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

30 CE to 500 CE Timeline


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.

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donor inscription implies that it replaced an earlier wooden platform donated in the 2nd century CE, which itself had been replaced by a newer Ark donated by one Mindus Faustus in the 3rd century CE" (Wikipedia article Ostia Synagogue, accessed 01-04-2014).

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Seneca Denounces Book Collectors and Even the Library of Alexandria Circa 49 CE

A marble bust of Seneca preserved in the Antikensammlung Berlin. (View Larger)

About 49 CE Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist of the Silver Age of Latin literature, Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca, or Seneca the Younger) denounced book collectors, and even denounced the Royal Library of Alexandria:

"Outlay upon studies, best of all outlays, is reasonable so long only as it is kept within certain limits. What is the use of books and libraries innumerable, if scarce in a lifetime the master reads the titles? A student is burdened by a crowd of authors, not instructed; and it is far better to devote yourself to a few, than to lose your way among a multitude.

"Forty thousand books were burnt at Alexandria. I leave others to praise this splendid monument of royal opulence, as for example Livy, who regards it as 'a noble work of royal taste and royal thoughtfulness.' It was not taste, it was not thoughtfulness, it was learned extravagance—nay not even learned, for they had bought their books for the sake of show, not for the sake of learning—just as with many, who are ignorant even of the lowest branches of learning, books are not instruments of study, but ornaments of dining-rooms. Procure then as many books as will suffice for use; but not a single one for show. You will replay: 'Outlay on such objects is preferable to extravagance on plate or paintings.' Excess in all directions is bad. Why should you excuse a man who wishes to possess book-presses inlaid with arbor-vitae wood or ivory; who gathers together masses of authors either unknown or discredited; who yawns among his thousands of books; and who derives his chief delight from their edges and their tickets?

" You will find then in the libraries of the most arrant idlers all that orators or historians have written—book-cases built up as high as the ceiling. Nowadays a library takes rank with a bathroom as a necessary ornament of a house. I could forgive such ideas, if they were due to extravagant desire for learning. As it is, these productions of men whose genius we revere, paid for at a high price, with their portraits ranged in line above them, are got together to adorn and beautify a wall" (translated in Clark, The Care of Books [1901] 22-23). 

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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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).

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Note-Taking Versus "Place Memory" from Antiquity through the Renaissance and Later Circa 50 CE – 1700

"Frances Yates first called attention to memory practices as an object of historical inquiry with her pathbreaking study of the long reception of the ancient arts of memory [Yates, The Art of Memory (1966)]. The art of memory was designed to facilitate recall by associating the items to be remembered with vivid imagery, often related to the places in a building. Aristotle and Cicero explained the origins of this method from the story of Simonides who remembered all the guests who were killed at a banquet by the places they had occupied around the table. Today, still advice books on improving memory recommend similar techniques of association with vivid images and places. Yates's book has left the impression that place memory was the main method of recall used from antiquity through the Renaissance. Without denying that place memory was used, especially for short-term recall to memorize a speech or perform a feat of memory, I emphasize that for the long-term retention and accumulation of information, note-taking was the more common aid to memory. Note-taking is documented in antiquity (with Pliny) and can be surmised ans the principal means of composition of florilegia and large compilations in the Middle Ages. Starting in the Renaissance, note-taking can be studied from abundant surviving sources. Images were valued as mnemonic aids in manuscript and print, but repetition and copying out were the keystones of Renaissance pedagogy.

"As Yates herself notes, European pedagogues and scholars in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were increasingly critical of place memory. Though he conceded that places could help, Erasmus maintained that 'the best memory is based on three things above all: understanding, system, and care.' The natural historian Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) complained that the investment required to learn the system of places was greater than the reward, and Gabriel Naudé (1600-53) saw it as positively pernicious because 'artifical memory spoils and perverts the natural [memory].' In the German academic world Bartholomaeus Kecermann (1571-1608) considered the arts of memory 'confused philosophically and blasphemous theologically.' Instead, these and other pedagogues in the wake of humanism advocated note-taking, which they portrayed as the best aid to memory.

"Note-taking manuals and treatises on the arts of memory formed two quite distinct traditions that made no explicit reference to one another. In practice, however, note-taking certainly did not preclude reliance on images or visual elements as mnemonic aids. For example, the abundant note-taker Conrad Gesner used an image of the hand as a mnemonic for the five Latin declensions; the hand was a widespread mnemonic image, the use of which did not involve elaborate place memory. Page layout in both manuscript and print could also facilitate recall of material from the look of the page on which it appeared...." (Blair, Too Much to Know. Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age [2010] 75-76).

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The Role of the "Ordinator" and "Sculptor" in Producing Roman Stone Inscriptions Circa 50 CE

"The making of a major Roman inscription was the business of highly efficient and professionalized guilds. The significant document in this connection is an advertisement in the form of an inscription of the first century A.D. This inscription (C.I.L. x. 7296) was in Palermo in 1885 . . . . In Latin and Greek, the advertiser says that in his premises titles were laid out and cut: Tutuli heic ordinantur et sculpuntur.  Here as M. Jean Mallon suggests, the verb ordinare must mean the advertiser had an 'ordinator' who undertook the responsibility for the mise-en-page of the text, and the designation of the type of letter, and it was he who traced on the stone the ordinatio of the text, which the sculptor exerted himself to follow with exactitude.

"There were two main types of capital, that made geometrically, and that drawn freehand. A plurality of tools was involved in the process of cutting both scripts, as may be seen from certain surviving inscriptions described by Hübner, Cagnat, and others, which include representations of the square chisel, compass, rule, curve, hammer and plumb. All this organization lay behind the inscriptions which then included the largest capitals the world had ever seen" (Morison, Politics and Script. . .Barker ed. [1972] 38).

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The Mensa Isiaca or Bembine Table of Isis Circa 50 CE

An elaborate bronze tablet with enamel and silver inlay mimicking Egyptian style, the Mensa Isiaca or Bembine Tablet or Bembine Table of Isis was probably created in Rome during the first century CE. It was discovered after the sack of Rome in 1527, soon after which Cardinal Pietro Bembo acquired it at an exhorbitant price.

"After Bembo's death in 1547 the Tablet was acquired by the House of Mantua, remaining in their museum until the capture of Mantua in 1630 by Ferdinand II's troops. The Tablet eventually came into the hands of Cardinal Pava, who presented it to the Duke of Savoy, who in turn presented it to the King of Sardinia. With the French conquest of Italy in 1797 the Tablet came to Paris, and Alexandre Lenoir wrote in 1809 that it was on exhibition in the Bibliothèque Nationale. It was later returned to Italy after peace was established. Karl Baedeker in his Guide to Northern Italy mentions that the tablet was a central exhibit in Gallery 2 in the Museum of Antiquities at Turin, where it is today."

In the seventeenth century the fame of the Bembine Tablet was such that Athanasius Kircher used it as the primary source for his attempt to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs, reproducing an engraving of the table in his misconceived Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652-55).

The first scholarly study of the table was by the Padovan scholar and antiquarian Lorenzo Pignoria in Vetustissimae tabulae aeneae sacris Aegyptiorum simulachris coelatate accurata explicatio descriptio (Venice, 1605). This was the first detailed printed account of the table. In his description Pignoria compared the table to other known archeological objects, particularly Egyptian amulets and engraved gems. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who saw the table as a mystical relic from the dawn of creation, Pignoria concluded that the table was a Roman work of the Augustan period. The large folding plates of this edition were engraved by the Venetian engraver and publisher Giacomo Franco in 1600 to replicate the various parts of the Table, and were included, variously assembled and folded, in a handful of copies of the first edition, published by Franco in 1605. In later editions the large woodcuts were reproduced as copperplate engravings.

"Egypt held great appeal for the Romans, who eagerly absorbed the Isis cult. However, after, the battle of Actium (31 BC) and the deaths of Cleopatra and Mark Antony (30 BC), the cult was persecuted until later in the first century AD When the Emperor Caligula (AD 12-41), descendant of Augustus and of Mark Antony, built a great temple to Isis Campus Martius: the Iseum Campense. Also it was sometime in the first century AD When this remarkable table was produced, probably in Rome. The hieroglyphs are nonsense and the cult scenes are Egyptianising, but do not depict true Egyptian rites. Some of the bizarre attributes make it unclear Whether the figures are divinities or kings and queens, and Whether or not a god, instead of the king, is depicted making an offering to another god. Egyptian motifs Appear helter-skelter throughout. Nevertheless, the central figure in a chapel can be Recognised as Isis, suggesting That the table comes from a place where the Isis cult was Celebrated, possibly even the Iseum Campensis. The table is an important example of metallurgical knowledge in the ancient world, with its surface decoration of different colored precious (silver, gold, copper and gold with much) and base metals. Perhaps the most interesting color on the table is the black, usually incorrectly as described on niello. In fact, analysis on similarly inlaid black-Roman objects reveal That this was made by alloying copper and tin with small amounts of gold or silver (about 2%) and then 'pickling' the object in organic acid. Pliny (Natural. History) and Plutarch (Moralia) both described on a prestigious black bronze alloy, 'Corinthian bronze', Which contained gold and silver" (http://www.museoegizio.org/pages/isiaca_en.jsp, accessed 02-19-2013).

James Stevens Curl, Egyptomania. The Egyptian Revival: a Recurring Theme in the History of Taste  (1994) 57-58.

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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."

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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).

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Roman Inscriptions on Lead Pipes Were Made from Common Text Stamps 69 CE – 79 CE

Lead water pipes from the Roman Empire sometimes contain inscriptions on their surfaces. For example, a section of pipe from the reign of the Emperor Vespasian (69-79 CE) preserved in the Grosvenor Museum in Chester, England, and illustrated in the Wikipedia article on Roman lead pipe inscriptions, contains an inscription one meter long. The technology of creating these inscriptions was only recently understood.

"A recent investigation by the typesetter and linguist Herbert Brekle, however, concludes that all material evidence points to the use of common text stamps. Brekle describes the manufacturing method as follows:

"A stamp (punch) which has the text carved in high-relief and in right reading is pressed into the slightly moist sand or clay of the mould, thus producing a reverse image of the text (matrix) in bas-relief. After the molten lead is poured out in the mould, the inscription appears raised in high-relief on the surface of the lead pipe. This is today considered the most plausible hypothesis for the creation of such inscriptions (full text stamp).

"Brekle lists the following reasons for the employment of stamps and against that of movable type: for printing on lead sheets the way the Romans created them, it would be much more practical to use single stamp blocks than sets of individual letters, since the latter would be unstable and would have required a clamp or some similar mechanism to maintain the necessary cohesion. Neither impressions of such clamps nor of the fine lines between the individual letters typical for the use of movable type are discernible in the inscriptions. By contrast, the outer rim of one examined stamp block left a raised rectangular edge running around the inscription text, thus providing positive evidence for the use of such a printing device.

"In addition, evidence of the poor positioning of movable type, such as individual letters tilting to the right or left or deviating from the baseline – something which could have been expected to occur at least in a few extant specimens – is notably absent. In those inscriptions where the letters are not properly aligned, the entire text is blurred, which clearly points to the use of full text stamps. Finally, it needs to be considered that archaeological excavations have never unearthed ancient sets of movable type, whereas moulds with reversed inscription texts for stamp printing have indeed been recovered" (Wikipedia article on Roman lead pipe inscription, accessed 10-31-2012).

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The Lex de imperio Vespasiani is Cast as a Huge Bronze Plaque December 69 CE – January 70 CE

Written between written December of 69 and January of 70 CE, the Lex de imperio Vespasiani, or lex Regia, ratified by the Roman senate, is the only example of an official document conferring powers to an emperor. The law confirms Vespasian’s total control over the political, administrative, and religious life of the empire. This document, preserved in the Hall of the Faun in the Palazzo Nuovo of the Capitoline Museum in Rome, was cast in bronze, 164 x 113 cm. Its first sentence is incomplete, indicating that at least one other bronze plaque, presumably of the same size, must have been originally cast. 

There are no records of this document before the 14th century, but at that time the plaque was in the Archbasilica of St. John’s in the Lateran, and was misunderstood by the tribune Cola di Rienzo to be an example of the strength of the Roman Senate and People in conferring power upon the emperor. In a letter written in 1350 to Arnošt of Pardubice, archbishop of Prague, Cola told the archibishop how he had the plaque set in the wall of the Lateran basilica. According to Cola, Pope Boniface VIII, had previously had it turned it upside down in order to hide the ancient inscription, and had used it as the top of an altar, perhaps to show his opposition to imperial power.

In 1576, Pope Gregory XIII donated what was then called the Tabula antiquae sanctionis (from the word sanctio, sanction, which introduces the last paragraph of the text) to the people of Rome, ordering it to be placed at the Capitol. It was first displayed in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. In 1733, Pope Clement XII had it moved to its present location on the Hall of the Faun.

The Latin text of the law is available at Epigraphik-Datenbank Clauss / Slaby. For the English translation of the law see M. H. Crawford (ed) Roman Statutes, I (1996), pp. 549—553, no. 39. These texts are also available from AncientRome.ru at this link.

Commune di Roma. The Capitoline Museums Guide (2013) 58.

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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).

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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).

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

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

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

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

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The Last Known Datable Cuneiform Tablet 75 CE

The last known datable cuneiform tablet is an astronomical almanac from 75 CE.

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Roman Portraits Celebrating Literacy Circa 75 CE

A fresco of a Pompein couple with stylus, wax tablets, and papyrus scroll, preserved in the Museuo Archeologico Nazionale. (View Larger)

A fresco of a Pompeian couple with stylus, wax tablets, and papyrus roll from about 75 CE, shows a man holding a papyrus scroll and a woman holding a stylus to her lips for writing on the wax tablets that she holds in her other hand. It is one of several surviving Roman portraits depicting the symbols of literacy.

"This couple, who did not come from the very highest ranks of the Pompeian aristocracy, probably chose to be depicted in this way as a mark of their status—they belonged to the ranks of those who were literate, and they wished to display the fact. In this sense, the portrait is evidence that literacy was far from universal in Roman Pompeii. But it is none the less an impressive fact, typical of the Roman world and difficult to parallel before modern times, that a provincial couple should have chosen to be painted in a way that very specifically celebrated a close relationship with the written word, on the part of both the man and his wife" (Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization [2005] 162-63, plate 7.10).

The fresco is preserved in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.

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Over 11,000 Wall Inscriptions Survived from Pompeii 79 CE

An inscription depicting a contemporaneous politician. (View Larger)

The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius over two days in 79 CE buried the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii in lava, destroying life, but preserving buildings in a remarkable way.

From the ruins of Pompeii over 11,000 inscriptions have been recorded—of many different kinds—carved, painted  or scratched into walls, formal, humorous, erotic, and scatological. They reflect wide use of writing and comparatively wide availability of literacy in Roman society.

"Some of them [the inscriptions] are very grand and formal, like the dedications of public buildings and the funerary epitaphs, similar to others found all over the Roman world. Inscriptions such as these are not necessarily good evidence of widespread literacy. The enormous numbers that were produced in Roman times could reflect a fashion for this particular medium of display, rather than a dramatic spread of the ability to read and write.

"Other Pompeian inscriptions are perhaps more telling, because they display a desire to cummunicate in a less formal and more ephemeral way with fellow citizens. Walls on the main streets of Pompeii are often decorated with painted messages, whose regular script and layout reveal the work of professional sign-writers. Some are advertisements for events such as games in the amphitheatre; others are endoresements of candiates for civic office, by individuals and groups within the city. . . .

"Graffiti offer even more striking evidence of the spread and use of writing in Pompeian society. These are found all over the city, scratched into stone or plaster by townspeople with time on their hands and a message to convey to future idlers. . . .

"Even though we cannot estimate the proportion of Pompeians who were literate (was it 30 per cent, or more, or perhaps on 10 per cent ?) we can say with confidence that writing was an essential, and a day-to-day part of the city's life" (Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization [2005] 153-54, & 155-57).

Because graffiti such as those preserved in Pompeii were intended to be widely shared some have called these evidence of early social media. 

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Discoveries of Greek & Roman Papyri in the Library of the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, the Only Library Preserved Intact from Graeco-Roman Times 79 CE – 2015

In 79 CE the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the Roman coastal city of Herculaneum together with Pompeii and Stabiae. Among the vast ruins preserved in lava was the library of papyrus rolls in the so-called “Villa of the Papyri” at Herculaneum— a magnificent home thought to have been built by Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. Discovery of this library in 1752, nearly seventeen centuries after the eruption, was the first and only discovery of ancient papyri in Europe.

On October 19, 1752 Neopolitan "cavamonti", who had been digging at Herculaneum since 1738 by order of Charles III of Spain (who through conquest was also Charles VII of Naples), excavated the first papyrus rolls from a large suburban villa. Over the next two years several hundred papyrus rolls were excavated from the site, and the villa from which they were excavated became known as the Villa dei Papiri (Villa of the Papyri) or Villa dei Pisoni, after its original owner. This library was the only library that survived "intact" since Graeco-Roman times.

Discovery of the Herculaneum papyri was a landmark not only in archaeology, and in the recovery of classical texts, but also in book history because until the discovery of papyrus rolls at Herculaneum no one in early modern Europe had seen the actual roll form of books from the ancient world, or even a fragment written on papyrus. When Mabillon described papyri in his De re diplomatica (1681) he had not seen an actual example.

Papyrus rolls did not survive in humid environments, and for this reason information on rolls that might have survived into the early Middle Ages had either been lost through the decay of the rolls, or had been copied onto parchment codices for preservation before the rolls were lost or discarded. By about 1200, when paper was introduced into Europe, the precise nature of ancient papyrus as a writing surface had been for the most part forgotten. Without a medieval Latin word for paper, which was new to Europeans, scholars reapplied the old word papyrus to paper. Papyrus remained the Latin word for paper until the early seventeenth century. This double usage of the word, as Christopher de Hamel pointed out, sometimes led scholars to confuse the comparatively modern material (paper) with the material referred to by ancient Christian writers, who wrote on papyrus. 

The papyrus rolls discovered at Herculaneum had been carbonized by lava, and all were deformed to some extent because of the weight of the lava that had covered them over the centuries. Paradoxically, the carbonization process had preserved the rolls and their content, but made unrolling them and reading them exceptionally difficult. In spite of the state in which the papyrus rolls were found they were examples of the Roman papyrus roll and the form in which the rolls were stored in a Roman library. Besides the libary at the Villa of the Papyri,  frescos also discovered at Herculaneum showed how the Roman books were kept.

