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

800 to 900 Timeline


The Book of Kells Circa 800

The Book of Kells.

The Book of Kells, sometimes known as the Book of Columba, contains a richly decorated copy of the Four Gospels in a Latin text based on the Vulgate edition (completed by St Jerome in 384 CE). The gospels are preceded by prefaces, summaries of the gospel narratives and concordances of gospel passages—a kind of cross-indexing system—attributed to the fourth century Roman historian, exegete, Christian polemicist and Bishop, Eusebius of Caesarea.

The book "was transcribed by Celtic monks ca. 800. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland's finest national treasure."

"The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospels in extravagance and complexity. The decoration combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art. Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, together with intricate knotwork and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours, enliven the manuscript's pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasize the themes of the major illustrations.

"The manuscript today comprises 340 folios and, since 1953, has been bound in four volumes. The leaves are on high-quality calf vellum, and the unprecedentedly elaborate ornamentation that covers them includes ten full-page illustrations and text pages that are vibrant with historiated initials and interlinear miniatures and mark the furthest extension of the anti-classical and energetic qualities of Insular art. The Insular majuscule script of the text itself appears to be the work of at least three different scribes. The lettering is in iron-gall ink, and the colors used were derived from a wide range of substances, many of which were imports from distant lands" (Wikipedia article on The Book of Kells, accessed 11-22-2008).

During the later medieval and early modern periods the Book of Kells was kept in the Abbey of Kells (Mainistir Cheanannais in Irish) in Kells, County Meath, Ireland, 40 miles north of Dublin. The Abbey is thought to have been founded in 804 by monks fleeing from St Colmcille's Iona monastery to escape Viking invasions. It is possible that The Book of Kells was produced by the monks of Iona Abbey in the years leading up to 800. It is also possible that much of the manuscript may have been created at Kells. In Insular Manuscripts 6th to the 9th Century (1978) p. 73 J. J. G. Alexander cites a theory that the manuscript might have been produced in northern England or even in the Pictish kingdom because of its similarity in layout and organization to the Lindisfarne Gospels. Clearly historians cannot be certain of the exact date and circumstances of its creation.

The Book of Kells is preserved at Trinity College, Dublin. In 2012 Bernard Meehan, Head of Research Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity College Library, and author of numerous prior studies of the manuscript, published a spectacular and elegant analysis of the manuscript in art book format entitled simply The Book of Kells.

In February 2014 a complete digital facsimile of the Book of Kells was available from Trinity College Dublin at this link.

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The Archetype of De architectura Circa 800

Folio f32v of Harley 2767, the document from which most manuscripts of De architectura were copied. (View Larger)

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio wrote De architectura, the only surviving classical treatise on architecture, between 31 and 27 BCE, while he was employed as military engineer for the Emperor Augustus. The work, which Vitruvius claimed to be the first comprehensive study on its subject, comprised ten books on the theory and practice of architecture, which in ancient times encompassed not only building construction but also many aspects of mechanical engineering, including construction management, construction engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, materials engineering, mechanical engineering, military engineering and urban planning. The work contained much useful information on ancient materials and techniques, but it was the theoretical aspects of De architectura that were most influential. Drawing on his own preferences and a selective study of Greek architectural writings, most of which are no longer extant, Vitruvius defined architectural perfection in quantitative terms, and derived from these definitions finite rules governing planning and perfection. These rules had little effect on the architecture of his day, but were adopted as true doctrine during the Renaissance.

Of the eighty or so extant manuscripts of De architectura the great majority descend from a manuscript in the British Library known as Harley 2767 (H). This was written on the border between east and west Francia about 800.

"Its splendid calligraphy, and its dominant influence on the later tradition suggest that it might well have been written at the palace scriptorium of Charlemagne [at Aachen]. This is supported by the fact that the first two men to show any knowledge of Vitruvius after the Dark Ages are Alcuin, in a letter written to Charlemagne between 801 and 804, and Einhard, who in addition to his close association with the court, had a practical interest in building. The whole tradition shows signs of a derivation from an archetype in Anglo-Saxon script, and it has been suggested that Alcuin had imported a text from England.

"Among the descendants of H are a number of early manuscripts, all dating from the twelfth century, which show that by then this form of the text had spread over a wide area ranging from north-west Germany, through the Low Countries and France to England. . . .

"Germany obviously dominated the vital phase of Vitruvius' transmission, and we know that there were copies, too, in the ninth century at Reichenau, and its daughter house Murbach. It is difficult not to see such figures as Einhard lurking in the background, men equally at home in the workshop as in the library and scriptorium. An interest in technology has fused at an early age the α tradition of Vitruvius with that of a series of technical recipes known as the Mappae clavicula. This remarkable collection tells one how to gild metals and distill alcohol, how to make various compounds, from pigments and varnish to incendiary bombs. It has a particular bearing on the making of stained glass and the illumination of manuscripts. These recipes appear in various degrees, and combinations in H (and some of its descendants). . . ." (Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] 441-42).

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Some of the Earliest Library Catalogs Were Introduced in Baghdad Circa 800

It is thought that about this time library catalogs were introduced in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, and in other medieval Islamic libraries, where books were organized into specific genres and categories.

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Adoption of the Carolingian Minuscule Brought the Destruction of Many Late Roman Manuscripts 800 – 830

Example of Carolingian minuscule script.

"As a vehicle in which to disseminate its written work the Carolingian court discarded the ligatured, flowing chancery scripts that it had inherited from late Antiquity via the Merovingians in favour of a revived late-patristic half-uncial script, modified to produce the form we call Carolingian minuscule. The speed with which the script was adopted across the empire, between 800 and 830, can only be explained by the smallness of the ruling class of abbots and bishops who were responsible for its propagation. The literature of the past—the bulk of it still, at this date, in manuscripts produced by the Roman book trade—was recopied wholesale in the new script. By the end of the ninth century the Carolingians had produced a remarkable number of manuscripts, over 6,700 of which survive. Unfortunately, every manuscript copied in the legible new script rendered its exemplar superfluous. The movement that insured the survival of ancient literature also entailed the physical destruction of many late Roman manuscripts. Altogether, only some 1,865 Latin manuscripts survive, wholly or in part from all the centuries before AD 800" (Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns [ed] The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 47).

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The First Written Swedish Literature Circa 800

The Rök Runestone, believed to be the earliest Sweedish writing, makes reference to Ostrogothic King, Theodoric the Great.

The Rök Runestone (Swedish: Rökstenen; Ög 136), one of the most famous runestones, features the longest known runic inscription in stone. Preserved by the church in Rök (between Mjölby and Ödeshög, close to the E4 and Lake Vättern), Östergötland, Sweden, it is considered the first piece of written Swedish literature. The stone dates from about 800.

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The Oldest Surviving Manuscript Written on Arab Paper Circa 800

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

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"Mass Production" of Bibles at Tours: A "New" Development in Medieval Book Production 800 – 860

Bibles were the longest text widely copied during the Middle Ages, and by medieval standards the production of two whole manuscript Bibles per year by one scriptorium— specifically that at Tours— may be considered "mass production." In addition to Bibles the Tours scriptorium also produced copies of many of liturgical and classical texts. Tours Bible production levels were particularly remarkable in view of the quality of the calligraphy, and richness of decoration and illumination characteristic of some of these Bibles. Of the nearly 100 Bibles produced at Tours during the first 60 years of the ninth century three illuminated Bibles survived, among which perhaps the most outstanding was the Moutier-Grandval Bible.

From David Ganz's chapter 3, "Mass production of early medieval manuscripts: the Carolingian Bibles from Tours" in Gameson, ed., The Early Medieval Bible (1994) 53-55 I quote selections, with my habitual addition of links. The footnotes are, as usual, excluded:

"The copying of complete texts of the Bible, contained in only one or two volumes, which characterised the scriptoria of St. Martin's and Marmoutiers at Tours during the course of the ninth century, constituted a new development in medieval book production. While multi-volume and single-volume Bibles had been copied before, and the scriptorium at Wearmouth-Jarrow had made three copies of the Bible, whose layouts and similarities await study, the multiple reproduction of the biblical text during a sixty year period cannot be paralleled. Only the attempt by the abbey of Micy to provide several copies of the Bible recension prepared by Theodulf of Orléans deserves mention here. Theodulf's text was continuously revised during his lifetime, and was conceived as an accessible reference work, and so he chose a very small, three column 61-line format, with quires of five leaves. The copying involved elaborate scribal preparation, and the Bibles were produced within a short space of time. Six copies survive and two others have left traces, and there is clear evidence that Theodulf's text was used to improve biblical texts throughout the Carolingian empire.

"Carolingian book production was decisively affected by the steady supply of Bibles and gospel books which were copied at Tours. Forty-six Bibles and eighteen gospel books have survived from the period before 853; only three Bibles and seven gospel books may be dated later in the ninth century, an indication of the severe effects of Viking attacks on Tours in the reign of Charles the Bald, notably the burning of St. Martin's Abbey in 853, 872, and again in 903. So the Tours scriptoria were perhaps copying two full Bibles per year, for more than half a century. Nor was book production at Tours restricted to these Bibles: the abbey of St. Martin was also copying the works of classical, patristic and Carolingian authors. Works of Cicero, Servius, Hegesippus, Augustine, Orosius, Priscian, Isidore, the Paris Council of 829, Amalarius, Paul the Deacon, were all copied between 820 and 860. What has not been sufficiently acknowledged is that many of these volumes were also produced for libraries outside Tours. The earliest volumes to survive from the Tours scriptorium, produced from c. 730, were copied in order to supply the needs of a community of libraries. That sort of scriptorium was far more common than we have tended to realise, especially, if we have focused on twelfth-century scriptoria. Like the scriptorium of Luxeuil, which affirmed its monastic values through the extensive copying of works of spirituality both for individaul patrons and for religious foundations linked to that promient house, the scribes of Tours shared their resources by copying on commission. Their mass-produced gospel books, their Bibles and the anthology of texts which commemorate and celebrate the life and miracles of St. Martin, set Tours at the centre of a network of ecclesiastical spirituality. This was in marked contrast to most Carolingian scriptoria, which copied chiefly for their own libraries, occasionally duplicating a rare text or the work of a house author. . . . 

