Archive Page 2

A couple more photographs of the Meta Sudans and base of the Colossus

A couple more interesting pictures appeared on Twitter tonight.

The first of these was posted by Ste Trombetti, and shows the Arch of Titus in 1848 (!).  The photo is in the Getty archive, and was taken by Count Jean-François-Charles-André Flachéron (French, 1813-1883).  Through the arch, the Meta Sudans is visible, in its truncated 19th century state.

Here it is:

Arch of Titus, Meta Sudans, and Colosseum. Flacheron, 1848.

Arch of Titus, Meta Sudans, and Colosseum. Flacheron, 1848.

The next item is a photograph which was found by searching on “Collina della Velia”, i.e. the little Velian hill.  This hill was completely levelled by Mussolini, in building the Via del Foro Imperiali.  This old photograph shows the black base of the Colossus of Nero, which existed until Mussolini removed it.  The black item below the Colosseum is the base.

I found it on Flickr here. Here it is:

Collina della Velia.  Note the base of the Colossus of Nero.

Collina della Velia. Note the base of the Colossus of Nero.

Finally let’s include an aerial view of the whole region, from a 2009 exhibition here.  Click on it to get a very large photo!

aerial_view

The base of the Colossus is in the shade of the Colosseum, but I think the rectangle can be made out if you zoom:

Zoomed area of the aerial photo of the base of the Colossus of Nero

Zoomed area of the aerial photo of the base of the Colossus of Nero

There seem to be very few photographs of this obscure item.

Discovered: A 5-6th century fragment of Methodius’ “Symposium”!

Methodius of Olympus.  5-6th century papyrus fragment of the Symposium.

Methodius of Olympus. 5-6th century papyrus fragment of the Symposium.

I learn from Brice C. Jones that a marvellous discovery has been made: a papyrus leaf, or the remains of one, containing a portion of the Symposium of the Ante-Nicene writer Methodius of Olympus (d. 311 AD, as a martyr):

New Discovery: The Earliest Manuscript of Methodius of Olympus and an Unattested Saying about the Nile

… The only complete work of Methodius that we possess is his Symposium or Banquet—a treatise in praise of voluntary virginity.

Until quite recently, the earliest manuscript of this text was an eleventh century codex known as Patmiacus Graecus 202, which is housed in the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on the island of Patmos.

But a remarkable discovery has recently been made in the Montserrat Abbey in Spain.

Sofia Torallas Tovar and Klaas A. Worp, who have been working on the manuscript collection in the Montserrat Abbey for many years, have just published a fragment of Methodius’ Symposium that they date on palaeographical grounds to the fifth-sixth century—about 450 years earlier than the Patmos codex mentioned above. (On another recent, important discovery by Tovar and Worp, see here.)

Published as P.Monts. Roca 4.57, this fragment is the first attestation of a work of Methodius from Egypt. It is a narrow strip of parchment, with thirty partial lines preserved on the hair side (see image of fragment at right).

The text on this side of the fragment comes from Oratio 8:16.72-73, 3:14.35-40, 8.60-61, and 9.18-19 (in that order).

The flesh side contains thirty-five partial lines of text unrelated to the Methodian text. This is an unidentified Christian text with “Gnomic” sentiments, as the authors explain.

In addition to the wonderful fact that we now have a significantly earlier manuscript witness of Methodius’ text, there is also another remarkable feature in the new manuscript: a previously unattested saying about the Nile. In lines 5-8, the manuscript reads:

“The rise of the Nile is life and joy for the families”
ἡ ἀνάβα̣σ̣ε̣ι̣[ς] τοῦ Νείλου̣ ζω̣ή̣ ἐστι κ̣[αὶ] χαρὰ ἑστία[ις]

As the authors note, this saying does not occur in Methodius. And indeed, it does not fit the immediate context. Where it comes from is a mystery, but the saying is nonetheless very interesting.

