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

900 to 1000 Timeline


Jews Adopted the Codex Around 900 Circa 900

Although for Greek and Latin literature the form of the book gradually shifted from the roll to the codex during the second to fourth centuries CE, Jews adopted the codex form much later, probably around 900.

"To sum up: existing Hebrew manuscripts in the form of a codex which contain an explicit indication of their time of production date from circa 900 and later. Some codex manuscripts, mostly fragmentary, can be dated up to about a century or, at most, two centuries earlier. Indeed, literary evidence reflects the later adaptation of the codex, which had been introduced as a book form for Greek and Latin texts as early as the second century, and became the usual book form in the fifth century. However, the virtual lack of surviving Hebrew books in any form from late antiquity to the High Middle Ages cannot be attributed to their destruction by wear and tear or to conquerors and persecutors. One should also consider the possibility that the talmudic and midrashic literature, the so-called Oral Law, was indeed mainly transmitted orally until the Islamic period, as is indicated explicitly in a few talmudic sources, and attested by literary patterns and reciting devices contained in these texts" (Malachie Beit-Arié, "How Hebrew Manuscripts Are Made," A Sign and a Witness. 2000 Years of Hebrew Books and Illuminated Manuscripts [1988] 36-37).

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The Earliest Surviving Illustrated Surgical Codex Circa 900

Folio 201r of Florence, Laurentian Pluteus 74.7, depicting an orthopedic procedure involving a ladder and pulley. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving illustrated surgical codex was written and illuminated in Constantinople for the Byzantine physician Niketas (Nicetas) about 900 CE. It contains 30 full-page images illustrating the commentary of Apollonios of Kition on the Hippocratic treatise On Dislocations (Peri Arthron) and 63 smaller images scattered through the pages of the treatise on bandaging of Soranos of Ephesos. The Apollonian paintings represent various manipulations and apparatus employed in reducing dislocations; each of the images is framed in the Byzantine style in an archway of ornate design.

According to Karl Sudhoff, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Chirurgie im Mittelalter (1914) 4-7 the origins of these drawings go back to Alexandria or Cyprus where Apollonius wrote his commentary between 81 and 58 BCE, under the patronage of the king Ptolemaius (Ptolemy of Cyprus).

"They were undoubtedly transmitted directly from antiquity, and, therefore, represent the genuine Hippocratic traditions of surgical practice as transmitted through later Greek channels to Byzantium" (Garrison, Introduction to the History of Medicine 2d ed [1917] 108).

According to Vivian Nutton's article on the codex in Grafton et al eds., The Classical Tradition (2010) 638, the Nicetas codex "was included in the library of the Orphanage of Alexius Comnenus, and later in that of the Hospital of the Forty Martyrs." In 1492 or 1495 Greek scholar Janus Laskaris purchased the Nicetas Codex in Crete for Lorenzo de' Medici. By 1530 it belonged to Guilio de' Medici, Pope Clement VII, "who loaned it back to Lascaris for a proposed and never completed edition of the medical and surgical texts it contained. From a copy made by Lascaris, now in Paris in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Ferdinando Balami produced the first Latin translation of Galen's On Bones (1535). This copy, illuminated by Santorinos of Rhodes, entered the library of Cardinal Ridolfi, who arranged for yet a third copy to be prepared by Christoph Auer and sent as a present to Francis I in 1542. This volume, now also in the Bibliothèque Nationale, was taken to Paris by a young Florentine doctor Guido Guidi, who had prepared a Latin translation of the surgical texts" (Nutton, op. cit.) The original Nicetas codex was later acquired by Cardinal Nicolas Rudolfi, and is preserved in the Laurentian Library, Florence (Codex Lxxiv, 7).

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One of the Oldest Medical or Scientific Treatises Written in English Circa 900

Folio 1r of Harley MS 55, the only surviving copy of the Leechbook of Bald. The manuscript resides in the British Library. (View Larger)

"The Leechbook of Bald is an Old English medical text probably compiled in the ninth-century, possibly under the influence of Alfred the Great's educational reforms. It takes its name from a Latin verse colophon at the end of the second book which begins Bald habet hunc librum Cild quem conscribere iussit, meaning 'Bald owns this book which he ordered Cild to compile.' The text survives in only one manuscript: London, British Library, Royal 12, D xvii.

"Both books are organised in a head-to-foot order, but the first book deals with external maladies, the second with internal disorders. Cameron notes that 'This separation of external and internal diseases may be unique in medieval medical texts'. Cameron notes that 'in Bald's Leechbook is the only plastic surgery mentioned in Anglo-Saxon records'. The recipe in particular prescribes surgery for a hare lip, Leechbook i, chapter 13 (pr Cockayne p 56). Cameron also notes that of the Old English Medical compilations 'Leechbook iii reflects most closely the medical practice of the Anglo-Saxons while they were still relatively free of Mediterranean influences,' in contrast to Bald's Leechbook which 'shows a conscious effort to transfer to Anglo-Saxon practice what one physician considered most useful in native and Mediterranean medicine,' and the Lacnunga, which is 'a sort of common place book with no other apparent aim than to record whatever items of medical interest came to the scribe's attention' " (Wikipedia article on Bald's leechbook, accessed 02-03-2009).

"Athough on the fringes of the learned world, Bede and his English monks possessed many of the same medical writings as their contemporaries further South, even if, as Bishop Cyneheard of Worcester put it in 754, the foreign ingredients prescribed therein were unknown or difficult to obtain, even through contacts in Germany or Italy. Anglo-Saxon English, like contemporary Ireland, possessed a written medical literature (from c. 900) in a non-Latin language, but this does not mean that the Anglo-Saxon healer, the laece or leech, was less competent than the medicus. Chants and charms, and explanations of a few diseases as the result of darts hurled by mischievous elves or involving a great worm constitute only a small part of the medicine that survives, and are not unique to the Anglo-Saxons. Similar recipes are found in other regions and in earlier Latin learned texts. Anglo-Saxon knowledge of plant remedies was wide and effective, and authors recognised the problems of identifying Mediterrtanean with British flora. When the otherwise unknown Bald and Cild wrote their Leechbook around 900, perhaps at Winchester, they adapted the best Continental practical medicine to an English environment. Their Leechbook has close parallels with both later Salernitan texts and with fifth-and six-century medical tracts common elsewhere in Western Europe. The simplified some of their Latin recipes by removing some of the more exotic ingredients and added remedies obtained from Ireland or Irish scholars. . . " (Conrad et al, The Western Medical Tradition 800 BC to AD 1800 [1995] 86).

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The Earliest Surviving Dated Astrolabe 927 – 928

The earliest astrolabe. (View Larger)


The astrolabe, a type of analog calculator, and an astronomical instrument used for observing planetary movements, was indispensable for navigation. Brass astrolabes were developed in the medieval Islamic world, and were also used to determine the location of the Kaaba in Mecca, in which direction all Muslims face during prayer. Planispheric, or flat, astrolabes, were more common than the linear or spherical types. In planispheric astrolabes the celestial sphere was drawn on a flat surface and represented on one plate.

The earliest known dated astrolabe is of the planispheric type. Made of cast bronze, it bears the name of its maker. The inscription at the back of the kursi, or throne, is written in Kufic , the oldest calligraphic form of the various Arabic scripts, and states that the astrolabe was made by Nastulus (or Bastulus) and gives the date, which corresponds to 927/928. The date is rendered in Arabic letters, whose numerical values total 315, signifying the year in the Islamic calendar in which the astrolabe was made. It is preserved in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

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The Earliest Surviving Manuscript of the Complete Hebrew Bible Circa 930

The Book of Judges, chapters 1:15 to 2:1, from the Aleppo Codex. (View Larger)

The Aleppo Codex,  the earliest extant manuscript of the complete Hebrew Bible, was written by a scribe named Salomon about 930 CE.  It was proofread, vocalized and edited by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher who lived in Tiberias. Asher was the last of an important family of masoretes, or textual scholars of the Bible, who preserved and handed down the commonly accepted version of the Hebrew Bible from generation to generation. Since the twelfth century, when Maimonides considered it the most authoritative source of the text, the Aleppo Codex has been considered the most authoritative source for the Hebrew Bible.

For more than a thousand years, the manuscript was preserved in its entirety in important Jewish communities in the Near East: Tiberias, Jerusalem, Egypt, and in the city of Aleppo in Syria. However, in 1947, after the United Nations Resolution establishing the State of Israel, the manuscript was damaged in riots that broke out in Syria. At first people thought that it had been completely destroyed, and approximately one-third of the Aleppo Codex, including all of the Torah is missing.  However, it turned out that most of the manuscript had been saved and kept in a secret hiding place. In 1958, the Aleppo Codex was smuggled out of Syria to Jerusalem and delivered to the President of the State of Israel, Yitzhaq Ben Zvi. It is preserved in Jerusalem in the Shrine of the Book.

Friedman, The Aleppo Codex. A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible (2012).

See also: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/magazine/the-aleppo-codex-mystery.html?hp

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The Morgan Dioscorides Circa 930 – 970

Folio 114v of MS M 652, in the Pierpont Morgan Library. (View Larger)

MS M 652 in the Morgan Library & Museum, written in Greek miniscule and illuminated in Constantinople during the mid-10th century, contains an alphabetical five-book version of Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, including 769 illustrations and several headpieces and tailpieces, on 385 leaves.

