History Archive Icon

History Archive

Manuscripts

Manuscripts Collection

History Archive - Manuscripts Collection

Every book written by hand on flexible material and intended to be placed in a library is called a manuscript. Manuscripts have been composed from the most remote antiquity (Egyptian papyri of the memphite epoch) down to the period of the invention of printing. However, Greek manuscripts were still copied until the end of the sixteenth century, and in the monasteries of the East (Mount Athos, Syria, Mesopotamia, etc.), the copying of manuscripts continued well into the nineteenth century. On the other hand the most recent Western manuscripts date from the last years of the fifteenth century.

Many manuscripts are illustrated with ornaments are called "eluminures", illuminations, or miniatures, a word used since the end of the sixteenth century. At first the "miniator" was charged with tracing in red minium the titles and initials. Despite its limitations, the art of illumination is one of the most charming ever invented featuring:

(1) Initials of chapters or paragraphs, ornamented sometimes very simply, sometimes on the other hand with a great profusion of interlacings, foliage, and flowers; these are developed along the whole length of the page and within are sometimes depicted persons or scenes from everyday life;

(2) Paintings on the margin, in which some scene is carried over several pages;

(3) Borders around the text (interlacing colonnades, etc.), the most remarkable example is that of the evangelistic canons of the Middle Ages; full-page paintings (or such as cover only a part of the page), but forming real pictures, similar to frescoes or easel pictures; these are chiefly found on very ancient or very recent manuscripts (fourteenth and fifteenth centuries);

+ Read More

Manuscript Materials

The principal materials employed in the making of manuscripts have been papyrus, parchment, and paper. In exceptional cases other materials have been used (e.g. the linen books of Etruria and Rome, a specimen of which was found on an Egyptian mummy in the museum of Agram; the silken books of China, etc.). Besides, in ancient time and during the Middle Ages tablets dipped in wax on which characters were traced with a stylus were made us of for fugitive writings, accounts, etc.; these might be folding in two (diptychs), or in three (triptychs), etc. Papyrus (charta aegyptica) was obtained from a long-stemmed plant terminating in a large and elegant umbrella; this was the Cyperus Papyrus, which grew in the marshes of Egypt and Abyssinia. The stem was cut in long strips which were placed one beside the other. On the vertical strips others were placed horizontally; then after they had been wet with the water of the Nile they were submitted to strong pressure, dried in the sun, and rubbed with shells to render them solid.

To make a book the separate pages (selides, paginae) were first written on, then they were put end to end, the left margin of each page being made to adhere to the right margin of the preceding page. A roll (volumen) was thus secured, of which the dimensions were sometimes considerable. Some Egyptian rolls are forty-six feet long by nine or ten inches wide, and the great Harris papyrus (British Museum) is one hundred and forty-one feet long. The end of the last page was fastened to a cylinder of wood or bone (omphalos, umbilicus), which gave more consistency to the roll. The page having been ruled, the writing was done with a sharpened reed on the horizontal portion of the fibres.

From being almost exclusively used in Egypt, the use of papyrus spread to Greece about the fifth century, then to Rome and throughout the West. Its price remained very high; in 407 B.C. a roll of twenty leaves was worth twenty-six drachmas, or about five dollars (Corp. Insc. Attic., I, 324). Pliny the Elder (Hist. Nat., XIII, 11-13) gives a list of its various grades (charta Augusta, Liviana, etc.). Egypt retained the monopoly of the manufacture, which furthermore belonged to the State. Alexandria was the principal market. In the first centuries of the Middle Ages it was exported to the West by the "Syrians", but the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs (640) stopped the trade. However it still continued to be used for diplomas (at Ravenna until the tenth century; in the papal chancery until 1057). The Arabs had attempted to cultivate the plant in Sicily.

Parchment

Parchment (charta pergamena), made of the skin of sheep, goats, calves (vellum), asses, etc., was used by the Ionians and the Asiatics as early as the sixth century B.C. (Herodotus, V, 58); the anecdote related by Pliny (Hist. Nat., XIII, 11), according to which it was invented at Pergamus, seems legendary; it would seem that its manufacture was simply perfected there. Imported to Rome in ancient times, parchment supplanted papyrus but slowly. It was only at the end of the third century A.D. that it was preferred to papyrus for the making of books. Once prepared, the parchment (membrana) was cut into leaves which were folded in two; four leaves together formed a book of eight folios (quaternio); all the books formed a codex. There was no paging before the fifteenth century; writers merely numbered first the books (signature), then the folios. The dimensions of the leaves varied; the most in use for literary texts was the large quarto.

