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

Religious Texts / Religion Timeline

Theme

2,800,000 BCE – 8,000 BCE

"The Sorcerer" Circa 12,000 BCE

'The Sorcerer' is one name for this cryptic painting found in the Trois Frères in France by Henri Breuil. Photocredit: Encyclopaedia Britannica(View Larger)

The Sorcerer, an enigmatic therianthrope cave drawing, is thought to have been created about 12000 BCE. It was discovered in the cavern known as "The Sanctuary" in the Trois-Frères cave in Montesquieu-Avantès, Ariège, France. The cave was discovered by the three sons of comte Henri Bégouën in 1912-1914. Exploration of the cave was interrupted by World War I, resuming in 1918. Count Bégouën and Henri Breuil published the image of "The Sorcerer" for the first time in 1920: H. Bégouën and H. Breuil, "Un dessin relevé dans la grotte des Trois Frères à Montesquieu-Avantès (Ariège)," C. r. Ac. Inscr. (1920) p. 45, 303.

The image, which Breuil made famous, has been variously interpreted as some kind of great spirit or master of animals, or a shaman performing a ritual to ensure good hunting. Whatever its original meaning to prehistoric people, it is generally agreed that this was a cult object of great significance to the people who used the cave.

The cave contained so many images, many of them intricately intertwined, that their study took decades. In Four Hundred Centuries of Cave Art, Transl. Mary E. Boyle (1952) Breuil indicated that Max Bégouën first saw and photographed the image. Breuil wrote:

"First of all, the 'God' first called the 'Sorcerer' by Count Bégouën and I, the only figure painted in black of all those engravings in the Sanctuary, four metres above the floor in an apparently inaccessible position, only to be reached by a secret corridor climbing upwards in a spiral. Evidently, he presides over all the animals, collected there in incredible numbers and often in a terribly tangled mass. He is 75 cms high and 50 cms wide, he is entirely engraved but the painting is unequally distributed; on the head there are only a few traces, on the eyes, nose, forehead and the right ear. This head is full face with round eyes with pupils, between the eyes runs a line for the nose, ending in a little arch. The pricked ears are those of a Stag. From a blacked painted band across the forehead rise two big thick antlers with no frontal tines but with a single short tine, fairly high above the base of each branch, bending left. This figure has no mouth, but a very long beard cut in lines and falling on the chest. The fore-arms, which are raised and joined horizontally, end in two hands close together, the short fingers outstretched; they are colourless and almost invisible. A wide black band outlines the whole body, growing narrower at the lumbar region, and spread out round the legs which are bent. A spot marks the left knee-joint. The feet and big toes are rather carefully made and show a movement similar to steps in a 'Cakewalk' dance. The male sex, emphasized but not erect, pointing backwards but well developed, is inserted under the bushy tail of a Wolf or Horse, with a little tuft at the end. Such is the Magdalenian figure considered to be the most important in the cavern and the Spirit controlling the multiplication of game and hunting expeditions" (Breuil, op. cit., 176). 

It may be impossible to put ourselves in the mindset of prehistoric man without projecting our worldview. One way is to study the rituals of present stone-age peoples such as Aborigines (Indigenous Australians), who also create rock paintings. A more recent study, devoid of Breuil's religious bias, that reviews prior or alternative theories and suggests that cave images were derived from trance and magic in shamamistic ritual is the beautifully illustrated book by Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams, The Shamans of Prehistory. Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves. Text by Jean Clottes, translated from the French by Sophie Hawkes (1996).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Surviving Human-Made Place of Worship Circa 9,500 BCE

The Göbekli Tepe, Turkist for 'Potbelly Hill,' is the oldest discovered structure for religious worship. (View Larger)

Göbekli Tepe (Turkish for "Potbelly Hill"), a hilltop sanctuary erected on the highest point of an elongated mountain ridge some 15 km northeast of the town of Şanlıurfa (formerly Urfa / Edessa) in southeastern Turkey, is the earliest surviving human-made place of worship, and the earliest surviving religious site in general. It was discovered in 1964; excavations began in 1994.

The site was erected by hunter-gatherers in the 10th millennium BCE, before the advent of the transition from nomadic to permanent year-round settlement. Together with Nevalı Çori, a site dating from the ninth or tenth millenium BCE, but which was inundated by the dammed waters of the Euphrates, Göbekli Tepe has revolutionized understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic.

"Göbekli Tepe is regarded as an archaeological discovery of the greatest importance since it profoundly changes our understanding of a crucial stage in the development of human societies. It seems that the erection of monumental complexes was within the capacities of hunter-gatherers and not only of sedentary farming communities as had been previously assumed. In other words, as excavator Klaus Schmidt puts it: 'First came the temple, then the city.' This revolutionary hypothesis will have to be supported or modified by future research" (Wikipedia article on Göbekli Tepe, accessed 05-18-2011).

Spectacular renderings and photographs of the site are in Mann, "Göbekli Tepe," National Geographic 219, no. 6, 39-59.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

The Pyramid Texts: The Oldest Known Religious Texts Circa 2,400 BCE – 2,300 BCE

Pyramid texts located in Teti I's pyramid. (View Larger)

 A collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts inscribed within royal tombs from the time of the Old Kingdom, the Pyramid Texts are the oldest known religious texts. Written in Old Egyptian, they were carved on the walls and sarcophagi of the pyramids at Saqqara (Sakkara, Saqqarah; Arabic: سقا ) during the 5th and 6th Dynasties of the Old Kingdom.

The Pyramid Texts provide the earliest comprehensive view of the way in which the ancient Egyptians understood the structure of the universe, the role of the gods, and the fate of human beings after death. Their importance lies in their antiquity and in their endurance throughout the entire intellectual history of ancient Egypt. In the Middle Kingdom, many texts were borrowed from the pyramid chambers and mingled with new spells; this new form, called Coffin Texts, were usually written inside coffins. These eventually gave way to what we now know as the Book of the Dead.

"The oldest of the texts date to between 2400-2300 BCE. Unlike the Coffin Texts and Book of the Dead into which parts of the pyramid texts later evolved, the pyramid texts were reserved only for the pharaoh and were not illustrated. The pyramid texts mark the first written mention of the god Osiris, who would become the most important deity associated with afterlife.

"The spells, or "utterances", of the pyramid texts are primarily concerned with protecting the pharaoh's remains, reanimating his body after death, and helping him ascend to the heavens, which are the emphasis of the afterlife during the Old Kingdom. The spells delineate all of the ways the pharaoh could travel, including the use of ramps, stairs, ladders, and most importantly flying. The spells could also be used to call the gods to help, even threatening them if they did not comply" (Wikipedia article on Pyramid Texts, accessed 01-20-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Wael Sherbiny Rediscovers the Oldest & Longest Egyptian Leather Roll Circa 2,300 BCE – 2,000 BCE

In September 2015 Egyptologist Wael Sherbiny of Brussels announced his rediscovery of the oldest and longest Egyptian leather roll in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Dating from the late Old Kingdom to the early Midddle Kingdom (2300-2000 BCE), the roll measures about 8.2 feet (2.5 meters). The manuscript, which had been lost in the museum for about 70 years, was purchased by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo from a local antiquities dealer sometime after the WWI. It was later donated to the Egyptian Museum, where it was unrolled shortly before the outbreak of the WWII. After it was stored in the museum it seems to have been completely forgotten until it was rediscovered by Sherbiny.

Though a relatively large number of Egyptian papyrus rolls or fragments survived in Egypt because of the dry desert climate, very few ancient Egyptian leather rolls survived. According to Sherbiny, leather was considered a very precious writing material in ancient Egypt, and it was the principal medium for recording religious texts and great historic events, as it was more practical than papyrus due to its flexibility and durability. Leather rolls, kept in the libraries and archives of temples, were also used as master copies from which cheaper copies were reproduced on papyrus. However, leather had a low rate of survival in the deseart. The Cairo roll was no exception: part of it was fragmented into very tiny pieces. Like in a jigsaw puzzle, Sherbiny pieced them together.

"The pieces formed a large pictorial-textual segment from the so-called Book of Two Ways, which is an illustrated composition containing temple rituals later adapted for the funerary use.

"This composition is known to Egyptologists as it occurs on the floorboard of Middle Kingdom coffins (2055-1650 B.C.) from the necropolis of Hermopolis in Upper Egypt.

“ 'Amazingly, the roll offers an even more detailed iconography than the Hermopolitan coffins in terms of texts and drawings,' Sherbiny said" (http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/oldest-and-longest-ancient-egyptian-leather-manuscript-found-150914.htm, accessed 10-01-2015).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Execration Texts: Ceremonial Writing and Sympathetic Magic in Ancient Egypt Circa 2,000 BCE – 1,800 BCE

Most often written upon statuettes of bound foreigners, bowls, or blocks of clay or stone, which were subsequently destroyed, Execration Texts, also referred to as proscription lists, were ancient Egyptian hieratic  texts, listing enemies of the Pharaoh, enemies of the Egyptian state or troublesome foreign neighbors. The ceremonial process of breaking the written names and burying them was believed to be sympathetic magic that would affect the persons or entities named in the texts. This magical practice, in which Execration Text framents were usually placed near tombs or ritual sites, was most common during times of conflict with Egypt's Asiatic neighbors. 

"The Execration texts are an important resource for researchers in the field of ancient Near Eastern history of the 20th-18th centuries BCE and Bible studies. The first group of Execration Texts were published by Kurt Sethe in 1926, known as the Berlin texts. Georges Posener published a second group of texts in 1957, known as the Brussels texts.

"The first collection are inscribed on pottery sherds, and contain the names of approximately 20 places in Canaan and Phoenicia, and over 30 rulers of the period. These texts contain what is possibly the first known mention of Jerusalem, from the beginning of the second millennium BCE, the end of the Eleventh dynasty to the Twelfth dynasty.

"The second group of texts are inscribed on figurines of bound prisoners discovered in Saqqara. This group contains the names of 64 places, usually listing one or two rulers. Seven known Asian countries are listed. This group has been dated to the end of the Twelfth dynasty.

"An additional group of texts, the Mirgissa texts, was published by Yvan Koenig in 1990" (Wikipedia article on Execration texts, accessed 07-12-2014).

 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Discovery of the "Ark Tablet": Decoding the Story of the Flood Circa 1,900 BCE – 1,700 BCE

In 2009 British Museum curator Irving Finkel, an expert on cuneiform inscriptions on clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia, received for examination and translation what came to be known as the "Ark Tablet" from its owner Douglas Simmonds. This is the only cuneiform tablet with precise instructions as to how to build the Ark described in the early accounts of the flood, best known through later accounts in literature, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Ark Tablet provided instructions for building the Ark in the form of a very large round boat called a coracle.

According to Finkel, the tablet dates from 1900-1700 BCE, though the tablet was not dated by the scribe. However, comparatively precise dating can be done from the character and composition of the cuneiform signs and from grammatical forms and usages. The tablet measures 11.5 x 6.0 cm and contains exactly 60 lines of cuneiform script written out ably and without error. In The Ark Before Noah. Decoding the Story of the Flood (2014) Finkel illustrated the tablet and translated its contents on pp. 107-110. Incidentally Finkel's well-illustrated book is a masterpiece of writing about relatively abstruse subjects for the general public. So geared to a non-scholarly audience is this book that footnotes are not even mentioned in the text. One has to search for them at the back of the book.

In the British Museum blog announcing his book on January 23, 2014 Finkel summarized his conclusions in this way:

"When the gods decided to wipe out mankind with a flood, the god Enki, who had a sense of humour, leaked the news to a man called Atra-hasis, the ‘Babylonian Noah,’ who was to build the Ark. Atra-hasis’s Ark, however was round. To my knowledge, no one has ever thought of that possibility. The new tablet also describes the materials and the measurements to build it: quantities of palm-fibre rope, wooden ribs and bathfuls of hot bitumen to waterproof the finished vessel. The result was a traditional coracle, but the largest the world had ever dreamed of, with an area of 3,600 sq. metres (equivalent to two-thirds the area of a football pitch), and six-metre high walls. The amount of rope prescribed, stretched out in a line, would reach from London to Edinburgh!

"To anyone who has the typical image learnt from children’s toys and book illustrations in mind, a round Ark is bizarre at first, but, on reflection, the idea makes sense. A waterproofed coracle would never sink and being round isn’t a problem – it never had to go anywhere: all it had to do was float and keep the contents safe: a cosmic lifeboat. Palm-and-pitch coracles had been seen on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers since time immemorial: they were still a common sight on Iraq’s great waterways in the 1950s."

In an article in The Guardian published on January 24, 2014 Finkel was quoted as saying, "I am 107% convinced the ark never existed."

"Finkel describes the clay tablet as 'one of the most important human documents ever discovered', and his conclusions will send ripples into the world of creationism and among ark hunters, where many believe in the literal truth of the Bible account, and innumerable expeditions have been mounted to try to find the remains of the ark.

"The clay tablet is going on display at the British Museum, loaned by Simmons, beside a tablet from the museum's collection with the earliest map of the world, as seen from ancient Babylon. The flood tablet helped explain details of the map, which shows islands beyond the river marking the edge of the known world, with the text on the back explaining that on one are the remains of the ark.

"Finkel said that not only did the ark never exist, but ark hunters were looking in the wrong place – the map shows the ark in the direction of, but far beyond the mountain range later known as Ararat."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Rigveda Circa 1,700 BCE – 1,100 BCE

One of the oldest extant texts in any Indo-European language, the Rigveda (Rig Veda) (Sanskrit: ऋग्वेद ṛgveda, a compound of ṛc "praise, verse" and veda "knowledge"), an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, was composed in the north-western region of the Indian subcontinent. 

"It is counted among the four canonical sacred texts (śruti) of Hinduism known as the Vedas. Some of its verses are still recited as Hindu prayers, at religious functions and other occasions, putting these among the world's oldest religious texts in continued use. The Rigveda contains several mythological and poetical accounts of the origin of the world, hymns praising the gods, and ancient prayers for life, prosperity, etc." (Wikipedia article on Rigveda, accessed 07-10-2011).

The date of composition of the Vedas is controversial. Some argue that the Rigveda was composed circa 3000 BCE, which would make it the oldest surviving literary work.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.) 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Chinese Inscriptions that are Indisputably Writing Circa 1,200 BCE – 1,050 BCE

 

The oldest Chinese inscriptions that are indisputably writing are the Oracle bone script (Chinese: 甲骨文; pinyin: jiǎgǔwén; literally 'shell-bone-script') of the late thirteenth century BCE. It is not until the oracle-bone inscriptions that we find grammatically connected marks that certainly record language. Lack of archaeological evidence prevents addressing the related questions of how long before that time writing developed and in what contexts, or whether writing in China developed gradually or rapidly, and whether it developed exclusively in a religious context or, as in the ancient Middle East, it was tied to court adminstration.

Oracle bone script was

"first identified by scholars in 1899 on pieces of bone and turtle shell being sold as medicine, and by 1928, the source of the oracle bones had been traced back to modern Xiǎotún (小屯) village at Ānyáng in Hénán Province, where official archaeological excavations in 1928–1937 discovered 20,000 oracle bone pieces, about 1/5 of the total discovered. The inscriptions were records of the divinations performed for or by the royal Shāng household. The oracle bone script is a well-developed writing system, attested from the late Shang Dynasty (1200–1050 BC). Only about 1,400 of the 2,500 known oracle bone script logographs can be identified with later Chinese characters and thus deciphered by paleographers."

"The late Shāng oracle bone writings, along with a few contemporary characters in a different style cast in bronzes, constitute the earliest significant corpus of Chinese writing, which is essential for the study of Chinese etymology, as Shāng writing is directly ancestral to the modern Chinese script. It is also the oldest member and ancestor of the Chinese family of scripts.

"The oracle bone script of the late Shāng appears archaic and pictographic in flavor, as does its contemporary, the Shāng writing on bronzes. The earliest oracle bone script appears even more so than examples from late in the period (thus some evolution did occur over the roughly 200-year period). Comparing oracle bone script to both Shāng and early Western Zhōu period writing on bronzes, oracle bone script is clearly greatly simplified, and rounded forms are often converted to rectilinear ones; this is thought to be due to the difficulty of engraving the hard, bony surfaces, compared with the ease of writing them in the wet clay of the molds from which the bronzes were cast. The more detailed and more pictorial style of the bronze graphs is thus thought to be more representative of typical Shāng writing (as would have normally occurred on bamboo books) than the oracle bone script forms, and it is this typical style which continued to evolve into the Zhōu period writing and then into the seal script of the Qín state in the late Zhōu period.

"It is known that the Shāng people also wrote with brush and ink, as brush-written graphs have been found on a small number of pottery, shell and bone, and jade and other stone items, and there is evidence that they also wrote on bamboo (or wooden) books just like those which have been found from the late Zhōu to Hàn periods, because the graphs for a writing brush (聿 yù) and bamboo book (冊 cè, a book of thin vertical slats or slips with horizontal string binding, like a Venetian blind turned 90 degrees) are present in the oracle bone script. Since the ease of writing with a brush is even greater than that of writing with a stylus in wet clay, it is assumed that the style and structure of Shāng graphs on bamboo were similar to those on bronzes, and also that the majority of writing occurred with a brush on such books. Additional support for this notion includes the reorientation of some graphs, by turning them 90 degrees as if to better fit on tall, narrow slats; this style must have developed on bamboo or wood slat books and then carried over to the oracle bone script. Additionally, the writing of characters in vertical columns, from top to bottom, is for the most part carried over from the bamboo books to oracle bone inscriptions. In some instances lines are written horizontally so as to match the text to divinatory cracks, or columns of text rotate 90 degrees in mid stream, but these are exceptions to the normal pattern of writing, and inscriptions were never read bottom to top. The vertical columns of text in Chinese writing are traditionally ordered from right to left; this pattern is found on bronze inscriptions from the Shāng dynasty onward. Oracle bone inscriptions, however, are often arranged so that the columns begin near the centerline of the shell or bone, and move toward the edge, such that the two sides are ordered in mirror-image fashion" (Wikipedia article on Oracle bone script, accessed 07-11-2009).

Edward L. Shaughnessy, "The Beginnings of Writing in China" IN: Woods (ed) Visible Language. Inventions of Writing in the Middle East and Beyond (2010) 215-24.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1,000 BCE – 300 BCE

The God of Writing. . . . Circa 646 BCE

ABout 646 BCE King Ashurbanipal recorded his rebuilding of Ezida, the temple of Nabû, the god of writing in Nineveh, on a limestone slab in Neo Assyrian cuneiform script:

"TO NABÛ, EXALTED LORD, WHO DWELLS IN EZIDA, WHICH IS IN NINEVEH, HIS LORD: I ASHURBANIPAL, KING OF ASSYRIA, THE ONE LONGED FOR AND DESTINED BY HIS GREAT DIVINITY, WHO, AT THE ISSUING OF HIS ORDER AND THE GIVING OF HIS SOLEMN DECREE, CUT OFF THE HEAD OF TE'UMMAN, KING OF ELAM, AFTER DEFEATING HIM IN BATTLE, AND WHOSE GREAT COMMAND MY HAND CONQUERED UMMAN-IGASH, TANMARIT, PA'E AND UMMAN-ALTASH, WHO RULED OF ELAM AFTER TE'UMMAN. I YOKED THEM TO MY SEDAN CHAIR, MY ROYAL CONVEYANCE. WITH HIS GREAT HELP I ESTABLISHED DECENT ORDER IN ALL THE LANDS WITHOUT EXCEPTION. AT THAT TIME I ENLARGED THE STRUCTURE OF THE COURT OF THE TEMPLE OF NABÛ, MY LORD, USING MASSIVE LIMESTONE. MAY NABÛ LOOK WITH JOY ON THIS, MAY HE FIND IT ACCEPTABLE. BY THE RELIABLE IMPRESS OF YOUR WEDGES MAY THE ORDER FOR A LIFE OF LONG DAYS COME FORTH FROM YOUR LIPS, MAY MY FEET GROW OLD BY WALKING IN EZIDA IN YOUR DIVINE PRESENCE"

(Schøyen Collection MS 2180, accessed 02-19-2014).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

A Nebuchadnezzar II Babylonian Cylinder Sets an Auction Record Circa 604 BCE – 562 BCE

On April 9, 2014, Doyle New York auctioned a Nebuchadnezzar II (Nabu-kudurri-usur) Babylonian cuneiform cylinder that described the rebuilding of the temple of Shamash in Sippar (modern Tell Abu Habbah in Iraq) by Nebuchadnezzar II, and dated to the Neo-Babylonian Period, circa 604-562 BCE. Measuring 8 1/4 inches (20.8 cm) in length, it was the largest example to come to market in recent times. The cylinder was described as, "double-tapered barrel-shaped cylinder of baked clay, 8 1/4 inches (20.8 cm) in length, tapering from 3 1/4 inches (8 cm) at center to 2 1/4 inches (6 cm) at the ends. Text in two columns, approximately 35 lines. Very light wear to the surface but with no apparent loss of legibility; a short and minor fissure, apparently created at the time of forming or firing, visible on a blank area of the cylinder, overall in sound condition." 

It was customary for the kings of Babylon to cement their relationship with the gods by restoring their temples. These accomplishments were then recorded in cuneiform on clay cylinders prepared by a court scribe, which were buried in the foundations of the restored temples. The cylinders were enduring commemorations of the king's fealty to the gods. This very public act also helped to create the appearance of legitimacy for the ruler. For example, the Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum, extols Cyrus as a benefactor. He had attained the throne by deposing the Babylonian king Nabonidus, and he apparently believed that this and similar ritual acts would legitimize his standing with both the gods and his subjects.

The cuneiform cylinder sold by Doyle came from Sippar, a great complex of temples, the cult site of the Akkadian sun god Shamash, and the home of his temple E-babbara. The text was in two columns, and followed text number 16, published both in Babylonian and German, in Langdon, Die neubabylonischen Konigsinschriften (1912) 141 et seq. Berger, in Die neubabylonischen Konigsinchriften (1973) listed seven extant examples of this cylinder, of which five are in the British Museum, and two in the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin. The specimen auctioned by Doyle was slightly larger than any others recorded.

The auction house published this approximate translation of the text of the cylinder:

"Column I. 
"NEBUCHADNEZZAR, King of Babylon, the Wise, the Provider, Favorite of Marduk, Sakkanakku of the lands of Sumer and Akkad, who established the foundation of the lands; the Venerated Ruler whom Marduk, the Great Lord, has chosen to renew the Holy Sanctuaries and maintain the cities as his calling: into whose hands Nebo, the Victorious Son gave the scepter of prosperity to extend the lands for Man's guidance; the understanding and reverent, the maintainer of E-sagila and E-zida; the first-born Son of Nabopolassar, King of Babylon am I. 
When Marduk, the Great Lord, joyfully created me and called me into the Kingship with an eternal name, I thought reverently of Him and of His Divinity. But I continue humbly to worship Nebo, His legitimate Son, patron of my kingdom; I praise his glory. 
I endowed E-Sagila and E-zida, their favored palaces, with gold, silver, precious jewels and tall cedars, and made them shine forth like the innermost heavens. I beautified in splendor the holy sanctuaries of the great Gods, according to the wish of their hearts. E-barra, the radiant abode of the Gods, the dwelling-place of Samas, the Judge, which had long ago fallen into disrepair in Sippar; which no previous king had built, Samas the Lord ordered me, the Ruler, His favorite, to rebuild. I found its old cornerstone, and took notice of it. Over its old cornerstone I laid its foundation. I erected E-barra as it was of yore and completed it. I caused it to shine like the bright day, I caused Samas and Ai to return in gladness and rejoicing to their exalted dwelling. At that time, since time immemorable little had been left at E-ulla, the temple of Ninkarrak in Sippar. 

"Column II. 
"The temple building was in disrepair, the outer walls had crumbled, the foundation was no longer recognizable; it was buried in the dust; it was no longer numbered among the Holy Sanctuaries of the Gods; the tithes had ceased; they had vanished from the speech of the peoples; the offerings were no longer being made. 
Because I held the hem of the garment of Marduk, My Lord, and he was gracious unto me, He entrusted unto my hands the renewal of the Holy Sanctuaries, the restoring of the Edifices. 
During my legitimate reign, the merciful Marduk chose to look with favor upon that temple, and Samas, the exalted Judge, ordered its renewal. They ordered me, the shepherd who worships them, to build; I found its old cornerstone and took notice of it. The name of Nikarrak, whose throne is in E-ulla, was inscriped on the image of a dog and was there plainly to be seen. Over the old cornerstone I established the foundation for Ninkarrak, my beloved Mistress, Guardian of my soul, who brings prosperity to my kinsmen; for her I rebuilt E-ulla, her temple in Sippar. Its tithes I enriched and its offerings I restored. O Ninkarrak, Exalted Mistress, look graciously upon the work of my hands. May my acts of devotion be made known to Thy lips. Grant unto me long life, many descendants, good health, and a joyful heart. Present my deeds favorably unto Samas and Marduk; speak in my behalf." 

Provenance being essential for the authenticity and title of archaeological artifacts, this cylinder had belonged to Ellen Shaffer, Rare Book Librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and had been sold to Archie P. Johnston in 1953. The hammer price was $500,000, which with the buyer's premium, meant that the price realized was $605,000. This was the highest price realized for a Babylonian Cylinder to date.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest Surviving Texts from the Hebrew Bible Circa 600 BCE

The larger of the two silver scrolls, discovered in 1979 at Ketef Hinnom, which have been deemed the oldest suriving texts from the Hebrew bible. (View Larger)

In 1979 two tiny silver scrolls, inscribed with portions of the well-known apotropaic Priestly Blessing of the Book of Numbers, and apparently once used as amulets, were found in one of a burial chambers at Ketef Hinnom,  an archaeological site near Jerusalem. The delicate process of unrolling the scrolls, while developing a method that would prevent them from disintegrating, took three years. Even though very brief, the two tiny silver scrolls are the oldest surviving texts from the Hebrew Bible.

"The scrolls were found in 1979 in Chamber 25 of Cave 24 at Ketef Hinnom, during excavations conducted by a team under the supervision of Gabriel Barkay, professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University. The site appeared to be archaeologically sterile (the tomb had last been used for storing rifles during the Ottoman period), but a chance discovery by a 13-year-old "assistant" revealed that a partial collapse of the ceiling long ago had preserved the contents of Chamber 25.

"The chamber contained approximately 60 cm. of material with over a thousand objects: many small pottery vessels, artifacts of iron and bronze (including arrowheads), needles and pins, bone and ivory objects, glass bottles, and jewelry including earrings of gold and silver. The tomb had evidently been in use for several generations towards the end of the First Temple period, and continued to be used after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/6 BCE. KH1 was found in Square D, the middle of the repository, 7 cm above the floor, while KH2 was found while sifting dirt from the lower half of the deposits in Square A, the innermost portion of the repository. Both amulets were separated from Hellenistic artifacts by 3 meters of length and 25 cm of depth, and embedded in pottery and other material from the 7th/6th centuries BCE.

"Barkay initially dated the inscriptions to the late-7th/early-6th centuries BC (later revised downward slightly to the early 6th century) on palaeographic grounds (the forms of the delicately-incised paleo-Hebrew lettering) and on the evidence of the pottery found in the immediate vicinity. This dating was subsequently questioned by Johannes Renz and Wolfgang Rollig (Handbuch der Althebraischen Epigraphik, 1995), who argued that the script was in too poor a condition to be dated with certainty and that a 3rd/2nd century BCE provenance could not be excluded, especially as the repository, which had been used as a kind of "rubbish bin" for the burial chamber over many centuries, also contained material from the fourth century BCE.

"A major re-examination of the scrolls was therefore undertaken by the University of Southern California's West Semitic Research Project, using advanced photographic and computer enhancement techniques which enabled the script to be read more easily and the paleography to be dated more confidently. The results, published in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR) in 2004, confirmed a date immediately prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586/7 BCE.](An innovation in the report was the simultaneous publication of an accompanying "digital article," a CD version of the article and the images). Dr Kyle McCarter of Johns Hopkins University, a specialist in ancient Semitic scripts, has said the study should "settle any controversy over [the date of] these inscriptions" (Wikipedia article on Ketef Hinnom, accessed 09-01-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Destruction of Solomon's Temple 586 BCE

Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were exiled into the Babylonian Captivity

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Cyrus Cylinder, the Earliest Known Document in the History of Religious Toleration 539 BCE

The front side of the Cyrus Cylinder. (View Larger)

 

In 539 BEC, after conquering Babylonia, Cyrus II of Persia (Cyrus the Great) permitted various religious groups, including perhaps 40,000 Jews, to return to their native land. Cyrus also issued a declaration inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform on a clay cylinder. The cylinder, which has become known as the Cyrus Cylinder, was discovered in March, 1879 in the foundation of the Ésagila temple in Babylon by the Assyrian Christian Assyriologist and archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam

"The Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam discovered the Cyrus Cylinder in March 1879 during a lengthy programme of excavations in Mesopotamia carried out for the British Museum. It had been placed as a foundation deposit in the foundations of the Ésagila, the city's main temple. Rassam's expedition followed on from an earlier dig carried out in 1850 by the British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard, who excavated three mounds in the same area but found little of importance. In 1877, Layard became Britain's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Mesopotamia at the time. He helped Rassam, who had been his assistant in the 1850 dig, to obtain a firman (decree) from the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II to continue the earlier excavations. The firman was only valid for a year but a second firman, with much more liberal terms, was issued in 1878. It was granted for two years (through to 15 October 1880) with the promise of an extension to 1882 if required. The Sultan's decree authorised Rassam to "pack and dispatch to England any antiquities [he] found ... provided, however, there were no duplicates." A representative of the Sultan was instructed to be present at the dig to examine the objects as they were uncovered. 

With permission secured, Rassam initiated a large-scale excavation at Babylon and other sites on behalf of the Trustees of the British Museum. He undertook the excavations in four distinct phases. In between each phase, he returned to England to bring back his finds and raise more funds for further work. The Cyrus Cylinder was found on the second of his four expeditions to Mesopotamia, which began with his departure from London on 8 October 1878. He arrived in his home town of Mosul on 16 November and travelled down the Tigris to Baghdad, which he reached on 30 January 1879. During February and March, he supervised excavations on a number of Babylonian sites, including Babylon itself" (Wikipedia article on Cyrus Cylinder, accessed 03-08-2014).

