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

500 CE to 600 Timeline

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

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

 

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

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

Galland and Turnèbe worked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A page from the Codex Argenteus. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Archive of Papyri, Including the Oldest Surviving Poems Written by a Known Poet Circa 520 – 585

The archive of Flavius Dioscorus (Dioscoros), called Dioscorus of Aphrodito, consists of several hundred papyri in mostly in Greek, with some in Coptic. The papyri are the records of Dioscorus, an Egyptian landlord, notary and village administrator who lived in the Egyptian village of Aphrodito from about 520 to 585. This town, located 45 north of Sohag, is now called Kom Isgaw, Kom Ishgau or Kom Ashkaw. The archive was discovered by accident in Kom Isgaw during a home renovation in 1905 when a floor collapsed revealing historic objects below. As a result of this discovery, more is known about Dioscorus and his intellectual-political-religious milieu than virtually any other individual in Egypt during the Early Byzantine period.

Dioscorus's native language was Egyptian and his faith was Christian; however, he was also versed in pagan Greek culture, and he had studied Roman law. Petitions that he composed on behalf of citizens of Aphrodito are considered "unique for their poetic and religious qualities." Dioscorus was also a writer of poetry; his poems represent the oldest surviving poems written by a known poet. In December 2013 a scholarly English translation of his poems was available from byzantineegypt.com at this link.

"The archive can be divided into several, well-delinated periods. Some of the oldest documents are related to Dioscoros's father, Apollos, who moved the family into the upper classes of Aphrodito, and was eventually accorded the honorific nomen 'Flavius." In the last decade of his life, Apollos retired to a monatery that he had himself founded. Disocoros received a higher education in Antinoopolis or Alexandria. Following in his father's footsteps, he became village headman and received numerous petitions. After acting as a notaroy in the nome metropolis Antinoopolis for some years, he returned to Aphrodito sometime between 570 and 573. Having a great interest in Chrstian and pagan literatures, Disocoros maintained a private library that included works by Homer and the comedy writer Menander. In his spare time he appears to have been an enthusiastic poet of wedding songs and the lie, written in classical Greek meters" (Vandorpe, "Archives and Dossiers," Bagnall (ed) The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology [2009] 241-42).

A standard biography is Mac Coull, Dioscorus of Aphrodito. His Work and His World (1989); in December 2013 a digital edition of this was available at this link.

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Thedoric Executes the Philosopher Boëthius: Beginning of the Middle Ages 524 – 525

Boethius teaching his students. (View Larger)

On charges of treason, Theodoric the Great, Ostrogothic ruler of Italy, executed Hellenist and philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius, who had risen to the office of Magister officiorum (head of all government and court services) in Theodoric's court.

The execution took place in 524 or 525,  possibly because Theodoric suspected Boëthius's involvement in a plot with the Byzantine Emperor Justin I, whose religious orthodoxy, in contrast to Theodoric's Arian opinions, increased their political rivalry.

♦ The date of Boëthius's execution is often taken as a date for the onset of the Middle Ages.

"Boethius's most popular work is the Consolation of Philosophy, which he wrote in prison while awaiting his execution, but his lifelong project was a deliberate attempt to preserve ancient classical knowledge, particularly philosophy. He intended to translate all the works of Aristotle and Plato from the original Greek into Latin. His completed translations of Aristotle's works on logic were the only significant portions of Aristotle available in Europe until the 12th century. However, some of his translations (such as his treatment of the topoi in The Topics) were mixed with his own commentary, which reflected both Aristotelian and Platonic concepts.

"Boethius also wrote a commentary on the Isagoge by Porphyry, which highlighted the existence of the problem of universals: whether these concepts are subsistent entities which would exist whether anyone thought of them, or whether they only exist as ideas. This topic concerning the ontological nature of universal ideas was one of the most vocal controversies in medieval philosophy.

"Besides these advanced philosophical works, Boethius is also reported to have translated important Greek texts for the topics of the quadrivium.His loose translation of Nicomachus's treatise on arithmetic (De institutione arithmetica libri duo) and his textbook on music (De institutione musica libri quinque, unfinished) contributed to medieval education. His translations of Euclid on geometry and Ptolemy on astronomy, if they were completed, no longer survive.

