accessed 06-27-2009).

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the codex was available from the British Library at this link.

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The Church Replaces the Roman State as the Source of Order and Stability Circa 450 CE – 650

"The Church gradually replaced the Roman state as the source of order and stability in the course of the fifth and sixth centuries. In the act of disseminating Christianity to the heathen the Church disseminated the remains of Roman learning to the barbarian. Gregory of Tours (540-94) emulated Gregory of Rome (540-604), in that each as bishop of his respective city organized the city's affairs, legal and financial. Each came from a family of senatorial rank, living in the twilight of ancient civilization. The importance to textual transmission of the joining of ancient and medieval, the connection of the past with the future, in the seventh century vividly represented in the conversion of England by Gregory I's missionaries and the growth of monastic culture, culminating in the Northumbrian renewal upon which, in turn, the eighth-century Carolingian renascence in Gaul rests in large part. The Church in England both north and south of the Humber was built by ecclesiastics from Italy; moreover, this took place at a time (c. 660-85) when the still-Byzantine portions of central and southern Italy harboured many ecclesiastics who had fled there to escape Muslim advances in the Middle East and North Africa. This explains why it is that Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury (669-690), was a Greek from Tarsus in Asia Minor, and that his companion Hadrian (d. 709), who knew Greek and taught it at Rochester, was originally from North Africa. The books from which Bede (673-735) studied at Monkwearmouth, and those which Boniface (c.675-754) read at Canterbury, were products of the late antique booktrade, some of which had passed via Cassiodorus' Vivarium and the library of the Lateran Palace, to be brought to England by Theodore, Hadrian, Benedict Biscop (c. 628-89) and their followers" (Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns (ed) The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 45-46).

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The Codex Mediceus of Virgil Circa 450 CE

The Codex Mediceus of Virgil (Vergil) (Florence, Laur. 39.1 + Vatican lat. 3225, f.76), a fifth century manuscript preserved in the Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurentiana) in Florence, with a single leaf preserved in the Vatican Library, contains the Ecologues from VI.48, the Georgics, and the Aeneid. A subscription at the end of the Ecologues records that the manuscript was corrected at Rome by Turcius Rufius Apronianus Asterius, consul in 494. Reynolds states that the manuscript "found its way to Bobbio, and was still there in 1467." Soon thereafter it was taken to the Vatican Library in Rome, and by 1471 it was in the hands of humanist Julius Pomponius Laetus (Pomponio Leto) who wrote emendations in the codex in red ink. The manuscript was first preserved in the Vatican Library, and later purchased by Cosimo de' Medici from the heirs of Cardinal Rodolpho Pio da Carpi, who died in 1564. 

In 1741 the Codex Mediceus was first published in print in an extraordinary typographic reproduction, or typographic facsimile, planned and edited by Vatican librarian and philologist Pier Francesco Foggini. The edition, printed by Manniani in Florence, was printed with types imitating the uncial script of the original, in red and black. By combining different sizes of types, the printer was also able to include the annotations and emendations of Asterius and Laetus. The edition began with an engraved vignette that reproduced a fragment of the manuscript in more literal detail.

In Printing Types I (1962, p. 171) Daniel Berkeley Updike commented on this edition as follows:

"A curious piece of Italian typography, very characteristic of the eighteenth century, is an edition of Virgil (P.Vergilii Maronis, Codex Antiquissimus, A Rufio Turcio Aproniano V. C. Distinctus et Emendatus. . . Florentiae. Typis Mannianis), published in 1741 at Florence, and printed by Joseph Manni, a person of scholarly tastes. It is set entirely in old style capitals with a few characters imitating those of an ancient and famous manuscript of Virgil in rustic characters in the Laurentian Library, Florence. The preface exhibits a fairly accurate engraved reproduction of a few lines of the model on which the book was based, and in the text the ingenious introduction of but three specially cut letters give the general effect of a font of 'rustic' type. Thus the work displays that amazing audacity in arriving at a striking effect, notwithstanding inaccurate details and economy of method, which was typical of Italian printing at that time. Issued at a place and period which appears unfavourable to such a venture, and dedicated to lovers of the Fine Arts, it also indicates there has always been a public sufficiently sympathetic to encourage such publications. The volume is enlivened by occasional rubrication which gives it a distinguished air." 

Reynolds, Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics (1983) 433.

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One of the Two Surviving Ancient Codices Written Entirely in Square Capitals Circa 450 CE

Codex Sangallensis 1394, containing pp. 7-48 of the Works of Virgil (Vergil) was written in Italy during the fifth century. With the Codex Augusteus of Virgil, this is one of only two surviving ancient codices writen entirely in Square capitals, a laborious and time-consuming style of writing, probably avoided by most scribes except for display headings. The twelve leaves of the Codex Sangallensis 1394 that survive are badly damaged, and most are severely cropped.

In August 2014 a digital facsimile was available from the St. Gallen Stiftbibliothek at this link.

Stan Knight, Historical Scripts from Classical Times to the Renaissance (2009) B4 (pp. 28-29).

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"A Bibliography of Works on Medieval Communication" 476 CE – 1500

In November 2014 I obtained a copy of A Bibliography of Works on Medieval Communication by Marco Mostert of the University of Utrecht, published by Brepols in Turnhout, Belgium in 2012. This bibliography includes 6,843 publications under sixteen headings— far more publications on many more topics than I would have guessed were in existence. In due time, as I work through selected studies listed in this bibliography, entries citing it will undoubtedly appear in HistoryofInformation.com. As a bibliographer myself I am particularly interested in the ways that information is organized. Therefore I have quoted the entire Contents organizational scheme of the book below:

Table of Contents



How to Use This Bibliography

Chapter 1. Introductions

1.1 Theory of Literacy and (Written) Communication
1.2 Anthropological and Sociological Contributions to the Debate
1.3 Psychological Contributions to the Debate
1.4 Linguistic Contributions to the Debate
1.5 Literacy and (Written) Communication (in the Middle Ages)
1.5.1 The Münster School
1.5.2 The Freiburg School

Chapter 2. Surveys of the Introduction and Development of Written Culture

2.1 From Antiquity to the Present
2.2 Antiquity
2.2.1 Biblical Antiquity and Early Christianity
2.2.2 Classical Antiquity
2.2.3 Greek Antiquity
2.2.4 Roman Antiquity
2.2.5 Late Antiquity
2.3 Byzantium
2.4 The Middle Ages
2.4.1 Early Middle Ages
2.4.2 Later Middle Ages
2.5 Italy
2.5.1 Italy in the Early Middle Ages
2.5.2 Italy in the Later Middle Ages
2.6 Iberian Peninsula
2.7 France
2.8 Germany
2.8.1 Germany in the Early Middle Ages
2.8.2 Germany in the Later Middle Ages
2.9 Low Countries
2.10 England
2.10.1 England in the Early Middle Ages
2.10.2 England in the Later Middle Ages
2.11 Ireland and the ‘Celtic Fringe’
2.12 Scandinavia
12.13 The Eastern Baltic Shores
2.14 East Central and Eastern Europe
2.14.1 East Central Europe: Bohemia, Hungary and Poland
2.14.2 The Balkans (without Byzantium)
2.14.3 Eastern Europe: The Russias
2.15 Jews
2.16 The Islamic World
2.17 After the Middle Ages

Chapter 3. Forms of Non-Verbal Communication

3.1 Middle Ages – General
3.2 Symbolic Spaces, Public and Private
3.3 The Senses
3.3.1 Smells
3.3.2 Flavours
3.4 Colours
3.5 Visual Images
3.5.1 Visual Images in Antiquity
3.5.2 Visual Images in Byzantium
3.5.3 Visual Images in the Middle Ages Visual Images in the Early Middle Ages Visual Images in the Later Middle Ages
3.5.4 Visual Images after the Middle Ages
3.6 Visual Images and Texts
3.6.1 General Visual Images and the Illiterate
3.6.2 Visual Images and Texts in Antiquity
3.6.3 Visual Images and Texts in Byzantium
3.6.4 Visual Images and Texts in Islam
3.6.5 Visual Images and Texts in the Middle Ages Visual Images and Texts in the Early Middle Ages Visual Images and Texts in the Later Middle Ages
3.6.6 Visual Images and Texts after the Middle Ages
3.7 Sound and Noise
3.7.1 Music
3.8 The Human Body
3.9 Gestures
3.9.1 Gestures from Antiquity to the Present
3.9.2 Gestures in Antiquity
3.9.3 Gestures in Byzantium
3.9.4 Gestures in the Middle Ages Gestures in the Early Middle Ages Gestures in the Later Middle Ages
3.9.5 Gestures after the Middle Ages
3.10 Sign Language
3.11 Dance
3.12 Clothes
3.13 Symbolic Objects
3.14 Laughter

Chapter 4. Ritual

4.1 Theory of Ritual
4.2 (Ritualised) Emotions
4.3 Ritual – General Surveys
4.4 Ritual in the Middle Ages
4.5 Ritual in Early Modern Europe
4.6 Forms of Ritual
4.6.1 Forms of Ritual: Feasts
4.6.2 Forms of Ritual: Meals and Banquets
4.6.3 Forms of Ritual: (Table) Manners
4.7 Representation, Political Ritual and Ceremony
4.7.1 Representation
4.7.2 The Notion of Political Ritual
4.7.3 Political Ritual – General Surveys
4.7.4 Political Ritual in Antiquity
4.7.5 Political Ritual in the Middle Ages Political Ritual in Early Medieval Europe Political Ritual in Later Medieval Europe
4.7.6 Rituals of Rule: Acclamations, Coronations and Investitures
4.7.7 Rituals of Rule: Festive Entries
4.7.8 Rituals of Rule: The Meeting of Rulers
4.7.9 Rituals of Rule: Assemblies, Councils and Counsel
4.7.10 Rituals of Rule: The Lit de Justice
4.7.11 Rituals of Rule: Oaths, Pacts and Peace-Making
4.7.12 Rituals of Rule: On The Battlefield
4.7.13 Rituals of Rule: Staged Emotions
4.7.14 Rituals of Rule: Weddings
4.7.15 Rituals of Rule: Funerals
4.7.16 Rituals of Rule: The Papacy
4.7.17 Rituals of Rule: The Aristocracy
4.7.18 Rituals of Rule: The Towns
4.8 Rituals in Literature

Chapter 5. Language

5.1 Thinking about Language
5.2 Language in Antiquity
5.3 The Problem of Latin
5.3.1 Latin: General
5.3.2 Christian and Late Latin
5.3.3 Latin as Mother Tongue: From Latin to Romance
5.3.4 Latin as Father Tongue: Medieval Latin
5.3.5 Neo-Latin
5.4 The Problem of the Vernaculars
5.5 The Problem of Translation
5.6 Languages in Europe
5.6.1 Languages in the Italian Peninsula
5.6.2 Languages in the Iberian Peninsula
5.6.3 Languages in France
5.6.4 Languages in Switzerland
5.6.5 Languages in the German-speaking World
5.6.6 Languages in the Low Countries
5.6.7 Languages in the British Isles: Generalities Languages in the British Isles: England Languages in the British Isles: Scotland Languages in the British Isles: The ‘Celtic Fringe’ in the British Isles: Ireland in the British Isles: Wales
5.6.8 Languages in Scandinavia
5.6.9 Languages on the Eastern Shores of the Baltic
5.6.10 Languages in East Central and Eastern Europe: Generalities Languages in East Central Europe: Bohemia, Poland and Hungary Languages in Eastern Europe: The Russias
5.6.11 Languages in South Eastern Europe (Including Byzantium)
5.6.12 Languages in the Middle East
5.7 Language as a Means of Distinction
5.8 Forms of Oral Communication
5.8.1 Forms of Oral Communication: Silence
5.8.2 Forms of Oral Communication: Battles of Words
5.8.3 Forms of Oral Communication: Proverbs
5.8.4 Forms of Oral Communication: Riddles
5.8.5 Forms of Oral Communication: Gossip
5.8.6 Forms of Oral Communication: Addressing the Ruler
5.8.7 Forms of Oral Communication: Law and Justice
5.8.8 Forms of Oral Communication: Administration
5.8.9 Forms of Oral Communication: Blasphemy, Curses and Other Verbal Injuries
5.8.10 Forms of Oral Communication: Parliamentary Rhetoric
5.8.11 Forms of Oral Communication: Battlefield Language
5.8.12 Forms of Oral Communication: Shouting

Chapter 6. Oral and Written Memory

6.1 Classical Antiquity
6.2 Middle Ages
6.3 “Lieux de Mémoire”
6.4 The Past in Primarily Oral Societies
6.5 Oral Tradition
6.5.1 Oral Tradition in Antiquity
6.5.2 Oral Tradition in the Middle Ages Oral Tradition in the Early Middle Ages Oral Tradition in the Later Middle Ages
6.5.3 Oral Tradition in Literary Texts
6.5.4 Oral Tradition in Historiography

Chapter 7. Teaching, Mainly of Reading and Writing

7.1 Teaching in Antiquity
7.2 Teaching in the Middle Ages
7.2.1 Teaching in the Early Middle Ages
7.2.2 Teaching in the Later Middle Ages
7.2.3 The Medieval University
7.3 Teaching in Islam
7.4 Jewish Education

Chapter 8. Production and Use of Written Texts

8.1 Script and Script Forms
8.2 Runes, Inscriptions, Graffiti and Wax Tablets
8.3 Book Production and Use
8.3.1 Book Production in Antiquity, Byzantium and the Islamic World
8.3.2 Book Production in the Middle Ages Book Production in the Early Middle Ages Book Production in the Later Middle Ages
8.4 Producing Charters and Archival Documents
8.5 Reading and the Reception of Texts
8.5.1 Reading in Antiquity
8.5.2 Reading in Byzantium
8.5.3 Reading in the Middle Ages Reading in the Early Middle Ages Reading in the Later Middle Ages
8.5.4 Reading in Early Modern Times
8.5.5 Reading, Lay-out, Manuscript Research and Editorial Techniques
8.6 The Printed Word

Chapter 9. The Preservation and Wilful Destruction of Written Texts

Chapter 10. Correspondence, Messengers and the Postal System

10.1 Messengers and Ambassadors

Chapter 11. Mandarin Literacy

Chapter 12. The Use of Writing by Different Social Groups

12.1 Clergy and Laymen
12.1.1 Secular Clergy
12.1.2 Regular Clergy
12.2 Aristocrats
12.3 Peasants
12.4 Town Dwellers
12.5 Women
12.5.1 Women Before the Middle Ages
12.5.2 Women in the Middle Ages
12.5.3 Women in the Early Middle Ages
12.5.4 Women in the Later Middle Ages
12.5.5 Religious Women
12.5.6 Lay Women: Queens and Noblewomen
12.5.7 Lay Women: Town Dwellers

Chapter 13. Uses of Writing in Government, Management and Trade

13.1 Legislation and Law
13.2 Charters
13.3 Jurisdiction and Dispute Settlement
13.4 Government
13.5 Notaries Public and Their Work
13.6 Management
13.7 Trade

Chapter 14. Literature

14.1 ‘Oral’ Literature
14.2 (Oral) Epic
14.3 The Composition of (Mainly) Oral Literature
14.4 Performance
14.5 The Bible as Literature
14.6 Classical Literature
14.6.1 Classical Greek Literature
14.6.2 Classical Latin Literature
14.6.3 Late Antique Literature
14.7 Byzantine Literature
14.8 Medieval Literature
14.8.1 Medieval Latin Literature
14.8.2 Literature in the Italian Peninsula
14.8.3 Literature in the Iberian Peninsula
14.8.4 Literature in France
14.8.5 Literature in the German-Speaking World
14.8.6 Literature in the Low Countries
14.7.9 Literature in the British Isles Literature in the British Isles: England in the Early Middle Ages Literature in the British Isles: England in the Later Middle Ages Literature in the British Isles: The ‘Celtic Fringe’
14.7.10 Literature in Scandinavia
14.7.11 Literature in East Central and Eastern Europe
14.7.12 Literature in the (mainly Arabic) Middle East
14.8 Drama, Theatre, Feast and Spectacle

Chapter 15. Religion and Writing

15.1 Before the Middle Ages and Generalities
15.2 Middle Ages
15.3 Mission
15.4 Liturgy
15.5 Sermons and Preaching
15.6 Hagiography
15.7 Visions, Dreams and Prophecy
15.8 The Magic of the Written Word

Chapter 16. The Symbolism of the Book

Subject Index

Index of Modern Authors and Editors

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500 CE – 600

One of Few Surviving "Scientific" Manuscripts from Late Antiquity Circa 500 CE – 1554

A page from Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum, depicting a perspective of a house and the boundaries of the property on which it was built. (View Larger)


The Corpus agrimensorum romanorum, a Roman treatise on land surveying, the earliest text of which is preserved  in the 5th or 6th century codex known as Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelff. 36.23 Augusteus 2, is one of the few surviving illustrated, non-literary or non-religious texts from late antiquity. The manuscript text is written in an uncial script, with red letters indicating the beginnings of paragraphs.  The codex is preserved in the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel.

♦ In 1554 the Corpus agrimensorum romanorum was first published in print by Pierre Galland and scholar printer Adrien Turnèbe in Paris as De agrorum conditionibus, & constitutionibus limitum, Siculi Flacci lib. I . Iulii Frontini lib. I. Aggeni Urbici lib. II. Hygeni Gromatici lib. II. Variorum auctorum ordines finitionum. De jugeribus metiundis. Finium regundorum. Lex mamilia. Coloniarum pop. Romani descriptio. Terminorum inscriptiones & formae. De generibus lineamentorum. De mensuris & ponderibus. Omnia figuris illustrata. Parisiis, M. D. LIIII. Apud Adr. Turnebum typoraphum regium. 

Galland and Turnèbe worked

"from a manuscript found in the monastery of St. Bertin at St. Omer during a ‘humanist tour’ of Northern France and Flanders undertaken around 1545, the time that Turnèbe was teaching at the University of Toulouse. In the preface Galland says that they visited each monastery in turn and ‘carefully collected old manuscripts like keen-scented dogs’ (quoted by Lewis, p. 38). The illustrations are of ‘boundary stones, properties, cities, roads, rivers, and swamps, as well as diagrams of the cosmos. The areas to be surveyed are shown in plan from a bird’s-eye view, so that their dimensions can be reproduced accurately.

"Mountains, cities, buildings, and boundary stones, by contrast, are shown receding into space according to the technique that Vitruvius called 'scene drawing' (scaenographia). This scaenographia is not the one-point perspective of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries but rather the Roman technique of varying viewpoints’ (Rowland p. 135). The fact that the Agrimensores manuscripts are illustrated is in marked contrast to the surviving manuscript sources for Vitruvius, none of which retain the illustrations mentioned in the text" (Roger Gaskell, Catalogue 47 [2012] No. 22, with illustrations).

Rowland, The Culture of the High Renaissance (1998). Lewis, Adrien Turnèbe (1512–1565): A Humanist Observed 1998).

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The Format of the Book Evolved with the Transition to the Codex Circa 500 CE

Example of a colophon at the end of a papyrus roll from the seventh century BC.  As is customary in ancient Greek books, the last line of the last poem (marked by the cronis in the margin) is followed by the name of the author and title (Sappho, Lyrics); the book number (beta = 2) is given in the next line, both decorated with top and bottom-lines.

The staurogram, a combination of the Greek letters tau and rho, looks like a human figure hanging on a cross and stands in for parts of the Greek words for “cross” (stauros) and “crucify” (stauroō) in Bodmer papyrus P66, a copy of the Gospel of John (200 C.E.). The staurogram is the earliest visual reference to Jesus’ crucifixion.

"With the transition from papyrus rolls to the parchment codex is connected a decisive change for the whole area of European book production. It was customary in papyrus rolls to distinguish the ending, which was better protected and in which the author and title were named in the closing script (colophon), by means of larger script or through ornamentation. This usage passed over initially also into the codices. But from roughly AD 500 on, if not already before then, the weight of ornamental layout at the end gradually shifted towards the opening, where the author's portrait and, in the gospels, the canon tables had their natural place anyway. Various factors worked together here with varying rhythm. Thus connected with the colophon was a specifically Christian ornament, the cross as a staurogram, with Rho-bow on the shoulder, plus alpha and omega. It has already shifted to before the text in the miniature codex of John's Gospel. Following the example of the arch-framed canon tables, lists of contents are set under coloured arcades in the sixth century, and from the fifth /sixth century on they also acquire greater emphasis through such formulae as" 'In hoc corpore (codice) continentur. . .' " (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 188-89).

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Possibly the Earliest Surviving Illuminated Christian Manuscripts Circa 500 CE – 650

The manuscript before and after restoration and repagination. Image from June 2010 edition of The Arts Newspaper. (View Larger)

The Gospels of Abba Garima, an illuminated gospel book in two volumes written on vellum in the Ge'ez language and preserved in the Abba Garima Monastery east of Adwa, in the Mehakelegnaw Zone of the Tigray Region of northern Ethiopia, were, according to legend, written and partly illuminated by the Ethiopian missionary Abbu Garima, who is thought to have arrived in Ethiopia in 494 CE. Most outside scholars and scientists previously agreed that the gospels, based on Garima's teachings, were written centuries after his death, probably by priests in the tenth century. However recent radiocarbon dating carried out at Oxford University suggested a date between 330 and 650 CE for their creation, opening the possibility that the gospels were actually created by Abba Garima. If the Abba Garima Gospels date from the time of Abba Garima (circa 500)they are possibly the earliest surviving illuminated Christian manuscripts.

"The survival of the Garima Gospels is astonishing, since all other early Ethiopian manuscripts seem to have been destroyed during turbulent times. Very little is known about the history of the Abba Garima Monastery, but it may have been overrun in the 1530s by Muslim invaders. More recently, in 1896, the area was at the centre of resistance to Italian forces. The monastery's main church was destroyed by fire in around 1930.

"The survival of the Garima Gospels may have been due to the fact that they were hidden, perhaps for centuries or even for more than a millennium. The hiding spot may have been forgotten, and it could have been rediscovered by chance in relatively modern times.

"In 1520, Portugues chaplain Francisco Álvarez visited the monastery and recorded that there was a cave (now lost or destroyed), where Abba Garima was reputed to have lived. Álvarez reported that the monks would descend into it by ladder to do penance. Although speculation, it is possible that the Gospels may have been hidden in this cave" (http://ethiopianheritagefund.org/artsNewspaper.html, accessed 07-10-2010).

In 2007 the English binder and restorer Lester Capon did a partial restoration of bindings of the Abba Garima Gospels and wrote about it with great photos in the Skin Deep blog of leather manufacturers J. Hewit & Sons under the title of Extreme Bookbinding.

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The Longevity of Wax Tablets for Recording Written Information Circa 500 CE – 1450

"Until quite late in the Middle Ages virtually everyone who learned to write did so on a wax tablet, and virtually everyone who made a draft, of letter or lyric, treatise or document, or a running account at the fishmonger's, did so on a wax tablet. The wax tablet, as support for the written word, had a longer uninterrupted association with literate Western civilization than either parchment or paper, and a more intimate relationship with literary creation. . . ." (Richard Rouse and Mary Rouse, "The Vocabulary of Wax Tablets," Bound Fast With Letters. Medieval Writers and Texts [2013] 13).

In their discussion of wax tablets tied together, in the form of two tablets tied together called diptychs, or multiple tablets tied together, known as polyptychs, typically referred to by the Romans as codices, the Rouses mentioned that the largest number of recorded tablets tied together was eight:

"The most complex of which we have record is the eight-part tablet, a special gift, celebrated in verse by its owner, the eleventh century French poet Baudri: 'You [his polytych] contain eight tablets' (in vobis  . . .sunt octo tabelle') (Rouse & Rouse, op. cit., 16)

In May 2014 I came across a reference to a book by the eighteenth century Italian physician, naturalist, and writer Antonio Cocchi concerning a manuscript written on fourteen wax tablets. Cocchi's work, Lettera Critica Sopra un Manoscritto in Cera, published in Firenze in 1746, provided an analysis of the contents of the 14 wax tablets, which included a long account of a journey undertaken by Philippe IV of France (Philippe le Bel). Cocchi wrote the work in the form of a letter to Pompeo Neri. At the end of his book he provided a letterpress table, which was in part a facsimile of the wax tablet manuscript.

Whether any of the wax tablets described by Cocchi were tied together in the form of a codex, or codices, was unclear. However, the title of the work, drawing attention to the wax tablet format of the manuscript, confirms that medieval wax tablets had become rare by the eighteenth century. Whether the tablets survived into the 21st century was unknown.


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Probably the Most Beautiful of the Earliest Surviving Scientific Codices Circa 512

An illustration of illustration of the species 'Akoniton napellus,' folio 67v. (View Larger)

The oldest surviving copy of Pedanius Dioscorides's treatise on medical botany and pharmacology, De materia medica, is an illuminated Byzantine manuscript produced about 512 CE. Dioscorides, a Greek military physician who served in the Roman army of the emperor Nero, wrote De materia medica in the first century CE. The Anicia Juliana codex also contains the earliest illustrated treatise on ornithology. It is one of the earliest surviving relatively complete codices of a scientific or medical text, one of the earliest relatively complete illustrated codices on any medical or scientific subject, and arguably the most beautiful of the earliest surviving scientific codices. It also contains what are probably the earliest surviving portraits of scientists or physicians in a manuscript.

The manuscript was produced for the Byzantine princess Anicia Juliana, the daughter of Flavius Anicius Olybrius, who had been emperor of the western empire in 472 CE. "The frontispiece of the manuscript, the first donor portrait in the history of manuscript illumination, features her depiction, flanked by the personifications of Magnanimity and Prudence, with an allegory of the "Gratitude of the Arts" prostrate in front of her. The encircling inscription proclaims Juliana as a great patron of art" (Wikipedia article on Anicia Juliana, accessed 11-22-2008).

For this and other commissions Juliana may be considered the first non-reigning patron of the arts in recorded history.

"Splendid though the figures in the Codex Vindobonensis are, they reveal a naturalism so alien to contemporary Byzantine art that it is obvious that they were not drawn from nature but derived from originals of a much earlier date—as early, at least, as the second century AD. They vary, however, very much in quality and are clearly not all by the same hand, possibly not even all after the work of a single artist. In the text accompaying eleven of them there is association with the writings of Krateuas. All these figures are admirable, and clearly by the same hand; it must therefore seem certain that they, at all events, are derived from drawings by Krateuas himself" (Blunt & Raphael, The Illustrated Herbal [1979] 17).

The story of the manuscript's survival is relatively well documented:

"Presented in appreciation for her patronage in the construction of a district church in Constantinople, the parchment codex comprises 491 folios (or almost a thousand pages) and almost four hundred color illustrations, each occupying a full page facing a description of the plant's pharmacological properties. . . .

"In the Anicia codex, the chapter entries of De Materia Medica have been rearranged, the plants alphabetized and their descriptions augmented with observations from Galen and Crateuas (Krateuas), whose own herbal probably had been illustrated. Five supplemental texts also were appended, including paraphrases of the Theriaca and Alexipharmaca of Nicander and the Ornithiaca of Dionysius of Philadelphia (first century AD), which describes more than forty Mediterranean birds, including one sea bird shown with its wings both folded and open" (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/aconite/materiamedica.html, accessed 11-22-2008)

From the time of its creation "Nearly nine centuries were to pass before we have further knowledge of the whereabouts of the codex. Then we learn that in 1406 it was being rebound by a certain John Chortasmenos for Nathanael, a monk and physician in the Prodromos Monastery in Constantinople, where seveteen years later it was seen by a Sicilian traveler named Aurispa. After the Muslim conquest of the city in 1453 the codex fell into the hands of the Turks, and Turkish and Arabic names were then added to the Greek. A century later it was in the possession of a Jew named Hamon, body physician to Suleiman the Magnificent, and it was presumably either by Hamon or by his son, who inherited it, that Hebrew names were also added" (Blunt & Raphael, op. cit., 15).

"Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, ambassador of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I to the Ottoman court of Süleyman, attempted to purchase the Anicia codex in 1562 but could not afford the asking price. As he relates at the end of his Turkish Letters (IV, p.243),

"One treasure I left behind in Constantinople, a manuscript of Dioscorides, extremely ancient and written in majuscules, with drawings of the plants and containing also, if I am not mistaken, some fragments of Crateuas and a small treatise on birds. It belongs to a Jew, the son of Hamon, who, while he was still alive, was physician to Soleiman. I should like to have bought it, but the price frightened me; for a hundred ducats was named, a sum which would suit the Emperor's purse better than mine. I shall not cease to urge the Emperor to ransom so noble an author from such slavery. The manuscript, owing to its age, is in a bad state, being externally so worm-eaten that scarcely any one, if he saw if lying in the road, would bother to pick it up.

"In 1569 Emperor Maximilian II did acquire the Anicia codex for the imperial library in Vienna, now the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), where it is designated Codex Vindobonensis Med. Gr. 1. (from Vindobona, the Latin name for Vienna) or, more simply, the Vienna Dioscorides." (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/aconite/materiamedica.html, accessed 11-22-2008)

(This entry was last revised on 05-03-2014.)

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The Codex Argenteus, The Primary Surviving Example of the Gothic Language Circa 520

A page from the Codex Argenteus. (View Larger)

About 520 CE the Codex Argenteus (silver codex) was written in silver and gold letters on purple vellum in probably in Ravenna, or in the Po valley, or in Brescia, probably for the Ostrogothic ruler of Italy, Theodoric

The Codex Argenteus contains fragments of the Four Gospels translated into Gothic by the fourth century Bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila), of Nicopolis ad Istrum (now Northern Bulgaria). It is the primary surviving example of the Gothic language, an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths, and set down in writing by Ulfilas who devised devised the Gothic alphabet. Of the original 336 leaves only 188 are preserved at the Carolina Rediviva library at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, plus one separate leaf, discovered, remarkably, in 1970 in the cathedral of Speyer in Germany.

During the Ostrogothic rule of Italy there was a bilateral Gothic-Latin culture, of which the Codex Brixianus, also produced in Italy at approximately the same time, survives as a Latin counterpart to the Codex Argenteus. It is believed that the Latin version of the Bible in the Codex Brixianus may be the Latin text from which Ulfilas translated the Bible into Gothic.

"With the end of Gothic rule the Gothic manuscripts in Italy were rendered valueless; what remained of them (with the exception of the Codex Argenteus) became part of that waste material which in the seventh and eighth centuries was re-used in Bobbio" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 186).

After about a thousand years during which the Codex Argenteus appeared in no inventories, it was rediscovered in the middle of the 16th century in the library of the Benedictine monastery of Werden in the Ruhr, near Essen in Germany (Werden Abbey). This abbey, whose abbots were imperial princes with a seat in the imperial diets, was among the richest monasteries of the Holy Roman Empire. The Dutch physician, humanist, and linguist Johannes Goropius Becanus published the first mention of the manuscript in his 1569 book Origines Antwerpianae. In 1665 Franciscus Junius the Younger published the editio princeps of the text as Quatuor D. N. Jesu Christi euangeliorum versiones perantiquae duae, Gothica scil. et Anglo-Saxonica (Dordrecht, 1665).

In 1597 Bonaventura Vulcanius, professor of Greek at Leiden, published portions of the Gothic Bible text from the Codex Argenteus in a collection of treatises on the Goths which he edited for publication by the Plantin Press. In his preface to one of these treatises, De literis et lingua Getarum sive Gothorum, Vulcanius wrote that it represented two brief disserations by an unidentifiable scholar, the first of which he said was "concerned with the script and prounciation, and the other with the Lombardic script, which the author said he copied from a manuscript codex of great antiquity which he called 'the Silver.' This was the first publication in print of any Gothic text, and it gave the manuscript its name, Codex Argenteus. Vulcanius identified Ulfilas as the translator of Gothic text of the Bible. Vulcanius's book included images of Gothic script as compared to other ancient languages. 

"Later the manuscript became the property of the Emperor Rudolph II, and when, in July 1648, the last year of the Thirty Years' War, the Swedes occupied Prague, it fell into their hands together with the other treasures of the Imperial Castle of Hradcany. It was subsequently deposited in the library of Queen Christina in Stockholm, but on the abdication of the Queen in 1654 it was acquired by one of her librarians, the Dutch scholar Isaac Vossius. He took the manuscript with him to Holland, where, in 1662, the Swedish Count Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie bought the codex from Vossius and, in 1669, presented it to the University of Uppsala. He had previously had it bound in a chased silver binding, made in Stockholm from designs by the painter David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl" (http://www.ub.uu.se/arv/codexeng.cfm, accessed 11-22-2008).

Munkhammar, Lars. The Silver Bible: Origins and History of the Codex Argenteus. (Uppsala, 2011).

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the Codex Argenteus was available from Uppsala University Library at this link.

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St. Benedict Founds the Abbey at Monte Cassino and Later Formulates his Rule 529

St. Benedict. (Click to view larger.)

In 529 Benedict of Nursia, better known as St. Benedict (San Benedetto da Norcia), founded the Abbey of Monte Cassino in Compania, Italy. 

Benedict's Rule, formulated near the end of his life (547), based the foundations of monastic life on prayer, study, and the assistance of the sick. Benedict's rule was influenced by the rule of John Cassian who founded the first monasteries in Europe near Marseille, southern Gaul, about 415 CE.

♦ "Every monastery, therefore, was obliged to have a doctor to attend patients and a separate place in the cloister where the sick could be treated. It thus became necessary for one, at least, of the monks to collect scientific material, to study it and to hand on his knowledge to those who would, in time, take his place. In this way was started that practical teaching which was transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation to the great advantage of the sick breathren of the monastery. As many codices of Latin and Greek learning as could be found were collected, and translations and extracts made for the use of those who, either because their studies had been only elementary or because they lacked the time,  were incapable of reading their authors in the original text.

"What was the position of the monkish doctor in these religious colonies? It is true that in Benedictine monasteries the doctor was not granted a well-defined position by the monastic rule, like the Prior, the nurse (a man, of course—with a post which was merely administrative), the chaplain, the cellarer or the librarian. The title of medicus was, therefore, not official; its holder had no disciplinary power, and it could not directly procure him any privileges. It was a mere name given to monks who, as a result of their studies, showed some special capacity for the art of healing. But, without having any official status among the dignitaries of the monastery, they yet had a high moral position in the community. In official monastic documents they signed after those monks who were invested with the highest monastic rank. Their elevated moral position is quite clear from the important missions entrusted to thrm by great personages of the day, missions of trust which would not have been given to individuals who were not held in considerable esteem. . . .

"The doctor treated his patients, prescribed the medicaments and prepared them himself, using those which he kept in the armarium pigmentorum. The herb garden, which existed in every monastery, allowed him to have at hand the medicinal plants he needed. The students whom he gathered round him in the monastery helped him to treat the patients and prepared the medicines. The work was done in the Infirmary, a place varying in size with the importance of the monastery, and set apart from the dormitory and the refectory of the monks themselves. Into the Infirmary were taken not only sick monks but also gentlemen, townspeople, and even labourers who applied for admission. The monastic doctor, besides his practice, had also to undertake the copying of medical texts. . . . In each great Benedictine monastery a real studium was formed, from which doctors were sent to the minor centres. The work of the doctor, however, was not limited by the monastery walls. At that time, when civilian medicine was generally represented by bone-setters and travelling quacks, the services of the monastery doctor were asked of the Prior whenever a person of importance or a member of his family fell ill in the neighbourhood. Permission was given freely and lasted during the whole treatment. The monastic doctor was never sent away on duty unless accompanied by another monk or by one of his pupils. Owing to his vow of poverty, he himself could receive no reward for his services, but splendid donations in lands, money or kind were made by great lords who willingly gave such gifts pro recuperata valetudine" (Capparoni, "Magistri Salernitani Nondum Cogniti". A Contribution to the History of the Medical School of Salerno [1923] 3-5).

Concerning books and study Benedict's rule stated in its 48th chapter, Of Daily Manual Labor:

"Idleness is the enemy of the soul; hence brethren ought, at certain seasons, to occupy themselves with manual labour, and again at certain hours, with holy reading. . . .

"Between Easter and the calends of October let them apply themselves to reading from the fourth hour till near the sixth hour.

"From the calends of October to the beginning of Lent let them apply themselves to reading until the second hour. . . . During Lent, let them apply themselves to reading from morning until the end of the third hour. . . and, in these days of Lent, let them receive a book apiece from the library, and read it straight through. These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent" (Clark, The Care of Books [1902] 56). 

Benedict's Rule mentioned a library without mentioning the scriptorium that would later become an integral part of monastic life.

♦ Benedictine scriptoria, where the copying of texts not only provided materials needed in the routines of the community and served as work for hands and minds otherwise idle, also produced a desirable product that could be sold. Early commentaries on the Benedictine rule suggest that manuscript copying was a common occupation of at least some Benedictine communities. Montalembert drew attention to the 6th-century rule of St Ferreol that regarded transcription as the equivalent of manual labor since it charges that the monk "who does not turn up the earth with the plow ought to write the parchment with his fingers" (Wikipedia article on Scriptorium, accessed 02-22-2009).

"Benedictine scriptoria, and with them libraries, became active not in the time of St. Benedict himself, but under the impulse of Irish (and later English) monks on the continent in the seventh and eighth centuries. The influence of the Anglo-Saxon missionaries, principally the Wessex-born Boniface and his allies and helpers, was especially strong in Germany, leading to the foundation of episcopal centers such as Mainz and Würzburg, and of monasteries that were to become famous for their libraries such as Fulda (744) and Hersfeld (770). The Anglo-Saxons brought with them a script and books from the well-stocked English libraries. In the course of time the preparation (and even sale) as well as consumption of books became a characteristic aspect of continental monastic life and the library a central part of the monastery" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in Stam (ed) The International Dictionary of Library History I [2001] 105).

•The image is a portrait of Benedict  from a fresco in the cloister of San Marco in Florence.

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An Almost Unique Witness to the Original Justinian Digest 533 – 555

Littera Florentina. (Click to view larger.)

The codex called the Littera Florentina or Pandectarum codex Florentinus was written between 533 and 555 CE. It is the closest survivor to an official version of the Digesta or Pandectae portion of the Corpus Juris Civilis, the digest of Roman law promulgated by Justinian I for the first time in 529, of which no copies survived. What survived was the revised edition of 533-34.

"The codex, of 907 leaves, is written in the Byzantine-Ravenna uncials characteristic of Constantinople, but which has recently been recognized in legal and literary texts produced in Alexandria and the Levant. Close scrutiny dates the manuscript between the official issuance in 533 and 557, making it an all-but contemporary and all-but official source.

"Marginal notes suggest that the codex was in Amalfi—part of the Byzantine territory in Italy governed by the Exarchate of Ravenna in the 6th century— and that it passed to Pisa in the 12th century; the codex was part of the war booty removed from Pisa to Florence after the war of 1406. The manuscript became one of Florence's most treasured possessions. It was only shown to very important persons. Scholarly access was difficult. It took more than three centuries before a reliable edition of the Littera Florentina was finally made available."

"The importance of the manuscript lies in the fact that is an almost unique witness of the original Justinian Digest. Most medieval manuscripts of the Digest have a substantially different text. Its sudden reappearance in the late eleventh or early twelfth century has been much debated by legal historians" (Wikipedia article on Littera Florentina, accessed 12-05-2008).

"A compilation of pre-classical and classical Roman law (written before 245 c.e.), the work was culled from some three thousand books of the Roman jurisconsults and comprises 800,000 words. It is important to note that many of these quotations had been altered during the nearly three centuries of their transmission from the end of the classical period in the middle of the third century. The sources of the Babylonian Talmud, transmitted orally, were also subject to changes in wording, context, and, occasionally, substance.

"The Digest was the major constituent of Justinian’s Code, which we have only in its second edition, completed in 534 by the Roman Jurist, Tribonian. Tribonian headed a committee of sixteen Byzantine law professors, and accomplished this daunting task in just three years. In addition, the Code contained the Institutes, a first-year textbook for law students who would enter the emperor’s bureaucracy trained in his version of Roman law, and the Fifty Decisions, which was supposed to adjudicate all outstanding differences of opinion. The entire work thus runs to about one million words, and is restricted to civil, or private, law" (Yaakov Ulman, "The Babylonian Talmud in its Historical Context," Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein, 19, accessed 12-05-2108).

Roman Legal Tradition and the Compilation of Justinian, Robbins Collection, University of California Berkeley (PDF), accessed 02-18-2014).

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Considered the Oldest, Well-Preserved Illustrated Biblical Codex Circa – 540

The Vienna Genesis. (Click to view larger.)

Considered the oldest, well-preserved, illustrated biblical codex, the Vienna Genesis  is an illuminated manuscript, probably produced in Syria.  It is preserved in Vienna at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (cod. theol. gr. 31).

"The text is a fragment of the Book of Genesis in the Greek Septuagint translation. The text is frequently abbreviated. There are twenty-four surviving folios each with a miniatures at the bottom of both sides. It is thought that there were originally about ninety-six folios and 192 illustrations. It is written in uncials with silver ink on calfskin parchment dyed a rich purple. This shade of purple dye was also used to dye imperial cloth.

"The illustrations are done in a naturalistic style common to Roman painting of the period. The manuscript's illustrations are, in format, transitional between those found in scrolls and later images found in codices. Each illustration is painted at the bottom of a single page. However, within a single illustration, two or more episodes from a story may be included, so that the same person may be represented multiple times within a single illustration. There are both framed and unframed illustrations. The illustrations contain incidents and people not mentioned in the text of Genesis. These incidents are thought to have been derived from popular elaborations of the story or from a Jewish paraphrase of the text" (Wikipedia article on the Vienna Genesis).

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The Second Most Important Witness to the Text of the Latin Vulgate 541 – May 547

The Codex Fuldensis, (Fulda, Landesbibliothek, Bonifatianus 1) considered the second most important witness to the text of the Latin Vulgate, was written in an uncial hand, in one column, between 541 and 546 CE at Capua, Italy by order of Victor, bishop of that see, and was corrected by Victor personally in May 547, as indicated in his subscription on folio 433. It contains the whole New Testament together with the apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans. The Gospels are arranged in a single, consecutive narrative, in imitation of the Diatessarona prominent Gospel harmony created by Tatian, an early Assyrian Christian apologist and ascetic.

The manuscript is preserved at the Landesbibliothek, Fulda, Germany.

Metzger & Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament. Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration. 4th ed (2005) 108, 131-33.

Parker, An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts (2009) 76.

Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores VIII, 1196: "One of the subscriptions that places and dates our manuscript—a milestone in palaeography—reads on fol. 433: "UICTOR FAMULUS XPI ET EIUS GRATIA EPISC CASPUAE LEGI UI NON MAI δ INδ NONA QUINQ PC BASILII UC CO."

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The Codex Brixianus Circa 550

Canon tables from Codex Brixianus. (View Larger)

The Codex Brixianus, a 6th century Latin Gospel Book, was written on 419 folios of purpled dyed vellum. The text is a version of the old Latin translation which seems to have been a source for the Gothic translation of Ulfilas. At the base of each page is an arcade very similar to that found in the Codex Argenteus. The manuscript, which was probably produced in Italy, is preserved in the Biblioteca Civica Queriniana in Brescia, Italy.

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Written in the Imperial Scriptorium of Constantinople and Dismembered by Crusaders Circa 550

Folios 23v and 24r of the Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus. (View Larger)

The Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus, a 6th century Greek New Testament codex gospel book with very many lacunae, originated in the Imperial Scriptorium of Constantinople, and was dismembered by crusaders in the 12th century. The manuscript text is in two columns, 16 lines, in large majuscules (capital letters), measuring 32 x 27 cm. The lettering is in silver ink on vellum dyed purple, with gold ink for nomina sacra. The text is of the Byzantine text-type in a very early stage, but some parts represent Caesarean readings.

In 1896 Nicholas II of Russia commissioned Fyodor Uspensky's Russian Archaeological Institute to buy the greater part of it for the Imperial Public Library in St. Petersburg. 

Perhaps as a result of its 12th century dismembering, the 231 surviving folios of the manuscript are preserved in an unusually large number of different libraries in different countries:

  • "182 leaves in the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg,
  • 33 leaves in the Library of the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian on the Island of PatmosGreece, Mark 6:53-7:4; 7:20-8:32; 9:1-10:43; 11:7-12:19; 14:25-15:23;
  • 6 leaves in the Vatican Library in Rome, Matthew 19:6-13; 20:6-22; 20:29-21:19
  • 4 leaves in London, British Library, Cotton Titus C. XV; Matthew 26:57-65; 27:26-34; John 14:2-10; 15:15-22; they were named the Codex Cottonianus;
  • 2 leaves in the National Library of Austria in Vienna,
  • 1 leaf in the Morgan Library in New York,
  • 1 leaf in the Byzantine Museum in Athens,
  • 1 leaf in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki
  • 1 leaf in the private collection of Marquis А. Spinola in Lerma (1), Italy." (Wikipedia article on Codex Petropolitanus, accessed 02-18-2014).
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The Dark Ages for Study of the Classics on the European Continent Circa 550 – 750

"Although few ages are so dark that they are not penetrated by a few shafts of light, the period from roughly 550 to 750 was one of almost unrelieved gloom for the Latin classics on the continent; they virtually ceased being copied. Among the mass of patristical, biblical, and liturgical manuscripts that survive from this period there are precious few texts of classical authors; from the the sixth century we have scraps of two Juvenal manuscripts, remnants of one of the Elder and one of the Younger Pliny, but at least two of these belong to the early part of the century; from the seventh century we have a fragment of Lucan; from the early eighth century nothing.