Its contents, according to the Morgan Library's online description, are:

"fols. 1v-199v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book I. Roots and Herbs -- fols. 200r-220v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book II. Animals, Parts of Animals and Products from Living Creatures -- fols. 221r-242v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book III. Oils and Ointments. -- fols. 243r-269v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book IV. Trees -- fols. 270v-305v: Dioscorides, De Materia Medica, Book V. Wines and Minerals etc. -- fols. 306r-319v: Dioscorides, attr., On the Power of Strong Drugs to Help or Harm -- fols. 319v-327v: Dioscorides, attr., On Poisons and their Effect -- fols. 328r-330v: Dioscorides, attr., On the Cure of Efficacious Poisons -- fols. 331r-333v: A Mithridatic Antidote -- fols. 334r-338r: Anonymous Poem on the Powers of Herbs -- fols. 338r-361r, 377r-384v: Eutecnius, Paraphrase of the Theriaca of Nicander -- fols. 361v-375r: Eutecnius, Paraphrase of the Alexipharmaca of Nicander -- fols. 375r-376v: Paraphrase of the Haliutica of Oppianos (incomplete)."

The manuscript was bound in Byzantium in the 14th or 15th century in dark brown leather blind tooled in a lozenge pattern over heavy boards. It was in Constantinople in the 15th century, where it was owned by an Arabic-speaking person, who added inscriptions in Arabic and genitalia to some animals. In the 16th century it remained in Constantinople where was owned by Manuel Eugenicos, 1578 and listed in his library catalogue. By the nineteenth century the manuscript was in Italy where it was owned by Domenico Sestini, ca. 1820. Later it was in the collection of Marchese C. Rinuccini, Florence, 1820-1849 (MS Cod. 69). From the middle of the nineteenth century it appears to have been in England with the booksellers John Thomas Payne and Henry Foss, London, 1849-1857. In the Payne sale (London, Sotheby’s, Apr. 30, 1857) it was sold to Charles Phillipps for Sir Thomas Phillipps (Phillipps Collection, no. 21975).  In 1920 J. P. Morgan Jr. purchased the manuscript from Phillipps’s estate.

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"The Junius Manuscript": An Illustrated Codex of Old English Literature 930 – 960

Boldleian Library MS Junius 11,"The Junius manuscript" or "Caedmon manuscript," a tenth century illustrated collection of poems on biblical narratives, is one of the four major codices of Old English Literature. Its scheme of illustrations is unparalleled in other manuscripts of Anglo-Saxon poetry, suggesting that it may have been intended for devotional or teaching purposes. 

Its "... compilation was in two stages: the initial version of the manuscript contained GenesisExodus, and Daniel, and was the work of a single scribe. Later the final poem, Christ and Satan, was added by several other scribes. The manuscript contains numerous illustrations that are a fine demonstration of Anglo-Saxon drawing on religious topics; it appears that two illustrators worked independently on the manuscript. The first scribe left spaces in the text for other illustrations which were never completed" (Wikipedia article on Caedmon manuscript, accessed 12-24-2013).

A popular name for the codex is the "Caedmon manuscript," after an early theory, since debunked, that the poems it contains might be the work of the poet Caedmon

In December 2013 a digital facsimile was available from Oxford University Libraries at this link.

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Printing Not to Make Literature More Accessible 932 – 953

In 932 CE Feng Tao, prime minister of China, ordered the printing of the Confucian classics from wood blocks in Xi'an, China. The work of editing and printing the Classics and their Commentaries lasted for 21 years, and extended to 130 volumes.

"The chief purpose of printing was not yet to make literature more accesible to the masses, but rather to authenticate the text. For more than a century after Feng Tao—up to the year 1064—the private printing of the Classics was forbidden. All printing must be done by the government and must give the orthodox accepted text."

"The work of Feng Tao and his asssociates for printing in China may be compared to the work of Gutenberg in Europe. There had been printing before Gutenberg—block printing certainly and very likely experimentation in typography also—but Gutenberg's Bible heralded a new day in the civilization of Europe. In the same way there had been printing before Feng Tao, but it was an obscure art that had little efffect on the culture of the country. Feng Tao's Classics made printing a power that ushered in the renaissance of the Sung era" (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed [1955] 72).

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The Massive Byzantine Encyclopedic Dictionary Circa 950

The Suda, or Souda (Σοῦδα), a massive tenth-century Byzantine encyclopedic dictionary of the Mediterranean world written in Greek, contains more than 31,000 entries, many drawn from ancient sources that were since lost. Little is known regarding its compilation except that it must have been compiled before the time of 12th century writer Eustathius of Thessalonica (Archbishop Eustathios of Thessalonike) who frequently quoted from it. Its title probably comes from the Byzantine Greek word souda, meaning "fortress" or "stronghold," with the alternate name, Suidas, stemming from an error made by Eustathius, who mistook the title for the proper name of the author.

"The Suda is somewhere between a grammatical dictionary and an encyclopedia in the modern sense. It explains the source, derivation, and meaning of words according to the philology of its period, using such earlier authorities as Harpocration and Helladios. There is nothing especially important about this aspect of the work. It is the articles on literary history that are valuable. These entries supply details and quotations from authors whose works are otherwise lost. They use older scholia to the classics (Homer, Thucydides, Sophocles, etc.), and for later writers, Polybius, Josephus, the Chronicon Paschale, George Syncellus, George Hamartolus, and so on.

"This lexicon represents a convenient work of reference for persons who played a part in political, ecclesiastical, and literary history in the East down to the tenth century. The chief source for this is the encyclopedia of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (912-59), and for Roman history the excerpts of John of Antioch (seventh century). Krumbacher (Byzantinische Literatur, 566) counts two main sources of the work: Constantine VII for ancient history, and Hamartolus (Georgios Monachos) for the Byzantine age" (Wikipedia article on Suda, accessed 02-02-2010).

Toward the very end of the 15th century humanist Demetrios Chalkokondyles (Demetrius Chalcondylas) edited the encyclopedic text and had it published for the first time in print in Greek as Lexicon graecum. Chalcondylas's edition was issued by Johannes Bissolus and Benedictus Mangius of Milan on November 15, 1499. This work, consisting of 516 leaves in folio, was the largest single-volume book printed in Greek in the fifteenth century. It was necessarily an expensive book, and included on folio 1a dialogue of Stephanus Niger between a bookseller and a student, mentioning the price of three ducats. ISTC No. is00829000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

The most significant modern edition and the first edition in English, is Suda On Line: Byzantine Lexicography. This online collaboration began in 1998, predating the Wikipedia, which began in 2001. In August 2014 the English translation was completed.

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Possibly the Earliest Surviving Manuscript Produced in Scotland Circa 950

A portrait of Luke on Folio 29v of the Book of Deer. (View Larger)

The Book of Deer  is a 10th century Gospel Book, written in Latin, Old Irish and Scottish Gaelic, from Old Deer, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It contains the earliest surviving Gaelic literature from Scotland, and may be the oldest surviving manuscript produced in Scotland, with the possible exception of the Book of Kells. It is also notable for having originated in what is now considered a Lowland area. 

"Each Gospel is prefaced by a full-page illumination (1v, 16v, 29v, 41v). The manuscript belongs to the category of 'Irish pocket Gospel Books', produced for private use rather than for church services. The association with Deer is deduced from additions in Gaelic or Middle Irish (3-5) including an account of the foundation of a monastery by Saint Columba and Saint Drostan and land grants to the house, and a Latin brieve of King David I in favour of the 'clerics of Deer' (40). One entry is dated 8 David I (1131-32). It is reasonable to assume that the manuscript was at Deer in Aberdeenshire when these additions were made" (http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-II-00006-00032/1, accessed 12-13-2012).

The Book of Deer is preserved in Cambridge University Library. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of it was available at this link.

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The Most Famous, and Most Significant Manuscript of the Iliad Circa 950

Folio 12r of Venetus A. (View Larger)

The most famous Greek manuscript of the Homeric Iliad, Venetus A (Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [=822]), is regarded by some as the best text of the epic poem. It also contains several layers of annotations, glosses, and commentaries known as the "A scholia."  These are thought to preserve editorial comments made by scholars at the Royal Library of Alexandria, as well as scholia accumulated by late antique annotators and philologists until the manuscript was written at Constantinople during the Macedonian Renaissance. The manuscript, also includes a summary of the early Greek Epic Cycle which is considered the most important source of information on those lost poems. 

At the end of most of the books of the poem there is a subscription, attributing many of the scholia to four Homeric scholars from antiquity. This was translated as follows:

"Alongside the text lie the Signs of Aristonicus, and Didymus' work On the Edition of Aristarchus, as well as some things from the Prosody of Herodian and Nicanor's On Punctuation."

The first scholar mentioned in the subscription, the Greek grammarian Aristonicus (Ἀριστόνικος Aristonikos) of Alexandria, lived during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. He taught at Rome, and wrote commentaries and grammatical treatises. Most of his works were related to the Homeric poems, including On the Wanderings of Menelaus (περὶ τῆς Μενελάου πλάνης), On the Critical Signs of the Iliad and Odyssey (περὶ τῶν σημείων τῆς Ἰλιάδος καὶ Ὀδυσσείας), on the marginal signs by which the Alexandrian critics used to mark suspected or interpolated verses in the Homeric poems and in Hesiod's Theogony, and On Ungrammatical Words (ἀσυντάκτων ὀνομάτων βιβλία), a work of six books on irregular grammatical constructions in Homer. These and some other works are for the most part lost, except for fragments preserved in the scholia of Venetus A.