An Urbino catalogue (fifteenth century) mentions a manuscript so large that it required three men to carry it (Reusens, "Paleographie", 457); and there is preserved at Stockholm a gigantic Bible written on ass-skin, the dimensions of which have won for it the name of "Gigas librorum". The page was ruled in dry point so deeply that the mark was visible on the other side. Parchments were written on both sides (opistographs). As parchment became very rare and costly during the Middle Ages, it became the custom in some monasteries to scratch or wash out the old text in order to replace it with new writing. These erased manuscripts are called palimpsests.

With the aid of reacting chemicals the old writing has been made to reappear and lost texts have been thus discovered (the Codex Vaticanus 5757 contains under a text of St. Augustine the "De Republica" of Cicero; recovered by Cardinal Mai). Manuscripts thus treated have been nearly always incomplete or mutilated; a complete work has never been recovered on a palimpsest. Finally, by sewing strips of parchment together, rolls (rotuli) were made similar to those formed of papyrus (e.g. Hebrew Pentateuch of Brussels, ninth century, on fifty-seven sewn skins, forty yards in length; "rolls of the dead", used by the associations of prayer for the dead in the abbeys; administrative and financial rolls used especially in England to transcribe the decrees of Parliament, etc.)

Paper

Paper is said to have been invented in China in A.D. 105 by a certain Tsai-Louen (Chavannes, "Jounr. Asiatique", 1905, 1). Specimens of paper of the fourth century A.D. have been found in Eastern Turkestan (expeditions of Stein and Sven Hedin). It was after the taking of Samarkand (704) that the Arabs learned to make paper, and introduced it to Bagdad (795), and to Damascus (charta damascena). It was known in Europe as early as the end of the eleventh century, and at this early date it was used in the Norman chancery of sicily; in the twelfth century it began to be used for manuscripts. It was sold even then in quires and reams (Arabic, razmah) and in the thirteenth century appeared the filigranes or watermarks.

According to chemical analyses, the paper of the Middle Ages was made of hempen or linen rags. The expression "charta Bombycina" comes from the Arab manufactory of Bombyce, between Antioch and Aleppo. The copyist of the Middle Ages used chiefly black ink, incaustum, composed of a mixture of gall nuts and vitrol. Red ink was reserved from ancients times for titles. Gold and silver ink were used for manuscripts de luxe (see EVANGELIARIA). The method of binding codices has varied little since ancient times. The books were sewn on ox sinews placed in rows of five or six on the back. These sinews (chordae) served to attach to the volume wooden covers, which were covered with parchment or dyed skin. Covers of the manuscripts de luxe were made of ivory or brass, ornamented with carvings, precious stones, cut and uncut.

References:

Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 9 (1913)

Available Books

Images

Image Name
Trat: 3 - Lamina 1
Afrique occidentale II
Trat: 1 - Lamina 10
Plans of Ports, Islands, and Cities on the Coast of Africa and India
Front Cover
Afrique orientale I
Amerique - Terre du Bresil
Ptolemy's Map of Europe - VIII
Plans of Cities, Ports, and Islands in East Africa, Asia, and the Coast of India
Trat: 2 - Lamina 1
North America, East Coast
Trat: 1 - Lamina 29
Trat: 1 - Lamina 14
Terre du Perou II
Book Display III
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - VII
Terre australe II
Back Cover
Rose des vents
Title Page
Atlantique sud
Trat: 2 - Lamina 2
Front Cover
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - X
Trat: 2 - Lamina 7
Trat: 1 - Lamina 15
Title Page
Trat: 1 - Lamina 20
Enssuyt le Regime et Gouvernement du Solleil
Apendice - Lamina 5
Ptolemy's Map of Africa - III
Trat: 1 - Lamina 26
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - V
Inde orientale
Leafs 1 & 2 - Text
Book Display III
La Java
Aegean Sea
Back Cover
Chart of the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranee orientale et Moyen-Orient
First Page
Partie des canibales
Book Display II
Back Cover
Title page with inscription,
Book Display III
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - IV
Book Display I
Back Cover
Ptolemy's Map of Europe - VI
Terre australe IX
Book Display IV
Adriatic Sea
Terre australe
Back Cover
Trat: 1 - Lamina 21
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - XII
Book Display I
Book Display IV
Plans of Ports in Italy and Malta
Enssuyt le Regime et Gouvernement du Solleil
Cinquieme Projection
Book Display I
Trat: 1 - Lamina 18
North Atlantic
Neuve Espagne III
Trat: 1 - Lamina 5
Trat: 3 - Lamina 4
Trat: 1 - Lamina 8
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - I
Europe centrale et meridionale
Ptolemy's Map of Asia - IX
Northern Europe
Inserted Spanish Letter [II]
Inserted Spanish Letter [III]
China Sea with the Moluccas
Trat: 2 - Lamina 11
Ruins in the Sky (1958)
Northeastern South America
Apendice - Lamina 11
Europe occidentale
Title Page
Apendice - Lamina 13
Trat: 2 - Lamina 10
Troisieme Projection
Europe meridionale et orientale
Deuxieme Projection
Ptolemy's Map of Europe - II
Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego
Title Page
Europe septentrionale et Groenland II
Terra Java
Manuscript 512 Inscriptions Reproduction (1839)
World
Floride, Terre-Neuve et Labrador