Marvellous!  And thank you, Brice, for making this known to the world!  Brice adds that the publication is:

Sofía Torallas Tovar and Klaas A. Worp, ed., with the collaboration of Alberto Nodar and María Victoria Spottorno, “Greek Papyri from Montserrat” (P.Monts. Roca IV) (Barcelona: 2014), no. 57.

What this find also reminds me, is that Methodius is one of the very few ante-Nicene authors whose works have not been translated into English.  This is because they survive only in Old Slavic versions.  I paid some attention to these, in previous posts, and even acquired some texts; but I must hurry up and try to get some translations made!

Theodore of Antioch: Encomium on Theodore the Anatolian – now online in English

Anthony Alcock has continued his marvellous programme of translations from Coptic.  Today’s item is the Encomium on Theodore the Anatolian, by Theodore, Bishop of Antioch.  It’s here:

The manuscript that contains the work was published by E.A.W. Budge, and dates from 995 AD.

The text is a hagiographical text, but St. Theodore the Anatolian was a popular saint in Egypt.[1]  Also known as Theodore the General, or Theodore the Stratelates, the cult of this warrior saint developed in Anatolia in the 10-11th centuries.[2]

  1. [1] Youhanna Nessim Youssef, “The doxology of the seven generals of Antioch”, Journal of Coptic Studies 9 (2007), 49-60; 53.  Online here (PDF).
  2. [2] Heather A. Badamo, Image and community: Representations of military saints in the medieval eastern mediterranean, 2011 (Thesis), p.95.  Online here.

Some tables of contents in minuscule Greek manuscripts

Via AWOL I discovered the existence of a search engine for Greek manuscripts, made by David Jenkins and online at Princeton here.  I promptly started looking for examples of the “summaries” or “tables of contents” in Greek texts.  Not many of the texts that I looked at had them; but a few did.

First off, let’s have a look at an 11th century manuscript of Eusebius’ Church History, BML Plut. 70.28. On folio 2v we find this:

Table of contents for Eusebius HE in 11th century manuscript

Table of contents for Eusebius HE in 11th century manuscript

But none of this material is in the body of the manuscript as far as I could see.

Here’s a 16th century version of the same thing, much influenced by the age of printing no doubt.  This is Ms. Vatican Ottobonianus gr.108.  Fol. 1v looks like this:

16th century table of contents for Eusebius HE

16th century table of contents for Eusebius HE

It’s neater: but not fundamentally different in content.

Next up, a 9th century manuscript (Pal. gr. 398) from Heidelberg of Arrian’s CynegeticaFol. 17r looks like this:

9th century table of contents for Arrian's Cynegetica

9th century table of contents for Arrian’s Cynegetica

If we then look at the start of the text on fol.18, we see the same material – numerals appear in the margin against each chapter, while the “chapter heading” is in the right margin:

Opening of Arrian's Cynegetica, with chapter number and title on right.

Opening of Arrian’s Cynegetica, with chapter number and title on right.

Unfortunately I found no early examples in the manuscripts listed.  The majority of manuscripts listed were biblical (as this is where digitisation has concentrated), which is not what I am looking for.  Manuscripts of Plato’s works had no table of contents; nor did a manuscript of the histories of Herodotus.  But my search was by no means comprehensive.

It’s still nice to see these things, tho.  What I nowhere saw was modern-style chapters, blank lines followed by titles with numbers and another blank line.  Which is interesting itself.

Online: Free .pdf version of Lanciani’s “Forma Urbis Romae”

Ste Trombetti draws my attention to the existence of a PDF of 19th century archaeologist R. Lanciani’s map of ancient Rome.  It’s here.

It zooms really nicely too…

lanciani_map_excpt

Here’s a mirror of the PDF.

From my diary

Oops.  I was just preparing the Italian text for the next chapter of Eutychius when I noticed that it was chapter 14; while my posts for the last five chunks were supposedly “chapter 12″.  They should, of course, have been headed “chapter 13″.  I have gone back and fixed the headings.

The mistake was easy, because the Italian translation does not contain running headings, so that, once in error, I had no reason to examine the chapter heading again.