The second scholar mentioned, Greek scholar and grammarian Didymus Chalcenterus (Δίδυμος χαλκέντερος Didymos chalkenteros, "Didymus bronze-guts"), flourished in the time of Cicero and Augustus. His surname "bronze-guts" came from his nearly incredible productivity: he was said to have written so many books that he was unable to recollect what he had written in earlier ones, and so often contradicted himself. (Athenaeus records that he wrote 3500 books; Seneca estimated that he wrote 4000.) As a result Didymos acquired the additional nickname βιβλιολάθης "book-forgetter". Didymos taught in Alexandria and Rome, and is chiefly important as having introduced Alexandrian learning to the Romans. A follower of the school of the Alexandrian grammarian and editor Aristarchus of Samothrace (Ἀρίσταρχος), Didymos wrote a treatise on Aristarchus' edition of Homer entitled On Aristarchus' recension (περὶ τῆς Ἀριστάρχου διορθωσέως), fragments of which are preserved in Venetus A.

The third scholar cited, Aelius Herodianus (Αἴλιος Ἡρωδιανός) or Herodian, was one of the most celebrated grammarians of Greco-Roman antiquity. He was born in Alexandria, and from there he seems to have moved to Rome, where he gained the favor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, to whom he dedicated a work on prosody. He is usually known as Herodian except when there is a danger of confusion with the historian also named Herodian.

Lastly, the Greek grammarian Nicanor (Νικάνωρ) Stigmatias lived during the reign of Hadrian in the early 2nd century. According to the Suda he came from Alexandria; according to Stephanus of Byzantium he came from Hierapolis. The Suda records that Nicanor acquired the nickname stigmatias (στιγματίας, punctuated) because of his concentration on punctuation. His scholia on the elucidation of Homer's epics through punctuation are extensively quoted in the Venetus A.

"Scholars refer to the work of these men as the 'four-man commentary,' or VMK (from the German Viermännerkommentar). The repeated subscriptions in the Venetus A identify the areas of Homeric studies to which each of the four contributed. Aristonicus wrote on the topic of editorial symbols attached to the text. Herodian wrote on questions of prosody, that is poetic meter. Nicanor wrote about punctuation. And Didymus wrote about the earlier editorial work of the Alexandrian scholar Aristarchus.

"A certain category of scholia, while related to the VMK, has been separately  identified and named the 'D Scholia.' These were once thought to have come originally from Didymus, hence their name, but this view is no longer generally accepted. The D Scholia appear on several Byzantine and medieval manuscripts of the Iliad and generally contain information about mythology, the meanings of obscure words and pieces of allegorical interpretation. On the Venetus A the D Scholia appear as interlinear notes written in a semiuncial script and are largely 'glosses,' short defintions of words in the poems. One of the most interesting aspects of the D Scholia is their lemmata, the Homeric passages that a scholion may quote before commenting. In many cases, these lemmata do not match the Homeric text that appears in the manuscript. Thus, these scholia may offer insights into alternative versions of the text, other examples of traditional material that fell out of the common text of the Iliad by the ninth century, but are preserved here and there in brief quotations by the scholiasts, the writers of these marginal notes.

"Still other scholia on our manuscript derive from the work of the scholar and philosopher Porphyry, who lived during the third century CE. Among his writings, many of which had to do with Platonic philosophy, was a treatise entitled 'Homeric Questions' (Ομηικα Ζητηματα, Homerika Zetemata, or in its more commonly given Latin translation, Quaestiones Homericae). This work exists only in a fragmentary state in the Vatican Library (Vaticanus Graecus 305), and the rest of what we know of its contents comes from close reading of various scholia on Homeric manuscripts. Porphyri's work is an example of the late-antique genre of Ζητηματα, which is generally translated 'Questions,' consisting of inquiries into various topics with (often) varying and debatable answers. Ancient works of Ζητηματα covered ethical, legal, and historical topics, and Porphyry's work on Homer is one of the few examples of literary 'Questions,' consisting of inquries into various topics with (often) varying and debatable answers. The scholiastic material that comes from this work is valuable for a number of reasons, although its value has not always been appreciated. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars dismissed Porphyry as telling us little about Homeric poetry itself, but much about the literary 'parlor games' played by intelligent aristocrats in antiquity. But these scholia preserve some observations on Homeric poetry made by Aristotle and Plato, which in turn can tell us about the particular vocabulary these ancient thinkers used when they discussed epic poetry, and thus much about the ancient experience of listening to this poetry.

"Finally, there are scholia related to a group known as the 'bT' scholia. These get their name from the Townley Manuscript of the Iliad, an eleventh-century codex now in the British Museum (BM, Burney 86); this manuscript is believed to have been one of several copied from an even older manuscript, which is now lost, to which scholars refer by the siglum 'b', hence the 'bT' scholia. These scholia, which may also be derived from the work of Porphyry, offer explanations of thematic matters found in the Iliad, cultural practices, questions of cosmology or theology, and so forth. These scholia have not enjoyed a high reputation among scholars. Their most famous critic, K. Lehrs, said that 'not one word in them is to be believed," (nullum unum verbum iis credendum esse). But more recent students of this material have found them more valuable, suggesting that they offer important insight into how the ancient Greeks understood Homer, but also provide more access to the work of Aristarchus at the Library of Alexandria.

"There is diagreement among scholars as to how and when the VMK was created (proposed dates ranged from the fourth to seventh centuries CE) and whether or not they were created by the same editor. The 20th century scholars most interested in the Homeric scholia believed that the VMK tradition was combined with the D Scholia and the bT Scholia at some time during the eighth century, about two centuries before our nameless scribe produced the elaboratately annotated manuscript we call the Venetus A" (Blackwell & Dué, "Homer and History in the Venetus A," Recapturing a Homeric Legacy. Images and Insights From the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad, Dué ed. [2009] 7-9).

How and when Venetus A was transported to Italy is uncertain. At one point it was thought that Giovanni Aurispa brought it there, as in 1424, he mentioned four volumes which he had brought back from Greece in a letter to Ambrogio Traversari in Venice:

Aristarchum super Iliade in duobus voluminibus, opus quoddam spatiosum et pretiosissimum; aliud commentum super Iliade, cuius eundem auctorem esse puto et illius quod ex me Nicolaus noster habuit super Ulixiade.

Aristarchus on the Iliad in two volumes, a large and very precious work; another commentary on the Iliad; I think Aristarchus was the author of that, as well as of the one on the Odyssey that our friend Niccolò Niccoli got from me.

This has been interpretted as a reference to the codices of the Iliad known as Venetus A and B. However, it has also been argued that the two volume commentary referred to was the commentary by the twelfth century Byzantine scholar and archbishop Eustathius of Thessalonica (Laurentianus LIX 2 and 3) attested in Florence a century later in the library of Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, and now in the Laurentian Library.

Eventually, Venetus A came into the possession of Greek immigrant scholar, and book collector Cardinal Basileios Bessarion (Βασίλειος Βησσαρίων), who collected a library of 482 Greek manuscripts and 264 Latin manuscripts before, and especially after, the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Among Bessarion's library was the only complete text of Athenaios' Deipnosophistai; the autograph of Planudes' Greek Anthology; and Venetus A and B. In 1468 Bessarion donated his library to the Republic of Venice; he continued to add to it until his death in 1472. By preserving so many Greek texts Bessarion became one of those most influential on the revival of Greek literature during the Renaissance. Bessarion's library became the core of the Biblioteca Marciana, which since 1554 has been housed to the building designed for it by Sansovino, the Biblioteca Sansoviniana.

With respect to the study of Venetus A, it is known that Martinus Phileticus used the manuscript as a source in the 1480s, followed by Vettore Fausto in 1546 or 1547. After that, Venetus A was largely forgotten until French philologist Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard d'Ansse de Villoison rediscovered and published it, along with the "B scholia" from Venetus B, in his book Ilias Homeri to Veteris Codicis Veneti fidem-recensita; scholia in eam antiquissima, eodem Code ex nunc primum eruta (Venice, 1788). This was the first publication of any Iliadic scholia other than the "D" scholia (the scholia minora). Because of the complexity of the writing on each page of Venetus A, Villoison's work represented a very impressive work of scholarship and a high level of technical achievement in the printing of Greek. In April 2014 high resolution images of each page in Villoison's 716-page work were available from the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard at this link.

Once available to scholars, the A and B scholia were a catalyst for several new ideas from the scholar Friedrich August Wolf. In reviewing Villoison's edition, Wolf realized that these scholia proved conclusively that the Homeric epics had been transmitted orally for an unknown length of time before they were written down. This led to his seminal work, Prolegomena ad Homerum, which set the agenda for much of later Homeric scholarship.

In 1901 Venetus A was reproduced in photographic facsimile as Homeri Ilias cum scholiis. Codex Venetus A, Marcianus 454. Phototypice editus. Praefatus est Dominicus Comparetti, and published in Leiden by A. W. Sijthoff. However, the technology of the time could not reproduce all of the small script in the manuscript legibly.

More than 100 years later, in May 2007 both Venetus A and Venetus B were photographed at high resolution, using a Hasselblad H1 camera with a 39 megapixel Phase One P45 digital back, at the Biblioteca Marciana. The availability of truly legible images of all the text in these manuscripts resulted in insights published in 2009 as Hellenic Studies 35, entitled Recapturing a Homeric Legacy. Images and Insights From the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad, edited by Casey Dué, and published by the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard. In April 2014 this book was available online from homermultitext.org. Also in April 2014 high resolution images of each page in Venetus A and B were available from the same source at this link.

The Homer Multitext project also made available the Greek texts of Venetus A and B online. The site stated that "This site publishes editions of texts from Byzantine manuscripts using the Canonical Text Services protocol. The service is primarily intended for automated use by other computer programs, but you can follow the links below to to browse and read texts." The site also made available images of individual pages of the Townley Homer. However, in April 2014 a much easier to use digital facsimile of that manuscript was available from the British Library at this link.