"In his "De Musica", Boethius introduced the threefold classification of music:
1. Musica mundana - music of the spheres/world
2. Musica humana - harmony of human body and spiritual harmony
3. Musica instrumentalis - instrumental music (incl. human voice)" (Wikipedia article on Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, accessed 11-28-2008).

Note: "Boëthius" has four syllables; the o and e  are pronounced separately. This was traditionally written with a diæresis, viz. "Boëthius," a spelling which has been disappearing due to the limitations of word processors.

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How the Middle Ages Processed and Recycled Roman Culture Circa 524 – 1300

"An interest in classical antiquity never waned altogether during the centuries of the Middle Ages. In the West and particularly in Italy, the great Latin classics never ceased to be studied in the schools and cherished by individuals with a bent for letters. It is true that writers like Tacitus and Lucretius, Propertius and Catullus, just to give a few leading examples, fell quickly into oblivion after the Carolingian age, only to reappear again with the rise of humanism. But Virgil and Cicero, Ovid and Lucan, Persius and Juvenal, Horace and Terence, Seneca and Valerius Maximus, Livy and Statius, and the list is by no means complete, were always read. Virgil became also a prophet of Christianity by the fourth century and a sorcerer in the twelfth century. Some of Ovid's poems were given a Christian interpretation, while Seneca, besides being hailed as the traditional exponent of ancient morality, was also cherished as the correspondent of St. Paul, which he certain was not. Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, the idea of Rome as 'caput mundi' never faded out in the West. Neither Constantinople nor Aachen ever succeeded in achieving the universal prestige of Rome, just as neither Ravenna nor Antioch, nor Milan, nor Aquileia, nor Treves, had ever come near it during the last centuries of the Empire. The very Barbarians who invaded Italy succumbed to Latin civilization, just as some centuries before the Romans had surrended to that of conquered Greece. Towns were proud of their Roman origins. At Pavia an inscription, testifying to the existence of the town in Roman times, was preserved as a relic in a church, while the equestrian statue of a Roman Emperor, known as the 'Regisol' and removed from Ravenna, adorned one of its squares and was the visible symbol of the town and its traditions until its destruction at the hands of the French in 1796.

"That some interest in the ancient monuments remained alive is not surprising, just as it is not surprising that even smaller antiquities, such as coins, ivories, or engraved gems, were continually sought after during the Middle Ages. 'What was lost, notwithstanding the reminder contained in St. Augustine's Civitas Dei, was the Varronian idea of 'antiquitates'— the idea of a civilization recovered by systematic collection of all the relics of the past.' What led to the collection of antique objects during the Middle Ages was not their antiquity but their appeal to the eye or their rare or unusual materials, or simply because they were different; or even in some cases because they were thought to be endowed with magical powers. The antiques preserved in the treasuries of cathedrals were kept there because their materials or their craftsmanship were considered precious, not becuase they were ancient. Even those few who had a genuine interest in Antiquity were drawn to it by an attraction tempered by utilitarian considerations. The Latin classics were considered above all as repositories of unusual information or moral teachings or as collections of fine phrases suitable for quotation or insertion into one's own writings. They were certainly not seen as the expressions of a great civilization. Roman remains were employed as building materials, or as architectural models, as can be seen for instance in the interior of Autun Cathedral and on the façade of that of Saint Gilles, or they could influence sculpture, as happened in France during the early thirteenth century, when art acquired there a new vitality through the study of ancient marbles. The inscriptions left wherever Rome had ruled were sometimes considered useful models, and as such were transcribed and imitated. Statues and sarcophagi were used again, while smaller antiques were often employed for various purposes. Roman cinerary urns were frequently turned into small stoups for holy water, as may be seen in more than one church in Rome, or could even be provided with a fresh inscription, as was the inscription in honour of St. Agnes and St. Alexander, placed there during the thirteenth century by Marco, Abbot of Santa Prassede. The ivory diptychs of the consuls became covers of gospel books or were even employed to record the dead of a particular church as happened for instance to the Boethius diptych of 487, on which were entered the names of the deceased of the church of Brescia. Sometimes the figures of the consuls carved on them were turned into saints or biblical characters, as happened in a diptych now at Monza, where they became King David and St. Gregory, and in one at Prague, where the consul was transformed into none other than St. Peter himself. Engraved gems went to adorn crowns and diadems, crosses, reliquaries and book covers. Thus the cross [of Lothair] given to the Minster at Aachen by the Emperor Otho III has an ancient cameo of the young Augustus; and also at Aachen the eleventh century ambo still displays some antique ivory tablets with decidedly pagan deities.