"The fate that often overtook the handsome books of antiquity is dismally illustrated by the surviving palimpsests—manuscripts in which the original texts have been washed off to make way for works which at the time were in greater demand. Many texts that had escaped destruction in the crumbling empire of the West perished within the walls of the monastery; some of them may have been too tattered when they arrived to be of practical use, and there was no respect for rags, however venerable. The peak period for this operation was the seventh and early eighth centuries, and although palimpsests survive from many centres, the bulk of them have come from the Irish foundations of Luxeuil and Bobbio. Texts perished, not because pagan authors were under attack, but because no one was interested in reading them, and parchment was too precious to carry an obsolete text; Christian works, heretical or superfluous, also went to the wall, while the ancient grammarians, of particular interest to the Irish, often have the upper hand. But the toll of classical authors was very heavy; amongst those palimpsested we find Plautus and Terence, Cicero and Livy, the Elder and Young Pliny, Sallust and Seneca, Vergil and Ovid, Lucan, Juvenal and Persius, Gellius and Fronto. Fronto survives in three palimpsests, fated always to be the underdog. Among the texts that have survived solely in this mutilated form are some of outstanding interest such as the De republica of Cicero (Vat. lat 5757. . . ) written in uncials of the fourth or fifth century and covered at Bobbio in the seventh with Augustine on the Psalms, a fifth-century copy of De amicitia and De vita patris of Seneca (Vat. Pal. lat. 24) which succumbed in the late sixth or early seventh century to the Old Testament, and a fifth-century codex of Sallust's Historia (Orléans 192 + Vat. Reg. lat. 12838 + Berlin lat. 4º 364) which, in France and probably at Fleury, was supplanted at the turn of the seventh century by Jerome. Other important palimpsests are the Ambrosian Plautus (Ambros. S.P. 9/13-20), olim G. 82 sup.) and the Verona Livy (Verona XL (38)), both of the fifth century" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 85-86).

(This entry was last revised on 03-22-2014.)

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The Herbal of Pseudo-Apuleius Circa 550 – 625

Folios 33v-34r from MS. Ashmole 1431, an eleventh century copy of the Herbal of Pseudo-Apuleius. (View Larger)

The Latin herbal associated with the name of Apuleius Barbarus or Apuleius Platonicus or Pseudo-Apuleius, in distinction to Lucius Apuleius Platonicus, author of The Golden Ass, may have been put together from Greek material around 400 CE or might have been compiled earlier, possibly in Roman Africa. Nothing is known about the so-called author except his name, which may have actually been a pseudonym of Lucius Apuleius Platonicus, who described himself as "half-Numidian half-Gaetulian," and who was born in Madaurus (now M'Daourouch, Algeria), a Roman colony in Numidia on the North African coast, bordering Gaetulia.

"The history of the work has been lost with the passage of time, leading to endless speculation on the identity of the author. In all probability 'Apuleius Platonicus' was a pseudonym of Lucius Apuleius of Madaura in Numidia born AD124, [author of The Golden Ass,] while other writers refer to the him as Pseudo-Apuleius. A study of the book shows some of the plants being endemic to North Africa and lends support to the idea that the author was African" (Wikipedia article on Herbarium Apulei Platonici, accessed 06-13-2009).

The earliest surviving manuscript of this herbal, a codex containing a Latin herbarium and other medical texts, was produced in Southern Italy or Southern France in the sixth or early seventh century. It is preserved in the library of Universiteit Leiden, Vos. Lat. Q9. 

"Its figures are much inferior those of the Vienna Dioscorides, and, like them, derivative, though of different origin; it is, therefore, in spite of being denounced by Singer as 'a futile work, with its unrecognisable figures and incomprehensible vocabulary', and by Frank J. Anderson as a 'straw desperately grasped at by despairing men', in its way a landmark in the history both of botany and of botanical illustration. It was probably written in the south of France and for many generations was unhappily to provide western illustrators from Italy to the Rhine with a storehouse for plunder " (Blunt & Raphael, The Illustrated Herbal [1979] 28).

The Herbarium Apulei was one of the most widely used remedy books of the Middle Ages. Over 60 medieval manuscripts of the text survive.

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The Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament in Christian Palestinian Aramaic Circa 550

Several pages from te Codex Climaci Rescriptus. (View Larger)

The Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a 7-8th century Greek uncial manuscript of the New Testament as well as a 6th century Christian Palestinian Aramaic uncial manuscript of the Old and New Testament, represents in its Christian Palestinian Aramaic version of the New Testament, "the closest surviving witness to the words of Jesus Christ. It preserves the Gospels in the nearest dialect of Aramaic to that which he spoke himself, and unlike all other translations, those here were composed with a living Aramaic tradition based in the Holy Land." 

The palimpsest-manuscript in Christian Palestinian Aramaic was probably written in Judea, the mountainous southern region of Israel, in the sixth century. It was turned upside down and palimpsested in Syriac in the ninth century. It is thought that it passed to St. Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, which was built by the Emperor Justinian I between 527 and 565.

The manuscript was

"acquired by the pioneering Biblical scholars and twins, Agnes Smith Lewis (1843-1926) and Margaret Dunlop Gibson (1843-1920) in three stages between 1895 and 1906 (all in the vicinity of Cairo, the manuscript having presumably been 'liberated' from its monastic home in order to supply leaves for the antiquity trade there). They were staunch Scottish Presbyterians with a consuming interest in the early versions of the Bible, and profound belief in female education, in an age when it practically did not exist. They used their own fortune to become celebrated scholars in the fields of Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Syriac, and thrilled by Tischendorf's discoveries at Sinai, they set off to St. Catherine's on a 'manuscript-hunting' expedition in 1892. They won over the difficult patriarch, partly through their insistence that nothing was to be abstracted from the library there, but only photographs taken, and on that expedition they returned with pictures of the Syriac manuscript which would make them famous, the fourth century Syriac Sinaiticus (their lives and its discovery are the subject of a recent book, J. Soskic, Sisters of Sinai, 2009, which was adapted for BBC Radio 4 this April). Having returned home to Cambridge they were tipped off by a mysterious informant that spectacular manuscripts were to be had through various dealers in Cairo. This was quite different from the questionable removal of manuscripts from ancient libraries, and the twins regarded it as a rescue mission, returning to Egypt and acquiring a single leaf of the present codex . . . in 1895. They acquired a further 89 leaves from the present manuscript in October 1905, and in April of the following year, while passing through Port Tewfik, Agnes Lewis bought two palimpsest - manuscripts on a whim. Upon returning home she discovered that one contained another 48 leaves of the present manuscript, and that the two portions were separated by only a single leaf - that which the twins had acquired first in 1895. They published the entire text in 1909. Only one other leaf of this scattered manuscript has emerged in the last century. . . . On the death of the twins the manuscript was left to Westminster College, Cambridge."

Westminster College consigned the Codex Climaci Rescriptus to auction at Sotheby's London for sale on July 7, 2009 with an estimate of £400,000- £600,000. The quotations in this note were taken from Christopher de Hamel's much longer illustrated description of the manuscript as lot 14 in the catalogue of Sotheby's sale L09740, Western Manuscripts and Miniatures. According to Sotheby's website, the manuscript failed to sell in the auction. In June 2010 it was publicized that the Green family, owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, bought the manuscript for their planned Bible museum expected to be located in Dallas, Texas.

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One of the Earliest Surviving Legal Codices Circa 550

Alaric II, as depicted on a Visigothic coin. (View Larger)

The Breviarum Alarici (Breviary of Alaric, Breviarium Alaricianum or Lex Romana Visigothorum), written in southern France in the sixth century, is one of the earliest surviving manuscript codices of Roman law. The text was compiled by order of Alaric II, King of the Visigoths, with the advice of his bishops and nobles, in 506, the twenty-second year of his reign.

"It applied, not to the Visigothic nobles under their own law, which had been formulated by Euric, but to the Hispano-Roman and Gallo-Roman population, living under Visigoth rule south of the Loire and, in Book 16, to the members of the Trinitarian Catholic Church. (The Visigoths were Arian and maintained their own clergy.)

"It comprises:

◊"sixteen books of the Codex Theodosianus;

◊"the Novels of Theodosius IIValentinian III, MarcianMajorian and Libius Severus

◊"the Institutes of Gaius

◊"five books of the Sententiae Receptae of Julius Paulus

◊"thirteen titles of the Gregorian code;

◊"two titles of the Hermogenian code

◊"and a fragment of the first book of the Responsa Papiniani" (Wikipedia article on Breviary of Alaric, accessed 01-03-2010).

The codex is preserved in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Clm 22501).

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Among the Earliest Surviving European Papyrus Codices Circa 550

A color plate from Bordier's paleographic study comparing the two separated portions of one of hte earliest suriviving European papyrus codices.

Though the damp European climate was not conducive to the preservation of papyrus, papyrus was used for writing in Europe as late as the 11th century.

Among the earliest surviving European papyrus codices is a copy of the writings of Saint Augustine, written in uncial script at Luxeuil and now divided between the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris no. 664 du fonds St-Germain latin or no. 11641) and the Bibliothèque de Genève. Interleaved parchment leaves protect the middle and the outside of the gatherings. These may have contributed to its survival.

The codex was described by Henri Bordier in "Restitution d'un manuscrit du sixième siècle mi-parti entre Paris et Genève contenant des lettres et des sermons de Saint Augustin," Etudes paléographiques et historiques sur des papyrus du VIme siecle en partie inedits refermant des homelies de Saint Avit et des ecrits de Saint Augustin (1866) 107-53, with 1 color plate comparing the two separated portions. 

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The Codex Sinopensis or Sinope Gospels Circa 550

Detail from page of Sinope Gospel.  Please click to see entire image.  From C. de Hamel, The Book. A History of The Bible (2001)  54.

The Sinope Gospels, a fragmentary sixth century illuminated Greek Gospel book written on purple vellum, takes its name from Sinop or Sinope in Turkey, where the fragment was discovered in 1899. In layout and illustrations, and because of their production on purple vellum, the Sinope Gospels are stylistically related to the Rossano Gospels.

The Sinope Gospels are thought to have been produced in Syria, Palestine or even possibly in Mesopotamia. Of the 43 leaves that survive, 42 are preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Manuscrits occidentaux (Supplement Grec. 1286). 


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The Codex Zacynthius: The Oldest Codex That Has Both Text and Commentary in Uncial Script Circa 550

The Codex Zacynthius, containing chapters 1:1-11:33 of the Gospel of Luke in Greek, was written in the sixth century, or possibly the seventh century, in an unknown location. The 176 leaf manuscript was palimpsested in the 12th of 13th century, and overwritten with weekday Gospel lessons. Its late Alexandrian text-type undertext, discovered as late as 1861, was written by two scribes in a single column in uncial script— a style very similar to that of the Rossano Gospels. The undertext is surrounded on three sides by a marginal commentary in a different, smaller uncial script; the codex is the oldest surviving manuscript incorporating this feature.  

The early history of the codex is unknown. In its present sixteenth century Greek style goatskin binding it was presented to the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1821 by the General and abolitionist Colin Macaulay, as a gift from Prince Comuto of Zakynthos

The undertext of the codex was discovered, deciphered, transcribed, and edited by English bible scholar and theologian Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, who published it in 1861 as Codex Zacynthius. Greek Palimpsest Fragments of the Gospel of Saint Luke, Obtained in the Island of Zante, by the Late General Colin Macaulay, and Now in the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society. In his book Tregelles included one page of typographical facsimile showing the commentary in small type. He did not decipher the small Patristic writing, and doubted that it could be read without chemical restoration. For the main Greek text Tregelles used types originally cast for printing the Codex Alexandrinus, which only approximately represented the shape of the letters of the codex. 

"The commentary is a catena of quotations of nine church fathers: OrigenEusebiusTitus of Bostra, Basil, Isidore of PelusiumCyril of Alexandria, Sever from Antioch, Victor from Antioch, and Chrysostom. The commentary surrounds the single-column text of Luke on three sides. Patristic text is written in small uncial letters. Most of the quotations are those of Ciril of Alexandria (93 scholia); next comes Titus of Bostra (45 scholia). The commentary was written in a different kind of uncial script than the biblical text" (Wikipedia article on Codex Zacynthius, accessed 01-07-2014).

In 1984 the British Foreign and Bible Society, which owned the manuscript, placed the codex, and in 1985 their historical library on deposit with Cambridge University Library. On September 16, 2013 the society announced that it would sell the Codex Zacynthius as part of a fund raising campaign for a new visitor center in a deconsecrated church in North Wales. It offered Cambridge University the right of first refusal to purchase the manuscript at the price of £1.1m until February 2014. Cambridge University's press release, issued as part of its fund raising campaign, contained several fine images and useful commentary on the manuscript. In January 2014 it was available at this link. On April 6, 2014 the deadline for Cambridge to acquire the codex was extended to August 2014.

(This entry was last revised on 04-08-2014.)

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One of the Oldest Surviving Illuminated Manuscripts of the New Testament Circa 555

An illumination of Christ found in the Rossano Gospels. (Click to view larger.)

The Rossano Gospels, preserved in the Cathedral of Rossano (Calabria), Southern Italy, were written following the reconquest of the Italian peninsula from the Ostrogoths by the Byzantine Empire, after a war which began in 535 and ended decisively in 553. The codex includes the earliest surviving evangelist portrait, showing Mark writing on a scroll.

"Also known as Codex purpureus Rossanensis due to the reddish (purpureus in Latin) appearance of its pages, the codex is one of the oldest surviving illuminated manuscripts of the New Testament. The now incomplete codex has the text of the Gospel of Matthew and the majority of the Gospel of Mark, with only one lucanae (Mark 16:14-20). A second volume is apparently missing. Like the Vienna Genesis and the Sinope Gospels, the Rossano Gospels are written in silver ink on purple dyed parchment. The large (300 mm by 250 mm) book has text written in a 215 mm square block with two columns of twenty lines each. There is a prefatory cycle of illustrations which are also on purple dyed parchment.

"The codex was discovered in 1879 in the Italian city Rossano by Oskar von Gebhardt and Adolf Harnack in cathedra Santa Maria Achiropita.

"The text of the Codex is generally Byzantine text-type in close relationship to the Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus. The Rossano Gospels, along with manuscripts N, O, and Φ, belong to the group of the Purple Uncials (or purple codices). Aland placed all four manuscripts of the group (the Purple Uncials) in Category V" (Wikipedia article on Rossano Gospels, accessed 01-02-2010).

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The Scriptorium and Library at the Vivarium Circa 560

An image from Codex Amiantinus. (Click to view larger.)

About 560, after the execution of Boethius, Roman statesman Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (generally known as Cassiodorus) retired and formed a school and monastery at his estate at Squillace in the far south of Italy. He named it the Vivarium, after the fishponds which were a "feature of its civilized lifestyle." The monastery included a purpose-built scriptorium intended to collect, copy, and preserve texts. Former magister officiorum to Theodoric, the Ostrogothic ruler of Rome, Cassiodorus lived in the twilight of Late Antiquity. His Vivarium was the last effort, at the very close of the Classical period, to bring Greek learning to Latin readers, a concern shared by Boethius who had been executed in 524.

Prior to founding the Vivarium, Cassiodorus, along with Pope Agapetus I had desired to found a seminary modeled after the School of Nisibis, about which Cassiodorus had learned in Constantinople from the Quaestor Junillus. However, resources were insufficient for such a large project.

"Cassiodorus was not so much concerned with preserving ancient literature as with educating Christian clerics. But he saw, as Augustine had seen, that a grounding in the traditional liberal arts was a necessary preliminary to the interpretation and understanding of the Bible. This program of study, set out in his treatise on divine and secular learning, Institutiones divinarum et saecularium literarum, necessarily involved a supply of books and the foundation of a library. His monks were enjoined to copy manuscripts as an act of piety, paying close attention the accuracy and presentation of their handiwork. Pagan works stood on the shelves as ancillary to Christian studies, The library of Cassiodorus, apparently arranged by subject in at least ten armaria (book cupboards), is the only sixth-century example of which there is definite knowledge.

"The monastery of Vivarium and its library seem not to have long survived the death of Cassiodrus circa 580, but amid growing political distintegration and cultural decay it set an example that was widely followed elsewhere (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 104-5).

At the Vivarium Cassiodorus had monks produce a vast pandect of the bible called the Codex Grandior. He also had them copy out nine volumes of his own work, Institutiones divinarum et saecularium litterarum. "Along with detailed instruction for a religious routine, the author told how manuscripts should be handled, corrected, copied, and repaired, and included what amounted to an annotated bibliography of the best literature of the time " (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 91).

Cassiodorus also stated "that biblical manuscripts should be bound in covers worthy of their contents, and he added that he had provided a pattern book with specimens of different kinds of bindings"  (Graham Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals [1984] 1). This may be the earliest detailed reference to bookbinding.

"From his [Cassiodorus's] writings we know that the library founded by him possessed 231 codices of 92 different authors, amongst which were five codices on medical subjects, including the works of Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides, Celsus and Coelius Aurelianus" (Capparoni, "Magistri Salernitani Nondum Cogniti". A Contribution to the History of the Medical School of Salerno. [1923] 3).

After the death of Cassiodorus the manuscripts at the Vivarium were dispersed, though some of them found their way into the library maintained at the Lateran Palace in Rome by the Popes.

The image is from the Codex Amiatinus, which is thought to be based upon Cassiodorus' Codex Grandior.

(This entry was last revised on 09-22-2015.)

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The Earliest Surviving Manuscript Written in Ireland, the Oldest Surviving Irish Manuscript of the Psalter, and the Earliest Recorded Historical Case-Law on the Right to Copy Circa 560 – 600

A page from the Cathach of St. Columba. (View Larger)

The Cathach of St. Columba (The Cathach/The Psalter of St. Columba) a late sixth century or early early seventh century Irish Psalter, of which 58 leaves of the original circa 110 leaves survive, was traditionally associated with the copy "made at night in haste by a miraculous light" by St. Columba of a Psalter loaned to him by St. Finnian. St. Finnian disputed Columba's right to keep the copy, and King Diarmait Mac Cerbhaill attempted to settle the dispute by making the judgment ‘To every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy’. The arbitration failed and the Psalter of St Columba passed into the hands of the O'Donnells after the pitched battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561, in which many men were killed. As penance for these deaths caused by the dispute over the copy, Columba suggested that he work as a missionary in Scotland to help convert as many people as had been killed in the batle. He also promised tomove from Ireland and never again to see his native Ireland. The Cathach is the oldest surviving manuscript written in Ireland and the second oldest surviving Latin Psalter. However scholars doubt that the manuscript was actually written by St. Columba. 

"The Cathach is the first Insular book in which decoration begins to assume a significant role in articulating the text, with its decorated initials (their crosses and fish perhaps influenced by manuscripts associated with production in Rome under Pope Gregory the Great, combined with native Celtic ornament) and the diminuendo effect of the following letters linking them to the actual text script. Herein lie the origins of the magnificent full-page illuminated incipits of the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells." (Michelle P. Brown, Preaching with the Pen: the Contribution of Insular Scribes to the Transmission of Sacred Text, from the 6th to 9th Centuries [2004]).

"An Cathach (meaning ‘the Battler’) was a very important relic used by the Clan Ó Domhnaill (O’Donnell Clan), the old Gaelic royal family in Tír Chonaill (mainly modern County Donegal) in the west of Ulster. It was used as a rallying cry and protector in battle. It was said to protect and guarantee victory in war to the Donegal leaders. Before a battle it was customary for a chosen monk/holy man (usually attached to the McGroarty clan, and someone who was sinless) to wear the Cathach in its cumdach around his neck and then walk three times around the troops of O’Donnell. It is the oldest surviving manuscript in Ireland, and the second oldest Latin psalter in the world. The name of the book derives from the Irish Gaelic word cath (pronounced KAH) meaning ‘battle’. An Cathach means ‘the battler’. The hereditary protectors/keepers of An Cathach were the Mag Robhartaigh/McGroarty clan from Ballintra in south Donegal. An Cathach, the Battler, has been dated to around the period 590 to 600 AD. The decoration throughout An Cathach is limited to the initial letters of each psalm. An Cathach is now housed in the Royal Irish Academy (entrusted to them in 1842).

"The manuscript was rediscovered in the cumdach in 1813, and given by its last hereditary keeper to the Royal Irish Academy in 1843. The leaves were stuck together until carefully separated at the British Museum in 1920; the manuscript was further restored in 1980-81.

"The specially made cumdach or book shrine is in the National Museum of Ireland. The initial work on the case was done between 1072 and 1098 at Kells, but a new main face was added in the 14th century with a large seated Christ in Majesty flanked by scenes of the Crucifixion and saints in gilt repoussé (NMI R2835, 25.1 cm wide).This was done by Cathbharr Ó Domhnaill, chief of the O'Donnells and Domhnall Mag Robhartaigh, the Abbot of Kells. The shrine cover consists of a brass box measuring 9 inches long, 8 inches wide and 2 inches thick. The top is heavily decorated with silver, crystals, pearls and other precious stones. It shows an image of the Crucifixion and an image of St Colm Cille " (Wikipedia article on Cathach of St. Columba, accessed 01-01-2012).

The Oldest Historical Case Law on Copyright

"The earliest recorded historical case-law on the right to copy comes from ancient Ireland. The Cathach is the oldest extant Irish manuscript of the Psalter and the earliest example of Irish writing. . . . It is traditionally ascribed to Saint Columba as the copy, made at night in haste by a miraculous light, of a Psalter lent to Columba by St. Finnian. A dispute arose about the ownership of the copy and King Diarmait Mac Cerbhaill gave the judgement 'to every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy.' (Wikipedia article on History of Copyright Law, accessed 01-01-2012).

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From the Monastery on the Small Island of Iona, the Conversion of Pagan Scotland and Much of Northern England Circa 563

Saint Columba (View Larger)

Exiled from his native Ireland, in 563 Saint Columba founded with 12 companions a monastery on the small island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. From there the monks undertook the conversion of pagan Scotland and much of northern England to Christianity. Iona's fame as a place of learning and Christian mission spread throughout Europe. It became a major site of pilgrimage, and the burial ground of several kings of Scotland, Ireland and Norway.

"The establishment of Iona as the centre of Celtic Christianity outside Ireland by Columba c. 563 marked the effective beginning of the conversion of Scotland and led on in time to the foundation of such important monasteries as Lindisfarne in Northumbria and Malmesbury in the south-west. Even more spectacular was the continental mission of Columbanus [not to be confused with Columba] who blazed a trail accross Europe marked out by such important monastic foundations as those of Luxeuil in Burgundy (590), from which Corbie was founded a century later, Bobbio in northern Italy (614) and Saint Gall, which developed from a hermitage which his pupil Gallus established in Switzerland c. 613" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 87).

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"Source Z" for the Latin New Testament Circa 575 – 599

A canon table from Harley 1775, from the British Library. (View Larger)

British Library, Harley 1775, a mixture of the Vulgate and Old Latin translation of the Gospels, dating from the final quarter of the sixth century, is called "source Z" in critical studies of the Latin New Testament. In the 17th century the manuscript was owned by Jules Cardinal Mazarin. In the early 18th century it was in the Bibliothèque Royale, ancestor of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, from which it was stolen along with several other manuscripts in 1707 by the renegade priest and adventurer, Jean Aymon. Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, purchased the manuscript in Holland. In 1753 the widow of Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford and their daughter, sold the manuscript to Parliament as part of the Harleian collection, which became one the founding collections of the British Museum, and later of the British Library.

The manuscript is written in Uncial (Littera Uncialis).

"The term 'Uncial' has been thought (perhaps mistakenly) to have been coined in reference to letters an inch high and has been ascribed,probably aporcryphally, to St. Jerome, whose reference to the script and its 'luxury' status are, in fact, somewhat disparaging. Any such remark need not to have referred to the script which we now know as Uncial. There is no word division, the text being written in  the scriptura continua of Antiquity and set out, or punctuated, per cola et commata (i.e. the length of lines primarily indicating where pauses occur and serving to clarify the sense" (Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 [1990] no. 5 and plate 5).

In February 2014 a digital facsimile was available from the British Library at this link.

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The Monastery and Library at Luxeuil is Founded and Subsequently Sacked, Several Times 585 – 590

Saint Columbanus.

Between 585 and 590 the monk St. Columbanus from Bangor in Ireland founded an abbey on the ruins of a Gallo-Roman settlement at Luxeuil. His name was Columban in Irish, meaning "white dove;" he should not be confused with St. Columba, who founded the monastary on the island of Iona.

Columban (Columbanus) brought manuscripts from Ireland to found the abbey library at Luxeuil. Because of the treasures it held, this Celtish monastery was sacked by Vandals in 731, and after it was rebuilt it was devastated by Normans in the ninth century, and was sacked several times thereafter.

"The output of this house over the sixth to eighth centuries furnishes not only the msost advanced writing of the period but manuscripts of the highest liturgical importance. The finest of these are constructed and articulated with originality and care. They effectively illustrate the momentous change that was to end the long period during which Latin Uncial was the dominant script for such books" (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 112).

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The End of the Continuity of Late Latin Culture in Most of Italy Circa 585

The Lombard (Langobard, Longobard) Germanic invasion of Italy in 585, which roughly coincides with the death of Cassiodorus, marked the end of the continuity of Late Latin culture in most of Italy.

According to Bernhard Bischoff,

"we cannot be sure whether remnants of the twenty-eight public libraries which are mentioned in a fourth-century description of the urbs Roma continued to survive. There was certainly a library at the Lateran, and libraries and archives existed in Rome as well as in other cities like Capua, Naples, Ravenna, and Verona. There were also monastic libraries like the one in Eugippius' monastery. Copies of the Code of Justinian produced in Constantinople must have been kept ready for consultation by public administrators in their offices. If the famous Codex Pisanus of the Digest of Justinian now in Florence was not at that time in use in Italy, the papyrus copy once at Ravenna, of which a few folios are preserved at Pommerfelden near Bamberg, certainly was. We know that there still existed examplars corrected by their authors themselves, such as Boethius. There were probably manuscripts in Italy copied by Jerome himself. Marginal notes made by readers or colophons referring to the collation of texts show that many manuscripts belonged to private citizens or to specific libraries. The Codex Mediceus of Virgil was studied by the consul Turcius Rufius Apronianus Asterius (cos. 494); the name of the consul Vettius Agorius Basilius Mavortius (cos. 527) is found in the Paris codex of Prudentius. In many cases, the notes and corrections of readers and grammarians were fortunately preserved for us in later copies. The activities of the families of Symmachus and Nicomachus in the pagan revival at the end of the fourth century century influenced the tradition of the works of Livy. Subscriptions in a Carolingian manuscript now in the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana in Milan, G. 108 inf.s, saec. IX, testify to the existence of a school of doctors in Ravenna where the exemplar originated. Dedications in exemplars now lost were preserved by copies. The dedication page of the Calendar of 354 tells us the name of the bibliophile Valentinus and of the scribe Philocalus, who is well known as the designer of the inscriptions of Pope Damasus. All this evidence shows that most of these now-lost exemplars, whose copies we fortunately possess, were kept in libraries in Rome, Ravenna, and Campania. Some manuscripts came from Constantinople, like the archetype of Priscian and the copy of Solinus, whose scribe was the emperor Theodius II himself. I conclude this brief catalogue by referring to a small book, formerly kept in the treasure of the cathedral of Chartres, which contains the Gospel of St. John. On the basis of a statement made by Jerome, it is plausible that this little book was originally a Christian amulet. I might also mention a fragment of a Hebrew scroll, Greek codices, and the manuscripts in Gothic, all of which, except for the purple Codex Argenteus in Uppsala, ended up as palimpsests.

"The period of book production from the fourth to the sixth centuries was followed by a period of book distribution which lasted from the time of Gregory the Great to the time of Otto III (d.1002) and perhaps beyond. Many of the libraries still in existence as late as 567 were destroyed in the centuries that followed. Books kept in Rome, Campania, Ravenna, and perhaps in other centres which have not yet been identified, circulated as occasion demanded. The widespread circulation of books probably began with Gregory the Great (d.604), who had copies of his own works made for friends in Italy, for Leander bishop of Seville, and for Theodolinda, the Lombard queen who received from him a copy of his Dialogues as well as a Gospel book, of which only the priceless binding remains today, preserved in the cathedral of Monza. . .  ." (Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne [2007] 7-9). (The links are, of course, my additions.)

(This entry was last revised on 03-21-2014.)

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Signed by the Scribe Rabbula in 586 586

Folio 13v from the Rabula Gospels, depicting the ascension of Christ. (View larger)

The Rabbula Gospels, or Rabula Gospels, an illuminated Syriac Gospel Book, was completed in 586 at Monastery of St. John of Zagba, which, although traditionally thought to have been in Northern Mesopotamia, is now thought to have been in the hinterland between Antioch and Apamea. It was signed by its scribe, Rabbula, about whom nothing else is known. The text is the Peshitta version of the Syriac translation of the Gospels.

"The manuscript is illuminated, with the text framed in elaborate floral and architectural motifs. The Gospel canons are set in arcades ornamented with flowers and birds. The miniaturist obviously drew some of his inspiration from Hellenistic art (draped figures), but relied mainly on the ornamental traditions of Persia. The miniatures of the Rabbula Gospels, notably those representing the Crucifixion, the Ascension and Pentecost, are real pictures with a decorative frame formed of zigzags, curves, rainbows and so forth. The scene of the Crucifixion is treated with an abundance of detail which is very rare at this period."

"The history of the manuscript after it was written is vague until the 11th century when it was at Maipuc. In the late 13th or early 14th century it came to Kanubin. In the late 15th or early 16th century, the manuscript was taken by the Maronite Patriarch to the Laurentian Library in Florence, where it is today" (Wikipedia article on the Rabbula Gospels, accessed 11-26-2008).

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A Manuscript Probably Written in Pope Gregory's Scriptorium 590 – 604

The beginning of Regula pastoralis. The first three lines, in colored ink, have run or faded. (View Larger)

A late 6th century or very early 7th century illuminated manuscript of the Regula pastoralis or  Pastoral Care by Pope Gregory I, was probably written in Rome in Gregory's scriptorium, and contains his final revised text.

Bernhard Bischoff noted that two of the corrections in the manuscript are thought to be in Gregory's own hand. The manuscript also contains very early decorated initials in red, green, and yellow penwork.

The manuscript is preserved in the  Bibliothèque Municipale, Troyes, (MS 504). Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages (1990) 190 and note 2.

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Augustine of Canterbury Preaches to the Anglo-Saxons 597

St. Augustine of Canterbury. (View Larger)

In 597 Pope Gregory I sent the Benedictine monk Augustine of Canterbury and 40 other monks to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons of Britain. For this purpose Gregory gave Augustine precious manuscripts, probably from the Lateran Library.

King Ethelbert of Kent, a pagan, and his wife, Berthe, a Christian, permitted the monks to preach in the town of Canterbury. Soon Augustine converted Ethelbert and within a short time at Christmas "10,000 of the king's subjects were baptized."

"Augustine reconsecrated and rebuilt an old church at Canterbury as his cathedral and founded a monastery in connection with it. He also restored a church and founded the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul outside the walls. He is claimed to have founded the King's School, Canterbury, which would make it the world's oldest school; however there may be little more to this than that some teaching took place at the monastery."

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A Volume Brought by St. Augustine to England in 597 597

Folio 129v of the St. Augustine Gospels, depicting Luke. (View Larger)

The St. Augustine Gospels, an illuminated Gospel Book written in a sixth-century Italian uncial hand, has traditionally been considered one of the volumes brought by St. Augustine from Rome to Canterbury, England in 597. The manuscript, from the library of Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker, is preserved in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. It is characterized by the Parker Library website as the "oldest illustrated Latin gospel book now in existence." Assuming that it travelled to England with Augustine in 597, the manuscript has been in England longer than any other book. It contains corrections to the text in an insular hand of the late 7th or early 8th century, which would confirm the presence of the manuscript in England.

"It was certainly at St. Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury in the 11th century, when documents concerning the Abbey were copied into it. The manuscript was given to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. It is still produced for the enthronements of new Archbishops of Canterbury."

"The manuscript once contained evangelist portraits for all four Evangelists. However. only the portrait for Luke is still extant (Folio 129v). A full page miniature on folio 125r prior to Luke contains twelve narrative scenes from the Passion" (Wikipedia article on the St. Augustine Gospels, accessed 11-25-2008)

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600 – 700

The Springmount Bog Wax Tablets Circa 600

Tablet 3v of the Springmount Bog Tablets. (National Museum. Dublin, 1914: 2) (View Larger)

Probably the oldest examples of Latin writing from Ireland are the Springmount Bog tablets — wax tablets, on which are inscribed the Vulgate text of Psalms 30-32, found in a bog in County Antrim, Ireland, in the 20th century. They are preserved in the National Museum of Ireland.  

"The tablets are c. 75 x 210 mm, c. 7 mm thick, and appear to have been lashed together as a group of six, waxed sides together" (Stevenson, "Literarcy in Ireland: the evidence of the Patrick dossier in the Bookf Armagh," IN: McKitterick (ed) The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe [1990] 20).

"These are an unusual survival, given the climatic conditions of northern Europe; they were preserved owing to loss in a peat bog, and they convey graphically the obligation of the priest to be ‘psalteratus’ – to have memorised and be able to recite the Psalms, in the tradition of the Judaic priesthood – and recall exhortations to ordinands to spend whatever time possible learning them, even when travelling (as the person studying these extracts may have been)" (Michelle P. Brown, Preaching with the Pen: the Contribution of Insular Scribes to the Transmission of Sacred Text, from the 6th to 9th Centuries [2004]).

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The Qur'an Circa 610 – 613

The name of Mohammed written in classic calligraphy. (View Larger)

"Muslims say that in 611, at about the age of forty, while meditating in a cave near Mecca, he [Muhammad (Mohammed, Mohamet)] experienced a vision. Later he described the experience to those close to him as a visit from the Angel Gabriel, who commanded him to memorize and recite the verses later collected as the Qur'an [Koran]."

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During the Middle Ages Book Production is Concentrated in Monasteries Circa 610 – 1200

From the early seventh century until roughly the year 1200 monastic scriptoria and other ecclesiastic establishments remained essentially the only customers for books, and they had a virtual monopoly on manuscript book production. Most codices were written on vellum or parchment, but as late as the eighth century some codices were written on papyrus.

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Foundation of the Monastery and Library at Bobbio 614

Saint Columbanus (View larger)

In 614 Saint Columbanus founded the Abbazia di San Colombano at Bobbio, in the province of Piacenza in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Bobbio became famous as a center of resistance to Arianism, and the abbey library, founded by Columbanus with manuscripts that he brought from Ireland and treatises which he personally wrote, became one of the greatest libraries of the Middle Ages. 

"Many books in its libary are older than the monastery and this demonstrates that Bobbio received many books second-hand. I refer especially to the copies of Cyprian, the biblical codex k of African origin, the Medici Virgil, the very ancient grammatical manuscripts, and especially, to the classical texts which lie buried in palimpsests" (Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne [2007] 9).

In the ninth century Saint Dungal bequeathed his library to the abbey. It included some seventy volumes, among which was the famous 'Antiphonary of Bangor'.

In 982, Gerbert of Aurillac (later Pope Sylvester II) became abbot of Bobbio, and with the aid of numerous ancient treatises which he found there, composed his celebrated work on geometry. It appears that when Greek was almost unknown in western Europe, certain Irish monks at Bobbio read Aristotle and Demosthenes in the original Greek.

"A tenth-century catalogue, published by Muratori, shows that at that period every branch of knowledge, divine and human, was represented in this library. Many of the books have been lost, the rest have long since been dispersed and are still reckoned among the chief treasures of the later collections which possess them.

 "In 1616 Cardinal Federico Borromeo took for the Ambrosian Library of Milan eighty-six volumes, including the famous "Bobbio Missal", written about 911, the Antiphonary of Bangor, and the palimpsests of Ulfilas' Gothic version of the Bible. Twenty-six volumes were given, in 1618, to Pope Paul V for the Vatican Library. Many others were sent to Turin, where, besides those in the Royal Archives, there were seventy-one in the University Library until the disastrous fire of 26 January 1904" (Wikipedia article on Bobbio Abbey, accessed 12-03-2008).

Umberto Eco based the location of his 1980-83 novel The Name of the Rose, with its labyrinthine library, on the abbey at Bobbio.

(This entry was last revised on March 22, 2014.)

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Possibly the Earliest Surviving Irish Codex Circa 625

Folio 149v of the Codex Usserianus Primus.

The Codex Usserianus Primus, an Old Latin Gospel Book preserved in Dublin at Trinity College Library, and also known as the Ussher Gospels, is thought to have been produced in Ireland about 625, and may be the earliest surviving Irish codex. It is also the earliest surviving example of an Insular artist copying a Mediterranean form of decoration, and it represents the beginning of the Insular illuminated manuscript tradition. The manuscript is damaged, with the vellum leaves fragmentary and discolored. The remains of the approximately 180 vellum folios have been remounted on paper. 

"The manuscript has a single remaining decoration, a cross outlined in black dots at the end of the Luke (fol. 149v). The cross is between the Greek letters alpha and omega. It is also flanked by the explicit (an ending phrase) for Luke and the incipit (first few words) for Mark. The entire assemblage is contained within a triple square frame of dots and small "s" marks with crescent shaped corner motifs. The cross has been compared to similar crosses found in the Bologna Lactantius, the Paris St. John, and the Valerianus Gospels. Initials on folios 94, 101 and 107 have been set off by small red dots. This represents the first appearance of decoration by "dotting" around text, a motif which would be important in later Insular manuscripts" (Wikipedia article on the Codex Usserianus Primus).

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the Codex Usserianus Primus was available from Trinity College Dublin Digital Collections at this link.

Alexander, Insular Manuscripts 6th to the 9th Century (1978) No. 1.

(This entry was last revised on 08-25-2014.)

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The Naples Dioscorides Circa 625

Folio 90v of the Naples Dioscurides, a description of the Mandrake. (View Larger)

The Naples Dioscorides (Codex neapolitanus Ms. Ex Vindob. Gr. 1 Salerno) preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli, is an early seventh century Greek herbal based on the De Materia Medica of the first-century Greek military physician Dioscorides (Dioscurides) containing descriptions of plants and  their medicinal uses. Until the early 18th century the manuscript was preserved in the Augustine monastery of San Giovanni a Carbonara in Naples. In 1718, the Habsburgs plundered it for the Viennese Court Library.  At the conclusion of the peace negotiations after World War I, in 1919, the codex returned to the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples.

"Unlike De Materia Medica, the text is arranged alphabetically by plant. The codex derives independently from the same model as the Vienna Dioscurides, composed ca. 512 for a Byzantine princess, but differs from it significantly: though the illustrations follow the same infered model, they are rendered more naturalistically in the Naples Dioscurides. Additionally, in the Naples manuscript, the illustrations occupy the top half of each folio, rather than being full page miniatures as in the Vienna Dioscurides. The plant descriptions are recorded below the illustration in two or three columns. The style of Greek script used in the manuscript indicates that it was probably written in Byzantine-ruled southern Italy, where ancient Greek cultural traditions remained strong, although it is not known exactly where it was produced. Marginal notes indicate that the manuscript had contact with the medical school at Salerno in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries" (Wikipedia article on Naples Dioscurides, accessed 02-03-2009).

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The Bobbio Orosius, Containing the Earliest Surviving Carpet Page in Insular Art Circa 625

The Bobbio Orosius (Milan, Bibliotheca Ambrosiana MS D 23. Sup.), an early seventh century Insular manuscript of the Chronicon by the fourth century Gallaecian priest, historian and theologian Paulus Orosius, was probably written in the scriptorium of Bobbio Abbey.  

"It contains the earliest surviving carpet page in Insular art. The carpet page is on folio 1v. Although it is simpler in design than later carpet pages and contains motifs not found in later carpet pages, it shows a subtlety of pattern and alternation of colors common to Insular manuscripts. It consists of a large central rosette surrounded by four corner rosettes, all contained within a rectangular frame. The vertical panels of the frame contain cable motifs; the frame on the left has a single larger cable of white on pink, while the frame on the right has two smaller cables of white on pink separated by a yellow bar. The upper and lower panels are broken into smaller square panels separated by thin bars. The smaller panels are composed of chevrons and triangles that alternate in pink and yellow. The side top and bottom panels continue to the right edge of the frame. Above the left vertical frame there are two square frames containing circular motifs; the top with a cross inside a circle, and the bottom with a rosette. The cross within the circle in the top panel is similar to the cross within a circle found in the center of the carpet page on folio 192v of the Book of Durrow. Six concentric circles surround the central rosette. The page is faded and damaged so that it is difficult to be certain of its original appearance. It has been suggested that the carpet page is later addition to the manuscript" (Wikipedia article on Bobbio Orosius, accessed 10-29-2013).

The Bobbio Orosius appears in a catalogue of the Bobbio monastery library prepared in 1461. When the Biblioteca Ambrosiana was founded by Cardinal Federico Boromeo in 1609 the monks at Bobbio gave the manuscript to the Ambrosiana, where it remains. 

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The Illuminated Gospel Book as a Tool for Evangelization 627

York Minster (View Larger)

The cathedral at York, York Minster, was constructed first of wood in 627, and then in 637 in stone ."A period of instability followed with York vulnerable to attack from Penda of Mercia and the Britons of North Wales. We know that the city was overrun at least twice and probably three times between the death of Oswald in 641/2 and the Battle of the Winwaed in 654/5. In about 670 St. Wilfred took over the see of York and found the structure of Edwin's church fairly lamentable 'The ridge of the roof owing to its age let the water through, the windows were unglazed and the birds flew in and out, building their nests, while the neglected walls were disgusting to behold, owing to all the filth caused by the rain and the birds.'

"Saint Wilfred set to work renewing the roof and covering it with lead, whitewashing the interior walls and installing glass windows. Based on descriptions given of other churches built at a similar time it is possible to understand something of how Wilfred's restored church at York would have looked to the 7th century worshippers who entered it. The altar, within which relics were deposited, would have been decorated with purple silk hangings of intricate woven design. Upon the altar, raised by a book rest and in a jewelled binding, would stand the illuminated gospel book. The walls and probably also the testudo (a wooden partition screening the altar) would be adorned with icons painted on wooden panels depicting the types and anti-types of the Old and New Testaments. These church paintings were essential to the evangelization of England, being the only effective way of explaining the 'the new worship' to an illiterate population. Gregory the Great called them 'the books of the unlearned'."

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A Library Containing "54,000 Rolls" 627

A portrait of emperor Taizong of Tang on a hanging silk scroll, currently preserved in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. (View Larger)

In 627, under the reign of Chinese emperor Taizong of Tang (Chinese: 唐太宗; pinyin: Táng Tàizōng, Wade-Giles: T'ai-Tsung)  a library was erected in the Chinese capital containing "some fifty-four thousand rolls" (Carter, Invention of Printing in China, 2nd ed [1955] 37).

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The Death of Muhammad 632

Common calligraphic representation of Muhammad's name.

Muhammad with veiled face and halo.

The death of Muhammad occurred in 632.

"Muhammad, according to tradition, could neither read nor write, but would simply recite what was revealed to him for his companions to write down and memorize. Adherents to Islam hold that the wording of the Qur'anic text available today corresponds exactly to that revealed to Muhammad himself: words of God delivered to Muhammad through Jibtril (Gabriel).

"According to some Muslim traditions, the companions of Muhammad began recording suras in writing before Muhammad died in 632; written copies of various suras during his lifetime are frequently alluded to in the traditions. . . . At Medina, about sixty-five companions are said to have acted as scribes for him at one time or another; the prophet would regularly call upon them to write down revelations immediately after they came."

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Excepting the Bible, Probably the Most Widely Circulated Educational Work During the Middle Ages Circa 633

Perhaps in 633 or at his death in 636 Archbishop of Seville Isidore of Seville, frequently called "the last scholar of the ancient world," turned over his encyclopedic compilation of secular and ecclesiastical learning called Etymologiae, or Origines, to his friend, Bishop Braulio of Zaragoza (Braulius), for editing and distribution. Braulio was responsible for dividing the work into twenty books. Like Cassiodorus, who wrote his  Institutes of Divine Learning in Italy in the previous century, Isidore intended his Etymologiae to disseminate knoweldge of books that had become scarce and difficult to find and read as a result of the decline of the Roman Empire and its educational system.