 (This entry was last revised on 04-26-2014.)

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The Oldest Surviving Translation of the Gospels into English Circa 950 – 960

A small sampling of Aldred's gloss of the Gospels. (View Larger)

Around 950 or 960 CE Aldred, Provost of the Roman fort Chester-le-Street, a town in County Durham, England, where the community of St. Cuthert had located along with the Lindisfarne Gospels, translated the Lindisfarne Gospels into Old English, annotating or 'glossing' the Latin text in a word-for-word continuous translation between its lines. Aldred's manuscript is the oldest surviving translation of the Gospels into the English language. Aldred also added a "colophon" associating his work with the names of those then thought to have originally made the book.

"Aldred's glosses, some of which comment on the text as well as translating it, reveal concern with monastic reform and abuses of clerical power. . . . Promoting the English language would have helped reunify England. Aldred translated the Lindisfarne Gospels into the Northumbrian dialect to establish his credentials upon entering the community" (Michelle Brown, Painted Labyrinth. The world of the Lindisfarne Gospels [2004] 12-13).

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The Palatine Anthology of Greek Poetry Circa 950

Folio 30 of suppl. gr. 384, belonging to the Bibliothèque Nationale.

The Palatine Anthology, a codex compilation of 3765 poems in Greek, was once in Rome at the Vatican Library, along with other manuscripts in the Bibliotheca Palatina, but is now divided between the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg  (Palat. gr. 23) and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (suppl. gr. 384). It is one of the two manuscripts on which the collection known as the Greek Anthology or Anthologia Graeca, is based; the other manuscript is the Planudean Anthology.

The bulk of the Palatine Anthology was based upon the compilation of Constantine Cephalas (Konstantanos Kephalas), a Byzantine schoolmaster who in about the year 900 excerpted all the major ancient manuscript collections. To material gathered by Cephalas, whose original compilation no longer survives, the compiler of the Palatine Anthology added Christian and "rhetorically descriptive" epigrams. A possible compiler of the Palatine Anthology was the 10th century poet, Constantine the Rhodian, three of whose poems are included in the anthology. 

"In 1606 or 1607 [Claudius] Salmasius had discovered, in the library of the Counts Palatine in Heidelberg, the only surviving copy of Cephalas's early unexpurgated copy of the Greek Anthology, including the 258-poem anthology of homoerotic poems by Straton of Sardis that would eventually become known as the notorious Book 12 of the Greek Anthology. The newly discovered poems in the Palatine version were copied out by Salmasius, and he began to circulate clandestine manuscript copies of them as the Anthologia Inedita. His copy was later published: first in 1776 when Richard François Philippe Brunck included it in his Analecta; and then the full Palatine Anthology was published by Friedrich Jacobs as the Anthologia Graeca (13 vols. 1794-1803; revised 1813-1817). The remains of Straton's anthology became Book 12 in Jacob's standard critical Anthologia Graeca edition. It was only in 2001 that a full Greek-to-English translation of Book 12 was issued, by Princeton University Press" (Wikipedia article on Claudius Salmasius, accessed 02-03-2009).

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Block Printing in Arabic in the Tenth or Eleventh Century Circa 950 – 1050

"In spite of the inherent difficulties, Arabic writing was printed from an early date. Some form of xylography, or block printing, was practiced as early as the tenth century, as several amulets discovered in Egypt show. Most of the known examples were block-printed on paper, but one example was printed on papyrus, and two were printed on parchment. Although these examples are undated, the use of papyrus and parchment suggests an early date, confirmed by the style of script and by another bit of evidence; scholars have interpreted occurences of the obscure Arabic term tarsh in poems of the tenth and fourteenth centuries as references to printing amulets and charms with engraved tin plates. The headpieces on some of the surviving block-printed amulets have designs incorporating bold lettering and ornamental motifs, sometimes in reserve, which may have been printed with separate woodblocks. Early in the twentieth century the scholar B. Moritz noted the existence of six printing plates in the ancient Khedivial Library in Cairo, which he dated to the Fatimid period (tenth-twelfth centuries), but their present location is unknown" (Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World [2001] 218-19, figure 84).

Richard W. Bulliet, "Medieval Arabic Tarsh: A Forgotten Chapter in the History of Printing," Journal of he American Oriental Society 107.3 (1987) 427-438 (with illustrations).

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

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

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

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The Earliest Recorded Book Auction Circa 950

". . . the earliest recorded book auction took place in the tenth century in Moslem Spain, during the Golden Ages of the Caliphate of Cordova. They seem to have been frequent events in the Islamic world during the Middle Ages and from the Moorish kingdoms the practice was carried to Christian Spain, where, as almonedas, a name derived from the Arabic word for 'proclamation', they later enjoyed a great vogue under the Hapsburg monarchs" (Hobson, Foreword to Munby & Coral, British Book Sale Catalogues 1676-1800. A Union List [1977] ix).

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The Earliest Evidence of European Acquisition of Islamic Science Circa 950

"The earliest evidence of European acquisition of Islamic science is a tenth-century Latin manuscript from the library of monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll, Catalonia, now in the archives of the Crown of Aragon in Barcelona. The manuscript begins with a brief treatise on the astrolabe and contains a table of the brightest stars, which are referred to by the Arabic names by which they are still known today, such as Altair, Vega, Rigel, Aldebaran, and Algol" (Freely, Aladdin's Lamp. How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World [2009] 120).

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Filed under: Science

The First Western Medical School Circa 950

Though the date of its foundation remains uncertain, the Schola Medica Salernitana in the coastal south Italian city of Salerno, was the first western medical school, representative of both the Greek and Arabic medical traditions. It may have been founded in the early tenth century. Texts representative of both the Greek and Arabic traditions had accumulated in the ancient library of the Abbey of Monte Cassino. Especially as these were translated into Latin, beginning in the 11th century, by physicians and scholars associated with the medical school, the received lore of Hippocrates, Galen and Dioscorides was supplemented and invigorated by Arabic medical practice, known from contacts with Sicily and North Africa. As a result, the medical practitioners of Salerno, both men and women, were unrivalled in the medieval Western Mediterranean.

The school, which found its original base in the dispensary of a monastery founded in the 9th century, reached its greatest fame between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, from the last decades of Lombard power, during which its fame began to spread more than locally, to the fall of the Hohenstaufen. The arrival in Salerno of Constantinus Africanus (Constantine the African) in 1077, marked the beginning of Salerno's classic period.  In the 11th century, through the encouragement of Alfano I, Archbishop of Salerno, who was a translator from the Arabic and a medical doctor himself, and the translations of Constantinus Africanus, Salerno gained the title of "Town of Hippocrates" (Hippocratica civitas or Hippocratica urbs). People from all over the world flocked to the "Schola Salerni", both the sick, in the hope of recovering, and students, to learn the art of medicine.

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The Archimedes Palimpsest: Recovering the Lost Mathematics of Archimedes Circa 950

On October 29, 1998 the Archimedes Palimpsest, a 10th-century copy written in Constantinople of an otherwise unknown work of Archimedes of Syracuse and other authors, palimpsested with Christian religious texts by 13th-century monks, was sold at auction by Christie's in New York for $2,000,000 to antiquarian bookseller Simon Finch acting for an anonymous American private collector. The Archimedes Palimpsest had disappeared in the 1910s or 1920s and ended up in a French collection. Its consignor at the auction, Anne Guersan, said that her father, Marie Louis Sirieux, acquired the book from in Constantinople in the 1920s. In 1932, her father-in-law Solomon Guerson, a French Jewish merchant in rare carpets and antique tapestries working in Paris, tried selling the palimpsest, and a manuscript curator identified a leaf as Folio 57 of the Archimedes Manuscript. It seems Guerson used leaves from his manuscripts to make elaborate forgeries. Not recognizing or appreciating the significance of the Archimedes undertext, sometime after 1938 Guerson possibly attempted to enhance the religious value of the palimpsest by painting on four of its leaves forgeries of portraits of the Four Evangelists that resembled images he had seen in Greek manuscripts at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The paintings were forged after 1938 as they contain a synthetic pigment called phlalocyanine green, which was only available after that date. 

At some time in the distant past the palimpsest was in the library of the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem, a monastery acquired by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1625. Before the auction the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem contended that the palimpsest had been stolen from one of its monasteries in Constantinople in the 1920s. In 1998, prior to the auction, ownership of the palimpsest was litigated in federal court in New York in the case of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem v. Christie's, Inc. The judge ruled in favor of Anne Guerson and Christie's.

The palimpsest seems to have first gained the attention of scholars when the Biblical scholar Constantin von Tischendorf  visited Constantinople in the 1840s, and took a page of it. This page is preserved in Cambridge University Library. In 1906 the historian of mathematics Johan Heiberg studied the manuscript in Constantinople, realized that the undertext was Archimedes, and that the palimpsest included works otherwise lost. Heiberg took photographs, from which he produced transcriptions published between 1910 and 1915 in his edition of the complete works of Archimedes. Shortly thereafter Archimedes' Greek text was translated into English by historian of mathematics T. L. Heath

Because the erasure during the palimpsesting process was incomplete, from 1998 to 2008 scientific and scholarly work using digital image processing produced by ultraviolet, infrared, visible and raking light, and X-ray has made Archimedes' undertext legible. The most remarkable work in the palimpsest is Archimedes' The Method, of which the palimpsest contains the only known copy.

"At the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the palimpsest was the subject of an extensive imaging study from 1999 to 2008, and conservation (as it had suffered considerably from mold). This was directed by Dr. Will Noel, curator of manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum, and managed by Michael B. Toth of R.B. Toth Associates, with Dr. Abigail Quandt performing the conservation of the manuscript.