I remember looking at British Library Additional manuscript 12150, which is a Syriac codex written in 411 AD.  This has running headings throughout, in the hand of the scribe.  It is a pity that the Franciscans of Cairo, who printed Eutychius, were unable to do the same.

I shall press on with Eutychius, although I feel rather ashamed of translating an Italian translation into English, and doing so badly since I don’t know Italian and rely on Google translate plus a smattering of knowledge acquired along the way.  But the result still makes Eutychius more available than it would be otherwise.  With luck someone qualified to do so will take the Arabic text and make a proper translation, and make it accessible online.

The next chunk of Eutychius looks rather theological to me.  It is concerned with something of the utmost importance to Eutychius and his fellow-Melkites, a minority in Egypt – the council of Chalcedon, at which the monophysites were condemned.  I hope that I can make sense of the text, even though I only have a sketchy idea of the theology.  If not, I hope that you will forgive me.

Today I heard from a correspondent, asking me about the online translations of John Chrysostom’s Against the Jews; or Discourses against Judaizing Christians, as the Catholic University of America Press somewhat presumptuously calls them in the Fathers of the Church vol. 68 translation by Harkins.  Of course I directed him to that volume.  I believe that a critical edition of the text is in progress, in Germany – the discoverer of most of sermon 2, Wendy Pradels, is involved – and when this is complete then a fresh translation will be called for.  Considering the importance of the text, one can only hope that efforts will be made to make that new translation available online.  There really is no purpose in publishing such things offline any more.

It’s been a while since I myself have commissioned any translations of ancient texts.  At the moment I am at home, waiting for another contract.  It would be unwise to agree any fresh outgoings until the money tap is turned on again.  Wish me luck!  Once someone agrees to employ me, then I will simultaneously have less time and more money.

It looks as if the general election in the UK is interfering with the UK contract market, just as it did in 2010.  I suppose, logically, that few corporations would commence an expensive project now, when they could wait a month and know what kind of regulatory environment they will face.  So they do not recruit, or sign contracts with small businesses.  So the delay is something of a test of patience.

In the meantime, I can do a few projects myself!

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 13 (part 5 and end)

Eutychius continues telling us about the reign of Arcadius, in the 5th century, from his perspective of 5 centuries later, followed by the story of the Nestorian dispute.

13. In the fourth year of his reign, i.e. the reign of Arcadius, king of Rum, there reigned over the Persians Yazdağard (37), son of Bahram, called “the sinner”, for twenty years.  Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, built a large church in Alexandria in the name of Arcadius, king of Rum (38).  Arcadius, king of Rum, died after reigning for thirteen years.  After him his son Theodosius, called Theodosius the Less (39), reigned over Rum for forty years.  This happened in the eleventh year of the reign of Yazdağard, son of Bahram, king of the Persians.  In the ninth year of the reign of Theodosius, Yazdağard, son of Bahram, invaded the empire and between the two there was a violent battle with many casualties on both sides, so that both withdrew.  In the thirteenth year of the reign of Theodosius Zosimus was made patriarch of Rome (40).  He held the office for only one year and died.  After him Yūnūmātiyūs was made patriarch of Rome (41).  He held the office for three years and died.  After him Celestine was made patriarch of Rome (42).  He held the office for ten years and died.

14. In his fifth year in office there was the third council, against Nestorius, in Ephesus (43).  In the first year of his reign, i.e. the reign of Theodosius the Less, Cyril of Alexandria (44) was made Patriarch.  He held the see for thirty years and died.  In his twenty-first year in office there was the third council, against Nestorius.  In the first year of the reign of Theodosius the Less Alexander was made patriarch of Antioch (45).  He held the office for four years and died.  After him Baradūtus was made patriarch of Antioch (46).  He held the office for six years and died.  After him John was made patriarch of Antioch (47).  He held the office for seventeen years died.  In his eleventh year in office there was the third council, against Nestorius.  In the seventh year of the reign of Theodosius the Less, Flavius was made patriarch of Jerusalem (48).  He held the office for thirty-eight years and died.  In his fourteenth year in office there was the third council, against Nestorius, and in his thirty-seventh year in office took place the fourth council, against Dioscorus, in the city of Chalcedon (49).