The dissemination of the work was swift and unusually extensive. Excepting the Bible, the Etymologiae was the most widely copied and circulated educational text during the Middle Ages. Over 1000 medieval manuscripts of the Etymologiae survive, but probably because of the length of the work (about 250,000 words in English translation), it was also widely excerpted, and only 60 manuscripts include the complete text. In Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (1990; p. 193) Bischoff speculated that the Moorish occupation of Spain in 711, which caused the migration of Spanish Christians into France, Sardinia and Italy, may have stimulated dissemination of this and other Spanish texts.

The manuscripts of Etymologiae are generally categorized as "Spanish", "French," and "Italian" with the greatest number surviving in French. Among the earliest and finest of the "French" manuscripts is the eighth century manuscript copied at Corbie, or in its vicinity, from a Spanish exemplar: MS II. 4856 preserved in the Bibliothèque royale de Belgique. Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores X, no. 1554. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of this manuscript was available from the Bibliothèque royale de Belgique at this link.

"The Etymologies offered a long-influential model of information management based on summarizing books, notably those difficult of access, and following a topical order that was not always predictable but could be navigated through a table of contents listing book and chapter headings" (Blair, Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age [2010] 34). 

"At the deepest level Isidore's encyclopedia is rooted in the dream that language can capture the universe and that if we but parse it correctly, it can lead us to the proper understanding of God's creation. His word derivations are not based on principles of historical linguistics but follow their own logic, serving as the basis for assertions and linkages of all sorts, often multiple and unresolved, 'Human being' (homo) is so called from 'soil' (humus), the material origin of the body (7.6.4); Mercurius is related to speech because speech is a 'go-between' (medius currens), but the god's name is also linked to 'commerce' (merx) 8.11.45-46); and poetry (carmen) derives either from the metrical and thus choppy way (carptim) it is recited from poets' madness (carere mente) (I.39.4)

"The Etymologiae displays all the late antique techniques of abbreviation, abridgment, selection, (re) ordering, and harmonizing, and Isidore is the master of bricolage.... Ludwig Traube described the work as 'a mosaic'... His reductions and compilations did indeed transmit ancient learning, but Isidore, who often relied on scholia and earlier compilations, is often simplistic scientifically and philosophically, especially compared to 4th and 5th-century figures such as Ambrose and Augustine. The Etymologiae frequently preserved for later generations some of the least helpful theories (from a scientific point of view) that were rooted in philosophy, not observation—for example the notion of the fixed 'sphere' of stars that derives from Plato's Timaeus. It also passed along, willy-nilly and however much its author as a Christian bishop may have regretted it, a universe filled with mythological references. If Isidore, like Augustine (from whom he adopts much), wished to banish the pagan gods, he nonetheless keeps them alive in his writings via euhemerist and other rationalizing explanations of pagan names and stories, just as he cites as authorities the very Latin poets whose works he asserts are 'fables' and 'fictions' (Etymologiae I.40.1)" (Ralph Hexter, "Isidore of Seville," Grafton, Most, Settis (eds) The Classical Tradition [2010] 490).

Reynolds, Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics (1983) 194-96.

Etymologiae was first published in print by Gunther Zainer of Augsburg on November 19, 1472.

The first complete translation into English is Isidor of Seville's Etymologies. The complete English translation of Isidori Hisalensis Episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum Libri XX, translated from the Latin by Priscilla Throop. 2 vols., 2005.


in 2006 the Vatican declared Isidore of Seville the patron saint of the Internet.

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Fragments of the Possibly the Oldest Surviving Manuscript of the Qur'an are Discovered at the University of Birmingham Circa 640

In July 2015 the University of Birmingham announced that two parchment leaves written in Hijazi script, which contain parts of suras (chapters) 18 to 20 of the Qur'an, had been dated by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit to within from 568 to 645 with a 94% probability. This would place the writing of these leaves within a few years of the founding of Islam. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad received the revelations that form the Qur'an between 610 and 632, the year of his death. Thus it is believed that the two leaves at Birmingham were probably written by someone who might have known Muhammad, or might have heard him preach.

The ancient age of the two leaves was previously unnoticed because they were bound with a later manuscript  in the Mingana Collection of more than 3,000 documents from the Middle East. This collection was amassed in the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana, a theologian and historian who was born in what is now Iraq. 

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Arab Conquest of Egypt Resulted in Smaller Exports of Papyrus-- A Probable Cause of the Eventual Adoption of Greek Minuscule in Byzantine Book Production 641

Canon 22 of the Council of Nicea II (British Museum, MS Barocci 26, fol. 140b), where the top is written in minuscule and the bottom in unical.(View Larger)

Having conquered Egypt the previous year, in 641 General 'Amr ibn al-'As founded the city of Fustat, later to named Cairo. This was the first city on the continent of Africa founded by Muslims.

Since the only supply of papyrus came from Egypt, it is thought that the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs may have coincided with a reduced supply of papyrus in Constantinople. The reduction might have been caused either by the exhaustion of the papyrus plantations or because the Arabs retained the available supply for their own use. As a result of the lack of papyrus Byzantine writers were dependent on the more expensive medium of parchment, and this may have contributed to the eventual adoption in Byzantine book production of the more economical Greek minuscule hand, which had previously mainly been employed for letters, documents, accounts, etc. "It occupied far less space on the page and could be written at high speed by a practised scribe" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd ed [1991] 59).

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Possibly the Earliest Surviving Manuscript of the Qur'an 649 – 675

On November 11, 2014 researchers from the Documenta Coranica project at the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen announced that a Qur'an fragment identified as Ma VI 165 in Tübingen University Library was dated by radiocarbon technique to between 649 and 675 CE with greater than 95 percent probability. This would make the fragment the earliest surviving manuscript of the Qur'an, produced between 20 and 40 years after the death of the prophet Muhammad, and slightly earlier than the Sana'a palimpsest.

Ma VI 165 is one of more than 20 Qur'an fragments in Tübingen University Library written in Kufic script, one of the oldest forms of Arabic script. The manuscript came to the University in 1864 as part of the collection of the Prussian consul Johann Gottfried Wetzstein.

In November 2014 a digital facsimile of the fragment was available from Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen at this link.

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The Book of Durrow Circa 650 – 750

This golden lion, folio 191v of the Book of Durrow, is the symbol of St. John. (View Larer)

The Book of Durrow, which derives its name from the Irish Columban monastery of Durrow, County Offaly, is an early medieval Gospel book decorated with carpet pages and framed symbols of the Evangelists. It was long considered the earliest surviving fully decorated insular Gospel book, and thought to date from the mid-seventh century, yet it was executed with such a degree of sophistication that recent scholars argue for a date more contemporaraneous with the Book of Kells. Thus, its date is uncertain and controversial.

"A date falling between the Durham Gospel fragment (no. 5) and the Lindisfarne Gospels (no. 9) in the middle of the second half of the 7th century seems most probable, and, though in the past the book has been dated both earlier and later, this dating seems now to be generally accepted by both art historians and paleographers. The later provenance and the colophon give some reasons for thinking that the book was produced in a Columban monastery, and are used as supporting evidence by those who consider the manuscript to have been written in Ireland or Iona (Henry, Nordenfalk). Textual and paleographical evidence is adduced by those who, favouring an origin in Northumbria (Lowe, Bruce-Mitford, Brown), also tend to a slightly later date c. 680." (Alexander, Insular Manuscripts 6th to the 9th Century [1978] No. 6, p. 30).

The Book of Durrow is preserved in Trinity College Library, Dublin.

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The Book of Mulling Circa 650

Folio 193 from the Book of Mulling. (View larger)

The Book of Mulling, preserved along with its jeweled shrine in Dublin at Trinity College Library, is an Irish pocket Gospel Book that was probably copied from an autograph manuscript of St. Moling. The text includes the four Gospels, a service which includes the "Apostles' Creed", and a plan of St. Moling's monastery. The script is a fine Irish minuscule. The decoration includes illuminated initials and three surviving Evangelist portraits: those of Matthew, Mark and John.

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The Earliest European Book that Survived Completely Intact in its Original Binding Circa 650

The binding of the Stonyhurst Gospel. (View Larger)

The St. Cuthbert Gospel of St. John, also known as the Stonyhurst Gospel, a pocket-sized (3.5 x 5 inch) 7th-century gospel book written in Latin is one of the smallest surviving early Latin manuscripts. It belonged to Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, and was discovered in 1104 when Cuthbert's tomb was opened so that his relics could be transferred to a new shrine behind the altar of Durham Cathedral. The manuscript had been placed in the tomb of Saint Cuthbert probably a few years after his death in 687. It was kept at Durham cathedral with other relics until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII between 1536-1541, after which it was preserved by a series of private collectors. It is the earliest English book that survived completely in its original state in its original binding, and only manuscript written entirely in Capitular Uncial, a display script found exclusively in manuscripts written in the scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow Abbey, where it was written during the abbacy of Ceolfrith.

"The state of preservation of this small volume (less than 5½ inches tall) might fairly be described as miraculous. Its leather is crimson-stained goatskin, stretched over thin wooden boards. Various details of the workmanship and decoration reveal a generally Mediterranean if not specifically Coptic influence. A direct Coptic influence is not indeed impossible, the relations between Coptic and Hiberno-Saxon art at this time having been long recognized; but it should be recalled that bookbinding models would also have been available at Wearmouth and Jarrow from the codices, already mentioned, recently imported from Italy. In any case the specific decorative technique of the upper cover of the Stonyhurst Gospel is precisely paralleled in Egyptian leatherwork. This technique involves the applciation of glued cords to the board, laid out in a pattern. Leather is then stretched over the board, and worked around the cords, bring out the pattern in relief.

"Three more European leather bindings of roughly comparable antiquity are preserved in the Landesbibliothek, Fulda. All come from the monastery of Fulda, where by ancient tradition they were thought to have belonged to St. Boniface (d. 754), the Anglo-Saxon martyr and apostle to the Germans, who was buried there. The binding of one of these, the Cadmug Gospels (written by an Irish scriber of that name), has many points of similarity with the Stonyhurst Gospel binding. Both are small volumes; their leather is similar in color and character; and both have pigments in the scribed lines decorating the covers. They are sewn in what may very generally be called the Coptic manner: the quires are linked by the sewing thread(s), without the use of cords, and the threads are attached directly to the boards, by loops passing through holes drilled in the boards near their back edges. . . ." (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 57-58).

According to an inscription pasted to the inside cover of the manuscript, the manuscript was obtained by the 3rd Earl of Lichfield (d. 1743) who gave it to Reverend Thomas Phillips (d. 1774) who donated it to the English Jesuit college at Liège on 20 June 1769.  Since 1769 the manuscript was owned by the Society of Jesus (British Province), and for most of this period was in the library of Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, successor to the Liège college. In 1979 the Society of Jesus placed the manuscript on loan to the British Library.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available from the British Library at this link.

♦ In July 2011 the British Library launched a campaign to raise £9,000,000 to buy the manuscript from the Society of Jesus (British Province), and on April 16, 2012 they announced that the purchase had been completed. To launch their campaign the British Library produced the following video. Beneath that is a news video broadcast after the purchase was successful.

(This entry was last revised on 08-10-2014.)

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Codification of the Qur'an Circa 650 – 656

Between 650 and 656 the third Caliph Uthman ibn Affan caused the text of the Qur'an (Koran) to be codified. He placed Zayd ibn Thabit (Zaid Ibn Thabit), the personal scribe of Prophet Muhammad, in charge of the project. Identifical copies were sent to every Muslim province to be used as the standard text from which all copies of the Qur'an were made.

"During the time of Uthman, by which time Islam had spread far and wide, differences in reading the Quran in different dialects of Arabic language became obvious. A group of companions, headed by Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, who was then stationed in Iraq, came to Uthman and urged him to 'save the Muslim ummah before they differ about the Quran' . Uthman obtained the complete manuscript of the Qur'an from Hafsah, one of the wives of the Islamic prophet Muhammad who had been entrusted to keep the manuscript ever since the Qur'an was comprehensively compiled by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. Uthman then again summoned the leading compiling authority, Zayd ibn Thabit, and some other companions to make copies of the manuscript. Zayd was put in charge of the task. The style of Arabic dialect used was that of the Quraysh tribe to which the Prophet Muhammad belonged. Hence this style was emphasized over all others.

"Zayd and his assistants produced several copies of the manuscript of the Qur'an. One of each was sent to every Muslim province with the order that all other Quranic materials, whether fragmentary or complete copies, be destroyed. As such, when the standard copies were made widely available to the Muslim community everywhere, then all other material was burnt voluntarily by the Muslim community themselves. The annihilation of these extra-Qur'anic documents remained essential in order to eradicate scriptural incongruities, contradictions of consequence or differences in the dialect from the customary text of the Qur'an. The Caliph Uthman kept a copy for himself and returned the original manuscript to Hafsah" (Wikipedia article on Uthman ibn Affan, accessed 01-14-2012).

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The Earliest Surviving Latin Single-Volume Bible Circa 650

"For much of the Middle Ages, single-volume Bibles must have been as rare as manuscripts of the separate parts of the Bible were common" (McGurk, "The Oldest Manuscripts of the Latin Bible" IN: Gameston, ed., The Early Medieval Bible. Its production, decoration and use [1994] 2).

The earliest surviving Latin single-volume Bible is the León palimpsest written in two columns in a crowded half-uncial. (Archivio Catedralicio 15, Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores XI, 1636). Lowe states that this manuscript was presumably written in Spain because of the presence of "Visigothic symptoms." The Bible text was used for rewriting in a Spanish scriptorium in the ninth century. It is preserved in the Cathedral of León, León, Spain.

McGurk, op. cit., 7.

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The Uthman Qur'an, One of the Earliest Surviving Manuscripts of the Qur'an Circa 653

The Uthman (Othman) Qur'an (also termed the Othmanic codex, Othmanic recension, Samarkand codex, Samarkand manuscript and Tashkent Qur'an), named for the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, is a manuscript Qur'an (Koran) preserved in the library of the Telyashayakh Mosque, in the old "Hast-Imam" (Khazrati Imom) area of Taskent, Uzbekistan. It is believed to be one of the original five manuscripts of the Qur'an commissioned by Uthman in order to standardize the text. Only one-third of the manuscript survived, beginning in the middle of verse 7 of the second sura and ending abruptly at Surah 43:10. The manuscript has between eight and twelve lines to the page, and is devoid of vocalization.

"Uthman was succeeded by Ali, who took the Uthman Qur'an to Kufa, now in Iraq. When Tamerlane destroyed the area, he took the Qur'an to his capital, Samarkand, as a treasure. It remained there for four centuries until, in 1868, when the Russians invaded, captured the Qur'an and brought it back to the Imperial Library in St. Petersburg (now known as the Russian National Library).

"After the October Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, in an act of good will to the Muslims of Russia gave the Qur'an to the people of Ufa, Bashkortostan. After repeated appeals by the people of Turkestan ASSR, the Qur'an was returned to Central Asia, to Tashkent, in 1924, where it has since remained" (Wikipedia article on Uthman Quran, accessed 01-14-2012).

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The Sana'a Palimpsest, One of the Earliest Surviving Manuscripts of the Qur'an 670

One of the Qu'ran fragments found in the loft of the Great Mosque in 1972. (View Larger)

In 1972 workers renovating a wall in the atttic of the Great Mosque of Sana'a (الجامع الكبير بصنعاء‎ Al-Jāmiʿ al-Kabīr bi-Ṣanʿā) in Yemen discovered a large collection of early manuscripts, including fragments from nearly 1000 early Qur'an codices. Among those, the Sana'a palimpsest (Sana'a 1) is among the earliest surviving manuscripts of the Qur'an. Written on parchment in Hijazi script (Hejazi,  خط حجازي‎ ḫaṭṭ ḥiǧāzī), the manuscript  comprises two layers of text. The upper text conforms to the standard 'Uthmanic Qur'an, whereas the lower text or undertext contains many variants to the standard text. According to the Wikipedia, radiocarbon analysis dated the parchment containing the undertext to before 671 CE with "99% accuracy".

"While the upper text is almost identical with the modern Qur'ans in use (with the exception of spelling variants), the lower text contains significant diversions from the standard text. For example, in sura 2, verse 87, the lower text has wa-qaffaynā 'alā āthārihi whereas the standard text has wa-qaffaynā min ba'dihi. Such variants are similar to the ones reported for the Qur'an codices of Companions such as Ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy b. Ka'b. However, variants occur much more frequently in the Sana'a codex, which contains "by a rough estimate perhaps twenty-five times as many [as Ibn Mas'ud's reported variants]". . . .

"The manuscript is not complete. About 80 folios are known to exist: 36 in Yemen’s Dār al-Makhṭūṭāt (House of Manuscripts), 4 in private collections (after being auctioned abroad), and 40 in the Eastern Library of the Grand Mosque in Sana’a.Many of the folios in the House of Manuscripts are physically incomplete (perhaps due to damage),whereas those in private possession or held by the Eastern Library are all complete.These 80 folios comprise roughly half of the Qur'an" (Wikipedia article on Sana'a palimpsest, accessed 11-20-2014).

Writing in 2012 Behnam Sadeghi of Stanford University and Mohsen Goudarzi of Harvard University stated:

"The lower text of San'a 1 is at present the most important document for the history of the Qur'an. As the only known extant copy from a textual tradition beside the standard Uthmanic one, it has the greatest potential of any known manuscript to shed light on the early history of the scripture. Comparing it with parallel textual traditions provides a unique window onto the initial state of the text from which the different traditions emerged. The comparison settles a perennial controversy about the date at which existing passages were joined together to form the suras (chapters). Some ancient reports and modern scholars assign this event to the reign of the third caliph and link it with his standaridzing the text of the Qur'an around AD 650. However, the analysis shows that the suras were formed earlier. Furthermore, the manuscript sheds light on the manner in which the text was transmitted. The inception of at least some Qur'anic textual traditions must have involved semi-oral transmission, most likely via hearers who wrote down a text that was recited by the Prophet. . . " (Sadeghi & Goudarzi, "San'a' 1 and the Origins of the Qur'an," Der Islam 87, No. 1-2 (February 2012) 1-129, quotation from p. 1).

Sadeghi, Behnam; Bergmann, Uwe, "The Codex of a Companion of the Prophet and the Qur'ān of the Prophet". Arabica 57 No. 4 (2010) 343–436.

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The Codex Parisino-Petropolitanus, One of the Oldest Surviving Manuscripts of the Qur'an Circa 675 – 750

The codex Parisino-petropolitanus (BNF Arabe 328), one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Qur'an (Koran), was found among Qur'anic fragments which were kept in the 'Amr mosque in Fustat, Egypt, until the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries when French scholar printer and founder in Alexandria of Napoleon's Imprimerie orientale Jean-Joseph Marcel, and Jean-Louis Asselin de Cherville, French consul in Cairo, bought a significant number of its leaves. Scholars have dated the manuscript as early as the late 7th century CE (third quarter of the 1st century AH). Others agree on a date in the early 8th century CE, and others suggest significantly later dates.

Surviving portions of the manuscript are preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (formerly the Asselin de Cherville collection), the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg (formerly the Marcel collection), the Vatican Library, and the Khalili Collection in London. The 98 surviving parchment folios measure 33 x 24 cm and contain roughly 45 percent of the Qur'anic text. From this data François Déroche inferred that the original manuscript comprised between 210 and 220 folios. The manuscript was produced by five scribes, probably working concurrently in order to meet demand for a fast production. All of the hands use the Hijazi (Hejazi) script, the collective name for a number of early Arabic scripts  that developed in the Hejaz region of the Arabian peninsula, which includes the cities of Mecca and Medina.

"As with other hijāzī manuscripts, the Codex Parisino-petropolitanus is a codex, that is to say the dominant variety of book of the Late Antiquity. Its gatherings [of parchment leaves] are quaternions with the sides of the same kind facing each other—flesh facing flesh and hair facing hair. This not does mean that the gatherings were obtained by folding. Actually some 'accidents' interrupting the hair-flesh sides sequence (for instance f.42 to 48 of the Parisian part of hte manuscript) show that parchment bifolios equivalent to half a skin were stacked up one above the other and then folded. On the other hand the chines are located in places which exclude any folding process in the production of the quires" (Déroche, Qur'ans of the Umayyads. A First Overview (2014) 17-18 ff).

"The epistle of 'Abd al-Masīh ibn Īshāq al-Kindī claims that the early Muslims left the text of the Qur'an in the form of leaves and rolls like the scrolls of the Jews, until the caliph 'Uthmān changed this practice. See P. Casanova, Mohammed et la fin du monde: étude critique sur l'islam primitif, Paris, 1911, p. 121. . . ." (Déroche, op. cit. p. 18, footnote 6).

In February 2015 a digital facsimile of the most extensive portion of the manuscript, preserved in the BnF, was available at this link

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Continuing Use of Papyrus through the Eleventh Century 677 – 1100

"After A.D. 677 the Merovingian chancellery used only parchment, but otherwise papyrus continued in use in France at least till 787. In the ninth century the papal chancellery was still being supplied from Arab Egypt, whence the latest extant papyri bear dates equivalent to A.D. 981, and possibly 1087. A tenth-century gloss refers to the Romans in the present tense as 'customarily writing on papyrus'. An extant papyrus codex of c. A.D. 970 contains an inventory of the land holdings and leases of the Ravenna church, while a papal parchment from Ravenna bears the date of A.D. 967. From Paris come instances of older papyrus reused in the tenth and late eleventh centuries. The latest papyrus document from Spain, a papal bull on papyrus is one of Victor II dated A.D. 1057. But the papal chancellery was still using papyrus some twenty-five years later, and in Sicily and southern Italy books and documents written on papyrus are found through the eleventh and perhaps into the twelfth century. There is also evidence which, if it can be taken at face value, attests that papyrus was still in use at Constantinople as late as c. A.D. 1100. Thereafter the use of papyrus ceases altogether. The Latin word papyrus was retained to designate paper, but the writing material made from the papyrus plant passed completely out of common experience.

"It has been suggested that the papal chancelleries toward the end drew their supplies of papyrus from Sicily. This is a possible inference, though not a necessary one, for a flourishing trade in papyrus from Egypt, exporting not only to eastern cities like Baghdad but also westward as far as Spain, is attested in Arab sources at least through the tenth century. The export trade and the manufacture of papyrus received their death blow in the course of the next hundred or so years. The East turned to rag paper, made by a process obtained from the Arabs from China, the West to parchment, which been used increasingly since late antiquity. Eustathius, who wrote in Constantinople in the third quarter of the twelfth century has the final word: 'Papyrus making', he remarks, 'has lately become a lost art' " (Lewis, Papyrus in Classical Antiquity [1974] 92-94).

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The Ceolfrid Bible Circa 685 – 710

A page from the Ceolfrid Bible. (View Larger)

The Ceolfrid Bible, a fragment of a late 7th or early 8th century Bible, is almost certainly a portion of one of the three single-volume Bibles ordered made by Ceolfrid (Ceolfrith), Abbot of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow. It is closely related to the Codex Amiatinus, which is the only surviving complete Bible of the three ordered by Ceolfrid. The eleven surviving vellum leaves of the manuscript contain portions of the Latin Vulgate text of the third and fourth Books of Kings. The manuscript is preserved in the British Library (MS Add. 45025). In February 2014 a digital facsimile was available at this link.

"An additional single leaf, now in the British Library (Add. MS 37777) contains the another portion of the Third Book of Kings and shares all of the similarities shared by the Ceolfrid Bible and the Codex Amiatinus. This leaf almost certainly is either also from the Ceolfrid Bible or from the third Bible ordered made by Ceolfrid.

"The leaves of the Ceolfrid Bible were used in the 16th century as covers for the Chartulary of the lands of the Willoughby family. They were afterwards preserved at Wollaton Hall in Nottinghamshire. Additional MS 37777 was discovered by Rev. William Greenwell in Newcastle" (Wikipedia article on Ceolfrid Bible, accessed 01-30-2010).

The script of the Ceolfrid Bible and MS 37777 are thought to have originated in the same scriptorium as the Codex Amiatinus.

"It is recorded by Bede that Ceolfrid had two other copies of the Bible made, besides that which he took as a gift to the Pope. In 1909 a single leaf, in writing closely resembling that of the Amiatinus, was discovered by the Rev. W. Greenwell in a curiosity shop in Newcastle, and within this last year eleven more leaves, which had been utilised to form the covers of estate accounts in the north of England, were . . . secured for the nation. All twelve leaves, which include parts of 1 and 2 Kings, and unquestionably form part of one of the sister codices of the Amiatinus, are now in the British Museum, where they are a monument of the time when, under the leadership of Benedict Biscop, Ceolfrid, and especially Bede, the north of England led the Western world in scholarship" (Kenyon, Our Bible & the Ancient Manuscripts 4th Ed. [1939] 175).

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The Codex Amiatinus: the Earliest Surviving Complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate, Containing One of the Earliest Surviving Images of Bookbindings and a Bookcase Circa 688 – 716

Folio 5r of Codex Amiatinus, showing Ezra. (View Larger)

About 688 Abbot Ceolfrid (Ceolfrith) of Wearmouth-Jarrow, teacher of Bede, commissioned three complete Bibles of the "new translation" (tres pandectes novae translationis) to be copied at the Wearmouth-Jarrow scriptorium. These pandects resulted from intensive study of the biblical texts directed by Ceolfrid based on the library of Wearmouth-Jarrow, including a pandect of the "old translation" (Jerome's Latin Vulgate) which Ceolfrid had brought back from Rome after one of his two visits there, or which had been brought to Northmbria from Rome in 678 by the founder of the two monasteries, Benedict Biscop. That manuscript is thought to have been a "lost Vivarium manuscript" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories, I [2001] 105). This lost manuscript was most probably one of Cassiodorus's Bibles from the Vivarium at Squillace— probably the Codex grandior littera clariore conscriptus. "For centuries it [the Codex Amiatinus] was considered an Italo-Byzantine manuscript, and it was only recognized for its English production about a century ago" (Browne, Painted Labyrinth. The World of the Lindisfarne Gospels [2004] 9).

Two of Ceolfrid's new pandects were placed in each of the twin churches of Wearmouth-Jarrow. However, apart from a fragment known as the Ceolfrid Bible, only the third copy of the huge Bible, which Ceolfrid intended as a gift to the Pope, survived. This huge codex, later known as the Codex Amiatinus, completed by seven (some say nine) different scribes, is the earliest surviving manuscript of the complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate version, and is considered the most accurate copy of St. Jerome's text. It contains "a spectrum of scripts"—formal Uncial, Capituilar Uncial and Rustic Capital. These "furnish paleographical criteria for identifying other manuscripts produced in the scriptorium in the time of Abbot Ceolfrid and his successor Abbot Hwaetberht" (Parkes, The Scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow. Jarrow Lecture,1982, p. 3). (Other manuscripts produced at the scriptorium include the St. Petersburg Bede.)

The frontispiece of the Codex Amiatinus illustrated here shows a saintly figure, presumably the Old Testament prophet Ezra, or possibly Cassiodorus himself characterized as Ezra, writing a manuscript on his lap, and seated before an open book cupboard or armarium which contains a Bible in nine volumes, like the Codex grandior known to have been owned by Cassiodorus. This is one of the earliest surviving images of bookbindings, and also one of the earliest surviving images of an early form of bookcase. Clasps holding the covers of the bindings closed are clearly visible on the fore-edges of the bound manuscripts lying on the shelves—one of the earliest images of this binding feature. In Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 (1979; 57) Paul Needham suggested that the designs on the bookbindings as they are represented in the miniature bear similarities to the designs of early Coptic bookbindings.

To offer the Codex Amiatinus as a present to Pope Gregory II, Abbot Ceolfrid, made the long journey from England to Rome in old age, departing in 716. Though Ceolfrid died on the journey, his associates brought the volume to the Pope as a cultural "ambassador of the English nation." It was used in the revision of the Vulgate by Pope Sixtus V in 1585-90. 

One of the largest and heaviest of all medieval manuscripts, the single volume of the Codex Amiatinus weighs 75 pounds. The costs involved in its production were discussed by Richard Gameson in "The Cost of the Codex Amiatinus," Notes & Queries, 39, No. 1 (March 1992) 2-9. I quote from pp. 4-8 (excluding the many valuable footnotes, as usual):

"Measuring c. 505 x 340 mm. (with a written area of 360-75 x 260) and consisting of 1,030 folios, the Codex Amiatinus is a truly gigantic book. Its text, in which the hands of some seven scribes have been distinguished, is written through in stately uncial, two columns to the page, per cola et commata, and must been very time-consuming to produce, even given the efficient subdivision of labour that is apparent in it. Of the other seven extant bible or biblical codex fragments which are of early Anglo-Saxon origin one is written in half uncial, four in minuscule (generally cursive), one in hybrid minuscule, and one partly in hybrid minuscule, partly in half uncial - in each case their writing would have proceeded more quickly than that of Ceolfrith's volumes. The Codex Amiatinus is enhanced with a limited amount of decoration, including as a pictorial frontispiece to the Old Testament the much-reproduced image of the scribe Ezra at work, painstakingly copied from a mediterranean model. The inclusion of purple-stained pages futher underlines the care that was taken over the production and the opulence of its conception, an opulence that was entirely consonant with the exalted functions envisaged for all three volumes. The fact that the appearance and dimensions (480 x 355 mm; written area 360 x 255) of the leaves which remain from the companion volumes are closely comparable to those of Amiatinus suggests that they were in no way inferior to their extant sister.

"What then were the 'overheads' of this project? In the particular circumstances of the Wearmouth-Jarrow scriptorium (wherever that was and however it be construed) during the late seventh and early eighth century, time was always free - in the sense that no one was being paid per hour or per stint - and often of no great consequence: assuming there was no fixed deadline for a project, if the work were not finished this year then there was always next year, and if for some reason a stint could not be accomplished by one scribe, then there was always another. Consequently the manpower required to compile and write the three giant bibles, labour-intensive tasks though they undoubtedly were, cost nothing in real terms. It is the fabric alone that represents quantifiable expense and it is to this that attention has previously been directed and to which we must now turn. In his seminal study of the Codex Amiatinus published in 1967, Rupert Bruce-Mitford set out some basic data concerning the material that was required to make Ceolfrith's three bibles - data which has been quoted in suitably awed tones ever since - and there seems no reason to quibble with his statistics. Altogether the three volumes are likely to have consisted of some 1,545 bifolia of calf-skin. Now, since in order to obtain unblemished parchment sheets of c. 1010 x 680 mm one would require a new animal skin for each, making no allowance for wastage this represents the pelts of 1,545 calves. This is indeed a large number of animals and Bruce-Mitford rightly concluded that 'only rich and well-run communities could afford to produce books of this calibre'. Yet whether it necessarily implies the existence of great herds of cattle as he also surmised is not so clear, as we shall see; and it is worth pondering in more detail what sort of expense, and hence what sort of riches, it actually represented.

"Before addressing this question directly, however, we should consider the case of Ceolfrith's bibles in a broader historical perspective. It is worth pointing out that, although as has been emphasized, the creation of the three pandects was an exceptionally ambitious undertaking, it is unlikely that the twin foundation's need of skins for parchment dropped substantially during the following century; indeed given the obligation to meet the international demand for copies of the numerous works of their prolific house author, Bede, quite the reverse may well have been the case. In comparison with the Codex Amiatinus, the eighth-century Wearmouth-Jarrow copies of Bede's Historia Eccleiastica which are now in Leningrad and London are small and modestly conceived. Both are economically written in Anglo-Saxon minscule, decoration being confined to a minimum; the former consists of 162 folios, 270 x 190 mm. in size, the latter (in its fire-damaged shrunken state) of 200 folios, measuring 236 x 170 mm. In both these cases at least two and possibly more bifolia could be obtained from a single skin; but even so it is unlikely that fewer than thirty animals would have been needed to make each book. Not much less would have been required for the eighth-century Wearmouth-Jarrow copy of Bede, In Proverbia Salomonis, which is preserved in the Bodleian Library. Clearly to transcribe even a single copy of each of the nearly forty items on the list of works composed by Bede which he appended to the final book of his Historia Ecclesiastica would presuppose the pelt of several substantial herds; and far from confining themselves to single copies, the community seems to have been beleagured with requests for these texts from home and abroad. We may safely conclude that the Codex Amiatinus does not represent the peak of Wearmouth-Jarrow's parchment needs; rather it stands at the beginning of a period of consistently high if not higher consumption. The crucial point is that whatever the cost of the material of Ceolfrith's great project, the community continued to bear equivalent, if not greater 'publishing' expensives in the following generation.

"As our ignorance concerning the actual number of books written at a given Anglo-Saxon foundation in a particular year is equalled by our lack of knowledge about contemporary herd sizes, it is impossible to assess the economic implications of the need for skins for making books except in very general terms. It is evident that by 700 there must have been a much greater demand for this commodity in certain areas of the country than had been the case a century earlier; on the other hand, the imposition that this new use of skins represented (and hence its relative cost) should not be overestimated. In the case of Ceolfrith's bibles there are five considerations which suggest that the outlay reflected in the 1,545 calf-skins was not actually as formidable as the naked statistic of their number alone might seem to suggest.

"In the first place, the fact that Benedict Biscop had managed to equip his twin foundation with a large book collection acquired en masse from Rome, meant that at the end of the seventh century Wearmouth-Jarrow had less need than other ascendant or aspirant intellectual centres to copy texts for its library. Consequently it could more readily afford to deploy its resources in the production of monumental, and newly edited, deluxe volumes elegantly written in uncial letters. The cost of the Codex Amiatinus must be considered in relation to the singular circumstances of a house whose foundation endowment favoured the growth of a scriptorium which was specifically geared to the production of a modest number of high quality books.

"The use of a time-consuming script and the fact that the Codex Amiatinus as a whole was patently the product of painstaking workmanship alerts us to the second point, namely that progress on the project is likely to have been slow. Consequently, the slaughter of the 1,545 calves whose hides became the parchment of the three bibles was not a single act of preparation: on the contrary it represents the accumulation of an uncertain but undoubtedly considerable number of years. if as is not impossible, the project were initiated soon after Ceolfrith became sole abbot of the twin community in 688, while his decision to depart for Rome in 716 reflects the final completion of the presentation volume, then we have a potential working period of some twenty-eight years. Dividing the total of skins accordingly, we are left with an average annual requirement of fifty-five or so - hardly large herd. Now of course we do not know over how many seasons the project actually stretched and this is probably the maximum extreme; yet even if the work were accomplished from start to finish within a decade, which perhaps a not unreasonable estimate, the average annual requirement of skins is still only one hundred and sixty five.

"Thirdly, we should remember that these slaughtered calves did not just provide vellum: they also represented a very considerable number of hot dinners for someone! And once the flesh had been eaten and the hide taken for vellum, the carcasses could still make many other contributions to society -  the horns might be used as receptacles (to hold ink amongst other things) or be carved into spoons, the hooves and head could be boiled to make glue, the bones might be worked into any number of items such as combs and pins, or could be ground, mixed with dried blood and used as fertilizer, and so on. As each slaughtered animal provided very much more than just a pelt, the value of the parchment cannot simply be equated with the bare number of beasts it represents. The number of animals that were required for a book can of course be used to indicate its relative expense (showing that the Codex Amiatinus consumed at least seventeen times more resources than the Leningrad Bede for example), but it must be stressed that the absolute cost of the parchment in question was considerably less than the value of this total of animals.

"Fourthly, there is no reason to assume that Wearmouth-Jarrow itself (or any other young Christian establishment for that matter) was solely responsible for raising a sufficient number of animals to supply its parchment needs. Monastic animal husbandry, such as is alluded to in Bede's account of the Abbot Eosterwine of Wearmouth, no doubt accounted for some of the skins that were used, but equally many, if not the majority, were probably acquired as tithes from the surrounding lands. When kings and nobles granted estates to the new communities, in many cases they were simply tranferring to the religious house the ownership of, and hence the right to tithes of produce from, farmsteads that continued to be run by their existing tenants. The traditional occupants now merely owed their dues to the church rather than to a secular lord. The Laws of Ine (688 x 94) c. 70.1 enumerates a lengthy list of produce and livestock as the 'food rent' which is due from an estate of ten hides. We are ill informed about the details of such arrangements, but clearly organizing the annual supply of payments in kind from rent-owning properties was crucially important for the economic well-being of religious foundations. Equally clearly if these rights were to be used to underwrite the production of parchment, a purpose for which they were surely invaluable, measures must have been taken first to commute the dues to a relevant form and then to ensure the delivery of young beasts with suitable pelts. The latter is an issue to which we shall return. The key point to stress here is that the parchment consumption of Wearmouth-Jarrow should be considered in relation to the fact that by 716 the joint community had acquired the right to use the resources of an estate which consisted of at least 150 hides of land (the living of 150 families) - a considerable amount and undoubtedly a very useful and versatile resource.

"Finally, we should remember that is likely to have been standard farming practice at the time to reduce stock at the approach of winter rather than to try to carry all the herd or flock through (a point indirectly reflected in the Old English name for November, blothmonao, and one which receives pictorial commemoration in the scenes of slaughter that habitually illustrate this month in the calendars of later medieval manuscripts). Thus many calves were probably killed at this time, if not shortly after birth. Sucessful Anglo-Saxon animal husbandry implied, quite simply, a high annual slaughter rate. Clearly, then, the need to secure skins to make parchment could easily be integrated into the existing patterns of livestock farming and extensive usage of animal products. This is an important point; and as England's climate is and was generally well-suited to successful animal husbandry, it is unlikely that the need for parchment in the quantities in question placed any strain upon livestock and farming resources (or for that matter represented inconvenient competiton for raw materials to the tanning 'industry'). The fact that not one of the extant Anglo-Saxon manuscripts or fragments produced before c.800 is a palimpsest, although principally to be seen in relation to the circumstance that the leaves which are likely to have been available for re-cycling at this time would themselves have belonged to relevant, modern acquisitions in the Christian period, still perhaps provides some limited independent confirmation of the ready availability of skins for parchment in seventh- and eighth-century England. Parchment, we may conclude is likely to have been a valued and valuable but not essentially expensive commodity (a crucial distinction) in early Christian Anglo-Saxon England, and was certainly not one that would have been difficult to obtain. The amout of it that was actually required year by year to make Ceolfrith's three bibles was not especially great, as we have seen, particularly when considered in relation to Wearmouth-Jarrow's extensive resources. . . . "

The manuscript, long kept in the abbey of Monte AmiataAbbadia San Salvatore in Tuscany, from which its name is derived, is preserved in the Laurentian Library (Bibliotheca Medicea Laurenziana) in Florence.

Alexander, Insular Manuscripts 6th to 9th Century (1978) No. 7.

ABBOTS OF WEARMOUTH AND JARROW. Bede's Homily i. 13 on Benedict Biscop. Bede's History of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow. The Anonymous Life of Ceolfrith. Bede's Letter to Ecgbert, Bishop of York. Edited and Translated by Christopher Grocock and I. N. Wood (2013).

(This entry was last revised on 08-24-2014.)

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A Library Containing Manuscripts from All Parts of the Known World 690

A map of the Umayyad Caliphate at its greatest extent, in 750 CE. (View Larger)

Rulers of the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus, Syria, established a palace library for which they obtained manuscripts from all parts of the known world.

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700 – 800

One of the Oldest Surviving Hebrew Fragments Written in Europe Circa 700

One of the oldest fragments of a Hebrew manuscript written and preserved in Europe is probably a Latin palimpsest written on fragments of a Hebrew roll which contained liturgy for Yom Kippur. Estimated to date from about the beginning of the eighth century, it is preserved at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, CLM 6325. 

Malachi Beit-Arié, "How Hebrew Manuscripts are Made," Gold (ed.) A Sign and a Witness. 2000 Years of Hebrew Books and Illuminated Manuscripts (1988) 36.

(This entry was last revised on 04-23-2014.)

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One of the Earliest Newspapers, Written on Silk 713 – 734

A reproduction of the Kalyuan Za Bao, one of the earliest newspapers. (View Larger)

Kaiyuan Za Bao, or Kaiyuan Chao Pao, Bulletin of the Court, an early newspaper, was published during the Kaiyuan era. It may also be considered "the world's first magazine."

Handwritten on silk, Bulletin of the Court collected political and domestic news, mainly for distribution to government officials.

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Creation of the Lindisfarne Gospels 715 – 720

Folio 27r of the Lindisfarne Gospels. (View Larger)

Between 715 and 720 Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, undertook the production of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Among the many features of this masterpiece are the compass marks, grids and lead-point drawings visible on the backs of the carpet pages. These show how the scribe created the designs for the elaborate illuminations, and reflect clear connections with the design methods used in sculpture and metalwork from the region. The Celtic designs of the manuscript observe the rules of sacred geometry, and are thought to reflect a blend of Eastern "eremitic"  and Western monastic traditions.

"Details were added freehand with a lead-point, the forerunner of the pencil. The use of this was apparently invented by the artist-scribe some 300 years ahead of its time as an alternative to the usual hard-point of bone or metal, which would hae trapped the apint of the fine web of oranment in the furrows it produced (as it did not elave a graphic mark on the page but only dented impressions" (Brown, Painted Labyrinth, 34).

According to a colophon added in the tenth century by Aldred at Chester-le-Street, the Lindisfarne Gospels were created by

"the artist-scribe Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne (698-721); the binder Bishop Aethilwald of Lindisfarne (c. 721-750); the metalworker who adorned the binding or book-shrine (now replaced by a 19-century treaure binding), Billfirth the Anchorite, or hermit (who died sometime before 840). Aldred says that the work was undertaken for God and St. Cuthbert. An inscription added some 250 years later cannot be taken at face value, and Ireland, Echternach in Luxembourg and Jarrow have also been proposed as possible places of production of the Lindisfarne Gospels. However, historical and stylistic evidence indicate that the colophon may be right" (Michelle P. Brown, Painted Labyrinth. The World of the Lindisfarne Gospels [2004] 14). 

"The Gospels are richly illustrated in the insular style, and were originally encased in a fine leather binding covered with jewels and metals made by Billfrith the Anchorite in the 8th century. During the Viking raids on Lindisfarne, however, this cover was lost, and a replacement made in 1852. The text is written in insular script" (Wikipedia article on Lindisfarne Gospels, accessed 12-15-2008).

The Gospels were taken from Durham Cathedral during the dissolution of the monasteries ordered by Henry VIII, and were acquired in the early 17th century by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton from Thomas Walker, Clerk of the Parliaments. Cotton's library came to the British Museum in the 18th century, and from there to the British Library.

Brown, The Lindisfarne Gospels. Society, Spirituality and the Scribe (2003).

In February 2014 selected pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels were available from the British Library at this link.

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The Earliest Image of a Scribe Using a Writing Table Circa 715 – 720

(View Larger)

Images of scribes in the ancient world typically depict them as writing on their knee. While this may have been a convention or custom, it is hard to believe that no scribes in the ancient world had access to tables for writing.

Saenger theorizes that a writing table, as well as word spacing, would have been necessary for visual copying using silent reading, rather than copying from dictation as is understood to have been done in the ancient world.

The earliest unambiguous image of a scribe using a writing table appears in the Lindisfarne Gospels, an illuminated gospel book that incorporates word spacing, produced on the tidal island of Lindisfarne off the north-east coast of England, circa 715-720. The image is a portrait of the evangelist Mark. f.93v. For a color reproduction see Brown, The Lindisfarne Gospels. Society, Spirituality and the Scribe (2003) plate 14.

Saenger, Space Between Words. The Origins of Silent Reading (1997) 48.

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One of the Oldest, Largest, and Most Signficant Medieval Libraries 719

The library in the Abbey of St. Gall. (View Larger)

In 1719 the Benedictine Abbey of St. Gall, Switzerland, was founded on a site that had been used for religious purposes since 613.

"Around 613 an Irishman named Gallus, a disciple and companion of Saint Columbanus, established a hermitage on the site that would become the Abbey. He lived in his cell until his death in 646.

"Following Gallus' death, Charles Martel appointed Othmar as a custodian of St Gall's relics. During the reign of Pepin the Short, in 719, Othmar founded the Abbey of St. Gall, where arts, letters and sciences flourished. Under Abbot Waldo of Reichenau (740-814) copying of manuscripts was undertaken and a famous library was gathered. Numerous Anglo-Saxon and Irish monks came to copy manuscripts. At Charlemagne's request Pope Adrian I sent distinguished chanters from Rome, who propagated the use of the Gregorian chant.