"The evidence of the surviving complete Tours Bibles in Monza, Cologne, London and Paris suggests that a complete Bible consisted of some 450 leaves, measuring c. 480 x 375 mm, with 50-2 lines per page. To copy a Tours Bible required some 210-25 sheep, whose shaped skins measured around 525 x 760 mm. The dimension of Carolingian sheep and their price await study, but has been suggested that sheep this sized required available pasture throughout the winter. The format of the Bible was a marked improvement on the 1,030 leaves of the Codex Amiatinus and the estimated 920 leaves of Ceolfrith's smaller pandect, or the 72-line format of the two-column eighth-century Spanish half-uncial Bible, León, Cathedral, MS 15. Though the size of the sheet was much larger, the number of leaves required to copy a Tours pandect was less than required to copy the multi-volume Bibles of Corbie, St Gall or Würzburg. But the saving in parchment depended on the excellence and the unformity of the scribes who copied the c. 85,000 lines of Alcuin's text."

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Carmina Figurata Word Pictures Circa 810

One of the most outsanding illumated manuscripts of De luadibus sanctae crucis, preserved in the Vatican Library, depicting Christ. (View Larger)


About 810 Frankish Benedictine monk, Hrabanus Maurus, wrote De laudibus sanctae crucis, a collection of 28 encrypted religious poems in praise of the holy cross. Arranged in the carmina figurata style of word pictures, in which shapes appropriate to the textual context are created by the outlines of letters, phrases or verses of poetry, these became much-admired and often copied.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of an excellent 11th century illuminated manuscript of the text was available from the Burgerbibliothek, Bern, Switzerland at this link.

Bischoff, Latin Paleography: Antiquity and Middle Ages (1990) 210.

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The Earliest Surviving Dated Manuscript Written in Greek Minuscule 815 – 835

A page from the Uspensky Gospels. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving dated example of a manuscript written in Greek minuscule is the Uspensky Gospels. The codex was probably written in Constantinople by monk named Nicholas between 815 and 835. Later it belonged to the monastery of Great Lavra of St. Sabas, known in Arabic as Mar Saba (Hebrew: מנזר מר סבא‎), a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley in the West Bank east of Bethlehem in Palestine. In 1844 bp Porphiryj Uspienski took it along with other manuscripts, including a portion of the Codex Coislinianus, to Russia. The Uspensky Gospels is preserved in the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg (Gr. 219. 213. 101).

"As the script of this book is by no means immature or primitive, the adoption of this style should probably be dated at least half a century earlier. The place of its origin is not known for certain, but there are some grounds for thinking that it was popularized by members of the important Stoudios monastery in the capital [Constantinople], which was a well-known centre of book production at a later date. Gradually the uncial hand was abandoned, and by the end of the tenth century it was no longer used except for a few special liturgical books. The new script facilitated the copying of texts by making more economical use of parchment . . . .

"The transliteration of old uncial books into the new script was energetically undertaken by the scholars of the ninth century. It is largely owing to their activity that Greek literature can still be read, for the text of almost all authors depends ultimately on one or more books written in minuscule script at this date or shortly after, from which all later copies are derived; the quantity of literature that is available to us from the papyri and the uncial manuscripts is only a small proportion of the whole. In the process of transliteration mistakes were sometimes made, especially by misreading letters that were similar in the uncial script and therefore easily confused. At many points in Greek texts there are errors common to all the extant manuscripts which appear to be derived from the same source, and this source is usually taken to be a ninth-century copy. A further assumption generally made is that one minuscule copy was made from one uncial copy. The uncial book was then discarded, and the minuscule book became the source of all further copies. The theory has a certain a priori justification on two grounds, since the task of transliteration from a script that was becoming less and less familiar would not be willingly undertaken more often than was absolutely necessary, and there is at least some likelihod that after the destruction of the previous centuries many texts survived in one copy only. But these arguments do not amount to proof, and there are cases which can only be explained by more complicated hypotheses" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed ([1991] 59-60).

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An Unusual, Energetic Style of Illustration Circa 816 – 841

A portrait of Matthew from the Ebbo Gospels. (View Larger)

The Ebbo Gospels, a Carolingian illuminated Gospel book known for an unusual, energetic style of illustration, was produced at the Benedictine abbey of Hautvillers, near Reims, under the patronage of Ebbo, Archbishop of Reims. Because it contains a poem to Ebbo, it has been dated from the times that Ebbo was archbishop of Reims (c. 816-835, and 840-841).

"Each page is 10 in by 8 in. The illustration has its roots in late classical painting. Landscape is represented in the illusionistic style of late classical painting. Greek artists fleeing the Byzantine iconoclasm of the 8th century brought this style to Aachen and Reims (Berenson, 163). The vibrant emotionalism, however, was new to Carolingian art and also distinguishes the Ebbo Gospels from classical art. Figures in the Ebbo Gospels are represented in nervous, agitated poses. The illustration uses an energetic, streaky style with swift brush strokes. The style directly influenced manuscript illumination for decades, as the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram bears witness (Calkins, 211). The Utrecht Psalter is the most famous example of this school (Berenson, 163).

"Commentators have noted the similarity between the Utrecht Psalter and the Ebbo Gospels. The evangelist portrait of Matthew in the Ebbo Gospels is similar to the illustration of the psalmist in the first psalm of the Utrecht Psalter (Benson, 23; Chazelle, 1073). Other images in the Ebbo Gospels appear to be based on distortions of drawings which may have been from the Utrecht Psalter (Chazelle 1074)" (Wikipedia article on Ebbo Gospels, accessed 12-25-2008).

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

Page from Utretch Psalter.

Page from Utretch Psalter.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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The Leiden Aratea Manuscript of Ancient Constellations & the First Printed Facsimile of a Medieval Illuminated Manuscript Circa 818 – 1600

The Leiden Aratea (Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, VLQ 79), an illuminated astronomical manuscript, was written and illuminated in Lorraine around 816 CE. It is a copy of a Latin translation from the Greek by the Roman general Claudius Caesar Germanicus (15 BCE - 19 CE), based on the Phaenomena (Φαινόμενα "Appearances") by the Greek didactic poet Aratus of Soli ( Ἄρᾱτος ὁ Σολεύς; circa 315-310 BCE – 240 BCE). The text was supplemented by portions of a second Latin version of Aratus's poem, written by Rufius Festus Avienus in the fourth century CE.

"The Phaenomena appears to be based on two prose works—Phaenomena and Enoptron (Ἔνοπτρον "Mirror", presumably a descriptive image of the heavens)—by Eudoxus of Cnidus, written about a century earlier. We are told by the biographers of Aratus that it was the desire of Antigonus to have them turned into verse, which gave rise to the Phaenomena of Aratus; and it appears from the fragments of them preserved by Hipparchus, that Aratus has in fact versified, or closely imitated parts of them both, but especially of the first.

"The purpose of the Phaenomena is to give an introduction to the constellations, with the rules for their risings and settings; and of the circles of the sphere, amongst which the Milky Way is reckoned. The positions of the constellations, north of the ecliptic, are described by reference to the principal groups surrounding the north pole (Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, and Cepheus), whilst Orion serves as a point of departure for those to the south. The immobility of the earth, and the revolution of the sky about a fixed axis are maintained; the path of the sun in the zodiac is described; but the planets are introduced merely as bodies having a motion of their own, without any attempt to define their periods; nor is anything said about the moon's orbit. The opening of the poem asserts the dependence of all things upon Zeus. From the lack of precision in the descriptions, it would seem that Aratus was neither a mathematician nor observer or, at any rate, that in this work he did not aim at scientific accuracy. He not only represents the configurations of particular groups incorrectly, but describes some phenomena which are inconsistent with any one supposed latitude of the spectator, and others which could not coexist at any one epoch. These errors are partly to be attributed to Eudoxus himself, and partly to the way in which Aratus has used the materials supplied by him. Hipparchus (about a century later), who was a scientific astronomer and observer, has left a commentary upon the Phaenomena of Eudoxus and Aratus, accompanied by the discrepancies which he had noticed between his own observations and their descriptions (Wikipedia article on Aratus, accessed 01-15-2016).

The 99 extant folios (225 x 200 mm) in the Leiden Aratea include 35 full-page miniatures, at least 4 of which are missing. The illustrations include some of the earliest artistic depictions of the constellations as known by the Greeks; however, the artist of the Leiden manuscript made no effort to place the stars accurately according to their positions in the sky, so the images cannot be considered true star charts. These images are presumed to be copies of miniatures made for a Late Antique manuscript, probably written in the mid-fourth or fifth century, and now lost. Written in narrow rustic capitals, the manuscript preserves the writting style and the squarish page format of the Late Antique, and its miniatures, framed as though they were independent paintings, reflect conventions developed in antiquity. Katzenstein suggests that the opening verses of the Leiden Aratea, in which Germanicus presents his work to a member of the imperial family of ancient Rome, may indicate that this copy was originally made for a member of the ruling Carolingian family (perhaps Judith, the second wife of Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne). She also suggests (p. 7) that the manuscript was "almost certainly in northern France, at the monastery of Saint-Bertin at Saint-Omer, by at least the early eleventh century, when it served as a basis of another manuscript of Aratus' poem now in the Bibliothèque Municipale in Boulogne."

