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

600 to 700 Timeline


The Earliest Western Metalwork Bookcovers Circa 600

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

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

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

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The Springmount Bog Wax Tablets Circa 600

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

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

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

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

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The Qur'an Circa 610 – 613

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

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

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

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

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During the Middle Ages Wax Tablets Are Widely Used Circa 610

A wooden wax tablet with bronze stylus and eraser, originating from Egpyt circa 600. (View Larger)

"During the middle ages wax tablets were in general use. Daily life cannot be imagined without them: students were supposed to carry a diptych at their belt for easy use, while writers used them for rough notes. They were also employed in private correspondence. Above all, medieval accounts were kept to a large extent on wax tablets, and most of the surviving examples served this purpose; even books of wax tablets were formed. In some places the use of wax tablets for accounting continued up to the nineteenth century" (Bernhard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography. Antiquity & the Middle Ages [1990] 14).

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Foundation of the Monastery and Library at Bobbio 614

Saint Columbanus (View larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Muhammad's Hijra 622

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

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Possibly the Earliest Surviving Irish Codex Circa 625

Folio 149v of the Codex Usserianus Primus.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Naples Dioscorides Circa 625

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Illuminated Gospel Book as a Tool for Evangelization 627

York Minster (View Larger)

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

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

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A Library Containing "54,000 Rolls" 627

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

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

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The Origins of Printing in China 627 – 649

The Chinese practice of cutting in stone the text of the Confucian classics in order to ensure permanency and accuracy may date back as far as 175 CE. However, the earliest date to which ink rubbings on paper from these stones— a kind of pre-printing—can be assigned with certainty is the reign of Taizong of Tang (T'ai Tsung), 627-649 CE, during which "a rubbing was made which was discovered by Pelliot at Tun-huang" (Carter, History of Printing in China, 2nd ed [1955] 20).

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Early Advanced Mathematics 628


In 628 Indian mathematician and astronomer of Bhinmal (भीनमाल), a town in the Jalore District of Rajasthan, India,  Brahmagupta wrote Brahmasphutasiddhanta (The Opening of the Universe).

"It contains some remarkably advanced ideas, including a good understanding of the mathematical role of zero, rules for manipulating both negative and positive, a method for computing aquare roots, methods of solving linear and some quadratic equations, and rules for summing series, Brahamgupta's identity, and the Brahmagupta's theorem."

By this time a base 10 numeral system with nine symbols was widely used in India, and the concept of zero (represented by a dot) was known.

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Filed under: Mathematics / Logic

The Death of Muhammad 632

Common calligraphic representation of Muhammad's name.

Muhammad with veiled face and halo.

The death of Muhammad occurred in 632.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Foundation of the Monastery on Lindisfarne 634

Saint Aidan (View larger)

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

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Muslims Occupy Jerusalem for 451 Years 638 – 1099

Muslims occupied Jerusalem for 451 years, from 638 until 1099.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Oldest Surviving Arabic Papyrus 642

The oldest surviving Arabic papyrus, and the oldest dated Arabic text from the Islamic era, PERF No. 558, dates from 22 AH (642 CE). Found in Heracleopolis (Herakleopolis Magna, Ἡρακλεόπολις) in Egypt, it is a bilingual Arabic-Greek fragment, consisting of a tax receipt: "Document concerning the delivery of sheep to the Magarites and other people who arrived, as a down-payment of the taxes of the first indiction."

"Features of interest include:

"The first well-attested use of the disambiguating dots that would become an essential feature of the Arabic alphabet;

"It begins with the Islamic formula "Bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim" (In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate)

"It records the date both in the Islamic calendar (Jumada I, year 22) and in the Coptic calendar (30 Pharmouthi, 1st indiction), allowing confirmation of the traditional date of the Hijra.

"In Greek, it calls the Arabs "Magaritae", a term, believed to be related to the Arabic "muhajir", emigrant, often used in the earliest non-Islamic sources. It also calls them "Saracens".

"After excavation, the papyrus was put in the Erzherzog Rainer Papyrus Collection in Vienna" (Wikipedia article on PERF 558, accessed 12-29-2012).

In December 2012 a list with descriptions of "Dated Muslim Texts From 1-72 AH / 622-691 CE: Documentary Evidence For Early Islam" was available at Islamic-awareness.org. 

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The Earliest Known Star Atlas 649 – 684

A depiction of a constellation from the Dunhuang Chinese Sky. (View Larger)

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The Dunhuang Chinese Sky, a set of sky maps drawn on a roll of thin paper, displaying the full sky visible from the Northern hemisphere, included in the medieval Chinese manuscript (Or. 8210/S.3326) preserved in the British Library, is the oldest known star atlas. It was discovered in 1907 by the archaeologist Aurel Stein in the Mogao Caves, also known as The Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, in Dunhuang, a town on the northern Silk Road, in Gansu province, China.  The earliest later star atlases in China date from the eleventh century.