"In the subsequent century, St. Gall came into conflict with the nearby Bishopric of Constance which had recently acquired jurisdiction over the Abbey of Reichenau on Lake Constance. It wasn't until King Louis the Pious (ruled 814-840) confirmed the independence of the Abbey, that this conflict ceased. From this time until the 10th Century, the Abbey flourished. It was home to several famous scholars, including Notker of Liège, Notker the Stammerer, Notker Labeo and Hartker (who developed the Antiphonal liturgical books for the Abbey). During the 9th Century a new, larger church was built and the library was expanded. Manuscripts on a wide variety of topics were purchased by the Abbey and copies were made. Over 400 manuscripts from this time have survived and are still in the library today" (Wikipedia article on Abbey of St. Gall, accessed 01-17-2009).

The Abbey contains one of the oldest, largest and most significant medieval libraries, consisting of 2100 codices. It is the only major medieval convent library still standing in its original location. 400 of the codices in this library date before 1000 CE. Digital facsimiles of these manuscripts were available from the Codices Electronici Sangallenses.

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The Foundation of English Historical Writing Circa 731

Historia ecclasiastica gentis Anglorum, folio 3v of Beda Petersburgiensis, dated 746. (View Larger)

About 731 The Venerable Bede, a Benedictine monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow, completed Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People). This work was the founding document of English History.

Bede's works show that he had at his command virtually all of the learning of his time. It is thought that the library at Wearmouth-Jarrow, built up by abbot Benedict Biscop through his extensive travels, might have included as many as 250 titles, probably in fewer volumes, making it the largest and most extensive in England at the time.

"Bede's writings are classed as scientific, historical and theological, reflecting the range of his writings from music and metrics to exegetical Scripture commentaries. He was proficient in patristic literature, and quotes Pliny the Elder, Virgil, Lucretius, Ovid, Horace and other classical writers, but with some disapproval. He knew some Greek, but no Hebrew. His Latin is generally clear and without affectation, and he was a skilful story-teller. . ." (Wikipedia article on Bede, accessed 11-22-2008).

(This entry was last revised on 08-11-2014.)

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From the Libraries of Richard Mead and Anthony Askew 736 – 760

Folio 5r of Codex Benevenatus, Jerome's letter. (View Larger)

According to a subscription on folio 239 verso, the Codex Beneventanus,  an illuminated Gospel Book, was written by a monk named Lupus for one Ato. This was probably Ato, abbot from 736-760 of the monastery of St. Vincent on the Volturno, near Benevento, Italy.

"The codex contains the Vulgate version of the four Gospels, the canon tables of Eusebius of Caesarea, the letter of St. Jerome to Pope Damasus (Novum opus), the prologue of St. Jerome to the Gospels (Plures fuisse), and prologues and chapter lists for each of the Gospels. The text is written on vellum in two columns in Uncial script with no division between words. The running titles are in small uncials while the incipits and explicits are in capitals. The incipits and explicits are written in alternating lines of red and black ink. The subscription of Lupus is written in uncials, and also has alternating lines of red and black ink. The text contains additional punctuation and annotations in a 10th century Beneventuan hand."

"By the 13th century it [the manuscript] was associated with St. Peter's convent in Benevento. In the first half of the 18th century it was owned by Dr. Richard Mead, and was used by Dr. Richard Bentley in his collation of New Testament texts. Dr. Mead may have acquired the manuscript in the 1690s when he traveled to Italy, however, the manuscript did not appear in the catalog of the sale of his library in 1754-55. The manuscript was later owned by Anthony Askew (d. 1754). It was purchased by John Jackson in 1785 at the sale of Askew's manuscripts. The British Library purchased it in 1794 at the sale of Jackson's manuscripts" (Wikipedia article on Codex Beneventanus, accessed 06-15-2009).

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Most of the Surviving Greek Literature was Translated into Arabic by 750 750

"Most of the surviving Greek literature was translated into Arabic by 750, and Aristotle, for example, became so widely studied that literally hundreds of books were written about him by Arabic scholars. The Moslems also obtained Greek works from Constantinople through regular trade channels and captured others in their various wars with the Eastern Empire" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 78).

"The early Abbasid Caliphs, adopting a religious philosophy that encouraged learning and debate, promoted the establishment of universities and libraries throughout their realm. Early beginnings were made under Al-Mansur (754-775) and Harun al-Rashid (785-809) of Arabian Nights fame, but was Al-Mamun the Great (813-833) who brought the "House of Learning" [House of Wisdom] or university at Baghdad into prominence. With libraries, laboratories, subsidized scholars, a translating service, and even an astronomical observatory, this institution attracted scholars from Spain to India" (Harris 79).

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The Earliest Known Example of an Historiated Initial and One of the Earliest Witnesses to Bede's Text Circa 750

The oldest known historiated initial, found in the St. Petersurg Bede, also known as the Leningrad Bede.

The earliest known example of an historiated initial—an enlarged letter at the beginning of a paragraph or other section of text which contains a picture—is in the St Petersburg Bede, an Insular manuscript, which was written about 750 CE. Only four 8th century manuscripts of Bede survive. The St. Petersburg Bede and the manuscript known as the "Moore Bede", preserved in Cambridge University Library, are the earliest witnesses to Bede's text.

The Saint Petersburg Bede

The Saint Petersburg Bede (Saint Petersburg, National Library of Russia, lat. Q. v. I. 18), formerly known as the Leningrad Bede, is one of the two earliest surviving illuminated manuscripts of Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People). Traditionally, it was attributed on palaeographic grounds to Bede’s monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow. It has also been traditionally dated to 731/732 × 746 on the basis of the so-called Memoranda, a series of retrospective dates found in the margins of Bede’s recapitulo in Book V Chapter 24. The validity of these Memoranda (and similar notes in the Moore Bede) as evidence for the precise year in which the manuscript was copied has been vigorously challenged, and while it may not be possible to assign the manuscript to a specific year, it seems unlikely that it was copied much after the middle of the eighth century.

After the huge disruption of French monastic libraries during the French Revolution, the manuscript was acquired by  Russian  diplomat, paleographer, secretary of the Russian Embassy in France, and collector of manuscripts and books, Peter Petrovich Dubrovsky, who later sold it to the Russian Imperial Library.

M. B. Parkes, The Scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow, Jarrow Lecture 1982.

The Moore Bede

"The Moore Bede is traditionally dated to 734 × 737 on the basis of the so-called Moore Memoranda, a series of chronological notes preserved on f. 128v. Although the validity of these (and similar notes in The Leningrad [St. Petersburg] Bede) as evidence for the manuscript’s date has been challenged vigorously, the manuscript can be dated securely to the eighth century on palaeographic and codicological grounds.

"The manuscript is now thought "likely to be English in origin" (Ker 1990). Bischoff has shown that the manuscript was at the Palace School at Aachen around CE 800 (Bischoff 1966–1968, 56). Parkes suggests that it may have been sent to there from York at the request of Alcuin (Parkes 1982, 27, n. 35)" (Wikipedia article on the Moore Bede, accessed 11-22-2008).

The Earliest Surviving Copies of Caedmon's Hymn

♦ The Moore Bede and the St. Petersburg Bede also contain the earliest known copies of Caedmon's Hymn, the only surviving work of the earliest English poet whose name is known. 

"The poem is one of the earliest attested examples of Old English and is, with the runic Ruthwell Cross and Franks Casket inscriptions, one of three candidates for the earliest attested example of Old English poetry. It is also one of the earliest recorded examples of sustained poetry in a Germanic language" (Wikipedia article on Caedmon, accessed 01-12-2010).

(This entry was last revised on 08-24-2014.)

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The Book of Dimma Circa 750

A portrait of St. Mark the Evangelist from folio 30v of the Book of Dimma. (View Larger)

The Book of Dimma, an 8th century Irish pocket Gospel Book signed by its scribe, Dimma MacNathi, at the end of each of the Four Gospels, originated from the Abbey of Roscrea, founded by St. Cronan in County Tipperary, Ireland. 

"Dimma has been traditionally identified with the Dimma, who was later Bishop of Connor, mentioned by Pope John IV in a letter on Pelagianism in 640. This identification, however, cannot be sustained. The illumination of the manuscript is limited to illuminated initials, three Evangelist portrait pages and one page with an Evangelist's symbol. In the 12th century the manuscript was encased in a richly gilt case" (Wikipedia article on the Book of Dimma, accessed 11-22-2008)

The Book of Dimma is preserved at Trinity College Library, Dublin.

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The Most Lavishly Illustrated Byzantine Manuscript Circa 750 – 850

The Sacra Parallela (Parisinus Graecus 923), containing over 400 scenic illustrations and 1256 portrait busts, is the most lavishly illustrated surviving Byzantine manuscript. It is also the only illuminated copy of the Sacra Parallela, a florilegium of excerpts alphabetized under the concepts with which the author associated them. Authorship of the anonymous florilegium has sometimes been attributed, without a strong basis, to John of Damascus

In the classic study of this unusually large and complex manuscript, The Miniatures of the Sacra Parallela (1979), historian of ancient and Byzantine book illustration and iconography Kurt Weitzmann argued that the manuscript was made in Palestine in the first half of the 9th century, and that its illustration cycle was compiled from extensively illustrated prior editions of each of the various excerpted texts. Thus Weitzmann argued this version of the Sacra Parallela provided evidence and visual documentation for a group of earlier densely illustrated books, most of which did not survive. Other scholars suggested that production in Constantinople was also possible, and that the manuscript might have been produced in the eighth century instead of the ninth.

The manuscript is preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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Foundation of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad 762

A modern photograph of a courtyard in the House of Wisdom, also known as the Bait al-Hikma. (View Larger)


In 751 the second Abbassid Caliph, Abu Ja'far Al-Mansur, founded the city of Baghdad. There he founded a palace library, which, according to some sources, evolved into The House of Wisdom. According to those sources, the library was originally concerned with translating and preserving Persian works, first from Pahlavi (Middle Persian), then from Syriac and eventually Greek and Sanskrit. One standard view was encountered in the Wikipedia article, from which I quote:

"The House of Wisdom acted as a society founded by Abbasid caliphs Harun al-Rashid and his son al-Ma'mun who reigned from 813-833 CE. Based in Baghdad from the 9th to 13th centuries, many of the most learned Muslim scholars were part of this excellent research and educational institute. In the reign of al-Ma'mun, observatories were set up, and The House was an unrivalled centre for the study of humanities and for sciences, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, chemistry, zoology and geography. Drawing on Persian, Indian and Greek texts—including those of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Euclid, Plotinus, Galen, Sushruta, Charaka, Aryabhata and Brahmagupta—the scholars accumulated a great collection of knowledge in the world, and built on it through their own discoveries. Baghdad was known as the world's richest city and centre for intellectual development of the time, and had a population of over a million, the largest in its time.The great scholars of the House of Wisdom included Al-Khawarizmi, the "father" of algebra, which takes its name from his book Kitab al-Jabr" (Wikipedia article on House of Wisdom, accessed 12-01-2008).

In 2014 I read Dimitri Gutas's Greek Thought, Arabic Culture. The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early 'Abbasid Society (2nd-4th/8th-10th centuries.) (1998). In that book Gutas presented a significantly different view of the bayt al-hikma, or House of Wisdom. From his summary on the topic (pp. 58-60) I quote:

"This is all the substantive and reliable evidence that we have and it allows only the following reconstruction of the nature and function of the bayt al-hikma: It was a library, most likely established as a 'bureau' under al Mansur, part of the 'Abbasid administration modeled on that of the Sasanians. Its primary function was to house both the activity and the results of translations from Persian into Arabic of Sasanian history and culture. As such there were hired translators capable to perform this function as well as book binders for the preservation of books. . . This was its function in Sasanian times, and it remained it throughout the time of Harun ar-Rasid, i.e. the time of Barmakids. Under al-Ma'mun it appears to have gained an additional function related to astrononomical and mathematical activities; at least this is what the names associated with the bayt-al-hikma during that period would imply. We have, however, no specific information about what those activities actually were; one would guess research and study only, since none of the people mentioned was himself actually a translator. Al-Ma'mun's new rationalist ideological orientations, discussed in chapter 4, would explain the additional functions of the library during his reign.

"This then is all we can safely say about the bayt al-hikma. We have abolutely no evidence for any other sort of activity. It was certainly not a center for the translation of Greek works into Arabic; the Graeco-Arabic translation movement was completely unrelated to any of the activities of the bayt-al-hikma. Among the dozens of reports about the translation of Greek works into Arabic that we have, there is not even a single one that mentions the bayt-al-hikma. This is to be contrasted with the references to translations from the Persian; we have few such references and yet two of them, both in the Fihrist cited above, do mention the bayt-al-hikma. Most amazingly, the first hand-report about the translation movement by the great Hunayn himself does not mention it. By the same token, the library was not one which stored, as part of its mission, Greek manuscripts. Hunayn mentions the efforts he expended in search of Greek manuscripts and again he never mentions that he looked for them right under his nose in the bayt al-hikma in Baghdad (cf. chapter 7.4). Ibn-an-Nadim, who claims that his Himyarite and Ethiopian manuscripts came from al-Ma'mun's library, says nothing of the sort when he describes the different kinds of Greek writing.

"The bayt-al-hikma was certainly also not an 'academy' for teaching the 'ancient sciences as they were being translated; such a preposterous idea did not even occur to the authors of the spurious reports about the transmission of the teaching of these sciences that we do have (discussed in chater 4.2). Finally, it was not a 'conference' center for the meetings of scholars even under al-Ma'mun's sponsorship. Al-Ma'mun, of course (and all the early 'Abbasid caliphs), did host scholarly conferences or rather gatherings, but not in the library; such gauche social behavior on the part of the caliph would have been inconceivable. Sessions (magalis) were held in the residences of the caliphs, when the caliphs were present, or in private residences otherwise, as the numerous descriptions of them that we have indicate (for one hosted by al-Ma-mun see chapter 4.3).

"What the bayt-al-hikma did do for the Graeco-Arabic translation movement, however, is to foster a climate in which it could be both demanded and then conducted successfully. If indeed the bayt-al-hikma was an 'Abbasid administrative bureau, then it institutionalized the Pahlavi into Arabic translation culture. This means that all activities implied or suggested by this culture—the Zorastrian ideology of the recovery of ancient Avestan texts through the (re-) translation of Greek works and all that that implied—could be conducted as semi-official activities, or at least as condoned by official policy. The numerous translations from the Greek which were commissioned by the Barmakids, for example should be seen in this light. The example set by the caliphs and the highest adminstrators was naturally followed by the others of lesser rank, both civil servants and private individuals. Once the existence of this additional official—though indirectly so—sanction for Graeco-Arabic translations is realized, the origins and rapid spread of the movement in early 'Abbasid times is better understood."

The House of Wisdom is thought to have flourished until it was destroyed by the Mongols in the sacking of Baghdad in 1258.

(This entry was last revised on 05-02-2014.)

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The Oldest Surviving Book in the German Language 765 – 775

The Abrogans, or Codex Abrogans, a dictionary of synonyms or glossary or word-list from Latin into Old High German, is the oldest surviving book in the German language. Abrogans ("humble") is the first word on the word-list.

The codex is preserved in the library of the Abbey of St. Gall. (St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, Codex 911).  In February 2014 a digital facsimile was available as part of the Codices Electronic Sangallenses (CESG) virtual library project at this link.

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Production of Manuscripts and Interest in Books Begins in Germany in the Last Third of the Eighth Century Circa 770

The production of manuscripts, and evidence of interest in books, did not begin in Germany until the last third of the eighth century, just before the reign of Charlemagne.

"Few books written before this period were preserved in cathedral libraries. A codex written toward the year 700 for Basinus, who was perhaps the bishop of Trier, is preserved in the Bibliotheca Vallicelliana. Two manuscripts of canon law, one written in South France at the time of Gregory the Great, the other written about a century later in Northumbria, are still the property of the Cathedral of Cologne, to which they probably already belonged in the eighth century" (Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne [2007] 18).

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The Earliest Datable Application of Carolingian Minuscule 772 – 781

The Maurdramnus Bible was commissioned between 772 and 781 by Abbot Maurdramnus of Corbie probably in 12 or 13 volumes, of which 5 volumes survived in the Bibliothèque municipale d'Amiens (MSS 6, 7, 9, 11, 12) and a portion of a sixth volume survived in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Lat. 13174). This manuscript was written in the first datable Carolingian minuscule.

" . . .the script of Maurdramnus Bible is a consistent development of Miniscule, more directly out of Half-Uncial even than the earliest writing at Corbie between 750 and 758 practised under Leutchar. . . It begins on the grand scale for the Pentateuch and [the script] was reduced in size as the work proceeded. As the colophon (mentioning Maurdramnus) occurs at the end of Maccabees, it is more than plausible to say that the work consisted of the Old Testament only. . . ." (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 132-33, pl. 87).

Because the script employed in the Maurdramnus Bible has its own character it is sometimes identified as "Maurdramnus Script."

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"The Oldest Western European Codex in Private Hands" (As of 2009) Circa 775

A page fromt he 'Canones concillorum,' written in both unical and miniscule.(View Larger)

When I accessed the website of German rare book and manuscript dealer Dr. Jörn Gunther in June 2009 I found the following manuscript offered for sale under the heading, "The Oldest Western European Codex in Private Hands."

The history of the writing of this manuscript as understood through its palaeography described below. The texts which it contains, and the details of its provenance reflect significant aspects of Carolingian manuscript production, and the history of collecting medieval manuscripts. Here is Dr. Gunther's description:

"Canones conciliorum. Manuscript on vellum, written by an insular scribe. Northern Italy, c.775.

"223 x 175 mm. 94 leaves. Internally complete, lacking one gathering at the beginning and some leaves at the end. The quires are signed with Roman numbers from II-XIII.– Written space fol.1-64v:165 x 130 mm, on fol. 65-94v: 175 x 135 mm, ruled in blind for one column of 24-25 and 19-20 lines. fol. 1-60v written in half uncials and precarolingian minuscules, fol. 61-94v in precarolingian minuscules in olive grey, light brown and dark brown ink. Many capitals in uncial with simple decoration with penwork ornament, including one initial in a form of a fish.– In fine condition for a volume of such antiquity. Right upper corner on fol.70 torn away with some loss of text.– 19th-century brown morocco by the Parisian bookbinder Marcelin Lortic.


"1. The codex was written by an insular scribe from Ireland or Northumbria, working in Northern Italy.

2. Monastery of Reichenau in Germany (at an early date).

3. Bound in Paris by Marcellin Lortic who opened his shop in the Rue St Honoré in 1840.

4. Ms. 17.849 of the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872); his oldest western manuscript and one of Phillipps's greatest treasures.

5. William Robinson Ltd., cat. 81: Precious Manuscripts, Historic Documents and Rare Books, London 1950, no. 92.

6. Dr. Martin Bodmer, Geneva, Switzerland (1899-1971).

7. Peter and Irene Ludwig, Aachen, ms.XIV 1 (1978-1983).

8. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu (1983-1988).

9. Now: Private collection, Europe.


"fol.1-58: Canones Conciliorum– fol.58-77v: Symmachiana, so-called ‘Symmachian forgeries’– fol.77v-94v: Decretals of Siricius, Boniface I, Innocent I, Zosimus, and Celestine I; end of text missing. Following the death of Pope Gelasius I († 496) Dionysius Exiguus (c.470- c.555), a skythian monk in Rome, was commissioned by the papal court to compile the ‘Collectio Dionysiana’ which united the canons of the councils and papal decretals. This anthology was the first compilation of this kind carried out in the Western Church and forms the foundation of Western Latin canon law. The compilation of Dionysius exists in three editions of which the codex at issue represents the so-called ‘Dionysiana II’. Manuscripts of the ‘Dionysiana II’ are rare uncombined with other texts, while only one codex preserved as a complete book is of an earlier date: ms.fol.v.II.3 in St Petersburg (Rossijskaja Nacionalnaja Biblioteka), a Burgundian codex dating from the 7th century (CLA 11 no.1061). Apart from this manuscript only a fragment in the Biblioteca Amploniana in Erfurt (Ampl.2°74) can be dated earlier having been written during the second half of the 6th century, presumably in Italy.

"After the Canones Conciliorum there follows as an insert, which cannot be found in this form in comparable collections, the so-called ‘Symmachian forgeries’, dating from thetime of Pope Symmachus (498-514; see Landau 1998). He was elected pope after the death of Anastasius II by a certain faction; a second faction declared the archpriest Laurence as pontiff. As a result of the turmoil which followed the elections, the ‘Symmachian forgeries were written, which strove to demonstrate by means of fictitious papal case files that the pope would not be subject to a human court of justice, but solely to the judgment of God.

"The third component of the book comprises decretals compiled under the pontificate of Pope Hormisdas (514-523) and contains the complete corpus of the old canon law, which consisted of the decrees of the Middle Eastern, Greek, African and Roman councils as well as those of the popes. The compilation is known as the Sanblasianus edition, because it was edited on the basis of a manuscript which first belonged to St. Blasien in the Black Forest and then to St. Paul in Lavanttal (Stiftsbibliothek, cod.7/1). Only seven manuscripts of this edition are preserved, three of which are older than the present codex (Paris, BN, lat. 3836, dating from the second half of the 8th century; Cologne, Dombibliothek, ms.213 dating from the first third of the 8th century and the Sanblasianus, which also dates from the mid-8th century). The oldest manuscript within the group (Cologne, Dombibliothek, ms.213) was written in Northumbria and brought to Cologne in the 8th century.

"The Canones conciliorum gained such an importance in subsequent decades that the text was duplicated again and again in the Frankish empire and from this later period over 100 manuscripts are preserved in the Frankish area alone. The codex was written by three different scribes. The main scribe (fol.2-60v) wrote the Canones conciliorum as well as the opening of the ‘Symmachian forgeries’. Palaeographic analysis reveals that this scribe came to the continent from an insular scriptorium and finally settled in northern Italy. It is not ascertainable, however, in which northern Italian scriptorium the manuscript was written. The palaeographic indications cannot be used to date the manuscript to a specific year, but it is very likely that it was executed in the years around 775, making the present manuscript contemporary with the famous copy of the Canones compilation, the so-called Dionysio-Hadriana,which was presented to the Frankish ruler Charlemagne (768-814) by Pope Hadrian I (772-795) in Rome in 774. After the presentation, the wording of the statute book was made compulsory for the Frankish empire, and numerous transcripts of the codex, originally kept in Aachen and now lost, were produced."

Note: I reformatted the description somewhat for this database, and left out the bibliographical references cited at the end of Dr. Gunther's description. The hyperlinks are my additions.

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The Only Surviving Visigothic Manuscript Containing Figural Decoration Circa 775 – 825

The Verona Orational (Verona, Cathedral, Biblioteca Capit. Cod. LXXXIX), also known as the Libellus Orationum, a late 7th or early 8th century Visigothic prayer book, is the only surving liturgical book that was written before the Moorish invasion, and is also the only surviving Visigothic manuscript containing figural decoration. The manuscript has 127 folios that measure 330 mm by 260 mm. The text was written in Visigothic minuscule. A marginal gloss indicates that the manuscript was produced in Tarragona, Spain, at the church of Saint Fructuosus.

"The orational contains antiphons and responsories that are not neumed; no music exists in the codex.

"On folio 3r there is a drawing of the "Rose of the Winds", a precursor of the Compass rose. The drawing depicts the twelve winds grouped around a central cross. The twelve winds are represented by four heads with three faces each that have trumpets coming out of the mouth of each face. Each head is contained within a circle and the four circles are arranged in a cross pattern around the central cross. The entire drawing is enclosed within a double circle. Although the drawing has been Christianized by the addition of the central cross, the drawing is based a well known formula in Classical art, the Vultus trifons" (Wikipedia article on Verona Orational, accessed 01-22-2012).

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The Contributions of the Emperor Charlemagne and the Educator Alcuin to the Carolingian Renaissance Circa 780 – 820

 "The classical revival of the late eighth and early ninth centuries, without doubt the most momentous and critical stage in the transmission of the legacy of Rome, was played out against the background of a reconstituted empire which stretched from the Elbe to the EbroCalais to Rome, welded together for a time into a political and spiritual whole by the commanding personality of an emperior who added to his military and material resources the blessing of Rome. Although the political achievement of Charlemagne (768-814) crumbled in the hands of his successors, the cultural movement which it fostered retained its impetus in the ninth century and survived into the tenth.

"The secular and ecclesiastical administration of a vast empire called for a large number of trained priests and functionaries. As the only common denominator in a heterogeneous realm and as the repository of both the classical and the Christian heritage of an earlier age, the Church was the obvious means of implementing the educational program necessary to produce a trained executive. But under the Merovingians the Church had fallen on evil days; some of the priests were so ignorant of Latin that Boniface heard one carrying out a baptism of dubious efficacy in nomine patria et filia et spiritus sancti (Epist. 68), and knowledge of antiquity had worn so thin that the author of one sermon was under the unfortunate impression that Venus was a man. Reform had begun under [Charlemagne's father] Pippin the Short; but now the need was greater, and Charlemagne felt a strong personal responsibility to raise the intellectual level of the clergy, and through them of his subjects. . . ." (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 92-93).

In 780, at Parma Charlemagne, King of the Franks, met the Anglo-Saxon monk Alcuin, who was head of the episcopal school at the Cathedral of York. Charlemagne took scholarship seriously. He had learned to read as an adult, although he never quite learned how to write. At this time of reduced literacy outside of the clergy, writing of any kind was an achievement for kings, many of whom were illiterate.

Recognizing that Alcuin was a scholar who could help him achieve a renaissance of learning and reform of the Church, in 782 Charlemagne induced Alcuin to move to the royal court as Master of the Palace School at Aachen, where Alcuin remained until 796. This school was attended by members of the royal court and the sons of noble families. At Aachen Alcuin established a great library, for which Charlemagne obtained manuscripts from Monte Cassino, Rome, Ravenna and other sources.

"Books are naturally attracted to centres of power and influence, like wealth and works of art and all that goes with a prosperous cultural life. Some arrive as the prerequisites of conquest, or as the gifts that pour in unasked when the powerful have made thier wishes plain, some in response to the magnetic pull of an active and dynamic cultural movement. Others were actively sought out by those promoting the educational and cultural aims of the revival. There was such a break in the copying of the classics in the Dark Ages that many of the books that provided the exemplars from which the Carolingian copies were made must have been ancient codices, and this immediately raises a fundamental question; where did all the books that have salvaged so much of what we have of Latin literature come from? As far as we can tell from the evidence available, the total contribution of Ireland and England, Spain and Gaul, was small in comparison with what came from Italy itself, from Rome and Campania and particularly, it would seem, from Ravenna after its capture by the forces of Charlemagne. Nor did the wholesale transference of classical texts to northern Europe exhaust the deposits in Italy, for Italy continued, down to the end of the Renaissance and beyond, to produce from time to time texts which, as far as we can tell, had been unknown north of the Alps. 

"Gathering impetus with each decade, the copying of books went on apace through the length and breadth of Charlemagne's empire. Such ancient classical manuscripts as could be found, with their imposing majuscule scripts, were transformed, often at speed, into minuscule copies, and these in time begot further copies, branching out into these complex patterns to which the theory of stemmatics has reduced this fascinating process. The routes by which texts travelled as they progressed from place to place were naturallty governed in part by geographical factors, as they moved along the valleys of the Loire or Rhine, but even more by the complex relationships that existed between institutions and the men who moved between them. There are so many gaps in our knowedge, and so many of pieces in this puzzle have been irrevocably lost, that we can never hope to build up a convincing distribution map for the movements of texts in this period. But certain patterns are discernible, and the drift of texts south and west through the Low Countries and northern France, and down the Rhine to the shores of Lake Constance, appears to point to a fertile core in the area of Aachen, and this would confirm the crucial importance of the palace as a centre and a catalyst for the dissemination of classical texts" (Reynolds & Wilson, op. cit. 97-98).

Also at Aachen, and later at Tours to which he retired in 796, Alcuin promoted the development of the Carolingian minuscule, which became the writing standard for the eighth and ninth centuries.

"The use. . . of a script more compact in the body and needing less time to write, may have been decided upon in view of the plans to proceed with a State educational project, the greatest ever undertaken in the West, or perhaps anywhere at any time in the Roman Empire. For such an enterprise the employment of an accelerated script would become an interest of State, or, to be accurate, of State and Church" (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 143).

Regarding the origin of Carolingian minuscule there is little consensus. In the words of palaeographer Stan Knight:

"Some authorities detect Roman (ie.half-uncial) roots, others French pre-Carolingian, some even see Insular influence (perhaps seeking a link with Alcuin), others cursive or semi-cursive scripts. Various combinations of these influences are also suggested. The opinions are many and bewildering.
        "The problem is made more complicated because the actual emergence of Carolingian minuscule appears to have been rather haphazard. There is no solid evidence to suggest that it emanated from just one center, nor can any systematic development of the script be discerned (apart from the natural maturing observable in the work of energetic scriptoria like that at Tours). . . . My considered opinion is that Carolingian minuscule was a modification of the ancient and serviceable half-uncial script, incorporating certain features gathered from other current scripts, and that the Abbey of Corbie led the field in this vitally important calligraphic development" http://dh101.humanities.ucla.edu/DH101Fall12Lab1/items/show/8, accessed 08-07-2014).

Alcuin revised the church liturgy, and also revised Jerome's translation of the Bible. Alcuin and his associates— particularly the Visigothic writer, poet and bishop Theodulf of Orleans, who produced his own, competing, edition of the Bible — were responsible for an intellectual movement within the Carolingian Empire in which many schools were attached to monasteries and cathedrals, and Latin was restored as a literary language. Along with these schools there was a flowering of libraries and manuscript book production.

Charlemagne's Admonitio generalis, a collection of legislation known as a capitulary issued in 789, covered educational and ecclesiastical reform within the Frankish kingdom, established his religious and educational aspirations for the kingdom, and became a foundation for the Carolingian Renaissance.  

"Before the surge of education following the Admonitio Generalis and subsequent Carolingian Renaissance, it was difficult for the Frankish people to connect with Christianity and the church. Peasant life was very hard; the people were illiterate and Latin, the language of the church, was not their native language, making Christianity and the Bible difficult to access. Nobles also were largely uneducated and uncultured, with few devoted Christians among them. Only the clergy were consistent in having some level of education, and thus they had the best understanding and exposure to the Bible and the full extent of Christianity. The schools, which the Admonitio ordered established by the monasteries and cathedrals, began a tradition of higher learning in Carolingian Europe, leading the revival known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The fulfillment of Admonitio Generalis meant that the study of language, rhetoric and grammar in these institutions, as well as the standardizing of writing scripture and Latin, was undertaken in order to make religious texts and books accessible to the clergy, as well as their correction and standardization. However this strengthened all forms of Carolingian literature, and book production, as well as developments in law, historical writing, and uses of poetry all flourished in these schools. In fact, the capitularies themselves, and the level of language they use, are examples of the increasing importance of writing within the Frankish kingdom. As well as language, the Admonitio Generalis ordered other arts such as numbers and arithmetic, ratios, taxes, measure, architecture, geometry, and astrology to be taught, leading to developments in each field and their application within society. Charlemagne pushed for an educated clergy who could help lead reform, because it was his belief that the study of arts would aid them in understanding sacred texts, which they could then pass on to their followers. During the Carolingian Renaissance, Charlemagne unified religious practices and culture within his realm, creating a Christian kingdom, and ultimately unifying his empire" (Wikipedia article on Admonitio Generalis, accessed 08-06-2014).

"The Carolingian programme of renewal was consciously based on Antiquity. Order and stability lay in a vigorous revival of that which was useful and applicable from the Roman past: e.g. its imagery and art forms, such as the human figure as the central theme of art, or its reliance on the written word. Although, culturally, its upward trajectory had peaked by AD 877, this Carolingian renewal had by then insured the survival of ancient art and literature. The text of virutally every ancient Latin author is today edited largely from Carolingian manuscripts. Texts of only a handful of ancient authors—TibullusPropertiusCatullus among them—are not reconstructed from manuscripts of the Carolingian renaissance" (Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns ed. The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 46-47).

(This entry was last revised on 08-19-2014).

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A Book of Psalms from the Late 8th Century Found in a Bog in 2006 Circa 780

In July 20, 2006 a 1,200-year-old Book of Psalms was found by a construction worker in a bog in Ireland. This was the first discovery of its kind in 200 years.

"Fragments of what appear to be an ancient Psalter or Book of Psalms were uncovered by a bulldozer in a bog in the south Midlands. It is impossible to say how the manuscript ended up in the bog. It may have been lost in transit or dumped after a raid, possibly more than a thousand to twelve hundred years ago." The Director of the National Museum of Ireland, Dr. Pat Wallace, commented that "it is not so much the fragments themselves, but what they represent, that is of such staggering importance. In my wildest hopes, I could only have dreamed of a discovery as fragile and rare as this. It testifies to the incredible richness of the Early Christian civilization of this island and to the greatness of ancient Ireland." The find has even been compared with that of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The pages recovered appear to be those of a slim, large format book with a wraparound vellum or leather cover from which the book block has slipped. Raghnall Ó. Floinn, Head of Collections at the Museum, estimates that there are about forty-five letters per line and a maximum of forty lines per page. While part of Ps 83 is legible, the extent to which other Psalms or additional texts are preserved will only be determined by painstaking work by a team of invited experts probably operating over a long time in the Museum laboratory. Dr Bernard Meehan, Head of Manuscripts at Trinity College Dublin, has seen the discovery and has been invited to advise on the context and background of the manuscript, its production, and its time. He reckons that this is the first discovery of an Irish Early Medieval manuscript in two centuries. Initial impressions place the composition date of the manuscript at about 800 AD. How soon after this date it was lost we may never know" (http://sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=568, accessed 01-27-2010).

The manuscript was subsequently named the Faddan More Psalter or Faddan Mor Psalter, after the town of Faddan More in North Tipperary, Ireland, where it was found.

In September 2010 the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, issued a Press Release on its website indicating that in the process of restoration of the manuscript and its binding "fragments of papyrus were dramatically discovered in the lining of the Egyptian-style leather binding. This potentially represents the first tangible connection between early Irish Christianity and the Middle Eastern Coptic Church. It is a finding that asks many questions and has confounded some of the accepted theories about the history of early Christianity in Ireland" (http://www.museum.ie/en/news/press-releases.aspx?, article=758edb8d-f06d-4478-a404-a68cc3139048, accessed 09-09-2010)

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About 7000 Manuscripts and Fragments Survive from the Late 8th and 9th Centuries Circa 780 – 875

During the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of "enlightenment" and relative stability of educational and political institutions, scholars sought out and copied in the new legible standardized Carolingian minuscule many Roman texts that had been wholly forgotten. As a result, much of our knowledge of classical literature derives from copies made in the scriptoria of Charlemagne and other scriptoria during the Carolingian Renaissance. Roughly 7000 manuscripts written in Carolingian script survive from the 8th and 9th centuries. The availability of Carolingian manucripts during the Renaissance undoubtedly contributed to their being used as models for Renaissance calligraphy and later for type fonts.  

"Thanks to the diversity in local styles of script among the c. seven thousand manuscripts and fragments from the late eighth and ninth century, besides the roughly one hundred which can be localised, other still anonymous large, small, and very small groups can be distinguished, but not identified. Some three hundred and fifty manuscripts still survive from Tours (i.e. basically from St. Martin's), over three hundred from St Gall, rough three hundred from Rheims (which which several scriptoria were involved) roughly two hundred from Corbie, over one hundred from Lorsch, Salzburg, Lyons, and Freising. Not only does Tours surprass the others in numbers but a full forty-five of the traceable codices are or were full one volume bibles (pandects) of 420-450 leaves, with a format of c. 55 x 40cm, written in two columns of fifty to fifty-two lines. Between the last years of Alcuin (for whom Northumbrian bibles probably provided the model) and 850, St Martin's produced two such bibles every year for the Carolingians, for episcopal churches, and for monasteries. These large-format bibles were imitated in other places, for example in Freising, and in two bibles dedicated to Charles the Bald, the Franco-Saxon: Paris, BN, Lat. 2, and the Bible of San Paolo fuori le mura, in Rome" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages [1990] 208).

"Though the Carolingian minuscule was superseded by Gothic hands, it later seemed so thoroughly 'classic' to the humanists of the early Renaissance that they took these Carolingian manuscripts to be Roman originals and modelled their Renaissance hand on the Carolingian one, and thus it passed to the 15th and 16th century printers of books, like Aldus Manutius of Venice" (Wikipedia article on Carolingian minuscule, accessed 11-23-2008).

(This entry was last revised on 08-06-2014.)

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The Earliest Example of the Carolingian Illumination Style 781 – 783

The Godescalc Evangelistary or Godescalc Gospel Lectionary, an illuminated manuscript Gospel Book written by the Frankish scribe Godescalc, was commissioned by Charlemagne and his wife Hildegard and produced in the court scriptorium at Aachen between 781 and 783. The manuscript was intended to commemorate Charlemagne's march to Italy, his meeting with Pope Adrian I, and the baptism of his son Pepin. The manuscript's dedication poem credits the work to Godescalc, and includes details of Charlemagne's march to Italy.  The manuscript is preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (NA. lat. 1203).

A product of the Carolingian Renaissance, the Godescalc Evangelistary is the earliest example of the Carolingian Illumination Style. "This style was characterized by naturalist motifs in the decoration, and a fusion of the Insular, early Christian (late Classical) and Byzantine styles. The artist used natural illusionism techniques to create the appearance of volume in the characters, and used elaborate shadings in light and dark to give characters depth. The Carolingian illumination style was the earliest style to regularly utilize minuscule script, the precursor to our modern lower case letters" (Wikipedia article on Godescalc Evangelistary, accessed 11-25-2011).

Morison, Politics and Script . . . Barker ed. (1972) 135-37, pl. 88.

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The Gellone Sacramentary: a Masterpiece of Carolingian Manuscript Illumination Circa 790

An image depicting the crucifixion of Christ, found in the Gellone Sacramentary. (View Larger)

"The Carolingian period is the first great epoch of book illumination on the continent since antiquity. Its ornamental book art perpetuates types current in the Merovingian period and at the same time in many places reflects the influence of Insular decoration. Furthermore, it harks back directly to motifs from antiquity (tendrils, palmettes, acanthus, meander) which then had the result that the repertoire of forms of the centuries immediately preceding were banished, or else mixed styles came about. In figural representation antique and early Christian models were followed closely and their study set free new and original facets of creativity.

"A demonstration of what richness in initial forms and motifs a virtuoso and imaginatively inspired late-eighth-century miniaturist could employ is given by the master craftsman who wrote the Gellone sacramentary" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antquity and the Middle Ages [1990] 208-9).

The Gellone Sacramentary is preserved at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.  In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available at this link.

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"Very Little That Was Recopied in the Crucial Ninth Century Was Subsequently Lost" Circa 790

The court library of Charlemagne at Aachen set an example for abbey and cathedral scriptoria throughout the Holy Roman Empire.

"The titles of classical books jotted down in a Berlin manuscript circa 790 have been shown to be a partial list of the library at Aachen. It is remarkable for the range and rarity of the authors represented—Sallust, Martial, Lucan, and Cicero, for example—some of whose books had scarcely survived the Merovingian period. Indeed, it is characteristic of many textual traditions propagated in Carolingian times from old (fifth- or sixth-century) manuscripts, with an intermediate stage. Very little that was recopied in the crucial ninth century was subsequently lost, and the diligent collecting of these earlier representatives themselves ensured the survival of many ancient codices in capitals and uncials.

"Many monastic libraries evidently relied upon copies taken from the palace library for their stock. Some such as Corbie on the Somme or St. Martin at Tours, seem to have benefited spectacularly from their close connection to the court. Other books would be bequeathed by wealthy patrons or procured from outside by persistent begging for loans such as Lupus, Abbot of Ferrières (south of Paris) in the mid-ninth century, engaged in for much of his life. Monastic and cathedral libraries also freely exchanged copies of works as they were needed, along regular routes of circulation. France, especially in the north and central areas, had the lions share of this general revival of learning in terms of numbers of books produced, but the old Irish monasteries in Germany — Fulda, Hersfeld, St. Gall-and more modern foundations such as the imperially favored abbey of Lorsch, south of Mainz, also housed and recopied large numbers of manuscripts old and new, some of them of great importance. Of the seven ancient Italian manuscripts on which the text of Virgil rests, at least four were preserved in Carolingian monasteries in France and Germany" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries," Stam (ed)., The International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 105-6).

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Approximately 1880 Manuscript Codices or Fragments Survive of Texts Written before 800 799

According to Elias Avery Lowe's (E. A. Lowe's) Codices Latini Antiquiores (11 volumes and Supplement), 1,810 manuscript codices or fragments of codices survived of texts written in Latin before 800 CE. Since Lowe died the total has increased to 1884. Lowe's survey excluded charters and other documents, of which a far greater number survived.

From the fifth century only 113 codices or fragments survive.

From the sixth century only 157 codices or fragements survive.

From the seventh century only 198 codices or fragments survive.

From the period from 550 to 750, considered the Dark Ages, only 264 codices or fragments survive.

From the eighth century only 834 codices or fragments survive.

"Of these 264 [surviving from the Dark Ages] only a tenth (26) are secular works, and most of these of a technical nature. Eight of them are legal texts, 8 are medical, 6 are works of grammar, 1 is a gromatic text. It is clear from the historical evidence that the basic arts of life went on; education, law, medicine and the surveying necessary to administration and the levying of taxes still required manuals and works of reference, and these needs are duly reflected in the pattern of manuscript survival" (Reynolds [ed.], Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics [1983] xvi).

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800 – 900

The Book of Kells Circa 800

The Book of Kells.

The Book of Kells, sometimes known as the Book of Columba, contains a richly decorated copy of the Four Gospels in a Latin text based on the Vulgate edition (completed by St Jerome in 384 CE). The gospels are preceded by prefaces, summaries of the gospel narratives and concordances of gospel passages—a kind of cross-indexing system—attributed to the fourth century Roman historian, exegete, Christian polemicist and Bishop, Eusebius of Caesarea.

The book "was transcribed by Celtic monks ca. 800. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland's finest national treasure."

"The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospels in extravagance and complexity. The decoration combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art. Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, together with intricate knotwork and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours, enliven the manuscript's pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasize the themes of the major illustrations.

"The manuscript today comprises 340 folios and, since 1953, has been bound in four volumes. The leaves are on high-quality calf vellum, and the unprecedentedly elaborate ornamentation that covers them includes ten full-page illustrations and text pages that are vibrant with historiated initials and interlinear miniatures and mark the furthest extension of the anti-classical and energetic qualities of Insular art. The Insular majuscule script of the text itself appears to be the work of at least three different scribes. The lettering is in iron-gall ink, and the colors used were derived from a wide range of substances, many of which were imports from distant lands" (Wikipedia article on The Book of Kells, accessed 11-22-2008).

During the later medieval and early modern periods the Book of Kells was kept in the Abbey of Kells (Mainistir Cheanannais in Irish) in Kells, County Meath, Ireland, 40 miles north of Dublin. The Abbey is thought to have been founded in 804 by monks fleeing from St Colmcille's Iona monastery to escape Viking invasions. It is possible that The Book of Kells was produced by the monks of Iona Abbey in the years leading up to 800. It is also possible that much of the manuscript may have been created at Kells. In Insular Manuscripts 6th to the 9th Century (1978) p. 73 J. J. G. Alexander cites a theory that the manuscript might have been produced in northern England or even in the Pictish kingdom because of its similarity in layout and organization to the Lindisfarne Gospels. Clearly historians cannot be certain of the exact date and circumstances of its creation.

The Book of Kells is preserved at Trinity College, Dublin. In 2012 Bernard Meehan, Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College Library, and author of numerous prior studies of the manuscript, published a spectacular and elegant analysis of the manuscript in art book format entitled simply The Book of Kells.

In February 2014 a complete digital facsimile of the Book of Kells was available from Trinity College Dublin at this link.

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"Mass Production" of Bibles at Tours: A "New" Development in Medieval Book Production 800 – 860

Bibles were the longest text widely copied during the Middle Ages, and by medieval standards the production of two whole manuscript Bibles per year by one scriptorium— specifically that at Tours— may be considered "mass production." In addition to Bibles the Tours scriptorium also produced copies of many of liturgical and classical texts. Tours Bible production levels were particularly remarkable in view of the quality of the calligraphy, and richness of decoration and illumination characteristic of some of these Bibles. Of the nearly 100 Bibles produced at Tours during the first 60 years of the ninth century three illuminated Bibles survived, among which perhaps the most outstanding was the Moutier-Grandval Bible.