Jacob Susius (Suys), Lord of Grysenoordt, about whom I have found little information, acquired the manuscript in Ghent in 1573, according to the Wikipedia. In 1600 the age of only 17, the young and apparently precocious, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), who later became a founder of international law, used the manuscript as a basis for his remarkable Greek and Latin extensively annotated edition entitled Syntagma Arateorum: Opus poeticae et astronomiae studiosis utilissimum published in Leiden by Christoph van Ravelingen (Raphelengius). Grotius's edition, which reproduced all of the images in the Leiden Aratea as black & white engravings by Jacques de Gheyn II (1565-1629), with letterpress renditions of the Latin text of the manuscript on facing pages, is considered the first printed facsimile edition of an illuminated manuscript. In his edition Grotius included the Greek text of Aratus, Cicero's Aratea with the lacunae supplied in the same meter by Grotius. Following his reproduction of the Carolingian / Late Antique style manuscript Grotius published an elaborate apparatus criticus with notes in Latin, Hebrew and Arabic. He was, however, vague in his citations of previous printed editions or manuscripts that he used. One of the more significant of the Greek texts of Aratus, possibly used by Grotius, is the 14th century Codex Palatinus Graecus 40 at Heidelberg University. In January 2016 the relevant portion of this codex was available in digital facsimile at this link. In January 2016 a digital facsimile of Grotius's 1600 edition was available from Google Books at this link.

The Leiden Aratea was later in the library of Christina, Queen of Sweden, after which it came into the possession of her librarian, the Dutch scholar and manuscript collector Isaac Vossius (1618-89). It was acquired by Leiden University Library as part of their acquisition of Vossius's library in 1690. In January 2016 a complete digital facsimile of the manuscript was available from Leiden University at this link. A scholarly account of the manuscript, The Leiden Aratea: Ancient Constellations in a Medieval Manuscript by Ranee Katzenstein and Emile Savage-Smith, was published by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1988. In January 2016 this was available online from the Getty Museum at this link.

Aratus's Phaenomena was among the earliest astronomical works to be published in print. It was first issued along with Manilius's Astonomicon by Ugo Rugerius and Doninus Bertochus of Bologna on March 20, 1474 (ISTC No. im00203000); the last edition printed in the 15th century was in Aldus Manutius's edition of a collection of classical works on astronomy issued in Venice, 1499 (ISTC No. if00191000). 


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"A Perfect Relationship between Text and Picture" Circa 820 – 830

Leaf 2r of the Stuttgart Psalter (Folio Bible 23 in the Wurttenmbergische Landesbibliothek). (View Larger)

The Stuttgart Psalter, which may have been produced in Saint Germain, France, is the earliest surviving psalter with a full set of illustrations—316 in all.

"Unlike similar codices, which restrict the illustrations to the margins, or the Utrecht Psalter, where they are placed at the beginning of each Psalm, the Stuttgart Psalter has on the average a picture for every ten verses, and often two or more lively scenes represented in each. The multi-colored initials and beginning words, and the elegant, open minuscule text in two colors add further dimensions to this brilliant book design. [It is] ". . . the first codex to be designed so that there is a perfect relationship between text and picture" (Wilson. The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle [1976] 30, 31).

The Stuttgart Psalter is preserved in the Württembergische Landesbibliothek. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available at this link.

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

The Plan of Saint Gall. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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"The most ingenious and expressive work of narrative art known from all of Late Antiquity" 820

Detail of folios 4v/5r of the Vaticanus Latinus 3868.  Please click to view entire image.

Vat. Lat. 3868, an illuminated manuscript of the comedies of Terence preserved in the Vatican Library, containing illustrations of 141 scenes from the plays, is one of four surviving copies of late antique illuminated manuscripts most probably copied at the court of Louis the Pious in the second decade of the ninth century.

In a monograph entitled The Lost Late Antique Illustrated Terence (2006) David Wright attempted to reconstruct the lost exemplar from which the manuscript was copied. He characterized this lost exemplar as "the most ingenious and expressive work of narrative art known from all of Late Antiquity."

"He argues that it was made at Rome around 400 AD, under the supervision of Calliopius, who is named on fol. 1v and 92r Feliciter Calliopio Bono Scholastico. Scholasticus could mean a teacher or a grammarian, it is not a term obviously linked to book production, though Wright regards the colophon as ‘a trade mark and an advertisement for the workshop’ and suggests that Calliopius was ‘the master of the scriptorium’. The final colophon Hrodgarius scripsit, in excellent large capitalis script, identifies the scribe, who has not been found elsewhere. The best of the three artists wrote the inscription Adelricus me fecit on the right-hand side of the cornice of the aedicule on fol. 3r. . . .

"The copying of classical texts on parchment in codices, rather than on papyrus rolls, was a fourth-century innovation, and the lost exemplar was ‘something of a pioneer in the design of a sumptuously presented codex’. Illustrations to Terence did not exist, and Wright suggests that staged performances of Terence's plays had ended some three centuries earlier. So the exemplar of the Vatican manuscript contained illustrations of the scenes which depended on the artist reading the text. Most impressive are the full-page frontispiece with two actors flanking an author portrait, and the full-page depictions of aedicules with masks for all of the characters in the individual plays (of which two were lost).  

"The copy is the work of three artists, of whom Adelricus was the best, though he had the smallest share of the work. The parchment is calf rather than sheep, and it has numerous minor defects, including holes in pages 9, 11, 19, 36, 43 (in body of figure), 53, 56 and 64. The figures are generally shown standing on a coloured baseline: on fol. 36v there are two figures in a garden, and in several scenes the figures stand in front of doorways, sometimes fitted with a central curtain or a decorated grille. Properties include a square-shaped casket (fol. 29r p. 51), a ring, birds and fishes as food, and money bags. Cratinus the lawyer holds wax tablets on fol. 82r and v. Many of the figures wear scarves and gesture with them. The figures are named in capitalis script, but in several cases the names are given to the wrong figure in a scene. Wright argues that there were names in the exemplar, which must imply that the scribe who copied them was singularly inept. The curious position of the prologue to the Phormio on fol. 77v, where the figure is to the left of a block of text, is not commented on.  

"The illustrations do not seem to have influenced manuscript illumination except for additional illustrated copies of Terence. The ninth-century Reims manuscript, Paris, BNF, Lat. 7899, has a full set of illustrations, while a Corbie copy has much cruder illustrations on the first eleven folios and spaces for further illustrations. Wright thinks both were copied from the lost exemplar. Adelricus was an accomplished artist, and presumably had a career. It may not be possible to explain why the court of Louis the Pious made such careful copies of late antique manuscripts, but it is important to recall that it did, and to envisage the possible resonances of such a response to non-Christian models. According to Thegan's biography Louis never raised his voice in laughter, and when the people laughed at scurri et mimi cum coraulis he did not smile. Paschasius Radbertus, in his memorial for Abbot Wala of Corbie, included a substantial passage from Terence, showing that he had studied the plays, as had Hincmar. The glosses in Vat. Lat. 3868 reveal that it was rapidly treated as a text to be studied, rather than simply a luxury book. Unfortunately Wright is silent on any evidence to be derived from these glosses, which are thought to be a Carolingian composition but which incorporate earlier material.  

"The scribe Hrodgarius wrote a very distinctive capital ‘H’ with an elongated ascender on the right slanting upwards from the crossbar to trail over the following letter. Such a form of ‘H’ is also found in fifth-century manuscripts and was presumably copied from the exemplar. He used an ‘or’ ligature with a prominent ‘r’. His form of ‘a’ lacks any upper shaft, and the upper bow of ‘g’ is generally open. The ligatures ‘ri’ and ‘ro’ occur infrequently. So far his script has proved impossible to localize. It is worth noting that fifteen verses from the prologue to the Heautontimoroumenos were copied onto the first leaf of Paris, BNF, Lat. 2109 in a script which E.K. Rand described as ‘decent rustic capitals’. The manuscript, a copy of Eugippius' Excerpta, was copied at St Amand at the same time as Vat. Lat. 3868. So there probably was a capitalis exemplar at St Amand which may have been the manuscript Wright is trying to reconstruct.  

"Wright reconstructs an exemplar of some 220 folios, each with an illustration of a single scene, with the text copied in rustic capitals in 22 lines per page. In his stylistic parallels for the date of this exemplar he strangely makes no mention of the mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, which Byvanck discussed in detail, though they show many similar poses and gestures. The scenes on the Susanna crystal have groupings of figures not unlike the Terence illustrations. We are getting a clearer sense of how Carolingian artists imitated Roman models of sacred art. That they were equally moved by the superb quality of secular illustration should remind us that beauty, old and new, is always powerful enough to be loved and to transform. That the exemplar of the Vatican Terence was so challenging to a group of artists in the 820s may be the most important of the features that Wright has so carefully recovered for us" (review by David Ganz http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-, 0254.2009.00292_20.x/full, accessed 09-15-2010).

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Algorithm Invented; Introduction of the Decimal Positional Number System to the West Circa 825

A portrait of al-Khwarizmi on a postage stamp from the former USSR. (View Larger)

About 825 Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer at the House of Wisdom (Arabic: بيت الحكمة‎; Bait al-Hikma) in Baghdad, developed the concept of a written process to be followed to achieve some goal. Al-Khwarizmi wrote a book on Hindu-Arabic numerals, giving the name algorithm to this process through the Latinization of his last name:

"The Arabic text is lost but a Latin translation, Algoritmi de numero Indorum (in English Al-Khwarizmi on the Hindu Art of Reckoning) gave rise to the word algorithm deriving from his name in the title. Unfortunately the Latin translation . . . .  is known to be much changed from al-Khwarizmi's original text (of which even the title is unknown). The work describes the Hindu place-value system of numerals based on 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 0. The first use of zero as a place holder in positional base notation was probably due to al-Khwarizmi in this work. Methods for arithmetical calculation are given, and a method to find square roots is known to have been in the Arabic original although it is missing from the Latin version" (http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Biographies/Al-Khwarizmi.html, accessed 01-23-2010).