15. In the fourteenth year of the reign of Theodosius the Less, Sisinnius was made patriarch of Constantinople (50).  He held the office for three years and died.  After him Nestorius was made patriarch of Constantinople (51).  He held the office for four years and two months, and then was excommunicated and deposed.  Nestorius claimed that the Virgin Mary is not the true mother of God because this means that there would be two sons: the one, the God who is born of the Father, and the other, the man who was born of Mary.  He argued then that this man, who claimed to be the Christ, was joined with the Son in virtue of love, and he was called God and Son of God, not in the proper sense, but as a gift and associate of the two names, as well as a title of honor, like one of the prophets.  Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, came to know what Nestorius was saying, and wrote him a letter, in which he highlighted the scandal of his doctrine and the perversity of his conduct, urging him to return to the truth.  Many were the letters that he wrote, but Nestorius did not desist from his doctrine.  Then Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, wrote to John, Patriarch of Antioch, asking him to write to Nestorius, and show the monstrosity and absurdity of his doctrine, and why they were appealing to him to return to the truth.  John, Patriarch of Antioch, then wrote to Nestorius telling him that if he did not return to the truth, they would meet and they would have him excommunicated.  Many were the letters that he wrote, but Nestorius did not recede from his doctrine.  Instead he persisted in his error and his depraved belief blinded him.  Then John, Patriarch of Antioch, wrote to Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, informing him that Nestorius remained firm in his depraved belief.  Cyril wrote then to Celestine (52), patriarch of Rome, to Juvenal (53), Patriarch of Jerusalem, and to John, Patriarch of Antioch, asking them to come together in the city of Ephesus to examine the doctrine of Nestorius and to try to get him to recant.  Otherwise he would be abandoned to his fate, excommunicated and deposed.

16. Two hundred bishops gathered in the city of Ephesus (54).  There presided at that council Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, Celestine, patriarch of Rome and Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem.  John had promised them that he would be present, but since he was late in coming, Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, did not wait further.  He gathered the bishops who sent word to Nestorius, who was in Ephesus, that he should also be present.  But Nestorius refused to join them.  They sent for him three times and since he lingered, and finally decided not to show up, they examined his doctrine, and, judging it worthy of excommunication, voted him anathema and consigned him to exile.  They established thus that the Virgin is [true] Mother of God and that Christ is true God and [true] man, with two natures and one in regard to the person: quite different from love.  Nestorius was saying in fact that the unity is only a combination of the two persons and it was therefore necessary to assert that the true unity means that there can be only one person with two natures.  They had already excommunicated Nestorius when John, Patriarch of Antioch, arrived.  Seeing that they had already excommunicated Nestorius even before he was present, he was annoyed and said: “You have been unjust with him and have undeservedly excommunicated Nestorius.”  He sided then with Nestorius, gathered the bishops who were with him, and excommunicated Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria and Simon, bishop of Ephesus.  Faced with the hostile behavior of John, the companions of Cyril dissociated themselves from the others and left Ephesus.  The companions of Cyril and the Orientals formed thus two sides, and there were great struggles among them.  But King Theodosius intervened promptly and re-established peace between them.  The Orientals then drew up a paper in which they claimed that the holy virgin Mary gave birth [really] to our God and our Lord Jesus Christ, who is of the same nature with his Father, and of the same nature with men as to his humanity.  They also recognized the two natures, one hypostasis and one person, and excommunicated Nestorius.  They sent as bearer of the paper Paul, Metropolitan of Homs, to Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, who read and approved it, responding: “My faith is in line with that expressed by you and contained in your paper.”  In this way agreement was re-established between Cyril and the Orientals.  Some have said that when Cyril received the letter of the Orientals he did not find that it entirely conformed to the dictates of true faith in that he, personally, did not intend to assert “two natures and one hypostasis.”  But they are certainly wrong because all the writings of Cyril speak, in fact, in favor of this claim.  Cyril wrote a copy of the paper of the Orientals to Hilary, bishop of the city of Corinth, to Acacius, bishop of Malatiyah (55) and many other bishops in order to let them know that the Orientals had returned to the true faith, and that they did not at all share the doctrine of Nestorius, but that of the second council of the hundred and fifty bishops who had gathered in Constantinople to excommunicate Macedonius.  From that second council to this third council of two hundred bishops, who had gathered at Ephesus and had excommunicated Nestorius, there had passed fifty years.  This happened in the twenty-first year of the reign of Theodosius the Less, king of Rum.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 13 (part 4)