The Dunhuang star atlas, drawn in two inks on fine paper and remarkably well preserved,  represents more than 1300 individual stars in the total sky as could be seen with the naked eye from the Chinese imperial observatory along with an explanatory text. It displays the sky "as in the most modern charts with twelve hour-angle maps, plus a North polar region."

"It was discovered by the British-nationalised but Hungarian-born archaeologist Aurel Stein in 1907 among the pile of at least 40,000 manuscripts enclosed in the so-called Library Cave (Cave 17) in the Mogao ensemble, also known as the ‘Caves of the Thousand Buddhas’ near Dunhuang (Gansu). The Mogao caves are a set of several hundred Buddhist temples cut into a cliff and heavily decorated with statues and murals. The site was active from about +3602 to the end of the Mongol period. In about +1000, one cave was apparently sealed (Rong Xinjiang, 1999) to preserve a collection of precious manuscripts and some printed material including the world’s earliest dated complete printed book . The sealed cave was rediscovered by accident and re-opened only a few years before the arrival of Stein in 1907. He was therefore the first European visitor to see the hidden library" (Bonnet-Bidaud, Praderie & Whitfield, The Dunhuang Chinese Sky: A Comprehensive Study of the Oldest Known Star Atlas [2004] 2).

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

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

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

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

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Introduction of Paper Money in China Circa 650 – 960

A jiaozi from the Song Dynasty. (View Larger)

"In the 600s there were local issues of paper currency in China and by 960 the Song Dynasty, short of copper for striking coins, issued the first generally circulating notes. A note is a promise to redeem later for some other object of value, usually specie. The issue of credit notes is often for a limited duration, and at some discount to the promised amount later. The jiaozi nevertheless did not replace coins during the Song Dynasty; paper money was used alongside the coins" (Wikipedia article on Banknote, accessed 08-13-2009).

Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed [1955]103-04.

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The Book of Durrow Circa 650 – 750

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

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

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

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

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The Book of Mulling Circa 650

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

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

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

The binding of the Stonyhurst Gospel. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Codification of the Qur'an Circa 650 – 656

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

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

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

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The Finest Surviving Coptic Bookbinding Circa 650 – 750

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

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

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

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

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

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The Earliest Surviving Specimens of Woodblock Printing on Paper 650 – 699

"The earliest specimen of woodblock printing on paper, whereby individual sheets of paper were pressed into wooden blocks with the text and illustrations carved into them, was discovered in 1974 in an excavation of Xi'an (then called Chang'an, the capital of Tang China), Shaanxi, China. It is a dharani sutra printed on hemp paper and dated to 650 to 670 AD, during Tang Dynasty (618–907). Another printed document dating to the early half of the Chinese Tang Dynasty has also been found, the Snddharma pundarik sutra printed from 690 to 699." (Wikipedia article on History of Printing in East Asia, accessed 12-29-2012).

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

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The Earliest Surviving Latin Single-Volume Bible Circa 650

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

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

McGurk, op. cit., 7.

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

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

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

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

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

The Abbey at Corbie. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Earliest Western Reference to Indian or Arabic Numerals 662

"The earliest reference in the Mediterranean world to the Indian system of numeration [Arabic numerals] dated from the mid-seventh century, just after the rise of Islam. In a fragment, dated 662, of a work by Severus Sebokht, the learned bishop of the monastery of Quinnasrin (located on the Euphrates in Syria [25 km southwest of Aleppo]), the bishop expresses his admiration for the Indians because of their valuable method of computation 'done by means of nine signs.' Severus had probably learned about the system from Eastern merchants active in Syria. This ingenious and eminently simple system of representing any quantity by using nine symbols in decimal place value (there was orignally no zero) arose in India perhaps as early as the fifth century. The indian system seems to have been known in Baghdad as early as 770, or less than a decade after its founding, but it was principally diffused through the writings of the Abbasid mathematician and geographer Muhmmad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (al-Khwarazmi) who died around 846" (Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper on the Islamic World [2001] 129).

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Filed under: Mathematics / Logic

King Oswiu Causes Britain to Embrace the Mainstream of Christianity 664

King Oswiu (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arabs Begin their Invasion of North Africa 670

Arabs began their invasion of North Africa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Continuing Use of Papyrus through the Eleventh Century 677 – 1100

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

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

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The Ceolfrid Bible Circa 685 – 710

A page from the Ceolfrid Bible. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Perhaps the Earliest Extant Treatise on Finger Reckoning 688

A chart of the positions used in finger notation. (View Larger)

A manuscript entitled Romana computatio, dated 688, appears to be the earliest extant document on ancient Roman techniques of finger reckoning. It was probably used as a source by the Venerable Bede for his De tempore ratione liber (725).

Sherman, Writing on Hands. Memory and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe (2000) 28.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Building the Dome of the Rock 691

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

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

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