Information in Al-Khwarizmi's work eventually reached Europe in books on Algorithmus by other authors that were distributed by manuscript copying, and eventually by print . . . .  Allard, "La diffusion en occident des premières oeuvres latines issues de l'arithmétique perdue d'al-Khwarizmi," J. Hist. Arabic Sci. 9 (1-2) (1991), 101-105, discusses seven twelfth century Latin treatises based on this lost Arabic treatise by al-Khwarizmi on arithmetic.

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Rules for the Scriptorium and the Library Circa 825

St. Theodore, the Studite.

At Stoudios (Latin: Studium), a monastery near Constantinople, about 825 Abbot Theodore produced a new set of monastic regulations that emphasized the scriptorium and the library, and outlined the duties of the librarian.

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Medieval Natural History Bestseller 825 – 850

A folio from the Bern Physiologus. (View Larger)

The Bern Physiologus, an illuminated copy of the Latin translation, preserved at the Burgerbibliothek, Bern, Switzerland, was probably produced at Reims about 825 CE. It is one of the oldest extant illustrated copies of the Physiologus, a didactic text written or compiled in Greek by an unknown author in Alexandria, between the second and fourth centuries. 

"The Physiologus consists of descriptions of animals, birds, and fantastic creatures, sometimes stones and plants, provided with moral content. Each animal is described, and an anecdote follows, from which the moral and symbolic qualities of the animal are derived. Manuscripts are often, but not always, given illustrations, often lavish."

The book was translated into Latin in about 400, then into European and Middle-Eastern languages. Numerous illuminated manuscript copies survive.  For over 1000 years the text —a predecessor to bestiaries — retained its influence in Europe over ideas of the "meaning" of animals.  Medieval poetical literature is full of allusions that can be traced to the Physiologus tradition, and the text also exerted great influence on the symbolism of medieval ecclesiastical art: symbols like the phoenix rising from its ashes and the pelican feeding her young with her own blood remain well-known.

"Epiphanius used Physiologus in his Panarion and from his time numerous further quotations and references to the Physiologus in the Greek and the Latin Church fathers show that it was one of the most generally known works of Christian Late Antiquity. Various translations and revisions were current in the Middle Ages. The earliest translation into Latin was followed by various recensions" (Wikipedia article on Physiologus, accessed 11-27-2008).

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The Oldest Surviving Manuscript on Arabic Paper Circa 825

"The oldest surviving manuscript written on Syrian paper is a Greek text, in the Vatican, of miscellaneous teachings of the church fathers, Doctrina patrum. On the basis of the script, the manuscript has been ascribed to Damascus in the early ninth century. The yellowish brown paper is remarkably smooth and even, despite the occasional clumps of fiber. The sheets, though felxible and soft, vary in thickness from one to another, suggesting that quality control was still a problem. The distinctive page size (10 by 6 inches: 26 x 15 centimeters) and narrow format of the manuscript show not that paper makers used molds of that size but that the paper sheets were trimmed, probably to imitate the standard format of books written on papyrus" (Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World [2001] 58 and figure 25).

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

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

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

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

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

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The Earliest Surviving Text of Lucretius's De rerum natura Circa 825

"In practice the text of Lucretius rests upon two Leiden manuscripts traditonally known from the format as the Oblongus (O) and Quadratus (Q). The older and better is O (Voss. Lat. F. 30). It was written not long after 800 in the Palace School of Charlemagne. A contemporary corrector, using a distinctive insular hand, emended the text and in places filled up lacunae left by the orignal scribe. This hand has been recognized as that of Dungal, who became, after the death of Alcuin, the foremost Carolinian authority on astronomy and computus. It is agreeable to wonder, in the duller moments of life, if this formidable Irishman would have much rejoiced in his posthumous title of the 'corrector Saxonicus' (O). The history of O during the later Middle Ages is obscure, but by 1479 it had reached St. Martins at Mainz. Q (Voss. Lat. Q. 94) was written in the ninth century in north-east France; it appears to have spent most of the Middle Ages in Saint-Bertin....

"It would seem that Lucretius emerged towards the end of the eighth century, that the archetype of our manuscripts found its home in the Carolingian court, and that the text was disseminated from there, radiating westwards into the Low Countries and northern France and southwards along the Rhine. Excerpts show that the text was disseminated and used, and it seems to have been well established in the area of Lake Constance. Lines from the De rerum natura occur in two metrical florilegia, that of Mico of Saint-Riquier, put together at Reichenau about 825, and the Florilegium Sangallense (St. Gall 870, c.900). Lucretius is also quoted in a letter written from St. Gall by Ermenrich of Ellwangen c. 850, and there was a copy of his poem in the ninth century at Murbach. Then, despite this promising start, Lucretius went underground for the rest of the Middle Ages, an eclipse which may be partly explained by the passionately anti-religious nature of his message. All we have until the fifteenth century are a few fleeting glimpses. The abbey of Lobbes acquired a Lucretius, probably in the early twelfth century, and he is listed in the twelfth-century catalogue of Corbie.  The presence of Q at Saint-Bertin may well explain the echoes of Lucretius in the Encomium Emmae and the Lucretian gloss in Sigebert of Gembloux (c. 1030-1112) fits with the availability of his poem in the closely connected abbey of Lobbes. The degree to which the De rerum natura was known in Italy before the fifteenth century is more problematical. There was a manuscript at Bobbio in the ninth century, faint echoes have been detected in medieval Italian works, and one line, probably quoted at second hand and important from northern Europe, occurs in a florilegium of south Italian origin preserved in Venice, Marc. Lat. Z 497 (1811)" (L. D. Reynolds, "Lucretius," Texts and Transmission, Reynolds [ed] [1983] 219-21).

Regarding the earliest surviving text of Lucretius, the codex oblongus, Leiden University Library commented as follows on their website:

"This manuscript distinguishes itself by the spacious layout of the page. In spite of its large dimensions, the page counts only twenty lines. The ample spacing does full justice to the excellent Carolingian minuscule, the new script which was developed towards the end of the 8th century. As happened so often, this original manuscript was corrected afterwards. Sometimes this was done by comparing the copied text carefully with the exemplar, the book which served as a model for the copy. At other times the corrector would use his own judgment. Of course it was desirable to save the book's appearance as much as possible. In the case of parchment this is not difficult, for the writing is easily scratched out with a knife. This is what the corrector of this Lucretius manuscript did. One alteration on the presented page, folio 22r., immediately catches the eye, because the corrector replaced one single line by two new ones, marring the layout of the page in the process. The corrector's adjustments are easily recognizable, because he used another script, the so-called Insular script, which originated in England and Ireland" (http://www.mmdc.nl/static/site/highlights/352/Scribe_and_corrector.html, accessed 05-28-2012).  


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Origins of the Term Algebra Circa 830

Abouy 830 Persian mathematician, astronomer and geographer Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, a scholar in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, published Al-Kitāb al-mukhtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-jabr wa-l-muqābala (Arabic: الكتاب المختصر في حساب الجبر والمقابلة The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing. This was written "with the encouragement of the Caliph Al-Ma'mun as a popular work on calculation and is replete with examples and applications to a wide range of problems in trade, surveying and legal inheritance. The term algebra is derived from the name of one of the basic operations with equations (al-jabr) described in this book. It provided an exhaustive account of solving polynomial equations up to the second degree, and introduced the fundamental methods of 'reduction' and 'balancing', referring to the transposition of subtracted terms to the other side of an equation, that is, the cancellation of like terms on opposite sides of the equation" (Wikipedia article on Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, accessed 01-23-2010).

The work was translated in Latin as Liber algebrae et almucabala by Robert of Chester (Segovia, circa 1145) from which our word "algebra" originates, and also by Gerard of Cremona. Robert of Chester's translation was translated into English as Robert of Chester's Latin Translation of the Algebra of Al-Khowarizmi with an Introduction, Critical Notes and an English Version by Louis Charles Karpinski (1915). Karpinski included a survey of the manuscripts of Chester's text available to him.

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The "Moutier-Grandval Bible," a Masterpiece from the Scriptorium at Tours Circa 830 – 860

One of three surviving illustrated manuscripts of the Bible produced in Tours at the Benedictine abbey of St. Martin in the ninth century, the Moutier-Grandval Bible (British Library Add MS 10546) contains the entire Latin Vulgate text as revised by Alcuin of York. It was probably created during the abbacy of either Adalhard (834-843) or Vivien (843-851) or slightly earlier in the transition period between the abbacies of Fridigus (807-834) and Adalhard. 

Reflective of the scale of book production at Tours during this period, some twenty different scribes worked on this immense volume, which contains 449 folios measuring 495 x 380 mm. The decorated initials are followed by square capitals and uncials which lead into the text script, which is a form of Caroline minuscule, upgraded here by the introduction of some variant letter-forms such as "a"  The four full-page miniatures are derived from classical art.

"The large format, the generous margins, and the richness of decoration reveal the prestigious nature of the manuscripts. The hierarchy of scripts— a large initial, Versal capitals, Uncials and minuscules (in descending order) — are used to great effect.

"The emergence of the Caroline minuscule is one of the great developments in the history of calligraphy. It derived from ancient Roman Half-uncial scripts, incorporating features from local hands. The abbey of Corbie played a major rôle in its evolution, especialy with its Maudramnus script. . . .It is a mature script of enduring quality. It was to be copied and adapted in succeeding centuries by scribes in England, Germany and Italy. Humanist scribes revived it, early in the 15th century, as an appropriate hand for the copying of classical texts. The first Italian printers then adopted it, and it has remained the baiss of Western typography to this day.

"The script of the Moutier Grandval Bible, though very small, is extremely consitent and well formed. Even some of the largers scripts of the Gospels and psalters made at Tours (eg. British Library Harley Mss. 2790 ans 2793) lack its rhythm and structure" (Stan Knight, Historical Scripts from Classical Times to the Renaissance [2009] C5 (p. 51).d). 