Here’s the next chunk of the Annals of Eutychius, covering the period of Chrysostom.  The story of Chrysostom and his violent disagreement with Theophilus of Alexandria must always have been difficult for the Copts, who revered both. 

10. There lived in Egypt a bishop who had died leaving three children, who then all three became monks who were going to live in the monastery of Scete.  Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, took one and made him bishop of a certain city of Egypt, then appointed the other two as deacons and kept them with him as disciples.  In fact, they remained in the service of Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, but just three years afterwards, the two young men manifested a desire to return to Scete.  Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, was opposed to their request, but the two young men went away without his permission.  Then [the patriarch] forbade them to approach the Eucharist for the period of three years, and the two went to John Chrysostom asking him to write to Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, a letter requesting him to allow them to receive the Eucharist.  John Chrysostom sent them, accompanied with a letter from him, to Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, asking him to welcome them, but the patriarch was adamant.  The two then went back to John Chrysostom, and he allowed them to communicate.  Thus it was that the disagreements arose between Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, and John Chrysostom.

11. At the time of Arcadius, king of Rum, there lived a very wealthy man, named Thāwkatistus.  Because of some envy, with false witnesses, he was accused before the king, saying that he had renounced the Christian faith and insulted the king.  So the king sent him into exile and confiscated his goods.  The wife [of Thāwkatistus] owned a vineyard.  Happening to pass before the vineyard, and finding it so beautiful that she wanted it, Queen Eudoxia asked: “Whose is this vineyard?”  They told her that it belonged to the wife of the man whom the king had sent into exile.  The queen then said: “I wish it were mine and I could make my walks in it!”  Some ministers told her: “It is the custom that everything belongs to a king that is under his feet.”  On hearing these words the queen took possession of the vineyard.  The woman then had recourse to John Chrysostom, and John sent word to the queen to return the vineyard to the legitimate owner.  And because the queen refused to do so, he went personally to talk to her, but the queen did not deign to make any response.  He then appealed to the fear of God and said: “Take care that there doesn’t happen to you what happened to Yezabel, wife of Akhāb, king of Israel.”  The queen did not agree and ordered John to be driven from the building.  John went away saddened and gave orders to his deacons to close the door on the queen if she presented herself to enter the church.  They did as ordered and the queen retired in anger.

12. Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus, was in Constantinople, to attend to some of his business with the King.  The queen summoned him and said to him: “John has turned against the truth and has meddled in affairs that do not concern him, and set himself as my accuser.  How can I remove him from the office he is occupying?”  “If things are as you say,” replied Epiphanius, “I will urge him to repent. If he repents, then it will be better for him, otherwise I will destroy him”. But the queen insisted: “If he is not destroyed, then I will open the temples of the idols and I’ll make people worship them.”  Then the queen commissioned some bishops and deacons to go to the king to testify before him against John, telling him that he was a transgressor of the law and that the population would not support him and hated him.  And since those bishops envied John, because of his great learning, they lent themselves to the queen’s game, and did just as she had taught them to do.  The king Arcadius then ordered that John be removed from office.  Then John Chrysostom wrote to Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus, saying: “You, Epiphanius, you have helped to send me into exile and you have supported the conspiracy against me, saying things about me unbecoming to the position you occupy.  But know that you will not reach your city before you die.” Epiphanius answered him saying: “O John, I said only good things of you, and I have made every effort just to defend you, and with all diligence I tried to avert your doom, but all was in vain.  He who is present sees what the absent does not see.  But as you accuse me of things that I do not know and I did not say, know that you will not reach the place to which you have been exiled before you die.”  Epiphanius then set off for Cyprus, and he died on the ship when there was just half a day to go before arrival.  John Chrysostom, in his turn, died before reaching the place to which he had been confined.  At Constantinople there was then a terrible earthquake, violent thunder and lightning, lightning and rain.  The king said: “All this is because we have banished John Chrysostom”.  Therefore he gave orders to bring back the body to Constantinople and to bury it.  This was in the sixth year of the reign of Arcadius.  John was called Chrysostom, or “golden mouth”, because a woman who was mourning the dead exclaimed in the lamentations: “O John, O golden mouth”.  So he was called “golden mouth”.  After him another John was made patriarch of Constantinople (30).  He held the office for two years and died.  After him Eusebius was made patriarch of Constantinople.  He held the office for a year and died.  After him Iğnādiyūs was made patriarch of Constantinople.  He held the office for three years and died.  After him Atticus was made patriarch of Constantinople (31).  He held the seat for fifteen years and died.  This was in the twelfth year of the reign of Arcadius.  In the eighth year of his reign Anastasius was made patriarch of Rome (32).  He held the office for three years and died.  In the eleventh year of his reign Abrakītiyus was made patriarch of Rome (33).  He held the office for fifteen years and died.  In the eighth year of his reign Prailius was made patriarch of Jerusalem (34).  He held the office for twelve years and died.  In the fifth year of his reign Paulinus was made patriarch of Antioch (35).  He held the office for four years and died.  In the ninth year of his reign Aghrū was made patriarch of Antioch (36).  He held the see for five years and died.

English translation of Cramer’s catena on Galatians published

John Litteral writes to tell me that a complete translation of Cramer’s catena-commentary on Galatians has been made by Bill Berg, and is available at a trivial price ($12)on Amazon here (US) and here (UK).

Some will be unaware of what a catena is.  The medieval church created its bible commentaries by stringing together chains of quotations from the fathers.  These chain-commentaries are known today as catenas (from the Latin for chain).  These often reference now lost works, and so are of value as a source for lost early Christian commentary on scripture.  They tend to be found in the margins of Greek bible manuscripts; but sometimes standalone.  The author of each excerpt is indicated by an abbreviation at the start.

It’s pretty hard to work with the catenas.  The text is often corrupt, the author marks even more often corrupt, and the editions are all old – sometimes very old – and difficult to access.  So … scholars have ducked the task of producing modern editions.

In the 19th century John Cramer published a set of catenas on all the books of the New Testament, in eight volumes.  Bill Berg has attacked the catena on Galatians.

The authors cited in this catena include John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Severian of Gabala, among others.

So … if ancient biblical commentary is your thing, pick up a copy.  It should certainly encourage work on this subject!

The Nazis at Jesi: some notes on the modern history of the codex Aesinas of Tacitus’ “Germania” &c.

The minor works of Tacitus include the Germania and the Agricola.  The history of the manuscripts is somewhat tangled.  Several manuscripts of the minor works reached the renaissance, but were then lost.  The only survivor today is the Codex Aesinas Latinus 8, possibly the same as that discovered at Hersfeld by Guarini.  It was discovered by Prof. Cesare Annibaldi in the private library of Count Aurelio Guglielmi Balleani of Jesi in the autumn of 1902.  It is today in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Rome, where it is now Cod. Vitt. Em. 1631.

But in between it had a lively history.  In 1995, in his book Landscape and Memory, British historian Simon Schama published an account of some curious events that took place in Jesi in 1944.  Few manuscript enthusiasts will have seen this, so I thought that I would give some excerpts.[1]  For the story is truly rather exciting!

