Our website uses cookies to improve your browsing experience. In order to use this website optimally, we ask you to agree to our use of cookies.

I agree to the use of cookies. I don't agree to the use of cookies..
back to overview


Five leaves from a manuscript of substantial extracts from Pliny the Elder, Naturalis historia, with texts on botany and the uses of plants, in Latin, manuscript on vellum
[France or perhaps Low Countries
last decades 12th c. or opening decades 13th c.]
€6.000 - €8.000

"Five continuous leaves, each leaf approximately 220 by 140mm, comprising two bifolia and two large strips that make up a single final leaf (all pages marked with modern pencil letters for reference: A+B and C+D as one bifolium; E+F and G+H as another bifolium; and a+d and c+d the two strips; so original order of pages: EF+AB+CD+GH+abdc), all recovered from later reuse (see below), written in single column of 38 lines of a small pre-gothic hand with very occasional biting curves, a strong 'ct'- and 'st'-ligature, written below topline (lines now visible through tiny prick holes at extreme edge of leaf AB), some plant names added by main hand and another slightly later one in margin to allow ease of reference, chapters separated by paraph marks, 'explicit' on one leaf in capitals, large stitch-holes in erratic lines around all outer edges of bifolia probably indicating reuse of bifolia flat in an object as stiffening material for fabric (rather than a bookbinding), outermost side of one bifolium (A+D) and one of the strips (b) stained and marked with cuts to surface there, else very legible, small spots, stains and scuffs, else good and presentable condition"

"From an early manuscript of lengthy extracts from the botanical part of Pliny's Naturalis historia, most probably produced as a medical handbook. Pliny the Elder (more properly Gaius Plinius Secundus; 23-79 AD.) is perhaps the most well known naturalist of the Ancient World. He was a supporter of Emperor Vespasian, a formidable naval and army commander, and a naturalist and chronicler. His lifelong fascination with investigating the natural world led to both this work, gleaned from decades of dedicated research from his native Italy as well as his travels in Germania, Africa, northern Hispania and probably also Gallia Belgica, and his untimely death while attempting to observe the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The initial ten books of this work were probably completed in 77 AD., with the remainder then published posthumously by his nephew Pliny the Younger. It draws on many earlier sources, but claims to be the first such work of its kind, aiming to encompass all fields of knowledge at that time, and surveying astronomy, botany, geology, mineralogy and zoology. Indeed it is the single largest work to now survive from Roman literature, and set the model for all later encyclopedic works. It was popular throughout the Classical world and the Middle Ages, and Reynolds traces parts of five extant codices of the fifth and sixth centuries (Texts and Transmissions, 1983, pp. 307-16), leading to three early Carolingian witnesses: two of the eighth century (from as far afield as Italy and northern England) and one of the early ninth century (from the palace scriptorium of Louis the Pious). These gave rise to at least six copies of the ninth to eleventh centuries, and thereafter to approximately eight manuscripts of the twelfth century. The Schoenberg database lists no copy older than c. 1300 appearing on the open market in the last century (and that the manuscript formerly Schøyen MS. 1000, previously Sir Thomas Phillipps MS. 4196-97, and last sold publicly in H.P. Kraus, cat. 186 (1991), no. 126). The only fragment to appear on the market, known to us, was a single leaf of the fifteenth century with parts of the text on metals (last sold Bloomsbury Auctions, London, 3 December 2019, lot 25). The size of the entire work was perhaps daunting to copyists as well as extremely expensive to produce, and so scribes often copied only those sections that were of interest to themselves or their patrons, such as here. The present leaves include book XXVII, x:26-xxiv, 42 (pages E+F; chapter numbering here following the Loeb edition) and continuous with xxiv:42-xxix:53 (pages A+B), then jumping in line 23 of B (after ""… priore minusque amarum"") to cxviii:143-cxx:145; then continuing with book XXVII, cxx:145-6 at the top of page C, before ending in line 8 with the explicit ""Naturalis ystorie plinii Liber xxvvi [sic for 'xxvi']"", and announcing ""de libro xxi"" on the next line, with continuous text from book XXI, lxix:116-43 (pages C+D), and continuing onto the last leaf of the bifolium with civ:176 (pages G+H), before jumping after line 26 to book XXII, xix:41-xx:43 (page H), and continuing with the same text on the two fragments that make up the single leaf, up to XXII, xiv:50 (a, b, c and d)."