From Tours the manuscript passed to the Benedictine abbey of Moutier-Grandval, Jura, canton of Berne, Switzerland (founded in 640 by the abbaye of Luxeuil). During the Swiss reformation in 1534 it was taken by the canons of Moutier-Grandval to Delémont (Delsberg) where they fled and established a new community. This community was  dissolved in 1802 by the concordat between Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII. In 1821/22 the manuscript was apparently found at the former chapterhouse at Delémont by children and passed to 'demoiselles Verdat', owners of the property. It was bought from Verdat by Alexis Bennot (d. 1837), advocate, vice-president of the court of Delémont, and sold to Henry Speyr-Passavant (1782-1852), a bookseller from Basel, on March 19, 1822. In 1829 Speyr-Passavant issued a monograph on the manuscript that contained many testimonials as to its authenticity, and what we understand today as overstatements of its importance, by leading experts of the time: Description de la bible écrite par Alchuin, de l'an 778-800, et offerte par lui à Charlemagne le jour de son couronnement à Rome, l'an 801. Par son propriétaire, M. J. H. de Speyr-Passavant. In 1836 Speyr-Passavant sold the manuscript to the British Museum for £750, an enormous price for an illuminated manuscript at the time.

In August 2014 a digital facsimile of the Moutier-Grandval Bible was available from the British Library at this link.

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Inventories of Ninth Century Libraries 833 – 835

"The evidence for the arrangement and contents of libraries in and before the ninth century is sparse. In the earliest times the numbers to be stored were small. As there was no pressing problem of storage or access, the need for elaborate finding aids did not arise. Between 300 and 400 manuscripts—most with two or more works within them—was a good-sized collection for a Carolingian monastery: St. Gall owned 395 codices in 835 and the Cologne cathedral had 108 in 833. From the most prolific scriptorium of the age, that of Tours, 350 manuscripts still survive. The oldest library catalogs, such as that of Fulda in the mid-eighth century, are no more than lists of titles, often imperfect and for the most part simple inventories of the books as they stood on the shelf. The order of the lists reflects the usual subject arrangement: Bibles first, followed by glosses, liturgies, patristic works, philosophy, law, grammar, sometimes with historical and medical works at the end, and classical works scattered among the relevant headings. The Lorsch catalogs of the earlier part of the ninth century are a good deal lengthier and more detailed, with 590 titles arranged in 63 classes. Since monasteries were places of education as well as worship, many of the classical texts and nearly all the grammatical works would have been used as school texts. Books were usually stored in cupboards, either in the church or in the cloister closest adjoining it, sometimes in the refectory (for communal reading) as well. The separate library room was, in general, a later development, but in an early ninth-century plan believed to be an idealized scheme of a monastery with a bibliotheca and scriptorium attached to the church, survives in St. Gall" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) The International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 106).

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Lavishly Illuminated for Charles the Bald 846

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

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

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

The manuscript is preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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The Oldest Complete Dated Book in Arabic Written on Paper 848 – 866

"The oldest dated complete book in Arabic copied on paper that we know is a manuscript dating to 848, recently discovered by accident in the regional library of Alexandria, Egypt; it awaits complete publication" (Jonathan Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World [2001] 58).

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

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

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

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

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The First Programmable Machine & the Earliest Known Mechanical Musical Instrument 850

A diagram of a 'self trimming lamp' from the Book of Ingenious devices, preserved in the 'Granger Collection' in New York. (View Larger)

About 850 the Banu Musa brothers, three Persian scholars active in the library and translation institute called the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, published the Book of Ingenious Devices. This described and illustrated a number of automata, including some derived from Hero of Alexandria.

Among the original inventions by the Banu Musa brothers were a feedback controller,  and "the earliest known mechanical musical instrument, in this case a hydropowered organ which played interchangeable cylinders automatically. According to Charles B. Fowler, this 'cylinder with raised pins on the surface remained the basic device to produce and reproduce music mechanically until the second half of the nineteenth century.' "

The Banu Musa brothers also invented an automatic flute player, which appears to have been the first programmable machine.

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An Early Flat-Earth View of the World Circa 850

Cosmas Indicopleustes's map of the earth, from Topographia Christiana. (View Larger)

Around 550 Cosmas Indicopleustes (literally: "who sailed to India") wrote the copiously illustrated Topographia Christiana or Christian Topography, a work partly based on his personal experiences as a merchant on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean in the early 6th century. It is thought that the author served as a monk on Mt. Sinai after spending a career at sea. The earliest and best manuscript of this work, dating from the ninth century, and containing an early flat earth world map, is preserved in the Vatican Library.

The author provides a description of India and Sri Lanka during of the 6th century. He seems to have personally visited the Kingdom of Axum in modern Ethiopia and Eritrea, India and Sri Lanka. In 522 CE, he visited the Malabar Coast (South India).

"A major feature of his Topography is Cosmas' worldview that the world is flat, and that the heavens form the shape of a box with a curved lid, a view he took from unconventional interpretations of Christian scripture. Cosmas aimed to prove that pre-Christian geographers had been wrong in asserting that the earth was spherical and that it was in fact modelled on the tabernacle, the house of worship described to Moses by God during the Jewish Exodus from Egypt" (Wikipedia article on Early World Maps, accessed 11-26-2008).

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The Earliest Surviving Copy of Aristotle's Biological Works Circa 850

A Greek manuscript of Aristotle's Biological Works, written in Constantinople in the mid-9th century, and preserved at Corpus Christi College, Oxford(Corpus Christi College, MS. 108) is probably the oldest surviving manuscript of the texts that founded the science of biology. It contains annotations in Greek hands of the 12th and 13th centuries.

"A list of contents has been added on the last page (fol. 183v) in an English hand of the mid-13th century, which may be that of Robert Grosseteste, one of the earliest Englishmen to study Greek. Two titles and a few words of the 13th-cent. Latin translation by William of Moerbeke were added. . . in an English humanistic hand possibly identifiable as that of John Farley (d. 1464), fellow of New College and registrar of Oxford University, whose study of Greek is known from other manuscripts" (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of the Classics, Oxford: Bodleian Library [1975] No. 54.).

The manuscript was given to Corpus Christi College, Oxford by Henry Parry in 1623.

"The surviving corpus of Aristotle derives from medieval manuscripts based on a 1st century BC edition. There were no commentaries on the biological works written until they were collectively translated into Arabic. The first appearance of Aristotle's biological writings in the West are Latin translations of an Arabic edition by Michael Scot, which forms the basis of Albertus Magnus's De animalibus. In the 13th century William of Moerbeke produced a Latin translation directly from the Greek. The first printed editions and translations date to the late 15th century, the most widely circulated being that of Theodorus Gaza. In addition to the three works traditionally referred to as History of Animals, Parts of Animals and Generation of Animals, there are a number of briefer ‘essays’ on more specialized topics: On animal motion, On animal locomotion, On respiration, On life and death, On youth and old age, On length and shortness of life, On sleeping and waking, On the senses and their objects (the last six being included in the so-called Parva naturalia). Whether one should consider De Anima (On the soul) part of this project or not is a difficult question. What is certainly clear, however, is that there are important connections between the theoretical approach to the relationship between body and soul defended in that work and the distinctive way that Aristotle approaches the investigation of animals" (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-biology/).

(This entry was last revised on 04-30-2014.)

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The First Byzantine Encylopedia Circa 850

An icon depicting St. Photius. (View Larger)

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

According to Reynolds and Wilson,

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

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

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

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

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

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Apicius's De Re Coquinaria, the Earliest Surviving Cookbook Circa 850

The frontispiece of a 1709 edition of De re coquinaria. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving codex of the earliest cookbook, entitled De re coquinaria, and attributed to Apicius, a gastronome of the first century, was copied at the monastery of Fulda, Germany, by seven different monks. It was written in language that is closer to Vulgar than to Classical Latin, partly in Carolingian minuscule and partly in Anglo-Saxon script of the Fulda type, and because so many hands were involved, it is thought that this manuscript may have been used for training monks in the Fulda scriptorium. The manuscript

"was known to Poggio in 1417, but remained at Fulda until brought to Rome by Enoch of Ascoli in 1455. It subequently had a long series of Italian owners, beginning with Basilios Bessarion, and had sojourned in France and England before it emigrated to the United States in 1929" (L.D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] 13-14).

The manuscript of 57 leaves is preserved in the New York Academy of Medicine Library, where it was recently restored and rebound. 

"The book had been rebound in the 18th century by a French book dealer in mottled calf with gilt edges. The book dealer had removed the 9th century binding to separate the Apicius from a text by Hippocrates—the two had been bound together. (The Hippocrates now resides in a collection in Geneva, Switzerland, and is bound in the same 18th century mottled calf as formerly on the Academy’s Apicius manuscript)."

Marcus Gavius Apicius, was a gastronome in the age of Tiberius,

"but the cookbook that bears his name, reveals strands and layers which been selected and combined from various sources, medical and agricultural as well as purely gastonomic, and successively added, as time went on, to what remains of the original Apician recipes. The Excerpta of the Ostrogoth Vinidarius, made a little later, [and preserved in a single eighth century manuscript,] is a highly abbreviated version of a similar compilation. These works were subsequently transmitted, except for the inevitable excerpting, essentially in the forms in which they existed in antiquity" (Reynolds & Wilson 235).

A slightly later and more elegant copy of Apicius is preserved in the Vatican Library (Urb. Lat. 1146) It was written and illuminated at Tours in the 9th century, under Abbot Vivian. Bernard Bischoff believed that this manuscript was produced as a gift for Charles the Bald. A facsimile of this manuscript was produced by Trident Editore in 2014.