The first account of the Herculaneum papyri to reach the scientific world was a brief mention in a letter from the artist, sculptor and art restorer Camillo Paderni, director of the Museum Herculanense, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.  The first of these, an extract of a letter to Richard Mead, was written on November 18, 1752, only a month after the discovery, and read to the Royal Society on February 8, 1753. This letter contained a brief extract of what was then the earliest surviving manuscript of Latin poetry, P.Herc 817. In this letter Paderni reported:

"it is not a month ago [specifically October 19, 1752] that there have been found many volumes of papyrus, but turn'd to a sort of charcoal, so brittle, that, being touched, it falls readily into ashes. Nevertheless, by his Majesty's orders, I have made many trials to open them, butt all to no purpose, excepting some words which I have picked out intire, where they are divers bits, by which it appears in what manner the whole was written. The form of the characters, made with very black tincture, that overcomes the darkness of the charcoal. . . ."

Paderni's letter contained portions of two continguous hexameters from P.Herc.817P.Herc. 817, containing the text of Carmen de bello actiaco, sometimes known as the Carmen de Bello Aegyptiaco, was the most substantial Latin papyrus discovered in 1752 in the library of the Villa dei Papiri. Written in Italy between 31 BCE, the date of the battle of Actium, and 79 CE, when Herculaneum was destroyed, this is one of the two earliest manuscripts of Latin poetry, the other being the slightly earlier fragment of the poetry of Gaius Cornellus Gallus discovered in 1978 at Qasr Ibrim, Egypt. The twenty-three papyrus fragments of the poem Carmen de Bello Actiaco preserved in Naples at the Biblioteca Nazionale, and in Paris at the Louvre, represent the earliest surviving dated examples of rustic capitals

"Latin Rustic probably began its career as a rationalized version of official and popular writing, fused with a loosening version of the Square Capitals, the whole written with a pen cut specially for speed. It secured a measure of public approval in Rome during or before the first century B.C., though the evidence is slight" (Stanley Morison, Politics and Script . . . Barker ed. [1972] 43; see also 41-43, and pl. 34.

Two other letters by Paderni were also published in Philosophical Transactions. His second letter, to Thomas Hollis, was dated April 27, 1754 and read to the Royal Society on June 13, 1754, reported that excavators had discovered an entire library:

"In one of these buildings there has been found an entire library, compos'd of volumes of the Egyptian Papyrus, of which there have been taken out about 250; and the place is not yet clear'd or emptied, it having been deem'd necessary to erect props first, to keep the earth, which lies above it, from falling in upon it. These volumes of Papyrus consist of Latin, and Greek manuscripts, but from their brittleness, occasion'd by the fire and time, it is not possible to unroll them, they being now decay'd and rotten. His majesty however has done his part; having sent for a certain monk from Rome [Padre Antonio Piaggio], who belong'd to the Vatican library; in hopes, by his means, to have unfolded them; but hitherto in vain.

'Your servant Paderni alone can shew some fragments of several lines, and more than this he is much afraid will never been seen. Of these there are many in my custody, which I suppose you will have the pleasure of observing in the intended catalogue. There have been found those small tables [i.e. wax tablets] which they are cover'd with what was called the palimpseston, then wrote on them with the stylus; but all these are become a kind of cinder, and have likewise suffer'd by the damps; from both which circumstances they are now so tender, that they break with the touch."

Paderni's third letter, also to Hollis, was dated October 18, 1754 and read to the Royal Society on December 12, 1754. In this letter he explained what he meant by a library, as up to this time no one in Europe had a clear idea of what the interior of an ancient Roman library would look like:

"As yet we have only entered into one room, the floor of which is formed of mosaic work, not unelegant. It appears to have been a library, adorned with presses, inlaid with different sorts of wood, disposed in rows; at the top of which were cornices, as in our own times. I was buried in this spot for more than twelve days, to carry off the volumes found there; many of which were so perished, that it was impossible to remove them. Those, which I took away, amounted to the number of three hundred thirty-seven, all of them at present incapable of being opened. These are all written in Greek characters. While I was busy in this work, I observed a large bundle, which, from the size, I imagined must contain more than a single volume. I tried with the utmost care to get it out, but could not, from the damp and weight of it. However I perceived, that it consisted, of about eighteen volumes, each of which was in length a palm and three Neapolitan inches; being the longest hitherto discovered. They were wrapped about with the bark of a tree, and covered at each end with a piece of wood. All these were written in Latin, as appears by a few words, which broke off from them. I was in hopes to have got something out of them, but they are in a worse condition than the Greek. From the latter the public will see some intire columns, having myself had the good fortune to extract two, and many other fine fragments. Of all these an account is drawing up, which will be published together with the other Greek characters, now engraving on copper-plates and afterwards make separate work by themselves. . . At present the monk, who was sent for from Rome, to try to open the former manuscripts, has begun to give us some hopes in respect to one of them. Those which I have opened, are philosophical tracts the subjects of which are known to me; but I am not liberty to be more explicit. When they are published they are to be immediately conveyed to you. That first papyri, of which I formerly acquainted you, were in a separate room, adjoining to the beforementioned palace." 

Because of the difficulty in reading the carbonized documents, the first publication of the texts of Herculaneum papyri occurred forty years after their discovery, in 1793 with the issue of the first volume of Herculanensium voluminum quae supersunt in Naples. Because of the fragility of the papyrus burned and preserved in lava, Paderni did not attempt to unroll P.Herc. 817  until 1805, at which time apographs were drawn by Carlo Orazi. The first coherent publication of its text appeared in the second volume of Herculanensium Voluminum (Naples, 1809) without facsimiles or reproductions of the papyrus. Orazi's apographs were taken to Palermo before the French occupation of Naples in 1806, but facsimiles of P.Herc. 817 were not published until nearly 80 years later. Efforts to read the remainder of the papyri proceeded very gradually; this series was completed in 11 volumes in 1855. Two hundred years after their discovery many of the Herculaneum papyri remained illegible to scholars, even after sophisticated imaging techniques were applied.

In 1800 the Prince of Wales (later George IV) decided to support the unrolling and deciphering of the papyri found at Herculaneum in 1752, and sent his chaplain in ordinary John Hayter to Naples, who was an expert on antiquities, to take charge of the "Officina" and direct the work. By this time, perhaps out of appropriate caution, or because of the difficulty involved, only 18 of the approximately 1800 manuscripts found in the Villa dei Papiri had been unrolled. It is thought that Padierni opened only the rolls that he thought were most promising from the textual standpoint.

Discussing the background of the project, in 1800 Hayter issued a few copies of a 22-page pamphlet entitled the Herculanean and Pompeian Manuscripts. This was written in the form of a letter to the Prince of Wales. By this time the papyri had been moved to Palermo. Hayter began operations in 1802 at Portici, near Naples. He had charge of the papyri from 1802 to 1806. In four years about two hundred rolls were opened, and nearly one hundred copied in lead-pencil facsimiles under Hayter's superintendence.

In 1802 Ferdinand IV, King of Naples and the Two Sicilies, in a diplomatic move, offered six rolls of Herculaneum papyrus as a gift to First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. Eager to discover the contents of these artefacts — some of the most impressive examples — Bonaparte handed them over to the Institut de France in Paris. There the mathematician and keen archaeologist Gaspard Monge, and Vivant Denon, the "founder" of the Louvre, were put in charge of unrolling the rolls. When the French invaded southern Italy in 1806, Hayter followed King Ferdnand into exile in Palermo, Sicily, and the original papyri fell into the hands of the French. The lead-pencil facsimiles also passed out of Hayter's hands, but were recovered from the Neapolitan authorities through the influence of William Drummond of Logiealmond, the British minister. Between 1807 and 1808 copperplates were incised at Palermo under Hayter's direction, and shipped to England where, instead of being published as Hayter had planned, they were archived at Oxford's Bodleian Library. Meanwhile, during the last illness of George III, the Prince of Wales became the Prince Regent, and would ascend to the throne in 1820 at the death of his father. In 1811 Hayter issued a rather grand volume on the project, printed in unusually large type, and illustrated with fine color mezzotint plates, entitled, A Report upon the Herculaneum Manuscripts, in a Second Letter, Addressed, by Permission to his Royal Highness the Prince Regent. The volume discusses Hayter's experience with the papyri in detail, and includes some beautiful color images of the papyrus plant, but no reproductions of papyri. It also reprints the text of Hayter's first (1800) letter to the Prince. My copy is bound in the original pink boards with its title printed in large boldface letters on the upper cover. Hayter's series of reproductions of P.Herc 817 and other papyri were mostly not published until 1885, in an appendix to Fragmenta Herculanensia: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oxford Copies of the Herculanean Rolls by Walter Scott. The first photographs of any of the fragments were published by Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores III (1938) 385.

In 1816 some of the Herculaneum papyrus fragments which had been brought to Paris and London were entrusted to the German polymath and archaeologist Friedrich Carl Sickler who attempted to unroll them, but in the process destroyed several. As a record of this experience Sickler published a pamphlet entitled Herculaneum Rolls. Correspondence Relative to a Proposition Made by Dr. Sickler of Hildberghausen Relative to Their Development (London, 1817).

Following this the chemist Sir Humphrey Davy travelled to the museum at Naples, reported on the state of the papyri found there, and attempted to unroll some of them in Naples, and to use chlorine to unroll some of those in London. Even though he employed scientific care some destruction occurred. Davy published his results as "Some Observations and Experiments on the Papyri Found at Herculaneum," Philosophical Transactions, III (1821) 191-208, plates XI-XVIII, include some of Hayter's reproductions published for the first time. These were probably the earliest reproductions of papyrus fragments published in England. When historian of libraries Edward Edwards published his Memoirs of Libraries I (1859) he was able to get permission from the Royal Society to reproduce Davy's plates from the original copperplates which were still preserved. These he reproduced in his account of Davy's work facing facing p. 72.


In 1999 researchers at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, began to apply multispectral imaging, a technique originally designed for the study of extraterrestrial planetary surfaces, to the study of ancient documents that were difficult to read. One of the successes of this project was the revelation of the texts of the documents from Herculaneum.

♦ On December 19, 2013 BBC News published an article by Robin Banerji entitled Unlocking the scrolls of HerculaneumThis contained the best illustrated summary that I had seen to date of the history of the problems in unrolling and deciphering the Herculaneum papyri. (Thanks to my friend William P. Watson for directing my attention to this, and the following paper.)

♦ On January 20, 2015 in an article entitled X-ray technique 'reads' burnt Vesuvius scroll Jonathan Webb reported on bbc.com that a 3D X-ray imagining technique sometimes used in breast scans had been successful in reading some of the Herculaneum papyri without unrolling them. Webb's article summarized a paper by Vito Mocella and colleagues: "Revealing letters in rolled Herculaeum papyri by X-ray phase-contrast imaging," Nature Comunications, January 20, 2015. In the United States The New York Times published an equally interesting article by Nicholas Wade, with different illustrations entitled "Unlocking Scrolls Preserved in Eruption of Vesuvius, Using X-Ray Beams." On January 21, 2015 further information and a photograph of the researchers was available from artdaily.org at this link.


The most useful modern study of the library is David Sider's The Library of the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum (2005).

The classic study of the excavation of Herculaneum through 1908, which impressed upon its readers the necessity for further excavation, was Waldstein & Shoobridge, Herculaneum Past Present and Future (1908). This includes a very useful historical bibliography. In 2011 Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project, issued the most beautiful large-format full color book entitled Herculaneum, Past and Future. The volume included hundreds of color photographs, numerous full color maps and charts, and several double-foldout 360 degree views. Reading this book truly gives one the feeling of being in the ancient place.

 (This entry was last revised on 01-21-2015.)

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The Characteristics of Roman Papyrus Rolls Circa 80 CE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Storing Papyrus Rolls in "Pigeon-Holes" Circa 80 CE

Figure eleven of Clark's 'On the Care of Books,' depicting 'pigeon holes,' the Roman equivalent of book shelves. (View Larger)

". . . three of the words applied to contrivances used [by the Romans] to keep books in, namely, nidus, forulus, and loculamentum, may be rendered by the English 'pigeon-hole'; and that pegma and pluteus mean contrivances of wood which may be rendered by the English 'shelving.' It is quite clear that pegmata could be run up with great rapidity, from a very graphic account in Cicero's letters of the rearrangement of his library. He begins by writing to his friend Atticus as follows:

" 'I wish you would send me any two fellows out of your library, for Tyrannio to make use of as pasters, and assistants in other matters. Remind them to bring some vellum with them to make those titles (indices) which you Greeks, I believe call silluboi. You are not to do this it is inconvenient to you. . . .'

"In the next letter he says:

" 'Your men have made my library gay with their carpentry-work, and their titles (constructione et sullybis). I wish you would commend them.'

"When all is complete he writes:

" 'Now that Tyrannio has arranged my books, a new spirit has been infused into my house. In this matter the help of your men Dionysius and Menophilus has been invaluable. Nothing could look neater than those shelves of yours (illa tua pegmata), since they smartened up my books with their titles.'

"No other words than those I have been discussing are, so far as I know, applied by the best writers to the storage of books; and, and after a careful study of the passages in which they occur, I conclude that, so long as rolls only had to be accomdated, private libraries in Rome were fitted with rows of shelves standing against the walls (plutei), or fixed to them (pegmata). The space between these horizontal shelves was subdivided by vertical divisions into pigeon-holes (nidi, foruli, loculamenta), and it may be conjectured that the width of these pigeon-holes would vary in accordance with the number of rolls included in a single work. That such receptacles were the common furniture of a library is proved, I think, by such evidence as the epigram of Martial quoted above, in which he tells his friend that he will accept his poems, he may 'put them even in the lowest pigeon-hole (nido vel imo),' as we would say, 'on the bottom shelf'; and by the language of Seneca when he sneers at the 'pigeon-holes (loculamenta) carried up to the ceiling.'

"The height of the woodwork varied, of course, with individual taste. In the library on the Esquiline the height was only three feet six inches; at Herculaneum about six feet. 

"I can find no hint of any doors, or curtains, in front of the pigeon-holes. That the ends of the rolls (frontes) were visible, is, I think, quite clear from what Cicero says of his own library after the construction of the shelves (pegmata); and the various devices for making rolls attractive seem to me to prove that they were intended to be seen.

"A representation of rolls arranged on the system which I have attempted to describe occurs on a piece of sculpture (fig. 11) found at Neumagen, near Trèves [Neumagen-Dhron] in the seventeenth century, among the ruins of a fortified camp attributed to Constantine the Great. Two divisions, full of rolls, are shewn, into one of which a man, presumably the librarian, is replacing one. The ends of the rolls are furnished with tickets" (Clark, The Care of Books [1901] 35-37.)

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

A portrait of Martial.

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


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

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

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

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

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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).

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At Alexandria Ptolemy Writes the Almagest, the Cosmographia, and the Tetrabiblos Circa 100 CE – 178 CE


In the second century CE, probably at the Library of Alexandria, mathematician, astronomer, geographer, and astrologer Claudius Ptolemaeus (Greek: Κλαύδιος Πτολεμαίος , Klaúdios Ptolemaîos) wrote the Almagest, the Cosmographia, and the Tetrabiblos. In the Almgagest (in Greek, Η Μεγάλη Σύνταξις, "The Great Treatise", originally Μαθηματική Σύνταξις, "Mathematical Treatise") Ptolemy compiled the astronomical knowledge of the ancient Greek and Babylonian world, relying mainly on the work of Hipparchus, which had been written three centuries earlier.

Ptolemy's Almagest is the only surviving comprehensive treatise on astronomy from antiquity. It was preserved, like most of classical Greek science, in Arabic manuscripts, hence its familiar Arabic name. The work was first translated into Latin from Arabic texts found in Toledo, in Al-Andalus, or Moorish Iberia, by Gerard of Cremona, in the 12th century, and it is from Gerard's version that the work became known to European scientists in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

"Ptolemy formulated a geocentric model of the solar system which remained the generally accepted model in the Western and Arab worlds until it was superseded by the heliocentric solar system of Copernicus. Likewise his computational methods (supplemented in the 12th century with the Arabic computational Tables of Toledo), were of sufficient accuracy to satisfy the needs of astronomers, astrologers, and navigators, until the time of the great explorations. They were also adopted in the Arab world and in India. The Almagest also contains a star catalogue, which is probably an updated version of a catalogue created by Hipparchus. Its list of forty-eight constellations is ancestral to the modern system of constellations, but unlike the modern system they did not cover the whole sky (only the sky Ptolemy could see).”

Even though Ptolemy's Almagest remained the dominant textbook of theoretical astronomy from the second through the sixteenth centuries, only an epitome or digest appeared in print during the fifteenth century. This was the Epytoma in Almagestum Ptolemai published by the German mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, translator, instrument maker and Catholic bishop Johannes Müller von Königsberg, who is best known by the Latin version of his name, Regiomontanus.  The Epytoma, printed in Venice by Johannes Hamman for Kaspar Grossch and Stephan Roemer, and issued on August 31, 1496, must have been printed in an unusually large edition as it remains one of the most common of all books printed in the fifteenth century, with more than 100 copies recorded in institutional libraries worldwide by the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC No. ir00111000.) The first edition of Gerard of Cremona's translation of Ptolemy's complete text was published in Venice by Peter Liechtenstein on January 10, 1515. When I wrote this note only two American libraries had recorded their ownership of this edition in OCLC (Yale and the University of Michigan), and nine copies were cited in European libraries by the Karlsruhe Virtual Catalogue. Why so few copies of this edition were recorded remained unclear, but the most likely explanation was that the original printing was small.  Gerard's text was reprinted many times.

Stillwell, The Awakening Interest in Science During the First Century of Printing 1450-1550, No. 97.

Ptolemy’s Cosmographia “is a compilation of what was known about the world’s geography in the Roman Empire during his time. He relied mainly on the work of an earlier geographer, Marinos of Tyre, and on gazetteers of the Roman and ancient Persian empire, but most of his sources beyond the perimeter of the Empire were unreliable.

“Ptolemy also devised and provided instructions on how to create maps both of the whole inhabited world (oikoumenè) and of the Roman provinces. . . . Ptolemy was well aware that he knew about only a quarter of the globe.”

The world-map from the 1482 Ulm edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia.

The maps in surviving manuscripts of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia date only from about 1300, after the text was rediscovered by Maximus Planudes, a Byzantine scholar working in Constantinople. In 1475, when the text first appeared in print, it was published without maps. Two years later the first edition with maps was published in Bologna. The famous world map illustrated here was included in the edition published in Ulm, Germany by Lienhart Holle on July 16, 1482. (ISTC No. ip01084000).


"Ptolemy's treatise on astrology, known in Greek as the Apotelesmatika ("Astrological Outcomes" or "Effects") and in Latin as the Tetrabiblos ("Four books"), was the most popular astrological work of antiquity and also had great influence in the Islamic world and the medieval Latin West. The Tetrabiblos is an extensive and continually reprinted treatise on the ancient principles of horoscopic astrology in four books (Greek tetra means "four", biblos is "book"). That it did not quite attain the unrivaled status of the Almagest was perhaps because it did not cover some popular areas of the subject, particularly electional astrology (interpreting astrological charts for a particular moment to determine the outcome of a course of action to be initiated at that time), and medical astrology" (Wikipedia article on Ptolemy, accessed 07-16-2009).