"A team of imaging scientists including Dr. Roger L. Easton, Jr. from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Dr. William A. Christens-Barry from Equipoise Imaging, and Dr. Keith Knox (then with Boeing LTS, now with USAF Research Laboratory) used computer processing of digital images from various spectral bands, including ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths to reveal most of the underlying text, including of Archimedes. After imaging and digitally processing the entire palimpsest in three spectral bands prior to 2006, in 2007 they reimaged the entire palimpsest in 12 spectral bands, plus raking light: UV: 365 nanometers; Visible Light: 445, 470, 505, 530, 570, 617, and 625 nm; Infrared: 700, 735, and 870 nm; and Raking Light: 910 and 470 nm. The team digitally processed these images to reveal more of the underlying text with pseudocolor. They also digitized the original Heiberg images. Dr. Reviel Netz of Stanford Universityand Nigel Wilson have produced a diplomatic transcription of the text, filling in gaps in Heiberg's account with these images.

"Sometime after 1938, one owner of the manuscript forged four Byzantine-style religious images in the manuscript in an effort to increase its value. It appeared that these had rendered the underlying text forever illegible. However, in May 2005, highly focused X-rays produced at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park, California, were used by Drs. Uwe Bergman and Bob Morton to begin deciphering the parts of the 174-page text that had not yet been revealed. The production of X-ray fluorescence was described by Keith Hodgson, director of SSRL: "Synchrotron light is created when electrons traveling near the speed of light take a curved path around a storage ring—emitting electromagnetic light in X-ray through infrared wavelengths. The resulting light beam has characteristics that make it ideal for revealing the intricate architecture and utility of many kinds of matter—in this case, the previously hidden work of one of the founding fathers of all science."

"In April 2007, it was announced that a new text had been found in the palimpsest, which was a commentary on the work of Aristotle attributed to Alexander of Aphrodisias. Most of this text was recovered in early 2009 by applying principal component analysis to the three color bands (red, green, and blue) of fluorescent light generated by ultraviolet illumination. Dr. Will Noel said in an interview: "You start thinking striking one palimpsest is gold, and striking two is utterly astonishing. But then something even more extraordinary happened." This referred to the previous discovery of a text by Hypereides, an Athenian politician from the fourth century BC, which has also been found within the palimpsest. It is from his speech Against Diondas, and was published in 2008 in the German scholarly magazine Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, vol. 165, becoming the first new text from the palimpsest to be published in a scholarly journal" (Wikipedia article on Archimedes Palimpsest, accessed 01-26-2014).

In addition to the website and digital editions, thanks to the generosity of its owner, the Archimedes Palimpsest was published in one of the finest scholarly and most physically attractive, large and impressive sets of printed books ever issued on an historical manuscript: Netz, Noel, Tchernetska & Wilson eds., The Archimedes Palimpsest. Volume I: Catalogue and Commentary; Volume II: Images and Transcriptions. Cambridge & Baltimore: Cambridge University Press for The Walters Art Museum, 2011. The set was designed by Jerry Kelly.

A popular account is Netz, Reviel & Noel, William, The Archimedes Codex. How a Medieval Prayer Book is Revealing the true Genius of Antiquity's Greatest Scientist (2007).

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The Paris Psalter: The Most Famous Illuminated Byzantine Codex Circa 950

Produced in Constantinople in the second half of the tenth century, the Paris Psalter (BnF Ms. gr. 139), is the most famous illuminated Byzantine codex. It is unique among the seventy-five illuminated Byzantine psalters that survived for its large size, for the quality of script and text decoration, and for its fourteen magnificent full-page images, seven of which are bound one after another depicting events of David's life in chronological order, the remaining seven connected with the text. The most famous miniature in the DAvid series depicts David playing the harp at the side of the seated female figure of “Melody". Around this central group are the figure of Echo, various animals charmed by music, and even a male figure symbolizing the town of Bethlehem. The composition was probably based on a Graeco-Roman wall painting that depicted Orpheus charming the world with his music.

The psalter is associated with the emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, who has been called "The Scholar Emperor." In A Short History of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich wrote about Constantine:

"He was, we are told, a passionate collector—not only of books and manuscripts but works of art of every kind; more remarkable still for a man of his class, he seems to have been an excellent painter. He was the most generous of patrons—to writers and scholars, artists and craftsmen. Finally, he was an excellent Emperor: a competent, conscientious and hard-working administrator and an inspired picker of men, whose appointments to military, naval, ecclesiastical, civil and academic posts were both imaginative and successful. He did much to develop higher education and took a special interest in the administration of justice"(Norwich p. 181).

The images in the Paris Psalter

"are famous for their apparent classicism in figural style, painting, technique, and coloration. Among the classicizing features are personifications that have been incorporated in the compositions. In the scene of Moses receiving the tablets from God on Mount Sina (fol. 422v) for example, which refers to the Canticle of Moses in Deuteronomy, a seminude figure seen from the back is seated on a rock in the left foreground. Identified as Mount Sinai by the inscription, he holeds a dead tree stump, which together with his nakedness, signifies the barren wateland of the setting. IN the upper-left corner Moses stretches upward to the hand of God to read for the tablets. At the summit of the moutain the Burning Bush is visible. Bel;ow, in the center, a group of Israelites engaged in conversation awaits Moses' return. To the right, on an almost separate plan, Moses is shown again, this time attentively listening to God's instructions on how to build the temp that will house the Tablets of the Law. His finger-to-chin gesture indicates that he is thinking.

"In addition to personifications of time and place that help the view to identify the event depicted, the psalter illustrations contain personfiications representing astract concepts and virtues such as clemency, penance, and wisdom. These figures are suually interpreted as the clearest sign of a revived interest in the antique. For this reason the Paris Psalter as a whole has served as one of the key docuemnts supporting the notion of a Macdedonian renaissance during the tenth century. The large full-age illustrations ahve also given rise to the theory of an 'aristocratic' system of psalter illumination in Byzantium. It was thought otherwise incomprehensible that a repertoire of pagan forms and subjects could ahve a place within a manuscript of Christian liturgical or private devotion" (Evans & Wixom eds., The Glory of Byzantium. Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A. D. 843-1261 [1997] No. 163). Catalogue of an Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The manuscript was acquired in 1557-59 by Jean Hurault of Boistaillé, French ambassador to Contantinople, and a distinguished collector of mainly Greek, but also Arabic, and Hebrew manuscripts and early printing. After his death in 1572 Hurault's library passed to his brother André Hurault de Maisse, who was also a book collector. Later the library came into the possession of his cousin, Philippe Hurault de Cheverny, bishop of Chartres. After the Bishop's death the collection of 409 manuscripts was sold to Louis XIII for 12 000 francs. Louis XIII deposited them in the Bibliothèque royale, which was nationalized in the French Revolution, and is now known as the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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A Greek Manuscript Owned and Extensively Annotated by Robert Grosseteste Circa 950

Brought to England in the thirteenth century at the instigation of English statesman, scholastic philosopher, theologian, scientist  and Bishop of Lincoln Robert GrossetesteCambridge MS Ff.1.24 was probably written in Constantinople in the tenth century. 

"Twelfth and thirteenth-century scholars were aware that many important theological, philosophical and scientific texts unavailable in the West circulated in the Greek-speaking world. Only a tiny number went to the lengths that Grosseteste did to learn Greek with the aim of obtaining, reading and translating these works.

"The chronicler, Matthew Paris, tells how in the late 1230s, one of Grosseteste’s assistants, John of Basingstoke, recalled seeing a Greek manuscript containing a text called the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs in the library of the metropolitan Michael Choniates when he was in Athens some 40 years earlier. The bishop sent envoys to Athens and MS Ff.1.24, almost certainly Choniates’ copy, was brought to England for him. There are notes in Grosseteste’s hand throughout, demonstrating that he read the whole codex.

"He used the manuscript to prepare a Latin translation of the Testaments which was completed in 1242. Some early manuscripts of the translation contain a colophon recording how Grosseteste produced his text with the help of magister Nicholas Grecus, a native speaker and member of his household.

"Grosseteste and his contemporaries believed that the Greek text was a translation of a Hebrew original consisting of the genuine deathbed exhortations of the twelve sons of Jacob. They identified within the text various passages prophesying the coming of Christ. In translating the text, Grosseteste intended it to be used to convince Jews to convert to Christianity.

"Modern scholarship on the Testaments suggests that it was composed in the first or second centuries C.E. Opinion is divided as to whether it is a Christian work that draws on Jewish sources or a Jewish work with Christian prophetic passages inserted.

"Grosseteste’s translation was enormously popular; over eighty manuscripts survive and there were numerous printed editions. It was the source for vernacular translations into English, French, German, Anglo-Norman, Danish and Czech.

"MS Ff.1.24 offers an insight into the working habits and library of a major intellectual figure of the thirteenth century and, more broadly, casts light on the tradition of Greek scholarship and transmission of Greek texts in the Medieval West" (http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-FF-00001-00024/7, accessed 02-28-2013; the links are my additions).

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

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Discovery of the Earliest Known Practical Example of Polyphonic Music Circa 950

In 2014 Giovanni Varelli, a PhD student in musciology at Cambridge, discovered the earliest known practical example of polyphonic music— a piece of choral music written for more than one part— in a British Library manuscript in London. The music consists of a brief inscription written in the blank space at the end of a short manuscript of the life of the fourth-century bishop Maternianus of Reims, written down in the early tenth century. When the manuscript was received as part of the Harley Collection in 1753, nobody paid any attention to these scribblings, as evidenced by a large red Museum Britannicum library stamp that partly covers the writing. The two-line inscription is believed to date back to the start of the 10th century and is the setting of a short chant dedicated to Boniface, patron Saint of Germany. 

