Bitumen Boat

Two boats with sails and oars are depicted in the Madaba Mosaic Map, a miraculously preserved sixth-century giant floor map of Palestine. One has a cargo of white stuff, the other of a vibrantly coloured substance being shipped over the Dead Sea. The tesserae depicting the boatmen have been smashed and replaced with a random red-and-yellow mix of mosaic pieces:

The boat at left carries salt, which is there for the digging on the Dead Sea coast. Recently I asked an archaeologist friend what he thought was aboard the boat at right and he promptly said: bitumen. This surprised me, but he explained that the Dead Sea used to be covered in floating globs of asphalt. It would have glistened, so perhaps that is why the mosaic shows it rainbow-fashion.

I have since learned that under the Romans, the asphalt or bitumen was so ample that it was harvested from the beaches or fished out of the water and exported. Hot work, but it was much in demand by the glue trade around the Mediterranean (and had earlier been used, it is said, for mummification in Egypt).

One of the most notable manuscripts to be digitized in the past week by the Vatican Library is the Cartulary of the Chapter of the Holy SepulchreVat.lat.4947, a set of records of land endowments and dealings by Christian priests in Crusader Jerusalem in the period 1162-1165. From a review by Olivier Guyotjeannin, I learn that the Cartulary contains a record dealing with salt and bitumen harvesting at the time of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

I wonder how long the bitumen trade continued overall. Evidently for a good two thousand years! An account by George Frederick Wright in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915) quotes Josephus saying lumps of asphalt as big as an ox were common in his day. But by the 19th century, big asphalt seepages from the lake bottom were rare, coinciding with earthquakes, though lake dwellers still knew to harvest and sell the releases. Today the last remains are only pebble-sized.

In all, the library released 39 digitizations in the past week. My list:
  1. Barb.lat.813,
  2. Barb.lat.4400,
  3. Ott.lat.577,
  4. Ross.49,
  5. Ross.125.pt.1 (Upgraded to HQ),
  6. Ross.126.pt.1,
  7. Ross.157,
  8. Ross.286,
  9. Urb.lat.1301,
  10. Vat.lat.2538,
  11. Vat.lat.2541,
  12. Vat.lat.4720,
  13. Vat.lat.4756 (Upgraded to HQ),
  14. Vat.lat.4818 (Upgraded to HQ),
  15. Vat.lat.4821 (Upgraded to HQ),
  16. Vat.lat.4822,
  17. Vat.lat.4824 (Upgraded to HQ),
  18. Vat.lat.4826, a mathematics manuscript datable to 1450, by Iacobus de Florentia. See Jordanus
  19. Vat.lat.4829, mathematics anthology in Italian, dated 1480, see Jordanus. The word algorithm was established in the West by this time:
    Also tons of squiggly sums:
  20. Vat.lat.4832,
  21. Vat.lat.4856,
  22. Vat.lat.4884,
  23. Vat.lat.4885,
  24. Vat.lat.4892 (Upgraded to HQ),
  25. Vat.lat.4893 (Upgraded to HQ), a decretum
  26. Vat.lat.4907,
  27. Vat.lat.4919 (Upgraded to HQ),
  28. Vat.lat.4923, here, the small strips used for strengthening the binding formed part of the same manuscript of Gregory as is found in Vat.lat.4918 (Lowe):
  29. Vat.lat.4926,
  30. Vat.lat.4927,
  31. Vat.lat.4930,
  32. Vat.lat.4935,
  33. Vat.lat.4941 (Upgraded to HQ),
  34. Vat.lat.4947 (Upgraded to HQ), the Cartulary of the Chapter of the Holy Sepulchre (above, also discussed in a blog post two years ago).
  35. Vat.lat.4956.pt.1,
  36. Vat.lat.4956.pt.2,
  37. Vat.lat.4957 (Upgraded to HQ),
  38. Vat.lat.4959 (Upgraded to HQ),
  39. Vat.pers.31,
This is Piggin's Unofficial List number 210. Thanks to @gundormr for harvesting. If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to DigiVatLib.

Nissenbaum, Arie (1978). 'Dead Sea Asphalts — Historical Aspects', Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 62, 837–44. Online


Crusader Elite

A post two years ago highlighted records in the Vatican Library illuminating the doomed attempt to establish a Christian kingdom in Palestine after the Crusades, the finale of a conflict many Muslims angrily remember to this day.