On the cylinder Cyrus announced a number of reforms that he made after conquering the country. These include arranging for the restoration of temples and organizing the return to their homelands of a number of people who had been held in Babylonia by the Babylonian kings. For these reasons the Cyrus Cylinder has been called the earliest known document in the history of religious toleration. It is preserved in the British Museum. (BM 90920).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Disappearance of the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments 535 BCE

Having taken 4 months to walk from Babylon to Jerusalem, the Jews began construction of the Second Temple. Missing from the Second Temple was the Ark of the Covenant which, according to legend, contained the Ten Commandments. The loss eventually resulted in extensive speculations concerning the Ark's disappearance and archaeological efforts to locate the Ark. Some of these efforts were caricatured in: 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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). 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

300 BCE – 30 CE

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Musawwarat Graffiti Archive Circa 300 BCE – 350 CE

Thousands of graffiti— informal pictorial and inscriptional incisions— adorn the extensive sandstone walls of the Great Enclosure at Musawwarat es-Sufra (المصورات الصفراء al-Musawwarāt as-sufrāMeroitic: Aborepi, Old Egyptian: jbrp, jpbr-ˁnḫ), also known as Al-Musawarat Al-Sufra. This large Meroitic temple complex in modern Sudan, dates back to the 3rd century BCE. The site is located 190 kilometers northeast of Khartoum. Many of the graffiti stem from the Meroitic period (c. 300 BCE to c. 400 CE), but also from the more recent post-Meroitic, Christian and Islamic periods. The graffiti, which name and depict gods, humans, animals — sometimes arranged in scenes, and showing symbols, objects and others — may offer a method for the interpretation of the use of this site over the many centuries of its operation. For example, the graffiti allow a rare view into the interplay between state and folk religion and practices.

In 2011 the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Humboldt University Berlin began development of the Musawwarat Graffiti Archive. In the "Graffiti in Place Database" a solution was developed for the integration of systematic graffiti-focussed information, and of data on the exact spatial contexts in which the pictorial and inscriptional graffiti were created and used. Such space-related data sets were difficult to publish in traditional paper format, and for this reason were often neglected in research and publication. In March 2014 database entries described 1542 graffiti on 1598 blocks of Temple 300 at the center of Complex 300, one of the most densely marked buildings at the site. The archive also contained more than 2,500 photographs, as well as 900 drawings of the graffiti of Temple 300. 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Only Extant Ancient Linen Book and the Longest Etruscan Text Circa 250 BCE

Preserved when it was used for mummy wrappings in Ptolemaic Egypt, the Liber Lenteus Zagrabensis (Linen Book of Zagreb), remains the longest extant Etruscan text and the only extant early book written on linen. Though the complete text remains untranslated because of lack of understanding of the Etruscan language, it is thought to be a ritual calendar. Certain local gods mentioned within the text allow its place of production to be narrowed to a small area in southeast Tuscany near Lake Trasimeno where four major Etruscan cities were located: modern day ArezzoPerugiaChiusi and Cortona.

The manuscript was purchased in Alexandria, Egypt in 1848, and preserved in Zagreb, Croatia since 1867; however it was not recognized as an Etruscan text until 1891.

"The book is laid out in twelve columns from right to left, each one representing a "page". Much of the first three columns are missing, and it is not known where the book begins. Closer to the end of the book the text is almost complete (there is a strip missing that runs the entire length of the book). By the end of the last page the cloth is blank and the selvage is intact, showing the definite end of the book.

"There are 230 lines of text, with 1200 legible words. Black ink has been used for the main text, and red ink for lines and diacritics.

"In use it would have been folded so that one page sat atop another like a codex, rather than being wound along like a scroll. Julius Caesar is said to have folded scrolls in similar accordion fashion while on campaigns" (Wikipedia article on Liber Linteus, accessed 10-17-2014).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Archive or Library in the Temple of Edfu 237 BCE – 57 BCE

The Temple of Edfu dedicated to the falcon god Horus, located on the west bank of the Nile in the city of Edfu, which was known in Greco-Roman times as Apollonopolis Magna after the chief god Horus-Apollo, was built in the Ptolemaic period between 237 and 57 BCE. Inscriptions on its walls provide information on language, myth and religion during the Greco-Roman period in ancient Egypt. 

In this temple "there is a small room near the court which was used as an archive. The walls show inscriptions concerning 'many chests of books and large leather rolls.' They included all the literature appertaining to a temple; liturgy for daily rites and feast days; manuscripts containing the building plans and instructions for the decorations on the walls of the temple; incantations and priestly lore but also documents relevant to the administration" (Hussein 21).

"Because of the great quantity of extant papyrus rolls, which nevertheless form only a fraction of these existing in ancient times, the question arises as to how and where the Egyptians collected and arranged their books. The texts indicate that papyri were kept because we read that copying was necessary when the original had become worm-eaten. Two institutions could have served as depositories: the 'mansion of books' and the 'mansion of life'. 'Mansion of books' was the designation both for the archives where books were kept and an adminstrative office. . . .The 'mansion of life' was more than a library—it was a kind of university. Here books of all kinds were not only collected and classified, they were also written and handed down to the younger generation. It was the place where all branches of knowledge were cultivated and taught. The term 'mansion of life' also indicated that its prupose was primarily the custodianship of religious texts and the celebration of rites connected with the preservation of the king's life and that of Osiris.

"We are not able to say according to which principles libraries in the 'mansion of books' and in the 'mansion of life' were arranged. But we know. nevertheless, that the collected rolls were listed in catalogues, according to their content, and kept in chests (or other receptacles) on which a tablet with the titles of the books could be fastened or whose covers bore paintings indicating the content of the rolls" (Hussein, Origins of the Book. Egypt's contribution to the development of the book from papyrus to codex [1970] 21-22).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Very Long Process of Canonization of the Hebrew Bible Circa 200 BCE – 200 CE

Evidence suggests that the process of canonization of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) occurred over several centuries, probably between 200 BCE and 200 CE.

"Rabbinic Judaism recognizes the twenty-four books of the Masoretic Text, commonly called the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. Evidence suggests that the process of canonization occurred between 200 BC and AD 200. A popular position is that the Torah was canonized circa 400 BC, the Prophets circa 200 BC, and the Writings circa AD 100  perhaps at a hypothetical Council of Jamnia—this position, however, is increasingly criticised by modern scholars. The book of Deuteronomy includes a prohibition against adding or subtracting (4:2, 12:32) which might apply to the book itself (i.e. a "closed book," a prohibition against future scribal editing) or to the instruction received by Moses on Mt. Sinai. The book of 2 Maccabees, itself not a part of the Jewish canon, describes Nehemiah (around 400 BC) as having "founded a library and collected books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings" (2:13-15). The Book of Nehemiah suggests that the priest-scribe Ezra brought the Torah back from Babylon to Jerusalem and the Second Temple (8-9) around the same time period. Both I and II Maccabees suggest that Judas Maccabeus (around 167 BC) likewise collected sacred books (3:42-50, 2:13-15, 15:6-9), indeed some scholars argue that the Jewish canon was fixed by the Hasmonean dynasty. However, these primary sources do not suggest that the canon was at that time closed; moreover, it is not clear that these particular books were identical in content to those that later became part of the Masoretic text. Today, there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Jewish canon was set" (Wikipedia article on Development of the Jewish Bible Canon, accessed 12-24-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Rosetta Stone: Key to the Decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphs 196 BCE – 1822

Only July 15, 1799 French Capitaine Pierre-François Bouchard, with Napoleon in Egypt, discovered a dark stone 112.3 cm tall, 75.7 wide and 28.4 thick in the ruins of Fort St. Julien near the coastal city of Rosetta (Arabic: رشيد‎ Rašīd, French: Rosette), 65 kilometers east of Alexandria. This stone, which had been used in the construction of a fortress by the fifteenth century Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Al-Ashraf Sayf ad-Din Qa'it Bay (Sultan Qaitbay), was later understood to be a fragment of an ancient stela (stele)— a stone on which one of a series of Ptolemaic decrees issued over the reign of the Hellenistic Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt from 305 BCE to 30 BCE, were inscribed and put up in major temple complexes in Egypt. The decree, known as the third Memphis decree, passed by a council of priests from the Ptolemaic period in 196 BCE, affirmed the royal cult of the 13-year-old Ptolemy V as a living god on the first anniversary of his coronation. The decree was written in Egyptian hieroglyphs (the language of the priests, suitable for a priestly decree), in Egyptian Demotic script (the native script used for daily purposes), and in classical Greek (the language of the Hellenistic administration).

The stele found at Rosetta could not have originally been placed there because the land on which it was found did not exist at the time of its carving, but was the result of later sedimentation. Another decree, also written in the same languages, known as the Canopus Decree, was later discovered at Tanis in 1866 by Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius. A second Canopus Decree was found in 1881. A third decree in the same languages, known as the Decree of Memphis (Ptolemy IV) is known in two versions: the Raphia Decree, found 1902 at the site of ancient Memphis, and the Pithom Stele, No. II, found 1923, which has hieroglyphs on the front, 42 lines in Demotic on the back, providing an almos complete translation, and Greek on the side.   

Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt had been established by the first Ptolemy, known as Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander's generals. Ignorant of the Egyptian language, the Ptolemies required their officials to speak Greek and made Greek the language of their administration, a requirement that remained in effect throughout their dynasty, which lasted for a thousand years. During their rule the Ptolemies made their capital city Alexandria the most advanced cultural center in the Greek-speaking world, for centuries second only to Rome. Among their most famous projects were the Royal Library of Alexandria and the Pharos Lighthouse, or Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Because of the Ptolemaic dynasty's replacement of hieroglyphics by Greek among the educated non-priestly class educated Egyptians outside of the priesthood lost the ability to read their ancient pictographic language. Later, on February 27, 380, emperors Theodosius IGratian, and Valentinian II made Nicene Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire by the Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos populos, stating that all their subjects should profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria. In 392 CE Theodosius issued a decisive edict closing Egyptian temples. As a result, the latest known inscription written in Egyptian hieroglyphs is dated August 23, 394 CE.

During the centuries of Muslim rule one scholar in Egypt during the ninth to tenth centuries, Ahmad bin Abu Bakr ibn Washshiyah, wrote a treatise on scripts in which he not only interpreted hieroglyphs as pictorial images, but, by relating them to the Coptic language used by Coptic priests during his time, also provided an alphabet in which hieroglyphs represented single letters, though only occasionally correctly. This text, which was read in manuscript by seventeenth-century polymath Athanasius Kircher, was later translated into English by Joseph Hammer, Secretary of the Imperial Legation at Constantinople, and published in print in 1806 as Ancient Alphabets and Hieroglyphic Characters Explained, with an Account of the Egyptian Priests. Following Kircher's early but incorrect attempts to understand hieroglyphs, by the mid-18th century deciphering the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic language became one of the most challenging problems for European archeologists and linguists. Probably in 1761 Abbé Jean-Jacques Barthélemy was the first to suggest that the cartouches or oval-shaped framed sections of hieroglyphic inscriptions contained the names of gods and kings.

The Rosetta Stone was forfeited to the English in 1801 under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria. Following its arrival in England in 1801, the Rosetta stone was placed in The Society of Antiquaries, where casts were made and sent to the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Dublin and to scholars in France for incorporation in the Description de l'Égypt that was eventually published between 1809 and 1828. In June, 1802 the stone was placed in the British Museum, where it remains. The Society of Antiquaries issued full-size reproductions of the stone between 1802 and 1803. Once the texts were available to scholars the three approximately parallel texts on the Rosetta Stone became key pieces of evidence in the research on hieroglyphics by Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy, Johan David Åkerblad and Thomas Young, culminating in Jean-François Champollion's translation of the hieroglyphic text on the stone in 1822.

The first scholarly publication on the Rosetta Stone was de Sacy's, pamphlet: Lettre au Citoyen Chaptal . . . au sujet de l'inscription Égyptienne du monument trouvé à Rosette (Paris, 1802). In this brief work illustrated with one transcription of a portion of the stone, the orientalist and linguist Sacy, a teacher of Champollion, made some progress in identifying proper names in the demotic inscription. Within the same year another student of Sacy, the Swedish diplomat and orientalist Johan David Åkerblad published another "lettre" which described how he had managed to identify all proper names in the demotic text in just two months.  

"He could also read words like "Greek", "temple" and "Egyptian" and found out the correct sound value from 14 of the 29 signs, but he wrongly believed the demotic hieroglyphs to be entirely alphabetic. One of his strategies of comparing the demotic to Coptic later became a key in Champollion's eventual decipherment of the hieroglyphic script and the Ancient Egyptian language" (Wikipedia article on Johan David Akerblad, accessed 12-27-2012).

"At some period after its arrival in London, the inscriptions on the stone were coloured in white chalk to make them more legible, and the remaining surface was covered with a layer of carnauba wax designed to protect the Rosetta Stone from visitors' fingers. This gave a dark colour to the stone that led to its mistaken identification as black basalt. These additions were removed when the stone was cleaned in 1999, revealing the original dark grey tint of the rock, the sparkle of its crystalline structure, and a pink vein running across the top left corner. Comparisons with the Klemm collection of Egyptian rock samples showed a close resemblance to rock from a small granodiorite quarry at Gebel Tingar on the west bank of the Nile, west of Elephantine in the region of Aswan; the pink vein is typical of granodiorite from this region. . . . (Wikipedia article on Rosetta Stone, accessed 06-10-2011).

♦ When I revised this database entry in October 2012 the Rosetta Stone was the most widely viewed object in the British Museum. Reflective of this intense interest, the British Museum shop then offered a remarkably wide range of products with the Rosetta Stone motif, ranging from facsimiles of the stone in various sizes to umbrellas, coffee mugs, mousepads, neckties, and iPhone cases. In their British Museum Objects in Focus series of booklets they also issued a very useful 64-page compact reference: The Rosetta Stone by Richard Parkinson (2005). Parkinson was the author of the more definitive work entitled Cracking Codes. The Rosetta Stone and Decipherment, with Contributions by W[hitfield] Diffie, M. Fischer, and R.S. Simpson also published by the British Museum in 1999.

(This entry was last revised on August 12, 2014.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Nash Fragment of the Ten Commandments: The Oldest Hebrew Manuscript Fragment before the Dead Sea Scrolls Circa 150 BCE – 100 BCE

The Nash Papyrus. (View Larger)

The Nash Papyrus, a collection of four papyrus fragments on a single sheet acquired in Egypt in 1898 by Walter Llewellyn Nash and subsequently presented to Cambridge University Library, was the oldest Hebrew manuscript fragment known before the discovery in 1947 of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The provenance of the papyrus is unknown; allegedly it is from Faiyum (Fayyum), Egypt.

The text was first described by Stanley A. Cook in "A Pre-Masoretic Biblical Papyrus,"  Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 25 (1903): 34-56. Though Cook estimated the date of the papyrus as 2nd century CE, subsequent reappraisals have pushed the date of the fragments back to about 150-100 BCE.

"Twenty four lines long, with a few letters missing at each edge, the papyrus contains the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, followed by the start of the Shema Yisrael prayer. The text of the Ten Commandments combines parts of the version from Exodus 20:2-17 with parts from Deuteronomy 5:6-21. A curiosity is its omission of the phrase "house of bondage", used in both versions, about Egypt - perhaps a reflection of where the papyrus was composed.

"Some (but not all) of the papyrus' substitutions from Deuteronomy are also found in the version of Exodus in the ancient Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint also interpolates before Deuteronomy 6:4 the preamble to the Shema found in the papyrus, and additionally agrees with a couple of the other variant readings where the papyrus departs from the standard Hebrew Masoretic text. The ordering of the later commandments in the papyrus (Adultery-Murder-Steal, rather than Murder-Adultery-Steal) is also that found in most texts of the Septuagint, as well as in the New Testament (Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, Romans 13:9, and James 2:11, but not Matthew 19:18).

"According to the Talmud it was once customary to read the Ten Commandments before saying the Shema. As Burkitt put it, 'it is therefore reasonable to conjecture that this Papyrus contains the daily worship of a pious Egyptian Jew, who lived before the custom came to an end'.

"It is thus believed that the papyrus was probably drawn from a liturgical document, which may have purposely synthesised the two versions of the Commandments, rather than directly from Scripture. However, the similarities with the Septuagint text give strong evidence for the likely closeness of the Septuagint as a translation of a Hebrew text of the Pentateuch extant in Egypt in the second century BC that differed significantly from the texts later collated and preserved by the Masoretes (Wikipedia article on Nash Papyrus, accessed 12-24-2009).

Burkitt, F.C., "The Hebrew Papyrus of the Ten Commandments," The Jewish Quarterly Review, 15 (1903) 392-408.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

30 CE – 500 CE

Christianity Emerges 30 CE – 100 CE

A mosaic of Jesus Christ, located in the Hagia Sophia.

Between 30 and 100 CE Christianity emerged as a religious movement and split with Judaism.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Ostia Synagogue: the Oldest Synagogue in Europe 41 CE – 54 CE

Dating from the reign of the emperor Claudius (41-54 CE), the Ostia Synagogue located in ancient Ostia Antica, the seaport of Imperial Rome, is the oldest synagogue in Europe and one of the oldest synagogues in the world.

"There is a scholarly debate about the status of the synagogue building in the 1st century CE, with some maintaining that the building began as a house only later converted to use as a synagogue, and others arguing that it was in use as a synagogue from the 1st century.

"In its earliest form, the synagogue featured a main hall with benches along three walls; a propyleum or monumental gateway featuring four marble columns; and a triclineum or dining room with couches along three walls. There was a water well and basin near the entryway for ritual washings. The main door of the synagogue faces the southeast, towards Jerusalem.

"An aedicula, to serve as a Torah Ark added in the 4th century CE. A donor inscription implies that it replaced an earlier wooden platform donated in the 2nd century CE, which itself had been replaced by a newer Ark donated by one Mindus Faustus in the 3rd century CE" (Wikipedia article Ostia Synagogue, accessed 01-04-2014).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Automata Invented by Heron of Alexandria Circa 50 CE – 200 CE

Hero of Alexandria

The dates of the Greek mathematician and engineer Heron of Alexandria (Hero of Alexandria, Ἥρων ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς) are not known with certainty, but he must have worked between the first and third century CE. Boas cites evidence in Heron's treatise Dioptra that Heron referred to an eclipse of the moon that occurred on March 13, 63, which would place him definitely in the first century. In Heron's numerous surviving writings are designs for automata—machines operated by mechanical or pneumatic means. These included devices for temples to instill faith by deceiving believers with "magical acts of the gods," for theatrical spectacles, and machines like a statue that poured wine. Among his inventions were:

♦ A windwheel operating a pipe organ—the first instance of wind powering a machine.

♦ The first automatic vending machine. When a coin was introduced through a slot on the top of the machine, a set amount of holy water was dispensed. When the coin was deposited, it fell upon a pan attached to a lever. The lever opened up a valve which let some water flow out. The pan continued to tilt with the weight of the coin until the coin fell off, at which point a counter-weight would snap the lever back up and turn off the valve.

♦ Mechanisms for the Greek theater, including an entirely mechanical puppet play almost ten minutes in length, powered by a binary-like system of ropes, knots, and simple machines operated by a rotating cylindrical cogwheel. The sound of thunder was produced by the mechanically-timed dropping of metal balls onto a hidden drum.

More illustrated technical treatises by Heron survived than those of any other writer from the ancient world. His Pneumatica, which described a series of apparatus for natural magic or parlor magic, was definitely the most widely read of his works during the Middle Ages; more than 100 manuscripts of it survived. However, the earliest surviving copy of this text, Codex Gr. 516 in the Bibliotheca Marciana in Venice, dates from about the thirteenth century— a later date than one might expect. Conversely, the complete text of Heron's other widely known work, the Mechanica, survived through only a single Arabic translation made by Kosta ben Luka between 862 and 866 CE. This manuscript is preserved in Leiden University Library (cod. 51).

The first publication in print of any of Heron's works appeared as a paraphrase of the early pages of the Pneumatica in the encyclopedic De expetendis et fugiendis rebus of humanist Giorgio Valla published in Venice the year after Valla's death, in 1501. The first printed edition of the complete text of the Pneumatica was the Latin translation from the Greek by mathematician and humanist Federico Commandino published as Heronis Alexandrini spiritualium liber (1575). The second work of Heron to be published in print was the translation from the Greek into Italian of Heron's work on automata by Commandino's pupil, the scientist and writer Bernardino BaldiDe gli automati, ouero machine se mouenti, libri due, first issued from Venice in 1589. Heron's Mechanica, a textbook for architects, engineers, builders and contractors, concerned the theoretical knowledge and practical skills necessary for an architect. It's complete text was first published in print in French translation from the Arabic as Les méchaniques ou l'élévateur de Héron d'Alexandrie publiées spour la première foi sur la version Arabe de Qostà ibn Lûqà et traduites en Français par M. le Baron Carra de Vaux. (1893).

Marie Boas, "Hero's Pneumatica: A Study of its Transmission and Influence, Isis 40, no. 1 (1949) 38-48.

Kurt Weitzmann, "Greek Sources of Islamic Scientific Illustration," Studies in Classical and Byzantine Manuscript Illumination, ed. by Herbert Kessler, (1971) 20-25.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Probably the Earliest Surviving Image of the Crucifixion: A Graffito Circa 50 CE – 250 CE

The Alexamenos Grafitto. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving image of the Crucifixion appears to be an anti-Christian graffito discovered in 1857 carved in plaster on a wall near the Palatine Hill in Rome, now in the Palatine Antiquarium Museum. A Greek inscription, translated as "Alexamenos worshipping his God," is scratched on the graffito causing it to be known as the "Alexamenos Grafitto." The date of this graffito has been estimated as between 50 and 250 CE.

"It is assumed that the comment is sarcastic: in what appears to be an attitude of prayer, the smaller figure stands before a crucified man with the head of an ass. Contemporary Christian writers remark that pagans accuse Christians of worshiping an ass.  

"In its discussion of the graffito (under 'Archæology of the Cross and Crucifix'), the 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that the graffiti artist may have seen actual Christian worship involving a crucifix, because the figure on the cross is wearing the perizoma, the short loincloth which is commonly used in Christian images of the crucifixion. (In actual crucifixions, the victim is naked)" (http://www.aug.edu/augusta/iconography/2003additions/alexamenosGraffito.html,accessed 10-14-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The New Testament Was Probably Written over Less than a Century Circa 65 CE – 150 CE

Unlike the Old Testament, which was written over several hundred years, the New Testament was written in a relatively narrow span of time, probably less than a century, from around 65 to 150 CE.

The 27 books of the New Testament were written by various authors at various times and places, probably in Koine Greek, the vernacular dialect in first-century Roman provinces.

"Koine Greek is not only important to the history of the Greeks for being their first common dialect . . ., but it's also important . . . for being the first 'international' form of speech, and eventually the chosen medium for the teaching and spreading of Christianity. Koine Greek was unofficially a first or second language in the Roman Empire."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Destruction of the Second Temple 66 CE – 73 CE

The first Jewish-Roman War (66-73 CE) (The Great Revolt, המרד הגדול‎, ha-Mered Ha-GadolPrimum Iudæorum Romani Bellum), ended with destruction of the Second Temple, which stood on Temple Mount, and the fall of Jerusalem. Legions under Titus beseiged and destroyed Jerusalem, looted and burned Herod's Temple and Jewish strongholds (notably Masada in 73), and enslaved or massacred a large part of the Jewish population. This contributed to the numbers and geography of the Jewish Diaspora, as many Jews were scattered after losing their state, or sold into slavery through the empire.

"Estimates of the death toll range from 600,000 to 1,300,000 Jews: there was 'no room for crosses and no crosses for the bodies'. Over 100,000 died during the siege, and almost 100,000 were taken to Rome as slaves. Many fled to areas around the Mediterranean. The Romans hunted down and slaughtered entire clans, such as descendants of the House of David. On one occasion, Titus condemned 2,500 Jews to fight with wild beasts in the amphitheater of Caesarea in celebration of his brother Domitian's birthday" (Wikipedia article on the First Jewish-Roman War, accessed 11-24-2008).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Composition of the Four Gospels Circa 70 CE – 110 CE

The four authors.

The canonical Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are understood to have been composed between 70 and 110 CE.

None of the Four Gospels actually identifies its author by name, though the traditions about authorship are based on very early Christian writings that identify them. About 50 Gospels were written in the first and second century CE, each believed to be accurate by various groups within the early Christian movement.

Persecution of the early Christians by the Romans, before Christianity was adopted by the Emperor Constantine in 313, undoubtedly contributed to the scarcity of early Christian documents. 

"The relationship of early Christianity to the Jewish faith, and the foundation of the cult deeply rooted in a people accustomed to religious intolerance actually helped it take hold initially. The Jews were accustomed to resisting political authority in order to practice their religion, and the transition to Christianity among these people helped foster the sense of Imperial resistance. To the Romans, Christians were a strange and subversive group, meeting in catacombs, sewers and dark alleys, done only for their own safety, but perpetuating the idea that the religion was odd, shameful and secretive. Rumors of sexual depravity, child sacrifice and other disturbing behavior, left a stigma on the early Christians. Perhaps worst of all was the idea of cannibalism. The concept of breaking bread originating with the last supper, partaking of the blood and body of Christ, which later came to be known as Communion, was taken literally. To the Romans, where religious custom dictated following ancient practices in a literal sense, the idea of performing such a ritual as a representation was misunderstood, and the early cult had to deal with many such misperceptions" (http://www.unrv.com/culture/christian-persecution.php, accessed 12-04-2008).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Continuing Process of Canonization of the Hebrew Bible Circa 70 CE – 90 CE

"There is no evidence in non-Pharisaic Jewish circles before 70 CE of either a fixed canon or text [of the Hebrew Bible]. The Essenes at Qumran exhibit no knowledge of such, and the same is true of the Hellenistic Jewish community in Alexandria, and of the early Christian communities. The earliest clear definition of a 'closed' Hebrew canon is found in Josephus in his apologetic work, Contra Apionem, written in Rome in the last decade of the first century of the Common Era. He writes that there was a fixed and immutable number—twenty-two of 'justly accredited' books. Josephus no doubt draws upon his Pharisaic tradition in making his assertion, and presumes in his remarks a well-established doctrine of canon.

"I am persuaded by the accumulation of evidence, old and new, that the circumstances that brought on the textual crisis that led to the establishment of the Hebrew text—varied texts and editions, party strife and sectarian division, the systematization of hermeneutic rules and halakic dialectic—were the occasion as well for a canonical crisis and responding to it. The establishment of the text and the establishment of the canon were thus two aspects of a single if complex endeavor. Both were essential to erect 'Hillelite' protection against rival doctrines of cult and calendar, alternate legal dicta and theological doctrines, and indeed against the speculative systems and mythological excesses found in the books of certain apocalyptic schools and proto-Gnostic sects. Such literature abounds in the apocryphal and pseudoepigraphic works found at Qumran. To promulgate a textual recension, moreover, one must set some sort of limit on the books whose text is to be fixed. In choosing one edition of a book over another—in the case of Jeremiah or Chronicles or Daniel—one makes decisions that are at once textual and canonical. Utlimately, the strategies that initiate the establishment of biblical text lead to the de facto if not de jure establishment of a canon" (Frank Moore Cross, "The Dea Sea Scrolls: Light on the Text and Canon of the Bible," Gold (ed) A Sign and a Witness. 2000 Years of Hebrew Books and Illuminated Manuscripts [1988] 16-17).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Process of Canonizing the Old Testament Circa 90 CE

About 90 CE Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai relocated to the city of Yavne/Jamnia and received permission from the Romans to found a school of Jewish law there. The school became a major source for the later Mishna (Mishah), which recorded the Tannaim.

This school is often understood as a wellspring of Rabbinic Judaism. The Council of Yavne or Council of Jamnia, thought to have taken place about this time, referred to a hypothetical council under Rabbi Yohanan's leadership that, according to tradition, was responsible for defining the canon of the Hebrew Bible.

"Today, there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Jewish canon was set. Nevertheless, the outcomes attributed to the Council of Jamnia did occur whether gradually or in a definitive, authoritative council. Several concerns of the remaining Jewish communities in Israel would have been the loss of the national language, the growing problem of conversions to Christianity, based in part on Christian promises of life after death. What emerged from this era was twofold:

  1. A rejection of the Septuagint or Koine Greek Old Testament widely then in use among the Hellenized diaspora along with its additional books not part of the Biblical Hebrew/Biblical Aramaic Masoretic Text.
  2. The inclusion of a curse on the "Minim" which probably included Jewish Christians (Birkat ha-Minim). According to the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Min: "In passages referring to the Christian period, "minim" usually indicates the Judæo-Christians, the Gnostics, and the Nazarenes, who often conversed with the Rabbis on the unity of God, creation, resurrection, and similar subjects (comp. Sanh. 39b). In some passages, indeed, it is used even for "Christian"; but it is possible that in such cases it is a substitution for the word "Noẓeri," which was the usual term for 'Christian' . . . On the invitation of Gamaliel II., Samuel ha-Ḳaṭan composed a prayer against the minim which was inserted in the "Eighteen Benedictions"; it is called "Birkat ha-Minim" and forms the twelfth benediction; but instead of the original "Noẓerim" . . . the present text has "wela-malshinim" (="and to the informers"). The cause of this change in the text was probably, the accusation brought by the Church Fathers against the Jews of cursing all the Christians under the name of the Nazarenes."

"Sociologically, these developments achieved two important ends, namely, the preservation of the Hebrew language at least for religious use (even among the diaspora) and the final separation and distinction between the Jewish and Christian communities. (Through nearly the end of the first century, Christians of Jewish descent continued to pray in synagogues.) But see also John Chrysostom#Sermons on Jews and Judaizing Christians" (Wikipedia article on Council of Jamnia, accessed 12-07-2008).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Known Image of the Virgin Mary Circa 150 CE

The oldest known image of the Virgin Mary, located in the Cacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria in Rome. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving Christian art is preserved on the walls of tombs belonging to wealthy Christians in the catacombs of Rome. From literary evidence there may also have been panel icons. However, like almost all paintings from classical times, these have disappeared. The earliest known image of the Virgin Mary independent of the Magi episode, is a fresco dated about 150 CE in the Catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria in Rome that shows her nursing the infant Jesus on her lap.

"Initially Jesus was represented indirectly by pictogram symbols such as the Ichthys (fish), the peacock, or an anchor (the Labarum or Chi-Rho was a later development). Later personified symbols were used, including Jonah, whose three days in the belly of the whale pre-figured the interval between Christ's death and Resurrection; Daniel in the lion's den; or Orpheus charming the animals. The Tomb of the Julii has a famous but unique mosaic of Christ as Sol Invictus, a sun-god. The image of "The Good Shepherd", a beardless youth in pastoral scenes collecting sheep, was the commonest of these images, and was probably not understood as a portrait of the historical Jesus at this period. It continues the classical Kriophoros, and in some cases may also represent the Shepherd of Hermas, a popular Christian literary work of the 2nd century.