From David Ganz's chapter 3, "Mass production of early medieval manuscripts: the Carolingian Bibles from Tours" in Gameson, ed., The Early Medieval Bible (1994) 53-55 I quote selections, with my habitual addition of links. The footnotes are, as usual, excluded:

"The copying of complete texts of the Bible, contained in only one or two volumes, which characterised the scriptoria of St. Martin's and Marmoutiers at Tours during the course of the ninth century, constituted a new development in medieval book production. While multi-volume and single-volume Bibles had been copied before, and the scriptorium at Wearmouth-Jarrow had made three copies of the Bible, whose layouts and similarities await study, the multiple reproduction of the biblical text during a sixty year period cannot be paralleled. Only the attempt by the abbey of Micy to provide several copies of the Bible recension prepared by Theodulf of Orléans deserves mention here. Theodulf's text was continuously revised during his lifetime, and was conceived as an accessible reference work, and so he chose a very small, three column 61-line format, with quires of five leaves. The copying involved elaborate scribal preparation, and the Bibles were produced within a short space of time. Six copies survive and two others have left traces, and there is clear evidence that Theodulf's text was used to improve biblical texts throughout the Carolingian empire.

"Carolingian book production was decisively affected by the steady supply of Bibles and gospel books which were copied at Tours. Forty-six Bibles and eighteen gospel books have survived from the period before 853; only three Bibles and seven gospel books may be dated later in the ninth century, an indication of the severe effects of Viking attacks on Tours in the reign of Charles the Bald, notably the burning of St. Martin's Abbey in 853, 872, and again in 903. So the Tours scriptoria were perhaps copying two full Bibles per year, for more than half a century. Nor was book production at Tours restricted to these Bibles: the abbey of St. Martin was also copying the works of classical, patristic and Carolingian authors. Works of Cicero, Servius, Hegesippus, Augustine, Orosius, Priscian, Isidore, the Paris Council of 829, Amalarius, Paul the Deacon, were all copied between 820 and 860. What has not been sufficiently acknowledged is that many of these volumes were also produced for libraries outside Tours. The earliest volumes to survive from the Tours scriptorium, produced from c. 730, were copied in order to supply the needs of a community of libraries. That sort of scriptorium was far more common than we have tended to realise, especially, if we have focused on twelfth-century scriptoria. Like the scriptorium of Luxeuil, which affirmed its monastic values through the extensive copying of works of spirituality both for individaul patrons and for religious foundations linked to that promient house, the scribes of Tours shared their resources by copying on commission. Their mass-produced gospel books, their Bibles and the anthology of texts which commemorate and celebrate the life and miracles of St. Martin, set Tours at the centre of a network of ecclesiastical spirituality. This was in marked contrast to most Carolingian scriptoria, which copied chiefly for their own libraries, occasionally duplicating a rare text or the work of a house author. . . . 

"The evidence of the surviving complete Tours Bibles in Monza, Cologne, London and Paris suggests that a complete Bible consisted of some 450 leaves, measuring c. 480 x 375 mm, with 50-2 lines per page. To copy a Tours Bible required some 210-25 sheep, whose shaped skins measured around 525 x 760 mm. The dimension of Carolingian sheep and their price await study, but has been suggested that sheep this sized required available pasture throughout the winter. The format of the Bible was a marked improvement on the 1,030 leaves of the Codex Amiatinus and the estimated 920 leaves of Ceolfrith's smaller pandect, or the 72-line format of the two-column eighth-century Spanish half-uncial Bible, León, Cathedral, MS 15. Though the size of the sheet was much larger, the number of leaves required to copy a Tours pandect was less than required to copy the multi-volume Bibles of Corbie, St Gall or Würzburg. But the saving in parchment depended on the excellence and the unformity of the scribes who copied the c. 85,000 lines of Alcuin's text."

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The Archetype of De architectura Circa 800

Folio f32v of Harley 2767, the document from which most manuscripts of De architectura were copied. (View Larger)

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio wrote De architectura, the only surviving classical treatise on architecture, between 31 and 27 BCE, while he was employed as military engineer for the Emperor Augustus. The work, which Vitruvius claimed to be the first comprehensive study on its subject, comprised ten books on the theory and practice of architecture, which in ancient times encompassed not only building construction but also many aspects of mechanical engineering, including construction management, construction engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, materials engineering, mechanical engineering, military engineering and urban planning. The work contained much useful information on ancient materials and techniques, but it was the theoretical aspects of De architectura that were most influential. Drawing on his own preferences and a selective study of Greek architectural writings, most of which are no longer extant, Vitruvius defined architectural perfection in quantitative terms, and derived from these definitions finite rules governing planning and perfection. These rules had little effect on the architecture of his day, but were adopted as true doctrine during the Renaissance.

Of the eighty or so extant manuscripts of De architectura the great majority descend from a manuscript in the British Library known as Harley 2767 (H). This was written on the border between east and west Francia about 800.

"Its splendid calligraphy, and its dominant influence on the later tradition suggest that it might well have been written at the palace scriptorium of Charlemagne [at Aachen]. This is supported by the fact that the first two men to show any knowledge of Vitruvius after the Dark Ages are Alcuin, in a letter written to Charlemagne between 801 and 804, and Einhard, who in addition to his close association with the court, had a practical interest in building. The whole tradition shows signs of a derivation from an archetype in Anglo-Saxon script, and it has been suggested that Alcuin had imported a text from England.

"Among the descendants of H are a number of early manuscripts, all dating from the twelfth century, which show that by then this form of the text had spread over a wide area ranging from north-west Germany, through the Low Countries and France to England. . . .

"Germany obviously dominated the vital phase of Vitruvius' transmission, and we know that there were copies, too, in the ninth century at Reichenau, and its daughter house Murbach. It is difficult not to see such figures as Einhard lurking in the background, men equally at home in the workshop as in the library and scriptorium. An interest in technology has fused at an early age the α tradition of Vitruvius with that of a series of technical recipes known as the Mappae clavicula. This remarkable collection tells one how to gild metals and distill alcohol, how to make various compounds, from pigments and varnish to incendiary bombs. It has a particular bearing on the making of stained glass and the illumination of manuscripts. These recipes appear in various degrees, and combinations in H (and some of its descendants). . . ." (Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] 441-42).

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Adoption of the Carolingian Minuscule Brought the Destruction of Many Late Roman Manuscripts 800 – 830

Example of Carolingian minuscule script.

"As a vehicle in which to disseminate its written work the Carolingian court discarded the ligatured, flowing chancery scripts that it had inherited from late Antiquity via the Merovingians in favour of a revived late-patristic half-uncial script, modified to produce the form we call Carolingian minuscule. The speed with which the script was adopted across the empire, between 800 and 830, can only be explained by the smallness of the ruling class of abbots and bishops who were responsible for its propagation. The literature of the past—the bulk of it still, at this date, in manuscripts produced by the Roman book trade—was recopied wholesale in the new script. By the end of the ninth century the Carolingians had produced a remarkable number of manuscripts, over 6,700 of which survive. Unfortunately, every manuscript copied in the legible new script rendered its exemplar superfluous. The movement that insured the survival of ancient literature also entailed the physical destruction of many late Roman manuscripts. Altogether, only some 1,865 Latin manuscripts survive, wholly or in part from all the centuries before AD 800" (Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns [ed] The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 47).

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Carmina Figurata Word Pictures Circa 810

One of the most outsanding illumated manuscripts of De luadibus sanctae crucis, preserved in the Vatican Library, depicting Christ. (View Larger)


About 810 Frankish Benedictine monk, Hrabanus Maurus, wrote De laudibus sanctae crucis, a collection of 28 encrypted religious poems in praise of the holy cross. Arranged in the carmina figurata style of word pictures, in which shapes appropriate to the textual context are created by the outlines of letters, phrases or verses of poetry, these became much-admired and often copied.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of an excellent 11th century illuminated manuscript of the text was available from the Burgerbibliothek, Bern, Switzerland at this link.

Bischoff, Latin Paleography: Antiquity and Middle Ages (1990) 210.

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The Earliest Surviving Dated Manuscript Written in Greek Minuscule 815 – 835

A page from the Uspensky Gospels. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving dated example of a manuscript written in Greek minuscule is the Uspensky Gospels. The codex was probably written in Constantinople by monk named Nicholas between 815 and 835. Later it belonged to the monastery of Great Lavra of St. Sabas, known in Arabic as Mar Saba (Hebrew: מנזר מר סבא‎), a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley in the West Bank east of Bethlehem in Palestine. In 1844 bp Porphiryj Uspienski took it along with other manuscripts, including a portion of the Codex Coislinianus, to Russia. The Uspensky Gospels is preserved in the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg (Gr. 219. 213. 101).

"As the script of this book is by no means immature or primitive, the adoption of this style should probably be dated at least half a century earlier. The place of its origin is not known for certain, but there are some grounds for thinking that it was popularized by members of the important Stoudios monastery in the capital [Constantinople], which was a well-known centre of book production at a later date. Gradually the uncial hand was abandoned, and by the end of the tenth century it was no longer used except for a few special liturgical books. The new script facilitated the copying of texts by making more economical use of parchment . . . .

"The transliteration of old uncial books into the new script was energetically undertaken by the scholars of the ninth century. It is largely owing to their activity that Greek literature can still be read, for the text of almost all authors depends ultimately on one or more books written in minuscule script at this date or shortly after, from which all later copies are derived; the quantity of literature that is available to us from the papyri and the uncial manuscripts is only a small proportion of the whole. In the process of transliteration mistakes were sometimes made, especially by misreading letters that were similar in the uncial script and therefore easily confused. At many points in Greek texts there are errors common to all the extant manuscripts which appear to be derived from the same source, and this source is usually taken to be a ninth-century copy. A further assumption generally made is that one minuscule copy was made from one uncial copy. The uncial book was then discarded, and the minuscule book became the source of all further copies. The theory has a certain a priori justification on two grounds, since the task of transliteration from a script that was becoming less and less familiar would not be willingly undertaken more often than was absolutely necessary, and there is at least some likelihod that after the destruction of the previous centuries many texts survived in one copy only. But these arguments do not amount to proof, and there are cases which can only be explained by more complicated hypotheses" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed ([1991] 59-60).

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"A Perfect Relationship between Text and Picture" Circa 820 – 830

Leaf 2r of the Stuttgart Psalter (Folio Bible 23 in the Wurttenmbergische Landesbibliothek). (View Larger)

The Stuttgart Psalter, which may have been produced in Saint Germain, France, is the earliest surviving psalter with a full set of illustrations—316 in all.

"Unlike similar codices, which restrict the illustrations to the margins, or the Utrecht Psalter, where they are placed at the beginning of each Psalm, the Stuttgart Psalter has on the average a picture for every ten verses, and often two or more lively scenes represented in each. The multi-colored initials and beginning words, and the elegant, open minuscule text in two colors add further dimensions to this brilliant book design. [It is] ". . . the first codex to be designed so that there is a perfect relationship between text and picture" (Wilson. The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle [1976] 30, 31).

The Stuttgart Psalter is preserved in the Württembergische Landesbibliothek. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available at this link.

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"The most ingenious and expressive work of narrative art known from all of Late Antiquity" 820

Detail of folios 4v/5r of the Vaticanus Latinus 3868.  Please click to view entire image.

Vat. Lat. 3868, an illuminated manuscript of the comedies of Terence preserved in the Vatican Library, containing illustrations of 141 scenes from the plays, is one of four surviving copies of late antique illuminated manuscripts most probably copied at the court of Louis the Pious in the second decade of the ninth century.

In a monograph entitled The Lost Late Antique Illustrated Terence (2006) David Wright attempted to reconstruct the lost exemplar from which the manuscript was copied. He characterized this lost exemplar as "the most ingenious and expressive work of narrative art known from all of Late Antiquity."

"He argues that it was made at Rome around 400 AD, under the supervision of Calliopius, who is named on fol. 1v and 92r Feliciter Calliopio Bono Scholastico. Scholasticus could mean a teacher or a grammarian, it is not a term obviously linked to book production, though Wright regards the colophon as ‘a trade mark and an advertisement for the workshop’ and suggests that Calliopius was ‘the master of the scriptorium’. The final colophon Hrodgarius scripsit, in excellent large capitalis script, identifies the scribe, who has not been found elsewhere. The best of the three artists wrote the inscription Adelricus me fecit on the right-hand side of the cornice of the aedicule on fol. 3r. . . .

"The copying of classical texts on parchment in codices, rather than on papyrus rolls, was a fourth-century innovation, and the lost exemplar was ‘something of a pioneer in the design of a sumptuously presented codex’. Illustrations to Terence did not exist, and Wright suggests that staged performances of Terence's plays had ended some three centuries earlier. So the exemplar of the Vatican manuscript contained illustrations of the scenes which depended on the artist reading the text. Most impressive are the full-page frontispiece with two actors flanking an author portrait, and the full-page depictions of aedicules with masks for all of the characters in the individual plays (of which two were lost).  

"The copy is the work of three artists, of whom Adelricus was the best, though he had the smallest share of the work. The parchment is calf rather than sheep, and it has numerous minor defects, including holes in pages 9, 11, 19, 36, 43 (in body of figure), 53, 56 and 64. The figures are generally shown standing on a coloured baseline: on fol. 36v there are two figures in a garden, and in several scenes the figures stand in front of doorways, sometimes fitted with a central curtain or a decorated grille. Properties include a square-shaped casket (fol. 29r p. 51), a ring, birds and fishes as food, and money bags. Cratinus the lawyer holds wax tablets on fol. 82r and v. Many of the figures wear scarves and gesture with them. The figures are named in capitalis script, but in several cases the names are given to the wrong figure in a scene. Wright argues that there were names in the exemplar, which must imply that the scribe who copied them was singularly inept. The curious position of the prologue to the Phormio on fol. 77v, where the figure is to the left of a block of text, is not commented on.  

"The illustrations do not seem to have influenced manuscript illumination except for additional illustrated copies of Terence. The ninth-century Reims manuscript, Paris, BNF, Lat. 7899, has a full set of illustrations, while a Corbie copy has much cruder illustrations on the first eleven folios and spaces for further illustrations. Wright thinks both were copied from the lost exemplar. Adelricus was an accomplished artist, and presumably had a career. It may not be possible to explain why the court of Louis the Pious made such careful copies of late antique manuscripts, but it is important to recall that it did, and to envisage the possible resonances of such a response to non-Christian models. According to Thegan's biography Louis never raised his voice in laughter, and when the people laughed at scurri et mimi cum coraulis he did not smile. Paschasius Radbertus, in his memorial for Abbot Wala of Corbie, included a substantial passage from Terence, showing that he had studied the plays, as had Hincmar. The glosses in Vat. Lat. 3868 reveal that it was rapidly treated as a text to be studied, rather than simply a luxury book. Unfortunately Wright is silent on any evidence to be derived from these glosses, which are thought to be a Carolingian composition but which incorporate earlier material.  

"The scribe Hrodgarius wrote a very distinctive capital ‘H’ with an elongated ascender on the right slanting upwards from the crossbar to trail over the following letter. Such a form of ‘H’ is also found in fifth-century manuscripts and was presumably copied from the exemplar. He used an ‘or’ ligature with a prominent ‘r’. His form of ‘a’ lacks any upper shaft, and the upper bow of ‘g’ is generally open. The ligatures ‘ri’ and ‘ro’ occur infrequently. So far his script has proved impossible to localize. It is worth noting that fifteen verses from the prologue to the Heautontimoroumenos were copied onto the first leaf of Paris, BNF, Lat. 2109 in a script which E.K. Rand described as ‘decent rustic capitals’. The manuscript, a copy of Eugippius' Excerpta, was copied at St Amand at the same time as Vat. Lat. 3868. So there probably was a capitalis exemplar at St Amand which may have been the manuscript Wright is trying to reconstruct.  

"Wright reconstructs an exemplar of some 220 folios, each with an illustration of a single scene, with the text copied in rustic capitals in 22 lines per page. In his stylistic parallels for the date of this exemplar he strangely makes no mention of the mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, which Byvanck discussed in detail, though they show many similar poses and gestures. The scenes on the Susanna crystal have groupings of figures not unlike the Terence illustrations. We are getting a clearer sense of how Carolingian artists imitated Roman models of sacred art. That they were equally moved by the superb quality of secular illustration should remind us that beauty, old and new, is always powerful enough to be loved and to transform. That the exemplar of the Vatican Terence was so challenging to a group of artists in the 820s may be the most important of the features that Wright has so carefully recovered for us" (review by David Ganz http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-, 0254.2009.00292_20.x/full, accessed 09-15-2010).

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Rules for the Scriptorium and the Library Circa 825

St. Theodore, the Studite.

At Stoudios (Latin: Studium), a monastery near Constantinople, about 825 Abbot Theodore produced a new set of monastic regulations that emphasized the scriptorium and the library, and outlined the duties of the librarian.

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Medieval Natural History Bestseller 825 – 850

A folio from the Bern Physiologus. (View Larger)

The Bern Physiologus, an illuminated copy of the Latin translation, preserved at the Burgerbibliothek, Bern, Switzerland, was probably produced at Reims about 825 CE. It is one of the oldest extant illustrated copies of the Physiologus, a didactic text written or compiled in Greek by an unknown author in Alexandria, between the second and fourth centuries. 

"The Physiologus consists of descriptions of animals, birds, and fantastic creatures, sometimes stones and plants, provided with moral content. Each animal is described, and an anecdote follows, from which the moral and symbolic qualities of the animal are derived. Manuscripts are often, but not always, given illustrations, often lavish."

The book was translated into Latin in about 400, then into European and Middle-Eastern languages. Numerous illuminated manuscript copies survive.  For over 1000 years the text —a predecessor to bestiaries — retained its influence in Europe over ideas of the "meaning" of animals.  Medieval poetical literature is full of allusions that can be traced to the Physiologus tradition, and the text also exerted great influence on the symbolism of medieval ecclesiastical art: symbols like the phoenix rising from its ashes and the pelican feeding her young with her own blood remain well-known.

"Epiphanius used Physiologus in his Panarion and from his time numerous further quotations and references to the Physiologus in the Greek and the Latin Church fathers show that it was one of the most generally known works of Christian Late Antiquity. Various translations and revisions were current in the Middle Ages. The earliest translation into Latin was followed by various recensions" (Wikipedia article on Physiologus, accessed 11-27-2008).

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The Oldest Surviving Manuscript on Arabic Paper Circa 825

"The oldest surviving manuscript written on Syrian paper is a Greek text, in the Vatican, of miscellaneous teachings of the church fathers, Doctrina patrum. On the basis of the script, the manuscript has been ascribed to Damascus in the early ninth century. The yellowish brown paper is remarkably smooth and even, despite the occasional clumps of fiber. The sheets, though felxible and soft, vary in thickness from one to another, suggesting that quality control was still a problem. The distinctive page size (10 by 6 inches: 26 x 15 centimeters) and narrow format of the manuscript show not that paper makers used molds of that size but that the paper sheets were trimmed, probably to imitate the standard format of books written on papyrus" (Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World [2001] 58 and figure 25).

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The Earliest Surviving Text of Lucretius's De rerum natura Circa 825

"In practice the text of Lucretius rests upon two Leiden manuscripts traditonally known from the format as the Oblongus (O) and Quadratus (Q). The older and better is O (Voss. Lat. F. 30). It was written not long after 800 in the Palace School of Charlemagne. A contemporary corrector, using a distinctive insular hand, emended the text and in places filled up lacunae left by the orignal scribe. This hand has been recognized as that of Dungal, who became, after the death of Alcuin, the foremost Carolinian authority on astronomy and computus. It is agreeable to wonder, in the duller moments of life, if this formidable Irishman would have much rejoiced in his posthumous title of the 'corrector Saxonicus' (O). The history of O during the later Middle Ages is obscure, but by 1479 it had reached St. Martins at Mainz. Q (Voss. Lat. Q. 94) was written in the ninth century in north-east France; it appears to have spent most of the Middle Ages in Saint-Bertin....

"It would seem that Lucretius emerged towards the end of the eighth century, that the archetype of our manuscripts found its home in the Carolingian court, and that the text was disseminated from there, radiating westwards into the Low Countries and northern France and southwards along the Rhine. Excerpts show that the text was disseminated and used, and it seems to have been well established in the area of Lake Constance. Lines from the De rerum natura occur in two metrical florilegia, that of Mico of Saint-Riquier, put together at Reichenau about 825, and the Florilegium Sangallense (St. Gall 870, c.900). Lucretius is also quoted in a letter written from St. Gall by Ermenrich of Ellwangen c. 850, and there was a copy of his poem in the ninth century at Murbach. Then, despite this promising start, Lucretius went underground for the rest of the Middle Ages, an eclipse which may be partly explained by the passionately anti-religious nature of his message. All we have until the fifteenth century are a few fleeting glimpses. The abbey of Lobbes acquired a Lucretius, probably in the early twelfth century, and he is listed in the twelfth-century catalogue of Corbie.  The presence of Q at Saint-Bertin may well explain the echoes of Lucretius in the Encomium Emmae and the Lucretian gloss in Sigebert of Gembloux (c. 1030-1112) fits with the availability of his poem in the closely connected abbey of Lobbes. The degree to which the De rerum natura was known in Italy before the fifteenth century is more problematical. There was a manuscript at Bobbio in the ninth century, faint echoes have been detected in medieval Italian works, and one line, probably quoted at second hand and important from northern Europe, occurs in a florilegium of south Italian origin preserved in Venice, Marc. Lat. Z 497 (1811)" (L. D. Reynolds, "Lucretius," Texts and Transmission, Reynolds [ed] [1983] 219-21).

Regarding the earliest surviving text of Lucretius, the codex oblongus, Leiden University Library commented as follows on their website:

"This manuscript distinguishes itself by the spacious layout of the page. In spite of its large dimensions, the page counts only twenty lines. The ample spacing does full justice to the excellent Carolingian minuscule, the new script which was developed towards the end of the 8th century. As happened so often, this original manuscript was corrected afterwards. Sometimes this was done by comparing the copied text carefully with the exemplar, the book which served as a model for the copy. At other times the corrector would use his own judgment. Of course it was desirable to save the book's appearance as much as possible. In the case of parchment this is not difficult, for the writing is easily scratched out with a knife. This is what the corrector of this Lucretius manuscript did. One alteration on the presented page, folio 22r., immediately catches the eye, because the corrector replaced one single line by two new ones, marring the layout of the page in the process. The corrector's adjustments are easily recognizable, because he used another script, the so-called Insular script, which originated in England and Ireland" (http://www.mmdc.nl/static/site/highlights/352/Scribe_and_corrector.html, accessed 05-28-2012).  


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The "Moutier-Grandval Bible," a Masterpiece from the Scriptorium at Tours Circa 830 – 860

One of three surviving illustrated manuscripts of the Bible produced in Tours at the Benedictine abbey of St. Martin in the ninth century, the Moutier-Grandval Bible (British Library Add MS 10546) contains the entire Latin Vulgate text as revised by Alcuin of York. It was probably created during the abbacy of either Adalhard (834-843) or Vivien (843-851) or slightly earlier in the transition period between the abbacies of Fridigus (807-834) and Adalhard. 

Reflective of the scale of book production at Tours during this period, some twenty different scribes worked on this immense volume, which contains 449 folios measuring 495 x 380 mm. The decorated initials are followed by square capitals and uncials which lead into the text script, which is a form of Caroline minuscule, upgraded here by the introduction of some variant letter-forms such as "a"  The four full-page miniatures are derived from classical art.

"The large format, the generous margins, and the richness of decoration reveal the prestigious nature of the manuscripts. The hierarchy of scripts— a large initial, Versal capitals, Uncials and minuscules (in descending order) — are used to great effect.

"The emergence of the Caroline minuscule is one of the great developments in the history of calligraphy. It derived from ancient Roman Half-uncial scripts, incorporating features from local hands. The abbey of Corbie played a major rôle in its evolution, especialy with its Maudramnus script. . . .It is a mature script of enduring quality. It was to be copied and adapted in succeeding centuries by scribes in England, Germany and Italy. Humanist scribes revived it, early in the 15th century, as an appropriate hand for the copying of classical texts. The first Italian printers then adopted it, and it has remained the baiss of Western typography to this day.

"The script of the Moutier Grandval Bible, though very small, is extremely consitent and well formed. Even some of the largers scripts of the Gospels and psalters made at Tours (eg. British Library Harley Mss. 2790 ans 2793) lack its rhythm and structure" (Stan Knight, Historical Scripts from Classical Times to the Renaissance [2009] C5 (p. 51).d). 

From Tours the manuscript passed to the Benedictine abbey of Moutier-Grandval, Jura, canton of Berne, Switzerland (founded in 640 by the abbaye of Luxeuil). During the Swiss reformation in 1534 it was taken by the canons of Moutier-Grandval to Delémont (Delsberg) where they fled and established a new community. This community was  dissolved in 1802 by the concordat between Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII. In 1821/22 the manuscript was apparently found at the former chapterhouse at Delémont by children and passed to 'demoiselles Verdat', owners of the property. It was bought from Verdat by Alexis Bennot (d. 1837), advocate, vice-president of the court of Delémont, and sold to Henry Speyr-Passavant (1782-1852), a bookseller from Basel, on March 19, 1822. In 1829 Speyr-Passavant issued a monograph on the manuscript that contained many testimonials as to its authenticity, and what we understand today as overstatements of its importance, by leading experts of the time: Description de la bible écrite par Alchuin, de l'an 778-800, et offerte par lui à Charlemagne le jour de son couronnement à Rome, l'an 801. Par son propriétaire, M. J. H. de Speyr-Passavant. In 1836 Speyr-Passavant sold the manuscript to the British Museum for £750, an enormous price for an illuminated manuscript at the time.

In August 2014 a digital facsimile of the Moutier-Grandval Bible was available from the British Library at this link.

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The Oldest Complete Dated Book in Arabic Written on Paper 848 – 866

"The oldest dated complete book in Arabic copied on paper that we know is a manuscript dating to 848, recently discovered by accident in the regional library of Alexandria, Egypt; it awaits complete publication" (Jonathan Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World [2001] 58).

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An Early Flat-Earth View of the World Circa 850

Cosmas Indicopleustes's map of the earth, from Topographia Christiana. (View Larger)

Around 550 Cosmas Indicopleustes (literally: "who sailed to India") wrote the copiously illustrated Topographia Christiana or Christian Topography, a work partly based on his personal experiences as a merchant on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in the early 6th century. It is thought that the author served as a monk on Mt. Sinai after spending a career at sea. The earliest and best manuscript of this work, dating from the ninth century, and containing an early flat earth world map, is preserved in the Vatican Library.

The author provides a description of India and Sri Lanka during of the 6th century. He seems to have personally visited the Kingdom of Axum in modern Ethiopia and Eritrea, India and Sri Lanka. In 522 CE, he visited the Malabar Coast (South India).

"A major feature of his Topography is Cosmas' worldview that the world is flat, and that the heavens form the shape of a box with a curved lid, a view he took from unconventional interpretations of Christian scripture. Cosmas aimed to prove that pre-Christian geographers had been wrong in asserting that the earth was spherical and that it was in fact modelled on the tabernacle, the house of worship described to Moses by God during the Jewish Exodus from Egypt" (Wikipedia article on Early World Maps, accessed 11-26-2008).

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The Earliest Surviving Copy of Aristotle's Biological Works Circa 850

A Greek manuscript of Aristotle's Biological Works, written in Constantinople in the mid-9th century, and preserved at Corpus Christi College, Oxford(Corpus Christi College, MS. 108) is probably the oldest surviving manuscript of the texts that founded the science of biology. It contains annotations in Greek hands of the 12th and 13th centuries.

"A list of contents has been added on the last page (fol. 183v) in an English hand of the mid-13th century, which may be that of Robert Grosseteste, one of the earliest Englishmen to study Greek. Two titles and a few words of the 13th-cent. Latin translation by William of Moerbeke were added. . . in an English humanistic hand possibly identifiable as that of John Farley (d. 1464), fellow of New College and registrar of Oxford University, whose study of Greek is known from other manuscripts" (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of the Classics, Oxford: Bodleian Library [1975] No. 54.).

The manuscript was given to Corpus Christi College, Oxford by Henry Parry in 1623.

"The surviving corpus of Aristotle derives from medieval manuscripts based on a 1st century BC edition. There were no commentaries on the biological works written until they were collectively translated into Arabic. The first appearance of Aristotle's biological writings in the West are Latin translations of an Arabic edition by Michael Scot, which forms the basis of Albertus Magnus's De animalibus. In the 13th century William of Moerbeke produced a Latin translation directly from the Greek. The first printed editions and translations date to the late 15th century, the most widely circulated being that of Theodorus Gaza. In addition to the three works traditionally referred to as History of Animals, Parts of Animals and Generation of Animals, there are a number of briefer ‘essays’ on more specialized topics: On animal motion, On animal locomotion, On respiration, On life and death, On youth and old age, On length and shortness of life, On sleeping and waking, On the senses and their objects (the last six being included in the so-called Parva naturalia). Whether one should consider De Anima (On the soul) part of this project or not is a difficult question. What is certainly clear, however, is that there are important connections between the theoretical approach to the relationship between body and soul defended in that work and the distinctive way that Aristotle approaches the investigation of animals" (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-biology/).

(This entry was last revised on 04-30-2014.)

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Apicius's De Re Coquinaria, the Earliest Surviving Cookbook Circa 850

The frontispiece of a 1709 edition of De re coquinaria. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving codex of the earliest cookbook, entitled De re coquinaria, and attributed to Apicius, a gastronome of the first century, was copied at the monastery of Fulda, Germany, by seven different monks. It was written in language that is closer to Vulgar than to Classical Latin, partly in Carolingian minuscule and partly in Anglo-Saxon script of the Fulda type, and because so many hands were involved, it is thought that this manuscript may have been used for training monks in the Fulda scriptorium. The manuscript

"was known to Poggio in 1417, but remained at Fulda until brought to Rome by Enoch of Ascoli in 1455. It subequently had a long series of Italian owners, beginning with Basilios Bessarion, and had sojourned in France and England before it emigrated to the United States in 1929" (L.D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] 13-14).

The manuscript of 57 leaves is preserved in the New York Academy of Medicine Library, where it was recently restored and rebound. 

"The book had been rebound in the 18th century by a French book dealer in mottled calf with gilt edges. The book dealer had removed the 9th century binding to separate the Apicius from a text by Hippocrates—the two had been bound together. (The Hippocrates now resides in a collection in Geneva, Switzerland, and is bound in the same 18th century mottled calf as formerly on the Academy’s Apicius manuscript)."

Marcus Gavius Apicius, was a gastronome in the age of Tiberius,

"but the cookbook that bears his name, reveals strands and layers which been selected and combined from various sources, medical and agricultural as well as purely gastonomic, and successively added, as time went on, to what remains of the original Apician recipes. The Excerpta of the Ostrogoth Vinidarius, made a little later, [and preserved in a single eighth century manuscript,] is a highly abbreviated version of a similar compilation. These works were subsequently transmitted, except for the inevitable excerpting, essentially in the forms in which they existed in antiquity" (Reynolds & Wilson 235).

A slightly later and more elegant copy of Apicius is preserved in the Vatican Library (Urb. Lat. 1146) It was written and illuminated at Tours in the 9th century, under Abbot Vivian. Bernard Bischoff believed that this manuscript was produced as a gift for Charles the Bald. A facsimile of this manuscript was produced by Trident Editore in 2014.

Apicius's work was first printed in Milano by Guillaume le Signerre on January 20, 1498.  ISTC No.: ia00921000. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the first printed edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 01-14-2015.)

Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd ed. (1991) 145-46, 235, 263.  Notaker, Printed Cookbooks in Europe 1470-1700 (2010) no. 1002.1

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The Oldest Western Medical Document after the Hippocratic Writings, and How it Survived the Middle Ages Circa 850

De medicina remains the oldest medical document written after the Hippocratic writings, the earliest surviving major medical treatise written in Latin, and the earliest Western history of medicine. It is the only extant work of Roman encyclopedist and presumed physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus, who lived from c. 25 BCE to c. 50 CE, probably in Gallia Narbonensis, a Roman province located in what is now Languedoc and Provence, in southern France, also known as Gallia Transalpina (Transalpine Gaul).

Celsus's De medicina remains the most important source of our knowledge of medicine in the Roman empire. It was originally part of a larger encyclopedic work by Celsus covering agriculture, military science, rhetoric, government, law, philosophy and medicine, but only the eight books on medicine survived intact. The text of De medicina was lost sometime during the Middle Ages and rediscovered during 1426-27.

The earliest extant manuscripts of De medicina are :

(1) F, Codex Florent., Laurentian Library, 73, 1. IX century and in parts defective.

(2) V, Codex Romanus, Vatican Library, 5951. IX century and in parts defective.

(3) P, Codex Parisinus, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 7928. X century; copied from V when this was less defective.

(4) J, Codex Florent., Laurentian 73, 7, copied by Niccolò de Niccoli from a very old codex now no longer extant. XV century.

“(P) was written by ‘sacer Johannes’, probably Johannes Philagathus (abbot of Nonantola from 982, later bishop of Piacenza, and in 997-8 Antipope John XVI), who taught Gerbert’s master Otto III; and Florence, Laur. 73.1 (f, s.IX) proclaims itself ‘liber monasterii Sanct Ambrosii Mediolanensis, where Simon [Cordo] of Genoa [physician to Pope Nicholas IV] could have seen it. P, which in s.XV belonged to St. Hilary Poitiers, was copied from the other medieval manuscript, Vatican lat. 5951 (V, s. IX, northern Italy), before it lost a gathering and the last leaf. 

“F came to light in 1427, and V too was copied in s.XV; but most of the fifteenth-century manuscripts, which number more than twenty, owe the staple of their text to a lost manuscript (S) first heard of at Siena in 1426, when Panormita described its appearance as ‘prae vetustate venerabilis’. S had leaves missing when Niccoli copied from it, before the end of 1427, Florence, Laur. 73.7 (J); in 1431 he filled from F as many of the gaps as he could” (Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] 16-17).

De Medicina was first published in print by Nicolaus Laurentii, Alamanus, of Florence in 1478. The text was edited for the press by Bartolomeo Fonzio from Florence, Laurentian 73.4, which his brother Niccolò wrote, and which Bartholomeo Fonzio corrected from F. (ISTC No. ic00364000.) In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the first printed edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

While there has been much debate as to whether Celsus was truly a “physician” (a term that in ancient times referred to someone who practiced medicine for money), it is clear from the text of De medicina that he had considerable first-hand medical expertise.

“From his writing we may conclude that his professional skills were excellent and that his knowledge of medicine was exhaustive. He was also endowed with superior literary skills. . . . His contributions to medicine are major: he wrote the first major medical treatise in Latin; he created, almost single-handedly, scientific Latin; and he wrote the first systematic review of all that was known in medicine up to his time” (Prioreschi, A History of Medicine III, 210-11).

Book I of De medicina contains a historical overview of medicine; Book II deals with the course and general treatment of diseases; Books III and IV with special therapy; Books V and VI with pharmacology (drugs and medication); Book VII with surgery; and Book VIII with bone diseases. Celsus is credited with recording the cardinal signs of inflammation: calor (warmth), dolor (pain), tumor (swelling) and rubor (redness and hyperaemia). He goes into great detail regarding the preparation of numerous ancient medicinal remedies including the preparation of opioids. In addition, he describes many first-century Roman surgical procedures which included removal of a cataract, treatment for bladder stones, and the setting of fractures.

In compiling De medicina Celsus drew heavily upon the Hippocratic corpus, referencing some 80 Greek medical writers, some of whom are now known only from Celsus’s work. He translated Greek medical terms into Latin, and many of these Latin terms have remained standard in medicine to the present day. Included among these terms is the word “cancer” (Latin for the Greek karkinos [crab]), which Celsus used to describe various types of non-malignant ulceration such as erysipelas and gangrene. In discussing malignant disease Celsus used the words carcinoma and carcinode, terms derived directly from the Greek.

When De medicina was translated into English by James Grieve in 1756 it became the first of the major medical treatises from the ancient world to appear in English.

Prioreschi, A History of Medicine III, 182-211. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 424.

(This entry was last revised on 04-30-2014.)

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The Earliest Surviving Manuscript Closest to Euclid's Original Text Circa 850

The Vatican Euclid (Vat. gr. 190, called P), a version of the Greek text dating from the ninth century, and excluding the addendum to the final proposition of book VI by the fourth century editor, Theon of Alexandria, has been called "the single most important manuscript of the Elements" (N. M. Swerlow, "The Recovery of the Exact Sciences of Antiquity: Mathematics, Astronomy, Geography," Grafton (ed.) Rome Reborn. The Vatican Library and Renaissance Culture (1993) 128-29 & plates 101-102).

"The event, however, that had the most enduring effect within the Greek phase of the transmission of the Elements was the edition and slight emendation it underwent at the hands of Theon of Alexandria (fourth century; not to be confused with the second century Neoplatonist, Theon of Smyrna). The result of Theon's efforts furnished the text for every Greek edition of Euclid until the nineteenth century. Fortunately, in his commentary to Ptolemy's Almagest, Theon indicates that he was responsible for an addendum to the final proposition of book VI in his 'edition (ekdosis) of the Elements'; for it was this confession that furnished scholars with their first clue in unraveling the problem of the pre-Theonine, 'pristine' Euclid. In 1808 François Peyrard noted that a Vatican manuscript (Vat. graec. 190) which Napoleon had appropriated for Paris did not contain the addition Theon had referred to. This, coupled with other notable differences from the usual Theonine editions of the Elements, led Peyrard to conclude that he had before him a more ancient version of Euclid's text. Accordingly, he employed the Vatican codex, as well as several others, in correcting the text presented by the editio princeps of Simon Grynaeus (Basel, 1533). Others, utilizing occasional additional (but always Theonine) manuscripts or earlier editions, continued to improve Peyrard's text, but it was not until J. L. Heiberg began the reconstruction of the text anew on the basis of the Vatican and almost all other known manuscripts that a critical edition of Elements was finally (1883-1888) established. Heiberg not only in great measure succeeded in getting behind the numerous Theonine alterations and additions, but also was able to sift out a considerable number of pre-Theonine interpolations. In addition to the authority of the non-Theonine Vatican manuscript, he culled papyri framents, scholia, and every known ancient quotation of, or reference to, the Elements for evidence in his construction of the 'original' Euclid. The result still stands" (John Murdoch, "Euclid: Transmission of the Elements," Dictionary of Scientific Biography IV [1971] 437-38).

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The Fables of Phaedrus Circa 850

The Roman fabulist Phaedrus (c. 15 BCE- 50 CE), probably a Thracian slave born in Pydna of Macedonia (now Greece), lived in the reigns of Caesar Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius. He was first writer to translate entire books of fables into Latin, retelling in iambic meter the Greek prose fables of Aesop.

The earliest and most important surviving manuscript of Phaedrus is [Fabularum Aesopiarum libri quinque], also called the Codex Pithoeanus, MS M.906 in the Morgan Library & Museum. This manuscript, probably written at Reims, may have been in the library of the Abbey of Fleury. It was later in the library of Pierre Daniel (1530-1603), from which it passed to François Pithou, who gave it to his brother, the lawyer and scholar Pierre Pithou, in 1595.  At the front of the volume, which was bound c. 1600, is a transcription of the five books of Phaedrus's text by Pierre Pithou, which he prepared for the first printed edition of the text which he published in Troyes, 1596. The manuscript then descended through Pithou's family, belonging to Claude le Peletier (bookplate of the Le Peletier de Rosanbo [also spelled Rosambo] family), and then to the Marquis de Rosanbo at Dusmenil near Mantes, from whom the Morgan Library purchased it in 1961.

Reynolds, Texts and Tranmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics (1983) 300-302.

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The Text of Tacitus' Annals and Histories Survived in Only Two Manuscripts Circa 850 – 1050

Roman Senator and historian Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus, who lived from 56 CE to after 117 CE, wrote the Annales (Annals) and the Historiae (Histories), spanning the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in 14 to the years of the First Jewish–Roman War in 70 and the death of Domitian in 96. First published separately, with the Histories written and issued first, these two works were meant to form a continuous historical narrative in thirty books. Only about half of Tacitus's original thirty books survived, and their survival was dependent on just two manuscripts.

The first six books of the Annals survived in a single manuscript written in Germany about 850, probably in the Benedictine Abbey of Fulda. This manuscript was later at Corvey Abbey, and is now in Florence at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (MS. plut. 68.1.) and referred to as MS M.

"The script is a pre-carolingian hand which the scribe is changing to Carolingian minuscule, together with occasional small plain majuscules (a 9th century derivative of rustic capitals), a more ornamental version of these letters with decorative shading and some uncial elements, and also a few much larger and heavier capitals of essentially rustic form.  It is generally agreed that it was copied from a text written in 'insular' script which was copied from a manuscript in 'rustic capitals', and it has been suggested that this latter was at least 4th and probably 3rd century, based on an analysis of errors made in copying the titulature and colophons of each book, which are most easily explained if these errors occurred in copying a volume written in the early period in which prose texts were normally written in comparatively large letters and very narrow columns, and the colophons were not laid out in the manner common in 5th century and later books.

"At some time after it was written, the MS was transferred to the monastery of Corvey, in Saxony. There it remained, apparently without ever being copied.

"In 1508 the volume was removed from the library. A letter of Pope Leo X of December 1, 1517 indicates that it had been stolen, and that Leo had paid a large amount of money for it. At all events it passed into the hands of Pope Leo X.

"Leo gave the MS to Filippo Beraldo the Younger, who used it to produce the first edition in 1515, and left numerous annotations in the margins of the MS. The monks of Corvey, who petitioned the Pope for the return of their treasure, were instead sent a copy of the printed volume together with an indulgence to make up the balance" (http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/tacitus/#2, accessed 11-20-2013).

Books 11-16 of the Annals, and what remains of the Histories, also survived in a single manuscript, written at the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino, and also preserved in the Laurentian library (MS. plut 68.2.) This is referred to as M. II or 'second Medicean', to distinguish it from the unique codex of Annals 1-6. 

"This MS is written in the difficult Beneventan hand. It was written at Monte Cassino, perhaps during the abbacy of Richer (1038-55 AD). It derives from an ancestor written in Rustic Capitals, as it contains errors of transcription natural to that bookhand.  There is some evidence that it was copied only once in about ten centuries, and that this copy was made from an original in rustic capitals of the 5th century or earlier, but other scholars believe that it was copied via at least one intermediate copy written in a minuscule hand.

"How the MS came to leave Monte Cassino is a matter of mystery.  It was still at Monte Cassino, and was used by Paulus Venetus, Bishop of Puzzuoli, sometime between 1331 and 1344.  However Boccaccio had certainly seen the text by 1371, and the MS is listed among the books given by him at his death to the monastery of S. Spirito in Florence.  Whether he had 'liberated' it, or acquired it from another collector who had done so has been extensively debated, without final result.

"The MS is next seen in 1427, in the hands of the book-collector Niccolo Niccoli, who had furnished bookcases for Boccaccio's collection at S. Spirito. That Niccolo had not acquired the MS legitimately is suggested by a letter to him from his friend Poggio Bracciolini, asking to see it and promising to keep quiet about it.  Knowledge of the text among the humanists is correspondingly limited in this period.

"Poggio returned the MS to Niccolo, complaining about its barbarous script, and comparing it unfavourably with a copy of it in humanist script held by another mutual friend, Salutati.

"At Niccolo's death in 1437, the MS passed with his books to the monastery of San Marco at Florence with the Medici as executors, and the humanist copies all date from this period or later" (http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/tacitus/#2, accessed 11-20-2013. 

E. A. Lowe, "The Unique Manuscript of Tacitus' Histories," in Beiler (ed) Palaeographical Papers 1907-1965 I (1972) 289-302, has this to say relative to Boccaccio and Tacitus on p. 296 (footnotes not included as usual):

"The manuscripts of Varro, Tacitus, and Apuleius probably left Monte Cassino at the same time. They were rescued, as the phrase goes, by some humanist, who was probably none other than Boccaccio. To Petrarch the works of Tacitus and Varro were only known in name. The first to use these authors was Boccaccio; and this good fortune was granted him towards the end of his life. There can be no doubt that he possessed the Beneventan manuscripts of Tacitus and Varro which are now in the Laurentian library. This may be seen, on the one hand, from the copies of these manuscripts which he left in the Convent of S. Spirito in Florence, which correspond perfectly with the original; and from the fact that Boccaccio's citations from Varro and Tacitus, in his Geneologia deorum and De claris mulieribus, as Pierre de Nolhac has shown, are taken only from books preserved in the Beneventan manuscripts, and from no others.