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The Romance Papyrus Circa 100 CE – 200 CE

The Romance Papyrus. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Oldest Surviving Handwritten Documents in Britain Circa 100 CE

Vindolanda Tablet 309, an inventory of wooden goods dispatched dispatched by and to civilians working for the military. (View Larger, with translation.)

The Vindolanda Writing Tablets, excavated from the Roman fort at Vindolanda, one of the main military posts on the Northern frontier of Britain before the building of Hadrian's Wall, were written in carbon ink on wafer-thin slices of wood around 100 CE. The tablets were excavated in 1973 near the modern village of Bardon Mill from waterlogged conditions in rubbish deposits in and around the commanding officer's residence. Experts have identified the handwriting of hundreds of different people in these documents. They confirm that the officers of Vindolanda were most certainly literate, and that some soldiers in the ranks may also have been literate.

"These, and hundreds of other fragments which have come to light in subsequent excavations, are the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain.

"Most of the tablets are official military documents relating to the auxiliary units stationed at the fort. However, others are private letters sent to or written by the serving soldiers. The content is fascinating, giving us a remarkable insight into the working and private lives of the Roman garrison. They also display a great variety of individual handwriting, which adds to our knowledge of Roman cursive writing around AD 100.

"The tablets are not made of wood and wax, previously thought to be the most popular medium for writing in the Roman world apart from papyrus. Instead they are wafer thin slices of wood, written on with carbon ink and quill-type pens. Even after specialised conservation the exacavated tablets are fragile and require a carefully controlled environment" (British Museum, Our Top Ten British Treasures, accessed 05-10-2009).

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Frontinus on the Water Supply of Ancient Rome Survived in Only a Single Problematic 12th Century Manuscript Circa 100 CE

De aquaeductibus, or De aquaeductu urbis Romae, written about 100 CE by the Roman senator Sextus Julius Frontinus, provides a history and description of the water supply of ancient Rome, and the laws governing its use and maintenance. It is the earliest surviving official report of an investigation on Roman engineering.

Remarkably, Frontinus's text, which has been extensively read and studied since its discovery in the library of the abbey of Monte Cassino  (Montecassino) on July 9, 1429 by humanist/ bookhunter Poggio Bracciolini, is entirely dependent upon the single manuscript that Poggio discovered, and as Poggio wrote to his friend Niccolò de' Niccoli, the manuscript is so full of mistakes, and is so badly written, that it remains very difficult to read. In spite of these difficulties with the text, access to the information that Frontinus provided came at a strategic time just as Renaissance Rome was reviving and began to require a dependable source of pure water. Over the centuries engineers, mathematicians and classicists have grappled with the difficulties in the text.

The manuscript of Frontinus's De aquaeductibus at Monte Cassino was written about 1130 by Peter the Deacon, librarian of Monte Cassino.

"Errors, of course, are normally to be expected in a text that has been copied and recopied over the centuries. But in this manuscript they are unusually frequent, and there are in addition numerous spaces left blank where the copyist seems to have been unable to decipher the exemplar from which he was transcribing. Readers, beginning with Poggio himself, have been faced with rather serious editorial problems--merely to achieve a modest coherence of grammar and sense. Scholarly landmarks in this critical study are the editions of Giovanni Poleni (Padua 1722) and Franz Buecheler (Leipzig 1858). While many difficulties have been removed, a large number still remain either apparently beyond hope or admitting of no straightforward solution. In most cases, happily, we can be reasonably confident of the general meaning" (A "New" Translation of Frontinus De Aquaeductu Urbis Romae by R. H. Rodgers, accessed 06-12-2015).

Frontinus's brief work was first translated into English as The Two Books on the Water Supply of the City of Rome of Sextus Julius Frontinus, Water Commissioner of the City of Rome, A.D. 97. A photographic reproduction of the sole original Latin manuscript and its reprint in Latin; also, a translation into English, and explanatory chapters by Clemens Herschel,Boston, 1899. Herschel's translation was revised by Mary B. McIlwaine, for the Loeb Classical Library edition of 1925, edited by Charles E. Bennett. The Bennett / McIlwaine translation was in turn revised by R. H. Rodgers for the latest and best edition (Cambridge: Univ. Press 2004).

Both the place and publisher of the 1487 editio princeps of Frontinus (sometimes thought to be printed in 1483) are unstated but inferred by bibliographers. The edition is described bibliographically by the ISTC as if00324000. A digital facsimile is available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link. That library dates the edition between 1487 and 1490.

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The Invention of Paper in China 105 CE

Ts'ai Lun

In 105 CE Ts’ai Lun, an official of the Chinese Imperial Court, reported to the Emperor of China that paper had been invented. Twentieth century discoveries of ancient paper fragments in North and Northwest China have pushed the date of the invention of paper back about two hundred years earlier. By the second century China was producing paper made from rags.

♦ Paper was not invented specifically for writing. “It was extensively used in China in the fine and decorative arts, at ceremonies and festivals, for business transactions and records, monetary credit and exchange, personal attire, household furnishings, sanitary and medical purposes, recreations and entertainments and so on” (Tsien Tsuen-Hsuin, Science and Civilisation in China, V, pt. 1: Paper and Printing [1985] 2).

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The Most Famous Example of Roman Square Capitals 113 CE

Completion of the inscription incised at the base of Trajan’s Column in Rome occurred in 113 CE. The inscription, which was set at the top of the column's 15-foot  (4.5 m) pedestal, was defaced in the 9th or 10th century to accomodate a V-shaped gable placed over a door.

“This is perhaps the most famous example of Roman square capitals, a script often used for stone monuments, and less often for manuscript writing. As it was meant to be read from below, the bottom letters are slightly smaller than the top letters, to give proper perspective. Some, but not all, word divisions are marked with a dot, and many of the words, especially the titles, are abbreviated. In the inscription, numerals are marked with a titulus, a bar across the top of the letters” (Wikipedia article on Trajan's Column, accessed 08-09-2009).

According to Stan Knight, Roman inscriptions were usually completed with a layer of minium (red lead) painted in the incised letters. Minium can range in color from light to vivid red and may contain brown to yellow tints, such as burnt sienna. Knight, Historical Scripts from Classical Times to the Renaissance (2009) A2 (pp. 16-17, with excellent images)

♦ After the invention of printing by movable type in Europe in the mid-15th century, Roman letters from stone inscriptions became a major source of inspiration for punch-cutters and type designers. The fifteenth century Roman typeface designed by Nicolas Jenson, and the Roman typeface commissioned by Aldus Manutius and cut by Francesco Griffo, both of which are known as Antiqua, or "Venetian oldstyle", have been called syntheses of Roman stone inscriptions and Carolingian minuscule.

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


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Probably the Greatest, and Certainly the Longest Lasting of the Roman Libraries 114 CE



After the Libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum (Pergamon), the Bibliotheca Ulpia, or the Ulpian Library, was the most famous library of antiquity and, of all the Roman libraries, the only one to survive at least until the fall of Rome in the mid-fifth century. It was founded by the Emperor Trajan in his Forum in 114 CE.

"This collection may have been based on the 30,000-volume private library of Epaphrodites [Epaphroditus] of Cheronea, and like other Roman libraries, it was divided into Greek and Latin sections. Early in the 4th century, this library was moved to the Baths of Diocletian. . . .This move was apparently only temporary, possibly while the Forum was being repaired, since the library is reported to have been returned at a later date. Trajan’s library was still in existence in 455 A.D. when a bust of Didonius Apollinarius was placed there by the Emperor Avitus” (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed. [1999] 58.)

♦ In December 2013 a computer reconstruction of the interior of the Ulpian Library was available at this link.

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Filed under: Libraries

The Library of Celsus at Ephesus Circa 115 CE – 125 CE

The library of Celsus was completed circa 115-125 CE in Ephesus, Anatolia in memory of Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. A Greek Roman citizen who became a Roman consul in 92 and governor of Asia from 105-107, Celsus bequeathed a large sum of money for construction of the library, and for its stock of books. The facility, which incorporated Greek and Roman architectural elements, was designed both as a crypt containing Celsus's sarcophagus and as sepulchral monument. It was also designed to hold 12,000 book rolls in an expansive reading room.

The interior of the library and all its books were destroyed in 262 when a devastating earthquake struck the city. Thus we have no record of the contents of the library, as is the case for all libraries of the period. The front fascade of the library was restored during the 1960s and 1970s, and now serves as a model of Roman public architecture.

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Ancient Greek Songs Circa 125 CE

The Yale Musical Papyrus. (View Larger)

Ancient musicians had two completely separate systems of musical notation: one for voice, and another for instruments.

The Yale Musical Papyrus, P. Yale CtYBR inv. 4510, a fragment of probably two Greek songs from circa 125 CE, "contains the sort of musical notation sometimes used by professional singers in antiquity. In between the lines of Greek text can be seen symbols which resemble ancient Greek letters but which are in fact vocal musical notation. The papyrus is a fragment from what was apparently a collection of songs for performance, intended for a baritone voice with a wide range" (William A. Johnson, Fragments of Ancient Greek Songs from the Early Empire).

♦ When I last visited Prof. Johnson's website, in December 2013, I could hear a midi rendition of how the song might have been sung by clicking on a line in the reproduction of the papyrus. 

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Ancient Musical Notation Circa 125 CE

The Michigan Instrumental Papyrus. (View Larger)

The Michigan Instrumental Papyrus, P. Mich. inv. 1205r, is a "Roman era" papyrus containing the sort of musical notation used by instrumental musicians in antiquity, about 125 CE. "The papyrus is a fragment from what was probably a collection of melodies for performance, perhaps intended for the ancient aulos, a woodwind not unlike a modern oboe; or, less likely, the ancient kithara, the performance version of a lyre" (William A. Johnson, Fragments of Ancient Instrumental Music).

♦ When I last visited Prof. Johnson's website, in December 2013, I could hear a mid-rendition by an oboist of how the music might have sounded by clicking any line on the reproduction of the papyrus.

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The Longest Ancient Stone Inscription Circa 125 CE

Originally about 25,000 words long, filling 260 square meters of wall space, the summary of the philosophy of Epicurus by Diogenes of Oenoanda carved onto a portico wall in the ancient city of Oenoanda in Lycia, Anatolia (now southwest Turkey) is the longest surviving Greek stone inscription. It has also been called "die größte antike Inschrift der Welt" (the largest ancient inscription in the world). Less than a third of the original inscription has been recovered. The inscription was assigned on epigraphic grounds to the period of the Roman emperior Hadrian. The inscription expounds upon Epicurus's teachings on physics, epistemology, and ethics.

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The Finest Surviving Example of Roman Monumental Lettering in Britain 130 CE

Fragments of a sandstone inscription from the entrance to the Forum Viroconium Cornoviorum, part of a Roman settlement at present-day Wroxeter, near Shrewsbury, England, were discovered by archaeologist Donald Atkinson during his excavation of the Forum in 1923-24. The inscription records that the Forum was erected by the Cornovii community during the fourteenth year of the reign of the Emperior Hadrian. The exceptional quality of the writing has been used by some as evidence that Hadrian visited the city during his brief visit to Britain in 121-22 CE; it was argued that only a mason travelling in Hadrian's entourage would have been able to carve to such a high standard. This argument has since been disputed.

The inscription, which measures 107 x 345 cm, is preserved in Rowley's House Museum, Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery, Shrewsbury.

"Athough damaged, it is the largest and undoubtedly the finest surviving example of Roman monumental lettering in Britain" (Stan Knight, Historical Scripts from Classical Times to the Renaissance (2009) A4 (pp. 20-21, with excellent images).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The "Hawara Homer" Circa 150 CE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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).

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The Earliest Runic Inscriptions Circa 150 CE

"The earliest runic inscriptions date from around A.D. 150. The characters were generally replaced by the Latin alphabet as the cultures that had used runes underwent Christianization by around A.D. 700 in central Europe and by around A.D. 1100 in Northern Europe. However, the use of runes persisted for specialized purposes in Northern Europe. Until the early 20th century runes were used in rural Sweden for decoration purposes in Dalarna and on Runic calendars.

"The three best-known runic alphabets are the Elder Futhark (around 150 to 800 AD), the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc (400 to 1100 AD), and the Younger Futhark (800–1100). The Younger Futhark is further divided into the long-branch runes (also called Danish, although they were also used in Norway and Sweden), short-branch or Rök runes (also called Swedish-Norwegian, although they were also used in Denmark), and the stavesyle or Hälsinge runes (staveless runes). The Younger Futhark developed further into the Marcomannic runes, the Medieval runes (1100 AD to 1500 AD), and the Dalecarlian runes (around 1500 to 1800 AD).

"The origins of the runic alphabet are uncertain. Many characters of the Elder Futhark bear a close resemblance to characters from the Latin alphabet. Other candidates are the 5th to 1st century BC Northern Italic alphabets: Lepontic, Rhaetic and Venetic, all of which are closely related to each other and descend from the Old Italic alphabet" (Wikipedia article Runic alphabet, accessed 10-26-2010).

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A Door-to-Door Bookseller in Egypt, Second Century CE Circa 150 CE

P. Petaus 30, an Egyptian papyrus fragment of a private letter in Greek from Roman Julius Placidus to his father, written about 150 CE by Petaus (Petaus komogrammateus) a village scribe of Ptolemais Hormou (El-Lahun) and surrounding villages, reads in translation as follows:

"Julius Placidus to his father Herclanus, greeting. Dius came to us and showed us six parchment codices (tas membranas hex). We selected none of those, but collated eight, for which I paid on account 100 drachmas. You will be on the lookout in any case. . . I hope you are well. . .by Julius Placidus."

"We get a glimpse here of the ancient counterpart of the door-to-door bookseller. Among his offerings are parchment codices. These were apparently inscribed with texts but were perhaps not well inscribed, since six were not bought. It is not clear whether the eight others that were collated and purchased were rolls or codices . . . (Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church [1995] 53).

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

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

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

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

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

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The Bankes Homer: One of the Best Preserved Papyri of Homer Circa 150 CE

The Bankes Homer, a second century papyrus roll consisting of Iliad 24 (Ω) lines 127-804, (P. Lond. Lit. 28; TM 60500), is one of the longest and best preserved papyri of Homer surviving from antiquity. Its colophon reads Ἰλίαδος Ω. Like most Homeric papyri, it is incomplete, lacking the first 126 lines of Iliad 24, and possibly all of Iliad 23. The roll measures 240 x 2325mm. In April 2014 digital facsimiles of the papyrus unrolled and unpressed showing its wrinkles, and also flattened out under glass, were available from the British Library at this link.

The Banks Homer contains 16 columns of Greek written in scriptio continua in an uncial hand, each column measuring 195 x 105mm, and containing between 42 and 44 lines. The papyrus also contains the names of characters in the margin to indicate passages of direct speech, and abbreviated notes marking narrative sequences of text. In addition, it contains breathing marks and accents made by an ancient diorthotes or "corrector" to show correct poetic pronunciation. 

In the ancient world reading of literary texts was done aloud, and the accentual marks served as an aid for maintaining correct pronunciation. In scholia for the Tékhnē grammatiké (τέχνη γραμματική) attributed to the Hellenistic grammarian Dionysius Thrax (23.3f. ed. Hilgard 1901) the role of the "corrector" was described:

"Before the student would begin to read the corrector [diorthotes] would take the book and correct [diorthousthai] so that he [the student] would not read it wrong and thus fall into a bad habit. Afterward, the student woudl take the book as corrected [diorthousthai] to a reading-teacher [anagnostikos] who was supposed to teach him how to read according to the correction-work  [diorthosis] of the corrector [diorthotes]" (Nagy, "Traces of an Ancient System of Reading in the Venetus A," Dué (ed) Recapturing a Homeric Legacy [2009] 135.)

The Bankes Homer was purchased in Elephantine, Egypt in 1821 by the explorer, Egyptologist, adventurer, and antiquary William John Bankes. Bankes retained as interpreter and intermediary another adventurer named Giovanni Finati, and it was Finati who acquired the manuscript, describing the purchase his memoirs, which Bankes translated from the Italian and edited for publication as Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Giovanni Finati, Native of Ferrara, 2 vols, London 1830, vol. 2, pp. 357-58. In his blog dated 02-13-2014 Roger Pearse reproduced this section of Bankes edition of Finati's text, which I quote:

". . . we all took our departure together for Assouan. And it was during our stay there of a few days that, on the opposite island of Elephantine, (which I have always remarked to be, after Thebes, the place where the greatest harvest of curious antiquities is brought for sale by the natives,) a roll of papyrus in the Greek character + was put into my hands, for which I bargained and fixed the price in the first place, and then took it to Monsieur Linant for the money, stipulating at the time that it was to be bought on Mr. Bankes’s account.

"This roll proved to be that manuscript of Homer * which is considered so precious, but which it grieved me afterwards, and ever will, to have seen sold for more than its weight in gold + to that gentleman whom I considered the owner of it, and who would certainly have had it at my hands, without any further demand.

"+ In my own journey, I bought a scrap of Greek upon papyrus in a very fine clear character, which seems to be the fragment of a letter or edict. I have a great number of tiles also written in a cursive Greek character, and highly curious upon that account, which purport to be receipts of pay by the Roman soldiery at Assouan during several reigns, from Tiberius to Commodius—one of these I found myself at Elephantine; and I have an amphora, also, that has served the same purposes as a modern slate to some tradesman’s family in Roman times, with his house or shop accounts registered upon it in ink from day to day.

"* It contains the last book of the Iliad, most beautifully written, in uncial letters, and the lines numbered in the margin: what is very surprising, it has had accents added to it afterwards.

"+ The author, though the first who had the handling of this papyrus, seems here to have formed a very undue estimate of its weight, for the sum which I paid for it amounted to no less than 25,000 piastres (about 500l.), that being stated as the offer that had been made for it from another quarter."

In 1879 the British Museum acquired the papyrus from Walter Ralph Bankes (1853-1904). 

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The Earliest European Martial Arts Manual Circa 150 CE

Papyrus Oxyrhynchus III 466 (P. Oxy. III, 466), a fragmentary 2nd century Greek papyrus, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump near Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, constitutes the earliest European martial arts manual. It contains instructions for wrestling, including the description of various grips and holds. The text is in three columns with 13, 15 and 10 lines, respectively. Each instruction is followed by plexon (πλέξον) "tangle", translated by Miller (2004) as "mix it up!" (in the sense of "execute!"). Poliakoff (1987) translates "you fight it out".

In 1907 the papyrus was donated to Columbia University by the Egypt Exploration Society.