"Among the earliest depictions clearly intended to directly represent Jesus himself are many showing him as a baby, usually held by his mother, especially in the Adoration of the Magi, seen as the first theophany, or display of the incarnate Christ to the world at large" (Wikipedia article on Depiction of Jesus, accessed 10-03-2010).

Situated in what was a quarry in Roman times, the Catacombs of Priscilla were used for underground Christian burials from the late second century through the fourth century. The catacombs extend for roughly 13 kilometers on several levels.

"Some of the walls and ceilings display fine decorations illustrating Biblical scenes. The Catacombs of Priscilla are believed to be named after Priscilla, a member of the gens Acilia and who was probably the wife of the Consul Acilius who became a Christian and was killed on the orders of Domitian. They contain a number of wall paintings of saints and early Christian symbols. Particularly notable is the 'Greek Chapel' (Capella Greca), a square chamber with an arch which contains second century frescoes generally interpreted to be Old and New Testament scenes, including the Fractio Panis. Above the apse is a Last Judgment. New, and somewhat controversial research has begun to suggest that the scenes traditionally interpreted as the deuterocanonical story of Susannah (Dn 13) may actually be scenes from the life of a prestigious Christian woman of the second century AD. Near this are figures of the Madonna and Child and the Prophet Isaiah, also dating from the second century" (Wikipedia article on Catacomb of Priscilla, accessed 10-02-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest Surviving Fragment from the Gospel of Luke 175 CE – 225 CE

Fragment 75. (View Larger)

Papyrus 75 (75, Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV), an early Greek New Testament papyrus of the Alexandrian text-type written between 175 and 225 CE, was purchased from the Bibliotheca Bodmeriana by Frank Hanna III, and donated to the Vatican Library in March 2007. This papyrus is believed to contain the oldest known fragment from the Gospel of Luke, the earliest known Lord's Prayer, and one of the oldest written fragments from the Gospel of John. It is also the oldest manuscript that contains two Gospels. This could be interpreted to suggest that after this period the four Gospels were circulated together.

"This affirmation becomes understandable only if one takes a step back in time to the classical world. In Greek and Roman milieus, formal texts were exclusively transmitted on papyrus scrolls whereas informal texts (accounts, notes, receipts...) were transcribed on other types of support, such as wax tablets or pottery 'labels' (ostra-ca).  

"In the first century A.D., 'notepads' made of superimposed sheets folded and sewn together or tied with a piece of string became common. These articles of pagan origin were very soon used by Christians, as can be learned from a famous Deutero-Pauline passage in which Timothy is asked not to forget 'the parchments', that is, the notes (II Tm 4:13).  

"This new format, a single notebook, had enormous advantages in comparison with the traditional scroll: it provided much more space and less bulk as well as more contained costs. At the same time, it facilitated the consultation and reading of a specific passage, all of which were significant factors for public reading at important liturgical celebrations.  

"The Bodmer Papyrus 14-15, that originally consisted of 36 double leaves placed one on top of the other to make a total of 144 pages [of which 101 leaves survived,] is the oldest find that contains the text of two Gospels together, the Gospels of Luke and John. But why, one might ask, did it not contain all four Gospels?  

"This can be explained by the limitations of the new technique which although it provided almost twice as much room as the classical papyrus scroll, was still a fragile structure that inevitably tended to split along the fold, especially if the number of double pages exceeded 50. Thus, a codex of this kind could contain only a little more than two Gospels.  

"However, since all the lists of the Gospels begin with that of Matthew, one might presume that together with the surviving papyrus another volume was also made, now completely lost, which contained the two missing Gospels, that of Matthew and that of Mark" (http://www.ewtn.com/library/SCRIPTUR/bodmerpapyrus.HTM, accessed 09-14-2010). 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Insisting on Only Four Gospels Circa 185 CE

Irenaeus

“Of the many gospels written in antiquity, exactly four gospels came to be accepted as part of the New Testament, or canonical. An insistence upon a canonical four, and no others, was a central theme of Irenaeus of Lyon,[Lugdunum in Gaul] c.185. In his central work, Adversus Haereses Irenaeus denounced various Christian groups that used only one gospel…as well as groups that embraced the texts of new revelations.…Irenaeus declared that the four he espoused were the four pillars of the Church: ‘it is not possible that there can be either more or fewer than four’ he stated, presenting as logic the analogy of the four corners of the earth and the four winds (1.11.8). His image, taken from Ezekial 1, of God’s throne borne by four creatures with four faces—‘the four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and the four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle’— equivalent to the ‘four-formed’ gospel, is the origin of the conventional symbols of the Evangelists: lion, bull, eagle, man. Irenaeus was successful in declaring that the four gospels collectively, and exclusively these four, contained the truth. By reading each gospel in light of the others, Irenaeus made of John a lens through which to read Matthew, Mark and Luke“ (Wikipedia article on Gospel, accessed 12-04-2008).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Curse Tablets from Roman Britain Circa 200 CE – 400 CE

In 1979 and 1980, the Bath curse tablets (tabella defixionis, defixio) were excavated from the sacred hot spring at the Aquae Sulis in the Roman province of Britannia (now Bath, England). The 130 tablets or defixiones primarily invoked the intercession of the goddess Sulis Minerva for the return of belongings or money stolen while the victim was bathing. Their language is of special value as examples of the everyday spoken vernacular of the Romano-British population during the second to fourth centuries CE. Since the language on these tablets came to light this language became known as "British Latin." 

While most texts from Roman Britain are in Latin, two scripts found at Aquae Sulis, written in Roman lettering on pewter sheets, are in an unknown Celtic language, which may be Brythonic— the only examples of writing in what is thought to be the unwritten language of the Celtic people known as the Britons.  

"All but one of the 130 Bath curse tablets concern the restitution of stolen goods and are a type of curse tablet known as 'prayers for justice.' The complaints of thefts are generally of personal possessions from the baths such as jewelry, gemstones, money, household goods and especially clothing. Theft from public baths appears to have been a common problem as it was a well-known Roman literary stereotype and severe laws existed to punish the perpetrators. Most of the depositors of the tablets (the victims of the thefts) appear to have been from the lower social classes.

"The inscriptions generally follow the same formula, suggesting they were taken from a handbook: the stolen property is declared as having been transferred to a deity so that the loss becomes the deity’s loss; the suspect is named and, in 21 cases, so is the victim; the victim then asks the deity to visit afflictions on the thief (including death) not as a punishment but to induce the thief to hand the stolen items back. The deity whose help was invoked is Sulis, and the tablets were deposited by the victims in the spring that was sacred to her" (Wikipedia article on Bath Curse Tablets, accessed 07-13-2014).

Over eighty other Roman curse tablets were discovered in and about the remains of a temple to Mercury at West Hill, Uley, making south-western Britain one of the major centers for finds of Latin defixiones. Smaller numbers of tablets were also found at the the sites of Roman temples at Lydney (Gloucestershire), Brean Down (Somerset), the Pagans Hill Roman Temple (Somerset), the amphitheatre of the legionary fortress of Isca Augusta at Caerleon, South Wales, and the small towns at Chesterton-on-Fosse (Warwickshire) and Leintwardine  (Herefordshire).

In July 2014 images, transcriptions, and English translations of many of the tablets were available from the Curse Tablets from Roman Britain website operated by the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents at Oxford.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Important Work of Rabbinic Judaism Circa 220 CE

The Mishnah or Mishna (משנה, "repetition", from the verb shanah שנה, or "to study and review"), was put into its final form about 220 CE. This was the first major redaction into written form of Jewish oral traditions, called the Oral Torah. It was

"debated between 70-200 CE by the group of rabbinic sages known as the Tannaim and redacted about 200 CE by Judah haNasi when, according to the Talmud, the persecution of the Jews and the passage of time raised the possibility that the details of the oral traditions would be forgotten. The oral traditions that are the subject of the Mishnah go back to earlier, Pharisaic times. The Mishnah does not claim to be the development of new laws, but merely the collection of existing traditions.

"The Mishnah is considered to be the first important work of Rabbinic Judaism and is a major source of later rabbinic religious thought. Rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah over the next three centuries were redacted as the Gemara" (Wikipedia article Mishnah, accessed 12-05-2008).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Christian House Church, With the Most Ancient Christian Paintings Circa 232 CE

Dura-Europos church.

The Dura-Europos church, located in Dura-Europos in Syria about 232, is the earliest identified Christian house church and one of the earliest surviving Christian churches. For the first three centuries of the church, known as Early Christianity, Christians typically met in homes because of intermittent persecution before Constantine's Edict of Milan in 313 proclaimed religious toleration throughout the Roman Empire. At many points in subsequent history, various Christian groups worshipped in homes, often due to persecution by the state church or the civil government.

The surviving frescoes in the baptistry room of the Dura-Europos church may be the most ancient Christian paintings.

"We can see the "Good Shepherd" (this iconography had a very long history in the Classical world), the "Healing of the paralytic" and "Christ and Peter walking on the water". These are considered the earliest depictions of Jesus Christ. A much larger fresco depicts three women (the third mostly lost) approaching a large sarcophagus. This most likely depicts the three Marys visiting Christ's tomb. The name Salome was painted near one of the women, who is often considered the same person as Mary Mother of James. There were also frescoes of Adam and Eve as well as David and Goliath. The frescoes clearly followed the Hellenistic Jewish iconographic tradition, but they are more crudely done than the paintings of the nearby Dura-Europos synagogue " (Wikipedia article on Dura-Europos church, accessed 12-24-2011).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Library of Lactantius, an Early Christian Author Circa 240 CE – 320 CE

Remarkably little is known about the libraries of individuals in classical, Hellenistic, or even medieval times. In his small book, The Library of Lactantius (Oxford, 1978) R. M. Ogilvie studied the books that the Latin Christian apologist Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (Lactantius) read and knew well. Born in North Africa, possibly at Cirta in Numidia (modern Algeria), Lactantius, a professional rhetor, or teacher of rhetoric, was summoned to the Imperial Court at Nicomedia by the Roman emperor Diocletian. After converting to Christianity Lactantius resigned his post before the publication of Diocletian's first Edict Against the Christians (February 24, 303), and lived in poverty as a writer until he became advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor Contantine I, guiding Constantine's religious policy as it developed, and serving as tutor of Constantine's son Flavius Julius Crispus. It is believed that Lactantius may have followed Crispus to Trier when Crispus was made Caesar (lesser co-emperor) and sent to that city. The circumstances of Lactantius's death are unknown.

Lactantius's primary work, Divinae Institutiones (Divine Institutes), was an early systematic presentation of Christian thought. It was considered somewhat heretical after his death, but Renaissance humanists took a renewed interest in Lactantius, more for his elaborately rhetorical Latin style than for his theology. The early humanists called him Cicero Christianus (Christian Cicero), and his Opera (1465) was the first dated book printed in Italy.

The earliest surviving, and probably the most reliable text of Lactantius's Opera is Bologna, R. Biblioteca Universitaria 701, an uncial manuscript of 283 leaves written in North or Central Italy in a center of learning and fine calligraphy in the second half of the fifth century. Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores III (1938) No. 280. This manuscript is dated within little more than a century after Lactantius's death.

From Ogilvie's The Library of Lactantius, I quote Chapter XII, "Conclusion", pp. 109-10. The links are, of course, my additions:

"The library resources of Carthage or Alexandria or Rome were boundless but Lactantius was a traveller and could not rely on finding what he needed at Nicomedia or Trier. Nor, as we have seen, was he a scholar of great range and acumen: indeed his familiarity with Greek literature is slight, which may partly account for his evident unhappiness in Bithynia. The preceding chapters have attempted to discover what works he either used in writing. D. I. [Divinae Institutiones] or knew sufficiently well to be able to quote from memory.

"The resulting list is an interesting one. No Greek classical prose or poetry. His Greek reading is confined to oracular literature—Sibylline Oracles, oracles of Apollo and Hystaspes, some Orphic poems and some hermetic works—most of which may have been known to him through a single compilation on Theosophy. His Latin reading of poetry extends to Lucretius, Horace, Virgil, Ovid's Fasti and Metamorphoses, and Persius, Satires 2 and 6: for the rest he is indebted to one or more florilegia. Of classical prose authors Cicero leads the field, although the absence of so many speeches and other works, such as the De Finibus and the letters, is striking. He knew Livy's first Decade and Sallust's Catiline but not Tacitus nor, probably, Varro. He knew Seneca's philosophical works and an edition of Book I of Valerius Maximus. Aulus Gellius he came across after writing the D. I., but he may have had access to a similar compendium for some of his antiquarian and mythological material, unless it was all to be found in a commentary on the Aratea. An anthology provided him with most of his biblical and apocryphal quotations and, probably, with those apologetic commonplaces which he could not locate in Minucius, Cyprian, Theophilus, or Tertullian's Apologeticum.

"In his reading he offers an interesting comparison with Tertullian a hundred years before him, and Augustine or Jerome seventy years later. Terullian was writing during the great archaizing revival of the later second century, when old books were unearthed and reread, and before the political breakdown of the third century. he still knew Herodotus, Plato, Josephus, Pliny the younger, Tacitus, Juvenal, Ennius Varro, perhaps the elder Cato— to name but a few.

"In the later fourth century, pagans and Christians rediscovered some forgotten classics, especially Juvenal and Tacitus, but in the intervening period much literature had been lost beyond recall. Thus Jerome was familiar not only with the range of works which Lactantius knew but also with Plautus, Lucan and Martial. But in other respects he and Augustine are very similar to Lactantius. Augustine knew little Greek and derived his Platonic philosophy from Cicero (Epist. 118.2.10), whereas Jerome did not become closely acquainted with Greek literature until thirty years after his school days. On the other hand Virgil and Cicero's works, above all the Hortensius, meant much to Augustine (C.D. 1.3; Conf. 3.4.7). The same picture emerges from a study of Ausonius, or of Claudian although his interest and opportunities gave hima slightly wider range.

"Lactantius, therefore, in a real sense marks the beginning of the Middle Ages. Between the time of Tertullian and his own day the great process of survival had already jettisoned many literary treasures of Athens and Rome to oblivion."

As a small bibliophilic aside, I was surprised to acquire R. M. Oglivie's personal corrected copy of his book on Lactantius for only £26. 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Possibly the Earliest Record of Rabbinic Texts & the Earliest Continuous Cycle of Biblical Narrative Paintings 244 CE – 256 CE

A Frescoe found in Dura Europos depicting scenes from the Book of Ester. (View Larger)

 

The Dura Europos synagogue, discovered in eastern Syria in 1932, was dated from an Aramaic inscription to 244. It is unique in that it was preserved virtually intact. It was preserved, ironically, when it had to be infilled with earth to strengthen the city's fortifications against a Sassanian assault in 256. The synagogue contains a forecourt and house of assembly with frescoed walls depicting people and animals, and a Torah shrine in the western wall facing Jerusalem. The synagogue paintings, the earliest continuous surviving biblical narrative cycle, are conserved at Damascus.

"The painted scenes of stories include Moses receiving the Law, Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, and many others. It is thought that the Synagogue was used in part as an instructional display to educate and teach the history and laws of the religion. Some think that this synagogue was painted in order to compete with the many other religions practiced in Dura Europos. The large-scale pictorial art in the synagogue helps to dispel narrow interpretations of historically prohibited visual images" (Wikipedia article on Dura-Europos synagogue, accessed 12-10-2008).

A parchment fragment discovered in the Dura Europos synagogue containing texts highly reminiscent of rabbinic prayer texts, may be the earliest surviving record of rabbinic texts. Reference: Goldstein & Mintz, Printing the Talmud from Bomberg to Schottenstein [2006] no. 1, p. 170.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Persecution, Imprisonment and Torture of Origen 249 CE – 251 CE

"According to Eusebius [Historia ecclesiastica], Origen was a confessor during the Decian persecution. Eduard Schwartz supposes that Origen's library was damaged at this time, although there is no direct evidence of it. Probably Schwartz made his conjecture because it helps to explain why Pamphilus later had to expend great effort to acquire copies of Origen's works for the Caesarean library. Decius required that people of the Roman Empire perform sacrifice and receive certificates (libelli) of compliances with the imperial order. In 249 or 250 Origen was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured, but he evidently survived the persecution. It seems, then that either his case was dismissed or, what is probably more likely, he simply outlived the persecution and was freed in 251. Because Origen's judge had the power to coerce Origen's compliance by imprisonment, torture, and the assessment of fines, even to the extent of confiscation of his personal property, it is possible that his library was damaged, though certainly it was not destroyed, since, for example, the Hexapla survived until at least Jerome's day. Indeed, despite the persecution, as well as whatever other misfortunes may have befallen the library after Origen's death, Pamphilus was probably drawn to settle at Caesarea because of the reputation the city enjoyed as the home of Origen's library.

"Origen died soon after the end of the persecution, between 251 and 253, at Tyre, according to Tradition. Origen's bishop, Theoctistus, survived for almost another decade, through the persecution under Valerian to the restoration of peace by Gallienus in 260. Domnus succeeded him for a short time and was himself then succeeded by Theotecnus, whom Eusebius calls a contemporary. Theotecnus' access is according dated to sometime after 260. Eusebius also relates that Theotecnus had been a member of Origen's school (διατρβπ), presumably at Caesarea. Because of this association with Origen, it is possible that Origen's library now came, if it was not already, under direct episcopal authority" (Carriker, The Library of Eusebius of Caesarea [2003] 11-12. Note that I left out numerous textual citations by Carriker and his many footnotes. The links are, of course, my additions.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Certificates of Conformation to Pagan Religious Practice 249 CE – 251 CE

During the the Decian persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius (emperor from 249-251) the imperial Roman government issued tickets (libelli), indicating that citizens had satisfied the pagan commissioners by performing a pagan sacrifice (sacrificati), or burned incense (thurificati), demonstrating loyalty to the authorities of the Roman Empire. The government also issued libellatici (certificates) certifying that apostates had renounced Christianity.

Among the thousands of papyri excavated from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, four papyri (POxy 658, POxy 1464, POxy 2990 and POxy 3929) are libelli issued during the year 250. (A total of 46 libelli from the year 250 have been published.)

"Participating in pagan sacrifices was a sin for Christians and punished by excommunication, because the New Testament forbade Christians to either participate in 'idol feasts' or to eat 'meat sacrificed to idols'. However, not participating made one liable to arrest by the Roman authorities. A warrant to arrest a Christian (POxy 3035) was also found at Oxyrhynchus, this too has been dated precisely—to the year 256. The grounds for this arrest are not documented, however, and it predates the persecution under the emperor Valerian by about a year.

"At various times under Roman rule, failure to sacrifice was punishable by death. Christian theologians (for example Cyprian) debated whether the threat of the death penalty mitigated the sin of having communion with idols, leaving room for forgiveness and restoration to the Christian community" (Wikipedia article on Libellus, accessed 02-02-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Papyrus Codex of the Minor Prophets Circa 250 CE

Washington Manuscript V - The Minor Prophets (Codex Washingtonensis), a papyrus codex from the third century CE written in Egypt, is a complete Christian copy of the Greek text of the twelve Minor Prophets. It is the earliest papyrus codex of the Minor Prophets or Twelve Prophets. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls this was the oldest Greek manuscript of the text. 

"A succession of people added Coptic glosses (clarifications or translations), perhaps adapting the codex to spread Christianity to people living outside the Hellenized cultural centers around the Nile. It was acquired in Egypt by American missionary David Askren, whose finds were purchased in 1916 by Charles Lang Freer in partnership with banker and financier J. P. Morgan, Jr."

One of the Biblical Manuscripts in the Freer Collection, the papyrus is preserved in the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington, D. C. It is one of the earliest papyrus codices preserved in North America.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Warrant for the Arrest of a Christian: One of the Earliest Surviving Recorded Uses of the Word Christian February 28, 256 CE

One of the earliest uses of the word Christian surviving on papyrus is Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3035 (P. Oxy. XLII 3035), a warrant for the arrest of a Christian issued on February 28, 256 by the authorities of the Roman Empire.

"The order was issued by the head of the Oxyrhynchus ruling council, to the police in a country village, to arrest a man described as a Christian (note χρισιανόν, the papyrus has the early spelling, χρησιανόν). The charge which makes the Christian liable for arrest is not given, unless this is Christianity itself. Persecution could explain this document, but Christians were generally tolerated by the authorities, periods of systematic persecution stand out as distinctive and exceptional in other documentation. One such period, however, was 'instituted under the emperor Valerian in AD 257 and 258.'

The manuscript is dated precisely in its closing lines to the third year of the co-regency of Valerian and Gallienus his son. We know this year to be 256 AD. The day and month are also provided in the last line. Phamenoth is the name of a month in the Egyptian calendar. It is called Paremhat in the Coptic calendar. The warrant was issued on the third day of this month. The equivalent date in our Gregorian calendar is 28 February 256 AD" (Wikipedia article on Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3035, accessed 02-02-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Reconstruction of the Contents of the Library of Eusebius Circa 280 CE – 339 CE

So few codices and papyrus rolls have survived from the third and fourth centuries—the period of transition from the roll to the codex— that we know remarkably little about the specific contents of any public and private libraries from the time. One exception is the library of the bishop and historian Eusebius of Caesarea (Eusebius Pamphili). No catalogue of his library survived, but since Eusebius referenced so many specific sources in his voluminous writings, it was possible to work backwards from those references to reconstruct at least part of the library that Eusebius used from around 280 to 339. This was done by Andrew James Carriker in The Library of Eusebius of Caesarea (2003).

"Despite Jerome's reference to this library as the bibliotheca Origenis et Pamphili, the two men who endowed it with its greatest bibliographic wealth, the modern investigation of the library at Caesarea must focus on the library in the possession of Eusebius, Pamphilus' pupil, for Eusebius furnishes the most evidence of its contents in his voluminuous extant writings. Four of these works contain the most important evidence and have according been given the most attention: the Chronicon for historical works; the Historia Ecclesiastica (HE) for Jewish and Christian works; the Praeparatio Evangelica (PE) for Jewish and Christian works; and the Vita Constantini (VC) for contemporary documents. The primary work of this book is thus to reconstruct the contents of the library from the quotations and references in these four works. Some of the difficulties of this task, most notably the problem of establishing whether Eusebius used his sources firsthand or through intermediaries, are treated in chapter two." (Carriker, xiii-xiv).

Perhaps because Eusebius's writings remained central to the early history of Christianity, his writings remained in circulation through the Middle Ages up to the present, and have generated many editions and commentaries, beginning soon after Eusebius's death. Working through the primary sources and the main commentaries, Carriker was able to produce on pp. 299-311 of his very extensively footnoted study, a list of 288 or more specific works that Eusebius owned or used in the fields of Philosophy, Poetry, Oratory, History, Jewish Literature, and  Christianity. Carriker believed that the actual number of books in Eusebius's library would have been larger, perhaps 400.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest State-Built Christian Church 301 CE – 303 CE

The Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin (Armenian: Մայր Տաճար Սուրբ Էջմիածին Mayr Tajar Surb Ejmiatsin; originally known as the Holy Mother of God Church, Armenian: Սուրբ Աստուածածին Եկեղեցի Surb Astvatsatsin Yekeghetsi), in the town of Ejmiatsin (Vagharshapat),  Armenia, is the oldest state-built Christian church. It's original vaulted basilica was built in 301-303 by Saint Gregory the Illuminator, who is credited with converting Armenia from paganism to Christianity in 301.

Thus Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion, preceding Constantine's conversion to Christianity (312-315), and formal adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire in the Edict of Thessalonica (380).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Diocletianic Persecution of Christians February 24, 303 CE – 311 CE

Diocletian

On February 24, 303 CE Roman Emperor Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, commonly known as Diocletian, ordered the publication of his first "Edict against the Christians." This edict ordered the destruction of Christian scriptures and places of worship across the Empire, and prohibited Christians from assembling for worship.

This was the beginning of The Diocletianic Persecution which extended from 303 to 311— the Roman empire's "last, largest, and bloodiest official persecution of Christianity.".

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Eusebius Introduces His Tabular Timeline System Circa 308 CE – 326 CE

Between 308 and 311 Eusebius Caesariensis (Eusebius of Caesarea, Eusebius Pamphili), a Roman historian, Christian polemicist, and Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, wrote The Chronicon, or Chronicle (Greek, Pantodape historia, "Universal history").  For the next 18 years Eusebius continued to revise this work, and though Eusebius's Greek text was lost, the work was preserved in Eusebius's final draft (326) by its translation into Latin by Jerome, and by its translation into Armenian.  

One of Eusebius's innovations in this work was a tabular system to coordinate events drawn from several distinct historiographic traditions. His use of the tabular format was influenced by the columnar arrangement of Origen's Hexapla, with which he was familiar. Eusebius's Chronicon became a fundamental text for the development of historical writing in the Middle Ages. 

As Anthony Grafton and Megan Williams wrote in Christianity and the Transformation of the Book (2006, p. 136), Eusebius's Chronicle made it possible "to fix a whole world on paper" by aligning data from various strands of biblical and Near Eastern historiography. Eusebius divided his Chronicle into two parts, the Chronography and the Canons. The Chronography is a tabular list of synchronisms of Greek, Roman, and Jewish history; the Canons is a systematic chronicle of world history and following nineteen ancient states down through time, culminating in one column representing the Roman empire. To Grafton and Williams the importance of the Hexapla for Eusebius was that it trained him to read parallel texts "word by word", comparing them closely and allowing the discrepancies to remain (pp. 169-170).

As first compiled, the Chronicon consisted of two parts: in the first (‘the chronography’),

"Eusebius treated the history of each ancient people or empire separately, listing their rulers or magistrates, the years of their reigns, and the events which took place in those years; in the second (‘the chronological canons’), he tried to reconcile the various chronologies and historical narratives current in the ancient world, by laying out their histories in a tabular format which would allow the reader to look across the columns and to compare what was going on in the different kingdoms at the same time. It was second part which was revolutionary, and it was this section which was translated and made available to the Latin West by Jerome. Eusebius’ Chronicle no longer survives in the original Greek. An Armenian translation exists in two versions, though the end of book one and start and end of book two are lost in both.  

"The tabular layout was achieved by making use of a new type of manuscript, the codex. Consisting of sheets folded and stitched together in the manner of a modern book, this type of book largely supplanted the scroll between the second and fourth centuries. Eusebius took each ‘opening’ in his codex and divided it up into vertical columns. The events of the period were listed in two broad columns, one at the centre of each of the opposing pages. To their left and right were columns of numbers giving the years according to the regnal chronologies current in the period in question. Into the column to the extreme left Eusebius put an index of years divided into ten year intervals, the next he headed as [Kings] of the Persians (or of whichever empire was dominant at the time), and that to the extreme right he headed [Kings] of the Egyptians for as long as they lasted. When a new power came along he added an extra column for them, and when they failed their column vanished with them. The ascent of a new king was placed in the column of his kingdom, but, given a horizontal line of its own, as though it had happened between years. Thereafter the series of numbers in this kingdom’s column would be restarted, running 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on.  

"Merton 315 illustrates this layout. Consider, for example, fols. 49v and 50r, which cover the years 1196–1182 BC in Eusebius’s reckoning. It is to these years that Eusebius assigns the Trojan War. In this opening three rulers come to the throne: the judges of the Jews Esebon and Labdon, and the pharaoh of the Egyptians Thuoris. Some attempt has been made to distinguish the columns by using different coloured inks—red, green and black. Notice also that the entries on folio 49v are very much concerned with issues of chronology: ‘In the book of Judges [11:26], Jephthah says from the era of Moses to himself is reckoned to be 300 years’; ‘After Hesebon in the book of the Hebrews, Aelon is considered to have ruled as Judge over the people for ten years, which the seventy translators do not have.’  

Further into the text, once the Romans have overrun the other major empires of the Mediterranean world, the need for multiple columns is reduced, and the work proceeds on single pages rather than by two-page openings. Note also that Eusebius starts his tables, not with the date of Creation, but with the earliest date in the Biblical narrative which he could correlate securely with the chronologies of the other peoples—namely, the birth of Abraham. He places this event in the 43rd year of the reign of Ninus, king of the Assyrians—2016 years before the birth of Christ. Writing in 379 or 380, Jerome, for his part, extended Eusebius’s coverage from AD 327 to 378—or as he puts it in his preface, from the twentieth year of Constantine to the second of the Emperor Valentinian. But note also that Jerome claims to have modified and added much to the annals between the Fall of Troy and 327/the twentieth year of Constantine.  

"Theories as to the purpose of this chronicle vary. One common view is that Eusebius produced the work as a preparatory step towards the writing of his Ecclesiastical History, because he needed to reconcile the chronological data from various Greek sources—Porphyry, Castor, Erastothenes, and so on—with that found in Scripture. The problem with this view is that the chronological scope of the two works is so very different. Another view is that the aim was to show how the national histories of the Mediterranean world fitted into the overarching scheme of Salvation History—how, that is, they fitted into God’s grand plan for the redemption of humanity. The problem with this theory is that Eusebius starts, not with creation, but with the birth of Abraham—at a point when the world was already, according to his reckoning, 3,184 years old. Another approach focuses on Eusebius’s revision of the received Christian chronology of Sextus Julius Africanus. Whereas Sextus had placed Christ’s death in the 5,500th year of world, Eusebius’s chronology implied that Christ was born in its 5,199th year. This can be seen as an attempt to deflate millennial expectations, because the former dating when combined with the belief that the world would last six millennia—an idea that Sextus had helped to promote—implied that the Second Coming would take place in AD 500. Eusebius’s revised chronology, on the other hand, rejuvenated the world, implying that the sixth age would continue until 799/800. The problem with this theory is that Eusebius does not use annus-mundi chronology as his fundamental system of reference, nor does he make mention in his chronicle of the dangers of millennarianism. There were chroniclers who were much involved with countering this danger, such as Bede and Isidore of Seville, but they are wholly explicit about their concerns, and they use annus-mundi chronology to organise their annals.  

"Another view is that the purpose was to help new converts to the faith to assimilate the historical traditions of the Middle East and the Jews—traditions which would have been alien to those who had been educated according to the established norms of Greco-Roman education. ‘Visually and succintly’, as McKitterick puts it, ‘it sets out and locates in time the relationship between the various elements of an educated Christian’s universe.’ Of the various theories this one is the most in keeping with the words of Eusebius’s preface, which stresses the simple utility of his tabular arrangement for translating dates from one chronological system to another. We have, he explains, placed the series of years in opposition to each other ‘so as to provide a simple method for discovering in which era, Greek or barbarian, the prophets, kings, and priests of the Hebrews existed, likewise when falsely-believed gods of various nations existed, when demi-gods, when any city was founded, concerning illustrious men, when philosophers, poets, princes, and writers of various works appeared, and any other ancient event, if it was thought deserving of recording’ "(http://www.lancs.ac.uk/staff/haywardp/hist424/seminars/Merton315.htm, accessed12-23-2012).