"How these manuscripts came into Boccaccio's hands we do not know, but we can make a shrewd guess. We have reason to believe they were not presented to him during his visits to Monte Cassino. Attracted by the fame of the abbey, as he told his pupil Benvenuto da Imola, he paid it a visit. He found the library shamefully neglected, without bolt or lock, grass growing in the windows, dust thick on the books, monks using the precious manuscripts for turning out prayer-books, which they sold for a few soldi to women and children. Grieved unto tears he left the library 'dolens  et illacrymans recessit.' But none of this I fear, is to be taken seriously. It all sounds uncommonly like an apology. He seems to be anxious to show that it was only act of simple piety to remove the precious classics to a place of safety, say to Florence. The letter which he wrote in 1371 to the Calabrian abbot Niccolò di Montefalcone requesting the return of a quire from the Tacitus, suggests that he probably had accomplices. But no one can doubt that the Tacitus manuscript was dishonestly obtained after reading Poggio's letter of 27 September 1427 to Niccolò Niccoli: "Cornelium Tacitum cum venerit, observabo penes me occulte. Scio enim omnem illam cantilenam, et unde exierit et per quem et quis eum sibi vendicet; sed nil dubites, non exibit a me ne verbo quidem.' "

Poggio's statement was translated as, "When the Cornelius Tacitus comes I shall keep it hidden with me for I know that whole song, 'Where did it come from and who brought it here? Who claims it for his own?' But do not worry, not a word shall escape me." (Two Renaissance Book Hunters. The Letters of Poggius Bracciolini to Nicolaus de Niccolis, Translated from the Latin and edited by Phyllis Walter Goodhart Gordan [1974] 116.)

Tacitus's Opera, containing the Annales XI-XVI and the Historiae, was first published in print in Venice by Vindelinus de Spira, about 1471-72. ISTC. No. it00006000. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of this edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

Reynolds, Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics  (1983) 406-409.

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The Codex Spirensis, of which Only a Single Leaf of the Original Survives Circa 860 – 920

The Codex Spirensis, an illuminated manuscript written in the middle Rhine area of Germany in the late ninth or early tenth century, and discovered at the Cathedral Library at Speyer in the fifteenth century, no longer survives except for a single leaf (Thompson 11). Because of the copies made of this codex in the fifteenth century, the codex preserved thirteen different texts, of which perhaps the most significant were the Notitia Dignitatum, Dicuil's De mensura orbis terrae, and the Anonymous, De rebus bellicis

The four primary copies of the Codex Spirensis are:

(C). The copy made for the bibliophile Pietro Donato, bishop of Padua, in January 1436, while Donato was presiding over the Council of Basel. Now at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

(P) A copy in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Cod. Paris. lat. 9661).

(V) A copy written in 1484 and first found at Speyer where it was copied in 1529 for Cardinal Bernhard von Cles (Clesius), Archbishop of Trento, who visited the city that year. The manuscript can later be traced to Salzburg, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century to Vienna (Cod. Vindob.lat. 303). As a result of the peace settlement of Europe in 1919 it was transferred from Austria to Italy, and is now at Trento.

(M) A copy made in June 1550 for the Elector Palatine of the Rhine Otto Heinrich. This had been offered to the prince instead of the original. In 1552 the prince acquired the original Codex Spirensis, and it remained in his family collection until disappearing mysteriously. It is now preserved at the Munich Staatsbibliothek.

Thompson, A Roman Reformer and Inventor. Being a New Text of the Treatise De Rebus Bellicis with a translation and introduction (1952) 6-12.

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The Second Oldest Arabic Manuscript on Arabic Paper November – December 867

Folio 241b of MS Leiden Or. 298, a manuscript of the 'Gharib al-Hadith' by Abu `Ubayd al-Qasim b. Sallam. (View Larger)

The second oldest surviving Arabic book on Arabic paper, and the earliest Arabic manuscript on paper preserved in Europe

"is generally believed to be a fragmentary copy of Abu Ubayd's work on unusual terms in the traditions of the Prophet dated Dhu'l-Qada 252, November—December 967 and preserved in Leiden University Library [Legatum Warnerianum]. It bears no indication of where it was copied. The opaque stiff paper has turned dark brown and has a tendency to split along the edges. This feature had led some observers to suggest that the pages of early manuscripts were pasted together, back to back, from two separate sheets made in floating molds, which leave one side rougher than the other and unsuitable for writing. This tendency for the pages to split is actually a result of delamination, a condition seen in many early papers, such as the Vatican manuscript [Doctrina patrum]. When the pulp was not sufficiently beaten, the outer layers of the cellulose fibers did not detach and form physical and chemical bonds with adjacent microfibrils, and the resulting paper has weak internal cohension. The condition was exacerbated when the paper was given a hard surface with the application of size. The weaker interior splits easily in two, revealing a rough, woolly and feltlike inner surface" (Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World [2001] 59-60 and figure 27).

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The Earliest-Known Manuscript of the Arabian Nights October 20, 879

A fragment of the 1000 Nights, the first two folios of the earliest-known manuscript of the Alf Lailah, or Arabian Nights stories, written on brownish paper made from linen in Kufic-naskhi script, was discovered in Egypt in 1947 and purchased by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (Oriental Institute No. 17618). It consists of the title page and first page of text, used as scratch paper. Prior to this discovery, the earliest known manuscript of the Arabian Nights was dated to the mid-15th century. In 1949 Abbot p. 130 (reference below) called the fragment "the earliest known extant paper book in Islam and with a date of prime significance for the early history of the Nights." From a study of the text Abbot believed that the manuscript originated in Syria and was taken to Egypt early in its history. The title reads in translation:

"A book of tales from a Thousand Nights. There is neither strength nor power in God the Highest, the Mightiest."

"On the next page is the beginning of the first story.

"This much-tattered fragment was used as scrap paper. . . , with numerous scribblings and drawings on the flyleaf and margins. These include pious phrases, the draft of a letter, and five drafts of a legal formula written by on Ahamad ibn Mahfuz, and dated by him the last of Safar of the year six and sixty and two [hundred] corresponding to 20th October 879 A.D." (Bosch, Carswell, Petherbridge, Islamic Bindings & Bookmaking [1981] no. 98, 223-224).

Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World (2001) 58 and figure 26.

Abbott, "A Ninth-Century Fragment of the 'Thousand Nights.' New Light on the Early History of the Arabian Nights," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 8, no. 3 (July 1949) 129-164 (includes 4 illustrations of the fragment).

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One of the Two Oldest Manuscripts of Ovid's Ars Amatoria Circa 880

A quire of ten leaves bound up in a volume of miscellaneous contents represents the earliest surviving manuscript of Book I of Ovid's Ars amatoria (Art of Love). According to a Bodleian Library exhibition catalogue, the last leaf of the mansucript may be in St. Dunstan's hand:

"The original manuscript was probably written in Wales. There are some glosses in Old Welsh, and the 'syntax marks' . . . inserts as a help to construing are also a Welsh feature. This manuscript and the 9th-cent. French copy, Paris lat. 7311, are the oldest manuscripts of the work, and they are closely related" (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature [1975] no. 117).

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The Oldest Dated Manuscript of a Classical Greek Author 888

The second page of MS. d'Orville 301. (View Larger)

The d'Orville Euclid, dated 888, is the earliest "complete" manuscript of Euclid's Elements, and, according to the Bodleian Library exhibition catalogue, The Survival of Greek Literature, it is the oldest manuscript of a classical Greek author to bear a date.

Bodleian MS. d’Orville 301 was written on parchment in Constantinople by Stephanus Clericus, and bought by Arethas of Patrae, later Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (Kayseri, Turkey) for 14 nomismata (gold coins).

"The hand of Stephanus is pure minuscule; Arethas added the scholia and some additional matter in small uncials."

From the death of Arethas (c. 939) the ownership of the manuscript is unknown until the seventeenth century, when it was acquired by the Dutch classicist J. P. D’Orville, most of whose collection was eventually purchased by the Bodleian Library in 1804.

Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, No. 55.

(This entry was last revised on 05-04-2014.)

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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: The First Continuous History Written by Europeans in their Own Language 890

The initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle, marked secondarily by the librarian of the Laud collection in the Bodelian Library. The manuscript is an autograph of the monastic scribes of Peterborough, and the opening sections were likely scribed around 1150. The section displayed is prior to the First Continuation. (View Larger)


About 890 Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in south-west England, ordered monks to compile the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of annals narrating the history of the Anglo-Saxons and their settlement in Britain. The original manuscript of the Chronicle was probably created in Wessex. Copies were were distributed to monasteries across England, where they were independently updated. In one case, the Chronicle was still being actively updated in 1154.

Much of the information in these documents consists of rumors of events that happened elsewhere and may be unreliable. However for some periods and places, the chronicle is the only substantial surviving source of information. "After the original chronicle was compiled, copies were kept at various monasteries and were updated independently. Sometimes with items important to the locals, such as the fertility of the harvest or the paucity of bees, would be eagerly recorded, whereas distant political events could be overlooked. A combination of the individual annals allows us to develop an overall picture, a document that was the first continuous history written by Europeans in their own language."

There are nine surviving manuscripts of the Chronicle, of which eight are written entirely in Anglo-Saxon, while the ninth is in Anglo-Saxon with a translation of each annal into Latin. The oldest (Corpus Christi MS 173) is known as the Winchester Chronicle or the Parker Chronicle, after Matthew Parker who once owned it. This manuscript, preserved in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, dates from the actual time of compilation—the last decade of the ninth century.

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By the End of the 9th Century the Major Part of Latin Literature had Been Copied Circa 890 – 900

"We have been able to form some picture of what had been achieved by the early years of the ninth century. The full measure of the achievement of the Carolingian period can easily be appreciated if one moves forward a century, to the year 900, and takes stock of how much Latin literature had by then, on the evidence of our extant manuscripts, been copied. The picture has changed dramatically. By the end of the ninth century the major part of Latin literature had indeed been copied and was enjoying some degree of circulation, however limited, localized, or precarious it may in some cases have been" (Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] xxvii-xxviii).

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The First Surviving Book Written Entirely in English Circa 890

A manuscript of Gregory the Great's (Pope Gregory I) Liber regulae pastoralis, or Regula pastoralis (Pope Gregory I) translated into English at the order of Alfred the Great, is the earliest surviving book written entirely in English.  It is preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

"This earliest English manuscript book is the only surviving book that can be linked to the King; it is his translation from the Latin into Anglo-Saxon of Pope Gregory’s work and bears a unique preface about the decline of learning among his people in the form of a letter from the King to Waerferth, Bishop of Worcester.  

"The book represents a sophisticated approach to language and learning at a crucial time in the nation’s political and cultural development. It forms part of Alfred’s attempts to educate and rally his people through the use of edifying texts in the vernacular rather than in Latin, bringing them together in the face of an external (Viking) threat. This manuscript remained at Worcester until the late 17th century, when it was bought by the Bodleian from Robert Scot, as part of the collection of Christopher Hatton, 1st Baron Hatton" (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/news/2011_may_23, accessed 07-16-2011) .

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The Oldest Surviving Manuscript of Plato's Tetralogies November 895

Folio 94v of the Clarke Plato. (View Larger)

In 895 Johannes calligraphus of Constantinople copied the "Clarke Plato" for Arethas of Patrae, later Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (Kayseri, Turkey). The cost was 21 nomismata, or gold coins, for the copying and the parchment. Completed in November 895, this is the oldest surviving manuscript of Plato's Tetraologies 1-6 (Euthyphro-Meno), with some scholia. The scribe Johannes wrote out the text. Arethas and other contemporaries added scholia in uncial.

The manuscript also contains annotations by many later hands. It is thought that this may be the first volume of a two-volume copy of the whole of Plato, the second volume of which has not been identified.

Sometime between the inventory of 1382 and 1581-1582 the manuscript was purchased by the monastery of St. John the Theologian on the Island of Patmos. In 1801 E. D. Clarke purchased it from the monastery, and donated it to the Bodleian Library, where it is preserved today.

Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, No. 56.

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900 – 1000

Jews Adopted the Codex Around 900 Circa 900

Although for Greek and Latin literature the form of the book gradually shifted from the roll to the codex during the second to fourth centuries CE, Jews adopted the codex form much later, probably around 900.

"To sum up: existing Hebrew manuscripts in the form of a codex which contain an explicit indication of their time of production date from circa 900 and later. Some codex manuscripts, mostly fragmentary, can be dated up to about a century or, at most, two centuries earlier. Indeed, literary evidence reflects the later adaptation of the codex, which had been introduced as a book form for Greek and Latin texts as early as the second century, and became the usual book form in the fifth century. However, the virtual lack of surviving Hebrew books in any form from late antiquity to the High Middle Ages cannot be attributed to their destruction by wear and tear or to conquerors and persecutors. One should also consider the possibility that the talmudic and midrashic literature, the so-called Oral Law, was indeed mainly transmitted orally until the Islamic period, as is indicated explicitly in a few talmudic sources, and attested by literary patterns and reciting devices contained in these texts" (Malachie Beit-Arié, "How Hebrew Manuscripts Are Made," A Sign and a Witness. 2000 Years of Hebrew Books and Illuminated Manuscripts [1988] 36-37).

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One of the Oldest Medical or Scientific Treatises Written in English Circa 900

Folio 1r of Harley MS 55, the only surviving copy of the Leechbook of Bald. The manuscript resides in the British Library. (View Larger)

"The Leechbook of Bald is an Old English medical text probably compiled in the ninth-century, possibly under the influence of Alfred the Great's educational reforms. It takes its name from a Latin verse colophon at the end of the second book which begins Bald habet hunc librum Cild quem conscribere iussit, meaning 'Bald owns this book which he ordered Cild to compile.' The text survives in only one manuscript: London, British Library, Royal 12, D xvii.

"Both books are organised in a head-to-foot order, but the first book deals with external maladies, the second with internal disorders. Cameron notes that 'This separation of external and internal diseases may be unique in medieval medical texts'. Cameron notes that 'in Bald's Leechbook is the only plastic surgery mentioned in Anglo-Saxon records'. The recipe in particular prescribes surgery for a hare lip, Leechbook i, chapter 13 (pr Cockayne p 56). Cameron also notes that of the Old English Medical compilations 'Leechbook iii reflects most closely the medical practice of the Anglo-Saxons while they were still relatively free of Mediterranean influences,' in contrast to Bald's Leechbook which 'shows a conscious effort to transfer to Anglo-Saxon practice what one physician considered most useful in native and Mediterranean medicine,' and the Lacnunga, which is 'a sort of common place book with no other apparent aim than to record whatever items of medical interest came to the scribe's attention' " (Wikipedia article on Bald's leechbook, accessed 02-03-2009).

"Athough on the fringes of the learned world, Bede and his English monks possessed many of the same medical writings as their contemporaries further South, even if, as Bishop Cyneheard of Worcester put it in 754, the foreign ingredients prescribed therein were unknown or difficult to obtain, even through contacts in Germany or Italy. Anglo-Saxon English, like contemporary Ireland, possessed a written medical literature (from c. 900) in a non-Latin language, but this does not mean that the Anglo-Saxon healer, the laece or leech, was less competent than the medicus. Chants and charms, and explanations of a few diseases as the result of darts hurled by mischievous elves or involving a great worm constitute only a small part of the medicine that survives, and are not unique to the Anglo-Saxons. Similar recipes are found in other regions and in earlier Latin learned texts. Anglo-Saxon knowledge of plant remedies was wide and effective, and authors recognised the problems of identifying Mediterrtanean with British flora. When the otherwise unknown Bald and Cild wrote their Leechbook around 900, perhaps at Winchester, they adapted the best Continental practical medicine to an English environment. Their Leechbook has close parallels with both later Salernitan texts and with fifth-and six-century medical tracts common elsewhere in Western Europe. The simplified some of their Latin recipes by removing some of the more exotic ingredients and added remedies obtained from Ireland or Irish scholars. . . " (Conrad et al, The Western Medical Tradition 800 BC to AD 1800 [1995] 86).

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The Earliest Surviving Manuscript of the Complete Hebrew Bible Circa 930

The Book of Judges, chapters 1:15 to 2:1, from the Aleppo Codex. (View Larger)

The Aleppo Codex,  the earliest extant manuscript of the complete Hebrew Bible, was written by a scribe named Salomon about 930 CE.  It was proofread, vocalized and edited by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher who lived in Tiberias. Asher was the last of an important family of masoretes, or textual scholars of the Bible, who preserved and handed down the commonly accepted version of the Hebrew Bible from generation to generation. Since the twelfth century, when Maimonides considered it the most authoritative source of the text, the Aleppo Codex has been considered the most authoritative source for the Hebrew Bible.

For more than a thousand years, the manuscript was preserved in its entirety in important Jewish communities in the Near East: Tiberias, Jerusalem, Egypt, and in the city of Aleppo in Syria. However, in 1947, after the United Nations Resolution establishing the State of Israel, the manuscript was damaged in riots that broke out in Syria. At first people thought that it had been completely destroyed, and approximately one-third of the Aleppo Codex, including all of the Torah is missing.  However, it turned out that most of the manuscript had been saved and kept in a secret hiding place. In 1958, the Aleppo Codex was smuggled out of Syria to Jerusalem and delivered to the President of the State of Israel, Yitzhaq Ben Zvi. It is preserved in Jerusalem in the Shrine of the Book.

Friedman, The Aleppo Codex. A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible (2012).

See also: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/magazine/the-aleppo-codex-mystery.html?hp

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The Morgan Dioscorides Circa 930 – 970

Folio 114v of MS M 652, in the Pierpont Morgan Library. (View Larger)

MS M 652 in the Morgan Library & Museum, written in Greek miniscule and illuminated in Constantinople during the mid-10th century, contains an alphabetical five-book version of Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, including 769 illustrations and several headpieces and tailpieces, on 385 leaves.

Its contents, according to the Morgan Library's online description, are:

"fols. 1v-199v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book I. Roots and Herbs -- fols. 200r-220v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book II. Animals, Parts of Animals and Products from Living Creatures -- fols. 221r-242v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book III. Oils and Ointments. -- fols. 243r-269v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book IV. Trees -- fols. 270v-305v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book V. Wines and Minerals etc. -- fols. 306r-319v: Dioscorides, attr., On the Power of Strong Drugs to Help or Harm -- fols. 319v-327v: Dioscorides, attr., On Poisons and their Effect -- fols. 328r-330v: Dioscorides, attr., On the Cure of Efficacious Poisons -- fols. 331r-333v: A Mithridatic Antidote -- fols. 334r-338r: Anonymous Poem on the Powers of Herbs -- fols. 338r-361r, 377r-384v: Eutecnius, Paraphrase of the Theriaca of Nicander -- fols. 361v-375r: Eutecnius, Paraphrase of the Alexipharmaca of Nicander -- fols. 375r-376v: Paraphrase of the Haliutica of Oppianos (incomplete)."

The manuscript was bound in Byzantium in the 14th or 15th century in dark brown leather blind tooled in a lozenge pattern over heavy boards. It was in Constantinople in the 15th century, where it was owned by an Arabic-speaking person, who added inscriptions in Arabic and genitalia to some animals. In the 16th century it remained in Constantinople where was owned by Manuel Eugenicos, 1578 and listed in his library catalogue. By the nineteenth century the manuscript was in Italy where it was owned by Domenico Sestini, ca. 1820. Later it was in the collection of Marchese C. Rinuccini, Florence, 1820-1849 (MS Cod. 69). From the middle of the nineteenth century it appears to have been in England with the booksellers John Thomas Payne and Henry Foss, London, 1849-1857. In the Payne sale (London, Sotheby’s, Apr. 30, 1857) it was sold to Charles Phillipps for Sir Thomas Phillipps (Phillipps Collection, no. 21975).  In 1920 J. P. Morgan Jr. purchased the manuscript from Phillipps’s estate.

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"The Junius Manuscript": An Illustrated Codex of Old English Literature 930 – 960

Boldleian Library MS Junius 11,"The Junius manuscript" or "Caedmon manuscript," a tenth century illustrated collection of poems on biblical narratives, is one of the four major codices of Old English Literature. Its scheme of illustrations is unparalleled in other manuscripts of Anglo-Saxon poetry, suggesting that it may have been intended for devotional or teaching purposes. 

Its "... compilation was in two stages: the initial version of the manuscript contained GenesisExodus, and Daniel, and was the work of a single scribe. Later the final poem, Christ and Satan, was added by several other scribes. The manuscript contains numerous illustrations that are a fine demonstration of Anglo-Saxon drawing on religious topics; it appears that two illustrators worked independently on the manuscript. The first scribe left spaces in the text for other illustrations which were never completed" (Wikipedia article on Caedmon manuscript, accessed 12-24-2013).

A popular name for the codex is the "Caedmon manuscript," after an early theory, since debunked, that the poems it contains might be the work of the poet Caedmon

In December 2013 a digital facsimile was available from Oxford University Libraries at this link.

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Possibly the Earliest Surviving Manuscript Produced in Scotland Circa 950

A portrait of Luke on Folio 29v of the Book of Deer. (View Larger)

The Book of Deer  is a 10th century Gospel Book, written in Latin, Old Irish and Scottish Gaelic, from Old Deer, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It contains the earliest surviving Gaelic literature from Scotland, and may be the oldest surviving manuscript produced in Scotland, with the possible exception of the Book of Kells. It is also notable for having originated in what is now considered a Lowland area. 

"Each Gospel is prefaced by a full-page illumination (1v, 16v, 29v, 41v). The manuscript belongs to the category of 'Irish pocket Gospel Books', produced for private use rather than for church services. The association with Deer is deduced from additions in Gaelic or Middle Irish (3-5) including an account of the foundation of a monastery by Saint Columba and Saint Drostan and land grants to the house, and a Latin brieve of King David I in favour of the 'clerics of Deer' (40). One entry is dated 8 David I (1131-32). It is reasonable to assume that the manuscript was at Deer in Aberdeenshire when these additions were made" (http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-II-00006-00032/1, accessed 12-13-2012).

The Book of Deer is preserved in Cambridge University Library. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of it was available at this link.

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The Most Famous, and Most Significant Manuscript of the Iliad Circa 950

Folio 12r of Venetus A. (View Larger)

The most famous Greek manuscript of the Homeric Iliad, Venetus A (Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [=822]), is regarded by some as the best text of the epic poem. It also contains several layers of annotations, glosses, and commentaries known as the "A scholia."  These are thought to preserve editorial comments made by scholars at the Royal Library of Alexandria, as well as scholia accumulated by late antique annotators and philologists until the manuscript was written at Constantinople during the Macedonian Renaissance. The manuscript, also includes a summary of the early Greek Epic Cycle which is considered the most important source of information on those lost poems. 

At the end of most of the books of the poem there is a subscription, attributing many of the scholia to four Homeric scholars from antiquity. This was translated as follows:

"Alongside the text lie the Signs of Aristonicus, and Didymus' work On the Edition of Aristarchus, as well as some things from the Prosody of Herodian and Nicanor's On Punctuation."

The first scholar mentioned in the subscription, the Greek grammarian Aristonicus (Ἀριστόνικος Aristonikos) of Alexandria, lived during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. He taught at Rome, and wrote commentaries and grammatical treatises. Most of his works were related to the Homeric poems, including On the Wanderings of Menelaus (περὶ τῆς Μενελάου πλάνης), On the Critical Signs of the Iliad and Odyssey (περὶ τῶν σημείων τῆς Ἰλιάδος καὶ Ὀδυσσείας), on the marginal signs by which the Alexandrian critics used to mark suspected or interpolated verses in the Homeric poems and in Hesiod's Theogony, and On Ungrammatical Words (ἀσυντάκτων ὀνομάτων βιβλία), a work of six books on irregular grammatical constructions in Homer. These and some other works are for the most part lost, except for fragments preserved in the scholia of Venetus A.

The second scholar mentioned, Greek scholar and grammarian Didymus Chalcenterus (Δίδυμος χαλκέντερος Didymos chalkenteros, "Didymus bronze-guts"), flourished in the time of Cicero and Augustus. His surname "bronze-guts" came from his nearly incredible productivity: he was said to have written so many books that he was unable to recollect what he had written in earlier ones, and so often contradicted himself. (Athenaeus records that he wrote 3500 books; Seneca estimated that he wrote 4000.) As a result Didymos acquired the additional nickname βιβλιολάθης "book-forgetter". Didymos taught in Alexandria and Rome, and is chiefly important as having introduced Alexandrian learning to the Romans. A follower of the school of the Alexandrian grammarian and editor Aristarchus of Samothrace (Ἀρίσταρχος), Didymos wrote a treatise on Aristarchus' edition of Homer entitled On Aristarchus' recension (περὶ τῆς Ἀριστάρχου διορθωσέως), fragments of which are preserved in Venetus A.

The third scholar cited, Aelius Herodianus (Αἴλιος Ἡρωδιανός) or Herodian, was one of the most celebrated grammarians of Greco-Roman antiquity. He was born in Alexandria, and from there he seems to have moved to Rome, where he gained the favor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, to whom he dedicated a work on prosody. He is usually known as Herodian except when there is a danger of confusion with the historian also named Herodian.

Lastly, the Greek grammarian Nicanor (Νικάνωρ) Stigmatias lived during the reign of Hadrian in the early 2nd century. According to the Suda he came from Alexandria; according to Stephanus of Byzantium he came from Hierapolis. The Suda records that Nicanor acquired the nickname stigmatias (στιγματίας, punctuated) because of his concentration on punctuation. His scholia on the elucidation of Homer's epics through punctuation are extensively quoted in the Venetus A.

"Scholars refer to the work of these men as the 'four-man commentary,' or VMK (from the German Viermännerkommentar). The repeated subscriptions in the Venetus A identify the areas of Homeric studies to which each of the four contributed. Aristonicus wrote on the topic of editorial symbols attached to the text. Herodian wrote on questions of prosody, that is poetic meter. Nicanor wrote about punctuation. And Didymus wrote about the earlier editorial work of the Alexandrian scholar Aristarchus.

"A certain category of scholia, while related to the VMK, has been separately  identified and named the 'D Scholia.' These were once thought to have come originally from Didymus, hence their name, but this view is no longer generally accepted. The D Scholia appear on several Byzantine and medieval manuscripts of the Iliad and generally contain information about mythology, the meanings of obscure words and pieces of allegorical interpretation. On the Venetus A the D Scholia appear as interlinear notes written in a semiuncial script and are largely 'glosses,' short defintions of words in the poems. One of the most interesting aspects of the D Scholia is their lemmata, the Homeric passages that a scholion may quote before commenting. In many cases, these lemmata do not match the Homeric text that appears in the manuscript. Thus, these scholia may offer insights into alternative versions of the text, other examples of traditional material that fell out of the common text of the Iliad by the ninth century, but are preserved here and there in brief quotations by the scholiasts, the writers of these marginal notes.

"Still other scholia on our manuscript derive from the work of the scholar and philosopher Porphyry, who lived during the third century CE. Among his writings, many of which had to do with Platonic philosophy, was a treatise entitled 'Homeric Questions' (Ομηικα Ζητηματα, Homerika Zetemata, or in its more commonly given Latin translation, Quaestiones Homericae). This work exists only in a fragmentary state in the Vatican Library (Vaticanus Graecus 305), and the rest of what we know of its contents comes from close reading of various scholia on Homeric manuscripts. Porphyri's work is an example of the late-antique genre of Ζητηματα, which is generally translated 'Questions,' consisting of inquiries into various topics with (often) varying and debatable answers. Ancient works of Ζητηματα covered ethical, legal, and historical topics, and Porphyry's work on Homer is one of the few examples of literary 'Questions,' consisting of inquries into various topics with (often) varying and debatable answers. The scholiastic material that comes from this work is valuable for a number of reasons, although its value has not always been appreciated. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars dismissed Porphyry as telling us little about Homeric poetry itself, but much about the literary 'parlor games' played by intelligent aristocrats in antiquity. But these scholia preserve some observations on Homeric poetry made by Aristotle and Plato, which in turn can tell us about the particular vocabulary these ancient thinkers used when they discussed epic poetry, and thus much about the ancient experience of listening to this poetry.

"Finally, there are scholia related to a group known as the 'bT' scholia. These get their name from the Townley Manuscript of the Iliad, an eleventh-century codex now in the British Museum (BM, Burney 86); this manuscript is believed to have been one of several copied from an even older manuscript, which is now lost, to which scholars refer by the siglum 'b', hence the 'bT' scholia. These scholia, which may also be derived from the work of Porphyry, offer explanations of thematic matters found in the Iliad, cultural practices, questions of cosmology or theology, and so forth. These scholia have not enjoyed a high reputation among scholars. Their most famous critic, K. Lehrs, said that 'not one word in them is to be believed," (nullum unum verbum iis credendum esse). But more recent students of this material have found them more valuable, suggesting that they offer important insight into how the ancient Greeks understood Homer, but also provide more access to the work of Aristarchus at the Library of Alexandria.

"There is diagreement among scholars as to how and when the VMK was created (proposed dates ranged from the fourth to seventh centuries CE) and whether or not they were created by the same editor. The 20th century scholars most interested in the Homeric scholia believed that the VMK tradition was combined with the D Scholia and the bT Scholia at some time during the eighth century, about two centuries before our nameless scribe produced the elaboratately annotated manuscript we call the Venetus A" (Blackwell & Dué, "Homer and History in the Venetus A," Recapturing a Homeric Legacy. Images and Insights From the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad, Dué ed. [2009] 7-9).

How and when Venetus A was transported to Italy is uncertain. At one point it was thought that Giovanni Aurispa brought it there, as in 1424, he mentioned four volumes which he had brought back from Greece in a letter to Ambrogio Traversari in Venice:

Aristarchum super Iliade in duobus voluminibus, opus quoddam spatiosum et pretiosissimum; aliud commentum super Iliade, cuius eundem auctorem esse puto et illius quod ex me Nicolaus noster habuit super Ulixiade.

Aristarchus on the Iliad in two volumes, a large and very precious work; another commentary on the Iliad; I think Aristarchus was the author of that, as well as of the one on the Odyssey that our friend Niccolò Niccoli got from me.

This has been interpretted as a reference to the codices of the Iliad known as Venetus A and B. However, it has also been argued that the two volume commentary referred to was the commentary by the twelfth century Byzantine scholar and archbishop Eustathius of Thessalonica (Laurentianus LIX 2 and 3) attested in Florence a century later in the library of Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, and now in the Laurentian Library.

Eventually, Venetus A came into the possession of Greek immigrant scholar, and book collector Cardinal Basileios Bessarion (Βασίλειος Βησσαρίων), who collected a library of 482 Greek manuscripts and 264 Latin manuscripts before, and especially after, the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Among Bessarion's library was the only complete text of Athenaios' Deipnosophistai; the autograph of Planudes' Greek Anthology; and Venetus A and B. In 1468 Bessarion donated his library to the Republic of Venice; he continued to add to it until his death in 1472. By preserving so many Greek texts Bessarion became one of those most influential on the revival of Greek literature during the Renaissance. Bessarion's library became the core of the Biblioteca Marciana, which since 1554 has been housed to the building designed for it by Sansovino, the Biblioteca Sansoviniana.

With respect to the study of Venetus A, it is known that Martinus Phileticus used the manuscript as a source in the 1480s, followed by Vettore Fausto in 1546 or 1547. After that, Venetus A was largely forgotten until French philologist Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard d'Ansse de Villoison rediscovered and published it, along with the "B scholia" from Venetus B, in his book Ilias Homeri to Veteris Codicis Veneti fidem-recensita; scholia in eam antiquissima, eodem Code ex nunc primum eruta (Venice, 1788). This was the first publication of any Iliadic scholia other than the "D" scholia (the scholia minora). Because of the complexity of the writing on each page of Venetus A, Villoison's work represented a very impressive work of scholarship and a high level of technical achievement in the printing of Greek. In April 2014 high resolution images of each page in Villoison's 716-page work were available from the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard at this link.

Once available to scholars, the A and B scholia were a catalyst for several new ideas from the scholar Friedrich August Wolf. In reviewing Villoison's edition, Wolf realized that these scholia proved conclusively that the Homeric epics had been transmitted orally for an unknown length of time before they were written down. This led to his seminal work, Prolegomena ad Homerum, which set the agenda for much of later Homeric scholarship.

In 1901 Venetus A was reproduced in photographic facsimile as Homeri Ilias cum scholiis. Codex Venetus A, Marcianus 454. Phototypice editus. Praefatus est Dominicus Comparetti, and published in Leiden by A. W. Sijthoff. However, the technology of the time could not reproduce all of the small script in the manuscript legibly.

More than 100 years later, in May 2007 both Venetus A and Venetus B were photographed at high resolution, using a Hasselblad H1 camera with a 39 megapixel Phase One P45 digital back, at the Biblioteca Marciana. The availability of truly legible images of all the text in these manuscripts resulted in insights published in 2009 as Hellenic Studies 35, entitled Recapturing a Homeric Legacy. Images and Insights From the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad, edited by Casey Dué, and published by the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard. In April 2014 this book was available online from homermultitext.org. Also in April 2014 high resolution images of each page in Venetus A and B were available from the same source at this link.

The Homer Multitext project also made available the Greek texts of Venetus A and B online. The site stated that "This site publishes editions of texts from Byzantine manuscripts using the Canonical Text Services protocol. The service is primarily intended for automated use by other computer programs, but you can follow the links below to to browse and read texts." The site also made available images of individual pages of the Townley Homer. However, in April 2014 a much easier to use digital facsimile of that manuscript was available from the British Library at this link.

 (This entry was last revised on 04-26-2014.)

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The Oldest Surviving Translation of the Gospels into English Circa 950 – 960

A small sampling of Aldred's gloss of the Gospels. (View Larger)

Around 950 or 960 CE Aldred, Provost of the Roman fort Chester-le-Street, a town in County Durham, England, where the community of St. Cuthert had located along with the Lindisfarne Gospels, translated the Lindisfarne Gospels into Old English, annotating or 'glossing' the Latin text in a word-for-word continuous translation between its lines. Aldred's manuscript is the oldest surviving translation of the Gospels into the English language. Aldred also added a "colophon" associating his work with the names of those then thought to have originally made the book.

"Aldred's glosses, some of which comment on the text as well as translating it, reveal concern with monastic reform and abuses of clerical power. . . . Promoting the English language would have helped reunify England. Aldred translated the Lindisfarne Gospels into the Northumbrian dialect to establish his credentials upon entering the community" (Michelle Brown, Painted Labyrinth. The world of the Lindisfarne Gospels [2004] 12-13).

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The Palatine Anthology of Greek Poetry Circa 950

Folio 30 of suppl. gr. 384, belonging to the Bibliothèque Nationale.

The Palatine Anthology, a codex compilation of 3765 poems in Greek, was once in Rome at the Vatican Library, along with other manuscripts in the Bibliotheca Palatina, but is now divided between the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg  (Palat. gr. 23) and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (suppl. gr. 384). It is one of the two manuscripts on which the collection known as the Greek Anthology or Anthologia Graeca, is based; the other manuscript is the Planudean Anthology.

The bulk of the Palatine Anthology was based upon the compilation of Constantine Cephalas (Konstantanos Kephalas), a Byzantine schoolmaster who in about the year 900 excerpted all the major ancient manuscript collections. To material gathered by Cephalas, whose original compilation no longer survives, the compiler of the Palatine Anthology added Christian and "rhetorically descriptive" epigrams. A possible compiler of the Palatine Anthology was the 10th century poet, Constantine the Rhodian, three of whose poems are included in the anthology. 

"In 1606 or 1607 [Claudius] Salmasius had discovered, in the library of the Counts Palatine in Heidelberg, the only surviving copy of Cephalas's early unexpurgated copy of the Greek Anthology, including the 258-poem anthology of homoerotic poems by Straton of Sardis that would eventually become known as the notorious Book 12 of the Greek Anthology. The newly discovered poems in the Palatine version were copied out by Salmasius, and he began to circulate clandestine manuscript copies of them as the Anthologia Inedita. His copy was later published: first in 1776 when Richard François Philippe Brunck included it in his Analecta; and then the full Palatine Anthology was published by Friedrich Jacobs as the Anthologia Graeca (13 vols. 1794-1803; revised 1813-1817). The remains of Straton's anthology became Book 12 in Jacob's standard critical Anthologia Graeca edition. It was only in 2001 that a full Greek-to-English translation of Book 12 was issued, by Princeton University Press" (Wikipedia article on Claudius Salmasius, accessed 02-03-2009).

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The Archimedes Palimpsest: Recovering the Lost Mathematics of Archimedes Circa 950

On October 29, 1998 the Archimedes Palimpsest, a 10th-century copy written in Constantinople of an otherwise unknown work of Archimedes of Syracuse and other authors, palimpsested with Christian religious texts by 13th-century monks, was sold at auction by Christie's in New York for $2,000,000 to antiquarian bookseller Simon Finch acting for an anonymous American private collector. The Archimedes Palimpsest had disappeared in the 1910s or 1920s and ended up in a French collection. Its consignor at the auction, Anne Guersan, said that her father, Marie Louis Sirieux, acquired the book from in Constantinople in the 1920s. In 1932, her father-in-law Solomon Guerson, a French Jewish merchant in rare carpets and antique tapestries working in Paris, tried selling the palimpsest, and a manuscript curator identified a leaf as Folio 57 of the Archimedes Manuscript. It seems Guerson used leaves from his manuscripts to make elaborate forgeries. Not recognizing or appreciating the significance of the Archimedes undertext, sometime after 1938 Guerson possibly attempted to enhance the religious value of the palimpsest by painting on four of its leaves forgeries of portraits of the Four Evangelists that resembled images he had seen in Greek manuscripts at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The paintings were forged after 1938 as they contain a synthetic pigment called phlalocyanine green, which was only available after that date. 

At some time in the distant past the palimpsest was in the library of the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem, a monastery acquired by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1625. Before the auction the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem contended that the palimpsest had been stolen from one of its monasteries in Constantinople in the 1920s. In 1998, prior to the auction, ownership of the palimpsest was litigated in federal court in New York in the case of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem v. Christie's, Inc. The judge ruled in favor of Anne Guerson and Christie's.

The palimpsest seems to have first gained the attention of scholars when the Biblical scholar Constantin von Tischendorf  visited Constantinople in the 1840s, and took a page of it. This page is preserved in Cambridge University Library. In 1906 the historian of mathematics Johan Heiberg studied the manuscript in Constantinople, realized that the undertext was Archimedes, and that the palimpsest included works otherwise lost. Heiberg took photographs, from which he produced transcriptions published between 1910 and 1915 in his edition of the complete works of Archimedes. Shortly thereafter Archimedes' Greek text was translated into English by historian of mathematics T. L. Heath

Because the erasure during the palimpsesting process was incomplete, from 1998 to 2008 scientific and scholarly work using digital image processing produced by ultraviolet, infrared, visible and raking light, and X-ray has made Archimedes' undertext legible. The most remarkable work in the palimpsest is Archimedes' The Method, of which the palimpsest contains the only known copy.

"At the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the palimpsest was the subject of an extensive imaging study from 1999 to 2008, and conservation (as it had suffered considerably from mold). This was directed by Dr. Will Noel, curator of manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum, and managed by Michael B. Toth of R.B. Toth Associates, with Dr. Abigail Quandt performing the conservation of the manuscript.

"A team of imaging scientists including Dr. Roger L. Easton, Jr. from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Dr. William A. Christens-Barry from Equipoise Imaging, and Dr. Keith Knox (then with Boeing LTS, now with USAF Research Laboratory) used computer processing of digital images from various spectral bands, including ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths to reveal most of the underlying text, including of Archimedes. After imaging and digitally processing the entire palimpsest in three spectral bands prior to 2006, in 2007 they reimaged the entire palimpsest in 12 spectral bands, plus raking light: UV: 365 nanometers; Visible Light: 445, 470, 505, 530, 570, 617, and 625 nm; Infrared: 700, 735, and 870 nm; and Raking Light: 910 and 470 nm. The team digitally processed these images to reveal more of the underlying text with pseudocolor. They also digitized the original Heiberg images. Dr. Reviel Netz of Stanford Universityand Nigel Wilson have produced a diplomatic transcription of the text, filling in gaps in Heiberg's account with these images.

"Sometime after 1938, one owner of the manuscript forged four Byzantine-style religious images in the manuscript in an effort to increase its value. It appeared that these had rendered the underlying text forever illegible. However, in May 2005, highly focused X-rays produced at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park, California, were used by Drs. Uwe Bergman and Bob Morton to begin deciphering the parts of the 174-page text that had not yet been revealed. The production of X-ray fluorescence was described by Keith Hodgson, director of SSRL: "Synchrotron light is created when electrons traveling near the speed of light take a curved path around a storage ring—emitting electromagnetic light in X-ray through infrared wavelengths. The resulting light beam has characteristics that make it ideal for revealing the intricate architecture and utility of many kinds of matter—in this case, the previously hidden work of one of the founding fathers of all science."

"In April 2007, it was announced that a new text had been found in the palimpsest, which was a commentary on the work of Aristotle attributed to Alexander of Aphrodisias. Most of this text was recovered in early 2009 by applying principal component analysis to the three color bands (red, green, and blue) of fluorescent light generated by ultraviolet illumination. Dr. Will Noel said in an interview: "You start thinking striking one palimpsest is gold, and striking two is utterly astonishing. But then something even more extraordinary happened." This referred to the previous discovery of a text by Hypereides, an Athenian politician from the fourth century BC, which has also been found within the palimpsest. It is from his speech Against Diondas, and was published in 2008 in the German scholarly magazine Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, vol. 165, becoming the first new text from the palimpsest to be published in a scholarly journal" (Wikipedia article on Archimedes Palimpsest, accessed 01-26-2014).

In addition to the website and digital editions, thanks to the generosity of its owner, the Archimedes Palimpsest was published in one of the finest scholarly and most physically attractive, large and impressive sets of printed books ever issued on an historical manuscript: Netz, Noel, Tchernetska & Wilson eds., The Archimedes Palimpsest. Volume I: Catalogue and Commentary; Volume II: Images and Transcriptions. Cambridge & Baltimore: Cambridge University Press for The Walters Art Museum, 2011. The set was designed by Jerry Kelly.

A popular account is Netz, Reviel & Noel, William, The Archimedes Codex. How a Medieval Prayer Book is Revealing the true Genius of Antiquity's Greatest Scientist (2007).

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The Paris Psalter: The Most Famous Illuminated Byzantine Codex Circa 950

Produced in Constantinople in the second half of the tenth century, the Paris Psalter (BnF Ms. gr. 139), is the most famous illuminated Byzantine codex. It is unique among the seventy-five illuminated Byzantine psalters that survived for its large size, for the quality of script and text decoration, and for its fourteen magnificent full-page images, seven of which are bound one after another depicting events of David's life in chronological order, the remaining seven connected with the text. The most famous miniature in the DAvid series depicts David playing the harp at the side of the seated female figure of “Melody". Around this central group are the figure of Echo, various animals charmed by music, and even a male figure symbolizing the town of Bethlehem. The composition was probably based on a Graeco-Roman wall painting that depicted Orpheus charming the world with his music.

The psalter is associated with the emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, who has been called "The Scholar Emperor." In A Short History of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich wrote about Constantine:

"He was, we are told, a passionate collector—not only of books and manuscripts but works of art of every kind; more remarkable still for a man of his class, he seems to have been an excellent painter. He was the most generous of patrons—to writers and scholars, artists and craftsmen. Finally, he was an excellent Emperor: a competent, conscientious and hard-working administrator and an inspired picker of men, whose appointments to military, naval, ecclesiastical, civil and academic posts were both imaginative and successful. He did much to develop higher education and took a special interest in the administration of justice"(Norwich p. 181).

The images in the Paris Psalter

"are famous for their apparent classicism in figural style, painting, technique, and coloration. Among the classicizing features are personifications that have been incorporated in the compositions. In the scene of Moses receiving the tablets from God on Mount Sina (fol. 422v) for example, which refers to the Canticle of Moses in Deuteronomy, a seminude figure seen from the back is seated on a rock in the left foreground. Identified as Mount Sinai by the inscription, he holeds a dead tree stump, which together with his nakedness, signifies the barren wateland of the setting. IN the upper-left corner Moses stretches upward to the hand of God to read for the tablets. At the summit of the moutain the Burning Bush is visible. Bel;ow, in the center, a group of Israelites engaged in conversation awaits Moses' return. To the right, on an almost separate plan, Moses is shown again, this time attentively listening to God's instructions on how to build the temp that will house the Tablets of the Law. His finger-to-chin gesture indicates that he is thinking.

"In addition to personifications of time and place that help the view to identify the event depicted, the psalter illustrations contain personfiications representing astract concepts and virtues such as clemency, penance, and wisdom. These figures are suually interpreted as the clearest sign of a revived interest in the antique. For this reason the Paris Psalter as a whole has served as one of the key docuemnts supporting the notion of a Macdedonian renaissance during the tenth century. The large full-age illustrations ahve also given rise to the theory of an 'aristocratic' system of psalter illumination in Byzantium. It was thought otherwise incomprehensible that a repertoire of pagan forms and subjects could ahve a place within a manuscript of Christian liturgical or private devotion" (Evans & Wixom eds., The Glory of Byzantium. Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A. D. 843-1261 [1997] No. 163). Catalogue of an Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The manuscript was acquired in 1557-59 by Jean Hurault of Boistaillé, French ambassador to Contantinople, and a distinguished collector of mainly Greek, but also Arabic, and Hebrew manuscripts and early printing. After his death in 1572 Hurault's library passed to his brother André Hurault de Maisse, who was also a book collector. Later the library came into the possession of his cousin, Philippe Hurault de Cheverny, bishop of Chartres. After the Bishop's death the collection of 409 manuscripts was sold to Louis XIII for 12 000 francs. Louis XIII deposited them in the Bibliothèque royale, which was nationalized in the French Revolution, and is now known as the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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A Greek Manuscript Owned and Extensively Annotated by Robert Grosseteste Circa 950

Brought to England in the thirteenth century at the instigation of English statesman, scholastic philosopher, theologian, scientist  and Bishop of Lincoln Robert GrossetesteCambridge MS Ff.1.24 was probably written in Constantinople in the tenth century. 