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The Earliest Diagrams Representing Human Activity: Ancient Greek Military Tactics, Including the Macedonian Phalanx, Applied as Late as the 16th and 17th Centuries Circa 150 CE – 1650

On Military Arrangements of the Greeks (Περὶ Στρατηγικῶν Τάξεων Ἑλληνικῶν), written by the Greek military writer Aelianus Tacticus  (Αἰλιανός Τακτικός) who lived in Rome during the second century CE, was a handbook of Greek, i.e. Macedonian, drill and tactics as practiced by the Hellenistic successors of Alexander the Great. The treatise, which is most often referred to as Aelian's Tactics or Tactica, was of particular value for its explanation of the operation of the Macedonian phalanx, an infantry formation developed by Philip II of Macedon, and used by his son Alexander the Great to conquer much of the known world. 

"Philip II spent much of his youth as a hostage at Thebes, where he studied under the renowned general Epaminondas, whose reforms were the basis for the phalanx. Phalangites were professional soldiers, and were among the first troops ever to be drilled, thereby allowing them to execute complex maneuvers well beyond the reach of most other armies. They fought packed in a close rectangular formation, typically eight men deep, with a leader at the head of each column and a secondary leader in the middle, so that the back rows could move off to the sides if more frontage was needed.

"Each phalangite carried as his primary weapon a sarissa, a double-pointed pike over 6 m (18 ft) in length. Before a battle the sarissa were carried in two pieces and then slid together when they were being used. At close range such large weapons were of little use, but an intact phalanx could easily keep its enemies at a distance; the weapons of the first five rows of men all projected beyond the front of the formation, so that there were more spearpoints than available targets at any given time. The secondary weapon was a shortsword called a kopis, which had a heavy curved section at the end.

"Neither Philip nor Alexander actually used the phalanx as their arm of choice, but instead used it to hold the enemy in place while their heavy cavalry broke through their ranks. The Macedonian  cavalry fought in wedge formation and was stationed on the far right; after these broke through the enemy lines they were followed by the hypaspists, elite infantrymen who served as the king's bodyguard, and then the phalanx proper. The left flank was generally covered by allied cavalry supplied by the Thessalians, which fought in rhomboid formation and served mainly in a defensive role.

"Other forces — skirmishers, range troops, reserves of allied hoplitesarchers, and artillery — were also employed. The phalanx carried with it a fairly minimal baggage train, with only one servant for every few men. This gave it a marching speed  that contemporary armies could not hope to match — on occasion forces surrendered to Alexander simply because they were not expecting him to show up for several more days. Phalangites were drilled to perform short forced marches if required" (Wikipedia article on Macedonian phalanx, accessed 07-06-2014).

Even though the Macedonian phalanx was eventually displaced by the Roman legion, it was widely revived during the Renaissance, and was most extensively applied during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, during which time Aelianus's work underwent several editions, translations and adaptations.

The earliest surviving manuscript of Aelian's Tactics is the Codex Laurentianus graecus 55.4 preserved in the Bibliotheca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence. This tenth century Byzantine manuscript is a collection of classical Greek, Hellenistic and Byzantine military treatises. In July 2014 a digital facsimile of the codex was available from the TECA Digitale of the Laurentian Library at this link. The manuscript contains non-figurative diagrams, using letters to represent soldiers in the infantry formations described by Aelian. These diagrams were characterized by Sydney Anglo, The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe (2000) 61 as "the earliest examples of diagrams representing human activity."

Aelian's text first appeared in print in the Latin translation by the Greek humanist Theodorus Gaza (Θεόδωρος Γαζῆς, Theodoros Gazis) as De instruendis aciebus, issued from Rome by Eucharius Silber on February 15, 1487. The text was edited for publication by Italian humanist Johannes Sulpitius Verulanus (Fra Giovanni Sulpizio da Veroli). (ISTC no. ia00096495). In July 2014 a digital facsimile of that edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link. In the printed edition the diagrams were represented by letters of type arranged on the page to form the shapes of the infantry formations, perhaps somewhat simplified from the diagrams in the manuscript codices. Silber reissued Aelian's text in a collection entitled Scriptores rei militaris in 1494 (ISTC no. is00344000). In July 2014 a digital facsimile of that edition was available from the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel at this link. In that edition Aelianus's diagrams were also represented by letters of type. On July 10, 1495 and January 17, 1496 printer Franciscus [Plato] de Benedictis (Francesco de Benedetti) of Bologna issued another collection with a similar title, but edited by Italian humanist Filippo Beroaldo (Phillipus Beroaldus). (ISTC no. is00345000). In July 2014 a digital facsimile of that edition was available from ETH-Bibliothek Zurch at this link. This edition also used letters to represent the infantry formations.

Following several 16th century Latin editions, the first separate edition in Greek, often called the editio princeps, of Aelian's Tactics was edited by Italian humanist Francesco Robortello and issued in Venice by Andrea and Giacomo Spinelli in 1552. Its full title was Περὶ Στρατηγικῶν Τάξεων Ἑλληνικῶν, De militaribus ordinibus instituendis more graecorum liber Francisco Robortello Vtinensi nunc primum Graece multis que imaginibus & picturis ab eodem illustratisThis finely printed and illustrated edition may have been the first to use small woodcut figures of the various types of soldiers and cavalry in the diagrams of the formations. Robortello based his text on Codex Venetus 904, dating from circa 1330, in the Biblioteca Marciana, Venice. When I wrote this entry in July 2014 I was unable to locate a digital facsimile of either Venetus 904 or the 1552 Robortello edition.

The actual first edition in Greek, or editio princeps, of Aelian was edited and printed in 1532 in Paris by scholar printer Michel de Vasconsan in a volume of Greek texts typically catalogued as Ὀνομάτων Ἀττικῶν Ἐκλογαὶ.... Dictionum Atticarum Collectio [et alia opera : PHRYNICHOS, Manuel MOSCHOPOULOS, AELIANUS TACTICUS, ORBICIUS]. Probably because Vascosan favored unadorned editions, he included no diagrams in his printing of Aelian. In July 2014 a digital facsimile of this edition was available from the Bibliothèque numérique of the Bibliothèque nationale de France at this link.

A letter to Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange from his cousin William Louis, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg dated December 8, 1594 provides the earliest documentation of the influence of Aelian's Tactics on military activity in the late sixteenth century. In this letter William Louis discussed the use of ranks by soldiers of Imperial Rome as explained in Aelian's Tactica. Aelian discussed the use of the countermarch in the context of the Roman sword gladius and spear pilum, but William Louis realized that the same technique could work for men with firearms:

"I have discovered ex evolutionibus [a term that would eventually be translated as 'drill'] a method of getting the musketeers and others with guns not only to practice firing but to keep on doing so in a very effective battle order (that is to say, they do not fire at will or from behind a barrier. . . .). Just as soon as the first rank has fired, then by the drill [they have learned] they will march to the back. The second rank, either marching forward or standing still, will then fire just like the first. After that, the third and following ranks will do the same. When the last rank has fired, the first will have reloaded, as the following diagram shows: those little dots [stippelckens] show the route of the ranks as they leave after firing" (Parker, "Military Revolutions, Past and Present," in Yerxa (ed.) Recent Themes in Military History [2008] 13.)

Aelian's work was first translated into English, heavily annotated by Captain John Bingham, and published in London in 1616, as The Tactiks of Aelian; or Art of Embattailing an Army after ye Grecian manner Englished & illustrated with figures throughout: & notes upon ye Chapters of ye ordinary motions of ye Phalange by I. B. Th exercise military of ye English by ye order of that great generall Maurice of Nassau Prince of Organe &c Gouvernor & Generall of ye united provinces is added. As implied by the title, Bingham servered under Maurice of Nassau. The first edition has an elegant engraved title page and beautiful engraved versions of the formations on 50 inserted folding plates. Bingham's translation was revised by Ralph Mab and reissued in 1631. 

In 2012 Christopher Matthew issued The Tactics of Aelian or On the Military Arrangements of the Greeks. A New Translation of the Manual that Influenced Warfare for Fifteen Centuries. This edition, with parallel Greek and English texts, an informative introduction, and new, easier to comprehend versions of the diagrams, is highly recommended.

Hale, Renaissance War Studies (1983) 266, 438.  

Roberts, Keith, Pike and Shot Tactics 1590-1660, illustrated by Adam Hook (2010) is also highly recommended.

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The Earliest Known Runic Inscription Circa 160 CE

The Vimose Comb. (View Larger)

The Vimose Comb, from Vimose, Funen, Denmark, is considered the oldest datable Elder Futhark runic inscription in late Proto-Germanic or early Proto-Norse

This and other slightly later items from Vimose dating from circa 200-300 CE, are known as the Vimose inscriptions.

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Lucian's Diatribe on the "Ignorant Book Collector" Circa 170 CE

About 170 the Assyrian rhetorician, satirist and author of numerous writings in Greek, Lucian of Samosata (Λουκιανὸς ὁ ΣαμοσατεύςLucianus Samosatensis), ridiculed a provincial from Syria who aspired to join the cultured elite by collecting antiquarian and deluxe papyrus book rolls. In doing so he also implied criticism of booksellers, and suggested that there was at this early date some kind of a trade in antiquarian book rolls:

"You expect to get a reputation for learning [παιδεια] by zealously buying up the finest books, but the thing goes by opposites and in a way becomes proof of your ignorance [απαιδενσιας]. Indeed, you do not buy the finest; you rely upon men who bestow their praise hit-and-miss, you are a godsend to the people that tell such lies about books, and treasure-trove ready to hand to those who traffic in them. Why, how can you tell what books are old and highly valuable, and what are worthless and simply in wretched repair—unless you judge them by the extent to which they are eaten into and cut up, calling the book-worms into counsel to settle the question? As to their correctness and freedom from mistakes, what judgment have you, and what it is worth?" (Haines-Eitzen, Guardians of Letters. Literacy, Power, and the Transmitters of Early Christian Literature [2000] 26).

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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). 

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

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

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

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Pollux's Onomasticon, the Oldest Specimen of Encylopedism Surviving from Antiquity Circa 175 CE

Julius Pollux's (Ἰούλιος Πολυδεύκηςis) Onomasticon, a thesaurus of Attic Greek synonyms and phrases arranged thematically in ten books, is the oldest specimen of encyclopedism surviving from antiquity. It is also the only surviving Greek lexical work with an onomastic structure— not an alphabetic sequence of lemmata but topical assemblages of synonyms.

One of the most significant intellectuals of the later second century CE, the apogee of Hellenism under the Roman EmpirePollux, born in the city of Naucratis in Egypt, was a Greek sophist and grammarian. He received instruction in criticism from his father, and afterwards went to Athens, where he studied rhetoric under the sophist Adrian. He opened a private school at Athens, where he gave instruction in grammar and rhetoric, and was subsequently appointed by the emperor Commodus to the chair of rhetoric at Athens. He died during the reign of Commodus at the age of fifty-eight. 

The Onomasticon, Pollux's only surviving work, is divided into ten books, each of which contains a short dedication to Commodus as Caesar indicating that the work was published before 177 CE, since Commodus became Augustus in that year. Each book forms a separate treatise by itself, containing the most important words relating to certain subjects, with short explanations of the meanings of the words, which are frequently illustrated by quotations from ancient writers. Instead of an alphabetical arrangement, the words are given according to the subjects treated of in each book. The object of the work was to present youths with a kind of store-house, from which they could borrow all the words of which they had need, and could at the same time learn their usage in the best writers.  Subject matter of the ten books is as follows:

"1. Of the gods and their worship, of kings, of speed and slowness, of dyeing, of commerce and manuftactures, of fertility and the contrary, of time and the divisions of the year, of houses, of ships, of war, of horses, of agriculture, of the parts of the plough and the waggon, and of bees.

2. The second treats of man, his eye, the parts of his body and the like.

3. Of relations, of political life, of friends, of the love of country, of love, of the relation between masters and slaves, of money, of travelling, and numerous other subjects.

4. Of the various branches of knowledge and science.

5. Of hunting, animals, &c.

6. Of meals, the names of crimes, &c.

7. Of the different trades, &c.

8. Of the courts, the administration of justice, &c.

9. Of towns, buildings, coins, games, &c.

10. Of various vessels, &c."(Smith, W. Ed. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology from Perseus Digital Library, accessed 01-24-2015).

  “It supplies in passing much rare and valuable information on many points of classical antiquity— objects in daily life, the theater, politics— and quotes numerous fragments of lost works. Pollux was probably the person satirized by Lucian as a worthless and ignorant person who gains a reputation as an orator by sheer effrontery, and pilloried in his Lexiphanes, a satire upon the affectation of obscure and obsolete words” (Encyclopaedia Britannica [1999]).

The Onomasticon did not survive in its original form; all manuscripts of its text derive from four incomplete exemplars which descend from a common hyparchetype— an epitome owned and interpolated by the Greek Orthodox theologian Arethas of Patrae, later Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. One of the few known Byzantine book collectors, Arethas also owned the earliest surviving manuscripts of Euclid and Plato, among other items. The editio princeps of Pollux’s Onomasticon, issued by Aldus Manutius in 1502, made the work more widely available to Renaissance scholars and antiquaries for the first time.

Renouard, Aldus Manutius, pp. 32-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Insisting on Only Four Gospels Circa 185 CE


“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).

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Claudius Galen Writes the First Auto-Bibliography Circa 190 CE

About 190 CE Roman physician Claudius Galen of Pergamon wrote two classified bibliographies of his own writings: Peri ton idion biblion [Latin: De Libris propriis liber, On his own writings] and Peri tes taxeos ton idion biblion [Latin: De ordine librorum suorum liber, On the arrangement of his own writings]. These are the first auto-bibliographical works which survived, and they may also be considered the first bibliographies of any kind which survived after the listings from the library of Alexandria by Kallimachos (Callimachus), which survived only in the most fragmentary form.

"The De libris propriis liber opens with a general introduction, in which Galen refers to the books falsely attributed to him. The main text is dvided into seventeen chapters, in which Galen arranges his works under such headings as commentaries, anatomical works, Hippocratic writings, works on moral philosophy, grammar and rhetoric, and so on. This bibliography apparently did not suffice as a guide to the five hundred or so works Galen had put out (many of them now lost), for he added a second one. This is the De ordine librorum suorum liber, of which second bibliography unfortunately only a fragment has come down to us" (Besterman, The Beginnings of Systematic Bibliography 2nd ed (1940) 3, nos. I & II).

Galen's bibliographies were first published in print in Part IV, ff.**1-6, of the editio princeps of his collected writings in Greek issued by the heirs of Aldus Manutius and Aldus's father-in-law, Andreas Asulanus, in Venice in 1525. They were revised and improved by Conrad Gessner for an edition published in Basel in 1562.

Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography: Its History and Development (1984) no. 2.

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Otlet and and La Fontaine Develop the Universal Decimal Classification Circa 190 CE – 1905

From around 1890 bibliographers Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine of Brussels, and various subject specialists, developed the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC), a bibliographic and library classification system, which provides provides a systematic arrangement of all branches of human knowledge organized as a coherent system in which knowledge fields are related and inter-linked. The first version of the UDC, Manuel du répertoire bibliographique universel: Organisation—État des travaux—Règles—Classifications; [011.1 (021)] was published in fascicules from 1899 to 1905 and consisted of 9 vols. In 2016 vols. 1-4 were available from the Hathi Trust at this link.

"In its first edition in 1905, the UDC already included many features that were revolutionary in the context of knowledge classifications: tables of generally applicable (aspect-free) concepts—called common auxiliary tables; a series of special auxiliary tables with specific but re-usable attributes in a particular field of knowledge; an expressive notational system with connecting symbols and syntax rules to enable coordination of subjects and the creation of a documentation language proper. Albeit originally designed as an indexing and retrieval system, due to its logical structure and scalability, UDC has become one of the most widely used knowledge organization systems in libraries, where it is used for either shelf arrangement, content indexing or both. UDC codes can describe any type of document or object to any desired level of detail. These can include textual documents and other media such as films, video and sound recordings, illustrations, maps as well as realia such as museum objects.

"Since the first edition in French "Manuel du Répertoire bibliographique universel" (1905), UDC has been translated and published in various editions in 40 languages. UDC Summary, an abridged Web version of the scheme is available in over 50 languages.The classification has been modified and extended over the years to cope with increasing output in all areas of human knowledge, and is still under continuous review to take account of new developments" (Wikipedia article on Universial Decimal Classification, accessed 08-21-2016).

For further information about the UDC see the UDC Consortium website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Diptych Document Format 198 CE

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

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

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

The front side of the first Egerton papyrus fragment.

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

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

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

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Among the Earliest News Media: Tipao Circa 200 CE – 300 CE

Tipao (Chinese: 邸报 Pinyin: dǐ bào), palace reports or imperial bulletins or gazettes published by central and local Chinese governments, were among the earliest news media.

"Different sources place their first publication as early as the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) or as late as the Tang Dynasty (June 18, 618–June 4, 907). They carried official announcements and news, and were intended to be seen only by bureaucrats (and a given di bao might only be intended for a certain subset of bureaucrats). Selected items from a gazette might then be conveyed to local citizenry by word of mouth and/or posted announcements. Frequency of publication varied widely over time and place" (Wikipedia article on Tipao, accessed 08-01-2009).

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

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

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

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The Definition of Book Includes Codices as Well as Rolls Circa 200 CE

About 200 CE, in a discussion of the definition of liber or book, the Roman jurist Gnaeus Domitius Annius Ulpianus (Ulpian), of Tyrian ancestry, "decides in favour of including all rolls (volumina) of whatever material, and then considers the question whether codices come under the same category or not—thereby shewing that in his day both forms of books were in use" (Clark, The Care of Books [1901] 39).

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The Earliest Image of a Book Cabinet or Armarium Circa 200 CE

The earliest depiction of a Roman book cabinet. (View Larger)

The earliest depiction of a Roman book cabinet, or book press, or armarium occurs on the lid of a marble sarcophaus in the garden of the Villa Balestra in Rome. This has been dated about 200 CE.

"In the central portion, 21 in. high, by 151/2 in. wide, is seated figure, reading a roll. In front of him is a cupboard, the doors of which are open. It is fitted with two shelves, on the uppermost of which are eight rolls, the ends of which are turned to the spectator. On the next shelf is something which looks like a dish or shallow cup. The lower part of the press is solid. Perhaps a second cupboard is intended. Above, it is finished off with a cornice, on which rests a very puzzling object. I thought that it was intended to represent a wooden tablet covered with wax, and that the reader had laid it open on the top of his bookpress to indicate that he was making notes from the roll which he was reading. Professor Petersen, on the contrary believes that certain lines on the marble, which I admit are tolerably distinct, are intended to represent surgical instruments, and so to indicate the profession of the seated figure. There is a Greek inscription on the sarcophagus but it merely warns posterity not to disturb the bones of the deceased" (Clark, The Care of Books [1901] 40-41).

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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.