"Ancient and medieval historians had their own techniques of chronological notation. From the fourth century in Europe, the most powerful and typical of these was the table. Though ancient chronologies were inscribed in many different forms, among scholars the table form had a normative quality much as the timeline does today. In part, the importance of the chronological table after the fourth century can be credited to the Roman Christian scholar Eusebius. Already in the fourth century Eusebius had developed a sophisticated table structure to organize and reconcile chronologies drawn from historical sources from all over the world. To clearly present the relations between Jewish, pagan, and Christian histories, Eusebius laid out their chronologies in parallel columns that began with the patriarch Abraham and the founding of Assyria. The reader who moved through Eusebius's history, page by page, saw empires and kingdoms rise and fall, until all of them—even the kingdom of the Jews—came under Rome's universal rule, just in time to make the Savior's message accessible to all of humanity. By comparing individual histories to one another and the unform progress of the years, the reader could see the hand of providence at work.

"Eusebius created his visually lucid Chronicle just when he and other Christians were first adopting the codex, or bound book, in place of the scroll. Like other Christian innovations in book design, the parallel tables and lucid, year-by-year, decade-by-decade order of the Chronicle reflected the desire of early Christian scholars to make the Bible and the sources vital for understanding it available and readily accessible for quick reference. The Chronicle was widely read, copied, and imitated in the Middle Ages. And it catered to a desire for precision that other popular forms—like the genealogical tree—could not satisfy" (Rosenberg & Grafton, Cartographies of Time. A History of the Timeline [2010] 15-16).

One of the earliest surviving manuscripts of Jerome's translation is Bodleian Codex  Lat. Auct. T. II. 26, most of which was written in Italy in an uncial hand about the middle of the fifth century (Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores II [1935] No. 233a.)

"Ff. 1-32 years, are in a late (s.XV?) hand in the priores (long-lines) format. The remainder (A. Abr. 555-2394) is in a fifth century hand, the last leaf is missing, and the one-leaf summary replacing it is either by the same or a contemporary hand. There are marginalia dating from around 1400.

"The manuscript was acquired from an unknown source by Jean de Tillet, Bishop of Meaux, who died in 1570. Du Tillet had obtained authority from Francis I to collect Mss from French libraries; there are reasons to suppose that the Ms. was in the South of France ca. 1400. Pontacus borrowed it from him and cites it by the name of the Meldensis (M). Sirmond, in his edition of Marcellinus (1619, 1696) refers to it as being in Tillet's library. It then passed to the Jesuit College of Clermont at Paris. This library was sold in 1764, when it was acquired by Meerman. On the sale of his library in 1824, it was bought by Gaisford for the Bodleian." This was edited and published in facsimile by John Knight Fotheringham as The Bodleian Manuscript of Jerome's Version of the Chronicle of Eusebius Reproduced in Collotype (1905). In December 2012 an online English translation of this manuscript was available at this link.

Eusebius's Chronicon was first published in print by Philippus de Lavagnia of Milan about 1474-75. The text published was the Latin translation of Jerome with the continuations of Prosper Aquitanus and Matthaeus Palmerius Florentinus. The first printed edition is undated, and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) ie00116000 states that the edition is "also recorded as [not after 1468?]." As explanation for their estimation of the date of this undated edition, the ISTC states:

"The printer's name appears on the first leaf. The copy in Parma Palatina belonged to Nicodemo Tranchedini who listed this book, among others, in his Zibaldone [an early form of commonplace book] under the date 19 June 1475 (P. Parodi, in Giornale storico delle province parmensi 20 (1920) pp.162-64)

"P. Scapecchi, in L. Fabbri and M. Tacconi (edd.), I libri del Duomo di Firenze (Firenze, 1997) pp.168-70, reports the MS. date 1468 in the copy at Firenze N. Cf. also Ganda(Lavagna) pp.87-88."

Carriker, The Library of Eusebius of Caesarea (2003) 38-40.

(This entry was last revised on 01-05-2014.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Emperor Constantine Converts to Christianity October 28, 312 CE – 315 CE

According to chroniclers such as Eusebius, the Battle of the Milvian Bridge between the Roman Emperors Constantine I and Maxentius on October 28, 312 marked the beginning of Contantine's conversion to Christianity. Eusebius recounted that Constantine and his soldiers had a vision that God promised victory if they daubed the labarum (the chi-rho symbol) on their standards. Constantine won the battle and started on the path that led him to end the Tetrarchy and become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. The Arch of Constantine, erected in Rome in 315 in celebration of the victory, attributed Constantine's success to divine intervention, but whether it was specifically at the hands of the Christian God was left ambiguous in an effort to please both pagan and Christian readers.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Edict of Milan Proclaims "Religious Toleration" 313 CE

Constantine

In 313 the Emperor Constantine, ruler of the Eastern parts of the Roman Empire, and the Emperor Licinius, ruler of the Western parts, signed a letter known as the Edict of Milan. This edict proclaimed religious toleration throughout the Roman Empire, and was responsible for the reduction of persecution of Christians and tolerance of the spread of Christianity.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Full Length Historical Narrative Written from the Christian Point of View Circa 313 CE – 326 CE

Between 313 and 314 CE Roman historian and Christian polemicist Eusebius (Eusebius of Caesarea, Eusebius Pamphili) wrote Historia ecclesiastica or Historia ecclesiae, a chronological account of the development of Early Christianity from the 1st to 4th century. This was the first full length historical narrative written from the Christian point of view. Eusebius prepared his final edition of the work from 325 to 326.

Eusebius wrote in Koine Greek, but the earliest surviving texts of the work are Latin, Armenian, and Syriac manuscripts, one of the earliest of which, National Library of Russia, Codex Syriac 1, dates to 462 CE. 

"In the early 5th century two advocates in Constantinople, Socrates Scholasticus and Sozomen, and a bishop, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Syria, wrote continuations of Eusebius' church history, establishing the convention of continuators that would determine to a great extent the way history was written for the next thousand years. Eusebius' Chronicle, that attempted to lay out a comparative timeline of pagan and Old Testament history, set the model for the other historiographical genre, the medieval chronicle or universal history.

"Eusebius had access to the Theological Library of Caesarea and made use of many ecclesiastical monuments and documents, acts of the martyrs, letters, extracts from earlier Christian writings, lists of bishops, and similar sources, often quoting the originals at great length so that his work contains materials not elsewhere preserved. For example he wrote that Matthew composed the Gospel according to the Hebrews and his Church Catalogue suggests that it was the only Jewish gospel. It is therefore of historical value, though it pretends neither to completeness nor to the observance of due proportion in the treatment of the subject-matter. Nor does it present in a connected and systematic way the history of the early Christian Church. It is to no small extent a vindication of the Christian religion, though the author did not primarily intend it as such. Eusebius has been often accused of intentional falsification of the truth; in judging persons or facts he is not entirely unbiased" (Wikipedia article on Church History (Eusebius), accessed 12-23-2012).

Eusebius's Historia ecclesiastica, as translated by Rufinus Aquileiensis, was first published in print by Nicholaus Ketelaer and Gerardus de Leempt of Utrecht in 1474. ISTC No.: ie00124000.

Carriker, The Library of Eusebius of Caesarea (2003) 38-40.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Constantine's Religious Toleration Does Not Apply to Jews October 18, 315 CE

In a law Concerning Jews, Heaven-Worshippers, and Samaritans, the Emperor Constantine decreed on October 18, 315:

"We wish to make it known to the Jews and their elders and their patriarchs that if, after the enactment of this law, any one of them dares to  attack with stones or some other manifestation of anger another who  has fled their dangerous sect and attached itself to the worship of God [Christianity]  he must speedily be given to the flames and burnt together with all his accomplices.

"Moreover, if any one of the population should join  their abominable sect and attend their meetings, he will bear with them deserved penalties" (Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World. A Sourcebook: 315-1791, rev. ed. [1999] 4).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Role of Books in the Rule of the Earliest Christian Monasteries 318 CE – 323 CE

Between 318 and 323 St. Pachomius (Pakhom, Pachome and Pakhomius, Παχώμιος), a farmer once press-ganged into the army of Constantine, founded community or cenobitic organization, linking the cells of male or female hermits into monastic settlements in Upper Egypt. Beginning at Tabennisi (Tabenna,Tabennae) in the Thebaid, these monastics lived together, and had their possessions in common, under the leadership of an abbot or abbess, following an established rule, which included directions for the operation of a monastic library:

"that the books of the House are to be kept in a cupboard (fenestra) in the thickness of the wall. Any brother who wanted a book might have one for a week, at the end of which he was bound to return it. No brother might leave a book open when he went to church to meals. In the evening the officer called 'the Second,' that is, the second in command, was to take charge of the books, count them, and lock them up" (Clark, The Care of Books [1902] 54-55).

"He [Pachomius] established his first monastery between 318 and 323. The first to join him was his elder brother John, and soon more than 100 monks lived at his monastery. He came to found nine monasteries in his lifetime, and after 336, Pachomius spent most of his time at his Pabau monastery. From his initial monastery, demand quickly grew and, by the time of his death in 346, one count estimates there were 3000 monasteries dotting Egypt from north to south. Within a generation after his death, this number grew to 7000 and then moved out of Egypt into Palestine and the Judea Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually Western Europe. Other sources maintain that the number of monks, rather than the number of monasteries, may have reached 7000" (Wikipedia article on Pachomius, accessed 11-28-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Ecumenical Council of Christianity 325 CE

The year after he came Emperor of the entire Roman Empire, Constantine convened the First Council of Nicaea  (Νίκαια /'ni:kaɪja/ TurkishIznik), a council of Christian bishops in Nicaea in Bithynia. This council, presided over by Pope Alexander of Alexandria and Constantine, was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom.

"Its main accomplishments were settlement of the Christological issue of the nature of the Son of God and his relationship to God the Father, the construction of the first part of the Creed of Nicaea, establishing uniform observance of the date of Easter, and promulgation of early canon law" (Wikipedia article on Council of Nicaea, accessed 12-29-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Origins of the Lateran Library, Precursor of the Vatican Library Circa 350 CE – 650

"The first allusion to a papal library comes from Julius I (337-52), who directed the clergy to settle certain legal matters not in the civil courts in the scrinium sanctum in ecclesia. The use of the singular suggests a central library, whether in the Lateran or in the episcopal church. There is evidence that a little later Damasus I (366-84) rebuilt the basilica of the church of Saint Laurence (San Lorenzo in Prasina) to better house a library. A dedicatory hexameter inscription that once stood over the entrance to the basilica is preserved in a codex of the Vatican library. It reads:

archivis fateor volui nova condere tecta addere

preterea dextra laevaque columnas

quae Damasi teneant proprium per saecula nomen.

"This library, however, was probably not the central ecclesiastical library at Rome, for the Lateran Palace had been the official residence of the pope and the center of ecclesiastical administration since the time of Sylvester I (315-335), and it is more likely that the papal library, including the central archives, was located there.

"Excavations carried out at the beginning of the twentieth century in the Capella Sancta Sanctorum, the only surviving part of the ancient Lateran Palace, discovered among the foundations of the chapel the remains of a room of the earliest Lateran library. On one wall was a fresco of a reader, apparently Augustine, seated at a desk, an open codex before him. Beneath it was a legend referring to the writings of the fathers. Clearly this library contained theological literature, not merely archives. The painting dates from the fifth or early sixth century, but the room was probably a library much earlier. Although the Liber pontificales lists a series of popes, beginning with Celestine I (422-32), who contributed to the growth of the Lateran library, little is known of its scope and contents before the seventh century. The proceedings of the Lateran Council of 649 include an extensive list of books the council requested from the library in order to document the issues, a list that includes a great variety of theological texts, orthodox and heretical, deriving from both the Greek and the Latin church. If this list reflects the actual or approximate holdings of the library, it held an extensive collection of theological literature at least by the middle of the seventh century" (Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church [1999] 162-63).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Biblical and Roman Law: Precursor of Footnotes; Early Uniform Pagination Circa 350 CE – 450 CE

Of the Collatio legum Romanarum et Mosaicarum, a fourth-century legal treatise which argued that the laws of Moses were compatible with those of Rome, three primary manuscripts survive, of which the Berlin codex, dated by various scholars from the eighth to the tenth century, is considered the earliest and most authoritative.

"The expansion of Christianity and the codification of Roman law are two of the most significant facets of late antiquity. The Collatio Legum Mosaicarum et Romanarum, or Collation of the Laws of Moses and the Romans, is one of the most perplexing works of late antiquity: a law book compiled at the end of the fourth century by an anonymous editor who wanted to show the similarity between laws of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, and Roman law. Citing first laws from the Hebrew Bible - especially from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy which he believed were written by Moses - the anonymous Collator then compared corresponding passages from Roman jurists and from Roman laws to form discussions on sixteen topics such as homicide, adultery, homosexuality, incest, and cruelty towards slaves. While earlier scholars wrestled with dating the Collatio, the religious identity of the Collator, and the purpose of the work, this book suggests that the Collator was a Christian lawyer writing in the last years of the fourth century in an attempt to draw pagan lawyers to seeing the connections between the law of a monotheistic God and traditional Roman law." 

From the standpoint of book history this text is significant for its precise references to Roman laws, and the way in which these could be precisely cited.

"Fragmentary preserved notes on a legal lecture from the late fifth century C.E. reveal that professors referred students to their sources [in the Collatio] not only by book and chapter divisions, but also by the page number, in what were evidently uniform copies" (Grafton, The Footnote: A Curious History [1997] 30).  

If valid, this would be one of the earliest references to maintaining uniform pagination in the copying of manuscripts. 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Possibly the World's First University Circa 350 CE

About 350 CE the School of Nisibis (Syriac: ܐܣܟܘܠܐ ܕܢܨܝܒܝܢ) was founded in Nisibis (modern day Turkey) by Jacob of Nisibis.  The school, which had three primary departments teaching theology, philosophy, and medicine, has sometimes been called the world's first university.

"In 363, when Nisibis fell to the Persians, St. Ephrem accompanied by a number of teachers left the school. They went to the School of Edessa, where St. Ephrem took over the directorship of the school there. It had been founded as long ago as the 2nd century by the kings of the Abgar dynasty. When St. Ephrem took over the school, its importance grew still further. After the Nestorian Schism, when the Byzantine emperor Zeno ordered the school closed for its teachings of Nestorian doctrine, deemed heretical by Chalcedonian Christianity, the School moved back to Nisibis."

"The fame of this theological seminary was so great [by the sixth century] that Pope Agapetus I and Cassiodorus wished to found one in Italy of a similar kind. Although the troubled times prevented their wishes from being realized, but Cassiodorus's monastery at Vivarium was inspired by the example of Nisibis, about which he had learned from the Quaestor Junillus during his time in Constantinople" (Wikipedia article of School of Nisibis, accessed 03-04-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Third Earliest Manuscript of the Four Gospels; One of the Earliest Codices Preserved in the Western Hemisphere Circa 350 CE – 450 CE

The Codex Washingtonianus or Codex Washingtonensis, also called the Washington Manuscript of the Gospels and The Freer Gospels, is the third earliest surviving manuscript the four biblical gospels in Greek, and one of the earliest codices preserved in North America. It is the only ancient codex of the Greek gospels for which at least a partial provenance is known. The codex also has two very distinctive painted wooden covers, encaustic on panels, fifth-seventh century, with portraits of the Four Evangelists. The covers are presently separated from the codex.

The codex was purchased by industrialist and art collector Charles Lang Freer "from an Arab dealer named Ali in Giza (Gizah), near Cairo, on December 19th 1906.... The only hint as to origin or former owner... is the prayer for a certain Timothy in the subscription to Mark, p. 372 in the Facsimile. I have already given my reasons for connecting this with the Church of Timothy in the Monastery of the Vinedresser, which was located near the third pyramid (Abu Salih's Churches and Monasteries of Egypt, trans. by Evertts and Butler, p. 190)...." (Sanders, The New Testament Manuscripts in the Freer Collection [1918] 1-2).

The manuscript is preserved in the Freer Gallery, Sackler Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. In December 2013 a digital facsimile of pages from the 1912 printed facsimile was available from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

New Testament Canonization in Process 367 CE

Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria. (View Larger)

In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, provided a list of exactly the same books as what would become the 27-book New Testament canon, and he used the word "canonized" (kanonizomena) in regards to them.

"Thus some claim, that from the fourth century, there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon (as it is today), and that by the fifth century the Eastern Church, with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon. Nonetheless, a full dogmatic articulation of the canon was not made until the Council of Trent of 1546 for Roman Catholicism, the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 for the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 for Calvinism, and the Synod of Jerusalem of 1672 for the Greek Orthodox" (Wikipedia article on Development of the New Testament canon, accessed 12-07-2008).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Edict of Thessalonica makes Nicene Christianity the Official State Religion of the Roman Empire February 27, 380 CE

On February 27, 380, by the Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos populos, Roman Emperors Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II made Nicene Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire, stating that all their subjects should profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria.

The edict was issued shortly after Theodosius had suffered a severe illness in Thessalonica (Thessaloniki), and was baptized by Acholius, the bishop of that city.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

St. Jerome Criticizes Luxurious Manuscripts 384 CE

Saint Jerome. (View Larger)

"The Christian tradition of 'treasure' bindings, covered with gold and silver, ivories, enamelwork, and gems, had its origin in late Antiquity and continued unbroken for a millennium. The earliest reference to such bindings in a Christian context is found in a letter of St. Jerome, dated 384, where he writes scornfully of the wealthy Christian women whose books are written in gold on purple vellum, and clothed with gems. It is noteworthy that he specifically associates jewelled bindings with purple codices, for a dozen or more such biblical manuscripts of the fifth and sixth centuries have survived. None is any longer in its first binding, but we have a clue here to the external treatment originally given to these luxurious volumes. . . ." (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 21).

"From the time of Constantine's decree, Christian book production was in a position to develop freely, but already in Diocletian's time Latin biblical manuscripts must have been available in large numbers. A century later Jerome became impassioned about conspicuous luxury in Christian books. He wrote with biting sarcasm about biblical codices of old, badly translated texts: 'veteres libros vel in membranis purpureis auro argentoque descriptos, vel uncialibus, ut vulgo aiunt, literis onera magis exarata quam codices', i.e. manuscripts made with expensive material and with 'inch-high' letters. He compared this with his own ideal: 'pauperes scidulas et non tam pulchros codices quam emendatos', and one can refer immediately to the plain St Gall gospel manuscript (Σ) saec. V, which stands very close to the text-critic Jerome" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 184.)

The manuscript to which Bischoff refers is Codex Sangallensis 1395, the earliest surviving copy of the Vulgate gospels.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest Surviving Illustrated Biblical Manuscript Circa 390 CE

The recto side of Folio Two of Quedlinburg Itala. (View Larger)

The Quedlinburg Itala fragment consists of six folios from a large  illuminated manuscript of an Old Latin translation of the Bible. It is the oldest surviving illustrated biblical manuscript, and according to Bernhard Bischoff, it may date from the end of the fourth century. If so, it was probably created in Rome.

"The fragments were found in the bindings of books in the town of Quedlinburg. The illustrations are grouped in framed miniatures occuping an entire page. There are between two and five miniatures per page, with the corresponding text being on separate pages. The illustrations, although much damaged, are done in the illusionistic style of late antiquity. . . .

"Much of the paint surface is lost revealing the underlying writing that gives instructions to the artist who should execute the pictures. Translation of the text: "You make the tomb [by which] Saul and his servant stand and two men, jumping over pits, speak to him and [announce that the asses have been found]. You make Saul by a tree and [his] servant [and three men who talk] to him, one carrying three goats, one [three loaves of bread, one] a wine-skin." (Wikipedia article on Quedlinburg Itala fragment, accessed 11-29-2008).

The fragment is preserved at the Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.

Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne (2008) 5.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Early Christians May Have Destroyed What Remained of the Alexandrian Library Because of its Pagan Contents 391 CE

One theory suggests that in 391 CE what remained of the Alexandrian Library was held in the Serapeum of Alexandria, a temple built by Ptolemy III and dedicated to Serapis, the syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god who was made the protector of Alexandria.

According to the the monk historian and theologian Tyrannius Rufinus and the historian of the Christian church Salminius Hermias Sozomenus (Σωζομενός Sozomen), Theophilus of Alexandria, Patriarch of Alexandria, discovered a hidden pagan temple. He and his followers mockingly displayed the pagan artifacts to the public which offended the pagans enough to provoke an attack on the Christians. The Christian faction counter-attacked, forcing the pagans to retreat to the Serapeum, which at that time may have housed what remained of the Alexandrian Library.  In response to this conflict the emperor sent Theophilus a letter ordering that the offending pagans be pardoned, but giving permission to destroy the temple and its pagan contents. According to church historian Socrates Scholasticus or Socrates of Constantinople, the emperor granted permission to destroy the temple in response to heavy solicitation by Theophilus.

“ 'Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost ... he caused the Mithraeum to be cleaned out... Then he destroyed the Serapeum... and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. ... the heathen temples... were therefore razed to the ground, and the images of their gods molten into pots and other convenient utensils for the use of the Alexandrian church'  —Socrates Scholasticus, The Ecclesiastical History" (Wikipedia article on Theophilus of Alexandria, accessed 11-28-2010).

♦ A papyrus fragment from an illustrated Greek chronicle written in Alexandria circa 450 CE has survived, depicting Theophilus standing triumphantly on top of the Serapeum, providing a near contemporary portrait of Theophilus in the context of these events. _________________________________________________________

In 2009 Spanish film director Alejandro Amenábar released the historical fiction film Agora based on elements of these historical events, and the life of the female neoplatonic philosopher and mathematician Hypatia (portrayed by Rachel Weisz), who was the daughter of the last known mathematician associated with Alexandria, Theon of Alexandria (portrayed by Michael Lonsdale). In my opinion this is among the few historical films to include discussion of serious, if watered-down scientific and philosophical ideas along with all the action sequences. The drama seems relatively objective, presenting the tragedy of the deaths of Hypatia and Theon, and the loss of the Alexandrian Library against unbiased and unflattering portrayals of the conflicts between pagans and Christians, and the conflicts between Christians and Jews.

From the standpoint of book history, the film seems reasonably accurate, with the exception of two details: in one scene a Christian is shown preaching from a papyrus roll. More than likely this would have been a codex; in another scene a Christian preacher is appropriately shown with an open codex written in what resembles the correct Greek majuscule. The other probably inaccurate detail is the way that the rolls are shelved in the Serapeum. Instead of pigeon hole shelves which would probably have been historically accurate, the rolls are displayed in shelves with diagonal cross-pieces rather like those used in some wine cellars. The film was a critical success but commercial flop in the U.S.; it was financially successful in Europe, and released on DVD in 2010

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Collection of Bio-Bibliographies 392 CE

In Bethlehem in 392 St. Jerome composed De viris illustribus, the title and arrangement of which he borrowed from Suetonius. Jerome's De viris illustribus is considered the first biographical work to stress bibliography.

De viris illustribus "contains short biographical and literary notes on 135 Christian authors, from Saint Peter down to Jerome himself. For the first seventy-eight authors Eusebius (Historia ecclesiastica) is the main source; in the second section, beginning with Arnobius and Lactantius, he includes a good deal of independent information, especially as to western writers" (Wikipedia article on Jerome, accessed 01-04-2008).

"It is a simple enumeration of titles under each author, in no particular order; sometimes the number of 'books' (chapters) is stated" (Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography: Its History and Development [1984] No. 3).

De viris illustribus was first published in print by Günther Zainer of Augsburg in an undated edition thought to have been issued before 1473:  ISTC No. ih00192000.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Augustine on Silent Reading 397 CE – 1470

Was silent reading unusual during Augustine's time? If so, what implications might a comment by Augustine in his Confessions (6.3.3.) have on the larger question of whether reading was primarily oral rather than silent in the ancient world?

In "Toward a Sociology of Reading in Classical Antiquity," American Journal of Philology 121 (2000) 593-627 William A. Johnson quoted Augustine's passage from the Confessions concerning the reading habits of his mentor, the archbishop of Milan, Aurelius Ambrosius:

"When Ambrose read, his eyes ran over the columns of writing and his heart searched out the meaning, but his voice and his tongue were at rest. Often when I was present—for he did not close his door to anyone and it was customary to come in unannounced—I have seen him reading silently, never in fact otherwise. I would sit for a long time in silence, not daring to disturb someone so deep in thought, and then go on my way. I asked myself why he read in this way. Was it that he did not wish to be interrupted in those rare moments he found to refresh his mind and rest from the tumult of others' affairs? Or perhaps he was worried that he would have to explain obscurities in the text to some eager listener, or discuss other difficult problems? For he would thereby lose time and be prevented from reading as much as he had planned. But the preservation of his voice, which easily became hoarse, may well have been the true cause of his silent reading."

No later than 1470 printer Johann Mentelin of Strasbourg issued the first printing of St. Augustine's ConfessionsThe edition is undated but has been determined to be not later than 1470. 

ISTC no. ia01250000.  In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

In September 2014 I had the pleasure of viewing the German biographical film starring Franco NeroDes Leben des heiligen Augustinus (2010). Conveniently the DVD was very well dubbed in English. This was best film that I had seen to date with respect not only to its treatment of Augstine's life, but also in its authentic depiction of book rolls and early codices in the period of transition from the roll to the codex. As expected, the trailer in English did not feature the book aspect of Augustine's life.

(This entry was last revised on 10-03-2014.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Western Autobiography 397 CE – 398 CE

In 397 and 398 Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis (St. Augustine), Bishop of Hippo Regius in Roman Africa (Annaba, Algeria), wrote Confessions.

"It is widely seen as the first Western autobiography ever written, and was an influential model for Christian writers throughout the following 1000 years of the Middle Ages. It is not a complete autobiography, as it was written in his early 40s, and he lived long afterwards, producing another important work (City of God); it does, nonetheless, provide an unbroken record of his development of thought and is the most complete record of any single individual from the 4th and 5th centuries. It is a significant theological work. In the work St. Augustine writes about how much he regrets having led a sinful and immoral life. He discusses his regrets for following the Manichaean religion and believing in astrology. He writes about Nebridius's role in helping to persuade him that astrology was not only incorrect but evil, and St. Ambrose's role in his conversion to Christianity. He shows intense sorrow for his sexual sins, and writes on the importance of sexual morality. He also mentions that his favorite subject in school was mathematics because it was concrete and more rigorously defined than other subjects. The book is thought to be divisible into chapters which symbolize various aspects of the Trinity and trinitarian belief." (Wikipedia article on Confessions (St. Augustine) accessed 05-12-2009).

Hundreds of medieval manuscripts of The Confessions survive. The earliest is "Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Sessorianus 55. The script is half-uncial and difficult to date. Lowe (CLA 4.420a) suggested late sixth century; Bischoff (quoted at CCSL 23.xxxviii) once ventured `saec. V/VI', but has since commented that he finds the half-uncial `rätselhaft' and `tantalizing' (see JThS n.s. 34 [1983], 114n2, and Atti-1986, 1.412)" (The Confessions of St. Augustine edited by J. J. O'Donnell (1992), Prolegomena: http://www.stoa.org/hippo/comm.html#B.MA, accessed 05-12-2009).

There are nine surviving manuscripts of The Confessions in Carolingian miniscule from the 9th/10th centuries, mostly preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The first printed edition of Augustine's Confessions was issued in Strassbourg "not later than 1470.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest Manuscript Collection Surviving in Pakistan and India Circa 400 CE – 600

Discovered in a wooden box in a circular chamber inside a Buddhist stupa by cattle grazers in 1931, the Gilgit manuscripts may be the earliest surviving Buddhist documents. They were named after the city of Gilgit, now part of Pakistan, in which they were discovered. Gilgit was an important city on the Silk Road, along which Buddhism was spread from South Asia to the rest of Asia.

A corpus of many Buddhist texts such as four sutras from the Buddhist canon, including the famous Lotus Sutra, the manuscripts survived because they were written on the bark of the bhoj (birch) tree which does not decay, and were kept in the freezing sub-zero temperatures of the Gilgit region. Theyere were writein the Buddhist form of Sanskrit in the Śāradā or Sharada script.

The most famous of the Gilgit manuscripts, the Gilgit Lotus Sutra is preserved in the National Archives of India in Delhi. Known as the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra – or the teachings of the white lotus and sun – the sutra is the basis of the Tiantai and Nichiren schools of Buddhism. In 2012 a facsimile edition of it was published by by the National Archives jointly with the Institute of Oriental Philosophy and Soka Gakkai, a Japan-based non-governmental organization. 

"In August 1938, seven years after the discovery of the texts, the archaeologist Madhusudan Kaul Shastri led a systematic excavation of the Naupur site and discovered another larger chamber at the base of the structure. The chamber contained another set of the Gilgit Manuscripts along with votive objects and probably Buddhist cult bronzes.

"According to renowned scholar Karl Jettmar, inscriptions on these bronzes “reveal that they were produced and dedicated due to the generosity and the religious zeal of a Patola Shahi”. The Patola Shahis, also known as Palola Shahis, were the rulers of Gilgit and Baltistan from the late sixth to the early eighth centuries AD.

"Shortly after, Kaul Shastri and his team outlined the specifications of the second group of manuscripts and other finds from the site including the hand painted covers of two manuscripts.

"In the third phase, the well-known Italian scholar Giuseppe Tucci secured another small group of the manuscripts in 1956. Obtaining them from a street vendor in Rawalpindi, he presented them to the Karachi museum.

"Roughly 60 manuscripts and 17 Avadnas emerging from Naupur are of unmatched significance in Buddhist studies. These are the oldest surviving collection of religious texts in the subcontinent. Based on the paleographical evidence, scholars agree that local Buddhist devotees compiled these texts between the fifth and sixth century AD. With the exception of only a few scripts, all the manuscripts were written on birch bark in Buddhist hybrid Sanskrit language in the Gupta Brahmi and post-Gupta Brahmi script.

"The birch bark that does not decay or decompose and the cool climate of the area helped the manuscripts survive till the day of their discovery in the 20th century. The Gilgit Manuscripts deciphered thus far cover a wide range of subjects such as religion, religious rituals, philosophy, iconometry, monastic discipline, folk tales, medicine and culinary art.