"One thing that must be borne in mind is that the Middle Ages did not envisage classical antiquity as a different civilization or a lost Paradise. Despite the difference in religion, until Petrarch medieval men failed to notice a fracture between the classical age and their own times. To them Frederick Barbarossa was as much a Roman Emperor as Augustus or Trajan and only differed from Constantine by his having been born several centuries after him. The medieval empire and that founded by Augustus were believed to be one and the same, and classical myth was often used for decoration in a religious setting. In fact the frequent warnings that pagan art was dangerous found little response even in ecclesiastical circles. During the early Middle Ages a vigorous classical revival took place under the Carolingians. This was in many ways a real renaissance, and the widest in scope ever witnessed before that which illuminated the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. . . ." (Roberto Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity [1969] 2-3).

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Computus, Root of the Modern Word "Computer" 525

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

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

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

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

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

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The Code of Justinian, The Basis for Civil Law in Western Europe 529 – 533

Justinian. (Click to view larger.)

Thinking that the curriculum was contrary to Christian teachings, Byzantine Emperor Justinian I closed the last surviving classical school at Athens, causing Constantinople to become the capital of Greek culture. He also appointed a commission of scholars to codify 2000 volumes of legal works, some dating back about 1000 years. 

This condensation, produced from 529 to 533, formed the Codex Justinianus, later known as the Code of Justinian or, after a printed edition of 1583, as the Corpus Juris Civilis. The Corpus Juris Civilis became the basis for civil law in western Europe. It was written and distributed in Latin, which remained the official language of the government of the Empire even though the prevalent language of merchants, farmers, seamen, and other citizens was Greek. By the early 7th century, the official government language of the Byzantine empire segued into ancient Greek under the lengthy reign of Heraclius.

"This code compiled, in the Latin language, all of the existing imperial constitutiones (imperial pronouncements having the force of law), back to the time of Hadrian. It used both the Codex Theodosianus and the fourth-century collections embodied in the Codex Gregorianus and Codex Hermogenianus, which provided the model for division into books that were divided into titles. These codices had developed authoritative standing."

"Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis was distributed in the West but was lost sight of; it was scarcely needed in the comparatively primitive conditions that followed the secession of Italy from the Byzantine empire in 8th century. The only western province where the Justinianic code was effectively introduced was Italy, following its recovery by Byzantine armies (Pragmatic Sanction of 554), but a continuous tradition of Roman law in medieval Italy has not been proven. Historians disagree on the precise way it was recovered in Northern Italy about 1070: perhaps it was waiting unneeded and unnoticed in a library until the legal studies that were undertaken on behalf of papal authority that was central to the Gregorian Reform of Pope Gregory VII led to its accidental rediscovery. Aside from the Littera Florentina, a 6th-century codex of the Pandects that was preserved at Pisa, apparently without ever being publicly consulted, (and removed to Florence after Florence conquered Pisa in 1406), there may have been other manuscript sources for the text that began to be taught at Bologna, by Pepo and then by Irnerius. The latter's technique was to read a passage aloud, which permitted his students to copy it, then to deliver an excursus explaining and illuminating Justinian's text, in the form of glosses. Irnerius's pupils, the so-called Four Doctors of Bologna, were among the first of the "glossators" who established the curriculum of Roman law. The tradition was carried on by French lawyers, known as the Ultramontani, in the 13th century. 