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The Forma Urbis Romae, Monumental Stone Map of Ancient Rome 203 CE – 211 CE

A reconstruction of a portion of the Forma Urbis Romae, showing a section of the Theater of Pompey. (View Larger)

The Forma Urbis Romae, or Severan Marble Plan, a huge map of ancient Rome, was created under emperor Septimius Severus between 203 and 211 CE, and originally measured 18.10 meters (60ft) high by 13 meters (43ft) wide, carved in 150 marble slabs mounted on an interior wall of the Templum Pacis. Only about 10-15% of the map survives, broken into 1,186 pieces. Of these, 712 fragments have been catalogued, many composed of several pieces, but in 1996 less than 50 of the fragments had been positively identified and located. What is left of the map is preserved in the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Capitoline Museums.

"Created at a scale of approximately 1 to 240, the map was detailed enough to show the floor plans of nearly every temple, bath, and insula in the central Roman city. The boundaries of the plan were decided based on the available space on the marble, instead of by geographical or political borders as modern maps usually are.

"The Plan was gradually destroyed during the Middle Ages, with the marble stones being used as building materials or for making lime. In 1562, the young antiquarian sculptor Giovanni Antonio Dosio excavated fragments of the Forma Urbis from a site near the Church of SS. Cosma e Damiano, under the direction of the humanist condottiere Torquato Conti, who had purchased excavation rights from the canons of the church. Conti made a gift of the recovered fragments to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who entrusted them to his librarian Onofrio Panvinio and his antiquarian Fulvio Orsini. Little interest seems to have been elicited by the marble shards" (Wikipedia article on Forma Urbis Romae, accessed 12-23-2009).

♦ In 1999 Marc Levoy and members of his team at Stanford University began the Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project as a way of solving the jigsaw puzzle of the 1,186 marble fragments and 87 fragments known only from Renaissance drawings:

"First, we digitized the shape and surface of every known fragment of the Severan Marble Plan using laser range scanners and digital color cameras; the raw data collected consists of 8 billion polygons and 6 thousand color images, occupying 40 gigabytes. These range and color data have been assembled into a set of 3D computer models and high-resolution photographs - one for each of the 1,186 marble fragments. Second, this data has served in the development of fragment matching algorithms; to date, these have resulted in over a dozen highly probable, new matches. Third, we have gathered the Project's 3D models and color photographs into a relational database and supported them with archaeological documentation and an up-to-date scholarly apparatus for each fragment. This database is intended to be a public, web-based, research and study tool for scholars, students and interested members of the general public alike. Fourth, these digital and archaeological data, and their availability in a hypertext format, have the potential to broaden the scope and type of research done on this ancient map by facilitating a range of typological, representational and urbanistic analyses of the map, some of which are proposed here. In these several ways, we hope that this Project will contribute to new ways of imaging Rome" (http://graphics.stanford.edu/papers/forma-williams/, accessed 12-23-2009).

Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed., An Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology I (1996)  451.

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The Oldest Woodblock Printed Fragments from China Circa 220 CE

The earliest woodblock printed fragments to survive are from China and are of silk printed with flowers in three colors from the Han dynasty (before 220 CE).

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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).

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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).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. 

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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.

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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.)

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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).

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

The Heracles Papyrus. (View Larger)

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

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The 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.

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Greek Writings on Music and Rhythm Circa 250 CE

Fragment 2687 of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, which supplements fragment 9. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving fragments of the writings on music by the fourth century BCE Greek peripatetic philosopher and writer on harmonic theory, music and rhythm, Aristoxenus (Ἀριστόξενος) of Tarentum (Taranto), Italy) are papyri found at Oxyrhynchus.

"Perhaps the most amazing papyrus fragment is a large excerpt from Aristoxenus' Rhythmica, a part of which was first published in 1898 as fragment 9 of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. In 1968 it was revealed that fragment 2687 of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri completed columns 2-4 by supplying fourteen or fifteen lines at the bottom; this same fragment added substantially to columns 1 and 5. Nearly one hundred lines of the text have now been uncovered in papyrus dating from the third century C.E. But this is not all. Fragments 667 and 3706 of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri preserve in characteristic Aristoxenian language an analysis of conjunct and disjunct scales and of genera. These fragments, too, date from the second or third centuries C.E. and may very well contain parts of the sections of Aristoxenus' Harmonica missing in the manuscript tradition" (Mathiesen, "Hermes or Clio? The transmission of Ancient Greek Music Theory", Palisca, Baker, Hanning [eds.] Musical Humanism and its Legacy. Essays in Honor of Claude Palisca [1992] 5-6).

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

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

The five texts in the Crosby-Schøyen Codex are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Earliest Stage of Half-Uncial Circa 250 CE – 350 CE

In Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. (1972) Stanley Morison considered a fragment of a papyrus roll of the Epitome of Livy preserved in the British Museum (P. 1532) to be the earliest stage of half-uncial calligraphy. The papyrus was found at Oxyhynchus, Egypt in 1903 "along with cursive documents of the second, third, and fourth centures. In the first half of the fourth century the back of the roll was used to write the Epistle to the Hebrews in Greek uncial (P. Oxy. No. 657), which furnishes a terminus ad quem for the Latin script. Acquired by the British Museum in 1906" (Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores II, no. 208).

Grenfell & Hunt, Oxyrhynchus Papyri IV (1904) 90 describe the writing on this papyrus as "a medium-sized upright uncial, with some admixture of minuscule forms (b, d), and belongs to the same class as the Vergil fragment (P. Oxy. I, Plate viii) and the Bodleian Chronicles of Eusebius (Palaegraphical Soc. II. Plate 130), but is an earliest example of the mixed style than has hitherto been known. . . ." 

Lowe, characterized the script as "calligraphic but provincial," partly in uncial and "b, d, r, m" as "distinctly half-uncial." 

Morison, Politics and Script, 78-79, pl. 57.  

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

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

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

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

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Death of Wei Tan, Discoverer of Ink 251 CE

The death of Wei Tan, to whom the Chinese attribute the discovery of ink used for writing, and later for printing, occurred in 251.

Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed [1955] 32.

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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).

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Foundation of Imperial Nanking University 258 CE – 317 CE

Imperial Nanking University, the predecessor of Nanjing University, was founded in Nanjing (南京, Nankin, Nanking) in the first year of the Yong'an reign (258 CE) under the Kingdom of Wu by Sun Xiu, Emperor Jing of Wu. Its first president was scholar politican Wei Zhao (韋昭). The Imperial University in Nanking (南京太學, Nanking Taixue) was reestablished by Emperor Yuan of Jin (晋元帝/晉元帝) in the first year of Jianwu reign (317). 155 new rooms were built in the campus which was located in today's Fuzimiao (夫子廟) area of Nanjing situated on Qinhuai River banks, and the Nanking Imperial University began recruiting students from common families instead of only from families of high ranking officials. Like its forerunner Chengjun (成均) and succeeding Shang Hsiang (上庠) founded by the legendary Yu the Great (禹, 21st century BCE) in Chungyuan– the earliest recorded imperial higher learning institutions and their successors–it was the Kingdom's central university.

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The Porphyrian Tree: The Earliest Metaphorical Tree of Knowledge 270 CE

About 270 Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Tyre (Πορφύριος, Porphyrios) published his Introduction (εἰσαγωγή, Isagoge) to logic, perhaps while he was in Rome. In this work, which was translated into Latin by Anicus Manlius Severinus Boëthius, and remained a disseminated and copied text throughout the Middle Ages, Porphyrios reframed the predictables (praedicamenta) defined by Aristotle in his Organon into a list of five classes: genus (genos), species (eidos), difference (diaphora), property (idion), and accident (sumbebekos). From these Porphyrios created the scala praedicamentalis, or Porphyrian Tree (Tree of Porphyry, Arbor Porphyriana).

Porphyry's introduction was the most successful work of its kind ever published. Translated into many languages, for 1500 years every student read it as the first text on its subject. As a result, its influence was immense in philosophy and logic, and in the organization of knowledge, and its visualization in arborial form.

"Expanding on Aristotle's Categories and visually alluding to a tree's trunk, Porphyry's structure reveals the idea of a layered assembly in logic. It is made of three columns of words, where the central column contains a series of dichomatous divisions between genus and species, whcih derive from the supreme genus, Substance. Even through Porphyry himself never drew such an illustration—his original tree was purely textual in nature—the symbolic tree of Porphyry was frequently represented in medieval and Renaissance works on logic and set the stage for theological and philosophical developments by scholars throughout the ages. It was also, as far as we know, the earliest metaphorical tree of knowledge" (Lima, Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information [2011] 28).

The standard of edition of Porphryios's text is Porphyri. Introduction, Translated with a Commentary by Jonathan Barnes (Oxford, 2003). Of this work of xxxi, 415pp., only the first 19 pages consist of the translation of Porphyri's brief text. From it we learn that

"as a young man he [Porphyry] removed to Athens, where he studied rhetoric, mathematics and philosophy with Longinus, the 'living library and walking museum'. . .In 263 he migrated to Rome and joined the magic circle of Plotinus.. .. He became a fevern and favoured acolyte of Plotinus . But he remained with him for no more than five years; in 268 he fell sick with a melancholy and Plotinus urged him south to Sicily for his health's sake.

"In 270 Plotinus died. Later, Porphyry returned to Rome, where he lectured on his master's philosophy—and where, in 301, he made public his edition of Plotinus' Enneads. When, and for how long, he was back in Rome we cannot tell; nor is it known when he visited North Africa (where he stayed long enough to befriend a partridge). Late in life he married (and not for love). In a letter to his wife Marcella, he explains that he must leave her to look after the 'interests of the pagans...: some have inferred that Porphyry, an enemy of Christianity, was summoned to the imperial capital to advise the persecuting Emperor Diocletian. 

"The date and place of his death are unknown" (Barnes p. x).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Perhaps the Earliest Surviving Text of the Hippocratic Oath Circa 275 CE

Side A of Oxyrhyncus Papyrus 2547. (View Larger)

Oxyrhyncus Papyrus 2547 is a fragment of the Hippocratic oath written in Greek in Egypt about 275 CE. It is preserved in the Wellcome Institute Library, London (WMS 5724). 

Conrad et al, The Western Medical Tradition 800 BC to AD 1800 (1995) Fig. 3, p. 21.

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

A portrait of Eusebius of Caesarea. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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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.

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The Imperial Library at Nicomedia 284 CE – 305 CE


Between 284 and 305 CE the Emperor Diocletian established an Imperial Library at Nicomedia, the eastern capital city of the Roman Empire. However, little information about this has survived.

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

Codex IV found at Nag Hammadi. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Transition from Papyrus to Parchment Circa 300 CE – 700

"By the fourth century, the use of parchment for books was so widespread in the West that we can speak of a general transition from papyrus to parchment in the book-making process. This was of decisive importance for the preservation of literature because only very few papyrus fragments from medieval libraries have survived, since the European climate is inimical to this material. Nonetheless, in the sixth century AD the law codes of Justinian I were distributed from Byzantium in papyrus as well as in parchment manuscripts. One of the latest western papyrus books preserved (c. saec. VII-VIII) [circa 7-8th century] is a Luxeuil codex containing works of Augustine, in which interleaved parchment leaves protect the middle and the outside of the gatherings" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography, Antiquity and the Middle Ages [1990] 8).

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One of the Earliest Complete Papyrus Codices on a Secular Subject Circa 300 CE

The Papyrus Graecus Holmiensis (Stockholm Greek Papyrus), a complete 15-leaf (39-page) papyrus codex written in Greek around 300 CE, contains 154 recipes for the manufacture of dyes and colors used in creating artificial stones. It is one of the earliest complete treatises on any technical or chemical subject, one of the earliest surviving complete papyrus codices on a secular subject, and a key record of the transmission of practical, technical information from the Hellenistic world to Byzantium.

The manuscript appears to have been written by the same scribe as a similar codex, Leyden papyrus X, preserved in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, which also contains different recipes for the manufacture of materials. 

"Sometime around 1828 a considerable number of papyri were recovered (presumably by grave robbers) from burial sites near Thebes in central Egypt, many of which were subsequently acquired by Johann d’Anastasy [Giovanni Anastasi] the Swedish-Norwegian Vice Council at Alexandria. These were not in the form of rolls written in ancient hieroglyphics but rather in the form of separate numbered sheets or codices written in Greek, indicating that the documents and burials were from the Greco-Roman period and probably dated from sometime around the late 3rd or early 4th century AD. The papyri in question were in remarkably good condition, due in part to their having been placed either in tightly sealed coffins or in sealed stone containers, and, in part, because they were, at the time of the original burials, brand new, having been especially copied for that purpose as so-called “Totenbeigaben” or death offerings intended to accompany and serve the deceased in the afterlife. The following year d’Anastasy sold 24 of these papyri to the Museum of Antiquities at the University of Leyden, and in 1832 he made a gift of the remaining items to the Swedish Royal Academy of Antiquities. . . .

" . . . neither papyrus contains the mystical symbolism and allegorical indirec- tion so typical of the true alchemical literature. Rather they consist largely of simple, short recipes. In the case of the Leyden papyrus these focus primarily on the preparation of various metal alloys – many of which are intended to imitate the appearance of either gold or silver – for use in making jewelry, in gilding, or in metallic writing, while a few others deal instead with dyes of various sorts. The contents of the Stockholm papyrus have the same form, but focus more on dyeing and the imitation of various precious stones and gems. Both papyri explicitly acknowledge that the alloys and gems which they describe are imitations and not the real thing. Indeed, so simple and safe are some of the recipes that they have actually been proposed as potential laboratory preparations for use in connection with a modern-day history of chemistry course" (The Leyden and Stockholm Papyri. Greco-Egyptian Chemical Documents from the Early 4th Century AD. An English Translation with Brief Notes by Earle Radcliffe Caley, Edited, with a New General Introduction, A Note on Techniques, and a Materials Index by William B. Jensen. Cincinatti, OH: University of Cincinnati, 2008, 3).

In November 2014 a digital facsimile was available from the World Digital Library at this link.

Caley, E. R. “The Stockholm Papyrus : An English Translation with brief notes” Journal of Chemical Education IV:8 (1927) 979-1002.

Lagercrantz, Otto. Papyrus Graecus Holmiensis, Uppsala: Almquist and Wiksells,1913. (Edition and German Translation)

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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).

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

Piece of the edict in Pergamonmuseum Berlin.

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

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

Laufer, Diokletians Preisedikt (1971).

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


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.".

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

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

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

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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.)

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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.

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The Edict of Milan Proclaims "Religious Toleration" 313 CE


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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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A Sarcophagus Showing a Greek Physician in His Library Circa 320 CE

A Roman sarcophagus from Ostia, Italy, dating from about 320 and preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, depicts a Greek physician in his library reading a papyrus roll with a book cabinet in which other rolls are visible. On top of the book cabinet an open case depicts surgical instruments.

A warning inscribed on the sarcophagus in Greek may be translated as:

"If anyone shall dare to bury another person along with this one, he shall pay to the treasury three times two thousand [whatever the unit was]. This is what he shall pay to [the city of] Portus, but he himself will endure the eternal punishment of the violator of graves."

"The tomb's owner is shown seated with an open scroll, the pose of a philosopher, demonstrating that he is a learned man. His profession can be identified by the open case containing surgical tools on the cabinet top. Other scrolls and a basin for bleeding patients within the cabinet offer further proof of his profession. The style of his dress and the language of the inscription indicate that he was one of the many Greeks living in Italy. Beginning in the 300s, Christians would adopt in their art the philosopher pose and the undulating motifs, or strigils, that appear on the sides of the sarcophagus" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/48.76.1, accessed 10-25-2011).

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The Foundation of Constantinople 324 CE – May 11, 330 CE

Constantinus II.

Between 324 and 330 the Emperor Constantine made the ancient Greek city Byzantium (Βυζάντιον, Byzántion; BYZANTIVM) his capitol, and renamed it Constantinople.

"Having restored the unity of the Empire, and, being in course of major governmental reforms as well as of sponsoring the consolidation of the Christian church, he was well aware that Rome was an unsatisfactory capital. Rome was too far from the frontiers, and hence from the armies and the Imperial courts, and it offered an undesirable playground for disaffected politicians. Yet it had been the capital of the state for over a thousand years, and it might have seemed unthinkable to suggest that the capital be moved to a different location. Nevertheless, he identified the site of Byzantium as the right place: a place where an emperor could sit, readily defended, with easy access to the Danube or the Euphrates frontiers, his court supplied from the rich gardens and sophisticated workshops of Roman Asia, his treasuries filled by the wealthiest provinces of the Empire.

"Constantinople was built over six years, and consecrated on 11 May 330. Constantine divided the expanded city, like Rome, into 14 regions, and ornamented it with public works worthy of an imperial metropolis. Yet, at first, Constantine's new Rome did not have all the dignities of old Rome. It possessed a proconsul, rather than an urban prefect. It had no praetors, tribunes, or quaestors. Although it did have senators, they held the title clarus, not clarissimus, like those of Rome. It also lacked the panoply of other administrative offices regulating the food supply, police, statues, temples, sewers, aqueducts, or other public works. The new programme of building was carried out in great haste: Columns, marbles, doors, and tiles were taken wholesale from the temples of the Empire and moved to the new city. In similar fashion, many of the greatest works of Greek and Roman art were soon to be seen in its squares and streets. The Emperor stimulated private building by promising householders gifts of land from the Imperial estates in Asiana and Pontica, and on 18 May 332 he announced that, as in Rome, free distributions of food would be made to the citizens. At the time the amount is said to have been 80,000 rations a day, doled out from 117 distribution points around the city" (Wikipedia article on Constantinople, accessed 07-12-2011).

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Filed under: Social / Political

Constantine Becomes Emperor of the Entire Roman Empire September 18, 324 CE

On September 18, 324 Roman emperor Constantine I defeated emperor Licinius at the Battle of Chrysopolis  (Scutari, Üsküdar), near Chalcedon (Kadıköy) effectively becoming the emperor of the entire Roman Empire.

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The Codex Vaticanus Circa 325 CE – 350 CE

A page from the Codex Vaticanus. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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).

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

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

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

“ 'Victor Constantinus, Maximus Augustus, to Eusebius.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Codex Sinaiticus Circa 330 CE – 360 CE

The Codex Sinaiticus. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Decline of Literacy in the Byzantine Empire 330 CE – 1453

"The Byzantine empire is often thought of as an age of decline. Such a view does not do justice to its distinctive qualities as the home of a new style of art and as a civilising influence in eastern Europe. But there is a sense in which it was obviously inferior to the empire that had once controlled the whole Mediterranean area. In economic terms it was not able to provide for the inhabitants of its towns and villages the standard of living and amenities that had been enjoyed by the vast majority of the citizens of the Roman empire. We may infer that one of the direct consequences of the decline in standards was a reduction the number of people able to acquire an education. Although there is some evidence, principally from lives of saints, that elementary education was widely available, the impression must remain that literacy was less widespread and the average level of culture less high than had been the case in the ancient world. It is hard to imagine, for instance, a Byzantine province producing evidence of readers with such diverse and learned interests as those provded by the finds of papyri from the country districts of Greco-Roman Egypt. From the reduced economic circumstances of the Byzantine empire it would be tempting to infer that the prospects for the survival of ancient Greek literature were poor, and that there would be little chance of it being the object of scholarly study. Certainly a great deal was lost, and it is impossible to deny that the Byzantines failed to save many texts that had come down to them. Publishing and the book trade in general were so much less well organised than they had been in antiquity that the use of these terms in a Byzantine context is scarcely legitimate. Photius in the ninth century, to name only the most obvious example, read many texts that ceased to be copied soon after. But although some blame must attach to the Byzantines, care should be taken not to allocate them too large a share of the responsibility. At least some of the texts read by Photius will have been lost in 1204 when Constantinople was destroyed by the Fourth Crusade, and there were almost certainly many other books that Photius had not been able to read because even the resources of the richer society of antiquity had failed to guarantee production in sufficient numbers of copies for them to survive the hazards of war and accidental destruction.