"The manuscripts contain sutras from the Buddhist canon, the Samghata Sutra, Samadhiraja Sutra, Saddharma Pundarika Sutraand Bhaisajyaguru Sutra.The Samadhiraja Sutra is one of the important Mahayana canonical texts, which are collectively called Navadharma. The Saddharma Pundarika Sutrapopularly known as Lotus Sutra, figures prominently in the Gilgit Manuscripts and scholars agree it was the most venerated sutra of the Buddhists from the Gilgit area" (http://tns.thenews.com.pk/gilgit-manuscripts-in-naupur/#.VDwu5NR4ovE, accessed 10-17-2014).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Augustine's Six Ages of the World Circa 400 CE

The Six Ages of the World (Sex aetates mundi; also Seven Ages of the World, Septem aetates mundi), was a Christian historical periodization scheme first written about by Saint Augustine circa 400 CE in De catechizandis rudibus (On the catechizing of the uninstructed), Chapter 22. 

Augustine's scheme

"was based upon Christian religious events, from the creation of Adam to the events of Revelation. The six ages of history, with each age (Latin: aetas) lasting approximately 1,000 years, were widely believed and in use throughout the Middle Ages, and until the Enlightenment, the writing of history was mostly the filling out of all or some part of this outline.

"The outline accounts for Seven Ages, just as there are seven days of the week, with the Seventh Age being eternal rest after the Final Judgement and End Times, just as the seventh day of the week is reserved for restIt was normally called the Six Ages of the World because in Augustine's schema they were the ages of the world, of history, while the Seventh Age was not of this world but, as Bede later elaborated, ran parallel to the six ages of the world. Augustine's presentation deliberately counters chiliastic and millennial ideas that the Seventh Age, World to Come, would come after the sixth. . . .

"Augustine was not the first to conceive of the Six Ages, which had its roots in the Jewish tradition, but he was the first Christian to write about it, and as his ideas became central to the church so did his authority.

The theory originated from a passage in II Peter:

"But of this one thing be not ignorant, my beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." (II Peter 3:8)

"The interpretation was taken to mean that mankind would live through six 1,000 year periods (or "days"), with the seventh being eternity in heaven or according to the Nicene Creed, a World to Come.

"Medieval Christian scholars believed it was possible to determine the overall time of human history, starting with Adam, by counting forward how long each generation had lived up to the time of Jesus, based on the ages recorded in the Bible. While the exact age of the earth was a matter of biblical interpretive debate, it was generally agreed man was somewhere in the last and final thousand years, the Sixth Age, and the final Seventh Age could happen at any time. The world was seen as an old place, the future would be much shorter than the past, a common image was of the world growing old.

"While Augustine was the first to write of the Six Ages, early Christians prior to Augustine found no end of evidence in the Jewish traditions of the Old Testament, and initially set the date for the End of the World at the year 500. Hippolytus said that the measurements of the Ark of the Covenant added up to five and one-half cubits, meaning five and a half thousand years. Since Jesus had been born in the "sixth hour", or halfway through a day (or, five hundred years into an Age), and since five kingdoms (five thousand years) had already fallen according to Revelation, plus the half day of Jesus (the body of Jesus replacing the Ark of the Jews), it meant that five-thousand five-hundred years had already passed when Jesus was born and another 500 years would mark the end of the world. An alternative scheme had set the date to the year 202, but when this date passed without event, people expected the end in the year 500.

"By the 3rd century, Christians no longer believed the "End of the Ages" would occur in their lifetime, as was common among the earliest Christians" (Wikipedia article on Six Ages of the World, accessed 10-26-2014).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The City of God 413 CE

Soon after the Sack of Rome, in 413 CE Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis (St. Augustine), Bishop of Hippo Regius in Roman Africa (Annaba, Algeria), began writing De Civitate Dei.

"Augustine wrote the treatise to explain Christianity's relationship with competing religions and philosophies, and to the Roman government with which it was increasingly intertwined. It was written soon after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410. This event left Romans in a deep state of shock, and many saw it as punishment for abandoning their Roman religion. It was in this atmosphere that Augustine set out to provide a consolation of Christianity, writing that, even if the earthly rule of the empire was imperilled, it was the City of God that would ultimately triumph — symbolically, Augustine's eyes were fixed on heaven, a theme repeated in many Christian works of Late Antiquity.

"Despite Christianity's designation as the official religion of the empire, Augustine declared its message to be spiritual rather than political. Christianity, he argued, should be concerned with the mystical, heavenly city the New Jerusalem — rather than with Earthly politics" (Wikipedia article on City of God [book], accessed 05-10-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

John Cassian Introduces Monastic Life to Europe Circa 415 CE

About 415 theologian John Cassian (Latin: Jo(h)annes Eremita Cassianus, Joannus Cassianus, or Joannes Massiliensis, John the Ascetic, or John Cassian the Roman) founded two monasteries of St. Victor near Marseille, then southern Gaul: one for men, another for women.

The monastery for men later became the Abbey of St. Victor.

"While he was in Rome John Cassian accepted the invitation to found an Egyptian-style monastery in southern Gaul, near Marseille. He may also have spent time as a priest in Antioch between 404 and 415. Whatever the case, he arrived in Marseille around 415. His foundation, the Abbey of St Victor, was a complex of monasteries for both men and women, one of the first such institutes in the West, and served as a model for later monastic development. Cassian's abbey and writings influenced St. Benedict, who incorporated many of the same principles into his monastic rule (Rule of St. Benedict), and recommended to his own monks that they read the works of Cassian. Since Benedict's rule is still used by Benedictine, Cistercian, and Trappist monks, the thought of John Cassian still guides the spiritual lives of thousands of men and women in the Western Church" (Wikipedia article on John Cassian, accessed 02-14-2011).

Thanks to Anghel Curty for assisting me with this entry.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Image of Codices in a Book Cabinet and Possibly the Earliest Image of a Bookbinding in Wall Art 426 CE – 450 CE

A mosaic in the so-called Lunetta di San Lorenzo in the Byzantine Mausoleo di Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy, represents the earliest image of codices in a book cabinet or book press or armarium— specifically codices of each of the Four Gospels lying flat on book shelves with the edges of the book blocks rather than the edges of the spines facing outward. To the right of this cabinet, on the other side of the marble lunette, the mosaic depicts the standing evangelist holding a large cross in one hand and an open codex in a chemise binding in the other hand.  This may be the earliest image of a bookbinding in wall art.

Clark, The Care of Books (1901) 41.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Fragments of a Fifth or Sixth Century Codex Circa 450 CE – 550

Fragment 26v of the Cotton Genesis, depicting Abraham. (View Larger)

The Cotton Genesis, a luxury manuscript with many illuminations, is one of the oldest surviving illustrated biblical codices. However, most of the manuscript was destroyed in the Cotton library fire in 1731, leaving only eighteen charred, shrunken scraps of vellum, preserved in the British Library. It is thought that the manuscript originally extended to more than 440 pages with approximately 340 miniature paintings that were framed and inserted into the text column.

"The miniatures were executed in late antique style comparable to Catacomb frescoes. Herbert Kessler and Kurt Weitzmann argue that the manuscript was produced in Alexandria, as it exhibits stylistic similarities to other Alexandrian works such as the Charioteer Papyrus.

"The Cotton Genesis appears to have been used in the 1220s to design 110 mosaic scenes in the atrium of St Mark's Basilica in Venice, after it was brought to Venice following the sack of Constantinople in 1204. The manuscript arrived in England, and was acquired by Sir Robert Cotton [Robert Bruce Cotton] in the 17th century." (Wikipedia article on Cotton Genesis, accessed 11-26-2008).

Regarding what some of the missing or fragmentary images might have looked like see Marion Wenzel, "Deciphering the Cotton Genesis Miniatures: Preliminary Observations Concerning the Use of Colour"(1987). In February 2014 this paper was available from the British Library website at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Smallest Codex Known from Antiquity Circa 450 CE

The Cologne Codex Mani (Cologne Mani-Codex, Codex Manichaicus Coloniensis) is the smallest codex known from antiquity. It is a vellum codex describing the life of Mani, the prophet and founder of Manichaeism. Written in Greek on leaves measuring 3.5 x 4.5 cm or 1.4 x 1.18 inches, and found near Asyut (the ancient Lycopolis), Egypt, it was originally the size of a small matchbox. 

In December 2013 color images of the codex were available from the University of Cologne at this link.

See Henrichs, "The Cologne Mani Codex Reconsidered," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 83 (1979) 339-367.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Residential University 450 CE – 1193

Historical sources not cited by the website of the proposed new Nālandā University in Rajgir, near Nalanda, Bihar, India, indicate that the university was founded in the fifth century and endured almost continuously from the fifth to the twelfth century. It may have had as many as 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students. The Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim and scholar Xuanzang spent nearly 15 years there, studying and teaching. He left detailed accounts of the university in the 7th century. Another Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk Yijing left information about other kingdoms lying on the route between China and Nālandā university. He was responsible for the translation of a large number of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Chinese.

According to the Wikipedia article on the university, notable scholars who studied at Nalanda included Emperor Ashoka, HarshavardhanaVasubandhuDharmapalaSuvishnuAsangaSilabhadraDharmakirtiShantarakshitaNagarjunaAryadevaPadmasambhava (the reputed founder of Buddhism in Tibet), Xuanzang and Hwui Li.

"The Nalanda ruins reveal through their architectural components the holistic nature of knowledge that was sought and imparted at this University.... The profound knowledge of the Nalanda teachers attracted scholars from places as distant as China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Turkey, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. These scholars have left records about the ambience, architecture and learning of this unique university. The most detailed accounts have come from Chinese scholars and the best known of these is Xuan Zang who carried back many hundred scriptures which were later translated into Chinese" (http://nalandauniv.edu.in/abt-history.html, accessed 01-12-2014).

"According to records of history, Nalanda University was destroyed three times by invaders, but only rebuilt twice. The first time was by the Huns under Mihirakula during the reign of Skandagupta (455–467 AD). But Skanda's successors promptly undertook the restoration, improving it with even grander buildings, and endowed it with enough resources to let the university sustain itself in the longer term.

"The second destruction came with an assault by the Gaudas in the early 7th century. This time, the Hindu king Harshavardhana (606–648 AD) restored the Buddhist university.

"In 1193, the Nalanda University was sacked by Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Muslim Turk; this event is seen by scholars as a late milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India. The Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj, in his chronicle the Tabaquat-I-Nasiri, reported that thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded as Khilji tried his best to uproot Buddhism" (Wikipedia article Nalanda University, accessed 01-12-2014).

Classes at the new Nalanda University were scheduled to begin in 2014.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Composition of the Babylonian Talmud Circa 490 CE – 542

The Babylonian Talmud was composed by the late 5th or early 6th  centuries, no later than 541-542 CE when the Black Plague, the so-called Plague of Justinian, appeared in Byzantium.

The Babylonian Talmud comprises more than 1.8 million words. One way to put the size of the document in perspective is to compare it with the other major and legal compilation of the period, the Codex Justinianus, or Digest of the Roman emperor Justinian I, which contains roughly 800,000 words.

"Far beyond any other legal compilation of Late Antiquity, the Babylonian Talmud is marked by a salient characteristic, its continuous and unending dialogue. The debates are not haphazard. Certain authorities who were contemporaries or near-contemporaries debate all sorts of issues related to the Mishnah, issues that are sometimes only remotely relevant to them personally.

"Some statistics will give us an idea of what is happening. The Babylonian Talmud is the creation of at least seven generations of Babylonian authorities, and contains several generations of Israeli authorities as well. However, of the hundreds of authorities mentioned by name, more than forty thousand times in toto, only a dozen or so dominate the discussion and are scattered in pairs. Chronologically, Rav and Samuel, R. Óuna and R. Óisda, R. Naòman and R. Sheshet or R. Yehuda, Abaye and Rava, R. Papa and R. Óuna b. R. Joshua, and R. Ashi overwhelmingly carry forward the debate.

"These debates are often arranged as structured discussions on a given topic, so that they appear to be stenographic records of actual debates. This appearance is literary only, however, as few of these authorities lived in close proximity" (Yaakov Ulman, "The Babylonian Talmud in its Historical Context",  Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein, 20-21, http://www.printingthetalmud.org/essays/2.html, accessed 12-05-2208).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Clovis I Converts to Roman Catholicism December 25, 496 CE

On Christmas Day, 496 Clovis I, king of the Franks, converted to Catholicism at the instigation of his wife, Clotilde, a Burgundian princess who was a Catholic in spite of the Arianism that surrounded her at court. Clovis was baptized in a small church in the vicinity of the subsequent Abbey of Saint-Remi in Reims.

"The followers of Catholicism believe that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are three persons of one being (consubstantiality), as opposed to Arian Christianity, whose followers believed that Jesus, as a distinct and separate being, was both subordinate to and created by God. While the theology of the Arians was declared a heresy at the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the missionary work of the bishop Ulfilas converted the pagan Goths to Arian Christianity in the 4th century. By the time of the ascension of Clovis, Gothic Arians dominated Christian Gaul, and Catholics were the minority. The king's Catholic baptism was of immense importance in the subsequent history of Western and Central Europe in general, for Clovis expanded his dominion over almost all of Gaul.

"... His [Clovis's] conversion to the Roman Catholic form of Christianity served to set him apart from the other Germanic kings of his time, such as those of the Visigoths and the Vandals, who had converted from pagan beliefs to Arian Christianity. His embrace of the Roman Catholic faith may have also gained him the support of the Catholic Gallo-Roman aristocracy in his later campaign against the Visigoths, which drove them from southern Gaul in 507 and resulted in a great many of his people converting to Catholicism...." (Wikipedia article on Clovis I, accessed 12-29-2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

500 CE – 600

The Earliest, Most Significant Rabbinic Texts Are Preserved in Stone Circa 500 CE – 600

The theater at Bet She'an. (View Larger)

The most significant archaeological evidence for the textual history of rabbinic literature, and particularly of its halakhic component, was uncovered between 1974 and 1980 in the ancient synagogue of Rehov, a site located five kilometers south of the Decapolis city of Scythopolis, called in Hebrew, Beit Shean. Stone and mosaic inscriptions found at Rehov contain extensive passages of legal material relating to biblical agricultural law that are well known from rabbinic sources. The Rehov inscriptions reformulate and apply these classical rabbinic texts to life in the Beit Shean Valley during the Byzantine period, the closing years of the redaction period of the Mishnah and the Talmud.

"The synagogue of Rehov was built in three phases, consisting of a fourth-century basilica enlarged in the fifth-sixth centuries and destroyed (apparently by an earthquake) during renovation and enlargement the following century. The fifth-sixth century synagogue contained a variety of unpublished inscriptions. The excavator notes that 'the columns bore large inscriptions in red paint, some of them in a tabula ansata and a wreath. The inscriptions, in Hebrew and Aramaic on white plaster, included a variety of texts: benedictions, dedications, a list of the priestly courses and a copy of a letter dealing with the laws of tithes in the Sabbatical year.' The so-called 'letter' is of particular interest, as it is the earliest preserved halakhic text yet discovered. According to the excavator, this inscription begins with the word 'Shalom' and contains texts that directly parallel classical rabbinic traditions in Tosefta Shevi’it 4:8–11, Sifre Deuteronomy 51, and Jerusalem Talmud Demai 2:1, 22c–d and Shevi’it 6:1, 36c. The inscription concludes with the phrase: אטרכ ינבלכלע םולש (“peace upon all the people of the town”). S. Lieberman suggests that this text may be a transcription of a letter sent by a beit din (rabbinical court) to Rehov adjudicating practical matters of biblical agricultural law" (Goldstein & Mintz, Printing the Talmud from Bomberg to Schottenstein [2006] no. 1, p. 170.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Computus, Root of the Modern Word "Computer" 525

In 525 the Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus, a computist, used a true zero in tables alongside Roman numerals, but he used the zero as a word, nulla (Latin) meaning nothing, not as a symbol. When division produced zero as a remainder, nihil (Latin) also meaning nothing, was used. These medieval zeros were used by all future computists (calculators of Easter). 

"Computus (Latin for computation) is the calculation of the date of Easter in the Christian calendar. The name has been used for this procedure since the early Middle Ages, as it was one of the most important computations of the age."

♦ This is the root of the modern word "computer."

Dionysius was born in Scythia Minor (modern Dobruja shared by Romania and Bulgaria). He was a member of the Scythian monks community concentrated in Tomis, the major city of Scythia Minor. He is best known as the "inventor" of the Anno Domini (AD) era, which is used by certain people to number the years of both the Gregorian calendar and the (Christianized) Julian calendar.

From about 500 Dionysius lived in Rome, where, as a learned member of the Roman Curia, he translated from Greek into Latin 401 ecclesiastical canons, including the apostolical canons and the decrees of the councils of Nicaea, Constantinople,Chalcedon and Sardis, and also a collection of the decretals of the popes from Siricius to Anastasius II. These collections had great authority in the West. He also wrote a treatise on elementary mathematics.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).
View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Syriac Bible of Paris Circa 550 – 650

Folio 46r from the Syriac Bible, depicting Job. (View Larger)

The Syriac Bible of Paris, an  illuminated Bible written in Syriac, is thought to have been created in northern Mesopotamia in the sixth or seventh centuries. The manuscript has 246 extant folios. Large sections of text and the accompanying illustrations are missing. The folios are 312 by 230 mm. In the archaic style, the text is written in three columns.

"The illumination consists of miniatures introducing each of the books of the Bible and set into one or two of the text columns. The miniature for the Book of Genesis which may have been the most sumptuous miniature is missing. Although most of the miniatures are full length author portraits, some depict scenes from the following book. For example, the miniature before the Book of Job depicts Job on the dung heap. This miniature combine several scenes from the Book of Job. Job is pictured lying naked on the dung heap, covered with sores. Below him his wife is talking to him. To the left are his three friends. One of them is seen rending his garments, while the other two are seated, and talking to him. The Book of Exodus also has a narrative miniature before it. It depicts Moses and Aaron requesting permission to depart from Pharaoh. It is hard to understand why this scene, rather than one of the many more popular scenes was chosen to be the sole illustration for Exodus. Other miniatures are allegorical groups. The miniature before the Book of Proverbs shows the Virgin and Child, flanked by Solomon, representing the wisdom of the Old Testament, and Ecclesia, a personification of the Christian Church. Only one New Testament miniature survives, that of James the Apostle. The miniatures show mixture of Hellenistic heritage and a native Syriac tradition. Some of the miniatures, especially the miniature before Exodus, show stylistic similarities to the miniatures in the Rabula Gospels. Based on this it is unlikely that this manuscript was made much later than the Rabula Gospels which were made in 586." (Wikipedia article on Syriac Bible of Paris, accessed 11-29-2008).

The manuscript is thought to have come from the Episcopal library of Siirt near Lake Van in Turkey, where it may have been produced. It is preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS syr. 341.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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. 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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). 

 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Birth of the Prophet Muhammad 570

The birth of the Prophet Muhammad occurred in 570.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Ashburnham Pentateuch Circa 580 – 620

A folio from the Ashburnham Pentateuch depicting Cane and Abel. (View larger)

The Ashburnham Pentateuch (sometimes called the Tours Pentateuch), a late sixth century or early 7th century illuminated manuscript of the Pentateuch, is the only western illuminated manuscript with narrative rather than purely decorative or iconic images that bridges the period between late antique and the Carolingian renaissance. It has been described by some scholars as Spanish, but probably came from Italy. One theory of its origin is that it was produced in the imperial scriptorium of Rome on commission from Galla Placidia to educate her son Emperor Valentinian III in the Christian doctrine. 

Though the manuscript originally contained all five books of the Pentateuch, it now lacks the whole of Deuteronomy as well as sections of the other five books. In Early Medieval Bible Illumination and the Ashburnham Pentateuch (2004) Dorothy Verkerk argued that the manuscript was written in Rome in the early seventh century, whence it traveled north to Fleury,

"where it was refurbished and given a decorated initial in the eighth century. From Fleury it was taken to Tours where a ninth-century addition was inserted and where it was studied, amended, copied, and emulated in manuscripts and frescoes. The manuscript was deposited at some point in the library of St. Gatien, and was moved to the Bibliothèque Municipale [at Tours] during the French Revolution, from where it was stolen, brought to England, and then finally returned to France in the nineteenth century" (Verbeek 58-59).

"It has 142 folios and 19 miniatures, and measures 372mm by 321mm. It is thought to have originally included as many as 68 full page miniatures. A full page table containing the Latin names of the books and Latin transliterations of the Hebrew names serves as a front piece to Genesis. The table is enclosed within a curtained arch. Some of the full page miniatures, such as that containing the miniature of Noah's Ark (folio 9r), contain a single scene. Other of the full page miniatures, such as that telling the story of Cain and Abel, contain many scenes which are placed in a register, with each scene having a different color background" (Wikipedia article on the Ashburnham Pentateuch, accessed 11-26-2008).

♦ The manuscript was at Tours when it was stolen in 1842 by mathematician, historian of science, palaeographer, and book thief, Guglielmo Libri, and sold by Libri in 1847, along with many other stolen manuscripts, to Bertram, 4th Earl of Ashburnham. In 1888 after a long and well-publicized dispute with the curator of manuscripts at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Léopold Delisle, the fifth Earl of Ashburnham sold the manuscript, along with other ancient French codices his father had purchased from Libri, to the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where it is preserved today.

For a detailed account of Guglielmo Libri's role in the history of the Ashburnham Pentateuch see my book, Scientist, Scholar and Scoundrel (2013).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

600 – 700

The Earliest Western Metalwork Bookcovers Circa 600

(View Larger)

"The earliest western metalwork bookcovers (though their origin has been disputed) are the pair presented by the Lombard queen Theodolinda (d. 625) to the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Monza. The covers again are identical, each bearing a gem-encrusted cross over a gold background, surrounded by a frame of red glass cloissonné.

"As with the Syrian and Byzantine silver covers, it is not known what codex Theodelinda's covers might have contained. Not until Carolingian times can the covers of treasure bindings be connected to the original codices, and even then clear-cut examples are few" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 22).

The source of the image may be found at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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]).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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]."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Muhammad's Hijra 622

(View Larger)

Muhammad's Hijra (هِجْرَة) or emigration of the Islamic Prophet and his followers to the city of Medina in 622 traditionally marks the beginning of the Islamic Calendar.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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'."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Foundation of the Monastery on Lindisfarne 634

Saint Aidan (View larger)

In 634 Saint Aidan, an Irish monk from Iona, founded the monastery on the tidal island at Lindisfarne off the North-East coast of England. It became a center of learning with an important library.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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. 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Finest Surviving Coptic Bookbinding Circa 650 – 750

MS M.569 of the Pierpont Morgan Library, considered the finest surviving Coptic bookbinding. (View Larger)

A Coptic bookbinding removed from an illuminated manuscript on parchment of the Four Gospels (MS M. 569) attributed to the Monastery of Holy Mary Mother of God, Perkethoout near Hamuli, Faiyum, Egypt, and preserved in the Morgan Library and Museum, is considered "the finest surviving Coptic bookbinding." It is tooled goatskin over papyrus boards; decorated with onlaid panels of red leather tracery sewn to a gilded leather ground, with plain edges. 

"In 1910 the library of the ancient Coptic monastery of St. Michael of the Desert was discovered in southern Faym, near the village of Hamuli. Nearly sixty parchment volumes were found in a stone cistern, many still in their original bindings; they compose the largest surviving group of inact Coptic codices coming from a single source. The following year, Pierpont Morgan purchased the Hamuli manuscripts from a Paris art dealer, almost en bloc. At least five of the codices had already strayed, and are now in the Coptic and Egyptian Museums in Cairo, and a number of fragments, broken up from whole codices after the find, were more widely dispersed. That the remainder was kept together was due especially to the efforts of Professors Emile Chassinat and Henry Hyvernat.

"Before the discovery of the Hamuli codices there was no record of the monastery of Archangel Michael, but it was well known that the Fayum had been a thriving center of Coptic religious life, and that dozens of monasteries had been situated there. The Hamuli codices are all service books, intended for public reading, and their format is large. Only six are less than thirteen inches tall (33 cm.), and only one less than twelve inches (30cm.). They include various parts of the Bible, a Lectionary, an Antiphonary, and many volumes of Synaxeries, collections of readings--hagiographic, homiletic, and more generaly devotional--belonging to particular feast days. The number of distinct texts, exclusive of the Bible, numbers well over one hundred, many otherwise unknwon. Twenty of the codices have dated colophons, from 823 to 914, containing valuable information concerning the organization and personnel of St. Michael's, and its relations with neighboring monasteries. The relatively narrow chronological span of the codices suggests that the monastery disbanded or was destroyed sometime in the tenth century.

"It should be explained that through this period Egypt was part of the Islamic world, having fallen abruptly out of the Byzantine sphere in 641. This transfer of imperium had few if any immediate deleterious effects on Egyptian Christianity, which was already thoroughly aliented from Byzantium. Its submergence into a minority role in Egypt (but always and still an important one) came about gradually, as did the disappearance of the Coptic language. The general policy of medieval Islam toward Christian and Jewish subjects was tolerant, though they were required to pay a special infidels' tax. There were a number of sporadic instances of persecution in Egypt, the most extensive being that initiated by the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim (996-1020), which is known to have resulted in the destruction of many churches and monasteries. It may have been at this time that St. Michael of the Desert went under" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] no. 2, 12).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Foundation of Corbie Abbey, Renowned for its Library 659 – 661

The Abbey at Corbie. (View Larger)

Balthild, widow of Clovis II, and her son Clotaire III, founded Corbie Abbey about 659-661. The first monks at Corbie came from Luxeuil Abbey, which had been founded by Saint Columbanus in 590, and the Irish respect for classical learning fostered at Luxeuil was carried forward at Corbie. The rule of these founders was based on the Benedictine rule, as modified by Columbanus.

"Above all, Corbie was renowned for its library, which was assembled from as far as Italy, and for its scriptorium. In addition to its patristic writings, it is recognized as an important center for the transmission of the works of Antiquity to the Middle Ages. An inventory (of perhaps the 11th century) lists the church history of Hegesippus, now lost, among other extraordinary treasures. In the scriptorium at Corbie the clear and legible hand known as Carolingian minuscule was developed, in about 780, as well as a distinctive style of illumination.

"Three of Corbie's ninth-century scholars were Ratramnus (died ca. 868), Radbertus Paschasius (died 865) and the shadowy figure of Hadoard. Jean Mabillon, the father of paleography, had been a monk at Corbie.

"Among students of Tertullian, the library is of interest as it contained a number of unique copies of Tertullian's works, the so-called corpus Corbiense and included some of his unorthodox Montanist treatises, as well as two works by Novatian issued pseudepigraphically under Tertullian's name. The origin of this group of non-orthodox texts has not satisfactorily been identified.

"Among students of medieval architecture and engineering, such as are preserved in the notebooks of Villard de Honnecourt, Corbie is of interest as the center of renewed interest in geometry and surveying techniques, both theoretical and practical, as they had been transmitted from Euclid through the Geometria of Boëthius and works by Cassiodorus (Zenner).

"In 1638, 400 manuscripts were transferred to the library of the monastery of St. Germain des Prés in Paris. In the French Revolution, the library was closed and the last of the monks dispersed: 300 manuscripts still at Corbie were moved to Amiens, 15 km to the west. Those at St-Germain des Prés were loosed on the market, and many rare manuscripts were obtained by a Russian diplomat, Petrus Dubrowsky [Peter Petrovich Dubrovsky] and sent to St. Petersburg. Other Corbie manuscripts are at the Bibliothèque Nationale. Over two hundred manuscripts from the great library at Corbie are known to survive" (Wikipedia article on Corbie Abbey, accessed 08-20-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

King Oswiu Causes Britain to Embrace the Mainstream of Christianity 664

King Oswiu (View Larger)

At the Synod of Whitby held at St. Hild's monastery in Whitby, England, to resolve disputes between the "Roman" church founded by Augustine and the "Celtic" church founded by Columba, King Oswiu of Northumbia decided in favor of the Roman church, ruling that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome, rather than the customs practiced by Iona and its satellite institutions. This decision caused Britain to embrace the mainstream of Christianity.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest Surviving Block Printing from Korea? Circa 690 – 751

In 1966 researchers found a scroll of paper wrapped in a patch of silk cloth inside the Seokgatap, a Silla dynasty pagoda in a stupa in the Buddhist temple Bulguksa, North Gyeongsang province in Republic of Korea (South Korea). This was a copy of the Buddhist Dharani Sutra called the Pure Light Dharani Sutra (Hanja: 無垢淨光大陀羅尼經 Hangul:무구정광대다라니경; Revised Romanization: Mugujeonggwangdaedaranigyeong).  In Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West (1970; p. 22 footnote 3) Joseph Needham estimated the date of this sutra as between 684 and 704. However, when the volume on paper and printing in China in Needham's series was published in 1985 Tsien Tsuen-Hsuin revised the date as somewhat later: 

"The scroll bears no date, but it includes certain special forms of characters created and used when Empress Wu (r. +680-704) was ruling in China. It is believed that this charm must have been printed no earlier than + 705, when the translation of sutra was finished, and no later than + 751, when the building of the temple and stupa was completed" (Needham, Science and Civilisation in China V, Pt.: Paper and Printing by Tsien Tsuen-Hsuin [1985] 149. The scroll is illustrated as Fig. 1110 on p. 150.)

Research in China by Pan Jixing published in 1997 argued that the printing discovered in Korea was done in China: 

"research has shown that the dharani sutra discovered in Korea was translated in China from Sanskrit in 701 and printed in 702 at Luoyang, the capital of China under Wu Zetian, then sent to Korea in several batches" (Wikipedia article History of Printing in East Asia, accessed 12-29-2012). 