"The merchant classes of Italian communes required law with a concept of equity and which covered situations inherent in urban life better than the primitive Germanic oral traditions. The provenance of the Code appealed to scholars who saw in the Holy Roman Empire a revival of venerable precedents from the classical heritage. The new class of lawyers staffed the bureaucracies that were beginning to be required by the princes of Europe. The University of Bologna, where Justinian's Code was first taught, remained the dominant centre for the study of law through the High Middle Ages" (Wikipedia article on Corpus Juris Civilis, accessed 01-02-2010).

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

St. Benedict. (Click to view larger.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Littera Florentina. (Click to view larger.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Deterioration of Libraries, Publishing and Educational Institutions in Italy by the Sixth Century 534

"In classical times the publication of a book had followed a rather exclusive pattern. A new work could be offered by the author to some friend or sponsor, or it could be publicaly read, or in some cases deposited in a public library. Thereafter, whoever wished to become the owner of a copy had to hire a scribe, give orders to a literate slave, or copy it himself from a borrowed example. This system led to each sample having a highly individual nature, to the point that when Pliny lamented the negligence of copyists who had departed from the exactitude of the prototype of the illustratrated treatise by Crateuas he suggested that the new copies should be amended by going back to a specialised medical garden for a new start. The prescription was against the formation of a tranmission from model to copies; in fact each copy would have been an independent original work.

"Prior to the existence of efficient copyists, public libraries had fulfilled the need to go back to the prototype, providing editors with a number of examples by which to control their new edition.

"In 534, Securus Melior Felix, a school master who practiced his trade on the Forum Traiani, amended Martianus Capella's Nuptiae Mercurrii et Philologiae with the help of his disciple Deuterius but unfortunately checking his work, as he states, against very defective examples. The proximity of his working place to the famous Bibliotheca Ulpia had been of little help in this case. Already at the time when the Historia Augusta was composed, many books from that library had been transferred to the baths of Diocletian. The contents of the Ulpian library had become legendary. One of the authors of the Historia, writing under the pseudonym of Flavius Volpiscus Syracusanus, mentions an ivory book, of which he even gives the class-number in the library's shelves.

"In the fourth century, the catalogue of the regions [Libellus de regionibus urbis Romae] gives the number of twenty-eight libraries in Rome. Many were still extant in the sixth century before the Gothic wars, although in what condition we do not know. Almost all the public libraries of Rome were attached to a temple and they must have suffered from the measures taken by Theodosius against pagan worship after the defeat of Eugenius. A library is a collection of fragile material, particularly if the majority of its books are made of papyrus and therefore require constant care. We may presume that the closing of the temples was one of the causes of the loss of many texts by classic authors.

"It has been suggested that the collections of books in the villas of Campania were transferred to the newly founded monasteries. There is no evidence for this supposition, nor it seems was there any intention to keep an eye on things reputedly pagan and at least distracting. Maintaining a library is expensive and there were not the conditions for imposing an extra expenditure on a monastery. It is certain that the long campaign of Justinian against the Goths inflicted a terrible blow to all the cultural structures of the ancient capital and of many municipal towns. We have a very authoritative witness for this disaster in Cassiodorus.

"In his introduction to the Institutiones, Cassiodorus tells us how in the same year 534 when Securus Melior Felix was editing Martianus Capella, he had tried with the help of Pope Agapitus to build a library and a school for Christian studies in Rome, on the model of that of Nisibis [Nusaybin]. This would be a new institution which would rival the public teaching of secular lterature. However, due to the wars and troubles which 'had devastated the kingdom of Italy', the project fell through" (Bertelli, "The Production and Distribution of Books in Late Antiquity," IN: Hodges & Bowden (eds) The Sixth Century: Production, Distribution and Demand [1998] 52-54).

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

The Vienna Genesis. (Click to view larger.)

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

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

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

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The Plague of Justinian 541 – 542

Detail of image of Phylogenetic tree of y. pseudotuberculosisY. pestis is a recently emerged clone of Y. pseudotuberculosis. Please click on link to view and resize complete image.

Justianian I.

From 541 to 542 the Plague of Justinian, afflicted the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire), including its capital Constantinople.  

"The most commonly accepted cause of the pandemic is bubonic plague, which later became infamous for either causing or for contributing to the Black Death of the 14th century. The plagues' social and cultural impact during this period is comparable to that of the Black Death. In the views of 6th century Western historians, it was nearly worldwide in scope, striking central and south Asia, North Africa and Arabia, and Europe as far north as Denmark and as far west as Ireland.