"In view of their limited resources the Byzantines made a creditable effort to preseve a high standard of literary culture. As will become clear, they achieved what may be their greatest success at a time of economic and political decline in the late thirteen and early fourteenth centuries. By at all times they maintained, even if only in a small section of their society, an intense interest in liteature. One might suggest that though their cultural activies were confined to the few by economic circumstances, the intensity of activity was greater than at almost any time in antiquity itself. The Byzantines struggled against great odds to uphold their ideals, and these can be seen in various distinctive features of their society. The government required of its chief functionaries a good grounding in classical literature, and they attempted to display their culture in the documents drafted for public circulation by the excellence of their prose style and sometimes even by literary allusions. The government's expectations of candidates for employment in the top ranks of the civil service are made clear by an order of the emperor Constantius and his junior colleague Julian in 360 (Theodosian Code 14.1.1): 'No person shall obtain a post of the first rank unless it shall be proved that he excels in long practice of liberal studies, and that he is so polished in literary matters that words flow from his pen faultlessly.' Although this order may soon have been forgotten and does not appear to have been renewed by later emperors, in practice successive governments behaved as if it were still in force. . . ." (Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium [1983] 1-2).

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The Limitations of Book Production and Book Trade in the Byzantine Empire 330 CE – 1453

In "Books and Readers in Byzantium," a lecture given at the Colloquium on Byzantine Books and Bookmen held at Dunbarton Oaks in April 1971, and published as Byzantine Books and Bookmen (1975), Nigel G. Wilson provided a preliminary survey of book production and the book trade in the Byzantine empire, from which I quote. The links are, of course, my additions, and as usual, I have not included the footnotes:

"First, production and trade. A skeptic might well say that there is no evidence about the book trade, or even that there was no such thing. The skeptic is probably right in his belief, but instead of acceptiing it without discussion it may be worthwhile to analyze some factors which will have had an important effect on the production and circulation of books.

"The most obvious of these factors is the supply of writing materials. For much of our period it is clear that parchment was in short supply. There were, it seems factories, at Corinth, as Constantine Porphyrogenitus [De Administrando Imperio] tells us. In his commentary on this passage, however, Professor Jenkins saw here a reference to paper-making; but that looks to me like a slip of the pen, since I find it hard to imagine paper-making established as an industry in Byzantium as early as the middle of the tenth century. In Constantinople itself parchment was prepared at the Stoudios monastery, as we learn from the Magalai Katecheseis of Theodoros Studites. I suppose there must have been other factories elsewhere, but no evidence about them has come to my notice, nor do we know much about the two that can be identified. Parchment-makers are not mentioned as a guild in the Book of the Eparch. Are we to infer that there were not enough of them to make up a guild, or that they were regarded as a small section of the tanners whose affairs did not need to regulated by special provisions? At Corinth they are mentioned along with holders of imperial dignities, sailors, and purple-fishers as a group of people not liable to provide horses when requisitioned by the army. The context permits but does not require the inference that they were incorporated as a local guild.

"Another side of the picture is revealed when we find monks or men of letters unable to obtain writing materials. A journey might be necessary to find parchment, for in the tenth century St. Neilos was sent by his superiors to Rossano to buy some. But perhaps Italy was abnormal in this respect, since a great many surviving manuscripts believed to have been written in that area are either palimpsests or are made from parchment of extremely poor quality. On the other hand, there are signs that shortages were not confined to the poorer provinces. A schoolmaster in the capital in the twelfth century complains that writing material is hard to come by; I refer to John Tzetses, commenting on Aristophanes Frogs, 843, where the words used are τους χαρτας, which may be taken either as meaning parchment or as a generic term for paper and parchment. More than a century later we find Maximos Planudes writing to a friend in Asia Minor and asking him for parchment because the right quality is not on sale in his own neighborhood, which is presumably Constantinople. In the end, all he received was some asses' skins, which did not please him in the least. It may be that his friend refused to take the trouble to do what he asked, but it is equally possible that this inferior quality was sent because there was nothing else on the market.

"In the letters of the Patriarch Gregory of Cyprus there is a most interesting proof that the supply of parchment was seasonal; he says that he cannot have a volume of Demosthenes copied yet because there will be no parchment until the spring when the population begins to eat meat.

"Two more facts confirm the acute shortage. First, the yield of parchment from each animal was very low. A note in an Oxford manuscript (MS. Auct. T. 2.7) shows that two biofolia, equivalent to eight pages, might be expected from each animal; the text (fol. 419 verso) is εκοψαμεν δια δυο κατατομας προβ<ει>ες κ' και εποιησαν τετραδ<ι>α ι'. The low yield would be no surprise, because mediaeval animals were much smaller than their modern counterparts, which are the result of selective breeding since the eighteenth century. Secondly, it must have been a chronic shortage that forced booksellers into the unscruptulous habit of taking unwanted volumes, washing off the text, and using the parchment again. The canons of a church council forbid this practice in regard to biblical texts, and the canon lawyers Zonaras and Balsamon comment on it. Michael Choniates complains, no doubt with a good deal of rhetorical exaggeration, that the supply of books may fail altogether because whole shiploads of parchment have been sold to the Italians, and it is to be noted that this complaint was made long before the disaster of the Latin invasion of 1204, since it occurs in a text composed before his ordination. 

"With regard to the supply of paper I can be much briefer. It was an inferior substitute, being less durable, but it had the obvious advantage that eventually it became a good deal cheaper. It was already in use in the imperial chancery as early as 1052, which is the date of an extant imperial chrysobull. But early paper manuscripts are not common, doubtless because most of them proved to be too perishable. Even if we allow that there was already a good supply of paper at that date, which I am inclined to doubt, it remains true that at least in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries there was no means of relieving the shortage of writing material.

"The supply of books is reflected in the prices they fetched. I have tried to show elsewhere [Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars] that prices were high in relation to the salaries of civil servants, who were probably an important section of the reading public. Here I will explore the evidence a little more deeply. Stipends in the civil service seems to have begun at a lower level of 72 gold nomismata per annum, and in exceptional cases a man might receive as many as 3,500, but the average was probably a few hundred. The lowest book price I have found is three nomismata, paid in 1168 for MS Barberini gr. 319, a copy of the Gospels in small format written in the preceding century. Other prices are much higher, although it is not always possible to separate the costs of writing material and transcription. The prices are known of four of Arethas' books, and a reasonably consistent picture emerges from the following table:

Euclid (MS D'Orville 301), 387 folios, 22 x 180 mm., 14 nomismata.

Plato (MS E.D.Clarke 39), 424 folios, 325 x 225 mm., 13 nomismata for transcription, 8 for parchment

Aristotle's Organon (MS Urbinas gr. 35), 441 folios, 260 x 190 mm., 6 nomismata.

Clement of Alexandria (MS Paris. gr. 451), 403 folios, 240 x 190 mm., 20 nomismata for transcription, 6 for parchment.

"We may reasonably guess that the six nomismata paid for the Organon were for the parchment only, and the fourteen paid for Euclid were perhaps only for the transcription. The highest price, a total of twenty-six, is a respectable sum by any standards. A few other prices are known which confirm the picture of books as a commodity beyond the reach of the ordinary man. A copy of Chrysostom written in 939 (MS Paris. gr. 781) and consisting of 302 large folios cost seven nomismata, but what is included in the fgure seven is not clear from the world of the subscription. A metaphrastic menologion for January (MS Patmos 2345) written in 1057 carries a note saying that the scribe had been paid 150 nomismata for seven volumes, an average price of just over twenty-one. A liturgical book dated 1166 (MS Patmos 218) cost twelve nomismata, plus a further six for entering the musical notation. And in the thirteenth century we find the owner of a manuscript unable to afford the parchment eneded to replace some missing folios in MS. Vat. gr. 448.

"Given these limitations on production and ownership one has to consider what kind of trade can have existed in books. The key fact here is that booksellers are very rarely heard of. Agathias speaks of shops where one his contemporaries would attempt to engage in philosophical argument with the other customers. Michael Choniates speaks of booksellers in the passage cited already about the sale of parchment. But in general their activities remain a mystery. Until more evidence is found it may be best to assume that the trade in books was almost always in the form of secondhand transactions and special commissions given to professional scribes. . . . A fully developed book trade should not be postulated without special reasons; and so, for example, I believe that the suggestion by G. Zuntz that the manucript P of Euripides is a copy destined for the book trade has to be either unfounded or inadequately formulated.

"Similarly, the secondhand trade was limited. It should be noted that Michael Choniates, after losing his library in the sack of Athens in 1205, recovered some of his books and gave instructions to two of his friends to look out for a few particularly prized volumes that had not yet been found again: Euclid's Elements and Theophyact's commentary on the Pauline epistles, the latter being written in Michael's own hand. A similar case can be recorded from the fifteenth century: Constantine Lascaris recovered in Messina a text of Greek tragedy that he had lost eighteen years before; his own account of this coincidence is written on a spare leaf in the book, MS Madrid gr. 4677. It remains, of course, a question, whether these two coincidences should be regarded as typical experiences in the life of any Byzantine bookman." (pp. 1-4).

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De rebus bellicis, Including Images of War Machines Circa 337 CE – 378 CE

Detail of image from De rebus bellicis showing fanciful ox-powered wheel boat.  Please click to view entire image.

The anonymous illustrated pamphlet De rebus bellicis, which survived in the late ninth century Codex Spirensis, consists of a series of suggestions for reforming the Roman Empire. It was written after the reign of Constantine, which ended with his death on May 22, 337, but before the battle of Adrianople fought on August 9, 378 between an army of the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens and Gothic rebels.

"Reforms of Imperial financial policy, of the currency, of provincial administration, of the army, and of the law are proposed in turn. The writer describes a number of new mechanical contrivances which in his opinion ought to form part of the equipment of the Roman army. To facilitate the task of constructing them he included in his treatise coloured drawings of what these contrivances should look like when completed. More or less faithful copies of his drawings have survived in several of the manuscripts" (Thompson, A Roman Reformer and Inventor. Being a New Text of the Treatise De Rebus Bellicis with a Translation and Introduction [1952] 1).

A brief work which would have had small chance of survival on its own, De rebus bellicis survived in the Codex Spirensis, a collection of thirteen different texts, which was noticed by scholars in the early 15th century, and copied several times. Though the "original" Codex Spirensis was later lost, De rebus bellicis, and some of the other texts in the codex which did not exist elsewhere, including the Notitia dignitatum, survived through the copies made at that time. These copies appear to have included faithful renditions of the numerous colored illustrations.

Thompson cited above includes black and white reproductions of the images of imaginative machines in De rebus bellicis. The images, some of which are available on the web, are especially notable because they are copies of late Roman book illustrations, very few of which survived.

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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.

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The Earliest Egyptian Printed Cloth Circa 350 CE

The earliest Egyptian printed cloth dates from the 4th century.

"In his Natural History, Pliny states that this technique [printing on textiles] was particularly utilized in Egypt. Printed material is only represented by fabrics of the fourth century at the earliest and continues until the Arab period.  In those days, there were great textile centers such as Alexandria, Panopolis, Oxyrhynchus, Tinnis [Tennis] and Damietta, but regrettably we know this only from texts, because any trace of weaving shops and their fragile wooden looms has vanished.  However, by studying the fabrics themselves, scholars are often able to derive their origins. 

"Actually, only two groups of fabrics have been dated with any certainty. One group was a pair of medallions and a band of flax and purple wool coming from a tomb in Hwara in the Fayoum Oasis, which were found together with a coin dated to 340 AD. These medallions are adorned in a manner that is virtually identical with that of painted Egyptian shrouds of the Roman period and fabrics discovered in Syria. Next to the body of Aurelius Colluthus, in his tomb at Antinoe, were discovered sales contracts and his will, all written in Greek between 454 and 456 AD. He was wrapped in a large tapestry with an upper tier showing two busts under arcades supported by two large columns. A geometrical network with florets and leaves covers the space between the columns, which is a composition very similar to the decorations in paintings and mosaics of the same period" (http://touregypt.net/featurestories/fabrics.htm, accessed 01-29-2010).

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

A bust of Fronto. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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The Most Richly Illustrated Greek Papyrus Circa 350 CE

The recto side of P.Oslo I 4, a section of the mentioned papyrus. (View  Larger)

The "Oslo Papyrus" (P.Oslo 1.1), a magical papyrus roll about 8.3 feet long, written around the year 350 in 12 columns on the recto, and transversa charta (written at a 90 degree angle to the fibers) on the verso, is "the most richly illustrated Greek papyrus" (Diringer). It is an "erotic magical text, containing recipes, mixtures and medicaments, and, finally, instructions for opening the door, which may have been recommendation to a lover who wished to break into the house of the maiden." Seven of its columns of text are illustrated by figures of the demons invoked.  The illustration is done in the Egyptian style. The papyrus also includes "a remedy to prevent conception, the only one that exists in the world." 

The papyrus was donated to the University of Oslo by S. Eitrem in the 1930s, as part of a collection of 329 papyri and fragments from Karanis and Theodelphia which he purchased from dealers in Cairo and the Faiyum.

"It may, therefore be argued that even if we have not sufficient evidence to show that the Greek art of book illustration descended from the Egyptian, there can be no doubt that the latter had a strong influence on the origin and development of the Greek ornamentation and illustration of books. In Weitzmann's opinion, the so-called papyrus style probably originated in pre-Hellenistic Egypt and was only adapted and further developed by the Greeks; furthermore 'Alexandria was probably the actual centre which provided the facilities for the development of roll illustration as a new branch of Greek art.'

"There is no evidence, however, that 'illumination' of books was practised in ancient Greece or Rome on a large scale. Indeed the earliest preserved MSS, are free from ornamentation, and the earliest codices extant show a minumum of colour" (Diringer, The Illuminated Book: Its History & Production [1967] 29-30).

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

Folio from Codex Vercellensis. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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).

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

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

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

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

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

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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. 

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The Most Widely Used Medieval Grammar Circa 350 CE

Around the year 350 Roman grammarian and teacher of rhetoric Aelius Donatus wrote the Latin grammar book, Ars grammaticaDonatus was the teacher of St. Jerome.

"His Ars grammatica, especially the section on the eight parts of speech, though possessing little claim to originality, and evidently based on the same authorities which were used by the grammarians Charisius and Diomedes, attained such popularity as a schoolbook that, in the Middle Ages, he became the eponym for a rudimentary treatise of any sort, called a donet. When books came to be printed in the 15th century, editions of the little book were multiplied to an enormous extent. It is also the only purely textual work to be printed in blockbook form (cut like a woodcut, not using movable type). It is in the form of an Ars Minor, which only treats of the parts of speech, and an Ars Major, which deals with grammar in general at greater length.

"Donatus was a proponent of an early system of punctuation, consisting of dots placed in three successively higher positions to indicate successively longer pauses, roughly equivalent to the modern comma, colon, and full stop. This system remained current through the seventh century, when a more refined system due to Isidore of Seville gained prominence" (Wikipedia article on Aelius Donatus, accessed 01-15-2011).

About 1454 an edition of the Ars minor by the fourth-century Roman grammarian Aelius Donatus was printed in Mainz in the type of the 36-line Bible (sometimes also called the DK-type). The year of printing is uncertain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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).

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The Largest Papyrus Codex and the Earliest to Use Red Ink for Titles Circa 350 CE

A papyrus fragment in Latin of Vergil's (Virgil's) Georgics, Book II.527 - Book III.25, owned by the Egypt Exploration Society and preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, represents portions of the leaf of a papyrus codex, the page size of which cannot have measured less than 41 x 27.5 cm. When this fragment was exhibited at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, in 1975 it was judged "the largest size for a papyrus codex yet discovered, " and its use of red ink for titles etc. was considered "the earliest known."

"The papyrus codex represented by these poor scraps from a single leaf was once a book of great magnificence. The side shown (recto) contains the end of Georgics II, followed by the closing title of Bk. II and the opening title of Bk. III in red, and a short introduction to Bk. III. The first three lines of Bk. III on the verso are also in red. The main text is written in a 'stately bd-uncial' and the introduction in a smaller 'mixed half-uncial (E. A. Lowe).

". . . Most fragments of Vergil found in Egypt are schoolroom texts of the Aeneid, but this fragment of the Georgics (a text rare among the finds) must be from a collector's luxury copy — a theory not incompatible with its poor textual quality" (Hunt, The Survival of Ancient Literature, Bodleian Library [1976] No. 21).

The fragment, P. Ant. 29, was excavated at Antinoë, Egypt (Antinopolis, Antinoöpolis, Antinoopolis, Ἀντινόουπόλις, Coptic  Ansena, modern Sheikh 'Ibada) in 1913-14.

Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores Supplement (1971) No. 1708 illustrated portions, and stated that the papyrus on which the fragment was written is "of unusually fine quality for this period." He also commented, "Origin uncertain. Found at Antinoë. Its stately calligraphy and generous margins speak for the volume's being an importation, perhaps from Syria, the home of the Fragmentum de Formula Fabiana, with which it has features in common."

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The Earliest Dated Codex with Full-Page Illustrations 354 CE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Imperial Library of Constantinople, About Which Very Little is Known Circa 357 CE – 1453

About 357 CE the Byzantine emperor Constantius II, son of Constantine I, aware of the deterioration of early texts written on papyrus rolls, began the formation of the Imperial Library of Constantinople by having the Judeo-Christian scriptures copied from papyrus onto the more permanent medium of parchment or vellum. The person in charge of the library under Constantius II is thought to have been Themestios, who directed a team of scribes and librarians that copied the texts on papyrus rolls onto parchment or papyrus codices. It is probable that this library preserved selected texts that survived the burning of the Library of Alexandria, though the historical accounts of the destruction of the Alexandrian Library are contradictory.

Some authorities have conjectured that the Imperial Library of Constantinople might have eventually grown to about 100,000 manuscript volumes, presumably bookrolls and codices; however, so little is actually known about the Imperial Library that it is impossible to estimate how many volumes it might have housed at any time. It is also possible that the conjectured number as high as 100,000 volumes is more reflective of the quantity of information preserved in modern times than the much more limited production and survival of information in the ancient world in general and Byzantium in particular.