Pan, Jixing. "On the Origin of Printing in the Light of New Archaeological Discoveries," Chinese Science Bulletin, 1997, Vol. 42, No. 12: 976–981.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Building the Dome of the Rock 691

The Dome of the Rock at Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (View Larger)

To commemorate the Prophet Muhammad's "Night Journey," Caliph 'Abd al-Malik buillt the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem on the site of the Temple Mount.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First State Libraries in Japan 702

"It is in the eighth century that we have the first firm evidence [in Japan] of collections of books maintained by the state, by religious institutions and by private individuals. The lawcodes promulgated in 702 established the first state library, the Zushoryo, which was supervised by a government ministry [in Nara] and was largely modelled on the Bi shu sheng of Tang China. It was responsible for collecting and conserving both Buddhist and Confucian books and, unlike the Bi shu sheng, was required to complile official histories. For these purposes it had a staff of 4 papermakers, 10 brushmakers, 4 inkmakers and 20 copyists, for collecting was partly dependent on the copying of texts held elsewhere. It consumed huge quantities of paper, drawn by the tenth century from 42 of the 66 provinces, and appears to have become increasingly absorbed in sutra-copying. The statutes contained in the Engishiki include a number of regulations relating to the  Zushoryo, such as a requirement that the books be aired regularly, which shows that it also functioned as a repository of books. Precisely what books is unclear, although a ruling in 728 refers to both secular and Buddhist works as well as screens and paintings, and by 757 the Zushoryo had its own catalogue. The same source stipulates that permission was needed if somebody wished to borrow more than one item at a time, but doubtless the right to borrow was restricted. In 833 some of the buildings were burnt down and in 1027 its treasures were destroyed by fire. It may have been revived as there is a record of another fire in 1042, but it then disappears from the record until the Meiji government established a new Zushoryo in 1884" (Peter Kornicki, The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century [2001] 365).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest English Translation of Any Portion of the Bible 725 – 750

Folio 30v of the Vespasian Psalter, depicting David with musicians. (View Larger)

The Vespasian Psalter (London, British Library, Cotton Vespasian A I) an illuminated Psalter produced in southern England, perhaps in St. Augustine's Abbey or Christ Church, Canterbury or Minster-in-Thanet between 725 and 750 contains an interlinear gloss in Old English which is the oldest extant English translation of any portion of the Bible. The psalter takes its name from its shelf location under the bust of the Roman emperor Vespasian, in the Cotton Library formed by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, from which it passed in 1753 to the British Museum.

"The psalter contains the Book of Psalms together with letters of St. Jerome, hymns and canticles. It was written in Latin on vellum, using a southern English Uncial script with Rustic Capital rubrics. There were additions made by a scribe named Eadui Basan in an English Carolingian minuscule. The English gloss was written in a Southumbrian pointed minuscule."

"There are several major initials which are historiated, zoomorphic, or decorated. Major initials are found at the beginning of Psalms 1, 51 and 101. (This tripartite division of the Psalter is typical of Insular Psalters). In addition, the psalms beginning each of the liturgical divisions of the Psalter are given major initials. The beginning letters of the other Psalms have smaller "minor" initials which are decorated or zoomorphic and are done in what is called the "antenna" style. There is a miniature of King David with his court musicians on folio 30 verso. It is probable that this miniature was originally the opening miniature of the psalter. Sir Robert Cotton pasted a cutting from the Breviary of Margaret of York on folio 160 verso. He also inserted a miniature from a 13th Century liturgical psalter as folio 1.

"The Psalter belongs to a group of manuscripts from Southern England known as the Tiberius group. The manuscript was produced during the second quarter of the 8th century. The script of the Old English gloss is typical of the script produced in Canterbury scriptoria from about 820 to 850. Eadui Basan, who made additions to the manuscript, was a monk at Christ Church, Canterbury during the early 11th Century. Thomas of Elmham recorded a Psalter at Canterbury which may have been the Vespasian Psalter. The manuscript was at Canterbury in 1553. It was subsequently owned by Sir William Cecil and Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. By 1599 it was the possession of Sir Robert Cotton, who signed it on folio 12 recto. It became national property, along with the rest of the Cotton library in 1702 and was incorporated into the British Museum when it was founded in 1753. The volume was the first in the Vespasian shelf section in the part of the library indexed by the names from a set of busts of the Roman Emperors on top of the shelves. Its current binding, with metal clasps, was provided by Cotton" (Wikipedia article on Vespasian Psalter, accessed 11-26-2008).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Surviving Copy of St. Benedict's Rules Circa 725

A painting of St. Benedict drafting the Benedictine Rules, by Herman Nieg, c. 1926. The painting resides in the church of Heiligenkreuz Abbey near Baden bei Wien, Lower Austria. (View Larger)

The manuscript of the Rule of St. Benedict written in England in during the first part of the eighth century, in uncial script on the model of Italian manuscripts, "must have belonged to one of the earliest communities of Roman monks in England" (de Hamel, History of Illuminated Manuscripts [1986] 13, caption to plate 5). It is the oldest surviving copy of Benedict's Rules for monastic life, including the value of scribal work. The manuscript is preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Ms. Hatton 48, f. 17v). That the earliest surviving copy of this seminal text for the operation of monasteries should originate in England at this date tells much about the instability of continental institutions from the time of Benedict's promulgation of the rules in 529 through the eighth century.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Stockholm Codex Aureus, Looted Twice by Vikings Circa 750

Folio 11 of the Codex Aureus, inscribed in Old English. (View Larger)

The Stockholm Codex Aureus (also known as the "Codex Aureus of Canterbury") was produced in the mid-eighth century in Southumbria, probably in Canterbury, England.

"The codex is richly decorated, with vellum leaves that alternately are dyed and undyed, the purple-dyed leaves written with gold, silver, and white pigment, the undyed ones with black ink and red pigment. The style is a blend of that of Insular art . . . and Continental art of the period.

"In the ninth century it was stolen by the Vikings and Aldormen Aelfred had to pay a ransom to get it back.  Above and below the Latin text of the Gospel of St. Matthew is an added inscription in Old English recording how, a hundred years later, the manuscript was ransomed from a Viking army who had stolen it on one of their raids in Kent by Alfred, ealdorman of Surrey, and his wife Wærburh and given to Christ Church, Canterbury" (Wikipedia article on Stockholm Codex Aureus, accessed 06-25-2009).

The Old English inscription on folio 11 reads in translation:

 + In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I, Earl Alfred, and my wife Werburg procured this book from the heathen invading army with our own money; the purchase was made with pure gold. And we did that for the love of God and for the benefit of our souls, and because neither of us wanted these holy works to remain any longer in heathen hands. And now we wish to present them to Christ Church to God's praise and glory and honour, and as thanksgiving for his sufferings, and for the use of the religious community which glorifies God daily in Christ Church; in order that they should be read aloud every month for Alfred and for Werburg and for Alhthryth, for the eternal salvation of their souls, as long as God decrees that Christianity should survive in that place. And also I, Earl Alfred, and Werburg beg and entreat in the name of Almighty God and of all his saints that no man should be so presumptuous as to give away or remove these holy works from Christ Church as long as Christianity survives there.

Alfred

Werburg

Alhthryth their daughter

The manuscript remained at Canterbury until the 16th century when it travelled to Spain. In 1690 it was bought for the Swedish Royal Collection, It is preserved in the National Library of Sweden, Kungliga biblioteket, Stockholm (MS A. 135).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

One of the Great Treasures of Early Carolingian Metalwork 760

The ornate cover on the Lindau Gospels, located in the Pierpont Morgan Library. (View Larger)

 

The gilt silver, enamel, and jeweled lower cover on the Lindau Gospels, MS M1 in the Morgan Library & Museum, was executed in Austria, possibly in Salzburg, during the second half of the 8th century.

"In 1899, Pierpont Morgan purchased the Lindau Gospels from the heirs of the 4th Earl of Ashburnham; it was the first major mediaeval manuscript to enter his collections. He acquired, in this single volume, three outstanding examples of Carolingian book art: an important ninth-century illuminated manuscript from the scriptorium of St. Gall, and two of the finest surviving Carolingian metalwork bookcovers. The two covers, however, may be separated by as much as a century, and it is certain that the older of the covers did not originally belong to this codex, however early it was assimilated to it. The covers and codex can be traced back as an entity no further than 1594, the date stamped on the red morocco spine of the volume. It has not been determined whether the jewelled covers were added to the codex then, or whether repairs were made at that date to an existing bound volume, already with jewelled covers. Nor has it been established where the volume was in 1594; the first explicit record placing it in the Benedictine nunnery of Lindau, from which it takes its name, comes in 1691. Lindau is on a small island in Lake Constance, just offshore near the northeast corner. St. Gall, where the Gospels was written, is southwest of Lindau, across the lake and inland, at a direct distance of about twenty miles."

"It has long been recognized that the lower cover of the Lindau Gospels is considerably earlier than the date of the manuscript, and could not have been designed for it. This cover is one of the great treasures of early Carolingian metalwork. It has elicited a considerable literature, characterized by widely varying opinions concerning its localization and date. Such a diversity of opinion is understandable, for although the cover was clearly designed as a unit, a variety of techniques and motifs make up its individual components. The basic layout consists of an enamelled cross (both champlevé and cloisonné) within an enamelled flrame, over four background silver-gilt panels of complex engraved animal interlace patterns. The cross-in-frame motif is similar to that of Queen Theodelinda's bookcovers, mentioned above, though an interval of as much as 200 years separate the two peices of work; and, on both, the arms of the cross broaden where they join the frame (cross pattée). The four cloisonné representations of the bust of Christ on the Lindau cover, one on each arm about the center of the cross, may be related to the late seventh-century gold Cross of Duke Gisulf, each arm of which contains two repoussé portrait heads, presumably Christ's.

"Many scholars have been struck by the resemblance of the animal interlaces on the quadrants to Hiberno-Saxon decorative schemes, and several have noted a general resemblance in layout to several of the carpet-pages in the Lindisfarne Gospels of ca. 700, on which a cross pattern is brought out against an animal-interlace background. An even more specific stylistic connection has been established for the animal interlaces in the two gilt silver engraved medallions laid into the vertical arms of the cross: these follow precisely the 'gripping-beast' pattern of Viking animal ornament. Their earliest appearance in Viking art is on objects from the Oseberg ship-find, which have been dated to between 800 and 850. It has sometimes been asserted that the Viking gripping-beast style was derived from Carolingian prototypes, but this cannot be documented—unless indeed the Lindau Gospels lower cover is considered as a precedent Carolingian example" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 25-26).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

One Million Copies Printed; The First Large Scale Mass Production 764 – 770

One of one million pagodas commissioned by Empress Shotuku, containing Bhuddhist charms, or dhrani scrolls. (View Larger

Between 764 and 770 CE the Japanese Empress Shotuku commissioned one million small three-story pagodas carved from cypress wood containing Buddhist charms, or dharani scrolls, printed from woodblocks on paper made from hemp fiber, as thanks for the suppression of the Emi Rebellion by Fujiwara no Nakamaro in 764. This has been called the first large scale mass production.

"For printing, the Japanese are thought to have used eight cast bronze plates—1,000 years before the European use of stereotyping. Using hand inking and burnishing the back of the paper, the printers took 125,000 prints from the plates" (Cave & Ayad, The History of the Book in 100 Books [2014] 31).

"900,000 pagodas were distributed to temples around the entire country. 100,000 were divided between the Ten Great temples in the Nara area, which erected special halls for these pagodas, known as the Small Pagoda Hall, or the Ten Thousand Pagoda Hall. 4 different texts were printed, all from the Mukujoko [Muku joko] sutra: Kompon Dharani, Storin Dharani, Jishin-in Dharani, and Rokudo Dharani" (Shøyen Collection MS 2489).

No further printing occurred in Japan until about 1080. 

(This entry was last revised on 01-14-2015.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

One of the Finest Libraries North of the Alps: About 100 Books 767

Raban Maur (left), flanked by Alcuin (middle), dedicates his work to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz (Right), taken from a Carolingian manuscript (ca. 831/40) currently residing in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Wien. (View Larger)

In 1767 the monk Alcuin became head of the episcopal school at the Cathedral of York. This cathedral had been destroyed by fire in 741, and then rebuilt on a grander scale. Alcuin devoted himself to teaching and to building up the library at the Cathedral— one the finest libraries north of the Alps at this time.

"Athough most of Alcuin's writing dates from his residence in Francia, the roots of his formidable learning and capacity lay in the York years, as he himself often made clear. It would seem in fact, that York was the first place in Europe to create a cathedral school of this scale and character. It was the model to which Alcuin turned in his mind while serving Charlemagne in the later part of his life, and he saw himself, in some ways, as its ambassador. It is important, however, not to project back upon this period the scale of later medieval schools and libraries. The closest parallel was Bede's library, built up by Benedict Biscop and Ceolfrith at Monwearmouth-Jarrow, a place that Alcuin knew well and evidently loved. It is possible to conjecture that there may have been up to 250 titles there, but not necessarily so many actual books. it seems that this may actually have been the largest library ever assembled throughout the Anglo-Saxon period. Hardly any of it now remains, though perhaps some of its volumes, or copies of them, could have found their way to York itself. In his York poem, Alcuin proudly lists forty authors whose works adorned the library built up by Aethelbert. To this may be added a further eighteen works from one of the few of Alcuin's writings that can dated to his time in York. It is most unlikely, therefore, that the York library in its heyday exceeded 100 books, some of which Alcuin later exported to Tours. Mostly these would have been kept in chests rather than on open shelves. Among them would have been liturgical books, Bibles, lectionaries, sacramentaries and so forth. To York came requests for the copying of books throughout the eighth and ninth centuries, from the continent, and presumably from within England, itself. Its scriptorium was important and respected, but of the York library itself nothing certain now remains" (Dales & Williams, Alcuin: Theology and Thought [2013] 31).

Lapidge, The Anglo-Saxon Library (2006) 40-42.

(This entry was last revised on 08-11-2014.)

 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"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.

"PROVENANCE:

"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.

"TEXT:

"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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Codex Aureus of Lorsch and its Dispersal 778 – 820

Folio 72v of the Codex Aureus of Lorsch, depicting Christ. (View Larger)

The Codex Aureus of Lorsch, also known as the Lorsch Gospels, is one of the masterpieces of manuscript illumination produced during the period of Charlemagne's rule over the Frankish Empire.

"It was located for the first time in Lorsch Abbey (Germany), where it was mentioned as Evangelium scriptum cum auro pictum habens tabulas eburneas in the catalogue of the Abbey's library, compiled in 830 under Abbot Adelung. Considering gold letters in the manuscript and its location at Lorsch it was named the Codex Aureus Laurensius. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, the library of Lorsch was the one of the best libraries of the world."

Just prior to Lorsch's dissolution in 1563 the manuscript was taken to Heidelberg and incorporated into the Bibliotheca Palatina in Heidelberg, from which it was stolen in 1622 during the Thirty Years' War

". . . the codex was broken in two and the covers torn off. The richly illustrated first half reached the Migazzi Library and after that was sold to Bishop Ignac Batthyani. This section is now in Alba Iulia, Romania, and belongs to Batthyaneum Library. The second half is in the Vatican Library. The front cover is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the back cover by the Vatican Museums of Rome" (Wikipedia article on the Codex Aureus of Lorsch, accessed 11-23-2008).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Treasure Binding Associated with its Original Codex 783 – 795

A facsimile of the Dagulf Psalter, also known as the Golden Psalter. (View Larger)

The Dagulf Psalter, sometimes also called The Golden Psalter, is a collection of the 150 Psalms made for Hildegard, the wife of Charlemagne. The main part of the writing was done by the scribe Dagulf who signed the book in a dedication poem to Charlemagne. The work covers two decisive phases of the Carolingian School of painting. The section carried out between 783 and 789 was done in Worms and Metz, and the work was completed in Aachen between 790 and 795. 

The treasure binding covers of the manuscript are preserved in the Louvre, Paris, while the manuscript is preserved in Vienna at Austrian National Library, Cod 1861.

"Not until Carolingian times can the covers of treasure bindings be connected to their original codices, and even then clear-cut examples are few. The earliest would seem to be the ivory covers of the Dagulf Psalter, presented by Charlemagne to Pope Hadrian I (772-95); although covers and text are now separate, Dagulf's dedicatory verses make explicit mention of the cover decoration. This separation of covers and codex is more the rule than the exception. Rare in any case is the book written before the fifteenth century that has not been rebound. Jewelled covers are particularly susceptible to migration from one codex to another, because they are not integral to the bookbinding. Unlike leather covers, they were tacked on the wooden boards in an operation completely separate form the binding process proper; nor would the artisans who made them be bookbinders. Jewelled covers might easily be removed and added to another codex without any necessity for disbinding or rebinding.

"The expression 'treasure bindings' has a reference broader than just to the materials used in their manufacture. In Jerome's day, when the monastic movement was young and disorganized, jewelled bindings may have been owned by private indviduals. But later they almost invariably belonged to monasteries, cathedrals, and other collegial institutions. Within these institutions they played a specific role; they were part of the liturgical equipment used in celebrating the divine service. This equipment, including crucifixes, eucharistic vessels, vestments, reliquaries, the altar itself, was often of the highest luxury and constituted the 'treasure' of a church. Thus, both finds of sixth-century silver covers referred to above were excavated together with other silverwork liturgical articles. Jewelled covers were ordinarily made for service books, particularly Gospels and Evangeliaries, and may be considered as part of the altar fittings. Because of their special function, they would not be stored in the library presses or library room of their foundations, in or near the cloister. They would be kept quite separate, with the other liturgical objects, convenient to the altar or within the altar itself, under the care of the sacristan" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 22-23).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Vikings Sack the Monastery and Library of Lindisfarne in the First Viking Raid on Britain June 8, 793

The ruins of Lindisfarne Abbey. (View Larger)

In the first Viking raid on Britain, on June 8, 793Vikings, sacked the monastery of Lindisfarne, a center of learning famous across the continent, built on a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, including its library among their spoils.

"Monks were killed in the [Lindisfarne] abbey, thrown into the sea to drown or carried away as slaves along with the church treasures. Three Viking ships had beached in Portland Bay four years earlier, but that incursion may have been a trading expedition that went wrong rather than a piratical raid. Lindisfarne was different. The Viking devastation of Northumbria's Holy Island shocked and alerted the royal Courts of Europe. 'Never before has such an atrocity been seen,' declared the Northumbrian scholar Alcuin of York. More than any other single event, the attack on Lindisfarne cast a shadow on the perception of the Vikings for the next twelve centuries. Not until the 1890s did scholars outside Scandinavia begin seriously to reassess the achievements of the Vikings, recognizing their artistry, the technological skills and the seamanship" (quoted from the Wikipedia article on the Viking Age, accessed 11-22-2008).

"Monasteries were a favoured target due to the riches which were contained in them. Jarrow was invaded in 794 and Iona in 795, 802 and 806. After repeated raids by the Norsemen, the monks of Lindisfarne fled the monastery in AD 875, taking the venerated relics of Saint Cuthbert with them for safekeeping" (http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/vikings_5.htm, accessed 11-22-2008).

(This entry was last revised on 12-23-2016.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Used by Charlemagne at his Coronation as Holy Roman Emperor 794 – 800

The Vienna Coronation Gospels, also known as the Coronation Evangeliar, is the principle work among a small group of surviving manuscripts produced in the scriptorium of the Palace School at Aachen sometime between 794 and 800. It was used by the Emperor Charlemagne at his coronation on Christmas Day 800 when he placed three fingers of his right hand on the first page of the Gospel of Saint John and took his oath. Traditionally, it is considered the manuscript found in Charlemagne's tomb when it was opened in the year 1000 by Emperor Otto III.

"To this day we do not know exactly where Charlemagne’s grave lies. And so we do not know either where the legendary event which is so important for the manuscript actually took place in the year 1000. Otto III had the grave opened and discovered the codex on the knees of the emperor, who had been buried in a sitting position. He removed the book – and thereby laid the foundation for its ascent to become the central book and work of art in the Empire. During the coronations of the kings, which without exception took place in Aachen until 1531, according to tradition the book was opened at the first page of St. John’s Gospel, and the future king took his oath under the eyes of St. John the Evangelist on the words 'In the beginning was the Word' " (http://www.faksimile.de/werk/Coronation_Gospels_of_the__Holy_Roman_Empire.php?we_objectID=800, accessed 11-03-2013).

"The Coronation Evangeliar manuscript consists of 236 crimson-dyed parchment pages with gold and silver ink text. The pages measure 32.4 cm × 24.9 cm (12.8 in × 9.8 in), and contain text presented in one column, 26 lines per page. The incipit page of each Gospel shows the three writing styles common to valuable illustrated manuscripts from the late antique period—the capitalis rustica of the first line, followed by the monumental capitalis quadrata of the second line, which introduces the Latin text of the Gospel in gold ink, which is presented in continuous uncial script with no spaces between the words or punctuation.

"The book is decorated with 16 plates and four portraits depicting the Evangelists—one at the start of each Gospel. The portrait paintings are in a Carolingian style derived from Byzantine art. In the margin of the first page of the Gospel of Luke the Greek name Demetrius presbyter is written in gold capital letters. This may be the signature of the scribe or illuminator and may indicate that there were Byzantine artists in the court of Charlemagne.

"The Coronation Evangeliar cover was created by the goldsmith Hans von Reutlingen of Aachen c. 1500. Designed in high relief, the gold cover shows God the Father seated in front of the canopy of his throne. His left hand is closed over the Bible, and his right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing directed at Mary, who is shown grasping her heart during the Annunciation. The right side of the cover shows the Angel of the Annunciation. God the Father is dressed in imperial vestments and wearing a mitre crown, similar to the one worn by Maximilian I, who was Holy Roman Emperor at the time the cover was produced. The four corners of the front cover are decorated with four medalions bearing symbols of the four Evangelists" (Wikipedia article on Vienna Coronation Gospels, accessed 11-03-2013). 

The Coronation Evangeliar is preserved as part of the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer) in the Hofburg Palace, affiliated with the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. (Schatzkammer, Inv. XIII 18).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"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."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest Surviving Manuscript Written on Arab Paper Circa 800

"A Greek manuscript now in the Vatican library is believed to be the oldest surviving manuscript written on Arab paper. Consisting of a miscellaneous assemblage of the teachings of Christian church fathers, the manuscript was probably copied at Damascus in about 800, and shows that the use of paper was not limited to the Muslim bureaucracy in Baghdad. It was used also by Christians living under Muslim rule in Syria, a community instrumental in the great translation projects of the time" (Jonathan Bloom, "Revolution by the Ream. A History of Paper," Saudi Aramco World, May/June 1999).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Utrecht Psalter, "The Most Frequently Studied of All Illuminated Books" Circa 816 – 850

Page from Utretch Psalter.

Page from Utretch Psalter.

The Utrecht Psalter, one of the most influential of ninth century illuminated manuscripts, with among the most unusual histories of ownership, contains 166 pen illustrations, one accompanying each of 150 psalms and 16 canticles in the manuscript. It was written in imitation rustic capitals. According to the most recent study (1996) the manuscript was written at the monastery of Hautvillers, near Reims, France as it is related in style to the Ebbo Gospels. It may have been sponsored by Ebbo, Archbishop of Reims, in which case it would be dated between 816 and 835. Others have argued for a date circa 850, believing that the psalm illustrations draw from the travels of Saxon theologian Gottschalk of Orbais, and the illustration with the Athanasian Creed and other details pertain more to Archbishop Hincmar, Ebbo's successor.  

The Utrecht Psalter has been characterized as "the most frequently studied of all illuminated books" (van der Horst 24), the authors of which also state that "it occupies a prominent position in every handbook or outline of the history of Western art."

Named for its ownership in Utecht, where it is preserved in the Universiteitsbibliotheek (MS Bibl. Rhenotraiectinae I Nr. 32), the psalter was, after its rediscovery in the library at Utrecht in 1858, thought for a period of time to be a sixth century work because of the archaic style of its rustic capitals. 

Provenance

"A period spent in the late 9th century in the area of Metz, perhaps at the court of Charles the Bald, has been suggested on the basis of apparent influences from the manuscript in the art of the area. The manuscript had reached Canterbury Cathedral by c. 1000, at which time a copy began to be made of it; this, the Harley Psalter, is in the British Library as MS Harley 603. The Psalter was copied in full three times in the Middle Ages, the second copy being the Eadwine Psalter (Cambridge, Trinity College Library, MS R.17.1) of 1155–60, with additions 1160–70, and the texts extended to five versions of each psalm. The last copy is a fine version in full colour with gold backgrounds that is known as the "Anglo-Catalan Psalter" or MS Lat. 8846 in the BnF, of 1180-90 (Morgan, 47-9). This was half-illustrated by an English artist in about 1180-1200, and completed by a Catalan artist in 1340-50, naturally using a different Gothic style. The images are necessarily somewhat simplified, and the number of figures reduced.

"Earlier there were derivative works in other media; similar groups of figures appear in a Carolingian engraved crystal in the British Museum (the Lothair Crystal, stylistically very different) and metalwork, and some late Carolingian ivories repeat figure compositions found in the Utrecht psalter (Calkins, 211).

"The original manuscript spent at least two centuries at Canterbury from the year 1000, and after the English Dissolution of the Monasteries (Canterbury was a monastic cathedral) came into the possession of Robert Bruce Cotton, the famous English antiquary, at which point it was rebound, with his arms on the cover. Cotton lent the manuscript to the great collector [Thomas Howard], the [21st] Earl of Arundel, who took it into exile with him during the English Civil War; it was taken to the Netherlands in around 1642 and sold on Howard's death by his widow and son. It reached Utrecht University in 1716, at which point it was incorporated into the University Library. It was rediscovered in the library in 1858."

Illumination

"The Utrecht Psalter is generally considered to be important to the development of Anglo-Saxon art in the late tenth century, as the artistic style of its artwork seems to have been drawn on and adapted by Anglo-Saxon artists of this time. Although it is hardly likely that this single manuscript was solely responsible for beginning an entire new phase, the style which developed from it is sometimes known as the 'Utrecht' style of outline drawing, and survived almost unchanged into the 1020s (Wormald).

"The Psalter is the earliest and most fully illustrated of a 'narrative' group of Carolingian Psalters and other manuscripts; the much greater freedom of their illustrations may represent a different, probably monastic, audience for them from the more hieratic productions for the court and the altar. Images are unframed, often varied and original in iconography, showing a 'liveliness of mind and independence of convention' not found in the more formal books. Other members of the group are the Golden Psalter of St. Gall and the Drogo Sacramentary, which made the important innovation of placing most illustrations in inhabited initials. The Byzantine Chludov Psalter represents a comparable tradition in the East (Hinks, 115-119), and the Reims style was also influenced by artists fleeing Byzantine iconoclasm (Berenson, 163). Meyer Schapiro is among those who have proposed that the Psalter copied illustrations from a Late Antique manuscript; apart from an original perhaps of the 4th or 5th centuries, details of the iconography led him to believe in an intermediary Latin model' of after about 700 (Shapiro, 77, 110 and passim). That the miniatures are in large part based on an earlier manuscript, initially disputed by some (Tselos, 334 etc.), seems to have gained general acceptance, though the precise nature and dates of earlier postulated versions vary.

"The style of the outline drawings is dramatic, marked by activity, leaping creatures and fluttering folds of drapery set in faintly sketched landscape backgrounds stretching the full span of a page. Several different episodes may be shown in an illustration, some interpreting the text very literally, indeed over-literally in typical medieval fashion, others building on an association with the text to create elaborate images, including New Testament scenes or motifs from Christian iconography (Pächt, 168-170). Despite the individuality of the style, the hands of eight different artists have been detected" (Wikipedia article on Utrecht Psalter, accessed 08-01-2011).

A beautiful and authoritative study of the manuscript, placing it within context of related works of the time, is van der Horst, Noel, and Wüstefeld (eds.) The Utrecht Psalter in Medieval Art. Picturing the Psalms of David (1996).  The first facsimile of the Utrecht psalter was published as Latin Psalter in the University Library of Utrecht in 1875. A second printed facsimile was published in Graz, Austria, in 1984.

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

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Only Surviving Major Architectural Drawing from the Fall of the Roman Empire to Circa 1250 820 – 830

The Plan of Saint Gall. (View Larger)

Codex Sangallensis 1092, The Plan of Saint Gall (St. Gall), "the only surviving major architectural drawing from the roughly 700-year period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the 13th century," was created between 820 and 830 CE.

The plan, which includes a library, probably depicts an ideal Benedictine monastic compound,

"including churches, houses, stables, kitchens, workshops, brewery, infirmary, and even a special house for bloodletting. . . . much has been learned about medieval life from the Plan. The absence of heating in the dining hall, for instance, was not an oversight but was meant to discourage excessive enjoyment of meals. In the quarters for the 120-150 monks, their guests, and visitors, the ratio of toilet seats was better than what modern hygenic codes would prescribe." 

In 1979 the University of California Press published a monumental three-volume study in folio format by Walter Horn and Ernest Born entitled The Plan of St. Gall. A Study of the Architecture & Economy of, & Life in a Paradigmatic Carolinian Monastery.  From the standpoint of book design and production this work with more than 1000 pages was one of the most spectacular scholarly publications of the late 20th century. Three years later, in 1982 to accompany an exhibition concerning the plan, the U.C. Press issued another spectacular, but much thinner volume of 100 pages, The Plan of St. Gall in Brief: An overview based on the 3-volume work. . . including selected facsimile illustrations color and black and white, and also a Note on Architectural Scale Models, with illustrations in color of the Reconstruction Scale Model of the Monastery of the Pllan of St. Gall, as interpreted by Horn and Born, and crafted in bassword by Carl Bertil Lund.

By 2012 a website at www.stgallplan.org was built to place the Plan of St. Gall in its widest cultural context. Aspects of this website were summarized by Richard Matthew Pollard and Julian Hendrix in "Digital Devotion from Carolingian Reichenau and St. Gall," Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures I (2012) 292-302. | 10.1353/dph.2012.0021, from which I quote:

"A long-term digitization project ( www.stgallplan.org) to bring the Carolingian plan for the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland to life has earned justified praise for its impact. The project calls attention to and increases understanding of Carolingian monastic life at one of the great houses of the time. Whether the library was ever intended to be constructed or whether it was an imaginative conceptualization of an ideal library is immaterial to the light the project has shed on Carolingian spirituality. This article both introduces the project and demonstrates how digitization of manuscripts can increase the data available for studying devotion and the religious emotions that it entailed.

"There are few single documents more important for the history of medieval art, architecture, monasticism, and, as we hope to show in this essay, devotional emotions, than the famous drawing known as the Plan of St. Gall. This document, now preserved at the monastery Stiftsbibliothek in Switzerland, was drawn up for abbot Gosbert of St. Gall by two scribes of the sister monastery of Reichenau, on Lake Constance, around 820. An early and accomplished piece of technical drawing, the Plan measures 112 by 77.5 cm (slightly smaller than A0 paper, for those keeping track) and is made of five pieces of parchment sewn together. It depicts a large monastery complex, centred around an elaborate church, with cloister and refectories, scriptorium and library, alongside breweries, bakeries, a mill, and even a shoemaker'€™s shop. We do not know why exactly it was drawn up, but the dedication, probably written by Haito, abbot of Reichenau, indicates that it was given to Gosbert so that he might 'exercise your ingenuity and recognize my devotion.'€  Gosbert was undertaking building projects at the time, and so the plan may have been prompted by Gosbert'€™s desire to begin construction at St. Gall. It is clear, however, that St. Gall was not built from this plan, though some of the buildings there might have been inspired by it (Jacobsen). It is perhaps better to think of the Plan as a very detailed sketch of '€œthe ideal monastery' in the Carolingian imagination, where the whole world is reordered to the service of God (Dey 1940).  