"Until about 750, the plague would return with each generation throughout the Mediterranean basin. The wave of disease would also have a major impact on the future course of European history. Modern historians named this plague incident after the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I, who was in power at the time. He contracted the disease, but was one of a limited number of survivors" (Wikipedia article on Plague of Justinian, accessed 11-01-2010). 

Giovanna Morelli et al "Yersinia pestis genome sequencing identifies patterns of global phylogenetic diversity," Nature Genetics, 31 October 2010 | doi:10.1038/ng.705, suggested a common origin for the Plague of Justinian and later pandemics of plague in the bacterial agent Yersinia pestis originating in China. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Most Important Medical Center During 6th and 7th Centuries 550 – 650

Gundishapur, province of Khuzestan, Iran. (View Larger)

The Academy of Gundishapur, located in the present-day province of Khuzestan, in southwest Iran, contained an important library and offered training in medicine, philosophy, theology, and science. According to the Cambridge History of Iran, this Academy was "the most important medical center of the ancient world (defined as Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East) during the 6th and 7th centuries."

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The Codex Brixianus Circa 550

Canon tables from Codex Brixianus. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • "182 leaves in the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg,
  • 33 leaves in the Library of the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian on the Island of PatmosGreece, Mark 6:53-7:4; 7:20-8:32; 9:1-10:43; 11:7-12:19; 14:25-15:23;
  • 6 leaves in the Vatican Library in Rome, Matthew 19:6-13; 20:6-22; 20:29-21:19
  • 4 leaves in London, British Library, Cotton Titus C. XV; Matthew 26:57-65; 27:26-34; John 14:2-10; 15:15-22; they were named the Codex Cottonianus;
  • 2 leaves in the National Library of Austria in Vienna,
  • 1 leaf in the Morgan Library in New York,
  • 1 leaf in the Byzantine Museum in Athens,
  • 1 leaf in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki
  • 1 leaf in the private collection of Marquis А. Spinola in Lerma (1), Italy." (Wikipedia article on Codex Petropolitanus, accessed 02-18-2014).
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The Syriac Bible of Paris Circa 550 – 650

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

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

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

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

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The Anglo-Saxons Conquer England Circa 550

German tribes (Anglo-Saxons) conquered England in the mid sixth century.

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The Dark Ages for Study of the Classics on the European Continent Circa 550 – 750

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

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

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

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The First Surviving Metal Bookcovers Circa 550

The Antioch Chalice, with which the bookcovers were found.

"The first surviving metal bookcovers originated in the Eastern Empire. Four pairs of repoussé silver covers are known, all dated to the second half of the sixth century. Two of the pairs were apparently found in [Antioch?], Syria, together with the famous Antioch chalice, and two were found near Antalya, in southern Turkey. In all cases, the front and back covers are virtually identical. Three pairs depict standing figures of Christ or saints, two representing the figures within arched porticoes, the third showing two saints flanking a large cross. The fourth pair represents a large cross between two trees, again within an arched portico. The earliest western metal work bookcovers (though their origin has been disputed) are the pair presented by the Lombard queen, Theodelinda (d. 625) to the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Monza. The covers again are identical, each bearing a gem-encrusted cross over a gold background surrounded by a frame of red glass cloisonné" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 22).

The pair of metal bookcovers found with the Antioch chalice are preserved, along with the chalice, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are described and illustrated in Minor (ed.) The History of Bookbinding 525-1950 AD (1957) nos. 3 & 4, plate II.

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The Herbal of Pseudo-Apuleius Circa 550 – 625

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The manuscript was

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

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

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One of the Earliest Surviving Legal Codices Circa 550

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

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

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

"It comprises:

◊"sixteen books of the Codex Theodosianus;

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

◊"the Institutes of Gaius

◊"five books of the Sententiae Receptae of Julius Paulus

◊"thirteen titles of the Gregorian code;

◊"two titles of the Hermogenian code

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

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

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Among the Earliest Surviving European Papyrus Codices Circa 550

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

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

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

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

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The Codex Sinopensis or Sinope Gospels Circa 550

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

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

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

 

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"A Public Popularity for Books Never Existed in Antiquity" Circa 550

In the Byzantine world, and also in Europe of the sixth century, book ownership was primarily limited to the elite.