"The first indication of an imperial library in Constantinople comes from Themistius, who in an oration delivered in 357 congratulates the emperor on having undertaken to reconstitute and collect in Constantinople the literary heritage of ancient hellenism by having the works of ancient authors, including minor ones, transcribed by a cadre of professional scribes working at imperial expense (Or.4.59-61). Such a scriptorium and such a task presuppose a library, and the library, if not established by Constantius, owed its character and early development to him. Subsequently, according to Zosimus (Hist. nov. 3.11.3) the emperor Julian (361-63) lent his patronage to the library and enlarged its holdings with his own. The Theodosian code (14.9.2) informs us that in 372 the emperor Valens ordered the employment of seven copyists (antiquarii)--four for Greek and three for Latin texts--and some assistants to maintain and repair the books of the imperial library. Thus we know that the library housed both Greek and Latin texts, but not necessarily in separate libraries, as was the practice in Rome" (Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church. A History of Early Christian Texts [1995] 168).

"The twelfth-century epitomist Joannes Zonaras relays an old and possibly accurate estimate that in 475 when the [Imperial] library [of Constantinople] was damaged by fire it contained 120,000 volumes, which suggests that the library grew steadily during the first century after its founding" (Gamble, op.cit. 169).

Remarkably little is known concerning any Byzantine libraries, but it has been assumed that the Imperial Library in Constantinople preserved many of the Greek texts that have come down to us, and it has been suggested by some scholars that in the eighth century Charlemagne was able to obtain copies of classical texts from the Imperial Library, though it is much more likely that books at Aachen were copied from those in monastery libraries under Charlemagne's rule. We may never know for certain what connections the library in Aachen might have made with the Imperial Library in Constantinople as only a handful of actual codices that can definitely be traced to the Imperial Library have survived, and those are in Europe rather than in Turkey. In May 2014 the best paper I could find on Byzantine libraries was Nigel G. Wilson, "The Libraries of the Byzantine World," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 8 (1967) 53-80. From this I quote passages:

"To discuss so large a subject as the libraries of the Byzantine world within the limits of a single paper may seem unduly ambitious. The chronological and geographical range of the topic is enormous. But despite the great advance of Byzantine studies in this century the amount of primary source material on this subject remains modest, one might well say disappointing, since the references are normally brief and difficult to interpret with any confidence. A short but reasonably comprehensive survey is not out of the question, especially if the scope of the essay is restricted in two ways. Unfortunately a chronological limitation is imposed by the nature of the sources: comparatively little is known of the earlier periods of the empire, and in consequence nearly all my material relates to the ninth century or later. The second restriction is that my concern will be the libraries of institutions, mostly monasteries, rather than those of private individuals; there were of course collectors who had the means to build up substantial private libraries, but the cost of collecting on this scale ensured that it was a hobby reserved for a few rich men, and with the one notable exception of Arethas the details of their activities cannot be traced." (Wilson, op. cit., p. 53)

Among the many historical problems regarding the Imperial Library of Constantinople, we have no way of estimating how many volumes it might have contained:

"There is no means of telling how many books the emperor's library contained. Even if the mediaeval sources gave any figures they would have to be treated with reserve, as numerals are singularly subject to corruption in manuscript tradition, and in addition it is a well-known fact that the majority of people find it impossible to give accurate estimates of large numbers. Obviously it was a large library by the standards of the day, since it had to satisfy the demands of the imperial family and probably the civil service officials employed in the palace." (Wilson, op. cit., p. 55)

Another aspect was that the Imperial Library is known to have been significantly destroyed in the Fourth Crusade of 1204 when Norman crusaders, attempting to form a Latin Empire, sacked Constantinople, almost completely destroying the city. They burned the Imperial Library, probably nearly destroying its collections. The 1204 sack of Constantinople has been described as one of the most profitable and disgraceful sacks of a city in history. It is believed that crusaders may have sold some rare Byzantine manuscripts to Italian buyers. 

As a result of the sack of Constantinople the Byzantine capital was moved to Nicaea, and about the year 1222 Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes or Ducas Vatatzes reestablished the Byzantine Imperial Library in that city. From Nicaea the Byzantines began a campaign to recapture Constantinople from the Normans, and in 1261 the Byzantine Emperor of NicaeaMichael VIII Palaiologos, succeded in reconquering Constantinople, and reestablished the Imperial Library in a wing of the Great Palace of Constantinople. Inevitably, in the forced move of those books which were not destroyed or looted in 1204 to Nicaea, and in the efforts toward reconstruction before and after the move back to Constantinople, contents of the library which had not been destroyed through fire or attrition, may have suffered further losses. Another factor contributing to our very limited knowledge of the contents of the Imperial Library was its final destruction or dismemberment in the seige of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 that brought the Roman Empire to an end. 

Of books known to have been once in the Imperial Library of Constantinople, only a handful have survived:

"It appears that Andronicus III gave a copy of one of Galen's works to Robert I of Anjou, which was used as a basis for a Latin translation by Niccolò of Reggio (floruit ca. 1308-45); the evidence for this is that a manuscript of Niccolò's version (Paris, Nouv.acq.lat. 1365) has a colophon dated 1336 which mentions the gift. As certain works ascribed to Galen survive only in the Latin versions by Niccolò, it is tempting to speculate that these too reached the West through a gift of the emperor. Finally we can point to a small gift made to a collector of the Renaissance, Giovanni Aurispa, who ways that the emperor gave him copies of Xenophon's De re equestri and Procopius' Wars; this took place about 1420.

"It is also a reasonable inference that a few luxuriously produced volumes with portraits of individual emperors were intended for their use and became part of the imperial library. Examples are Parisinus gr. 510, a ninth century copy of Gregory of Nazianzus, and two books prepared for Basil II, the so-called Monologion (MS Vat. gr. 1613) and the Psalter (MS Ven.gr. 17). But these are standard texts and tell us nothing significant about the library. It is good that such masterpieces of illumination and calligraphy have survived, but if they had not, it would not have been rash to assume that the emperors had fine copies of such works. . . .

"The only other book surviving from the library seems to be Parisinus gr. 1115, a collection of theology written in 1276, which has the note, "deposited in the royal library" (εναπετεθη εν τη βασιλικη βιβλιοθηκη). . . ." (Wilson, op. cit., pp. 56-57). 

(This entry was last revised on 03-15-2015.)

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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).

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The Codex Bezae Cantabridgensis Circa 375 CE – 425 CE

A page from Codex Bezae Cantabridgensis. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Obscure Origins and Meaning of the Term "Uncial" for Script Circa 375 CE

"The meaning of the term 'Uncial' is obscure. Jerome is said to have been the first to speak of 'litterae uncialibis', a phrase which has perhaps been too literally translated as 'inch-high letters'. No ancient example of Uncial, used as text, nor any other early book script, comes anywhere near that size. Bischoff (Latin Palaeography, Antiquity and the Middle Ages) believes that Mabillon (a 17th century scholar) mistakenly applied Jerome's 'uncialibus' to this one style of script, and the error has been perpetuated ever since. Leonard Boyle (Medieval Latin Palaeography) suggests that 'uncialibis' is perhaps a mistranslation of 'initialibis'" (Stan Knight, Historical Scripts from Classical Times to the Renaissance [2009] 35).

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

Vergilius Vaticanus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jerome's Chronicon Circa 380 CE

In Constantinople about 380 CE Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus) composed The Chronicon or Temporum liber, The Book of Times. This was a translation into Latin of the chronological tables which compose the second part of the Chronicon of Eusebius, with a supplement covering the period from 325 to 379.

"In spite of numerous errors taken over from Eusebius, and some of his own, Jerome produced a valuable work of universal history, if only for the impulse which it gave to such later chroniclers as Prosper, Cassiodorus, and Victor of Tunnuna to continue his annals. Following the Chronicon of Eusebius (early 4th century), Jerome dated Creation to 5199 BC.

"The Chronicle contains a chronology of the events of Greek mythology, based on the work of Hellenistic scholars such as Apollodorus, Diodorus Siculus, and Eusebius. While the earlier parts are clearly unhistorical, there may be scattered remnants of historical events of late Mycenean Greece from entries of the 12th century BC. (See the historicity of the Iliad. Notably, Jerome's date for the capture of Troy of 1183 BC corresponds remarkably well with the destruction layer of Troy VIIa, the main candidate for the historical inspiration of legendary Troy, dated to c. 1190 BC.) Homer himself is dated to 940 BC, while modern scholarship usually places him after 800 BC" (Wikipedia article on Chronicon (Jerome), accessed 12-15-2012).

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Oldest 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.

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The Only Ancient Manual of Roman Military Instructions that Survived Intact Circa 390 CE

About 390 CE Roman writer Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus issued Epitoma rei militaris (also referred to as De re militari), and the lesser-known Digesta artis mulomedicinae, a guide to veterinary medicine.

"The latest event alluded to in his Epitoma rei militaris is the death of the Emperor Gratian (383); the earliest attestation of this work is a subscriptio by one Flavius Eutropius, writing in Constantinople in the year 450, which appears in one of two families of manuscripts, suggesting that a bifurcation of the manuscript tradition had already occurred. Despite Eutropius' location in Constantinople, the scholarly consensus is that Vegetius wrote in the Western Empire. Vegetius dedicates his work to the reigning emperor, who is identified as Theodosius, ad Theodosium imperatorem, in the manuscript family that was not edited in 450; the identity is disputed: some scholars identify him with Theodosius the Great, while others . . . identify him with the later Valentinian III, dating the work 430-35.

"Vegetius's epitome mainly focuses on military organization and how to react to certain occasions in war. Vegetius explains how one should fortify and organize a camp, how to train troops, how to handle undisciplined troops, how to handle a battle engagement, how to march, formation gauge, and many other useful methods of promoting organization and valour in the legion.

"As G. R. Watson observes, Vegetius' Epitoma 'is the only ancient manual of Roman military institutions to have survived intact.' Despite this, Watson is dubious of its value, for he 'was neither a historian nor a soldier: his work is a compilation carelessly constructed from material of all ages, a congeries of inconsistencies.' These antiquarian sources, according to his own statement, were Cato the Elder, Cornelius Celsus, Frontinus, Paternus and the imperial constitutions of Augustus, Trajan, and Hadrian.

"The first book is a plea for army reform; it vividly portrays the military decadence of the Late Roman Empire. Vegetius also describes in detail the organisation training and equipment of the army of the early Empire. The third contains a series of military maxims, which were (rightly enough, considering the similarity in the military conditions of the two ages) the foundation of military learning for every European commander from William the Silent to Frederick the Great. When the French Revolution and the "nation in arms" came into history, we hear little more of Vegetius. Some of the maxims may be mentioned here as illustrating the principles of a war for limited political objectives with which he deals:

" * 'All that is advantageous to the enemy is disadvantageous to you, and all that is useful to you, damages the enemy.'

" * 'the main and principal point in war is to secure plenty of provisions for oneself and to destroy the enemy by famine. Famine is more terrible than the sword.'

" * 'No man is to be employed in the field who is not trained and tested in discipline.'

 " * 'It is better to beat the enemy through want, surprises, and care for difficult places (i.e., through manoeuvre) than by a battle in the open field.'

" * 'Let him who desires peace prepare for war.'

"These are maxims that have guided the leaders of professional armies for most of recorded history, as witness the Chinese generals Sun Tzu and Wu. His 'seven normal dispositions for battle,' once in honor among European students of the art of war, are equally useful if applied to more modern conditions. His book on siegecraft is important as containing the best description of Late Empire and Medieval siegecraft. From it, among other things, we learn details of the siege engine called the onager, which afterwards played a great part in sieges, until the development of modern cannonry. The fifth book is an account of the materiel and personnel of the Roman navy.

"The author of the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica article states that 'In manuscript, Vegetius's work had a great vogue from its first advent. Its rules of siegecraft were much studied in the Middle Ages.' N.P. Milner observes that it was 'one of the most popular Latin technical works from Antiquity, rivalling the elder Pliny's Natural History in the number of surviving copies dating from before AD 1300.' It was translated into English, French (by Jean de Meun [1284] and others), Italian (by the Florentine judge Bono Giamboni [circa 1250] and others), Catalan, Spanish, Czech, and Yiddish before the invention of printing. The first printed editions are ascribed to Utrecht (1473), Cologne (1476), Paris (1478), Rome (in Veteres de re mil. scriptores, 1487), and Pisa (1488). A German translation by Ludwig Hohenwang appeared at Ulm in 1475." (Wikipedia article on Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, accessed 05-26-2009).

"English translations [of Vegetius] precede printed books. Manuscript 18A.Xii in the Royal Library, written and ornamented for Richard III of England, is a translation of Vegetius. It ends with a paragraph starting: "Here endeth the boke that clerkes clepethe in Latyne Vegecii de re militari." The paragraph goes on to date the translation to 1408. The translator is identified in Manuscript No. 30 of Magdalen College, Oxford, as John Walton, 1410 translator of Boethius." (Wikipedia article on De re militari, accessed 05-26-2009).

Vegetius' work may frequently be confused with the work with the same titleDe re militari, written by the 15th century humanist Roberto Valturio (Valturius). That work, first published in print in 1472, was the first printed work on technology and the first book with informational rather than decorative illustrations. Vegetius' Epitoma rei militaris was first published in print in an undated edition, probably issued one or two years later in 1473 or 1474 by Nicolaus Ketelaer and Gerardus de Leempt in Utrecht. Their edition had no illustrations. ISTC no. iv00104000.

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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

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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.

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The Roman Empire Splits Permanently into Eastern and Western Halves 393 CE

A coin featuring the profile of Emperor Theodosious. (View Larger)

In 393, two years before his death, Emperor Flavius Theodosius (Theodosius I), divided the Roman Empire into two parts. The Western Roman Empire Theodosius placed in the hands of his younger son Flavius Honorius, who he declared Augustus in 393 when Honorius was only nine years old.

Honorius's "throne was guarded by his principal general, Flavius Stilicho, who was successively Honorius's guardian (during his childhood) and his father-in-law (after the emperor became an adult). Despite Stilicho's generalship, the empire lost ground; and after the guardian's execution, Honorius's empire moved towards the verge of collapse" (Wikipedia article on Honorius [emperor]) accessed 05-10-2009).

The Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire Theodosius placed in the hands of his older son Flavius Arcadius. Ten years earlier, in 383 Theodosius had declared Arcadius Augustus, and had co-ruled the Eastern half of the Roman Empire with him until 393.

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Filed under: Social / Political

The Latest Known Inscription Written in Egyptian Hieroglyphs August 24, 394 CE

The latest known inscription written in Egyptian hieroglyphs is The Graffito of Emset-Akhom (or Philae 436) inscribed in the temple Isis at Philae, formerly an island in the First Cataract of the Nile. Having been relocated as a result of the Aswan dam, it is now on an island in Lake Nasser, in southern Egypt. It includes a relief of a ptolemaic or Roman period pharaoh. 

The inscription, written in both hieroglyphs and demotic, is dated to the Birthday of Osiris, year 110 (of Diocletian), equivalent to August 24, 394. It was added to a temple gateway erected earlier by the emperor Hadrian, leading towards the supposed tomb of Osiris (the Abaton). 

"The figure and inscription were carved in connection with the visits of the pagan Blemmye tribe from the Red Sea hills to the south-east in order to pay homage to the goddess Isis. These visits forced the Byzantine emperors to allow the temple to remain open despite the Christianization of Egypt and the earlier edict of Theodosius [in 392 CE closing all Egyptian temples.] In the fifth century AD demotic was still occcasionally written in the temple, and it is uncertain exactly when the last person to use, or at least read, the ancient scripts would have lived. There were by now Christian churches on the island, and the final centuries of pagan Philae passed into Christian legend. A later Coptic history of he first monk bishops of Philae tells how Bishop Apa Macedonius once deviously gained access to a sacred falcon in the temple and burned it. Between AD 535 and 537 the emperor Justinian ordered the temple's closure, the imprisonment of priests and the removal of its statues to Constantinople. The temple was rededicated to Saint Stephen, further churches were erected on the sacred island. . . ." (Parkinson, The Rossetta Stone [2005] 19-20).

(This entry was last revised on 08-02-2014.)


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

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

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

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

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

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The 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.

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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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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The Charioteer Papyrus Circa 400 CE

The Charioteer Papyrus, a fragment of an illustration from an unknown work of literature, was arguably produced in Alexandria about the year 400.

"It is one of the finest surviving fragments of classical book illustration. Unlike other surviving illustrated fragments of papyrus, such as the Romance Papyrus and the Heracles Papyrus, which have illustrations that are little more than mere sketches, the Charioteer Papyrus is sensitively drawn and finely colored. It shows portions of six charioteers in red or green tunics. Although there is not any text on the fragment, it undoubtedly served an illustration for a literary work, perhaps serving as an illustration for the chariot race at the games at the funeral of Patroclus in the Iliad."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Oldest Extant Book Illustrations of Plants Circa 400 CE

The Johnson Papyrus, a fragment of an early fifth century herbal. (View Larger)

The Johnson Papyrus (London, Wellcome Library, MS 5753) is a fragment of an early 5th century Greek codex written in Egypt, containing the oldest extant book illustrations of plants. It was discovered by J. da M. Johnson, in 1904 while he was working in Antinoë (Antinopolis), Egypt. Johnson later became Printer to the University of Oxford.

One side of the papyrus shows a sphere of dark blue-green leaves supported by some small scraggly roots. Below the illustration is a fragment of Greek text. The illustrated plant has been identified as  comfrey, symphytum officinale. The reverse side shows "phlommos, perhaps mullein" (Conrad, et al, The Western Medical Tradition 800 BC to AD 1800 [1995] Fig. 10, p. 10).

Both sides of the papyrus fragment are illustrated in color in Ford, Images of Sciences. A History of Scientific Illustration (1993) 23.

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A Diptych Depicting Roman Orators Holding Papyrus Rolls Circa 400 CE

There appear to be very few surviving depictions in ancient art of how papyrus rolls were actually used in daily life. One that might be more symbolic and ceremonial than "realistic" in our sense is the ivory diptych of Rufius Probianus, which celebrates his installation in Rome as Vicarius urbis Romae. According to Berger's Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law, Vol. 43, 764, the Vicarius in urbe (Roma) was the "head of the administration of the southern part of the dioecesis Italia. . . ." 

In the diptych Probianus appears with his right hand lifted in an oratorical gesture to indicate that he is either speaking or has the right to speak. However, from the perspective of book history what may be more significant about this diptych is not the large seated depiction of Probianus, but the depiction to his left and right of secretaries recording his speech on polyptica, or groups of wax tablets tied together like codices, and of orators in the panel below him pointing with their right hands while they hold open papyrus rolls in their left hand with their fingers used as place markers. This shows how orators held papyrus rolls open for reference while they spoke.