"Twelfth and thirteenth-century scholars were aware that many important theological, philosophical and scientific texts unavailable in the West circulated in the Greek-speaking world. Only a tiny number went to the lengths that Grosseteste did to learn Greek with the aim of obtaining, reading and translating these works.

"The chronicler, Matthew Paris, tells how in the late 1230s, one of Grosseteste’s assistants, John of Basingstoke, recalled seeing a Greek manuscript containing a text called the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in the library of the metropolitan Michael Choniates when he was in Athens some 40 years earlier. The bishop sent envoys to Athens and MS Ff.1.24, almost certainly Choniates’ copy, was brought to England for him. There are notes in Grosseteste’s hand throughout, demonstrating that he read the whole codex.

"He used the manuscript to prepare a Latin translation of the Testaments which was completed in 1242. Some early manuscripts of the translation contain a colophon recording how Grosseteste produced his text with the help of magister Nicholas Grecus, a native speaker and member of his household.

"Grosseteste and his contemporaries believed that the Greek text was a translation of a Hebrew original consisting of the genuine deathbed exhortations of the twelve sons of Jacob. They identified within the text various passages prophesying the coming of Christ. In translating the text, Grosseteste intended it to be used to convince Jews to convert to Christianity.

"Modern scholarship on the Testaments suggests that it was composed in the first or second centuries C.E. Opinion is divided as to whether it is a Christian work that draws on Jewish sources or a Jewish work with Christian prophetic passages inserted.

"Grosseteste’s translation was enormously popular; over eighty manuscripts survive and there were numerous printed editions. It was the source for vernacular translations into English, French, German, Anglo-Norman, Danish and Czech.

"MS Ff.1.24 offers an insight into the working habits and library of a major intellectual figure of the thirteenth century and, more broadly, casts light on the tradition of Greek scholarship and transmission of Greek texts in the Medieval West" (http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-FF-00001-00024/7, accessed 02-28-2013; the links are my additions).

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available at this link.

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The Oldest Documentation of Occidental Music 960 – 970

Graduale Notkeri Sequentiae Codex 121).

Graduale – Notkeri Sequentiae, (Codex 121 [1151]) preserved in Einsiedeln Abbey Library in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, was written in the Benedictine monastery scriptorium between 960 and 970. The oldest documentation of occidental music, it comprises the oldest complete surviving neumed mass antiphonary, and includes assorted appendices, such as Alleluia verses, Antiphons and Psalm verses for the Communion Antiphons. The second part of the codex contains the Libyer Ymnorum, the Sequences of the musician, poet Notker the Stammerer (Latin: Notker Balbulus) (c. 840 – 6 April 912), also called Notker the Poet or Notker of St. Gall, written most likely for the third abbot of the cloister, Gregor the Englishman (d. 996). The manuscript contains initials illuminated in minium (lead tetroxide, red lead), gold, and silver.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile, and an elaborate description of the codex, were available at this link.


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The Exeter Book: The Largest Original Collection of Old English Literature Circa 960 – 990

A tenth-century anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, the Exeter Book, (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, Codex Exoniensis) is one of the four major Anglo-Saxon literature codices, along with the Vercelli Book, the Nowell Codex and the Junius manuscript. The largest surviving original collection of Old English literature, containing approximately one-sixth of the surviving corpus of Old English verse, it is believed originally to have contained 131 leaves, of which eight original leaves were lost at some point, and replaced with other leaves.

"The precise date when the Exeter Book was compiled and written down is unknown, but it is rightly acknowledged to be one of the great works of the English Benedictine revival of the tenth century, and proposed dates for it range from 960 to 990. This period saw a rise in monastic activity and productivity under the renewed influence of Benedictine principles and standards. At the opening of the period, Dunstan's importance to the Church and to the English kingdom was established, culminating in his appointment to the Archbishopric at Canterbury under Edgar and leading to the monastic reformation by which this era was characterised. Dunstan died in 998, and by the period's close, England under Æthelred faced an increasingly determined Scandinavian incursion, to which it would eventually succumb.

"The Exeter Book's heritage becomes traceable from 1072, when Leofric, Bishop at Exeter, died. Among the treasures which he is recorded to have bestowed in his Will upon the then-impoverished monastery, is one famously described as 'mycel Englisc boc be gehwilcum þingum on leoð-wisan geworht' (i.e., 'a large English book of poetic works about all sorts of things'). This book has been widely assumed to be the Exeter Codex as it survives today.

"Some marginalia were added to the manuscript by Laurence Nowell in the sixteenth century and George Hickes in the seventeenth" (Wikipedia article on Exeter book, accessed 12-24-2013).

During the bishopric of Leofric, the cathedral library at Exeter was the fourth largest in England. Along with the Exeter Book, Leofric bequeathed sixty-five other manuscripts and books to the cathedral—an exceptionally large personal library for the time. Of those, about twenty remain extant.

"Three versions of the donation list drawn up by Leofric survive, which is one of the earliest surviving cathedral library catalogues. The list consists of 31 books used to conduct cathedral services, 24 other ecclesiastical works, and 11 works that were secular. This last group included philosophical works as well as poetry.... Besides the Exeter Book and the Leofric Missal, Leofric's own copy of the Rule of Chrodegang also survives, although it is no longer at Exeter. Now it is at Cambridge University, where it is Corpus Christi College MS 191. Another surviving manuscript from Leofric's collection is a Gospel book written in Latin now in the Bodleian Library, which was probably acquired by Leofric while he was on the continent, as the manuscript was originally written for a Breton monastery" (Wikipedia article on Leofric (bishop), accessed 12-24-2013).

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Possible Inspiration for Picasso's Guernica? June 19, 960

An artwork from the 'Biblia de Leon,' or the Bible of St. Isidore. (View Larger)

The Visigothic-Mozarabic Bible of St. Isidore, also known as the Biblia de León was completed in the Monastery of Valeránica, Spain on June 19, 960 by Iberian Christians who lived under Moorish Muslim rule in Al-Andalus, the portions of the Iberian Peninsula governed by Muslims at various times in the period between 711 and 1492. It is considered the best-documented Mozarabic bible as it includes the names and portraits of its scribe, Sancho, and its miniaturist, Florencio.  The codex contains all the books of the Old and New Testaments, as well as prologues, biblical commentaries and other texts, written in lowercase visigothic-mozarabic lettering with initial capital letters in the interlaced Saxon style and decorated with biblical scenes and roundels. Annotated in both Arabic and Latin, it is preserved in the Cathedral of León.

Florencio's miniature paintings in this work "offered new departures in pictorial art, blending elements originating in Saxon, Visigothic, and Islamic art with new features from Carolingian sources" (http://www.omifacsimiles.com/brochures/bib_leon.html)

On April 20, 2009 the following notice appeared in Artdaily.org:

"Several experts from the world of art have stated that there is an extraordinary likeness between the figures that appear in the Guernica painted by the artist and those in a Mozarabic Bible from the 10th Century, which is housed in the Cathedral in Leon, to the point where it has been discarded that it was fruit of a coincidence. This Bible was exhibited in Barcelona in 1929 and in Paris in 1937, a time when the Cubist genius could have discovered the expressionist drawings that appear in the medieval text, according to the head of the Cathedral of Leon Museum, Máximo Gómez Rascón.

"Several experts consulted by news agency EFE arrived at the same conclusion and base it on the relative aspects of the double view, in front and to the side, of the figures in the painting, as well as in the horse and the bull.

Picasso's Guernica. (View Larger)

"In this way, the director of the museum, has explained that the similarities are seen especially in the bull, which in the Bible symbolizes Saint Luke and which is “almost exactly” as the one that Picasso painted on Guernica.

"The similarity also manifests itself in the horse’s head that appears in the painting and, to a lesser extent, in the faces of the persons, as well as some of the profiles that also allude to the ones appearing in the bible.

"It has been pointed out that in the bible there is also a lion, with its tongue out, whose face and expression are very similar to the horse that appears in Guernica, or to the one that has a type of knife coming out of its mouth.

"The head of the museum has discarded the idea that the similarities are fruit of a coincidence and is convinced that Picasso “without a doubt” had seen this bible, which was created by Deacon John in 920 [sic] and written in parchment with Visigothic letters.

"Even though that during those times codices were illustrated with those kinds of symbols, Gómez Rascón has emphasized the singularity with the one in Leon, one of the most important from that era.

"Painter Benito Escarpizo, former professor from the School of Applied Arts in Leon, is completely convinced: 'If the similarities are enormous in the painting, they are even greater in the sketches' " (http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2∫_new=30316).

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A Vast Library at Cordoba in Al-Andalus Circa 961 – 976

A map of the Caliphate of Cordoba circa 1000CE. (View Larger)

Al-Hakam II, the Caliph of Cordoba in Al-Andalus (Moorish Iberia), was fond of books and learning, and amassed a vast library that may possibly have contained over 400,000 books, though this number cannot be substantiated, and may well be far greater than what was actually held in the library. During his reign a massive translation effort was undertaken, and many books were translated from Latin and Greek into Arabic. For this project he formed a joint committee of Arab Muslims and Iberian Mozarab Christians.

The catalogue of the royal library "alone consisted of forty-four volumes. Under Al-Haim II (961-976) this library was reported to have given employment to over 500 people. . . . Elsewhere at Moslem Spain there was a total of seventy libraries in the 10th century, several in Toledo. In addition to the royal library, these included libraries in universities in Cordoba, Seville, Malaga, and Granada , among others, and in numerous mosques. Private libraries flourished in Moslem Spain, and it was said that Cordoba was the greatest book market in the western world in the 10th century" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 81).

(This entry was last revised on 03-16-2014.)

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The Vercelli Book, One of the Four Old English Poetic Codices Circa 975

Preserved in the Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare (Capitulary Library and Archive) of Vercelli in Northern Italy, the Vercelli Book is one of the oldest of the four Old English Poetic Codices. It contains a miscellany, or florilegium, of religious texts that were apparently selected for private inspiration, written in Anglo-Saxon square minuscule, presumably in England. The manuscript was found at Vercelli in 1822 by the lawyer, legal historian, and writer on Italian libraries, Friedrich Blume (Bluhme),  who first described it, without understanding its full significance, in the first and fourth volumes of his Iter Italicum (Stettin, 4 vols., 1824-36). The extraordinary presence in Italy of a codex of Old English poetry was explained by the existence of a hospice catering to English pilgrims that was founded by Jacopo Guala Bicchieri, bishop of Vercelli, who had been papal legate in England from 1216 to 1218. However, the codex was documented in Vercelli as early as the eleventh century.

"In the words of a modern critic [Elaine Treharne], 'The Vercelli Book appears ... to have been put together from a number of different exemplars with no apparent overall design in mind. The manner in which the scribe did the copying is relatively mechanical. In most cases, he copied the dialect and the manuscript punctuation that was found in the original texts, and these aspects therefore aid in reconstructing the variety of exemplars. The texts therefore range in date for although they were all copied in the later tenth century, they need not all have been written in this period.'

"The verse items occur in three randomly placed groups intermixed with prose. Evidence suggests that the scribe may have assembled the material over an extended period of time. Elaine Treharne in Old and Middle English: An Anthology suggests: 'Although the examples are diverse, and no apparent chronological or formal arrangement can be discerned, the texts suggest the compiler was someone in a monastic setting who wished to illustrate his personal interest in penitential and eschatological themes and to glorify the ascetic way of life. The homilies represent part of the anonymous tradition of religious prose writing in Anglo Saxon England.' " (Wikipedia article on Vercelli Book, accessed 12-24-2013).

In December 2013 the beta version of the Digital Vercelli Book went online. It published digital facsimiles and transcriptions of portions of the Vercelli Book, available at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 03-14-2014.)

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The Golden Gospels of Henry VIII Circa 977 – 993

The Golden Gospels of Henry VIII was written and decorated by "at least sixteen different scribes" in the Benedictine Abbey of St. Maximin at Trier during the abbacy of Archbishop Egbert. It was written in gold on sheets of vellum colored various shades of purple, from mauve to slate blue, with dye made from berries. The coat of arms of England was added on the verso of the first leaf in the 16th century, probably to denote royal ownership.

The manuscript may have been produced for the coronation of Otto III in 983. It appears as no. 957 in the 1542 inventory of Henry VIII’s Upper Library at Winchester Palace.  According to one tradition, the manuscript was presented to Henry by Pope Leo X in 1521, when he conferred upon him the title of "Defender of the Faith."

In 1747 the manuscript was in the Bibliotheca Palmeriana, the library of Ralph Palmer of Little Chelsea, grandfather of the first Earl Verney (erased inscription reads Bibliotheca Palmeriana 1747). It was bought in 1800 for the Duke of Hamilton; Duke of Hamilton Collection, inv. no. 167; (Hamilton Palace Library, Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Scotland).  It was sold privately in 1883 with the Hamilton Collection to the Royal Museum of Berlin (The Hamilton Palace Libraries, Catalogue of the Hamilton Collection of Manuscripts, 1882, no. 25) and resold with a portion of the Hamilton Collection returned from Berlin (London, Sotheby’s, May 23, 1889, lot 1) to Quaritch); sold (May 26, 1890) by Quaritch (catalogue 99, Sept. 1889, p. 37-39, no. 359, (Hand-list, 1890, no. 1) to Theodore Irwin of Oswego; purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) with the Irwin Collection in 1900. The manuscript is preserved in the Morgan Library & Museum (MS M 0023).

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The Golden Gospels of Henry VIII: Written by Sixteen Different Scribes 977 – 993

The Morgan Golden Gospels (Morgan MS M.23), also known as The Golden Gospels of Henry VIII, was possibly created for the coronation of Otto III in 983. It was later in the library of Henry VIII of England (No. 952 in the 1542 Inventory of Henry VIII's Upper Library at Winchester Palace.). According to one tradition it was presented to Henry by Pope Leo X (Giovanni Lorenzo di Medici) in 1521 when he conferred upon Henry the title of "Defender of the Faith." In the second half of the sixteenth century the arms of England and an inscription addressed to a prince were added on the verso of the first leaf. It was later in the the library of Duke of Hamilton, and was acquired by J. Pierpont Morgan in the Theodore Irwin collection purchased in 1900.

In "The Morgan Golden Gospels: The Date and Origin of the Manuscript," in Miner (ed) Studies in Art and Literature for Belle Da Costa Greene (1954) 266-79, E. A. Lowe showed through paleographical comparison that it was written and decorated in the Benedictine Abbey of St. Maximin at Trier, Germany during the abbacy of Archbishop Egbert, by at least 16 different scribes. 

The manuscript is extraordinary for several reasons: 

1. It was written on vellum painted various shades of purple using dye made from berries. The leaves vary in color from mauve to slate blue. 

2. It was written in an uncial hand in burnished gold letters. The particular special type of uncial used was "heretofore unrecorded" until this manuscript was studied by E. A. Lowe.

3. It was written by at least sixteen different scribes. (When I wrote this entry in March 2014, this was the largest number of different scribes that I had heard of being identified with the writing of a medieval manuscript.)

4. According to E. A. Lowe, it is "one of the finest, if not the finest purple manuscript in existence."

"The practice of writing on purple membranes goes back at least to classical times, and was not unknown among early Christians even when the Church was strugglinig for existence. This form of ostentation, however, was frowned upon by the Fathers. In his oft-quoted preface to Job, St. Jerome (d. 420) takes occasion to remark: 'Let those who want them have ancient books or books written in gold or silver on purple parchment or in what is commonly called uncial letters—written burdens (I call them) rather than books.' No extant purple manuscript of the Bible written in gold goes back to the time of these Fathers. If we may judge by what remains of such Latin books, the Gospels and the Psalater were the favorites. The oldest of them date from the late fifth and sixth centuries and they are all in letters of silver, gold having been reserved for the N omina scara (dominus, deus, Iesus, etc.) and special passages, titles or opening lines. The Latin manuscripts are devoid of decorative initials and lack all prefatory matter and capitularies; the text is Old-Latin, i.e. pre-Jerome. They are so few in number that I enumerate them here:

"1. Codex Veronensis (b). Verona. Bibl. Capitol. vi. Uncial; saec v ex. Facs: C.L.A., IV. 481.

"2. Codex Neapolitanus, olim Vindobonensis (i). Naples. Bibl. Naz. Lat. 3 (=Vienna 1235). Uncial; saec v ex Facs: C.L.A., III. 399.

"3. Codex Palatinus (e). Trent, Mus. Naz. s.n. (Vienna 1185) _ Dublin, Trin. Coll. 1709 +London, Brit. Mus. Add 40107. Uncial asec. V. Facs: C.L.A., II and IV, 487.

"4. Codex Sarzanensis (j). Sarezzano, Bibl. Parrocchiale s.n. Uncial; saec VI in. Fac: C.L.A., IV. 436aq.

"5. Codex Brixianus (f). Brescia, Bibl. Queriniana s.n. Uncial; saec VI. Facs: C.L.A., III. 281.  

"6. Psalterium Sangermanense. Paris, Bibl. Nat. Lat., 11947. Uncial; saec. VI. Facs: C.L.A., V. 616.

"Greek purple manuscripts were doubtless models for our Latin ones. Only six or seven have survived. They are all, with one exception, in silver letters, and none is apparently older than the sixth century. They are: the Vienna Genesis, the Cotton Genesis, the Codex Rossanensis in the Bibliotheca Arcivescovile at Rossano, the Codex Sinopensis at Paris, written entirely in gold, the Codex Beratinus at Berat in Albania, the Codex Purpureus, with its surviving forty-five folios scattered, thirty-three being in the convent of St. John at Patmos, six in the Vatican, four in the British Museum and two at Vienna.

"The custom of producing purple manuscripts apparently died out in the West during the dark centuries of the early Middle Ages, but we know that it was honored in Northumbria in the late seventh century. It flourished agin in the Corolingian period, as is attested by several surviving manuscripts de luxe. Here and there we encounter magnificent books written on ordinary parchment whose beauty was enhanced by the addition of a few purple leaves. It is important to note that in the oldest purple manuscripts as well as in Carolingian codices purpurei the membranes are dyed, whereas in manuscripts of the Ottonian period the urple leaves, apart from the few imported from Byzantium, are painted, as is the case in our Morgan manuscript.

"The writing of a codex aureus purpureus was no ordinary affair in a scriptorium. It not only involved costly material, it also demanded special skill. For writing with the unusual sticky medium which could take the gold leaf was difficult even for the best of scribes. it stands to reason that such sumptuous manuscripts were intended for special occaions, and we know from ancient sources that they were objects of pride. It is theefore surprising to find no record of our splendid manuscript before the beginning of the last century. There is not a single contemporary marginal note or later entry which could throw any light on the vicissitudes of the volume during the entire period of the Middle Ages" (Lowe, op. cit., 266-68).

Lowe's paper on the Morgan Golden Gospels was reprinted in E. A. Lowe, Palaeographical Papers 1907-1965 II (1972) 389ff.

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Muslim Countries Adopt Paper but Not Printing Circa 980

Though Muslim countries traded extensively with the Chinese, and widely adopted the use of paper by 980, they did not adopt the Chinese technology of printing.

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The Earliest Universal Bibliography 988 – 990

From 988 to 990 Muhammad ib Ishaq (Abu al Faraj) called Ibn Abi al-Nadiim (Abi Ya'qub Ishaq al-Warraq al-Baghdadi), a bookseller, stationer and "court companion" of Baghdad, published Al- Fihrist, an annotated index of the books of all nations extant in the Arabic language and script.

The English translator of al-Nadim's work, Bayard Dodge, suggests that Al-Nadim, working in his father's bookshop, "wished to assemble a catalogue to show customers and to help in the procuring and copying of manuscripts to be sold to scholars and book collectors" (Dodge p. xxiii).  This was the earliest universal bibliography.

"It is reasonable to believe that when al-Nadim died the original copy of his manuscript was placed in the royal library at Baghdad, while other copies made by scribes about the time of his death were assigned to his family bookstore, where some of them were probably sold to customers who came to purchase interesting books. Farmer says: ' Yagut (d. 626/1299) averred that he used a copy of the Fihrist in the handwriting of al-Nadim himself. The lexicographer al-Saghani (650/1252) made a similar claim. Either of these autograph copies may have been in the Caliph's library, which was destroyed utterly in the sacking of Baghdad in 656/1258)' "(Dodge p. xxii).

This work did not appear in print until an edition of the Arabic text was issued by orientalist Gustav Flügel in Leipzig, 1871-72.

The text was first edited from the earliest manuscripts and translated into English by Bayard Dodge as The Fihrist of al-Nadim. A Tenth-Century Survey of Muslim Culture, 2 vols., New York, 1970. For the translation of part one Dodge used MS 3315 in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin:

"We know nothing about the history of the manuscript until it was placed in the library of the great mosque at 'Akka, when the notorious Ahmad Pasha-al-Jazzar was ruler there at the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. After the fall of Ahmad Pasha, the manuscript was evidently stolen from the mosque. It was probably at this time that it became divided, as the Beatty Manuscript includes on the first half of Al-Fihrist. In the course of time the dealer Yahudah sold his first half to Sir Chester Beatty, who placed it in his library at Dublin" (Dodge p. xxviii).

For the translation of part two Dodge used MS 1934 which "forms part of the Shahid 'Ali Pasha collection which is now cared for in the library adjacent to the Sulaymaniyah (Süleymaniye) Mosque at Istanbul. In the library catalogue it is described as 'Suleymaniye G. Kutuphanesi kismi Shetit Ali Pasha 1934" (Dodge p. xxx).

Dodge indicated that he believed that each separate portion represents half of the same manuscript made shortly after the death of al-Nadim.

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Possibly the Most Valuable Book in the World Circa 998 – 1001

Detail from page of the The Gospels of Otto III.  Please click to view entire image.

The Gospels of Otto III, probably produced in Reichenau Abbey, in the scriptorium headed by the monk Liuthard, for Holy Roman Emperor Otto III,

"must be a candidate for the most valuable book in the world. It was made for Otto around 998 . . . .  It is in its original golden binding set with jewels and with a Byzantine ivory panel. It is a totally imperial manuscript with full-page illuminated initals, Evangelist portraits, twenty-nine full-page miniatures from the life of Christ, and dominating all these, it has a pair of facing paintings showing the peoples of the world adoring Otto III. The worshippers resemble the Magi bringing offerings to the infant Christ. They are four women bearing gold and jewels and their names are written above in capitals: Sclavinia, the eastern European with dark read hair; Germania, a fair-skinned girl with long wispy blonde hair, Gallia, the back-haired French girl, and the curly-headed Roma, who is bowing lowest of all before the ruler of the empire. Otto himself is shown the opposite page, seated disdainfully on his majestic throne, flanked by two priests with books. . . . Otto III had built himself a palace on the Aventine Hill in Rome. His library including (amazingly) a fifth-century manuscript of Livy's history of Rome, probably given to him by the archbishop of Piacenza in about 996; the transcript of it that he had made still survives in Bamberg. His seal had the legend 'Renovatio Imperii Romanorum', the restoration of the empire of the Romans. He thought himself at least as great as Caesar Augustus" (de Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts [1986] 67-68). 

The Gospels of Otto III is preserved at Munich in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Clm 4453).

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The Oldest Book in Rus', a "Hyper-Palimpsest" of Three Bound Wooden Wax Tablets 998 – 1030

On July 13, 2000 the Novgorod Codex (Новгородский кодекс) was discovered in Novgorod (Veliky Novgorod), Russia. More early Russian manuscripts survived in Novgorod than any other Russian city, probably because Novgorod was not occupied by the Mongols. The earliest surviving book of the Rus' people, the Novgorod Codex is a palimpsest consisting of three bound wooden tablets containing four pages filled with wax, on which its former owner wrote down dozens, probably hundreds of texts during two or three decades, each time wiping out the preceding text. The tablets measure 19 x 15 x 1 cm, and have a 15 x 11.5 cm indentation filled with wax. The two exterior tablets have one wax layer and one blank wooden side, and the third interior tablet has two wax sides. The boards have round holes at one edge, through which wooden pegs were inserted, holding the tablets together as a four-page book.

"The tablets were discovered in a stratum 50 cm away and 30 cm below a wooden walkway dendrochronologically dated to the year 1036. As the strata in Novgorod are estimated to have grown at about 1 cm per year, the document was estimated to have been placed there around 1015-1020. Subsequent radiocarbon dating of the wax at the Uppsala University in Sweden gave the range of 760 AD to 1030 AD with a 95.4% certainty. Due to the Christian text on the tablets, dates earlier than the Christianization of Kievan Rus' in 988 are considered unlikely, and as such, the wax tablets are reliably dated to a very narrow 42-year window between 988 and 1030 AD."

"The wax of the codex itself contains psalms 75 and 76 (and a small fragment of psalm 67). This is the so-called basic text of the Novgorod Codex. Consequently, the book is alternatively known as the Novgorod Psalter. This text can be read as easily as any other document on parchment and could be examined at once. The Psalter translation exhibits a somewhat different translatory tradition than the Slavonic translations of the Psalter known so far (especially the Psalterium Sinaiticum)."

"Preservation of the tablets presented unique challenges, as the usual preservation method for wood would have destroyed the wax layer, and vice versa. The method eventually decided on called for careful separation of the wax layer, and preserving each material separately. The newly exposed wood under the removed wax was found to have been extensively scratched by the stylus cutting through the thin wax. It took the research team several weeks to realize that some symbols could be discerned in the scratches.

"Famed Russian linguist Andrey Zaliznyak, one of the foremost experts on the early medieval Novgorod dialect, has taken tremendous effort to reconstruct so far only a small portion of the texts preceding the basic text. The main difficulty with this task is the fact that the feeble traces of dozens of thousands of letters left by the stylus, often hardly discernible from the natural shading of the soft lime wood, have been superimposed on each other, producing an impenetrable labyrinth of lines (Zaliznyak speaks of a “hyper-palimpsest”). Consequently, ‘reading’ a single concealed text of one page can take weeks" (all quotations from Wikipedia article on Novgorod Codex, accessed 01-19-2013).

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1000 – 1100

Beowulf: Known from a Unique Medieval Manuscript Circa 1000

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript. (View Larger)

Beowulf, a traditional heroic epic poem written in Old English alliterative verse, and representing with its 3,182 lines 10% of all surviving Old English poetry, is known from one medieval manuscript that dates from between the 8th and the 11th century, perhaps in the first decade after 1000. The manuscript, known as the Nowell Codex or Cotton Vitellius A. xv, is preserved in the British Library.

The volume as it was bound in the 17th century contains two manuscripts: a 12th century manuscript that contains four prose works, and the Nowell codex, named after the q6th century English antiquarian, cartographer, and scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and literature Laurence Nowell, whose name is inscribed on its first page, and who owned the manuscript in the mid-16th century. It was then acquired by Sir Robert Cotton, who placed it in his library as the 15th manuscript on the first shelf of the bookcase that was headed by a bust of Vitellius.

"The unique copy of Beowulf is preserved in the Cottonian collection of manuscripts that suffered from a great fire in 1731. It remained in its burnt binding until the middle of the nineteenth century, when Sir Frederic Madden, Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum, undertook to restore these damaged manuscripts in his care. His bookbinder first traced the outline of each burnt leaf, cut out the center of the tracing except for a retaining edge of about 2mm, and pasted and taped the vellum leaf to the paper frame. Then he rebound the framed leaves in a new cover. The method well preserved the fragile bits of text along the burnt edges of the leaves, but the retaining edges of the paper mounts, and the paste and tape used to secure the leaves to them, hide from view many hundreds of letters and bits of letters. Today they are visible only if one holds a bright light directly behind them, an ineffectual solution if one lacks the manuscript, the bright light, or the permission to use them together" (The Electronic Beowulf, 1993, accessed 06-15-2009).

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The Oldest Surviving Haggadah(s) Circa 1000

Folio 1 recto of Halper 211, considred to be one of the oldest surviving haggadahs. (View Larger)

 A Haggadah found in the Cairo Genizah, the storeroom of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, Old Cairo, Egypt, "is considered the oldest surviving Haggadah" (Malachi Beit-Arie, "How Hebrew Manuscripts are Made",  Gold (ed.) A Sign and a Witness. 2000 Years of Hebrew Books and Illuminated Manuscripts [1988] 36). This Haggadah, dating to about the year 1000, is  preserved in the Annenberg Research Institute for Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Pennsylvania (Halper 211).

However, another Haggadah from the Cairo Genizah preserved at the Jewish Theological Seminary may be from roughly the same date:

"Among the manuscript treasures housed in The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary is a rare haggadah codex, JTS MS 9560. This early manuscript is one of the few surviving examplars of the ancient Palestinian seder rite. That rite disappeared as a result of the dislocations caused by the Crusades, and it was not rediscovered until the manuscript fragments of the Cairo Genizah came to light at the end of the nineteenth century. MS 9560 was probably deposited in that genizah hundreds of years ago.

"Unlike most of the manuscript fragments found in the Cairo Genizah, this haggadah is almost complete. Based on the writing style, it can be dated to the tenth or the first half of the eleventh century. That makes it one of the earliest Hebrew manuscripts written on paper, and quite possibly the oldest surviving haggadah. With its unskilled writing style and idiosyncratic spelling and linguistic usage, the text bears witness to a layman's home ritual. Therefore, MS 9560 is significant for a number of areas of Jewish research" (http://www.jtsa.edu/Library/News_and_Publications/Between_the_Lines/BTL_121.x, accessed 12-06-2108).

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The Earliest Use of Catchwords Circa 1000

"Catchwords (that is the first words of the following quire) are found at the end of quires in Western manuscripts as early as c. 1000, and they were in widespread use by the twelfth century. In the thirteenth century the practice began of numbering the individual bifolia, often with a letter of the alphabet to designate the quire and an Arabic numeral, the leaf (a1, a2, a3. . .), and the individual quires of the book were also sometimes numbered in Roman numerals, especially early in the Middle Ages, usually in the lower outer margin of the last page" (Rouse, "Authentic Witnesses: Manuscript Making and Models of Production," Rouse & Light, Manuscript Production. Primer 6, published by Les Enluminures [2014] 2-3).

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The Oldest Surviving Illustrated Manuscript Written in Arabic 1009 – 1010

Folios 325r and 326v of MS. Marsh 144, depicting the constellation Orion. (View Larger)

According to historian Jonathan Bloom, the oldest surviving illustrated manuscript written in Arabic on any subject is a manuscript on paper of Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi's Treatise on the Fixed Stars preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford [Ms. Marsh 144. p. 165].

"The pictures show the configurations of the stars in the forty-eight constellations recognized by Ptolemy, but the figures are dressed in Oriental rather than classical Greek garb. Al-Sufi wrote in his text that although he knew of another illustrated astronomical treatise, he copied his illustrations directly from images engraved on a celestial globe, indicating that he was not working in a manuscript tradition. According to the eleventh-century scholar al-Biruni, al-Sufi explained that he had laid a very thin piece of paper over a celestial globe and fitted it carefully over the surface of the sphere. He then traced the outlines of the constellations and the locations of individual stars on the paper. Al-Biruni later commented that this procedure 'is an [adequate] approximation when the figures are small but it is far [from adequate] if they are large.' The Oxford manuscript of al-Sufi's text was copied from the author's original by his son" (Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World [2001]  143-44 and figure 51).

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The Earliest Extant Complete Text of the Bible in Hebrew Circa 1010

Cover page E, folio 474a, of the Leningrad Codex. (View Larger)

The Leningrad Codex, probably written in Cairo about the year 1010, is the earliest extant complete text of the Bible in Hebrew. It has been preserved in St. Petersburg since the mid-19th century, and is now housed in the Russian National Library.

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The Scribe Sujātabhadra Writes Aṣṭasahāsrikā Prajñāparamitā on 222 Palm-Leaf Folios March 15, 1015

In March 1015 the scribe Sujātabhadra, working in or around Kathmandu, Nepal, wrote a manuscript in Sanskrit known as the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight-Thousand Stanzas (Skt. Aṣṭasahāsrikā Prajñāparamitā). Sujātabhadra wrote the manuscript on 222 palm-leaf folios. It is one of the earliest surviving illuminated Buddhist manuscripts. The manuscript is preserved in Cambridge University Library (MS Add. 1643), and in 2015 the library made a digital facsimile of the manuscript available at this link

"The text is lavishly illustrated by a total of 85 miniature paintings: each one is an exquisite representation of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas (beings who resolve to achieve Buddhahood in order to help other sentient beings) – including the historical Buddha Śākyamuni and Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future. The figures represented in the miniatures include also the embodied Perfection of Wisdom goddess (Prajñāparamitā) herself on the Vulture Peak Mountain near Rājagṛha, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Māgadha, in today’s Bihar state. The settings in which these deities are depicted are drawn in meticulous detail. The Bodhisattva Lokanātha, surrounded by White and Green Tārās, is shown in front of the Svayambhu stupa in Kathmandu – a shrine sacred for Nepalese and Tibetan Buddhists, damaged in the recent earthquake. The places depicted in the miniatures represent a kind of map of Buddhist lands and sacred sites, from Sri Lanka to Indonesia and from South India to China" (http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/the-1000-year-old-manuscript-and-the-stories-it-tells#sthash.LKfGWelI.dpuf).

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Production of Medieval Arabic Manuscripts Circa 1025

About 1025 royal patron of the arts, Tamin ibn al Mu'izz ibn Badis, the fourth ruler of the Zirids in Ifriqiya, North Africa, wrote the 'Umbdat alk-kuttab wa 'uddat dhawi al-albab (Book of the Staff of the Scribes and Implements of the Discerning with a Description of the Line, the Pens, Soot Inks, Liq, Gall Inks, Dyeing, and Details of Bookbinding).

This Arabic manuscript, partly written by Ibn Badis, and preserved in Cairo, is a the primary source for information on writing, illuminating, and binding Arabic manuscripts of this period, as well as a resource on the history of chemistry. The portion of the manuscript describing bookbinding is incomplete, lacking details on the techniques of decoration.

The text was translated by Martin Levey as "Mediaeval Arabic Bookmaking and its Relation to Early Chemistry and Pharmacology" and published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, new series, Vol. 52 (1962) 5-79. Because of the incompleteness of the bookbinding section of ibn Badis's manuscript Levey added an appendix to this work, containing his translation of Abu'l-Abbas Ahmed ibn Muhammed al Sufyani's Sinaat tasfir alkutub wa-hill aldhahab (Art of Bookbinding and Gilding) written in 1619.

Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals (1984) no. 2.  See also Bosch, Carswell, Petherbridge, Islamic Bindings & Bookmaking. A Catalogue of an Exhibition, The Oriental Institute, The University of Chicago (1981). The earliest bindings illustrated and described in this exhibition dated from the 13th to 15th centuries.

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The Oldest Scottish Book Remaining in Scotland Circa 1025

One of the oldest Scottish books remaining in Scotland: a psalter nearly 1,000 years old. (View Larger

The oldest Scottish book remaining in Scotland is an eleventh century illuminated version of the Psalms of King David preserved in the Center for Research Collections at Edinburgh University Library. The Celtic Psalter, with Celtish and Pictish illuminations, was exhibited at the library for the first time in its recorded history in December 2009.

"The origin of the psalter is a mystery but experts believe it was probably produced by monks in Iona, who were also associated with the making of the Book of Kells. It is thought that the book was written for someone of major importance, with one possibility being St Margaret, who was Queen of Scotland around the time it was produced.  

"The 144-page medieval Psalter includes Pictish designs of colourful dragons, beasts and monsters, with images on almost every page" (http://medievalnews.blogspot.com/2009/12/celtic-psalter-scotlands-oldest-book.html, accessed 12-10-2009).

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Medieval Islamic Views of the Cosmos: The Book of Curiosities Circa 1025

In 2002 the Bodleian Library at Oxford acquired one of the only known copies of an illustrated anonymous cosmography compiled in Egypt during the first half of the 11th century. This manuscript contains a series of early maps and astronomical diagrams, most of which are unparalleled in any other known Greek, Latin or Arabic material. The rhyming title of the volume, يKitāb Gharā’ib al-funūn wa-mulaḥ al-ʿuyūn, loosely translates as The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes. The Bodleian's copy may have been made in the late 12th or early 13th century. 

"Its unique maps and diagrams include: diagrams of star-groups and comets; a rectangular map of the world with a graphic scale (the earliest surviving example of such a map); a circular world map; individual maps of islands and ports in the eastern Mediterranean, including Sicily, Tinnis, Mahdia, Cyprus, and the Byzantine coasts of Asia Minor; maps illustrating the Mediterranean Sea as a whole, the Indian Ocean, and the Caspian Sea; and maps of five major rivers (the Nile, Indus, Oxus, Euphrates, and Tigris)" (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/news/2007_mar_29, accessed 01-23-2014).

The significance of the manuscript is such that the Bodleian created a separate website for the manuscript entitled Medieval Islamic Views of the Cosmos. The Book of Curiosities, in which the manuscript is reproduced in facsimile, with translation and commentary, and aids for teachers.

"The volume (now given the shelfmark MS. Arab. c. 90) consists of 48 folios (96 pages), each measuring 324 x 245 mm. Pages without illustrations have 27 lines of text per page. The treatise begins with a dedication to an unnamed patron and an abbreviated table of contents. The manuscript copy is incomplete, however, for the copyist has omitted the eighth and ninth chapters of the second book, and the manuscript has lost part of the penultimate chapter and all of the last one.

The Paper

"The lightly glossed, biscuit-brown paper is sturdy, rather soft, and relatively opaque. The paper has thick horizontal laid lines, slightly curved, and there are rib shadows, but no chain lines or watermarks are visible. The thickness of the paper varies between 0.17 and 0.20 mm and measures 3 on the Sharp Scale of Opaqueness; the laid lines are 6-7 wires/cm, with the space between lines less than the width of one line. The paper would appear to have been made using a grass mould. Paper of such construction was produced in Egypt and Greater Syria in the 12th and 13th centuries (greater precision is not possible). For similar Islamic papers, see Helen Loveday, Islamic Paper: A Study of the Ancient Craft (London, 2001); we thank the author for examining and discussing with us the paper in this particular manuscript.

Authorship, date and provenance

"The author of The Book of Curiosities is not named and has not been identified, although he refers to another composition of his titled يal-Muḥītي(‘The Comprehensive’). On the basis of internal evidence, we can suggest that the treatise was composed in the first half of the 11th century, probably in Egypt. The copy we have today is more recent and appears to have been made some hundred and fifty to two hundred years later. Although the copy is undated and unsigned, the paper, inks, and pigments appear consistent with Egyptian-Syrian products made from the early 13th through the 14th century.ي

"Our author recognized the legitimate authority of the Fāṭimid imāms who came to power in Ifrīqiyah (modern Tunisia) in 909 and ruled at Cairo from 973 until their dynasty was brought to an end by Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn (Saladin) in 1171. At their heyday, the Fāṭimids ruled all over Syria, Egypt and North Africa. Whereas the ʿAbbāsid caliphs of Baghdad were recognized as the rightful leaders of the Muslim community by the Sunnī majority, the Fāṭimid imāms—who claimed to be the biological descendants of the Prophet Muḥammad through his daughter Fāṭimah—were recognized as legitimate by a faithful minority of Ismāʿīlī Muslims. Our author not only opens his work with an explicit acknowledgement of the Fāṭimids but also, further on, gives a brief but highly doctrinaire history of the rise of the dynasty, from the accession of the first imām, al-Mahdī, to the defeat of Abū Yazīd (al-dajjāl, the Antichrist) by his son, al-Qāʾim.ي

"The geographical focus of The Book of Curiosities is Muslim commercial centres of the 9th- to 11th-century eastern Mediterranean, such as Sicily, the textile-producing town of Tinnīs in the Nile Delta, and Mahdīyah in modern Tunisia. The author is equally acquainted with Byzantine-controlled areas of the Mediterranean, such as Cyprus, the Aegean Sea, and the southern coasts of Anatolia. The author’s occasional use of Coptic terms and Coptic months, together with the allegiance to the Fāṭimid caliphs based in Cairo, suggest Egypt as a likely place of production.ي

"The treatise was almost certainly composed before 1050. The tribal group of the Banū Qurrah are mentioned in chapter 6 of Book 2 as inhabiting the lowlands near Alexandria. As the Banū Qurrah are known to have been banished from the region of Alexandria by the Fāṭimid authorities in 1051–1052, it is very likely that this treatise was written before that date. Since Sicily is described as being under Muslim rule, the treatise could definitely not have been composed later than the Norman invasion of Sicily in 1070.ي

"The last dated event mentioned in the treatise is the construction buildings for merchants in the city of Tinnīs in 1014-1015. Moreover, al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh, the Fāṭimid ruler of Egypt and Syria from 996 to 1021, is referred to in the chapter on Tinnīs as if he were no longer reigning. Therefore, the treatise was probably composed after 1021" (http://cosmos.bodley.ox.ac.uk/content.php/boc?expand=732, accessed 01-23-2014)

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The Earliest Surviving Book Written in the Americas Circa 1050 – 1150

Page 74 of the Dresden Codex, depicting a great flood, flowing from the mouth of a celestial dragon. This represents the Central American notion of apocolypse. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving book written in the Americas is the Dresden Codex, a Mayan codex written about 1150 by the Yucatecan Maya in Chichén ItzaYucatan, Mexico. It is the most complete of the four surviving codices written in the Americas before the Spanish conquest.

The codex was made from Amatl paper ("kopó", fig-bark that has been flattened and covered with a lime paste), doubled in folds in an accordion-like form of folding-screen texts. The bark paper was coated with fine stucco or gesso and is eight inches high by eleven feet long.

The Dresden Codex was written by eight different scribes. Each had a particular writing style, glyphs and subject matter. On its 74 pages it incorporates  "images painted with extraordinary clarity using very fine brushes. The basic colors used from vegetable dyes for the codex were red, black and the so-called Mayan blue."

"The Dresden Codex contains astronomical tables of outstanding accuracy. Contained in the codex are almanacs, astronomical and astrological tables, and religious references.The specific god references have to do with a 260 day ritual count divided up in several ways.The Dresden Codex contains predictions for agriculture favorable timing. It has information on rainy seasons, floods, illness and medicine. It also seems to show conjunctions of constellations, planets and the Moon. It is most famous for its Venus table." (quotations from the Wikipedia article Dresden Codex, accessed 11-30-2008).

The history of the survival of the manuscript is only partly known. It is believed that in 1519 it was sent by the conquistador Hernán Cortés as a tribute to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was also King Charles I of Spain. Charles had appointed Cortés governor and captain general of the newly conquered Mexican territory. In 1739 Johann Christian Götze, Director of the Royal Library at Dresden, purchased the codex from a private owner in Vienna. Götze gave it to the Royal Library in Dresden in 1744.

During the bombing of Dresden in World War II, and the resulting fire storms, the Dresden Codex was heavily water damaged. Twelve pages of the codex were harmed and other parts of the codex were destroyed. However, the codex was meticulously restored after this damage. It is preserved in the Buchmuseum of the Sächsische Landesbibliothek, Dresden. In February 2014 a high-resolution digital facsimile of the codex was available from that library at this link.

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"About 100,000 handwritten Hebrew codices and their remains have survived...." Circa 1050

".... Despite the adoption of the spoken languages of their host societies in everyday life – the wide use of Greek by Hellenized Jews in late antiquity, the extensive employment of Arabic as the main written language in countries under Muslim rule, and later, to a much lesser extent, the application of European vernacular languages in their literature, the Jews have always remained loyal to their own script. Jews have adhered to their Semitic national writing, rendering in it not only epigraphic writings, literary texts and documents written in the Hebrew language, but also other borrowed languages, including the European ones, in transcription. Learned Jews in medieval Christian Europe apparently never employed the Latin script, nor did they use the Latin language in Hebrew transcription. On the other hand, since the eleventh century Jews did employ occasionally and in the late Middle Ages more extensively, the vernacular languages of their environments, transcribing them in Hebrew characters. Old French, Provençal, Catalan, Castilian, Spanish and, of course, Italian, Greek and particularly German were assimilated by the Jews and incorporated into their Hebrew written texts, but always rendered in Hebrew transcription.