"This social restriction was not a novelty. Although in the second century, Gellius had been offered some Greek books for sale at the harbour of Brundisium, which he found 'full of wonders and tales', a public popularity for books never existed in Antiquity. What we would term 'popular literature' was in fact intended for the entertainment of the well-to-do. Furthermore, in the sixth century, if the circulation of books was limited by social factors in the East, in the West, an additional barrier was formed by the presence of large groups, in some cases militarily and politcally dominant, for whom Latin was a foreign language, while the number of people who were able to read Greek was rapidly decreasing. As Cassiodorus put, 'Other people have arms, the Romans only eloquence.' " (Bertelli, "The Production and Distribution of Books in Late Antiquity," IN: Hodges & Bowden (eds) The Sixth Century: Production, Distribution and Demand [1998] 41-42).

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Perhaps the First Library in Japan Circa 550 – 645

"The first extant notice of a collection of books in Japan, naturally Chinese books, dates from the sixth century. According to an early Heian genealogical compilation, Shinsen shojiroku, there was a Chinese Buddhist monk called Zhicong living in the 'capital' in the reign of the emperor Kimmei (r. 539-71) who had brought with him from China 164 rolls of Buddhist and secular works, including pharmacological studies and medical books which showed the places on the body to be used for acupuncture or moxibustion. The date is not impossibly early, particularly since the owner was an immigrant, and the precision is striking, but the source is a late one and it is wise to be cautious. Ono Noriiaki dates book-collecting from the seventh century, citing the account in Nihon shoki of Sogo no Iruka's insurrection in 645 which ended with the burning of his books. Ono also notes that the Horyu Gakumonji, a temple emponymously devoted to learning, must also have had a library at this time, although nonting is known of it" (Peter Kornicki, The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century [2001] 364-5).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Codex Purpureus Beratinus Circa 550

The Codex Purpureus Beratinus, an illuminated Greek Gospel book, was written in silver ink on purple vellum in the 6th century. It formerly belonged to the St. George Church in Berat, Albania, from which it received its appellation. The manuscript contains only the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark, each of which has several lacunae. It contains 190 leaves, on which the texts are written in an uncial hand 17 lines per page in very regular, and comparatively large letters. The texts are generally of the Byzantine text-type.

The origins of the manuscript are unknown. It believed to have been originally at Patmos, but was held at Berat since 1358. 

"The text of the codex was published by Pierre Batiffol in 1887. 'During World War II, Hitler learned of it and sought it out. Several monks and priests risked their lives to hide the manuscript.' Since 1971, it has been preserved at the National Archives of Albania in Tirana" (Wikipedia article on Codex Beratinus, accessed 03-08-2014).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Scriptorium and Library at the Vivarium Circa 560

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oldest Historical Case Law on Copyright

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

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

Saint Columba (View Larger)

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

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

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The Lombards Conquer Italy 568

The assassination of Alboin. (View Larger)

In 568 The Lombards— a Germanic people, under the leadership of Alboin—invaded and conquered most of Byzantine Italy, and established a Kingdom of Italy, which lasted until 774.

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The Birth of the Prophet Muhammad 570

The birth of the Prophet Muhammad occurred in 570.

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

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

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

The manuscript is written in Uncial (Littera Uncialis).

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

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

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The Ashburnham Pentateuch Circa 580 – 620

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Columbanus.

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

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

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

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

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

According to Bernhard Bischoff,

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

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

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

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Signed by the Scribe Rabbula in 586 586

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The First Mention of Printing in China 593

Sui emperor Wen-ti. (View Larger)

The first mention of printing in China is an imperial decree of 593 in which Sui emperor Wen-ti ordered the printing of Buddhist images and scriptures.  However, the decree provides no details.

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Augustine of Canterbury Preaches to the Anglo-Saxons 597

St. Augustine of Canterbury. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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