"It is an unfailing axiom of medieval history that the ease of access to a document declines in proportion to its importance. This, and the Plan'€™s unwieldy size, has made it a difficult resource to use. Several years ago, therefore, Patrick Geary, of UCLA, and Bernard Frischer, of the University of Virginia, conceived of a project to make the Plan, and ancillary bibliography and analysis of it, accessible in virtual form. With the cooperation of the St. Gall librarians, extremely high-resolution pictures were taken of the Plan, and displayed using a special java applet, allowing the images to be panned, rotated, and zoomed. The result is actually much more useful and detailed than what one could experience with the large and unwieldy Plan.  In this first phase of the project, ancillary documents were added alongside to help contextualize the monastic environment that produced the Plan. Initially this focused on material culture: for instance, images of hundreds of Carolingian objects (pots, brooches, carvings, etc.) were put online to give a sense of the things used and produced in a monastery like that represented in the Plan. The second phase of the project aims to give a sense of the intellectual environment that produced the Plan by giving access to the books that were present at Reichenau (and St. Gall) when the Plan was produced. The project has acquired digital reproductions of 168 manuscripts present at Carolingian Reichenau and St. Gall. These are being presented in the same, high-resolution, zoomable form as the Plan, and are paired with updated descriptions."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

A Studio for Royal Mayan Scribes in the Ninth Century Circa 825

In 2011 a small painted room was excavated at the extensive ancient Maya ruins of Xultun in the Petén lowlands of northeastern Guatemala, dating to the early 9th century CE. The walls and ceiling of the room were painted with several human figures, and scientists concluded that the room was a studio for royal scribes with "a taste for art and a devotion to the heavens as the source of calculations for the ancient culture’s elaborate calendars." Two walls also displayed a large number of delicate black, red, and incised hieroglyphs. Many of these hieroglyphs, written on the walls like we might write on a blackboard, howed astronomical computations, including at least two tables concerning the movement of the Moon, and perhaps Mars and Venus. Calculations of this type were central to Mayan astrology and rituals, in which astronomy was driven by religion. These writings, which are the earliest writing preserved in the Western hemisphere, may shed light on tables preserved in the Dresden Codex which dates from the 11th century.

"David Stuart, professor of Mesoamerican art and writing at the University of Texas at Austin, who deciphered the glyphs, said, 'This is tremendously exciting,' noting that the columns of numbers interspersed with glyphs inside circles was 'the kind of thing that only appears in one place — the Dresden Codex.'  

"Some of the columns of numbers, for example, are topped by the profile of a lunar deity and represent multiples of 177 or 178, numbers that the archaeologists said were important in ancient Maya astronomy. Eclipse tables in the Dresden Codex are based on sequences of multiples of such numbers. Some texts 'defy translation right now,' he said, and some writing is barely legible even with infrared imagery and other enhancements" (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/11/science/archaeologists-unearth-ancient-maya-calendar-writing.html?hp, accessed 05-10-2012).

William A. Saturno, David Stuart, Anthony F. Aveni, Franco Rossi, "Ancient Maya Astronomical Tables from Xultun, Guatemala," Science  11 May 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6082 pp. 714-717 DOI: 10.1126/science.1221444

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Lavishly Illuminated for Charles the Bald 846

An illustration of the psalms from the Vivian Bible. (View Larger)

Count Vivian, the lay abbot of St. Martin at Tours, commissioned the lavishly illuminated Vivian Bible from the scriptorium at Tours, and presented it to Charles the Bald in 846 on Charles's visit to the church. It measures 495 mm by 345 mm, and has 423 folios. 

Charles the Bald loved ostentation. "When, in the sixties and seventies, he had ostentatious manuscripts made in one of his residences (probably Soissons), achievements made in the Rheims and Tours schools were also absorbed into the new court style" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 210). 

The manuscript is preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Byzantine Encylopedia Circa 850

An icon depicting St. Photius. (View Larger)

About 850 CE Byzantine Patriarch Photios I (Photius) of Constantinople wrote the Bibliotheca or Myriobiblon, dedicated to his brother Tarasius and composed of 280 reviews of books which he had read. Photios did not supply the title, and what he wrote was not meant to be used as a reference work, but it was widely used as such in the 9th century, and is generally seen as the first Byzantine work that could be called an encyclopedia. The works Photius noted are mainly Christian and pagan authors from the 5th century BCE to his own time. Almost half the books mentioned no longer survive.

According to Reynolds and Wilson,

"one of his [Photius's] duties was to take part in a diplomatic mission—the date is uncertain, but it may have been 855—with the task of negotiating an exchange of prisoners of war with the Arab government. Before going on a long and dangerous journey Photius wrote, as an offering and consolation to his brother Tarasius, a summary of books that he had read over a long period of time, omitting some standard texts that Tarasius might been have been expected to know. The resulting work, known as the Bibliotheca (this title is not due to its author), is a fascinating production, in which Photius shows himself the inventor of the book-review. In 280 sections which vary in length from a single sentence to many pages Photius summarizes and comments on a wide selection of pagan and Christian texts (the proportions are nearly equal, and 122 deal with secular texts). He claims to have compiled it from memory, but it is generally regarded as a revised version of the notes he had made in the course of his reading in the last twenty years. it is not arranged according to any plan. Photius claims that the order of the authors reviewed is that in which they occurred to him, and he had not the time to be more systematic. The text exhibits lacunae and duplicates. Its oddly unfinished state makes one wonder if the embassy did not actually take place, so that Photius never bothered to finish his work once the original reason for composing it had disappeared. Its value to the modern scholar is that it summarizes many books that are now lost: that applies for example to some twenty of the thirty-three historians he discusses. . . " (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 62-63).

"To Photios we are indebted for almost all we possess of Ctesias, Memnon, Conon, the lost books of Diodorus Siculus, and the lost writings of Arrian. Theology and ecclesiastical history are also very fully represented, but poetry and ancient philosophy are almost entirely ignored. It seems that he did not think it necessary to deal with those authors with whom every well-educated man would naturally be familiar. The literary criticisms, generally distinguished by keen and independent judgment, and the excerpts vary considerably in length. The numerous biographical notes are probably taken from the work of Hesychius of Miletus" (Wikipedia article on Photios I of Constantinople).

Librarian, editor and scholar David Hoeschel (Höschel, Hoeschelius) edited Photios's text, and issued the first printed edition (editio princeps) of Photios's Bibliotheca in 1601 from the press he founded at Augsburg with the German humanist, historian, publisher Markus Welser, "Ad insigne pinus."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest Surviving Fragments of the Babylonian Talmud May Date from the Ninth Century Circa 850

"The oldest existing fragments of the Babylonian Talmud come to us almost coincidentally, having long ago ceased to serve their original function as pedagogic material. Currently, they enjoy a new incarnation as archeological artifacts that testify across the centuries to the development of a living, breathing literary tradition based on an even older oral culture of textual transmission. Discovered in repositories of discarded texts or hidden and preserved as constituent components of later volumes, these earliest surviving fragments of the Babylonian Talmud, some of which may date back to the ninth century c.e., serve modern scholars in a variety of ways. For the talmudist, the historian, or the linguist, these fragments illustrate the evolution of the text by means of variant word choices, sentence structure, orthography, and the like" (Goldstein & Mintz, Printing the Talmud from Bomberg to Schottenstein [2006] no. 3, p. 178).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

A Byzantine Iconophile Psalter from the Time of the Iconoclasm Circa 850

A depiction of David from the Chludov Psalter. (View Larger)

The Chludov Psalter, a Byzantine illuminated manuscript from the time of the Iconoclasm, is one of only three illuminated Byzantine Psalters to survive from the 9th century.

"According to one tradition, the miniatures are supposed to have been created clandestinely, and many of them are directed against Iconoclasts. Many contain explanations of the drawings written next to them, and little arrows point out from the main text to the illustration, to show which line the picture refers to. The polemical style of the whole ensemble is highly unusual, and a demonstration of the furious passions the Iconoclast dispute generated.

"The psalter measures 195 mm by 150 mm and contains only 169 folios. The outer edges of the pages are normally left blank in order to be covered with illustrations. The text and captions were written in a diminutive uncial script, but many of these were rewritten in crude minuscule about three centuries later. The book contains the Psalms in the arrangement of the Septuagint, and the responses to be chanted during their recitation, which follow the Liturgy of Hagia Sophia, the Imperial church in Constantinople.

"Nikodim Kondakov hypothesized that the psalter was created in the famous monastery of St John the Studite [Stoudios] in Constantinople. Other scholars believe that the liturgical responses it contains were only used in Hagia Sophia, and that it was therefore a product of the Imperial workshops in Constantinople, soon after the return of the Iconophiles to power in 843.

"It was kept at Mount Athos until 1847, when a Russian scholar brought it to Moscow. The psalter was then acquired by Aleksey Khludov, whose name it bears today. It passed as part of the Khludov bequest to the Nikolsky Old Believer Monastery and then to the State Historical Museum" Moscow. (quotations from the Wikipedia article on Chludov Psalter, accessed 12-25-2008).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Syriac Galen Palimpsest: New Insight into a Major Galenic Work Hidden under Liturgical Writings Circa 850

The Syriac Galen Palimpsest, owned by an American private collector and loaned to the Walters Art Gallery for research by scholars, contains as its undertext a ninth century text of Galen's On Simple Drugs in the Syriac translation by Sergius of Rēš ‘Aynā (Sergius of Reshaina), a 6th century Assyrian (Syriac) physician and priest from Reshaina (modern Ras al-Ayn, Syria) who translated a number of Greek works into Syriac. Syriac, also known as Syriac Aramaic, is a dialect of Middle Aramaic that was once spoken across much of the Fertile Crescent and Eastern Arabia. In the Syriac Galen Palimpsest Sergius's translation of Galen's work is preserved underneath an eleventh-century liturgical text that is a significant source for the study of hymns of Byzantine and Melkite Christianity. 

The Syriac Galen Palimpsest may contain the entire second part of On Simple Drugs (i.e., Books VI–XI), a summation of Graeco-Roman knowledge about medicine, patient care and medicinal plants. Prior to the discovery of this manuscript only Books VI–VIII had been thought to survive, preserved in London, British Library, MS Add. 14661. The Syriac Galen Palimpsest offers many significant variant readings. Moveover, this Syriac translation makes it possible to assess the role that Sergius played in the transmission of medical knowledge from Greek into Arabic, by allowing comparison of the Greek source text of certain passages with the Syriac translations by Sergius and the ninth century physician/scholar/translator Hunayn ibn Ishaq (أبو زيد حنين بن إسحاق العبادي‎), as well as the Arabic version by Hunayn. 

As part of ongoing research on this palimpsest most remarkably Grigory Kessel was able to locate the seven leaves missing from the codex: one at Harvard, one at St. Catharine's Monastery in Sinai, one at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and three at the Vatican Library. The final missing leaf he believed to have been a blank, which was discarded.

Siam BhayroRobert HawleyGrigory Kessel and Peter E. Porma, "The Syriac Galen Palimpsest: Progress, Prospects and Problem," Journal of Semitic Studies 58 (2003) 131-148.

(This entry was written on the Oceania Riviera off the coast of Israel in June 2015.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Perhaps the Oldest Surviving Jewish Prayer Book Circa 850

On September 26, 2013 it was announced that a Hebrew prayer book or siddur in the collection of the Green family, owners of the Hobby Lobby arts-and-craft store chain, has been dated by both scholars and Carbon-14 tests to circa 850 CE.  If the date is confirmed it may be the oldest surviving Hebrew codex. Preserved in its original limp vellum binding, and measuring about 11 x 10 cm, the 50-page codex is written in an archaic form of Hebrew with Babylonian vowel pointing. That vowel pointing has led researchers to date the prayer book to the times of the Geonim (Babylonian Talmudic leaders from 589 to 1038 CE).

When the discovery of the book was announced the press release stated that six distinct sections in the siddur had been identified:

"100 blessings/morning prayers (the earliest form of what is in today’s Jewish prayer books, even older than those of Amram Gaon and Saadia Gaon)

"Passover Seder (said at evening Haggadah)  

"Poem on Song of Songs in conjunction with Succoth  

"Poem on the End Times (apocalyptic text of an international battle)

"Poetic form of the book of Zerubbabel  

"Unique section entitled, 'Salvation in Zion'.

On September 26, 2013 the Green family also announced that in 2017 they planned to open a "yet-to-be named" Bible museum in Washington, D. C.  

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Gregory the Great Writing, as Depicted in an Ivory Book Cover Circa 850

A carved ivory book cover produced circa 850 depicts Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) in the Lateran Palace in Rome writing in a codex, with the Holy Spirit, depicted as a dove, whispering in his ear. In a panel below three monk scribes are shown writing. The Carolingian book cover, preserved in Vienna at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, has been attributed to the "Master of the Gregory Tablet."

"Pope Gregory the Great is regarded as the author of the liturgical texts spoken by the priest during Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. Charlemagne later made them obligatory throughout his newly-founded Roman Empire. Legend tells of a scribe who spied the dove of the Holy Spirit whispering the prayers in Gregory’s ear before the saint dictated them to him in a loud voice.

"The genius ivory carver responsible for this work retains the motif of divine inspiration but depicts the pope as an author, pausing to listen to the voice of inspiration before continuing to write. The composition is extended over two storeys and set inside the Lateran Palace. We are eye-witnesses to the divine word becoming text and its subsequent dissemination in the form of books" (from the Kunsthistorische Museum online text, accessed 08-06-2014).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The al-Qarawiyyin Library, the Oldest Working Library in the World, Reopens after Restoration 859 – May 2015

In March 2016 it was announced that the al-Qarawiyin Library in Fez, Morocco, the oldest working library in the world, founded ed 859 CE, would re-open after restoration. The library was founded by Fatima Muhammad Al-Fihri Al-Quraysh.

"The al-Qarawiyyin Library was created by a woman, challenging commonly held assumptions about the contribution of women in Muslim civilization. The al-Qarawiyyin, which includes a mosque, library, and university, was founded by Fatima El-Fihriya, the daughter of a rich immigrant from al-Qayrawan (Tunisia today). Well educated and devout, she vowed to spend her entire inheritance on building a mosque and knowledge center for her community. According to UNESCO, the result is the oldest operational educational institution in the world, with a high-profile role call of alumni. Mystic poet and philosopher Ibn Al-‘Arabi studied there in the 12th century, historian and economist Ibn Khaldun attended in the 14th century, while in medieval times, Al-Qarawiyyin played a leading role in the transfer of knowledge between Muslims and Europeans" (http://ideas.ted.com/restoring-the-worlds-oldest-library/, accessed 03-03-2016).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Surviving Dated Complete Printed Book May 11, 868

A portion of the Diamond Sutra. (View Larger)

The Diamond Sutra, the earliest dated example of woodblock printing, and the earliest surviving dated complete book, was published in China on May 11, 868. A scroll sixteen feet long by 10.5 inches wide, made up of seven strips of yellow-stained paper printed from carved wooden blocks and pasted together to form a scroll 16 feet by 10. 5 inches wide, its text, printed in Chinese, is one of the most important sacred works of the Buddhist faith. 

The Diamond Sutra bears an inscription which may be translated as follows:

"reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Chieh on behalf of his parents on the fifteenth of the fourth moon of the ninth year of Xian Long (May 11, 868)."

A woodcut illustration at the beginning of  Diamond Sutra shows the Buddha expounding the sutra to an elderly disciple called Subhuti.  That is the earliest dated book illustration, and the earliest dated woodcut print.

"How did the Diamond Sutra get its name?

"The sutra answers that question for itself. Towards the end of the sermon, Subhuti asks the Buddha how the sutra should be known. He is told to call it ‘The Diamond of Transcendent Wisdom’ because its teaching will cut like a diamond blade through worldly illusion to illuminate what is real and everlasting" (http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/diamondsutra.html, accessed 06-14-2009).

The unique extant copy of the Diamond Sutra was purchased in 1907 by the archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein in the walled-up Mogao Caves near Dunhuang in northwest China from a monk guarding the caves known as the "Caves of a Thousand Buddhas." It is preserved in the British Library. 

♦ In May 2013 a digital facsimile of the Diamond Sutra was available from the Virtual Books section of the Online Gallery at the British Library at this link.

In January 2013 the British Library completed a decade-long project to conserve the The Diamond Sutra, and the posted a film produced by the International Dunhuang Project at the British Library about the sutra scroll, its science and its conservation: 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram 870

The Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram, a lavishly illuminated Gospel Book, was written on purple vellum by the monks Liuthard and Beringer for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles II (the Bald) at his Palace School. It was given by Charles to Arnulf of Carinthia, who later donated it to St. Emmeram Abbey in Regensburg, from which its name is taken. It is a very large volume measuring 420 x 330 mm. Because this was the age of itinerant courts, it has been difficult for scholars to identify the atelier where the manuscript was created, but the Basilica of St. Denis, where Charles was secular abbot from 867 to his death, has been frequently suggested.

The treasure binding on the codex, decorated with gems and repoussé relief figures in gold, is one of finest of the very few surviving from this period; it has been dated precisely to the year 870, and is probably also a product of Charles's Palace School. Though there are differences in style, the upper cover of the Lindau Gospels preserved in the Morgan Library and Museum was probably made in the same atelier. 

At the center of the cover of the Codex Aureus is Christ in Majesty seated on the globe of the world and holding on his knee a book with a Latin inscription which may be translated,  

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me." 

So impressive was this volume that in 1786 it became the subject of one of the very earliest monographs on an illuminated manuscript and a treasure binding: Sanftl, Dissertatio in aureum, ac pervetustum ss. evengeliorum codcem ms. Monasterii S. Emmerami Ratisbonae. The author, Presbyter of a Benedictine monastery, professor of theology, and a librarian, dedicated this 254 page quarto volume to Pope Pius VI.  Included in the volume were three folding black & white engraved plates which illustrated the upper cover of the binding, an illuminated page of the manuscript, and the incipit to the Book of Luke in their original size.  The full-size folding engraving of the treasure binding cover drawn by J.G. C. Hendschel and engraved by Brother Klauber is a spectacular work in its own right.

The Codex Aureus is preserved in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München (Clm 14000).  In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the manuscript, minus the treasure binding, was available at this link

Walther & Wolf, Codices illustres. The world's most famous illuminated manuscripts 400 to 1600 (2005) 98-101 contains a superb color reproduction of the upper cover of the treasure binding.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Magnificent Upper Cover of the Lindau Gospels Circa 875

The upper cover of the Lindau Gospels. (View Larger)

The Lindau Gospels, MS M1 in the Morgan Library & Museum, was written and illuminated in the Abbey of St. Gall, Switzerland, possibly by the scribe, Folchard, who also may have been the artist. It contains four title and four incipit pages in gold on vellum stained purple, twelve canon tables on purple backgrounds, lettered in gold and silver, 2 carpet pages.

"The magnificent upper cover of the Lindau Gospels can be fitted more closely than the lower cover into a recognized tradition of Carolingian goldsmiths' work. It is one of three major pieces ascribed to a Court School of Charles the Bald (regn. 840-77), grandson of Charlemagne. A number of works in other media--illuminated manuscripts, ivories, and carved rock crystals--have also been ascribed to the school. Much ink has been spilt in trying to locate these stylistically related ateliers, a question particularly difficult to answer for the age of itinerant courts: St. Denis, where Charles was secular abbot from 867 to his death, has frequently been suggested.

"The two other pieces with which our cover has been associated are the Arnulf Ciborium, or portable altar, and the cover of the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram. Both are now in Munich, but were for many centuries part of the treasure of the monastery of St. Emmeram, Regensburg. . . .

"The provenance of the Lindau Gospels upper cover is, unfortunately, much less clear. We have already noted the attempt to identify this volume with the Gospels commissioned by Abbot Hartmut of St. Gall before 883, and decorated by him with gold silver and precious stones; in any case, the Lindau Gospels was written in St. Gall at much the same time its upper cover was made, the latter part of the ninth century. But it is difficult to imagine that a goldwork masterpiece from the royal workshop was created specifically for the abbot of St. Gall, and although the Lindau Gospels is a handsome manuscript, it has not a tithe of the spendor of the Codex Aureus, which is roughly the degree of luxus we should expect to find. Even within the St. Gall scriptorium, the Lindau Gospels does not represent the highest level of luxury. It seems likely that our cover was originally made to fit a much more highly decorated manuscript (though of smaller format than the Codex Aureus), and one more closely tied to the Frankish court. The question of how and when it joined its present codex is as much a mystery for the upper cover as for the lower" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 28-28).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest and Most Important Complete Manuscript of the Mishna Circa 950 – 1050

The most important early manuscript of the Mishnah (Mishna), the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah" and the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism, is the Kaufmann Manuscript. Sometimes called the Codex Kaufmann, it is MS S 50 in the Kaufmann Collection of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, and may be of South Arabian or Italian origin. It was probably written between 950 and 1050 CE, though some scholars date it to the twelth century.

"Script and form of letters closely resemble certain MSS. of the Bible of eastern origin, written in the tenth or eleventh century. The MS. contains comments, mostly emendations of the text, contributed by several hands. The emendations of one particular hand are constant and form the majority. The same hand also vocalized the codex. This vocalization was not inserted by the original scribe but was done probably some centuries later, when it was transferred from a vocalized copy which offered a text differing much from the Kaufmann codex. The punctator inserted these variations into the Kaufmann codex. The pointing and the emendations from the punctator display a second MS. belonging to another recension. The peculiarities of the Kaufmann MS. are more numerous than in any other, including most of the Geniza fragments. It has kept older forms of the Palestinian type of text and it often reflects the spoken language of second century Palestine. The Kaufmann codex is undoubtedly the oldest complete Mishna text and contains the best readings, even though it does not seem as faithful as the Cambridge codex in preserving the Palestinian recension. Hence the Kaufmann codex must now be regarded as the basic text of all scientific editions" (http://kaufmann.mtak.hu/en/study04.htm, accessed 01-02-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Foundation of Al-Azhar University 970 – 972

Between 970 and 972 Al-Azhar University ( جامعة الأزهر الشريف‎; Game'at Al-ʾAzhar al-Šarīf, "the Noble Azhar University") was founded as a madrasa (madrasah) in Cairo, Egypt. The chief center of Islamic literature and learning, it is the oldest degree-granting university in Egypt; in 1961 secular subjects were added to its curriculum.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

5,048 Printed Volumes Containing 130,000 Pages 972 – 983

Point A marks Chendu, or Ch'eng-tu, China. (View Larger)

from 972 to 983 CE the whole Buddhist canon, usually called the Tripitaka, was printed from wood blocks in Chengdu (Chengtu) China.

"This collection consisted of 5,048 volumes covering 130,000 pages. It therefore required the cutting of 130,000 blocks. This massive work, together with additions, was reprinted frequently during the Sung" (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed [1955] 89).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Picture Cycle of the Life of Christ in Manuscript Illumination Circa 977 – 993

A portrait of Egbert, Archbishop of Trier, from the Codex Egberti. (View larger)

The Codex Egberti, commissioned by Egbert, Archbishop of Trier between 977 and 963, opens with a dedication and a portrait of the Bishop on a double page in gold and purple. Two monks at Egbert's feet, Kerald and Heribert of the Benedictine Abby on the Island of Reichenau, present the volume to the donor. This is followed by four impressive full-page illustrations of the Evangelists, and 51 narrative pictures comprising the earliest picture cycle of the Life of Christ in the history of manuscript illumination. Some of the images have been attributed to the Master of the Registrum Gregorii.

“The Reichenau school reached its apogee in the last third of the tenth century and was productive into the first half of the eleventh. Without being strongly rooted there  the 'Master of the Registrum Gregorii', one of the most important Ottonian book illuminators, whose activity had been in the upper Rhine region and in Trier, stood connected with it. Reichenau manuscripts were in such demand  that pope Gregory V 'pensionis nomine' requested that the abbot of the monastery should delivery a scaramentary, an epistolary, and a gospel book to Rome for the confirmation of his installation " (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 220).

The manuscript is preserved in the Stadtbibliothek Trier.

In November 2013 images from the Codex Egberti were available from the Penn Libraries Fine Arts Library Image Collection.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1000 – 1100

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Book-Shaped Reliquary from the Circle of the Master of the Registrum Gregorii Circa 1020

The front of the book-shaped reliquary. (View Larger)

A spectacular book-shaped reliquary preserved at the Cleveland Museum of Art has been attributed to the circle of the master manuscript illuminator, known as the Master of the Registrum Gregorii, who was active at Reichenau in the late 10th century. The metalwork reliquary incorporates an ivory plaque set within a frame of gilt silver, gems, and pearls on a core of wood. It measures 31.6cm x 24.4cm x 7.5cm. In February 2014 images were available from the Cleveland Museum of Art website at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"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). 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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). 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Code of English Law and the Oldest Anglo-Saxon Text 1122 – 1124

The Textus de Ecclesia Roffensi per Ernulphum episcopum (The Book of the Church of Rochester through Bishop Ernulf), usually referred to as the Textus Roffensis, is a collection of documents that includes the t,Law of Aethelberht attributed to Aethelberht of Kent, King of Kent from 560 or later to his death of February 24, 616, and the first Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity. This is the first code of English law and the oldest surviving Anglo-Saxon text. It is also the earliest law code of any kind in any Germanic language and the earliest surviving document written in the English language. Though written about 500 years after Aethelberht's code was promulgated, the manuscript predates King John's Magna Carta by almost 100 years.

The second part of the Textus Roffensis is the oldest register of the Rochester Cathedral. It is thought that both sections of the manuscript were written by a single scribe.

The manuscript is preserved in the Medway Studies Centre in Rochester, Kent, England.  In November a digital facsimile was available from the British Library in its Hidden Treasures series at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Building in the Gothic Style June 14, 1144

The west exterior facade of the Abbey of Saint Denis, considered by historians to be the firs building in the Gothic style. (View Larger)

On June 14, 1144 Frankish abbot-statesmen and historian Abbot Suger, friend and confidante of French Kings Louis VI and Louis VII, dedicated the rebuilt Abbey of Saint Denis. This building is often cited by historians as the first major structure of which a substantial part was designed and built in the Gothic style. Both stylistically and structurally it heralded the change from Romanesque architecture to Gothic architecture. Before the term "Gothic" came into common use, it was known as the "French Style" (Opus Francigenum).

"Suger began with the West front, reconstructing the original Carolingian façade with its single door. He designed the façade of Saint-Denis to be an echo of the Roman Arch of Constantine with its three-part division and three large portals to ease the problem of congestion. The rose window is the earliest-known example above the West portal in France.

"At the completion of the west front in 1140, Abbot Suger moved on to the reconstruction of the eastern end, leaving the Carolingian nave in use. He designed a choir (chancel) that would be suffused with light. To achieve his aims, his masons drew on the several new features which evolved or had been introduced to Romanesque architecture, the pointed arch, the ribbed vault, the ambulatory with radiating chapels, the clustered columns supporting ribs springing in different directions and the flying buttresses which enabled the insertion of large clerestory windows " (Wikipedia article on Gothic architecture, accessed 11-24-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.) 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

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 Mishneh Torah (Repetition of the Law), the first comprehensive code of Jewish religious law (Halakha). Remarkably the Bodleian Library, Oxford, preserves a copy the first two books of  the Mishneh Torah (MS. Huntington 80) copied by Japhet son of Solomon, in which Maimonides wrote personally on folio 165r, "It has been corrected from my own book. I am Moses son of Rabbi Maimon of blessed memory," followed by his signature.

The manuscript came to the Bodleian Library through the generosity of Robert Huntingon, an English churchman, orientalist and manuscript collector, who was Provost of Trinity College, Dublin and Bishop of Raphoe. In 1670 Huntington became chaplain to the Levant Company at Aleppo. He remained in the Eastern Mediterranean for more than ten years, visiting Palestine, Cyprus, and Egypt. During his travels he  collected large number of Hebrew manuscripts. In 1678, 1680 and 1838 he donated manuscripts to the Bodleian, and Oxford University bought more than 200 of his manuscripts in 1692.

In December 2013 a digital facsimile of Maimonides' Code of Jewish Law was available from the Bodleian Library at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Limoges Enamel Book Cover Plaque Circa 1185 – 1210

The earliest known textual reference to the enamels produced in the city of Limoges, France, from the twelfth through fourteenth centuries concerns a book cover seen in the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris in the 1160s and intended for an English abbot.

Though this book cover seems not to have survived, it might have been similar in some ways to a cover preserved in the Metropolitan Museum which dates from circa 1185 to 1210.

"Plaques showing Christ in majesty surrounded by symbols of the evangelists, usually paired with a plaque showing the Crucifixion, were produced in large numbers by Limoges enamelers. The variety of textures and patterns created through the masterful engraving and stippling of the five appliqué figures make this a particularly noteworthy example of a product for which Limoges artists were widely recognized and admired" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/17.190.757, accessed 10-25-2011).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Emergence of Concordances and Subject Indexes Circa 1190 – 1290

"In the course of the thirteenth century a flood of texts appeared that belonged to a genre virtually unknown before, works such as the alphabetical collections of biblical distinctiones, the great verbal concordances to the scriptures, alphabetical subject indexes to the writings of Aristotle and the Fathers, and location lists of books. These are works designed to be used, rather than read. Moreover, in many cases -- for example, the concordance, or subject index to the works of Augustine -- these new tools helped one to use, rather than to read, the texts to which they were devoted. Tools such as these are unknown in classical antiquity. They are alien to the Hebrew and Byzantine traditions until imported from the Latins. And they emerge with striking suddenness in the West, to the point that one may say that before the 1190s such tools did not exist, and that by 1290 the dissemination and new creation of such tools were commonplace. . . .The development of the concordance should be examined in the context of the methods used to 'distinguish' words found in the text of the Bible. The collections of biblical distinctiones that abound in western Europe from the end of the twelfth century are the earliest of alphabetical tools save the dictionaries. Distinction collections provide one with the various figurative and symbolic means of a noun that is found in Scripture, illustrating each meaning with a scriptural passage" (M. Rouse & R. Rouse, "The Development of Research Tools in the Thirteenth Century," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] , 221-23).

From 1230 to 1239 the first concordance of the Bible was compiled in Paris under the guidance of Dominican Hugo, or Hugues, de Saint-Cher (Hugo de Sancto Charo). In this project Hugo was assisted by as many as 500 Dominican friars. Because Dominicans were required to preach they had need for a reference that correlated a word or subject with specific books and chapters in the Bible.