Apicius's work was first printed in Milano by Guillaume le Signerre on January 20, 1498.  ISTC No.: ia00921000. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the first printed edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

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

Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd ed. (1991) 145-46, 235, 263.  Notaker, Printed Cookbooks in Europe 1470-1700 (2010) no. 1002.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Oldest Western Medical Document after the Hippocratic Writings, and How it Survived the Middle Ages Circa 850

De medicina remains the oldest medical document written after the Hippocratic writings, the earliest surviving major medical treatise written in Latin, and the earliest Western history of medicine. It is the only extant work of Roman encyclopedist and presumed physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus, who lived from c. 25 BCE to c. 50 CE, probably in Gallia Narbonensis, a Roman province located in what is now Languedoc and Provence, in southern France, also known as Gallia Transalpina (Transalpine Gaul).

Celsus's De medicina remains the most important source of our knowledge of medicine in the Roman empire. It was originally part of a larger encyclopedic work by Celsus covering agriculture, military science, rhetoric, government, law, philosophy and medicine, but only the eight books on medicine survived intact. The text of De medicina was lost sometime during the Middle Ages and rediscovered during 1426-27.

The earliest extant manuscripts of De medicina are :

(1) F, Codex Florent., Laurentian Library, 73, 1. IX century and in parts defective.

(2) V, Codex Romanus, Vatican Library, 5951. IX century and in parts defective.

(3) P, Codex Parisinus, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 7928. X century; copied from V when this was less defective.

(4) J, Codex Florent., Laurentian 73, 7, copied by Niccolò de Niccoli from a very old codex now no longer extant. XV century.

“(P) was written by ‘sacer Johannes’, probably Johannes Philagathus (abbot of Nonantola from 982, later bishop of Piacenza, and in 997-8 Antipope John XVI), who taught Gerbert’s master Otto III; and Florence, Laur. 73.1 (f, s.IX) proclaims itself ‘liber monasterii Sanct Ambrosii Mediolanensis, where Simon [Cordo] of Genoa [physician to Pope Nicholas IV] could have seen it. P, which in s.XV belonged to St. Hilary Poitiers, was copied from the other medieval manuscript, Vatican lat. 5951 (V, s. IX, northern Italy), before it lost a gathering and the last leaf. 

“F came to light in 1427, and V too was copied in s.XV; but most of the fifteenth-century manuscripts, which number more than twenty, owe the staple of their text to a lost manuscript (S) first heard of at Siena in 1426, when Panormita described its appearance as ‘prae vetustate venerabilis’. S had leaves missing when Niccoli copied from it, before the end of 1427, Florence, Laur. 73.7 (J); in 1431 he filled from F as many of the gaps as he could” (Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] 16-17).

De Medicina was first published in print by Nicolaus Laurentii, Alamanus, of Florence in 1478. The text was edited for the press by Bartolomeo Fonzio from Florence, Laurentian 73.4, which his brother Niccolò wrote, and which Bartholomeo Fonzio corrected from F. (ISTC No. ic00364000.) In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the first printed edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

While there has been much debate as to whether Celsus was truly a “physician” (a term that in ancient times referred to someone who practiced medicine for money), it is clear from the text of De medicina that he had considerable first-hand medical expertise.

“From his writing we may conclude that his professional skills were excellent and that his knowledge of medicine was exhaustive. He was also endowed with superior literary skills. . . . His contributions to medicine are major: he wrote the first major medical treatise in Latin; he created, almost single-handedly, scientific Latin; and he wrote the first systematic review of all that was known in medicine up to his time” (Prioreschi, A History of Medicine III, 210-11).

Book I of De medicina contains a historical overview of medicine; Book II deals with the course and general treatment of diseases; Books III and IV with special therapy; Books V and VI with pharmacology (drugs and medication); Book VII with surgery; and Book VIII with bone diseases. Celsus is credited with recording the cardinal signs of inflammation: calor (warmth), dolor (pain), tumor (swelling) and rubor (redness and hyperaemia). He goes into great detail regarding the preparation of numerous ancient medicinal remedies including the preparation of opioids. In addition, he describes many first-century Roman surgical procedures which included removal of a cataract, treatment for bladder stones, and the setting of fractures.

In compiling De medicina Celsus drew heavily upon the Hippocratic corpus, referencing some 80 Greek medical writers, some of whom are now known only from Celsus’s work. He translated Greek medical terms into Latin, and many of these Latin terms have remained standard in medicine to the present day. Included among these terms is the word “cancer” (Latin for the Greek karkinos [crab]), which Celsus used to describe various types of non-malignant ulceration such as erysipelas and gangrene. In discussing malignant disease Celsus used the words carcinoma and carcinode, terms derived directly from the Greek.

When De medicina was translated into English by James Grieve in 1756 it became the first of the major medical treatises from the ancient world to appear in English.

Prioreschi, A History of Medicine III, 182-211. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 424.

(This entry was last revised on 04-30-2014.)

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The Periplus of Hanno the Navigator Circa 850 – 950

Codex Heidelbergensis 398: the single document, edited by Sigismund Gelenius, that recounts the periplus of Hanno. (View Larger)

The periplus (literally "a sailing-around") of Hanno the Navigator, a Carthaginian colonist and explorer circa 500 BCE, which recounts his exploration of the West coast of Africa, is one of the earliest surviving manuscript documents listing in order the ports and coastal landmarks, with approximate distances between, that the captain of a vessel could expect to find along a shore.

In his periplus Hanno states that he brought new colonists to four Carthaginian settlements established where the chain of the Atlas Mountains reaches the Atlantic and then, having founded a new colony at the Tropic, proceeded from there to explore the coast of Africa as far as the Equator. It also contains a description of an active volcano and the first known report about gorillas.

Hanno's periplus survives in a single Byzantine manuscript, which also contains various other texts, and dates from the 9th or 10th century—Codex Heidelbergensis 398. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available from the Universitätsbibliothek, Heidelberg at this link. Hanno's text was first edited for publication in print by Sigismund Gelenius, and issued from Basel in 1533. It was translated into English by Wilfred Schott and published as The Periplus of Hanno. A Voyage of Discovery Down the West African Coast by a Carthaginian Admiral of the Fifth Century B.C. (1912).

"The primary source for the account of Hanno's expedition is a Greek translation, titled Periplus, of a tablet Hanno is reported to have hung up on his return to Carthage in the temple of Ba'al Hammon whom Greek writers identified with Kronos. The full title translated from Greek is The Voyage of Hanno, commander of the Carthaginians, round the parts of Libya beyond the Pillars of Heracles, which he deposited in the Temple of Kronos. This was known to Pliny the Elder and Arrian, who mentions it at the end of his Anabasis of Alexander VIII (Indica):

" 'Moreover, Hanno the Libyan started out from Carthage and passed the Pillars of Heracles and sailed into the outer Ocean, with Libya on his port side, and he sailed on towards the east, five-and-thirty days all told. But when at last he turned southward, he fell in with every sort of difficulty, want of water, blazing heat, and fiery streams running into the sea" (Wikipedia article on Hanno the Navigator, accessed 05-30-2009).

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The Earliest Surviving Manuscript Closest to Euclid's Original Text Circa 850

The Vatican Euclid (Vat. gr. 190, called P), a version of the Greek text dating from the ninth century, and excluding the addendum to the final proposition of book VI by the fourth century editor, Theon of Alexandria, has been called "the single most important manuscript of the Elements" (N. M. Swerlow, "The Recovery of the Exact Sciences of Antiquity: Mathematics, Astronomy, Geography," Grafton (ed.) Rome Reborn. The Vatican Library and Renaissance Culture (1993) 128-29 & plates 101-102).

"The event, however, that had the most enduring effect within the Greek phase of the transmission of the Elements was the edition and slight emendation it underwent at the hands of Theon of Alexandria (fourth century; not to be confused with the second century Neoplatonist, Theon of Smyrna). The result of Theon's efforts furnished the text for every Greek edition of Euclid until the nineteenth century. Fortunately, in his commentary to Ptolemy's Almagest, Theon indicates that he was responsible for an addendum to the final proposition of book VI in his 'edition (ekdosis) of the Elements'; for it was this confession that furnished scholars with their first clue in unraveling the problem of the pre-Theonine, 'pristine' Euclid. In 1808 François Peyrard noted that a Vatican manuscript (Vat. graec. 190) which Napoleon had appropriated for Paris did not contain the addition Theon had referred to. This, coupled with other notable differences from the usual Theonine editions of the Elements, led Peyrard to conclude that he had before him a more ancient version of Euclid's text. Accordingly, he employed the Vatican codex, as well as several others, in correcting the text presented by the editio princeps of Simon Grynaeus (Basel, 1533). Others, utilizing occasional additional (but always Theonine) manuscripts or earlier editions, continued to improve Peyrard's text, but it was not until J. L. Heiberg began the reconstruction of the text anew on the basis of the Vatican and almost all other known manuscripts that a critical edition of Elements was finally (1883-1888) established. Heiberg not only in great measure succeeded in getting behind the numerous Theonine alterations and additions, but also was able to sift out a considerable number of pre-Theonine interpolations. In addition to the authority of the non-Theonine Vatican manuscript, he culled papyri framents, scholia, and every known ancient quotation of, or reference to, the Elements for evidence in his construction of the 'original' Euclid. The result still stands" (John Murdoch, "Euclid: Transmission of the Elements," Dictionary of Scientific Biography IV [1971] 437-38).

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The Fables of Phaedrus Circa 850

The Roman fabulist Phaedrus (c. 15 BCE- 50 CE), probably a Thracian slave born in Pydna of Macedonia (now Greece), lived in the reigns of Caesar Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius. He was first writer to translate entire books of fables into Latin, retelling in iambic meter the Greek prose fables of Aesop.

