First Handbook

If you are keen on historic warfare or the fantastical war machines created for battles in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, you'll be hooked by a 1455 book by Roberto Valturio on the military arts which is full of wonderfully creative images of military machines, real and imagined.

The Vatican Library's manuscript of De re militari (On matters military) arrived online October 24 and Urb.lat.281 is a real page-turner. Leonardo da Vinci is reputed to have read this and to have been inspired by it to some of his own inventions. On folio 147v we find an astonishing dragon machine with a cannon in its snout, capable of firing incendiary missiles:

That is just part of the image.This particular dragon just happens to have a basket on its head with nine commandos wearing blue helmets, ready to jump down and hack you to bits.

Who doesn't remember the James Bond Aston-Martin with knives that emerge from the hubcaps? In this book, it's a heavy battle-wagon drawn by oxen that does the same.

On  fol. 168v there's a tortoise, a machine for getting up close to walls and battering them down, and of course it even looks like a tortoise:

Ponder the weird raking fire weapon on fol. 166r:

Or how about some 15th-century Meccano on fol. 144r:

Valturio (1405–1475) (see French Wikipedia) was a man of letters rather than a proper engineer and this handbook is derivative rather than original. It even starts off with a copious list of sources:

De re militari is also remarkable in book history. A couple of dozen manuscripts were made at great cost to be presents to princes (this is Federico da Montefeltro's copy), but 17 years later a print version appeared in 1472 for the new mass market. It is regarded as the first modern handbook on any subject, dealing with the entirety of its topic in a systematic way, and integrating images and text.

A total of 72 manuscripts came online in this batch. Here is the full list:
  1. Pal.gr.14
  2. Pal.gr.265
  3. Urb.lat.81
  4. Urb.lat.96
  5. Urb.lat.248 , ‏@LatinAristotle on Twitter (Pieter Beullens) points out this is Galen, De simplicium medicamentorum facultatibus in the Latin of Niccolò da Reggio
  6. Urb.lat.281, De re militari (above). Anthony Grafton's Rome Reborn catalog calls the book the most important Renaissance forbear of Machiavelli's Art of War. The St. Louis catalog notes that this copy is dated May 11, 1462 and signed by the scribe Sigismondi Nicolai Alamani.
  7. Urb.lat.410
  8. Urb.lat.423
  9. Urb.lat.674
  10. Urb.lat.732
  11. Urb.lat.740
  12. Urb.lat.763
  13. Urb.lat.772
  14. Urb.lat.774
  15. Urb.lat.789
  16. Urb.lat.793
  17. Urb.lat.797
  18. Urb.lat.812
  19. Urb.lat.814.pt.
  20. Urb.lat.820.pt.1
  21. Urb.lat.823.pt.3
  22. Urb.lat.825.pt.2
  23. Urb.lat.827.pt.1
  24. Urb.lat.827.pt.2
  25. Urb.lat.828.pt.3
  26. Urb.lat.829.pt.1
  27. Urb.lat.829.pt.2
  28. Urb.lat.829.pt.3
  29. Urb.lat.832.pt.2
  30. Urb.lat.836
  31. Urb.lat.837
  32. Urb.lat.847
  33. Urb.lat.848
  34. Urb.lat.850
  35. Urb.lat.854.pt.2
  36. Urb.lat.855
  37. Urb.lat.868
  38. Urb.lat.870
  39. Urb.lat.873
  40. Urb.lat.881
  41. Urb.lat.883
  42. Urb.lat.887
  43. Urb.lat.889
  44. Urb.lat.890
  45. Urb.lat.892
  46. Urb.lat.897
  47. Urb.lat.910
  48. Urb.lat.916
  49. Urb.lat.923
  50. Urb.lat.926
  51. Urb.lat.927
  52. Urb.lat.931
  53. Urb.lat.960
  54. Vat.gr.303.pt.1
  55. Vat.gr.303.pt.2
  56. Vat.lat.855
  57. Vat.lat.897
  58. Vat.lat.920
  59. Vat.lat.922
  60. Vat.lat.923
  61. Vat.lat.947
  62. Vat.lat.951
  63. Vat.lat.960
  64. Vat.lat.963
  65. Vat.lat.996
  66. Vat.lat.1002
  67. Vat.lat.1028
  68. Vat.lat.1031
  69. Vat.lat.1032
  70. Vat.lat.1043.pt.2
  71. Vat.lat.1089
  72. Vat.lat.3281, a magnificent old palimpsest containing fragments from a 5th- or 6th-century Vulgate Bible, scribed in southern Italy perhaps as soon as 50 years after the death of Jerome. It was torn apart and re-used in the 12th century for the Achilleid of Statius in Beneventan script (Lowe 1 14, Trismegistos 66110).
This is Piggin's Unofficial List number 74. If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to DigiVatLib.

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