Here is a video of a performance of the music: 

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The Oldest Documentation of Occidental Music 960 – 970

Graduale Notkeri Sequentiae Codex 121).

Graduale – Notkeri Sequentiae, (Codex 121 [1151]) preserved in Einsiedeln Abbey Library in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, was written in the Benedictine monastery scriptorium between 960 and 970. The oldest documentation of occidental music, it comprises the oldest complete surviving neumed mass antiphonary, and includes assorted appendices, such as Alleluia verses, Antiphons and Psalm verses for the Communion Antiphons. The second part of the codex contains the Libyer Ymnorum, the Sequences of the musician, poet Notker the Stammerer (Latin: Notker Balbulus) (c. 840 – 6 April 912), also called Notker the Poet or Notker of St. Gall, written most likely for the third abbot of the cloister, Gregor the Englishman (d. 996). The manuscript contains initials illuminated in minium (lead tetroxide, red lead), gold, and silver.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile, and an elaborate description of the codex, were available at this link.


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The Exeter Book: The Largest Original Collection of Old English Literature Circa 960 – 990

A tenth-century anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, the Exeter Book, (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, Codex Exoniensis) is one of the four major Anglo-Saxon literature codices, along with the Vercelli Book, the Nowell Codex and the Junius manuscript. The largest surviving original collection of Old English literature, containing approximately one-sixth of the surviving corpus of Old English verse, it is believed originally to have contained 131 leaves, of which eight original leaves were lost at some point, and replaced with other leaves.

"The precise date when the Exeter Book was compiled and written down is unknown, but it is rightly acknowledged to be one of the great works of the English Benedictine revival of the tenth century, and proposed dates for it range from 960 to 990. This period saw a rise in monastic activity and productivity under the renewed influence of Benedictine principles and standards. At the opening of the period, Dunstan's importance to the Church and to the English kingdom was established, culminating in his appointment to the Archbishopric at Canterbury under Edgar and leading to the monastic reformation by which this era was characterised. Dunstan died in 998, and by the period's close, England under Æthelred faced an increasingly determined Scandinavian incursion, to which it would eventually succumb.

"The Exeter Book's heritage becomes traceable from 1072, when Leofric, Bishop at Exeter, died. Among the treasures which he is recorded to have bestowed in his Will upon the then-impoverished monastery, is one famously described as 'mycel Englisc boc be gehwilcum þingum on leoð-wisan geworht' (i.e., 'a large English book of poetic works about all sorts of things'). This book has been widely assumed to be the Exeter Codex as it survives today.

"Some marginalia were added to the manuscript by Laurence Nowell in the sixteenth century and George Hickes in the seventeenth" (Wikipedia article on Exeter book, accessed 12-24-2013).

During the bishopric of Leofric, the cathedral library at Exeter was the fourth largest in England. Along with the Exeter Book, Leofric bequeathed sixty-five other manuscripts and books to the cathedral—an exceptionally large personal library for the time. Of those, about twenty remain extant.

"Three versions of the donation list drawn up by Leofric survive, which is one of the earliest surviving cathedral library catalogues. The list consists of 31 books used to conduct cathedral services, 24 other ecclesiastical works, and 11 works that were secular. This last group included philosophical works as well as poetry.... Besides the Exeter Book and the Leofric Missal, Leofric's own copy of the Rule of Chrodegang also survives, although it is no longer at Exeter. Now it is at Cambridge University, where it is Corpus Christi College MS 191. Another surviving manuscript from Leofric's collection is a Gospel book written in Latin now in the Bodleian Library, which was probably acquired by Leofric while he was on the continent, as the manuscript was originally written for a Breton monastery" (Wikipedia article on Leofric (bishop), accessed 12-24-2013).

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Possible Inspiration for Picasso's Guernica? June 19, 960

An artwork from the 'Biblia de Leon,' or the Bible of St. Isidore. (View Larger)

The Visigothic-Mozarabic Bible of St. Isidore, also known as the Biblia de León was completed in the Monastery of Valeránica, Spain on June 19, 960 by Iberian Christians who lived under Moorish Muslim rule in Al-Andalus, the portions of the Iberian Peninsula governed by Muslims at various times in the period between 711 and 1492. It is considered the best-documented Mozarabic bible as it includes the names and portraits of its scribe, Sancho, and its miniaturist, Florencio.  The codex contains all the books of the Old and New Testaments, as well as prologues, biblical commentaries and other texts, written in lowercase visigothic-mozarabic lettering with initial capital letters in the interlaced Saxon style and decorated with biblical scenes and roundels. Annotated in both Arabic and Latin, it is preserved in the Cathedral of León.

Florencio's miniature paintings in this work "offered new departures in pictorial art, blending elements originating in Saxon, Visigothic, and Islamic art with new features from Carolingian sources" (http://www.omifacsimiles.com/brochures/bib_leon.html)

On April 20, 2009 the following notice appeared in Artdaily.org:

"Several experts from the world of art have stated that there is an extraordinary likeness between the figures that appear in the Guernica painted by the artist and those in a Mozarabic Bible from the 10th Century, which is housed in the Cathedral in Leon, to the point where it has been discarded that it was fruit of a coincidence. This Bible was exhibited in Barcelona in 1929 and in Paris in 1937, a time when the Cubist genius could have discovered the expressionist drawings that appear in the medieval text, according to the head of the Cathedral of Leon Museum, Máximo Gómez Rascón.

"Several experts consulted by news agency EFE arrived at the same conclusion and base it on the relative aspects of the double view, in front and to the side, of the figures in the painting, as well as in the horse and the bull.

Picasso's Guernica. (View Larger)

"In this way, the director of the museum, has explained that the similarities are seen especially in the bull, which in the Bible symbolizes Saint Luke and which is “almost exactly” as the one that Picasso painted on Guernica.

"The similarity also manifests itself in the horse’s head that appears in the painting and, to a lesser extent, in the faces of the persons, as well as some of the profiles that also allude to the ones appearing in the bible.

"It has been pointed out that in the bible there is also a lion, with its tongue out, whose face and expression are very similar to the horse that appears in Guernica, or to the one that has a type of knife coming out of its mouth.

"The head of the museum has discarded the idea that the similarities are fruit of a coincidence and is convinced that Picasso “without a doubt” had seen this bible, which was created by Deacon John in 920 [sic] and written in parchment with Visigothic letters.

"Even though that during those times codices were illustrated with those kinds of symbols, Gómez Rascón has emphasized the singularity with the one in Leon, one of the most important from that era.

"Painter Benito Escarpizo, former professor from the School of Applied Arts in Leon, is completely convinced: 'If the similarities are enormous in the painting, they are even greater in the sketches' " (http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2∫_new=30316).

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A Vast Library at Cordoba in Al-Andalus Circa 961 – 976

A map of the Caliphate of Cordoba circa 1000CE. (View Larger)

Al-Hakam II, the Caliph of Cordoba in Al-Andalus (Moorish Iberia), was fond of books and learning, and amassed a vast library that may possibly have contained over 400,000 books, though this number cannot be substantiated, and may well be far greater than what was actually held in the library. During his reign a massive translation effort was undertaken, and many books were translated from Latin and Greek into Arabic. For this project he formed a joint committee of Arab Muslims and Iberian Mozarab Christians.

The catalogue of the royal library "alone consisted of forty-four volumes. Under Al-Haim II (961-976) this library was reported to have given employment to over 500 people. . . . Elsewhere at Moslem Spain there was a total of seventy libraries in the 10th century, several in Toledo. In addition to the royal library, these included libraries in universities in Cordoba, Seville, Malaga, and Granada , among others, and in numerous mosques. Private libraries flourished in Moslem Spain, and it was said that Cordoba was the greatest book market in the western world in the 10th century" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 81).

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

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Foundation of the Holy Roman Empire 962

The third imperial seal of Otto I, featuring a frontal bust of the emperor. (View Larger)

In 962 Otto the Great, the first Holy Roman Emperor, founded the Holy Roman Empire (Heiliges Römisches Reich, Sacrum Romanum Imperium), a union of territories in Central Europe during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period,

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Filed under: Social / Political

Foundation of Al-Azhar University 970 – 972

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

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

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

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

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

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The Vercelli Book, One of the Four Old English Poetic Codices Circa 975

Preserved in the Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare (Capitulary Library and Archive) of Vercelli in Northern Italy, the Vercelli Book is one of the oldest of the four Old English Poetic Codices. It contains a miscellany, or florilegium, of religious texts that were apparently selected for private inspiration, written in Anglo-Saxon square minuscule, presumably in England. The manuscript was found at Vercelli in 1822 by the lawyer, legal historian, and writer on Italian libraries, Friedrich Blume (Bluhme),  who first described it, without understanding its full significance, in the first and fourth volumes of his Iter Italicum (Stettin, 4 vols., 1824-36). The extraordinary presence in Italy of a codex of Old English poetry was explained by the existence of a hospice catering to English pilgrims that was founded by Jacopo Guala Bicchieri, bishop of Vercelli, who had been papal legate in England from 1216 to 1218. However, the codex was documented in Vercelli as early as the eleventh century.

"In the words of a modern critic [Elaine Treharne], 'The Vercelli Book appears ... to have been put together from a number of different exemplars with no apparent overall design in mind. The manner in which the scribe did the copying is relatively mechanical. In most cases, he copied the dialect and the manuscript punctuation that was found in the original texts, and these aspects therefore aid in reconstructing the variety of exemplars. The texts therefore range in date for although they were all copied in the later tenth century, they need not all have been written in this period.'