The earliest and most important surviving manuscript of Phaedrus is [Fabularum Aesopiarum libri quinque], also called the Codex Pithoeanus, MS M.906 in the Morgan Library & Museum. This manuscript, probably written at Reims, may have been in the library of the Abbey of Fleury. It was later in the library of Pierre Daniel (1530-1603), from which it passed to François Pithou, who gave it to his brother, the lawyer and scholar Pierre Pithou, in 1595.  At the front of the volume, which was bound c. 1600, is a transcription of the five books of Phaedrus's text by Pierre Pithou, which he prepared for the first printed edition of the text which he published in Troyes, 1596. The manuscript then descended through Pithou's family, belonging to Claude le Peletier (bookplate of the Le Peletier de Rosanbo [also spelled Rosambo] family), and then to the Marquis de Rosanbo at Dusmenil near Mantes, from whom the Morgan Library purchased it in 1961.

Reynolds, Texts and Tranmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics (1983) 300-302.

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The First Treatise on Cryptanalysis Circa 850

The first recorded exposition of any kind of cryptanalysis was the discussion of frequency analysis by the Muslim Arab philosopher, mathematician, physician and musician Abu Yusuf Yaʻqūb ibn Isḥāq al-Sabbah al-Kindī (Arabic: ابو يوسف يعقوب بن اسحاق الصبّاح الكندي‎) in his treatise on Deciphering Cryptographic Messages written in Baghdad about 850 CE.

It was suggested that close textual study of the Qur'an showed that Arabic has a characteristic letter frequency, to which frequency analysis could be applied.

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Perhaps the Oldest Surviving Jewish Prayer Book Circa 850

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

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

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

"Passover Seder (said at evening Haggadah)  

"Poem on Song of Songs in conjunction with Succoth  

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

"Poetic form of the book of Zerubbabel  

"Unique section entitled, 'Salvation in Zion'.

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

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The Text of Tacitus' Annals and Histories Survived in Only Two Manuscripts Circa 850 – 1050

Roman Senator and historian Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus, who lived from 56 CE to after 117 CE, wrote the Annales (Annals) and the Historiae (Histories), spanning the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in 14 to the years of the First Jewish–Roman War in 70 and the death of Domitian in 96. First published separately, with the Histories written and issued first, these two works were meant to form a continuous historical narrative in thirty books. Only about half of Tacitus's original thirty books survived, and their survival was dependent on just two manuscripts.

The first six books of the Annals survived in a single manuscript written in Germany about 850, probably in the Benedictine Abbey of Fulda. This manuscript was later at Corvey Abbey, and is now in Florence at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (MS. plut. 68.1.) and referred to as MS M.

"The script is a pre-carolingian hand which the scribe is changing to Carolingian minuscule, together with occasional small plain majuscules (a 9th century derivative of rustic capitals), a more ornamental version of these letters with decorative shading and some uncial elements, and also a few much larger and heavier capitals of essentially rustic form.  It is generally agreed that it was copied from a text written in 'insular' script which was copied from a manuscript in 'rustic capitals', and it has been suggested that this latter was at least 4th and probably 3rd century, based on an analysis of errors made in copying the titulature and colophons of each book, which are most easily explained if these errors occurred in copying a volume written in the early period in which prose texts were normally written in comparatively large letters and very narrow columns, and the colophons were not laid out in the manner common in 5th century and later books.

"At some time after it was written, the MS was transferred to the monastery of Corvey, in Saxony. There it remained, apparently without ever being copied.

"In 1508 the volume was removed from the library. A letter of Pope Leo X of December 1, 1517 indicates that it had been stolen, and that Leo had paid a large amount of money for it. At all events it passed into the hands of Pope Leo X.

"Leo gave the MS to Filippo Beraldo the Younger, who used it to produce the first edition in 1515, and left numerous annotations in the margins of the MS. The monks of Corvey, who petitioned the Pope for the return of their treasure, were instead sent a copy of the printed volume together with an indulgence to make up the balance" (http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/tacitus/#2, accessed 11-20-2013).

Books 11-16 of the Annals, and what remains of the Histories, also survived in a single manuscript, written at the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino, and also preserved in the Laurentian library (MS. plut 68.2.) This is referred to as M. II or 'second Medicean', to distinguish it from the unique codex of Annals 1-6. 

"This MS is written in the difficult Beneventan hand. It was written at Monte Cassino, perhaps during the abbacy of Richer (1038-55 AD). It derives from an ancestor written in Rustic Capitals, as it contains errors of transcription natural to that bookhand.  There is some evidence that it was copied only once in about ten centuries, and that this copy was made from an original in rustic capitals of the 5th century or earlier, but other scholars believe that it was copied via at least one intermediate copy written in a minuscule hand.

"How the MS came to leave Monte Cassino is a matter of mystery.  It was still at Monte Cassino, and was used by Paulus Venetus, Bishop of Puzzuoli, sometime between 1331 and 1344.  However Boccaccio had certainly seen the text by 1371, and the MS is listed among the books given by him at his death to the monastery of S. Spirito in Florence.  Whether he had 'liberated' it, or acquired it from another collector who had done so has been extensively debated, without final result.

"The MS is next seen in 1427, in the hands of the book-collector Niccolo Niccoli, who had furnished bookcases for Boccaccio's collection at S. Spirito. That Niccolo had not acquired the MS legitimately is suggested by a letter to him from his friend Poggio Bracciolini, asking to see it and promising to keep quiet about it.  Knowledge of the text among the humanists is correspondingly limited in this period.

"Poggio returned the MS to Niccolo, complaining about its barbarous script, and comparing it unfavourably with a copy of it in humanist script held by another mutual friend, Salutati.

"At Niccolo's death in 1437, the MS passed with his books to the monastery of San Marco at Florence with the Medici as executors, and the humanist copies all date from this period or later" (http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/tacitus/#2, accessed 11-20-2013. 

E. A. Lowe, "The Unique Manuscript of Tacitus' Histories," in Beiler (ed) Palaeographical Papers 1907-1965 I (1972) 289-302, has this to say relative to Boccaccio and Tacitus on p. 296 (footnotes not included as usual):

"The manuscripts of Varro, Tacitus, and Apuleius probably left Monte Cassino at the same time. They were rescued, as the phrase goes, by some humanist, who was probably none other than Boccaccio. To Petrarch the works of Tacitus and Varro were only known in name. The first to use these authors was Boccaccio; and this good fortune was granted him towards the end of his life. There can be no doubt that he possessed the Beneventan manuscripts of Tacitus and Varro which are now in the Laurentian library. This may be seen, on the one hand, from the copies of these manuscripts which he left in the Convent of S. Spirito in Florence, which correspond perfectly with the original; and from the fact that Boccaccio's citations from Varro and Tacitus, in his Geneologia deorum and De claris mulieribus, as Pierre de Nolhac has shown, are taken only from books preserved in the Beneventan manuscripts, and from no others.

"How these manuscripts came into Boccaccio's hands we do not know, but we can make a shrewd guess. We have reason to believe they were not presented to him during his visits to Monte Cassino. Attracted by the fame of the abbey, as he told his pupil Benvenuto da Imola, he paid it a visit. He found the library shamefully neglected, without bolt or lock, grass growing in the windows, dust thick on the books, monks using the precious manuscripts for turning out prayer-books, which they sold for a few soldi to women and children. Grieved unto tears he left the library 'dolens  et illacrymans recessit.' But none of this I fear, is to be taken seriously. It all sounds uncommonly like an apology. He seems to be anxious to show that it was only act of simple piety to remove the precious classics to a place of safety, say to Florence. The letter which he wrote in 1371 to the Calabrian abbot Niccolò di Montefalcone requesting the return of a quire from the Tacitus, suggests that he probably had accomplices. But no one can doubt that the Tacitus manuscript was dishonestly obtained after reading Poggio's letter of 27 September 1427 to Niccolò Niccoli: "Cornelium Tacitum cum venerit, observabo penes me occulte. Scio enim omnem illam cantilenam, et unde exierit et per quem et quis eum sibi vendicet; sed nil dubites, non exibit a me ne verbo quidem.' "

Poggio's statement was translated as, "When the Cornelius Tacitus comes I shall keep it hidden with me for I know that whole song, 'Where did it come from and who brought it here? Who claims it for his own?' But do not worry, not a word shall escape me." (Two Renaissance Book Hunters. The Letters of Poggius Bracciolini to Nicolaus de Niccolis, Translated from the Latin and edited by Phyllis Walter Goodhart Gordan [1974] 116.)

Tacitus's Opera, containing the Annales XI-XVI and the Historiae, was first published in print in Venice by Vindelinus de Spira, about 1471-72. ISTC. No. it00006000. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of this edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

Reynolds, Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics  (1983) 406-409.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Codex Spirensis, of which Only a Single Leaf of the Original Survives Circa 860 – 920

The Codex Spirensis, an illuminated manuscript written in the middle Rhine area of Germany in the late ninth or early tenth century, and discovered at the Cathedral Library at Speyer in the fifteenth century, no longer survives except for a single leaf (Thompson 11). Because of the copies made of this codex in the fifteenth century, the codex preserved thirteen different texts, of which perhaps the most significant were the Notitia Dignitatum, Dicuil's De mensura orbis terrae, and the Anonymous, De rebus bellicis

The four primary copies of the Codex Spirensis are:

(C). The copy made for the bibliophile Pietro Donato, bishop of Padua, in January 1436, while Donato was presiding over the Council of Basel. Now at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

(P) A copy in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Cod. Paris. lat. 9661).

(V) A copy written in 1484 and first found at Speyer where it was copied in 1529 for Cardinal Bernhard von Cles (Clesius), Archbishop of Trento, who visited the city that year. The manuscript can later be traced to Salzburg, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century to Vienna (Cod. Vindob.lat. 303). As a result of the peace settlement of Europe in 1919 it was transferred from Austria to Italy, and is now at Trento.

(M) A copy made in June 1550 for the Elector Palatine of the Rhine Otto Heinrich. This had been offered to the prince instead of the original. In 1552 the prince acquired the original Codex Spirensis, and it remained in his family collection until disappearing mysteriously. It is now preserved at the Munich Staatsbibliothek.