AUTUMN 1943

A detachment of SS winds its way up the mountain road west of Ancona tracing a black line in the autumn gold: crows in the corn. Clouds of chalky dust rise from the road while the exhaust from the armored cars shakes the unharvested wheat. Ten miles down, on the Adriatic coast, Ancona waits in frantic terror for an Allied bombing raid. Already it chokes on the brown dust of disaster while the iron and stone wreckage of its port crumbles into the tepid turquoise sea. Italy spins in turmoil. The last days of July had seen the end of Mussolini’s dictatorship. Now, his Roman Empire is open to barbarian occupation, the Germans obeying Hitler’s orders not to relinquish an inch of the Apennine center and north; the Anglo-Saxon allies advancing slowly and bloodily from the south. Released from formal military obligations, the remnant of the Italian army disintegrates, spilling thousands into the countryside, where, as Fascist squadri and partisan bande, they fight like snarling dogs over the bones of the fallen dictatorship.

South of Iesi, the medieval hill-town where the most Italian of German emperors, Frederick II, had been born, the little column turns into a rutted carriage road and halts in front of a grandly Palladian nineteenth-century palazzo. Its pilastered columns speak authority but the visitors are famous for their contempt for such outworn pretensions. Fascist militiamen hammer melodramatically on the door while the German officers scrutinize the house, their boots crunching on the weedy gravel. It is open season in the Marche, when the hills crack with gunshot and uccellati, “little birds,” drop from the sky to be spitted between layers of roasting mushrooms. But these hunters have other quarry, not partisans, not even Jews. They have come for the birth certificate of the German race.

According to scholars who staffed the SS’s special research division of classics and antiquity, the Ahnenerbe (Race Ancestry), this had been supplied by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus. His Germania; or, On the Origin and Situation of the Germans had been written around the year 98 …

Once printed, the Germania took on a life of its own and the Guarnieri manuscript slipped back into drowsy obscurity in the palazzo library in the hills back of Ancona. Revolution arrived in the 1790s and the male line of the Guarnieri disappeared. The chancellor’s legacy, however, lived on through a marriage alliance to the dynasty of the Marche family of the counts Balleani, who inherited the palazzi and the great library that went with them. …

At home, the Fascist government took a sudden, unhealthy interest in the Balleani “Tacito.” In 1902 the professore of classics at the local high school, Cesare Annibaldi, had “discovered” what was now called the Codex Aesinas lat. 8 (after the Latin name for Osimo, the third of the Balleani palazzi) and established it as the closest surviving link with the original. Before and after the First World War an entire cottage industry of German philologists, obsessed with the tribal origins of their new Reich, made it their business to comb through the manuscript folio by folio. For in the 1920s it came to be seen, in the decisive phrase of Eduard Norden, as their Urgeschichte, and some of his most avid readers hungered to have it return to its “natural homeland,” Among them were Alfred Rosenberg, the Party’s principal ideologue; Heinrich Himmler, who prided himself on his classical cultivation; and not least, Adolf Hitler.

In 1936 Mussolini visited Berlin, and the fuhrer took the opportunity, by way of expressing his enthusiasm for the historical relationship between Rome and Germany, to ask if the Codex Aesinas might not be brought back to the Reich. No philologist, the Duce obliged his host and, when told by his advisers that it belonged to a notorious anti-Fascist, the count Balleani, may have been still more delighted to dispossess him. On the other hand, Mussolini was also a great snob and the self-appointed guardian of the Roman imperial legacy (Tacitus included). So when a storm of protest greeted the suggestion that the Codex Aesinas leave Italy, Mussolini reneged on his offer. Doubtless this did not please Hitler. But nor did he care so very much about the manuscript that he would make special exertions to seize it from his ally. Heinrich Himmler, on the other hand, cared very much indeed. …

Through the war years the frustration of this act of philological repatriation was evidently not forgotten. Through the good offices of the German ambassador in Rome, Hans Georg von Mackensen, one of the most enthusiastic Latinists of the Ahnenerbe, Dr. Rudolph Till, had managed to secure access to the codex. A photographic facsimile was made in Berlin, and then, presumably in deference to the sensibilities of an ally, the codex went back to Italy. But once Mussolini had been overthrown, the Reich no longer had to bother with such courtesies. And in 1943 Till published his new “authoritative” edition, complete with a foreword by SS Reichsfuhrer Himmler (to the effect that the future would only be granted to those who understood the stock of their ancestry). The timing could not possibly have been accidental. Himmler’s foreword was, in effect, the warrant for the seizure of the codex.