The first concordance contained no quotations, and was purely an index to passages where a word was found. These were indicated by book and chapter. The division into chapters had recently been invented by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury. Verses were introduced much later, by Robert Estienne in 1545. In lieu of verses, Hugo divided the chapters into seven almost equal parts, indicated by the first seven letters of the alphabet A-G. The first concordance gave only a list of passages, and no idea of what the passages contained. Thus was of little service to preachers. In order to make it more useful three English Dominicans added around 1250-1252 the complete quotations of the passages indicated. The work was somewhat abridged, by retaining only the essential words of a quotation, in the concordance of Conrad of Halberstadt, a Dominican (1310), which obtained great success on account of its more convenient form. 

"The production of this major work over a period time required an impressive organization of man-power. There survive, in the fifteenth-century bindings of manuscripts from Saint Jacques, four quires of what must be the penultimate draft of this concordance, revealing something of their methods: each quire was written by a different copyist responsible only for a fixed portion of the alphabet, as one can see from the blank space each left when he had finished his assigned task. Corrections were then noted, so that it would be ready for the final copy. A drawback of Saint Jacques I is the fact that its words are not cited in context. This version survives in eighteen manuscripts, thirteen of which date from the thirteenth century" (Rouse & Rouse, op. cit., 224-25.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Massacre of the Jewish Community of York, England Reflected in the Survival of a Single Hebrew Manuscript March 16, 1190

Clifford's Tower. (View Larger)

"The site of Clifford's Tower, the keep of York's medieval castle, still bears witness to the most horrifying event in the history of English Jewry. On the night of 16 March 1190, the feast of Shabbat ha-Gadol, the small Jewish community of York was gathered together for protection inside the tower. Rather than perish at the hands of the violent mob that awaited them outside, many of the Jews took their own lives; others died in the flames they had lit, and those who finally surrendered were massacred and murdered. "Understandably, this appalling event has become the most notorious example of antisemitism in medieval England. Yet, it was by no means an isolated incident, but rather the culmination of a tide of violent feeling which swept the country in the early part of 1190" (Clifford's Tower and the Jews of Medieval York [English Heritage, 1995], quoted by http://ddickerson.igc.org/cliffords-tower.html, accessed 02-11-2009).

The Valmadonna English Pentateuch, the supreme treasure of the Valmadonna Trust Library, was written during the first half of 1489. It is the only extant Hebrew book that can be dated to before the expulsion of the Jews by Edward I (Longshanks) in 1290.  "The survival of this manuscript is remarkably fortuitous, as it was completed by its scribe on the eve of a tumultuous period in the history of English Jewry. At the coronation of Richard I in September 1189, a riot began which resulted in an attack on the Jewish community of London and the murder of many of its members. Similar assaults were launched on Jews throughout England during the following year, culminating in a massacre at York in spring 1190. A contemporary chronicler, Ephraim of Bonn, reported that 'The mob which killed the Jews of York then looted the houses of the slain, took away gold and silver and the beautiful books they wrote, more precious than gold . . . and brought them to Cologne and to other places, where they sold them to the Jews.' Ironically, then, the Valmadonna English Pentateuch may have been saved for posterity largely as a result of its having been plundered" (Sotheby's brochure on the Valadonna Trust Library, accessed 02-13-2009).

See also an article in The New York Times online published on February 11, 2009 concerning the offering en bloc of the Valmadonna Trust Library of about 13,000 volumes collected over his lifetime by Jack V. Lunzer: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/12/books/12hebr.html.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Foundation of the Vatican Registers 1198

From one of the registers of Innocent III for the period between 1198 and 1120. ASV, Reg. Vat. 5, f. 84v (detail). (View Larger)

In 1198 Pope Innocent III initiated a regularized system of record keeping at the Lateran Palace Library in which copies of letters sent were entered by hand in great registers. These were called the Vatican Registers.

"This series is one of the principal sources for documents on the papacy between the years 850 and the reorganization of the papacy in 1588. From the perspective of the history of the nature of documentation, the Vatican Registers are important in that they were regular in format and durable" (Blouin, Jr. Vatican Archives: An Inventory and Guide to Historical Documents of the Holy See [1998] xviii). 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

1200 – 1300

Knowledge of Greek and Greek Texts During the Middle Ages Circa 1200 – 1450

"Not before the fifteenth century were there large collections of Greek manuscripts assembled in the West, and only from the sixteenth century on were they used by a substantial number of Western scholars and other interested parties. The greater portion of the Greek inventory of the Dominican Library in Basel, the Laurentiana in Florence, the Marciana in Venice, the Vaticana in Rome, the Hapsburg Hofbibliothek in Vienna, and the Bibliothèque du Roi in Paris was first brought together through the combined efforts of Greek emigrants, Latin Humanists, and bibliophile princes. Yet ancient Greek book collections were not inaccessible to the Latin Middle Ages. Greek monasteries, none of which could have been completely without books, flourished in Rome from the seventh to the eleventh century. Grottaferrata has preserved parts of its ancient hoard of Greek books even up to the present day.

"There were populous Latin districts in Constantinople during the high Middle Ages, and in this period a great number of Italian scholars lived in the Christian metropolis on the Bosporus and made use of the rare-book libraries of the city. Moses of Bergamo was one of these scholarly Italians in twelfth-century Constantinople; he is the first Westerner known to have collected Greek manuscripts in great volume. If his own testimony is true, then the hunt for Greek manuscripts began two centuries before Guarino of Verona and Giovanni Aurispa.

"The Greek libraries of southern Italy were even closer to the Latins than those in Constantinople. Casole in Apulia, Carbone in the Basilicata, Stilo in Calabria, and Messina in Sicily had the most notable monastic libraries of the Italo-Greeks; the Cathedral Library of Rossano is still in possession of its cimelia, the famous sixth-century Greek purple evangelary ('Codex purpureus Rossanensis'), which was not 'rediscovered' there by scholars until 1879 and which recalls the significance of southern Italy for the transmission of Greek texts.

"Not before the manuscript research of recent years has the astonishing volume and the high quality (manuscripts of the classics!) of Italo-Greek book production and transmission come to light. Manuscript by manuscript, a 'translatio studii' from Byzantium to the West appears, whose line of textual transmission threads its way directly from the Macedonian Renaissance in tenth-century Constantinople, to the court library of the Norman and Hohenstaufen rulers of southern Italy, to the papal library of 1300; the Italian Renaissance picked up this thread as its starting point.

"This hoard of Greek books first appears in 1295 at the end of a catalogue of the papal library:

'Item Dyonisius super celesticam [!] Ierarchicam [!] in greco. Item Simplicius super phisicam Aristotilis . . .'

"With the exception of Dionysius the Areopagite (characteristically placed at the beginning of the list) and one other work, the twenty-three volumes all contain works of natural science and philosophy—a remarkable collection for the papacy (ed. A. Pelzer, Addenda et emendanda ad Francisci Ehrle Historiae Bibliothecae Romanorum Pontificum ... tomum 1 [Rome 1947], pp. 23 f).

"A catalogue of the papal library from 1311 lists the same stock of Greek books:

'tem libri, qui sequuntur scripti in greco: primo scripsimus comentum Procli Permenidem Platonis 'And' et est in papiro . . . .'

"There have been several changes. In all there are now thirty-three Greek codices; ed. F. Ehrle, Historia Bibliothecae Romanorum Pontificum tum Bonifatianae tum Avenionensis (Rome 1890), I, 95-99. In nineteen of these books one finds this remarkable 'And', for which Ehrle provides the hardly convincing resolution antiquus.

"We learn from an inventory of 1327 that the thirty-three Greek codices were kept in two crates; ed. Pelzer, Addenda et emendanda, p. 34. In 1339 they (all of them?) are found in a single crate together with Hebrew books (ibid., p.64); in 1369 there are still seven Greek books in the papal library (cf. Ehrle, Historia Bibliothecae, pp. 376 [no. 1183], 398 [no. 1512], 429 [no. 2007]. The popes obviously managed to carelessly lose their small but fine Greek collection during their Avignon adventures.

"The enigma of the notation And in the catalogue of 1311 has been solved by August Pelzer in a striking way (Addenda et emendanda, pp. 92 f.): it is to be resolved Andegavensis = Anjou! -that is, these books came to the papal library 'from Anjou.' When did the house of Anjou have cause and opportunity to present the papacy with a collection of Greek books? Pelzer answers: after the battle near Benevento (1266), when Charles of Anjou, whom the papacy had summoned to southern Italy, had disposed of the hated Hohenstaufen King Manfred. Thus the core of the Greek collection of the Norman-Staufer court library came into the possession of the papacy in 1266 in a similar way to that by which the Heidelberg Bibliotheca Palatina did in 1623.

"Codicological research has confirmed Pelzer's brilliant conclusions. Nine of the thirty-three Greek books of the 1311 catalogue have now again been identified, and the findings demonstrate clearly that this could not have been a casual acquisition by the popes or by Anjou, nor was it plunder from the conquest of Constantinople in 1204.; rather the collection came from the court in Constantinople to the court in Palermo around the middle of the twelfth century:

'Ces volumes sont de magnifiques produits des ateliers constantinopolitains au moment de la renaissance scientifique et philosophique des IXe et Xe siècles" ('These volumes are the magnificent products of the ateliers in Constantinople at the moment of the scientific and philosophical renaissance of the ninth and tenth centuries;' (P. Canart, "Le livre grec,' p. 149).

"Almost half of all known scientific 'classical manuscripts' of the Byzantine Renaissance of the ninth/tenth century have been preserved via the Norman-Staufer court library (G. Derenzini, 'All origine della traduzione di opere scientifiche classiche: vicende di testi et di codici tra Bisanzio e Palermo,' Physis 18 [1976], 87-103). Thus the history of the Greek court library in the West extends back into the twelfth century, and the Greek collections in Renaissance court libraries in the West were then not altogether without precedents.

"In the outstanding monastic and cathedral libraries of the Middle Ages, there were, however, at most only scattered Greek manuscripts. The Abbey of St. Martin in Tours possessed, at least in fragments, a Greek papyrus codex from Egypt, which contained a homily of Ephraem Syrus on 'Fair Joseph.' An illuminated Greek copy of the XPICΤΙΑΝΙΚΗ ΤΟΠΟΓΡΑΦΙΑ of Cosmas Indicopleustes has been traced to the collection of the early medieval Cathedral Library in York. Reichenau had a precious Greek Psalter from the eighth to the sixteenth century. The Abbey of St. Denis tended the splendid uncial manuscript of the works of Dionysius the Areopagite which Louis the Pious had obtained from Constantinople; various other Greek manuscripts were added in the high and late Middle Ages. In the monastery of St. Simeon, established in the Porta Nigra in Trier, there was a Greek lectionary of the tenth/eleventh century. In the midst of the Investiture Controversy, the wealthy and ostentatious canons of St. Gereon in Cologne procured a magnificent Greek Psalter, which was written and illuminated around 1077 in a scriptorium closely connected with the Greek emperor. The first illumination, by a Greek artist, shows Ο ΑΓΙΟC ΜΑΡΤΥC ΤΟΥ ΧΡΙCΤΟΥ ΓΕΡΕΩΝ.

"Μany other large libraries of the Middle Ages also had their Greek showpieces to exhibit. Occasionally, the Latin West also produced manuscripts entirely in Greek. In the ninth century, as Montfaucon has noted, Sedulius Scottus was capable of writing a Greek Psalter with odes.

"From the Ottonian period on, Greco-Italian southern Italy offered the opportunity to obtain scribes who were acquainted with the Greek alphabet. A lectionary written in 1021 by an Italo-Greek Εν χόρα Φραγκίας κάστρο δε Κoλoνίας (= Cologne?) later made its way to St. Denis. In England even Western scribes ventured to produce various Greek minuscule manuscripts. According to Μ.R. James, the Greek Psalter of Cambridge, Emmanuel College III. 3. 22 is of English origin.

"In the thirteenth century, Bishop Robert Grosseteste commissioned a large-scale Corpus Dionysiacum in Greek minuscules. Grosseteste, his students, and his assistants brought together, by means of purchasing and copying, a significant collection of Greek manuscripts in England, so that it is true, at least for this country, that interest in Greek books had already arisen in the late Middle Ages; to be sure, it was a narrow circle until Humanism created a broader audience for the purely Greek book.

"The typical medieval form of the Greek codex was the bilingual manuscript. It was an inheritance from late antiquity and the Middle Ages in part made good use of it. The Mediterranean cultural symbiosis of the late Roman Empire had brought forth many such bilinguals-Latino-Greek and Greco-Latin. The most famous examples of late antique Latino-Greek editions are the remnants of the bilingual Vergil codices, recovered from the Egyptian sand; thus far, no less than nine such bilinguals of the champion of the imperial Roman cause have been brought to light. During Justinian's time, it was certainly still possible to write codices in both imperial languages in Constantinople; the Florentine digest codex ('Codex Pisanus,' soon after 533) bears impressive witness to this fact. It seems, however, that the Byzantine Empire of the medieval period proper no longer fostered bilingual editions of Roman authors, and—if southern Italy is excluded—produced no Latino-Greek manuscripts at all. 

"A Greco-Latin Homer, the counterpart of a Latino-Greek Vergil, apparently did not exist in late antiquity. The West was interested in Christian bilinguals, in Greco-Latin editions of portions of the Bible; a Greco-Latin anthology of canon law may have also existed during late antiquity, at least in one copy.

"The Latin Middle Ages carried on the tradition of assorted scriptural bilinguals: the Psalter, Gospels, Pauline epistles, and Acts of the Apostles (in fact those four books of the Bible whose comparative study Ambrogio Traversari recommended for self-instruction in Greek!). It would have been easy for the bilingual tradition of the Acts of the Apostles to have disappeared, as other bilingual scriptural texts must have: the tradition has only two witnesses-the 'Codex Bezae' in Cambridge and the 'Codex Laudianus' in Oxford.

"The Carolingian period transmitted only the Psalter, Gospels, and Pauline epistles, to some extent in the new interlinear bilingual form, which was especially cultivated by the Irish.

"In the Ottonian period, the bilingual tradition of the Pauline epistles dies out. The fragmentary 'Codex Waldeccensis' (saec. X ex. ) completes the circle of this bilingual tradition of the Middle Ages, in which the beginning and end are joined; for this bilingual manuscript, the last of the Pauline epistles known from the Middle Ages, is an exact copy of the earliest manuscript—the 'Codex Claromontanus.'

"The production of bilingual texts of the Gospels is extraordinarily rare in the high and late Middle Ages. Yet a bilingual edition of the Apocalypse curiously surfaces at that period. The Greco-Latin Psalter reached the age of Humanism, however, in an unbroken tradition. This Greco-Latin text outlasted all else because it was the text with which the Latin Middle Ages was doubtless most intimately familiar and was thus better suited than any other text to introduce the Latins to a basic study of Greek. This tradition of the Greco-Latin Psalter manuscripts, which span the entire Middle Ages, from the Cod. Verona I (saec. VI- VII) to the Cod. Plut. XVII 13 of the Biblioteca Laurenziana (which was "erst wenige Jahre alt, als in Florenz das große Unionskonzil begann" ["only a few years old as the great Union Council began in Florence"]), and to the great trilingual (Hebreo-Greco-Latin) Psalter produced for Duke Federigo of Urbino in Florence in 1473,  presents scarcely touched material for the further investigation of Greek studies in the Latin Middle Ages.

"The Greek text is presented in various manners in these Psalters: in Greek script (generally majuscule) or in Roman transcription; the Greek and Latin texts on facing pages, in parallel columns, or arranged interlinearly. The base text (left page, left column, or principal line in interlinear versions) is generally Greek. The Psalters in which the Greek text is presented only in Roman transcription must have originally served primarily liturgical purposes: Greek liturgica were always written in the Roman alphabet in the West, since they were to be read or sung aloud and were not intended to be studied. On the other hand, manuscripts with the Greek text written in Greek script were textbooks or even showpieces. The possibilities for combination are numerous and the distinctions between them fluid: even such an obvious example of a textbook as the St. Gall psalterium quadrupartitum presented the Greek text only in Roman transcription. In general, each of the numerous bilingual Psalters of the Middle Ages requires its own particular historico-philological interpretation.

"The other Greco-Latin books of the Middle Ages may be regarded as offshoots from the main trunk of bilingual biblical texts: in the sixth century, bilinguals of the first four ecumenical councils by Dionysius Exiguus; in the eleventh century, Gregory's Dialogi; in the thirteenth century, the liturgical and polemical bilinguals of Abbot Nicholas-Nectarius of Otranto. The Dominican mission in the 'Orient' continued this latter tradition and produced its controversial theological tracts in bilingual editions ('Bartholomaeus, Contra Graecos; Buonaccorsi, Thesaurus veritatis fidei). Leontius Pilatus' translations of Homer and Euripides for the early Florentine Humanists were designed as interlinear bilinguals.

"Finally, one must not forget the striking bilingualism of the imperial correspondence from Constantinople, of which a number of splendid examples from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries have been preserved in Italian archives. When the corpus of manuscripts has finally been fully catalogued, the history of the Greco-Latin bilinguals will open one of the most informative perspectives on the ever-shifting interest in Greek texts that has perished through the ages" (Walter Berschin, "Valuation and Knowledge of Greek," Greek Letters and the Latin Middle Ages. From Jerome to Nicholas of Cusa. Transl. by Jerold C. Frakes [1992]).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Largest Extant Medieval Manuscript: The Devil's Bible 1229

The Cover of Codex Gigas: 92cm tall, 50 cm wide. (View Larger)

The largest extant medieval manuscript, the Codex Gigas, or Giant Codex, was created in the early 13th century in the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice in Bohemia (now Czech Republic).  It is also known as the Devil's Bible due to its full-page illumination depicting the devil, and the legend surrounding its creation.

". . .  . At 92 cm (36.2in.) tall, 50 cm (19.7in.) wide and 22 cm (8.6in.) thick it is the largest known medieval manuscript. It initially contained 320 vellum sheets, though eight of these were subsequently removed. It is unknown who removed the pages or for what purpose but it seems likely that they contained the monastic rules of the Benedictin es. The codex weighs nearly 75 kg (165 lbs.) and the vellum is composed of calf skin (or donkey according to some sources) from 160 animals.

A side-view of Codex Gigas, which is 22cm thick. (View Larger)

"The Codex includes the entire Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, except for the books of Acts and Revelation, which are from a pre-Vulgate version. Also included are Isidore of Seville's encyclopedia Etymologiae, Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, Cosmas of Prague's Chronicle of Bohemia, various tractates (from history, etymology and physiology), a calendar with necrologium, a list of brothers in Podlažice monastery, magic formulae and other local records. The entire document is written in Latin. Illustration of the devil, page 290. Legend has it the codex was created by a monk who sold his soul to the devil.

The famous Devil, on folio 290r of the Codex Gigas, responsible for the ominous epithet, 'Devil's Bible.' (View Larger)

"The manuscript includes illuminations in red, blue, yellow, green and gold. Capital letters are elaborately illuminated, frequently across the entire page. The codex has a unified look as the nature of the writing is unchanged throughout, showing no signs of age, disease or mood on the part of the scribe. This may have led to the belief that the whole book was written in a very short time. But scientists are starting to believe and research the theory that it took over 20 years to complete" (Wikipedia article on Codex Gigas, accessed 04-07-2009).

Records in the manuscript end in the year 1229. The codex was later pledged to the Cistercians Sedlec monastery and then bought by the Benedictine monastery in Břevnov. From 1477-1593 it was kept in the library of a monastery in Broumov until it was taken to Prague in 1594 to form a part of the collections of Holy Roman Emperior Rudolf II

In 1648, at the end of the Thirty Years' War, the collection of Rudolf II was plundered by the Swedish army.  Since 1649  the manuscript has been preserved in the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Finding Devices Developed During This Time Are Perhaps the Most Significant in the History of the Book Circa 1230 – 1300

"As the professions, law, theology, and medicine took form in the thirteenth century, each with their own curriculum and text books, each developed its particular vocabulary and special abbreviations for them. Of the many features that emerged, the various finding devices made necessary by the length and density of legal and theological works are perhaps the most significant in the history of the book. Some are things we now take for granted on the page: punctuation such as the question mark, paragraph marks, the alternation of the colors red and blue for majuscule letters to catch the eye, the systematic addition of running headlines with the author or title on the left and the book and chapter number on the right. Other devices are more ambitious: the creation of tables of contents and, by 1230, alphabetical subject index indexes enabling the reader to search through a work for every appearance of a word or topic. By 1300 virtually every major work of the Church Fathers was provided with an alphabetical subject index. In addition, free-standing alphabetical reference tools appear in the thirteenth century, most impressive among them being the alphabetically arranged concordance of the words in the Bible" (Rouse, "Authentic Witnesses: Manuscript Making and Models of Production," Rouse & Light, Manuscript Production. Primer 6, published by Les Enluminures [2014] 5).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Gregory IX Condemns Jews to Inferior Status 1234

A portrait of Pope Gregory IX. (View Larger)

In his 1234 Decretals, Pope Gregory IX invested the doctrine of perpetua servitus iudaeorum – perpetual servitude of the Jews – with the force of canonical law. Pope Gregory was a principal figure in the institutionalization of Church teaching that discriminated against Jews, and condemned them to an inferior status in Christendom. 

"According to this, [the 1234 Decretals] Jews would have to remain in a condition of political servitude and abject humiliation until Judgment Day. The doctrine then found its way into the doctrine of servitus camerae imperialis, or servitude immediately subject to the Emperor's authority, promulgated by Frederick II. The second-class status of Jews thereby established would last until well into the 19th century" (quoted from the Wikipedia article on Pope Gregory IX, accessed 11-25-2008. The Wikipedia article cites a specific reference for the information.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Pope Gregory IX Orders the Seizure and Burning of Jewish Books June 9 – June 20, 1239

In response to a denunciation of "blasphemies" in the Talmud by Nicholas Donin, a Jewish convert to Christianity, On June 9, 1239 Pope Gregory IX ordered the archbishops of France, England, Spain and Portugal to seize all Jewish books and examine them. In his letter of June 20, 1239 Gregory ordered the churchmen of Paris to burn the confiscated works if they were found to contain "objectionable" content.

Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World. A Source Book: 315-1791, rev. ed. (1999) 163.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The "De Brailes Hours," The Earliest Surviving English Book of Hours Circa 1240

The "De Brailes Hours" (British Library MS Add. 49999), the earliest surviving separate English book of hours, was probably created about 1240 for an unknown laywoman whose generic "portrait" is shown four times in the manuscript. It has been suggested she was from North Hinksey near Oxford, and possibly called Suzanna. 

The illuminator of the manuscript, William de Brailes, is one of only two English artists of the 13th century whose name is associated with surviving works, and the only 13th-century English non-monastic illuminator known to have signed his work. In this manuscript he signed his name twice. It is also possible that de Brailes may have been a scribe.

The surname de Brailes means "from Brailes", a town in Warwickshire, about 30 miles north of Oxford. Documentary sources reveal that de Brailes lived and worked in Oxford, with his wife Celena, in a bookmaking community based around the present site of the chapel of All Souls College. The "De Brailes Hours" includes two self-portraits. The initial 'C' shows a tonsured figure praying, with the hand of God above. To the left the red inscription reads "W de brail q. me depeint"  (W. de Brailes, who painted me").

In July 2014 a digital facsimile of the De Brailes Hours was available from the British Library at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Copies of the Talmud are Seized in France June 3, 1240

A portrait of Louis IX.

Responding to the 1239 order of Pope Gregory IX, Louis IX of France ordered the seizure of copies of the Talmud in France. Louis was the only European ruler to follow the Pope's order.

Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World. A Source Book: 315-1791, rev. ed. (1999) 163

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Louis IX Orders the Burning of 12,000 Manuscripts of the Talmud June 1242

In 1242 French King Louis IX (St. Louis), who characterized himself as "lieutenant of God on Earth," conducted two crusades. In order to finance his first crusade he ordered the expulsion from France of all Jews engaged in usury, and the confiscation of their property, for use in his crusade.

Louis also ordered, in response to the 1239 decree of Pope Gregory IX, the burning in Paris of 24 cartloads or roughly 12,000 manuscript copies, of the Talmud and other Jewish books.

To understand the magnitude of this destruction one must bear in mind the unbelievable labor involved in copying out a single manuscript copy of the Talmud, the Hebrew text of which extended to about 2,000,000 words. It is also very probable that manuscripts included in this destruction dated back for many centuries and included priceless information.

Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World. A Source Book:315-1791, rev. ed. (1999) page 163 states that the burning of Talmuds in Paris probably occurred again in 1244.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Vatican Archives Follow the Movements of the Pope 1245 – 1783

". . .during the Middle Ages, particularly after Innocent IV (1243-1254), the popes moved around a great deal. In 1245, Innocent IV is known to have taken a part of the archives with him to the Council of Lyon, after which the records remained for a while stored in the monastery at Cluny. Benedict XI (1303-1304) had the archives placed in Perugia. Clement V (1305-1314) then had the archives placed in Assisi where they remained until 1339, when Benedict XII (1334-1342) had them sent to Avignon.

"The archives remained in Avignon during the time of the Great Schism. Once the difficulties were resolved, Martin V (1427-1431) had the records transported by boat and wagon to Rome, where they were temporarily housed in S. Maria Sopra Minerva then established in his family palace (Colonna) in central Rome. Though important historical records were returned to Rome at this time, including the Vatican Registers, the Avignon material, the paper registers known as the Avignon Registers, were not incorporated into the ASV until 1783" (Blouin, Jr., Vatican Archives: An Inventory and Guide. . . [1998] xviii).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

From 1250 to 1550 More Books of Hours Were Produced by Hand & by Press than Any Other Type of Book 1250 – 1550

"Books of Hours constitute one of the most significant groups of cultural artifacts from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Indeed, from the mid-thirteenth to the mid-sixteenth century, more Books of Hours were produced, both by hand and by press, than any other type of book. They were the bestsellers of an era that lasted 300 years. In an era when some of the most important painting was in books, the illuminated miniatures in manuscript Books of Hours are the picture galleries of the Middle Ages. And straddling the revolution of manuscript to print, Books of Hours are the great constant in a sea of changing readership and competing markets" (Wieck, Painted Prayers, The Book of Hours in Medieval and Renaissance Art [1997]).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Crusader Bible, One of the Greatest Masterpieces of Manuscript Illumination Circa 1250

The Crusader Bible, also known as the Morgan Picture Bible, the Maciejowski Bible, and the Shah ‘Abbas Bible, contains 46 illuminated folios of which 43 are preserved in The Morgan Library & Museum (MS M.638), 2 in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF, Ms n.a.l. 2294 fols 2, 3), and a single folio in the J. Paul Getty Museum, (Ludwig I 6 - 83.MA.55). This picture book, which was probably produced in Paris about 1250, has long been associated with the court of Louis IX, the pious crusader king of France and builder of the Sainte-Chapelle chapel on the Île de la Cité in Paris. Its illuminations, by seven different artists, are renowned for their bold coloring and draftsmanship, which bring Old Testament stories to life in bright images replete with medieval castles, towns, and battling knights in armor, all set in thirteenth-century France. In 346 images on 46 folios the manuscript illustratates portions of Genesis, Exodus Joshua, Judges, Ruth and Samuel. Forty percent of the images are devoted to the life of David.

It is believed that the manuscript originally probably contained only paintings. Around the year 1300 marginal inscriptions in Latin describing the scenes illustrated were added. The manuscript was owned by Cardinal Bernard Maciejowski, Bishop of Cracow, in the early 17th century. On January 3, 1608 Cardinal Maciejowksi had the book given as a gift to Abbas I (Shah of Persia). Abbas ordered the addition of Persian inscriptions, mostly translating the Latin inscriptions previously added. Following the sack of Isfahan by Afghans in 1722, the book was acquired by a Persian-speaking Jew who added inscriptions in Judeo-Persian. The book thus consists of paintings of events from Hebrew scripture, set in the scenery and customs of thirteenth-century France, depicted from a Christian perspective, and surrounded by text in three scripts and five languages: Latin, Persian, Arabic, Judeo-Persian, and Hebrew. It was purchased in Egypt by Giovanni d’Athanasi; his sale (London, Sotheby’s, March 16, 1833, lot 201) to Payne and Foss; Sir Thomas Phillipps (Phillipps Collection, no. 8025); purchased by J.P. Morgan (1867-1943) in 1916.

In November 2014 digital facsimiles of the all of the leaves of the Crusader Bible held by the Morgan Library & Museum were available at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Domus Conversorum, Later the Public Record Office 1253

Henry III, by an unknown artist. (View Larger)

In 1253 Henry III of England established the Domus Conversorum (House of the Converts), a building and institution in London for Jews who converted to Christianity. The building provided a communal home and low wages needed by Jews because all Jews who converted to Christianity forfeited all their possessions.

With the expulsion of the Jews by Edward I (Longshanks) in 1290, the Domus Conversorum became the only way for Jews to remain in England. At that stage there were about eighty residents, out of a former Jewish population in England estimated at 3000. By 1356, the last of these converts died. Between 1331 to 1608, only 48 converts were admitted. The warden of the facility was also Master of the Rolls.

The Domus Conversorum was in Chancery Lane. No records for converts/residents exist after 1609, but, in 1891, the post of chaplain for the facility was abolished by Act of Parliament and the location, which had been used to store legal archives, became the Public Record Office, now called The National Archives.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Oldest Surviving Literary Document in Yiddish 1272

Folio 54r of the Worms Mahzor, upon which, in the interstices of the first word in the Prayer for Dew, is inscribed the oldest known Yiddish text: a small blessing in the form of a rhymed couplet, directed towards those who are charged with the seemingly onerous task of carrying the heavy Mahzor from the house of the owner to the synagogue. (View Larger)

Yiddish originated in the Ashkenazi culture that developed from about the 10th century in the Rhineland, and then spread to Central and Eastern Europe, and eventually to other continents. The oldest surviving literary document in Yiddish dates from 1272. It is a blessing in the Mahzor Worms, a festival prayerbook in Hebrew according to the Ashkenazi rite of the Jews in Worms, Germany, for the use of hazanim (cantors) in the synagogue.

The manuscript is preserved in the Jewish National and University Library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the Mahzor Worms was available from the Jewish National and University Library at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Edward I's Statute of the Jewry 1275

Edward I, portrayed in the stained glass of Westminster Abbey.

In 1275 Edward I of England (Longshanks) promulgated the Statute of the Jewry.

"Since the time of the Norman Conquest, Jews had been filling a small but vital role in the English economy. Usury by Christians was banned by the church at the time, but Jews were permitted to act as moneylenders and bankers. That position enabled some Jews to amass tremendous wealth, but also earned them the enmity of the English populace, which added to the increasing antisemitic sentiments of the time, due to widespread indebtedness and financial ruin among the Gentile population.

"When Edward returned from the Crusades in 1274, two years after his accession as King of England, he found that land had become a commodity, and t