"Thus, Jews in the East and the West, and since the ninth century rather exclusively, utilised the Hebrew script for written communication, documentation, legal proceedings and particularly for writing their literature and disseminating it, mainly in Hebrew, but also in other languages, especially Arabic. This remarkable phenomenon, together with the vast territorial dispersion of the Jews, turned a minor marginal script and book craft into a culturally rather major one. From the viewpoint of extent and diffusion, the Hebrew script was employed in the Middle Ages over a larger territorial range than the Greek, Latin or Arabic scripts, as Hebrew manuscripts and documents were produced within and across all these and other script zones.

"This marginal Hebrew script and book craft naturally encompassed diversified regional shapes, types and styles of the common script, book technology and the scribal practices involved in its production. Medieval Hebrew books shared the same script, but were divided by different geo-cultural traditions of fabrication, design and writing modes, strongly influenced by contacts with local non-Jewish values and practices and by the Latin and Arabic scripts. Hebrew manuscripts indeed present a solid diversity of well-differentiated script types, techniques and scribal practices, moulded by the different places where they were made.

"About 100,000 handwritten Hebrew codices and their remains have survived to this day. They are kept in some six hundred national, state, public, municipal, university and monastic libraries and private collections all over the world. Some 300,000 fragments of medieval manuscripts were preserved in the Cairo Genizah, a store room for worn-out books in a synagogue in old Cairo. In addition, numerous remains of re-used bisected medieval European Hebrew manuscripts have been and still are being recovered from the binding covers books in many European collections.

"Among the hundreds of collections of surviving Hebrew manuscripts in the world, only the collections of some dozen libraries are regarded as major collections, both in quantity, by containing at least several hundred manuscripts, and in quality, by having important and rare copies in all the areas of Jewish textual creativity and old, precious and aesthetically designed written books. Those collections are found in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the Vatican Library, the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, the Russian State Library in Moscow, the National Library in Jerusalem, the British Library in London, the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, Cambridge University Library and the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin.

"It may seem rather paradoxical that the extant Hebrew manuscripts which have mostly survived from Christian countries, while escaping mass expulsions and persecutions, were saved mainly by European libraries which purchased them, preserved, conserved and kept them accessible for students and scholars. These Christian institutions became guardians of Jewish literary heritage, like the Bodleian Library and Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana" (Malachi Beit-Arié, "Hebrew Manuscripts," http://bav.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/hebrew-manuscripts, accessed 12-08-2013). 

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The Ostomir Gospels, the Second Earliest East Slavonic Book 1056 – 1057

The second oldest dated East Slavic book, the Ostomir Gospels (Остромирово Евангелие), was created by deacon Gregory for his patron, Posadnik Ostromir of Novgorod in 1056 or 1057, probably as a gift to a monastery. Because Novgorod was not overrun by the Mongols, more early manuscripts have survived from this city than another other city in Russia.

"The book is a illuminated manuscript Gospel Book lectionary containing only feast-day and Sunday readings. It is written in a large uncial hand in two columns on 294 parchment sheets of the size 20 x 24 cm. Each page contains eighteen lines. The book is concluded by the scribe's notice about the circumstances of its creation.

"Three full page evangelist portraits survive, by two different artists, and many pages have decorative elements. The close resemblance between this and the equivalent pages in the Mstislav Lectionary suggests they are both based on a common prototype, now lost. The two artists who produced the evangelist portraits were both heavily influenced by Byzantine models, but the style of the portraits of Saints Mark and Luke seems to derive from Byzantine enamelled plaques rather than manuscripts" (Wikipedia article on Ostomir Gospels, accessed 01-19-2013).

The Ostomir Gospels are preserved in the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg.

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More than One Million Charters Survive from the Period of Norman Rule in England 1066 – 1307

More than one million charters survive, either as originals or early copies, from the period of Norman rule in Britain, from 1066 to 1307. Many of these documents are records of property and land transactions written in Latin and recorded by religious or royal institutions. They are fundamental source material for historical research in medieval politics, economics and society.

Through these charters historians can study the rise and fall of military and religious organizations, among many other topics. For example, charters show how the Knights Hospitallers, or the Order of Saint John, a religious organization founded around 1023 to provide care for poor, sick or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land, became a religious and military organization after the Western Christian conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, when it was charged with the care and defense of the Holy Land.

In the late seventeeth and early eighteenth centuries dating medieval charters was one of the problems which motivated Mabillon and Montfaucon to pioneer the science of palaeography. However, at least one million of the Norman charters remain undated, largely due to adminstrative changes introduced by William the Conqueror in 1066. To solve problem of dating the huge number of undated charters Gelila Tilahun and colleagues at the University of Toronto are applying computer-automated statistical techniques with the goal of reducing the time and effort to date them manually, and to improve the accuracy of assigned dates.

"Their approach is to use a subset of some 10,000 charters that are dated and to look for changes in language over time that could be used to date other documents. For example, Tilahun and co say that the phrase “amicorum meorum vivorum et mortuorum”, which means 'of my friends living and dead', was popular between the years 1150 and 1240 but not at other times. And the phrase 'Francis et Anglicis', which is a form of address meaning 'to French and English', was phased out when England lost Normandy to the French in 1204. However, the statistical approach is much more rigorous than simply looking for common phrases. Tilahun and co’s computer search looks for patterns in the distribution of words occurring once, twice, three times and so on. 'Our goal is to develop algorithms to help automate the process of estimating the dates of undated charters through purely computational means,' they say.  

"This approach reveals various patterns which they then test by attempting to date individual documents in this set. They say the best approach is one known as the maximum prevalence technique. This is a statistical technique that gives a most probable date by comparing the set of words in the document with the distribution in the training set.  

"Tilahun and co say their approach also has other applications. For example, the same technique could be used to work out authorship and to weed out forgeries, of which there are known to be a substantial number.  

"So how well does it work in practice? These guys finish their paper with a fascinating anecdote about a medieval English charter that was discovered in a drawer at the library of Brock University near Niagara Falls.  T

"The charter lacked a data so various historians attempted to work out when it was written. The first estimates pointed to the 14th century but these were later revised to the 13th century. Eventually, by comparing the charter to other records, one academic pinned it down to a date between 1235 and 1245.  

"Inspired by the media interest in this charter, Tilahun and co ran the document through their automated maximum prevalence procedure. 'The date estimate we obtained was 1246,' they say, with just a little hint of pride. Not bad!" (MIT Technology Review, 01-16-2013, accessed 01-16-2013).

Gelila Tilahun, Andrey Feuerverger, and Michael Gervers, "Dating medieval English charters," Annals of Applied Statistics VI (2012) 1615-1640.


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The Earliest Surviving Manuscript of the Earliest Western Medical Treatise Circa 1075 – 1098

Folio 1r of the manuscript of Liber Pantegni preserved in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. (View Larger)

A manuscript of the Liber Pantegni by the Tunisian Muslim merchant-turned-monk, Constantinus Africanus, who traveled to Italy, converted to Christianity, and worked at the Abbey of Monte Cassino toward the end of the 11th century, is the earliest surviving copy of Constantinus's work, characterized as "the earliest Western medical treatise." It is believed that this manuscript, preserved in the Koninklijke Bibiotheek in The Hague. was produced in the Abbey of Monte Cassino, probably under the supervision of Constantine Africanus.

A compendium of Hellenistic and Islamic medicine, and to a large extent a translation of the Kitab al-malaki "Royal Book" of the Persian physician and psychologist Ali ibn al-Abbas, Constantinus's' Liber pantegni (παντεχνη "[encompassing] all [medical] arts") became a standard text at the Schola Medica Salernitana, the first European medical school, and was highly influential throughout the middle ages.  

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available at this link.

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The VIDI Project: "Manuscript Innovation in the Twelfth-Century Renaissance" Circa 1075 – 1225

From the website of the Leiden University VIDI Project coordinated by Dr. Erik Kwakkel, selected quotations:

"While the medieval manuscript underwent over a thousand years of development by the hands of a variety of cultures, one particular age stands out in that it arguably introduced more innovations than any other: the period 1075-1225, also referred to as the “Twelfth-Century Renaissance” (Benson and Constable 1991; Haskins 1927; Swanson 1999). While this established term might be historiographically restrictive (Jaeger 2003; see also Thomson 2002), the notion it covers (one cultural movement that unites scholars in different fields and geographical locations) is useful in that it brings under one umbrella a number of related historical events, such as monastic reform, establishment of universities, birth of scholasticism, revival of jurisprudence, and the introduction of Greek and Arabic philosophy. This “Great Awakening” of Europe (Knowles 1962, Chap. 7) gave alacrity and optimism to educated society, whose members sensed they were living in a time different from their immediate past and who contemplated, often explicitly, their role in the course of history and the new present (Abulafia 2006; Jaeger 1994). The term “renaissance of letters” is sometimes used to accentuate that this cultural movement was primarily driven by intellectuals (Damian-Grint 1999; Luscombe 2004; Verger 1995), first those in Northern France, Belgium and Northern Italy, followed suit by kindred spirits in Southern Italy, Germany and Spain. These intellectuals — who lacked cohesion other than a shared background (a “career”, perhaps) in higher education, a deep yearning for knowledge and the sense that classical ideas ought to be revived in their life-time — exchanged ideas through texts and letters, which were disseminated through the main intellectual centers in medieval Europe, monasteries, cathedral schools and universities. Here the new voices, presenting new ideas in a new language of eloquence, were read and heard, and contradicted and expanded upon, by a broad range of intellectuals, from St Bernard of Clairvaux and William of Malmesbury to Peter Abelard and John of Salisbury.

"Overall aim

"The research project described here does not focus on the Twelfth-Century Renaissance as such, nor exclusively on book innovations in this age. Rather, it presents an innovative blend of the two: it aims to show how a changing literary taste, a shift in the use of texts, and a new outlook on the world among intellectuals had a direct and immediate influence on the physical appearance of manuscripts. In an age that is defined by the introduction of an unusually high number of new authors (foreign and home-grown), texts (original Latin works and translations) and genres (natural philosophy, encyclopedia), as well as a new approach to reading and evaluating the written word (through the scholastic method), it became important for readers to own manuscripts that presented texts in an entirely different format than the vehicles they inherited from the Carolingians (9th-11th centuries). This research project aims to show that to meet these demands, a new manuscript was cast in the twelfth century, custom-tailored for use in the new age. Certain elements of this new book have already been examined, such as its script (Derolez 2001, Chap. 3), decoration (Cahn 1996), bookbinding (Sheppard 1995) and the glossing it frequently contains (De Hamel 1984). Furthermore, the contexts of its production and use have been illuminated for some individual copies (Donovan 1993; Gibson 1992; Gullick 1990), regional branches (Kaufmann 1975; Ker 1955; Thomson 1998; Thomson 2006) or monastic houses (Palmer 1998, Chap. 2; Thomson 1982). However, the manuscript as a whole and as a new European book format has to date been largely ignored, as has the historical backdrop of its creation, a pan-European intellectual movement. What has been studied in depth is its successor, a book known as the “Gothic Manuscript”, the handwritten book produced between c. 1200 and c. 1530 that is defined by a new script (Gothic script), certain ornamental motives, standardization in the production stages, and a commercial production environment (Derolez 1996). The proposed project focuses on the “lost” century in the history of medieval written culture, the period between the conclusion of the Carolingian age (c. 1100) and the start of the Gothic period (c. 1200), an epoch in which the physical book is in transition from one prolific format to another. 

"Over the course of the twelfth century, manuscript production and the manner in which books were used had turned over a new leaf: a new script was introduced (known as the “Littera Praegothica”), new decoration emerged (so-called “proto-penwork” flourishing) and new aids for the reader were invented. The latter dimension proves to be of particular importance in understanding the establishment of the new book format, which can, for now, be called the “pregothic manuscript”, for lack of a better term. As this project aims to demonstrate, the majority of book innovations introduced between c. 1100 and c. 1200 were aimed either at improving the speed with which information in the book or on the page could be accessed, or facilitated a better understanding of the complex intellectual discourse that the texts of this age often presented. In short, the new format facilitated an improved “book fluency”, to borrow Kelly’s term, or the ability to read a text (presented on a page) quickly and accurately. While in the late eleventh century book culture nearly completely lacked tools that could rise to these occasions, by the outset of the thirteenth century scribes had a rich palette of aids at their disposal that facilitated comprehension and speedy access, such as pagination, running titles, paragraphs, quotation marks, footnotes, cross references, diagrams, marginal keywords clarifying the argumentation (“first argument”, “second”, “third”, etc.), the use of abbreviated names of authorities as marginal reference tools (“aug” for Augustine, “am” for Ambrose), interplay between various text colors, availability of multiple script types and sizes (“hierarchy of scripts”), and a layout that visually distinguished between main text and “add-ons” (commentary, reference, etc.). These revolutionary “paratextual” features define the pregothic manuscript, the project claims, because they were instrumental for the new breed of European scholars. They prompted what the philosopher Ivan Illich calls a “bookish culture” (Illich 1996) in that they helped to organize knowledge, convert words into arguments and open a dialogue between reader and author." 

"The project will be primarily based on 250 manuscripts written between 1075 and 1225 (the traditional boundaries of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance) present in the so-called Catalogues des Manuscrits Datés, or CMD (Derolez 2009). This source, which has seen rapid growth over the past five years and can now be used for inquiries such as the present, contains hundreds of manuscripts. The inclusion of an item is based on the presence of a scribal colophon stating when a book was made, and each entry includes a transcription of this colophon, as well as one or more images and a rudimentary manuscript description. This unique tool, which, in spite of its excellent suitability for this task, has to date never been used in an historical investigation of this kind, enables us to firmly date the emergence (and disappearance) of certain physical features. The corpus of 250 manuscripts will be expanded with a selection of other manuscripts that can with certainty be tied to a particular year of production, bringing the total to no more than 300 manuscripts. It is anticipated that most of these manuscripts will have been written in Latin. However, the project includes investigations into the application of the new book format in the European vernacular traditions, aspects of which have been probed in Kwakkel, forthcoming 2" (http://www.hum.leiden.edu/lucas/research/news/manuscript-innovation.html, accessed 02-08-2014. References referred to in these quotations were also detailed at this link.)

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The Domesday Book, Recording the First English Census December 1085 – August 1086

The Domesday Book. (View Larger) /></p></a>  <p>William I of England, better known as <a href=In 1085 William I, the first Norman King of England (better known as William the Conqueror, and less well known as William the Bastard), commissioned the Domesday Bookwhich recorded the first English census. (The name is pronounced like "doomsday.")

The first draft of the Domesday Book was completed in August 1086 and contained records for 13,418 settlements in the English counties south of the rivers Ribble and Tees (the border with Scotland at the time). William commissioned the book to assess the extent of the land owned in England, and the extent of the taxes he could raise. The information collected was recorded in two huge books in around one year, but William died in 1087 before the Domeday Book was completed. It is preserved in The National Archives of Britain in Richmond, Greater London.

A page of the Domesday Book on Warwickshire. (View Larger)

The work was called the Domesday Book because:

"It was written by an observer of the survey that 'there was no single hide nor a yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out.' The grand and comprehensive scale on which the Domesday survey took place, and the irreversible nature of the information collected led people to compare it to the Last Judgement, or 'Doomsday', described in the Bible, when the deeds of Christians written in the Book of Life were to be placed before God for judgment. This name was not adopted until the late 12th Century."

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A Medieval Encyclopedia, of which the Autograph Manuscript Survived Circa 1090 – 1125

A T-O design from Lambert's Liber Floridus. (View Larger)

Between 1090 and 1125 Lambert, Canon of Saint-Omer, France, compiled the Liber Floridus, a kind of encyclopedia of Biblical, chronological, astronomical, geographical, cartographic, theological, philosophical and natural history compiled from 192 different works. Lambert's Liber floridus was the first of the encyclopedias of the High Middle Ages that slowly superseded the work of Isidore of Seville. The original autograph manuscript, completed in 1120 and dedicated to Saint Omer (St. Audomar) by Canon Lambert, is preserved in Ghent University Library, though its latter portion did not survive. In February 2014 Ghent University Library provided an unusually detailed, well documented, website for the manuscript, and a digital facsimile at this link.

Liber floridus includes various maps including a mappa mundi. The Ghent manuscript, the oldest of the known copies, includes a map of parts of Europe and two climate-zone drawings based on the Macrobian model as an attempt to make a complete world map. The parts of the European map sketch show interesting and odd representations. 

"In this treatise Lambert compiled a chronicle or history that reaches to the year 1119; it contains various maps, including a mappamundi, which originally like the text, has a date at least earlier than 1125, and has survived in three forms: in the manuscripts of Ghent, Wolfenbüttel, and Paris. In spite of a clearly expressed intention of supplying a complete world map, the oldest copy, the Ghent manuscript, only includes Europe, two Macrobian-zone sketches and a T-O design. This particular manuscript copy seems to have been written by Lambert himself, certainly not later than 1125, and contains some remarkable peculiarities with regards to Europe. The Wolfenbüttel and Paris copies, dating from about 1150, are simply different copies from the same original, which was doubtless of Lambert's own draftsmanship (although in a monograph entitled Die Weltkarte des Martianus Capella, R. Uhden has pointed out that the world map contained in the Wolfenbüttel copy carries a legend ascribing the original to Martianus Capella. The correctness of the ascription is further verified by the identity of various other legends on the map with passages in the Satyricon or De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii . . . by Martianus Capella). These maps, which are based upon Capella's design, contain an equatorial ocean but are quite different than the Macrobian zone-maps (Slide #201). The ecliptic is usually shown, with the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the generalization of the coastlines is rounded in nature. Most of these maps are characteristically oriented to the East (although some show a northern orientation), and have a large amount of text in the southern continent. The climatic zones may or may not be explicitly shown. Regularly shaped islands are usually found in the ocean surrounding the northern continent.

"While containing a less detailed Europe, both the Wolfenbüttel and Paris manuscripts possess a complete mappamundi, together with a special and interesting addition. Nowhere else in medieval cartography do we find greater prominence assigned to the unknown southern continent - the Australian land of the fabled Antipodes (termed Antichthon by the ancients). On the Paris manuscript, where this land occupies half of the circle of the earth, a long inscription defines this 'region of the south' in terms not unlike those used on the St. Sever - Beatus map (Slide #207D)" (http://www.henry-davis.com/MAPS/EMwebpages/217mono.html, accessed 12-26-2008)

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The Earliest Surviving Manuscript of Razi's "The Comprehensive Book on Medicine" (Kitab al-Hawi fi al-tibb) November 30, 1094

The earliest surviving manuscript of The Comprehensive Book on Medicine (Kitab al-Hawi fi al-tibb) by Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī(Persian: محمد زکریای رازی‎ Mohammad-e Zakariā-ye Rāzi, also known by his Latinized name Rhazes or Rasis) is NLM MS A17 preserved in the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. This manuscript was completed by an unknown scribe, probably working in Baghdad, on November 30, 1094 ((19 Dhu al-Qa`dah 487 H). 

Razi (Rhazes) was born in the second half of the ninth century, possibly 854 or 865 CE in Rey (Rayy), a town located on the southern slopes of the Alborz Range situated near Tehran. He died in the same town about 925 CE (312 H). In Razi's time Rey was located on the Great Silk Road that facilitated trade and cultural exchanges between East and West. His name Razi in Persian means "from the city of Rey", an ancient town called Ragha in old Persian, or Ragâ in old Bactrian

A physician learned in philosophy as well as music and alchemy, Razi served at the Samanid court in Central Asia, and headed hospitals in Rey and Baghdad. He was the author of over 200 treatises, several of which remained standard works in the Middle East and Europe through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Some of his treatises were regarded as having practical value as late as the 18th century.

In spite of the profound and extremely durable nfluence of Razi and other Middle Eastern physicians, such as ibn-Sina or Albucasis, when I wrote this entry in April 2014 the NLM website stated that NLM MS A17 was "the oldest volume in NLM and the third oldest Arabic medical manuscript known to be preserved today." Their website did not identify the two earliest Arabic medical manuscripts, and when writing this I made a mental note to attempt to identify them. The paucity of survival of the earliest Arabic manuscripts is reflective of the lack of stability in Middle Eastern institutions, and also, possibly, of the tendency of medieval translators from the Arabic into Latin to discard the texts from which they worked after the translations were complete.

MS 17 preserves only one section of Razi's Kitabl al-Hawi fi al-tibb, the section on gastrointestinal ailments. Razi's Comprehensive Book on Medicine (Kitab al-Hawi fi al-tibb) was a large private notebook, or commonplace book, into which Razi placed extracts from earlier authors regarding diseases and therapy and also recorded clinical cases of his own experience. The material comprising the Hawi is arranged under headings of different diseases, with separate sections on pharmacological topics.

"Following al-Razi's death, Ibn al-`Amid, a statesman and scholar appointed vizier to the Persian ruler Rukn al-Dawlah in 939 (327 H), happened to be in the town of Rayy and purchased from al-Razi's sister the notes comprising the Hawi, or Comprehensive Book. He then arranged for the pupils of al-Razi to put the notes in order and make them available. The Hawi is an extremely important source for our knowledge of Greek, Indian, and early Arabic writings now lost, for al-Razi was meticulous about crediting his sources. Moreover, the clinical cases, while not unique, are the most numerous and varied in the Islamic medieval medical literature.

"Europe knew al-Razi by the Latinized form of his name, Rhazes. His Comprehensive Book on Medicine, the Hawi, was translated into Latin in 1279 under the title Continens by Faraj ben Salim, a physician of Sicilian-Jewish origin employed by Charles of Anjou to translate medical works. Even more influential in Europe was al-Razi's Book of Medicine Dedicated to Mansur, a short general textbook on medicine in ten chapters which he had dedicated in 903 (290 H) to the Samanid prince Abu Salih al-Mansur ibn Ishaq, governor of Rayy. The treatise was translated into Latin in Toledo by Gerard of Cremona (d. 1187) and was known as Liber ad Almansoris. It became one of the most widely read medieval medical manuals in Europe, and the ninth chapter, on therapeutics, frequently circulated by itself under the title Liber nonus ad Almansorem. In the Renaissance many editions of it were printed with commentaries by the prominent physicians of the day, such as Andreas Vesalius.

"A third treatise by al-Razi that was also influential in Europe was his book on smallpox and measles (Kitab fi al-jadari wa-al-hasbah). His was not the earliest monograph on the subject -- that honor goes to Thabit ibn Qurrah, a 9th-century Sabian Syriac-speaking translator and scholar working in Baghdad who became one of the great names in the history of Islamic science, especially in mathematics and astronomy. Al-Razi's treatise on smallpox and measles was, however, the more influential and was twice translated into Latin in the 18th century at a time when there was much interest in inoculation or variolation around 1720 following the description of the procedure in Turkey by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the Ambassador Extraordinary to the Turkish Court in Istanbul.

"Among al-Razi's smaller medical tracts were treatises on colic, on stones in the kidney and bladder, on curing diseases in one hour (such as headache, toothache, haemorrhoids, and dysentery in small children), on diseases of children, on diabetes, on food for the sick, on maladies of the joints, on medicine for one who is unattended by a physician, on medical aphorisms, and on the fact that some mild diseases are more difficult to diagnose and treat than the serious ones. He also composed a book on the reason why the heads of people swell at the time of the roses and produce catarrh, in which he was apparently the first to relate hay fever to the scent of roses" (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/islamic_medical/islamic_06.html, accessed 04-09-2014).

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1100 – 1200

The Codex Ebnerianus and Early Manuscript Scholarship Circa 1110

The Codex Ebnerianus, a Greek language illuminated manuscript of the New Testament, was probably written in Constantinople at the beginning of the 12th century during the Comnenian Period.

"Its full-page illustrations make it one of the finest of a large group of manuscripts which are the most important representatives of the Comnenian revival in pictorial art.

"The cycle of illustrations is unique among surviving Greek New Testament manuscripts in that it places author portraits and scenes connected with the authors at the beginning, not only of the Gospels, but also at the beginning of Acts and some of the Epistles" (Meredith, "The Illustration of Codex Ebnerianus", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes XXIX (1966) 419.

The codex is named after the Nuremberg diplomat, historian, scholar and patron, Hieronymus Wilhelm Ebner von Eschenbach who founded a library, the Bibliotheca Ebneriana, using his extensive collection. While the codex belonged to Ebner von Eschenbach in 1738 the scholar Conrad Schoenleben issued a pamphlet on it entitled Egregii codicis graeci Novi Testamenti manuscripti quem Noribergae servat vir illustris Hieronymous Gvilielmus Ebner. According to Roland Folter, Schoenleben's 44-page pamphlet with two illustrations was the first publication about a specific medieval manuscript, and also probably the first publication on a specific book in a private library.

The Codex Ebnerianus is preserved in the Bodleian Library. According to Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, A. D. 1598-A.D. 1867 p. 229, the Bodleian bought the Codex in 1820 from booksellers Payne and Foss. McCray also mentions that Schoenleben's pamphlet was incorporated by De Murr in his Memorabilia Bibliothecarum publicarum Norimbergensium published in 1788, part ii., p. 100. To that version De Murr added "thirteen well-engraved plates of the illuminations, binding and text. It was formerly bound in leather-covered boards, ornamented with gold, with five silver-gilt stars on the sides, and fastened with four silver clasps. This covering being much decayed, Ebner cased the volume in a most costly binding of pure silver, preserving the silver stars, and affixing on the outside a beautiful ivory figure (coaeval with the MS.) of our Saviour, throned, and in the attitude of benediction. Above the figure, Ebner engraved an inscription in Greek characters, corresponding to the style of the MS., praying for a blessing upon himself and his family" (McCray, p. 230). 

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Among the Best Known Records of Early Forbidden Romantic Love 1115

A folio from MS 2085 of the Schoyen Collection, one of the twelve extant manuscripts of the letters of Abelard and Heloise. (View Larger)

At the great cathedral school of Notre Dame de Paris, Pierre Abelard became one of the most famous teachers of philosophy in Europe.

"Distinguished in figure and manners, Abélard was seen surrounded by crowds - it is said thousands of students, drawn from all countries by the fame of his teaching. Enriched by the offerings of his pupils, and entertained with universal admiration, he came, as he says, to think himself the only undefeated philosopher in the world. But a change in his fortunes was at hand. In his devotion to science, he had always lived a very regular life, enlivened only by philosophical debate: now, at the height of his fame, he encountered romance.

"Living within the precincts of Notre-Dame, under the care of her uncle, the canon Fulbert, was a girl named Heloise, of noble birth, and born about 1101. She is said to have been beautiful, but still more remarkable for her knowledge, which extended beyond Latin, it is said, to Greek and Hebrew. Abélard fell in love with her; and he sought and gained a place in Fulbert's house. Becoming tutor to the girl, he used his power for the purpose of seduction, and she returned his devotion. Their relations interfered with his public work, and were not kept a secret by Abélard himself. Soon everyone knew except the trusting Fulbert. When he found out, they were separated, only to meet in secret. Heloise became pregnant, and was carried off by her lover to Brittany, where she gave birth to a son. To appease her furious uncle, Abélard proposed a secret marriage, in order not to mar his prospects of advancement in the church; but Heloise opposed the idea. She appealed to him not to sacrifice for her the independence of his life, but reluctantly gave in to pressure. The secret of the marriage was not kept by Fulbert; and when Heloise boldly denied it, life was made so difficult for her that she sought refuge in the convent of Argenteuil at Abélard's bidding. Immediately Fulbert, believing that her husband, who had helped her run away, wanted to be rid of her, plotted revenge. He and some others broke into Abélard's chamber by night, and castrated him. The priesthood and ecclesiastical office were canonically closed to him. Heloise, not yet twenty, consummated her work of self-sacrifice at Abélard's jealous bidding that she never again share romantic love with a man, and became a nun."

For the remainder of his life Abelard endured persecution for the scandal. Apart from fiction, such as" Romeo and Juliet, " the letters of Abelard and Eloise are among the best known records of early forbidden romantic love.

"Only 12 MSS of this text are known. 7 MSS are in Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, ms. lat. 2923 (13th c.), 2544, 2545, 13057, 13826, (17th c.) and ms.n.a.lat. 1873 and 20001 (a fragment); 1 in Reims: Bibliothèque Municipale, ms.872; 1 in Troyes: Bibliothèque Municipale, ms.802; Douai: Bibliothèque Municipale, ms.797; and Oxford: Bodleian MS. Add.C.271 (a fragment)" (Schøyen Collection MS 2085).

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The First Translation of the Qur'an into a Western Language 1143

Peter the Venerable.

Probably at the request of French Abbot Peter the Venerable, English theologian, astronomer, Archdeacon of Pamplona, Spain, and translator from the Arabic, Robert of Ketton (Robertus Ketenensis), prepared the first translation of the Qur'an (Koran) from Arabic into Latin in 1143. This was intended as a tool for aiding the conversion of Muslims to Christianity.

Entitled Lex Mahumet pseudoprophete, Ketton's work was the first translation of the Qur'an into a Western language. The translation was popular and "over 25" medieval manuscript copies remain extant. In spite of its inaccuracies, Ketton's translation remained the standard Latin translation for four centuries. It appeared in print for the first time in 1542/43 as the first printed Latin translation of the Qur'an.

Zwemer, Samuel M. "Translations of the Koran," The Moslem World (July 1915) 244-61.


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The Madrid Skylitzes: the Only Surviving Illustrated Manuscript of a Greek Chronicle Circa 1150

An illustration of a naval battle in the Madrid Skylitzes, showing Greek marine flamethrower technology. (View Larger)

A heavily illustrated illuminated manuscript of the Synopsis of Histories (Σύνοψις Ἱστοριῶν), by John Skylitzes, covering the reigns of the Byzantine emperors from the death of Nicephorus I in 811 to the deposition of Michael IV in 1057, the Madrid Skylitzes is the only surviving illustrated manuscript of a Greek chronicle. The manuscript was produced in Sicily in the 12th century, and is now at the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid, where it is known as the Madrid SkylitzesCodex Græcus Matritensis Ioannis Skyllitzes, or Skyllitzes Matritensis. It includes 574 miniature paintings. Vasiliki Tsamakda attributed the paintings to 7 artists: 4 Italians, an Englishman or Frenchman and two Byzantines. If those attributions are correct, the manuscript represents a very unusual collaboration of artists from different nations. It is unclear whether the miniatures are copies of Byzantine images or original to the manuscript.

Vasiliki Tsamakda, The Illustrated Chronicles of Ioannes Skylitzes in Madrid (2002).

(This entry was last revised on 06-05-2015.)

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Twelfth Century Images of the Processes in Book Production Circa 1150

(See Larger)

A twelfth century manuscript of the Opera varia of St. Ambrose in the Staatliche Bibliothek of Bamberg contains a full-page miniature containing 10 circular medallion-type images depicting the processes of making a book from preparing parchment to binding. The binder is shown using a sewing frame. Bamberg Msc. Patr. (Alt B II 5).

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"Ancestor of the Modern Scholarly Apparatus of Footnotes" Circa 1150

A heavily glossed manuscript of Libri Quattuor Sententiarum by Peter Lombard, whose usage of margin notes for citations is considered by some to be the direct antecedent of modern scholarly footnotes. (View Larger)

About 1150 Scholastic theologian Petrus Lombardus (Peter Lombard) of Notre Dame de Paris wrote Libri Quattuor Sententiarum (The Four Books of Sentences).

"The margins of manuscripts and early printed texts in theology, law, and medicine swarm with glosses which, like the historian's footnote, enable the reader to work backward from the finished argument to the texts it rests on. Peter Lombard, the theologian whose commentaries on the Psalms and the Letters of Paul 'are probably the most highly developed of glossed books,' systematically named his sources in marginal glosses, creating what Malcolm Parkes has called, 'the ancestor of the modern scholarly apparatus of footnotes.' Peter certainly deserves credit for one typically modern feat: provoking the first controversy over a wrong reference in a note. One of his glosses mentioned St. Jerome as a source for the story, a popular one in the twelfth century, that the Salome mentioned in the Gospel of Mark was not a woman but the third husband of St. Anne. His student Herbert of Bosham, who attacked this thesis, argued fiercely that Peter's gloss was wrong. As a good pupil, though he preferred to ascribe the mistake to an ignorant scribe rather than his learned teacher. Experimentation with new and safer forms of reference began early: the thirteenth century encyclopedist Vincent of Beauvais tried to avoid scribal errors by incorporating his source references into his texts, presumably on the theory that glosses were more vulnerable than the text proper to errors in copying" (Grafton, The Footnote: A Curious History [1997] 30-31).

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An Illuminated Medieval Travel Guide and Music Compendium Circa 1150

Detail of page from the Codex Calixtinus–or Liber Sancti Jacobi / Book of Saint James Calixtinus–or Liber Sancti Jacobi / Book of Saint JamesCodex Calixtinus–or Liber Sancti Jacobi / Book of Saint James.

Formerly attributed to Pope Callixtus II, but now believed to have been arranged by the French scholar, monk and pilgrim Aymeric Picaud, the Codex Calixtinus was intended as an anthology of background detail and advice for pilgrims following the Way of St. James to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great, located in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain.

The codex is alternatively known as the Liber Sancti Jacobi, or the Book of Saint James. It includes sermons, reports of miracles and liturgical texts associated with Saint James, and a most interesting set of polyphonic musical pìeces. The Codex Calixtinus was intended to be chanted aloud, and contains the first known composition for three voices, the conductus Congaudeant catholici (Let all Catholics rejoice together); however, the extreme dissonance encountered when performing all three voices together has led some scholars to suggest that this was not the original intention. The popularity of the music has continued to the present day with modern recordings commercially available. It also contains descriptions of the pilgrimage route, works of art to be seen along the way, and the customs of the local people.

"The origins and authorship of the Codex Calixtinus have been the subject of much debate amongst scholars. It is generally believed to have been written by a number of different authors and then compiled as a single volume, possibly between 1135 and 1139 by the French scholar Aymeric Picaud. It is thought that in order to lend authority to their work, the authors prefaced the book with a forged letter purportedly signed by Pope Callixtus II, who had already died in 1124.

"The earliest known edition of the codex is that held in the archives of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela,[2] and dates from about 1150. It was lost and forgotten for many years until rediscovered in 1886 by the Jesuit scholar Padre Fidel Fita. A copy of the Santiago edition was made in 1173 by the monk Arnaldo de Monte,[3] and is known as The Ripoll (after the monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll in Catalonia). It is now kept in Barcelona. The book was well-received by the Church of Rome, and copies of it were to be found from Rome to Jerusalem, but it was particularly popular at the Abbey of Cluny.

"The first full transcription of the Codex was done in 1932 by Walter Muir Whitehill, and published in 1944 in Madrid by the Spanish Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, together with a musicological study by Silos's Dom Germán Prado O.S.B., and another on the miniature illustrations by Jesús Carro García" (Wikipedia article on Codex Calixtinus, accessed 07-07-2011).

The manuscript was preserved in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. On July 5, 2011 it disappeared from a safe in the archives of the Cathedral. The theft was under investigation when I wrote this entry on July 7, 2011.

♦ On July 8, 2011 an article appeared on theolivepress.es concerning the left: http://www.theolivepress.es/spain-news/2011/07/07/codex-calixtinus-stolen-from-santiago-de-compostela-cathedral/, accessed 07-07-2011.

On July 11, 2011 an article concerning the codex and the theft appeared in time.com: "Codex Caper: Medieval Guidebook Stolen from a Spanish Church: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2082071,00.html

♦ On July 4, 2012, one day less than a year from the day it was announced stolen, the Codex Calustinus was recovered from a garage in Santiago. A former caretaker and his wife, son, and another women were arrested by Spanish police in connection with the theft.

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Perhaps the Oldest Complete Torah Scroll Circa 1150

In May 2013 the University of Bologna announced that it had identified in its library a complete Torah scroll which carbon dating proved to more than 850 years old. This would make it the oldest complete surviving text of the Torah. Written in the oriental Babylonian tradition, the text of this Torah contains many features forbidden in later copies under rules laid down by Maimonides in the 12th century.

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The Eadwine Psalter, Masterpiece of Book Production in the Twelfth Century Renaissance Circa 1155 – 1170

The Eadwine Psalter (Cambridge, Trinity College Library, MS R.17.1), previously known as the Canterbury Psalter, has been called the most ambitious manuscript produced in England in the twelfth century. It was written on calf vellum, and illustrated at Canterbury circa 1155-60, with additions circa 1160-70, and was kept at the Cathedral Priory of Christ Church, Canterbury through most of the Middle Ages. Its leaves measure approximately 460 x 330 mm.

It is a "trilingual, glossed psalterium triplex," containing 

"a calendar, triple Metrical Psalms 90:15-95:2, canticles, two continuous commentaries, two prognostications, a marginal image of Halley's Comet (recorded in 1147), a diagrammatic representation of Christ Church's waterworks, and a full page visual memorialisation of Eadwine. At least 13 scribes appear to have been employed in the construction of this manuscript. Many of these scribes are part of a cohesive programme of matched, or near-matched, hands, making some sections difficult to attribute to one particular scribe" (http://www.le.ac.uk/english/em1060to1220/mss/EM.CTC.R.17.1.htm, accessed 02-16-2014).

The book contains five different versions of the text of the Psalms, three in Latin, one in Old English, and one in Anglo-Norman, with a prologue, a commentary, and a concluding prayer to each Psalm.

During the period of production of the Eadwin Psalter the Utrecht Psalter was in Canterbury, and its complex set of illustrations were copied and adapted for the project. The largest known cycle of prefatory biblical pictorial narrratives of the period was devised and appended as a pictorial preface, and every Psalm, prayer, and Canticle was embellished with fully illuminated initials as well as gold and silver minor initials. The portrait of the monk Eadwine as scribe on folio 283 verso of the Psalter has been called "perhaps the most famous portrait of its kind from medieval Europe." (Gibson et al, 178).

The manuscript was published in black & white facsimile by M. R. James as The Canterbury Psalter (London: Friends of Canterbury Cathedral, 1935). The best overall study of the manuscript is Gibson, Heslop & Pfaff (eds.) The Eadwine Psalter. Text, Image, and Monastic Culture in Twelfth Century Canterbury (1992). (In February 2014 I was pleased to acquire a beautiful copy of this rather splendid small folio volume for only $46.22.) 

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Written and Illuminated by the Nun Herrad of Landsberg 1167 – 1185

Plate 8 of the Englehardt facsimile of the Hortus delicarum. In the centermost circle, Philosophy rests upon a queenly throne, holding a banner that says 'All wisdom comes from God, only the wise can do what they want.' Directly below sit Socrates and Plato, at abutting desks. In the surrounding orbs stand the Seven Liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. (View Larger)

The Hortus deliciarum (Garden of Delights), a medieval manuscript compiled by and illuminated by the nun, Herrad of Landsberg, at the Hohenburg Abbey in Alsace from 1167 to 1185, was an illuminated encyclopedia, written as a pedagogical tool for young novices at the convent.

"Most of the manuscript was not original, but was a compendium of 12th century knowledge. The manuscript contained poems, illustrations, and music, and drew from texts by classical and Arab writers. Interspersed with writings from other sources were poems by Herrad, addressed to the nuns, almost all of which were set to music. The most famous portion of the manuscript is the illustrations, of which there were 336, which symbolised various themes, including theosophical, philosophical, and literary themes."

Having been preserved for centuries at the Hohenburg Abbey, the Hortus Deliciarum passed into the municipal Library of Strasbourg about the time of the French Revolution. There the minatures were copied in 1818 by Christian Moritz (or Maurice) Engelhardt; the text was copied and published by Straub and Keller, 1879-1899. Thus, although the original perished in the burning of the Library of Strasbourg during the Siege of Strasbourg in the Franco-Prussian War, we can still appreciate the artistic and literary value of Herrad's work.

"Hortus deliciarum is one of the first sources of polyphony originating from a nunnery. The manuscript contained at least 20 song texts, all of which were originally notated with music. Those which can be recognized now are from the conductus repertory, and are mainly note against note in texture. The notation was in semi-quadratic neumes with pairs of four-line staves.Two songs survive with music intact: Primus parens hominum, a monophonic song, and a two part work, Sol oritur occasus" (Wikipedia article on Hortus deliciarum, accessed 12-25-2008).

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Origins of the Paris Book Trade Circa 1170

"It is generally accepted that by c. 1170 at latest there were many glossed books of the Bible being made in Paris, and the surviving manuscripts display characteristics indicative of commercial production.

"The characteristics include simple matters of method and routine; the regularization (after two or three decades' experimentation) of the juxtaposition of gloss and text. It is not just the fact that these conventions emerged but also their rapid diffusion that, together, suggest centralized production in quantity—the concentrated and repetitive output associated with urban commercial production. There is even an informal and quite early (c. 1170?) accounting, jotted down on the back pastedown of a Parisian glossed Book of Numbers owned by Ralph of Reims, recording payment for books completed and the purchase of parchment for books yet to be written: 'Pentateuch, Job, Twelve Prophets, Matthew, and Luke, with parchment for the Psalter and the Epistles and note (?): 28 livres and 10 sous'; this is a direct indication of commercial production.

"If in the twelfth century there was no booktrade in the way it developed later in Paris; nevertheless there was clearly a structure of some sort, capable of producing a significant number of large books with complex layouts. We find most attractive the hypothesis that the large urban abbeys of Paris, and specifically the abbey of St-Victor, fostered the growth of the city's commercial booktrade by engaging lay scribes and illuminators to make manuscripts, when necessary. St-Victor's growth among Parisian abbeys to the first rank in importance in the middle of the twelfth century is well documented. By providing work for lay artisans, the abbey would in effect have encouraged the development of independent métiers. In this context, a well-known passage from the Liber ordinis of St-Victor (c. 1139) deserves to be cited once again: 'All writing,whether done inside the abbey or out, pertains to the office of the armarius [librarian]; he should provide the scribes with parchment and whatever else is necessary for writing, and he is responsible for hiring those who write for pay'. The implication is double: there were scribes for hire in Paris before the middle of the twelfth century, and St-Victor hired them (R. Rouse & M. Rouse, Manuscripts and their Makers. Commercial Book Producers in Medieval Paris 1200-1500 I [2000] 26).

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The Hunterian Psalter Circa 1170

Folio 7v of the Hungarian Psalter: a miniature depicting, on top, the creation of Adam, and, on bottom, the temptation of Adam by Eve. (View Larger)


The Hunterian Psalter, a striking example of Romanesque book art, was produced in England in the latter part of the twelfth century.

"It is uncertain where or when, exactly, the manuscript was produced, or for whom. It has been suggested that it was produced for Roger de Mowbray (d. 1188), a prominent 12th century crusader and religious benefactor known to have founded a number of Augustinian and Cistercian monasteries and nunneries. The book also contains three commemorations to Augustine of Hippo, which has led some scholars to conclude that the manuscript might have been created for a house of Augustinian Canons, or by someone with a connection to the Augustinian order.

"The fact that there is no mention of the 29 December feast of Thomas Becket on the page for December is thought to indicate that the book was produced before Becket's canonization in 1173. For most of its history, it was thought to have been the product of a scriptorium in the north of England, owing to its inclusion of a number of

Folio 22r of the Hungarian Psalter, a miniature which incorporates the Beatus Initial. (View Larger)northern saints such as Oswald of Northumbria and John of Beverley (who very seldom occur outside northern manuscripts), although modern scholarly consensus puts its likely origin in the southwest of England.

"There is no definite consensus about the number of artists who worked on the book. It has been suggested that a single master oversaw the work of several assistants, and it has also been put forth that it is the work of an artist working alone, copying and adapting templates from other illuminated manuscripts. It is thought to have been the work of skilled tradesmen, not monks" (Wikipedia article on Hunterian Psalter, accessed 03-27-2010).

Today the manuscript is considered the finest book in the library of 10,000 printed books and 650 manuscripts formed by the physician and connoisseur collector, William Hunter, who bequeathed all his collections to the University of Glasgow. It is preserved in the University of Glasgow Library (Sp Coll MS Hunter U.3.2) (229). In addition to manuscripts and books Hunter made important collections of coins, paintings, minerals, shells, anatomical and natural history specimens.

Hunter acquired this volume at the auction sale conducted by Guillaume-François de Bure of the library of Louis-Jean Gaignat in Paris on April 10, 1769, along with several other books. His French agent, Jean B. Dessain, bought it at the auction on Hunter's behalf for fifty livres and one sou. It was described in the sale catalogue as a "codex pervetustus" (a very old codex), and the price was considerably lower than many of the printed books in the sale, reflecting the tastes and market prices of the time. (The Gaignat library included such treasures as the Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum in the British Library.)

Young & Aitken, A Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of the Hunterian Museum in the University of Glasgow (1908) no. 229.

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Mishneh Torah, Signed by Maimonides 1170 – 1180

Between 1170 and 1180 CE Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides, RaMBaM or Rambam), working in Cairo, Egypt, compiled the