Thompson, A Roman Reformer and Inventor. Being a New Text of the Treatise De Rebus Bellicis with a translation and introduction (1952) 6-12.

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Vikings Destroy the Library of York Cathedral 867


In 867 Danish Vikings destroyed the library of the Cathedral of York. This library had been considerably augmented by the efforts of Alcuin, and had become even more famous after Alcuin's time. In following centuries this church and its area passed into the hands of numerous invaders. York Cathedral was destroyed by the Danes in 1075.

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The Second Oldest Arabic Manuscript on Arabic Paper November – December 867

Folio 241b of MS Leiden Or. 298, a manuscript of the 'Gharib al-Hadith' by Abu `Ubayd al-Qasim b. Sallam. (View Larger)

The second oldest surviving Arabic book on Arabic paper, and the earliest Arabic manuscript on paper preserved in Europe

"is generally believed to be a fragmentary copy of Abu Ubayd's work on unusual terms in the traditions of the Prophet dated Dhu'l-Qada 252, November—December 967 and preserved in Leiden University Library [Legatum Warnerianum]. It bears no indication of where it was copied. The opaque stiff paper has turned dark brown and has a tendency to split along the edges. This feature had led some observers to suggest that the pages of early manuscripts were pasted together, back to back, from two separate sheets made in floating molds, which leave one side rougher than the other and unsuitable for writing. This tendency for the pages to split is actually a result of delamination, a condition seen in many early papers, such as the Vatican manuscript [Doctrina patrum]. When the pulp was not sufficiently beaten, the outer layers of the cellulose fibers did not detach and form physical and chemical bonds with adjacent microfibrils, and the resulting paper has weak internal cohension. The condition was exacerbated when the paper was given a hard surface with the application of size. The weaker interior splits easily in two, revealing a rough, woolly and feltlike inner surface" (Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World [2001] 59-60 and figure 27).

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The Earliest Surviving Dated Complete Printed Book May 11, 868

A portion of the Diamond Sutra. (View Larger)

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

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

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

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

"How did the Diamond Sutra get its name?

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

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

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

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

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The Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram 870

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Magnificent Upper Cover of the Lindau Gospels Circa 875

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

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

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

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

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

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The Earliest-Known Manuscript of the Arabian Nights October 20, 879

A fragment of the 1000 Nights, the first two folios of the earliest-known manuscript of the Alf Lailah, or Arabian Nights stories, written on brownish paper made from linen in Kufic-naskhi script, was discovered in Egypt in 1947 and purchased by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (Oriental Institute No. 17618). It consists of the title page and first page of text, used as scratch paper. Prior to this discovery, the earliest known manuscript of the Arabian Nights was dated to the mid-15th century. In 1949 Abbot p. 130 (reference below) called the fragment "the earliest known extant paper book in Islam and with a date of prime significance for the early history of the Nights." From a study of the text Abbot believed that the manuscript originated in Syria and was taken to Egypt early in its history. The title reads in translation:

"A book of tales from a Thousand Nights. There is neither strength nor power in God the Highest, the Mightiest."

"On the next page is the beginning of the first story.

"This much-tattered fragment was used as scrap paper. . . , with numerous scribblings and drawings on the flyleaf and margins. These include pious phrases, the draft of a letter, and five drafts of a legal formula written by on Ahamad ibn Mahfuz, and dated by him the last of Safar of the year six and sixty and two [hundred] corresponding to 20th October 879 A.D." (Bosch, Carswell, Petherbridge, Islamic Bindings & Bookmaking [1981] no. 98, 223-224).

Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World (2001) 58 and figure 26.

Abbott, "A Ninth-Century Fragment of the 'Thousand Nights.' New Light on the Early History of the Arabian Nights," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 8, no. 3 (July 1949) 129-164 (includes 4 illustrations of the fragment).

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One of the Two Oldest Manuscripts of Ovid's Ars Amatoria Circa 880

A quire of ten leaves bound up in a volume of miscellaneous contents represents the earliest surviving manuscript of Book I of Ovid's Ars amatoria (Art of Love). According to a Bodleian Library exhibition catalogue, the last leaf of the mansucript may be in St. Dunstan's hand:

"The original manuscript was probably written in Wales. There are some glosses in Old Welsh, and the 'syntax marks' . . . inserts as a help to construing are also a Welsh feature. This manuscript and the 9th-cent. French copy, Paris lat. 7311, are the oldest manuscripts of the work, and they are closely related" (Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature [1975] no. 117).

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The Oldest Dated Manuscript of a Classical Greek Author 888

The second page of MS. d'Orville 301. (View Larger)

The d'Orville Euclid, dated 888, is the earliest "complete" manuscript of Euclid's Elements, and, according to the Bodleian Library exhibition catalogue, The Survival of Greek Literature, it is the oldest manuscript of a classical Greek author to bear a date.

Bodleian MS. d’Orville 301 was written on parchment in Constantinople by Stephanus Clericus, and bought by Arethas of Patrae, later Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (Kayseri, Turkey) for 14 nomismata (gold coins).

"The hand of Stephanus is pure minuscule; Arethas added the scholia and some additional matter in small uncials."

From the death of Arethas (c. 939) the ownership of the manuscript is unknown until the seventeenth century, when it was acquired by the Dutch classicist J. P. D’Orville, most of whose collection was eventually purchased by the Bodleian Library in 1804.

Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature, Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, No. 55.

(This entry was last revised on 05-04-2014.)

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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: The First Continuous History Written by Europeans in their Own Language 890

The initial page of the Peterborough Chronicle, marked secondarily by the librarian of the Laud collection in the Bodelian Library. The manuscript is an autograph of the monastic scribes of Peterborough, and the opening sections were likely scribed around 1150. The section displayed is prior to the First Continuation. (View Larger)


About 890 Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in south-west England, ordered monks to compile the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of annals narrating the history of the Anglo-Saxons and their settlement in Britain. The original manuscript of the Chronicle was probably created in Wessex. Copies were were distributed to monasteries across England, where they were independently updated. In one case, the Chronicle was still being actively updated in 1154.

Much of the information in these documents consists of rumors of events that happened elsewhere and may be unreliable. However for some periods and places, the chronicle is the only substantial surviving source of information. "After the original chronicle was compiled, copies were kept at various monasteries and were updated independently. Sometimes with items important to the locals, such as the fertility of the harvest or the paucity of bees, would be eagerly recorded, whereas distant political events could be overlooked. A combination of the individual annals allows us to develop an overall picture, a document that was the first continuous history written by Europeans in their own language."

There are nine surviving manuscripts of the Chronicle, of which eight are written entirely in Anglo-Saxon, while the ninth is in Anglo-Saxon with a translation of each annal into Latin. The oldest (Corpus Christi MS 173) is known as the Winchester Chronicle or the Parker Chronicle, after Matthew Parker who once owned it. This manuscript, preserved in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, dates from the actual time of compilation—the last decade of the ninth century.

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By the End of the 9th Century the Major Part of Latin Literature had Been Copied Circa 890 – 900

"We have been able to form some picture of what had been achieved by the early years of the ninth century. The full measure of the achievement of the Carolingian period can easily be appreciated if one moves forward a century, to the year 900, and takes stock of how much Latin literature had by then, on the evidence of our extant manuscripts, been copied. The picture has changed dramatically. By the end of the ninth century the major part of Latin literature had indeed been copied and was enjoying some degree of circulation, however limited, localized, or precarious it may in some cases have been" (Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] xxvii-xxviii).

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The First Surviving Book Written Entirely in English Circa 890

A manuscript of Gregory the Great's (Pope Gregory I) Liber regulae pastoralis, or Regula pastoralis (Pope Gregory I) translated into English at the order of Alfred the Great, is the earliest surviving book written entirely in English.  It is preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

"This earliest English manuscript book is the only surviving book that can be linked to the King; it is his translation from the Latin into Anglo-Saxon of Pope Gregory’s work and bears a unique preface about the decline of learning among his people in the form of a letter from the King to Waerferth, Bishop of Worcester.  

"The book represents a sophisticated approach to language and learning at a crucial time in the nation’s political and cultural development. It forms part of Alfred’s attempts to educate and rally his people through the use of edifying texts in the vernacular rather than in Latin, bringing them together in the face of an external (Viking) threat. This manuscript remained at Worcester until the late 17th century, when it was bought by the Bodleian from Robert Scot, as part of the collection of Christopher Hatton, 1st Baron Hatton" (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/news/2011_may_23, accessed 07-16-2011) .

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Over 100 Booksellers and 30 Public Libraries in Baghdad 891

"It was said that Baghdad alone had over one hundred booksellers in 891, and that at the height of its cultural glory it had some thirty public libraries" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World [1999] 79).

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The Oldest Surviving Manuscript of Plato's Tetralogies November 895

Folio 94v of the Clarke Plato. (View Larger)

In 895 Johannes calligraphus of Constantinople copied the "Clarke Plato" for Arethas of Patrae, later Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (Kayseri, Turkey). The cost was 21 nomismata, or gold coins, for the copying and the parchment. Completed in November 895, this is the oldest surviving manuscript of Plato's Tetraologies 1-6 (Euthyphro-Meno), with some scholia. The scribe Johannes wrote out the text. Arethas and other contemporaries added scholia in uncial.

The manuscript also contains annotations by many later hands. It is thought that this may be the first volume of a two-volume copy of the whole of Plato, the second volume of which has not been identified.

Sometime between the inventory of 1382 and 1581-1582 the manuscript was purchased by the monastery of St. John the Theologian on the Island of Patmos. In 1801 E. D. Clarke purchased it from the monastery, and donated it to the Bodleian Library, where it is preserved today.

Hunt, R.W., The Survival of Ancient Literature. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1975, No. 56.

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