One of those manuscripts is a book of genealogies containing the Lignages d'Outremer, a French-language compilation describing the leading settler families and their descents. This week that work, at folios 276-296 of Vat.lat.4789, has been re-released in high resolution and full color after only a microfilm in black and white had been available.
Arlima informs us this is the second recension of the Lignages. For a quick introduction to its scope, see Wikipedia.
In all, 39 manuscripts arrived online over the past week. My list:
  1. Reg.lat.960.pt.A,
  2. Reg.lat.2121,
  3. Ross.50 (Upgraded to HQ),
  4. Ross.107 (Upgraded to HQ), book of hours, see tweet below
  5. Ross.116,
  6. Ross.117,
  7. Ross.131,
  8. Ross.142,
  9. Ross.266,
  10. Sbath.243,
  11. Urb.lat.1622,
  12. Vat.estr.or.127,
  13. Vat.estr.or.41.pt.A,
  14. Vat.lat.2514,
  15. Vat.lat.2516, in which Dominique Gatté discovers a depiction of Fauvel, a fictitious horse which rises to prominence in the French royal court, and is here depicted in a royal crown:
    Merci @JBPiggin pour la nouvelle liste !https://t.co/CGMBOijGdD
  16. Vat.lat.2519,
  17. Vat.lat.2521,
  18. Vat.lat.2530,
  19. Vat.lat.2531,
  20. Vat.lat.3493,
  21. Vat.lat.4688,
  22. Vat.lat.4698,
  23. Vat.lat.4700,
  24. Vat.lat.4705,
  25. Vat.lat.4760.pt.2,
  26. Vat.lat.4789 (Upgraded to HQ), Lignages d'Outremer (above)
  27. Vat.lat.4811,
  28. Vat.lat.4828, a compilation of merchant arithmetic from 1453 in Italian and Latin. See Jordanus
  29. Vat.lat.4844,
  30. Vat.lat.4855,
  31. Vat.lat.4864, works by Albertus Magnus on alchemy and other scientific topics, see eTK
  32. Vat.lat.4873,
  33. Vat.lat.4888,
  34. Vat.lat.4898,
  35. Vat.lat.13489.pt.1,
  36. Vat.lat.13489.pt.2,
  37. Vat.lat.14402.pt.A,
  38. Vat.lat.15344,
  39. Vat.turc.373,
This is Piggin's Unofficial List number 209. Thanks to @gundormr for harvesting. If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to DigiVatLib.


Rosy-cheeked bishop

One of the Vatican's finest manuscripts of the Decretrum Gratiani, a great collection of laws, has just been digitized. The high resolution lets you zoom in close to figures like this rosy-cheeked bishop:
Here's a king from the copious initials, and I wondered if the gold-blue-red tiles were a throne, and got a reply from @GlossaeIuris:
This 14th century codex from Toulouse is made up of 404 folios and contains the commentary of Bartholomew of Brixen in the margins. Mirabile has details on its former owners.

My full list of new digitizations:
  1. Chig.A.VIII.231 (Upgraded to HQ),
  2. Ross.130,
  3. Urb.lat.581,
  4. Urb.lat.1029.pt.2,
  5. Vat.estr.or.124,
  6. Vat.lat.2493, Decretum Gratiani (above)
  7. Vat.lat.2523,
  8. Vat.lat.3557,
  9. Vat.lat.4638,
  10. Vat.lat.4719,
  11. Vat.lat.4721,
  12. Vat.lat.4748.pt.2,
  13. Vat.lat.4786 (Upgraded to HQ), Petrarch's Trionfi?
  14. Vat.lat.4797 (Upgraded to HQ),
  15. Vat.lat.4802,
  16. Vat.lat.4812,
  17. Vat.lat.4814,
  18. Vat.lat.4835 (Upgraded to HQ),
  19. Vat.lat.4836,
  20. Vat.lat.4840 (Upgraded to HQ),
  21. Vat.lat.4845,
  22. Vat.lat.4852 (Upgraded to HQ),
  23. Vat.lat.4853,
  24. Vat.lat.4854,
  25. Vat.lat.4858 (Upgraded to HQ),
  26. Vat.lat.4862,
  27. Vat.lat.4865,
  28. Vat.lat.4867, about magic, witchcraft and demons, among other subjects. See the entry on this codex in the eTK; from the catalog, indications of Seneca here too
  29. Vat.lat.4869,
This is Piggin's Unofficial List number 208. Thanks to @gundormr for harvesting. If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to DigiVatLib.



The fortunes of  some manuscripts take them to the very brink of destruction, as we see with a Neapolitan part-bible, Vat.lat.8183, digitized in the past week by the Vatican Library.

The miniaturist is believed to have been Matteo Planisio. This codex containing Prophets and Psalms once contained gorgeous colourful 14th-century miniatures, but many were snipped out by a "collector". Check it out, because the vandal did not get them all.

This week 26 manuscripts were scanned and put online for all the world to enjoy. My list:
  1. Ross.118 (Upgraded to HQ), an exquisite book of hours in mint condition 
  2. Ross.301,
  3. Vat.gr.2650, from Byzantine southern Italy, a copy of a seventh-century legal deed
  4. Vat.lat.2399,
  5. Vat.lat.2400,
  6. Vat.lat.2482 (Upgraded to HQ), Avicenna, Eugubinus de Montecatino, Albertus Magnus and Petrus de Abano in a 300-folio, mainly medical anthology from the 15th century: see eTK. There's a librarian's handy table of contents at the front.
  7. Vat.lat.2503,
  8. Vat.lat.2505,
  9. Vat.lat.2513,
  10. Vat.lat.3500 (Upgraded to HQ),
  11. Vat.lat.4710,
  12. Vat.lat.4711 (Upgraded to HQ), with an Aristotle commentary
  13. Vat.lat.4760.pt.1,
  14. Vat.lat.4764,
  15. Vat.lat.4791 (Upgraded to HQ),
  16. Vat.lat.4792,
  17. Vat.lat.4813,
  18. Vat.lat.4816,
  19. Vat.lat.4837,
  20. Vat.lat.4841,
  21. Vat.lat.4842,
  22. Vat.lat.4846 (Upgraded to HQ),
  23. Vat.lat.4848,
  24. Vat.lat.4860,
  25. Vat.lat.4871 (Upgraded to HQ), philosophical, with a text by Franciscus de Marchia on univocal concepts
  26. Vat.lat.8183, Italian part bible which begins with Isaiah (above)
This is Piggin's Unofficial List number 207. Thanks to @gundormr for harvesting. If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to DigiVatLib.