Maps

Map Name
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [III] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Mediterranean Sea (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Atlantique sud (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [VIII] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Indian Ocean (1630)
Catalan Atlas - Leafs 9 & 10 (1375)
Vallard Atlas - Adriatic Sea (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe septentrionale et Groenland [I] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Chart of the Mouth of the Para, Curupa, and Amazon Rivers (1630)
Vallard Atlas - Europe and Northern Africa (1547)
Catalan Atlas - Leafs 5 & 6 (1375)
Cosmographie Universelle - Neuve Espagne [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique occidentale [I] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Europe and Northern Africa (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe meridionale et Afrique du nord-ouest [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Pourtour de la mer noire [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Deuxieme Projection (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer de l'Inde orientale [II] (1555)
Miller Atlas - Southern Indian Ocean with Insulindia on the Left, and Madagascar on the Right (1519)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique du Nord-ouest (1555)
Miller Atlas - Circular World Map of the Portuguese Hemisphere (1519)
Vallard Atlas - La Java (1547)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Cities, Ports, and Islands in East Africa, Asia, and the Coast of India (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Inde orientale (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [X] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports in Mexico, West Coast (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Asia (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [VII] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Quatrieme Projection (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique orientale [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer rouge et golfe persique (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Aegean Sea (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer de l'Inde orientale et des Moluques (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - South Pacific (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Southeast Africa (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego (1690 Spanish Insert) (1630)
Vallard Atlas - Southern Africa and Southwest Indian Ocean (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mer de l'Inde orientale [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Royaume de Ginganton (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports in the West Indies (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports and Islands on the Coasts of Peru and Chile (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Grande et Petite Jave [I] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Western Europe and northwestern Africa (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe meridionale et orientale (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe septentrionale et Groenland [II] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre-Neuve, Europe et Barbarie (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Defaite de Databalipa (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [I] (1555)
Miller Atlas - Central Atlantic Ocean with the Azores (1519)
Cosmographie Universelle - Neuve Espagne [II] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Cities, Ports ... in Portugal, Spain, Brazil, and Rio de la Plata (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [IX] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Premiere Projection (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [V] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe meridionale et Afrique du nord-ouest [II] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Pourtour de la mer noire [II] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Southern Part of Baltic Sea (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique occidentale [II] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Northwest Africa (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique meridionale (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Sixieme Projection (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Troisieme Projection (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Floride, Canada et Labrador (1555)
Miller Atlas - Northeastern Atlantic Ocean and Northern Europe (1519)
Catalan Atlas - Leafs 11 & 12 (1375)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Northern Europe (1630)
Miller Atlas - Southwestern Atlantic Ocean with Brazil (1519)
Vallard Atlas - Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf (1547)
Vallard Atlas - Terra Java (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre du Perou [III] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Zambezia and Surrounding Regions (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Partie des canibales (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Ocean indien et mer rouge (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre du Perou [I] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [VI] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego (1630)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - World (1630)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [II] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Terre australe [IV] (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Floride, Terre-Neuve et Labrador (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Grande et Petite Jave [II] (1555)
Taboas Geraes de Toda a Navegação - Plans of Ports, Islands, and Straits of the Red Sea, East Asia, and Philippines (1630)
Miller Atlas - Northern Indian Ocean with Arabia and India (1519)
Cosmographie Universelle - Europe centrale et meridionale (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Southeastern South America, Straits of Magellan (1547)
Miller Atlas - North Atlantic Ocean (1519)
Vallard Atlas - Northeastern South America (1547)
Catalan Atlas - Leafs 7 & 8 (1375)
Vallard Atlas - Aegean Sea (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Cinquieme Projection (1555)
Miller Atlas - China Sea with the Moluccas (1519)
Miller Atlas - The Mediterranean Sea (1519)
Cosmographie Universelle - Neuve Espagne [III] (1555)
Vallard Atlas - Terra Java (1547)
Cosmographie Universelle - Mediterranee orientale et Moyen-Orient (1555)
Cosmographie Universelle - Afrique orientale [II] (1555)

Topics

View All Topics
History of Humanity - History Archive Logo
History of Humanity - History Mysteries Logo
History of Humanity - Ancient Mesopotamia Logo
History of Humanity - Egypt History Logo
History of Humanity - Persian Empire Logo
History of Humanity - Greek History Logo
History of Humanity - Alexander the Great Logo
History of Humanity - Roman History Logo
History of Humanity - Punic Wars Logo
History of Humanity - Golden Age of Piracy Logo
History of Humanity - Revolutionary War Logo
History of Humanity - Mafia History Logo