"The verse items occur in three randomly placed groups intermixed with prose. Evidence suggests that the scribe may have assembled the material over an extended period of time. Elaine Treharne in Old and Middle English: An Anthology suggests: 'Although the examples are diverse, and no apparent chronological or formal arrangement can be discerned, the texts suggest the compiler was someone in a monastic setting who wished to illustrate his personal interest in penitential and eschatological themes and to glorify the ascetic way of life. The homilies represent part of the anonymous tradition of religious prose writing in Anglo Saxon England.' " (Wikipedia article on Vercelli Book, accessed 12-24-2013).

In December 2013 the beta version of the Digital Vercelli Book went online. It published digital facsimiles and transcriptions of portions of the Vercelli Book, available at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 03-14-2014.)

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The Earliest Record of the Use of Arabic Numerals in Europe 976

The so-called Arabic numerals were invented in India and tranferred to the Arabs who developed the system in in the moorish empire of Al-Andalus in the Iberian peninsula. The oldest record of the use of Arabic numerals in Europe is a leaf in the codex Virgilianus, ms. lat. DI.2f.9v preserved in Madrid at the Biblioteca S. Lorenzo del Escorial.

Frugon, Inventions of the Middle Ages (2007) 52, figure 36, & footnote 95.

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

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

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

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

The manuscript is preserved in the Stadtbibliothek Trier.

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

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The Golden Gospels of Henry VIII Circa 977 – 993

The Golden Gospels of Henry VIII was written and decorated by "at least sixteen different scribes" in the Benedictine Abbey of St. Maximin at Trier during the abbacy of Archbishop Egbert. It was written in gold on sheets of vellum colored various shades of purple, from mauve to slate blue, with dye made from berries. The coat of arms of England was added on the verso of the first leaf in the 16th century, probably to denote royal ownership.

The manuscript may have been produced for the coronation of Otto III in 983. It appears as no. 957 in the 1542 inventory of Henry VIII’s Upper Library at Winchester Palace.  According to one tradition, the manuscript was presented to Henry by Pope Leo X in 1521, when he conferred upon him the title of "Defender of the Faith."

In 1747 the manuscript was in the Bibliotheca Palmeriana, the library of Ralph Palmer of Little Chelsea, grandfather of the first Earl Verney (erased inscription reads Bibliotheca Palmeriana 1747). It was bought in 1800 for the Duke of Hamilton; Duke of Hamilton Collection, inv. no. 167; (Hamilton Palace Library, Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Scotland).  It was sold privately in 1883 with the Hamilton Collection to the Royal Museum of Berlin (The Hamilton Palace Libraries, Catalogue of the Hamilton Collection of Manuscripts, 1882, no. 25) and resold with a portion of the Hamilton Collection returned from Berlin (London, Sotheby’s, May 23, 1889, lot 1) to Quaritch); sold (May 26, 1890) by Quaritch (catalogue 99, Sept. 1889, p. 37-39, no. 359, (Hand-list, 1890, no. 1) to Theodore Irwin of Oswego; purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) with the Irwin Collection in 1900. The manuscript is preserved in the Morgan Library & Museum (MS M 0023).

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The Golden Gospels of Henry VIII: Written by Sixteen Different Scribes 977 – 993

The Morgan Golden Gospels (Morgan MS M.23), also known as The Golden Gospels of Henry VIII, was possibly created for the coronation of Otto III in 983. It was later in the library of Henry VIII of England (No. 952 in the 1542 Inventory of Henry VIII's Upper Library at Winchester Palace.). According to one tradition it was presented to Henry by Pope Leo X (Giovanni Lorenzo di Medici) in 1521 when he conferred upon Henry the title of "Defender of the Faith." In the second half of the sixteenth century the arms of England and an inscription addressed to a prince were added on the verso of the first leaf. It was later in the the library of Duke of Hamilton, and was acquired by J. Pierpont Morgan in the Theodore Irwin collection purchased in 1900.

In "The Morgan Golden Gospels: The Date and Origin of the Manuscript," in Miner (ed) Studies in Art and Literature for Belle Da Costa Greene (1954) 266-79, E. A. Lowe showed through paleographical comparison that it was written and decorated in the Benedictine Abbey of St. Maximin at Trier, Germany during the abbacy of Archbishop Egbert, by at least 16 different scribes. 

The manuscript is extraordinary for several reasons: 

1. It was written on vellum painted various shades of purple using dye made from berries. The leaves vary in color from mauve to slate blue. 

2. It was written in an uncial hand in burnished gold letters. The particular special type of uncial used was "heretofore unrecorded" until this manuscript was studied by E. A. Lowe.

3. It was written by at least sixteen different scribes. (When I wrote this entry in March 2014, this was the largest number of different scribes that I had heard of being identified with the writing of a medieval manuscript.)

4. According to E. A. Lowe, it is "one of the finest, if not the finest purple manuscript in existence."

"The practice of writing on purple membranes goes back at least to classical times, and was not unknown among early Christians even when the Church was strugglinig for existence. This form of ostentation, however, was frowned upon by the Fathers. In his oft-quoted preface to Job, St. Jerome (d. 420) takes occasion to remark: 'Let those who want them have ancient books or books written in gold or silver on purple parchment or in what is commonly called uncial letters—written burdens (I call them) rather than books.' No extant purple manuscript of the Bible written in gold goes back to the time of these Fathers. If we may judge by what remains of such Latin books, the Gospels and the Psalater were the favorites. The oldest of them date from the late fifth and sixth centuries and they are all in letters of silver, gold having been reserved for the N omina scara (dominus, deus, Iesus, etc.) and special passages, titles or opening lines. The Latin manuscripts are devoid of decorative initials and lack all prefatory matter and capitularies; the text is Old-Latin, i.e. pre-Jerome. They are so few in number that I enumerate them here:

"1. Codex Veronensis (b). Verona. Bibl. Capitol. vi. Uncial; saec v ex. Facs: C.L.A., IV. 481.

"2. Codex Neapolitanus, olim Vindobonensis (i). Naples. Bibl. Naz. Lat. 3 (=Vienna 1235). Uncial; saec v ex Facs: C.L.A., III. 399.

"3. Codex Palatinus (e). Trent, Mus. Naz. s.n. (Vienna 1185) _ Dublin, Trin. Coll. 1709 +London, Brit. Mus. Add 40107. Uncial asec. V. Facs: C.L.A., II and IV, 487.

"4. Codex Sarzanensis (j). Sarezzano, Bibl. Parrocchiale s.n. Uncial; saec VI in. Fac: C.L.A., IV. 436aq.

"5. Codex Brixianus (f). Brescia, Bibl. Queriniana s.n. Uncial; saec VI. Facs: C.L.A., III. 281.  

"6. Psalterium Sangermanense. Paris, Bibl. Nat. Lat., 11947. Uncial; saec. VI. Facs: C.L.A., V. 616.

"Greek purple manuscripts were doubtless models for our Latin ones. Only six or seven have survived. They are all, with one exception, in silver letters, and none is apparently older than the sixth century. They are: the Vienna Genesis, the Cotton Genesis, the Codex Rossanensis in the Bibliotheca Arcivescovile at Rossano, the Codex Sinopensis at Paris, written entirely in gold, the Codex Beratinus at Berat in Albania, the Codex Purpureus, with its surviving forty-five folios scattered, thirty-three being in the convent of St. John at Patmos, six in the Vatican, four in the British Museum and two at Vienna.

"The custom of producing purple manuscripts apparently died out in the West during the dark centuries of the early Middle Ages, but we know that it was honored in Northumbria in the late seventh century. It flourished agin in the Corolingian period, as is attested by several surviving manuscripts de luxe. Here and there we encounter magnificent books written on ordinary parchment whose beauty was enhanced by the addition of a few purple leaves. It is important to note that in the oldest purple manuscripts as well as in Carolingian codices purpurei the membranes are dyed, whereas in manuscripts of the Ottonian period the urple leaves, apart from the few imported from Byzantium, are painted, as is the case in our Morgan manuscript.

"The writing of a codex aureus purpureus was no ordinary affair in a scriptorium. It not only involved costly material, it also demanded special skill. For writing with the unusual sticky medium which could take the gold leaf was difficult even for the best of scribes. it stands to reason that such sumptuous manuscripts were intended for special occaions, and we know from ancient sources that they were objects of pride. It is theefore surprising to find no record of our splendid manuscript before the beginning of the last century. There is not a single contemporary marginal note or later entry which could throw any light on the vicissitudes of the volume during the entire period of the Middle Ages" (Lowe, op. cit., 266-68).

Lowe's paper on the Morgan Golden Gospels was reprinted in E. A. Lowe, Palaeographical Papers 1907-1965 II (1972) 389ff.

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Muslim Countries Adopt Paper but Not Printing Circa 980

Though Muslim countries traded extensively with the Chinese, and widely adopted the use of paper by 980, they did not adopt the Chinese technology of printing.

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First Discovery of the Law of Refraction 984

A diagram of an anaclastic lens, reproduced from Ibn Sahl's manuscript, 'On Burning Mirrors and Lenses.' (View Larger)

In 984 Arabian mathematician, and physicist Ibn Sahl (Abu Sa`d al-`Ala' ibn Sahl), associated with the Abbasid court of Baghdad, wrote a treatise On Burning Mirrors and Lenses, setting out his understanding of how curved mirrors and lenses bend and focus light. In this work Ibn Sahl is credited with first discovering the law of refraction, usually called Snell's law.