Which is why the SS were parked on the grass in front of the palazzo Balleani at Fontedamo. They had come to make good on Mussolini’s reckless gesture— to repatriate the Germania to the Fatherland after a millennium of exile.

They were to be denied again. Once they had smashed in the door, the SS  stood in the empty, echoing vestibule of Fontedamo with no one to answer  their barked commands. With the help of the local Fascists, they then proceeded to take the house apart. The manuscript was not, of course, in the library; nor did there seem to be any alcoves, swinging doors, or secret closets that might be concealing the prize. And as room after room declared itself barren, what began as a systematic search turned into a violent festival of vindictive malice. Frescoes were scraped to the bare plaster, smeared with obscenities; paintings slashed; furniture ripped apart; mosaic floors smashed to shivers and ground into colored powder with the butt end of machine guns.

And while one Balleani house was being demolished from the inside out, another at Osimo, the hill-town to the southeast, was sheltering the family in its deep cellars. For Count Aurelio had been served well by his expansive brand of dynastic paternalism. Barroom gossip, doubdess falling from the slack tongue of a local Fascist, had tipped off the count’s driver in advance on the German excursion to Fontedamo. And even before he had let the family know, he had transported clothes and food to Osimo, enough to keep the count and his family hidden for weeks. And that house had been built, in the sixteenth-century fashion, to withstand assault: a fortress-like structure dominating one side of a piazza and opening onto the street from a single, inhospitable doorway. Still more helpfully, the Guarnieris had constructed deep below the house a labyrinth of cellars that ran below the square and connected with other noble palazzi. So where this subterranean Machiavellian architecture had once lodged wine and muskets and swordsmen, it now concealed Aurelio and Silvia and their two children, Lodovico and the little girl Francesca, who still remembers hearing violent, angry beating sounds far above of thwarted soldiers.

And all this time, the codex itself lay peacefully in the one place the SS failed to search, perhaps because it appeared to be the most obviously open and uninhabited. For there was, in fact, yet a third Balleani palazzo, in the very center of Iesi itself. The soldiers had looked, but they had found only empty rooms, an abandoned place. They had not looked hard enough. At the side of the square where the infant Frederick Hohenstaufen had been snatched from the bloody birth canal of his mother, in full public view, and shown to the citizenry in a demonstration of irrefutable imperial succession; behind the rococo facade of the palazzo with the Madonna and child lodged in a niche above the door; beneath the sala grande with its spectacularly coffered ceiling and portraits of the Guarnieris and the Balleanis hanging on the crimson walls; deep in a little kitchen cellar, inside a tin-lined trunk, was the manuscript that began in capitals of red and black DE ORIGINE ET SITU GERMANORUM.

I have omitted the footnotes, which may be found in the original.

Of course our first question is how Dr Schama knows all this about the SS visit to Iesi.  He tells us:[2]

The narrative that follows is based on the account generously provided in conversations with Giovanni Baldeschi-Balleani and his sister, Francesca. I am deeply grateful to the Baldeschi-Balleani family for their help in reconstructing this story, as well as with descriptions of the palazzi in and near Iesi….

Likewise the details of Hitler and Mussolini’s negotiation are derived from Luciano Canfora, La Germania di Tacito da Engels al nazismo (Naples,1979), 64-81.

Tommaso Giancarli drew my attention to a web page which says that photographs of the Jesi manuscript may be found at the end of it here.  Unfortunately the links are broken.  I have written to the site and asked for assistance.  The manuscript should certainly be online.

  1. [1] P.75-81.
  2. [2] P.583, note 2.


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