A clearer image of the Probianus diptych than that in Wikipedia commons appears in Wright, The Roman Vergil and the Origins of Medieval Book Design (2001) 8. Quality images of both covers, each subtly different, with commentary are reproduced in Weitzmann (ed) Age of Spirituality. Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century (1979) no. 53.

The diptych is preserved in the Staatsbibliothek, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Ms. theol. lat. fol. 323.

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The Durability of Papyrus Circa 400 CE

". . . papyrus books and documents had in ancient and medieval times a usable life of hundreds of years. Aristotle's manuscripts, many of them in bad condition through neglect, were part of the loot taken by Sulla to Rome, where they were edited by Andronicus of Rhodes some 250 years after they were written. Pliny tells of seeing papyrus documents 100 and 200 years old. Searching in books 300 years old is mentioned by Galen. Cardinal Deusdedit, working the papal archives c. 1085, consulted papyrus rolls of the Lateran library going back by his specific citation to c. 1000 and by inference to c. 950. In 1192 the papal chamberlain Cencius searched 'in thomis charticiniis et voluminibus regestorum antiquorum pontificum', which included archives of the period 600-1000. Papal documents up to 330 years old were handled in AD 1213, and there are references in the fourteenth century to documents contained in volumes (papyrus rolls) of the fifth to tenth centuries. The historian Tristano Calchi [Calcho] working in Milan c. 1500, refers to a papyrus document of the reign of Odoacer (476-93). Among extant examples may be noted a Pindar volume of the late first or early second century that is patched on the back with strips of papyrus bearing writing of the third or fourth century A.D.; a Gospel manuscript of c. 200 with marginalia of c. 400; a roll that was first written on in the reign of Septimius Severus (193-211) then made into a codex and reused in the fifth century; and a document written in Paris at the end of the eleventh century on the verso of a testament of c. 690.

"From all of the above it seems fair to conclude that the papyrus produced by the ancient factories had, and retained for years and years, the following qualities; it was white (or slightly coloured. . . .) flexible, and durable, and its surface was shiny and smooth. It was not for lack of these qualities that papyrus gave to parchment and paper, but because these other materials were better able, with the passage of time, to meet the needs and conditions of different times and places for carrying the written and eventually the printed word" (Lewis, Papyrus in Classical Antiquity [1974] 60-61).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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).

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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).

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The Oldest Surviving Consular Diptych 406 CE

The mentioned diptych, portraying Emperor Honorius in both panels.

The oldest surviving diptych that can be called a consular diptych was commissioned by Anicius Petronius Probus, consul in the western empire in 406. It is the only consular diptych to bear the portrait of the emperor (Honorius in this instance, to whom the diptych is dedicated in an inscription full of humility, with Probus calling himself the emperor's "famulus" or slave) rather than a portrait of the consul. It is preserved in the cathedral treasury at Aosta.

Honorius was Emperor of the Western Roman Empire from 393 until his death in 423. Ascending to the throne at the age of only ten, Honorius was an especially weak military leader. In this diptych, however, he is portrayed in elaborate armor, holding an orb surmounted by a Victory, and a standard with the Latin words translated as "In the name of Christ, may you always be victorious." In actuality Honorius never led his troops in battle. At his death he left an empire on the verge of collapse.

A pair of linked panels, generally in ivory, wood or metal with rich sculpted decoration,  a diptych could function as a wax tablet for writing. More specifically a consular diptych was also intended as a deluxe commemorative object, commissioned by a consul ordinarius, and distributed to reward those who had supported his candidacy, and to mark his entry to that post.

"The chronology of such diptychs is clearly defined, with their beginnings marked by a decision by Theodosius I in 384 to reserve their use to consuls alone, except by an extraordinary imperial dispensation, and their end marked by the consulship's disappearance under the reign of Justinian in 541. Even so, great aristocrats and imperial civil-servants bypassed Theodosius's ban and produced diptychs to celebrate less important posts that the consulship - Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, for example, distributed some to commemorate his son's quaestorian then praetorian games in 393 and 401 respectively (Wikipedia article on consular diptych, accessed 11-19-2010).

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The Withdrawal of Roman Legions from Britannia Results in the End of Literacy in the Region 410 CE – 449 CE

A map of Britannia from A Classical Atlas of Ancient Geography by Alexander G. Findlay. New York: Harper and Brothers 1849. (View Larger)

In 410 Roman legions withdrew from the province of Britannia. With the departure of the last legions from Britain, and the end of Roman rule, literacy gradually left England. Within 40 to 50 years from the time of the departure of the Romans to the arrival in 597 of Augustine of Canterbury on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons, and for a period thereafter, it is believed that the people of Britain were, with few exceptions, essentially illiterate.

Roughly 40 years after the Romans departed, in 449, Saxons, Angles, and Jutes conducted large scale invasions of Britain, causing numerous members of the Christian aristocracy to flee to Bretagne, France. The environment in Britain became increasingly hostile to Christians, and increasingly illiterate.

The period from the departure of the Roman legions to the arrival of Augustine of Canterbury in 597 is often called Sub-Roman Britain or Post-Roman Britain. The date taken for the end of this period is arbitrary in that sub-Roman culture continued in the West of England, and in Wales, for a period of time thereafter. Reflecting the decline of literacy and of educational institutions, very little written material survived from the period.

"Two primary contemporary British sources exist: the Confessio of Saint Patrick and GildasDe Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain). Patrick's Confessio and his Letter to Coroticus reveal aspects of life in Britain, from where he was abducted to Ireland. It is particularly useful in highlighting the state of Christianity at the time. Gildas is the nearest to a source of Sub-Roman history but there are many problems in using it. The document represents British history as he and his audience understood it. Though a few other documents of the period do exist, such as Gildas' letters on monasticism, they are not directly relevant to British history. Gildas' De Excidio is a jeremiad: it is written as a polemic to warn contemporary rulers against sin, demonstrating through historical and biblical examples that bad rulers are always punished by God — in the case of Britain, through the destructive wrath of the Saxon invaders. The historical section of De Excidio is short, and the material in it is clearly selected with Gildas' purpose in mind. There are no absolute dates given, and some of the details, such as those regarding the Hadrian's and Antonine Walls are clearly wrong. Nevertheless, Gildas does provide us with an insight into some of the kingdoms that existed when he was writing, and how an educated monk perceived the situation that had developed between the Anglo-Saxons and the Britons.

"There are more continental contemporary sources that mention Britain, though these are highly problematic. The most famous is the so-called Rescript of Honorius, in which the Western Emperor Honorius tells the British civitates to look to their own defence. The first reference to this rescript is written by the 6th century Byzantine  scholar Zosimus and is found in the middle of a discussion of southern Italy; no further mention of Britain is made, which has led some, though not all, modern academics to suggest that the rescript does not apply to Britain, but to Bruttium in Italy. The Gallic Chronicles, Chronica Gallica of 452 and Chronica Gallica of 511, say prematurely that 'Britain, abandoned by the Romans, passed into the power of the Saxons' and provide information about St Germanus and his visit(s) to Britain, though again this text has received considerable academic deconstruction. The work of Procopius, another 6th century Byzantine writer, makes some references to Britain, though the accuracy of these is uncertain."

"There are numerous later written sources that claim to provide accurate accounts of the period. The first to attempt this was the monk Bede, writing in the early 8th century. He based his account of the Sub-Roman period in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (written around 731) heavily on Gildas, though he tried to provide dates for the events Gildas describes. It was written from an anti-Briton point of view. Later sources, such as the Historia Brittonum often attributed to Nennius, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (again written from a non-Briton point of view, based on West Saxon sources) and the Annales Cambriae, are all heavily shrouded in myth and can only be used with caution as evidence for this period. There are also documents giving Welsh poetry (of Taliesin and Aneirin) and land deeds (Llandaff charters) that appear to date back to the 6th century" (Wikipedia article on Sub-Roman Britain, accessed 04-18-2014).

(This entry was last revised on 04-18-2014.) 

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The Goths Sack Rome August 24, 410 CE

A depiction of Alaric I by German painter Ludwig Thiersch. (View Larger)

On August 24, 410 Goths, under Alaric I, captured and sacked the city of Rome.

"Because the barbarians had converted to Christian sect Arianism it was not a particularly violent looting with relatively little rape, murder and damage to buildings, but it still had a profound effect on the city. Many of the city's great buildings were ransacked, including the mausoleums of Augustus and Hadrian, in which many Roman Emperors of the past were buried. This was the first time the city had been sacked in 800 years, and its citizens were devastated. Tens of thousands of Romans fled the economically ruined city into the countryside, with many of them seeking refuge in Africa" (Wikipedia article on Sack of Rome [410], accessed 05-10-2009).

"We are told that during one siege the inhabitants were forced progressively 'to reduce their rations and to eat only half the previous daily allowance, and later, when the scarcity continued, only a third.' 'When there was no means of relief, and their food was exhausted, plague not unexpectedly succeeded famine. Corpses lay everywhere. . . .' The eventual fall of the city, according to another account, occurred because a rich lady 'felt pity for the Romans who were being killed off by starvation and who were already turning to cannibalism', and so opened the gates to the enemy" (Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization [2005]17).

¶ Some historians see this as a major landmark in the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire.

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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).

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Early Fifth Century Palimpsest Circa 425 CE

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

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

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

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

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The Earliest Surviving Copy of the Vulgate Gospels Circa 425 CE

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

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

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

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

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The 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.

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The Introduction of Christianity to the Irish 431 CE

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

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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.

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The Earliest Treasure Bookcovers: Made of Ivory or Precious Metals Circa 450 CE

"The earliest treasure bookcovers can be divided into those made of ivory, and those made of precious metals. The ivory covers found their direct models in the diptychs of the late Empire. These diptychs, luxurious versions of the traditional Roman wax writing tables in hinged pairs, were distributed as gifts by various Roman high officials to commemorate their entries into office. Ivory diptychs are first mentioned in a sumptuary edict of 384, enacting that ivory might be used for the diptychs only of the two annual consules ordinarii, whose assumption of office on 1 January (though their once-powerful title was now purely honorary) inaugurated the civil year. Because of the division of the Empire, consuls were elected in pairs both in Rome and Constantinople, and so their diptychs were manufactured in both cities. Until the extinction of the consular office, in 534 in Rome and 541 in Constantinople, many thousands of consular diptychs must have been created, presumably in workshops under the direction of the Imperial scrinia, or chancery. Those surviving, less than a hundred, mostly owe their preservation to their reuse in the Middle Ages as decorations for bookcovers.

"The earliest ivory plaques made explicitly as bookcovers rather than as diptychs or casket pieces are probably a famous pair in the Cathedral Treasury of Milan. Their layout is precisely that of the most luxurious consular diptychs, those meant for presentation to the emperor himself. But in place of Imperial symbolism, the panels are covered with scenes from the lives of Christ and Mary, together with the evangelist symbols and portraits. The center panels of each cover bear respectively an Agnus Dei and a cross, worked in silver-gilt and stones and attached to the ivory. The covers must have been made for a deluxe, large-format Gospels codex, now missing. They have been dated to the second half of the fifth century, and they come from the Western Empire, but have not been more precisely localized" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbinding 400-1600 [1979] 21-22).

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The Codex Alexandrinus Circa 450 CE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Church Assumes Role of Educator and Civil Service for the Tribal Kingdoms Circa 450 CE – 650

"The end of classical civilization in the West—roughly between AD 450 and 650, with regard to transmission of texts—is not so much the story of a violent physical destruction of the Roman empire as was once thought, but rather a matter of the barbarization of Roman civilization over 200 years or so, as the army, the government officials, the business classes, and the very population assumed the styles and customs first of the Ostrogoths and then of the Lombards. In the course of time, the forum, the bath and the temple fell into disuse and decay, their traditional roles in civic life forgotten as the public city-state was replaced by the private tribal kingdom. As Roman civilization faded, the Roman education of public school and private tutor slowly diminished; the body of literature that was the common property of the educated in Antiquity ceased to have an audience, and as the market for books disappeared the public stationers vanished. In Gaul, centurions like Martin (c.316-97) became saints, senators like Sidonius (c. 423-80) became bishops, and some patricians disenchanted with society, like Benedict (c. 480-550), removed themselves and formed communities with their fellows that lived according to a rule. Order and stability, once the obligation of the state, became the Church's responsibility. Literacy, necessary both to the teaching of a religion dependent on Scripture and to the function of the Church as administrative heir to the Roman state, became the near monopoly of the Church, which acted in effect as the civil service of the tribal kingdoms for the next 500 years" (R. Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns (ed) The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal (1992) 43).

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

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

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The 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.

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The Codex Mediceus of Virgil Circa 450 CE

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

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

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

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

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

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Hesychius of Alexandria's Dictionary Survived in Only One Deeply Corrupt Renaissance Manuscript Circa 450 CE

The "Alphabetical Collection of All Words" (Συναγωγὴ Πασῶν Λεξέων κατὰ Στοιχεῖον), written in the fifth century by the Greek grammarian Hesychius of Alexandria (Ἡσύχιος ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς), remains the richest lexicon of unusual and obscure Greek words that survived. It includes many words not found in surviving ancient Greek texts, and its explanations of many epithets and phrases also reveal important facts about the religion and social life of the ancients.

Hesychius's work survived in only one "deeply corrupt" 15th century manuscript preserved in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice (Marc. Gr. 622). This manuscript, which belonged to the Mantuan scholar Giangiacomo Bordellone, was edited by Greek scholar and philosopher Marcus Musurus (Μάρκος Μουσοῦρος; Marco Musuro) and published for the first time in print by Aldus Manutius of Venice in 1514. In his preface to the first edition Aldus thanked Bordellone for loaning the manuscript to Musurus so that it could be published.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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The Last Victory Achieved by the Western Roman Empire 451 CE

In 451 Roman General Flavius Aetius and Visigothic King Theodoric I defeated the Huns under the command of Attila at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains (or Fields), also called the Battle of Châlons sur Marne (now Châlons-en-Champagne).

Of this battle Gibbon wrote, "Attila's retreat across the Rhine confessed the last victory which was achieved in the name of the Western Roman Empire."

"John Julius Norwich, the historian known for his works on Venice and on Byzantium, said of the battle of Chalons:

" 'It should never be forgotten that in the summer of 451 and again in 452, the whole fate of western civilization hung in the balance. Had the Hunnish army not been halted in these two successive campaigns, had its leader toppled Valentinian from his throne and set up his own capital at Ravenna or Rome, there is little doubt that both Gaul and Italy would have been reduced to spiritual and cultural deserts.

"He goes on to say that though the battle in 451 was 'indecisive insofar as both sides sustained immense losses and neither was left master of the field, it had the effect of halting the Huns' advance.'

"There are a couple of reasons why this combat has kept its epic importance down the centuries. One is that—ignoring the Battle of Qarqar (Karkar), which was forgotten at this time—this was the first significant conflict that involved large alliances on both sides. No single nation dominated either side; rather, two alliances met and fought in surprising coordination for the time. Arthur Ferrill, addressing this issue, goes on to say:

"After he secured the Rhine, Attila moved into central Gaul and put Orleans under siege. Had he gained his objective, he would have been in a strong position to subdue the Visigoths in Aquitaine, but Aetius had put together a formidable coalition against the Hun. Working frenetically, the Roman leader had built a powerful alliance of Visigoths, Alans and Burgundians, uniting them with their traditional enemy, the Romans, for the defense of Gaul. Even though all parties to the protection of the Western Roman Empire had a common hatred of the Huns, it was still a remarkable achievement on Aëtius' part to have drawn them into an effective military relationship.

"Addressing Attila's fearsome reputation, and the importance of this battle, Gibbon noted that it was from his enemies we hear of his terrible deeds, not from friendly chroniclers, emphasizing that the former had no reason to elevate Attila's reign of terror, and the importance of the Battle of Chalons in proving Attila to be merely mortal and defeatable" (Wikipedia article on Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, accessed 05-10-2009).

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The Second Sack of Rome 455 CE

Karl Briullov's interpretation of Geiseric's sack of 455. (View Larger)

In 1455 Vandal king Geiseric sailed his powerful fleet from Carthage up the Tiber to sack Rome.

"The sack of 455 is generally seen by historians as being more thorough than the Visigothic sack of 410, because the Vandals plundered Rome for fourteen days whereas the Visigoths spent only three days in the city" (Wikipedia article on the Sack of Rome [455], accessed 11-22-2008).

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

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

Table of Contents



How to Use This Bibliography

Chapter 1. Introductions

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

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

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

Chapter 3. Forms of Non-Verbal Communication

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

Chapter 4. Ritual

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

Chapter 5. Language

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

Chapter 6. Oral and Written Memory

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

Chapter 7. Teaching, Mainly of Reading and Writing

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

Chapter 8. Production and Use of Written Texts

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

Chapter 9. The Preservation and Wilful Destruction of Written Texts

Chapter 10. Correspondence, Messengers and the Postal System

10.1 Messengers and Ambassadors

Chapter 11. Mandarin Literacy

Chapter 12. The Use of Writing by Different Social Groups

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

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

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

Chapter 14. Literature

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

Chapter 15. Religion and Writing

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

Chapter 16. The Symbolism of the Book

Subject Index

Index of Modern Authors and Editors

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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).

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The Only Illustrated Homer from Antiquity 493 CE – 508

Achilles sacrificing to Zeus from the Ambrosian Iliad. (View Larger)

Fifty-eight miniatures cut out of a 5th century illuminated manuscript on vellum of the Iliad of Homer are known as the Ilias Ambrosiana (Ilia picta). The manuscript is thought to have been produced in Constantinople during the late 5th or early 6th century, specifically between 493 and 508. "This time frame was developed by Ranuccio Bandinelli and is based on the abundance of green in the pictures, which happened to be the color of the faction in power at the time" (Wikipedia article on Ambrosian Iliad, accessed 11-30-2008).

The images from the Ambrosian Iliad are the only surviving portions of an illustrated copy of Homer from antiquity. Along with the Vergilius Vaticanusand the Vergilius Romanus, this incomplete manuscript of the Iliad is one of only three illustrated manuscripts of classical literature that survived from antiquity. The Iliad images

"show a considerable diversity of compositional schemes, from single combat to complex battle scenes. This indicates that, by that time, Iliad illustration had passed through various stages of development and thus had a long history behind it. It seems mere chance that neither an illustrated Odyssey nor any of the other Greek epic poems has survived" (Weitzmann,  Late Antique and Early Christian Book Illumination [1977] 13).

Before it was preserved in the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, Milan, the Ilias Ambrosiana fragment was in the library of humanist, botanist, and collector, Gian Vincenzo Pinelli, whose library of hundreds of manuscripts and roughly 8500 printed works was probably the greatest in 16th century Italy.

Nuovo, "The Creation and Dispersal of the Library of Gian Vincenzo Pinelli", Mandelbrote et al (eds) Books on the Move: Tracking Copies Through Collections and the Book Trade (2007) 39-68.

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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).

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