"Ibn Sahl used the law of refraction to derive lens shapes that focus light with no geometric aberrations, known as anaclastic lenses. In the reproduction of the figure from Ibn Sahl's manuscript, the critical part is the right-angled triangle. The inner hypotenuse shows the path of an incident ray and the outer hypotenuse shows an extension of the path of the refracted ray if the incident ray met a crystal whose face is vertical at the point where the two hypotenuses intersect. According to Rashed, the ratio of the length of the smaller hypotenuse to the larger is the reciprocal of the refractive index of the crystal.

"The lower part of the figure shows a representation of a plano-convex lens (at the right) and its principal axis (the intersecting horizontal line). The curvature of the convex part of the lens brings all rays parallel to the horizontal axis (and approaching the lens from the right) to a focal point on the axis at the left.

"In the remaining parts of the treatise, Ibn Sahl dealt with parabolic mirrors, ellipsoidal mirrors, biconvex lenses, and techniques for drawing hyperbolic arcs. Ibn Sahl's treatise was used by Ibn al-Haitham [Alhazen]" (Wikipedia article on Ibn Sahl, accessed 04-24-2009).

R. Rashed found the two parts of Ibn Sahl's manuscript separated in two libraries, reassembled it, translated it, and published it in Géométrie et dioptrique au Xe siècle: Ibn Sahl, al-Quhi et Ibn al-Haytham (1993).

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Gerbert Requests a Latin Transation of an Arabic Text May 984

In May 984 Gerbert d'Aurillac, as abbot of Bobbio, wrote a letter to a certain Lupitus of Barcelona (Lupito Barchinonensi) asking Lupitus to send him a copy of a treatise on astrology which Lupito had translated from the Arabic. Lynn Thorndike, in his History of Magic and Experimental Science II, 698, refers to this letter as an indication that Arabic scientific (or pseudo-scientific) texts were being translated into Latin by this time.

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Filed under: Science

The Earliest Universal Bibliography 988 – 990

From 988 to 990 Muhammad ib Ishaq (Abu al Faraj) called Ibn Abi al-Nadiim (Abi Ya'qub Ishaq al-Warraq al-Baghdadi), a bookseller, stationer and "court companion" of Baghdad, published Al- Fihrist, an annotated index of the books of all nations extant in the Arabic language and script.

The English translator of al-Nadim's work, Bayard Dodge, suggests that Al-Nadim, working in his father's bookshop, "wished to assemble a catalogue to show customers and to help in the procuring and copying of manuscripts to be sold to scholars and book collectors" (Dodge p. xxiii).  This was the earliest universal bibliography.

"It is reasonable to believe that when al-Nadim died the original copy of his manuscript was placed in the royal library at Baghdad, while other copies made by scribes about the time of his death were assigned to his family bookstore, where some of them were probably sold to customers who came to purchase interesting books. Farmer says: ' Yagut (d. 626/1299) averred that he used a copy of the Fihrist in the handwriting of al-Nadim himself. The lexicographer al-Saghani (650/1252) made a similar claim. Either of these autograph copies may have been in the Caliph's library, which was destroyed utterly in the sacking of Baghdad in 656/1258)' "(Dodge p. xxii).

This work did not appear in print until an edition of the Arabic text was issued by orientalist Gustav Flügel in Leipzig, 1871-72.

The text was first edited from the earliest manuscripts and translated into English by Bayard Dodge as The Fihrist of al-Nadim. A Tenth-Century Survey of Muslim Culture, 2 vols., New York, 1970. For the translation of part one Dodge used MS 3315 in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin:

"We know nothing about the history of the manuscript until it was placed in the library of the great mosque at 'Akka, when the notorious Ahmad Pasha-al-Jazzar was ruler there at the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. After the fall of Ahmad Pasha, the manuscript was evidently stolen from the mosque. It was probably at this time that it became divided, as the Beatty Manuscript includes on the first half of Al-Fihrist. In the course of time the dealer Yahudah sold his first half to Sir Chester Beatty, who placed it in his library at Dublin" (Dodge p. xxviii).

For the translation of part two Dodge used MS 1934 which "forms part of the Shahid 'Ali Pasha collection which is now cared for in the library adjacent to the Sulaymaniyah (Süleymaniye) Mosque at Istanbul. In the library catalogue it is described as 'Suleymaniye G. Kutuphanesi kismi Shetit Ali Pasha 1934" (Dodge p. xxx).

Dodge indicated that he believed that each separate portion represents half of the same manuscript made shortly after the death of al-Nadim.

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The First Printing Encountered by European Travelers 994

Song Dynasty Jiaozi, the world's earliest paper money.

"Paper money was the first form of Chinese printing met with by European travelers, was independently discussed by at least eight pre-Renaissance European writers [beginning with Marco Polo], and, so far as is known, the only form of Chinese printing described in European writings of the pre-Gutenberg days" (Carter, Invention of Printing in China 2nd ed [1955] 108-9).

Bank notes from the Song Dynasty, which issued the notes because of a shortage of copper for coinage, are essentially woodcuts with captions, representing some of the earliest woodcuts that survived.

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Possibly the Most Valuable Book in the World Circa 998 – 1001

Detail from page of the The Gospels of Otto III.  Please click to view entire image.

The Gospels of Otto III, probably produced in Reichenau Abbey, in the scriptorium headed by the monk Liuthard, for Holy Roman Emperor Otto III,

"must be a candidate for the most valuable book in the world. It was made for Otto around 998 . . . .  It is in its original golden binding set with jewels and with a Byzantine ivory panel. It is a totally imperial manuscript with full-page illuminated initals, Evangelist portraits, twenty-nine full-page miniatures from the life of Christ, and dominating all these, it has a pair of facing paintings showing the peoples of the world adoring Otto III. The worshippers resemble the Magi bringing offerings to the infant Christ. They are four women bearing gold and jewels and their names are written above in capitals: Sclavinia, the eastern European with dark read hair; Germania, a fair-skinned girl with long wispy blonde hair, Gallia, the back-haired French girl, and the curly-headed Roma, who is bowing lowest of all before the ruler of the empire. Otto himself is shown the opposite page, seated disdainfully on his majestic throne, flanked by two priests with books. . . . Otto III had built himself a palace on the Aventine Hill in Rome. His library including (amazingly) a fifth-century manuscript of Livy's history of Rome, probably given to him by the archbishop of Piacenza in about 996; the transcript of it that he had made still survives in Bamberg. His seal had the legend 'Renovatio Imperii Romanorum', the restoration of the empire of the Romans. He thought himself at least as great as Caesar Augustus" (de Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts [1986] 67-68). 

The Gospels of Otto III is preserved at Munich in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Clm 4453).

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The Oldest Book in Rus', a "Hyper-Palimpsest" of Three Bound Wooden Wax Tablets 998 – 1030

On July 13, 2000 the Novgorod Codex (Новгородский кодекс) was discovered in Novgorod (Veliky Novgorod), Russia. More early Russian manuscripts survived in Novgorod than any other Russian city, probably because Novgorod was not occupied by the Mongols. The earliest surviving book of the Rus' people, the Novgorod Codex is a palimpsest consisting of three bound wooden tablets containing four pages filled with wax, on which its former owner wrote down dozens, probably hundreds of texts during two or three decades, each time wiping out the preceding text. The tablets measure 19 x 15 x 1 cm, and have a 15 x 11.5 cm indentation filled with wax. The two exterior tablets have one wax layer and one blank wooden side, and the third interior tablet has two wax sides. The boards have round holes at one edge, through which wooden pegs were inserted, holding the tablets together as a four-page book.

"The tablets were discovered in a stratum 50 cm away and 30 cm below a wooden walkway dendrochronologically dated to the year 1036. As the strata in Novgorod are estimated to have grown at about 1 cm per year, the document was estimated to have been placed there around 1015-1020. Subsequent radiocarbon dating of the wax at the Uppsala University in Sweden gave the range of 760 AD to 1030 AD with a 95.4% certainty. Due to the Christian text on the tablets, dates earlier than the Christianization of Kievan Rus' in 988 are considered unlikely, and as such, the wax tablets are reliably dated to a very narrow 42-year window between 988 and 1030 AD."

"The wax of the codex itself contains psalms 75 and 76 (and a small fragment of psalm 67). This is the so-called basic text of the Novgorod Codex. Consequently, the book is alternatively known as the Novgorod Psalter. This text can be read as easily as any other document on parchment and could be examined at once. The Psalter translation exhibits a somewhat different translatory tradition than the Slavonic translations of the Psalter known so far (especially the Psalterium Sinaiticum)."

"Preservation of the tablets presented unique challenges, as the usual preservation method for wood would have destroyed the wax layer, and vice versa. The method eventually decided on called for careful separation of the wax layer, and preserving each material separately. The newly exposed wood under the removed wax was found to have been extensively scratched by the stylus cutting through the thin wax. It took the research team several weeks to realize that some symbols could be discerned in the scratches.

"Famed Russian linguist Andrey Zaliznyak, one of the foremost experts on the early medieval Novgorod dialect, has taken tremendous effort to reconstruct so far only a small portion of the texts preceding the basic text. The main difficulty with this task is the fact that the feeble traces of dozens of thousands of letters left by the stylus, often hardly discernible from the natural shading of the soft lime wood, have been superimposed on each other, producing an impenetrable labyrinth of lines (Zaliznyak speaks of a “hyper-palimpsest”). Consequently, ‘reading’ a single concealed text of one page can take weeks" (all quotations from Wikipedia article on Novgorod Codex, accessed 01-19-2013).

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