Medieval library catalogues

One of the most interesting books to delve into, if you have a little Latin, is Gustav Becker’s Catalogi bibliothecarum antiqui.  This was published in 1885 and consists of reprints of all the catalogues of medieval abbeys.  Books were treasures in medieval abbeys, which could be pawned for cash, and inventories were therefore taken of what books the abbey owned.

You can see three such catalogues, all for the very well-endowed abbey of Corbie in Northern France here.  Here is the first one, the shortest, from the 11th century, with Becker’s note of where he was reprinting it from:

§55. Corbeia = Corbie. saec. XI.


        1-3. Expositio Cassiodori super psalterium in tribus libris. — 4. Hieronymus in Isaiam prophetam. — 5. item Hieronymus super Ezechielem libri V. — 6. Herenei [Irenaei Mai] episcopi Ludunensis [Lugdun. Mai.] contra omnes hereses. — 7. Augustinus de natura et origine animae ad Renatum. — 8. epithalamium Origenis in cantica canticorum. — 9. lex Romana ab Alarico rege abbreviata. — 10. libri veterum sedecim. — 11. Libri Novellarum sex Theodosii I, Valentiniani I, Martiani I. — 12. lex Burgundionum. — 13. lex Gothorum. — 14. Iulius Frontinus de geometria. in eodem Siculus Flaccus de agris. — 15. Chigenus [Hyginus. Mai.] Augustus de limitibus statuendis. — 16. Euclides de figuris geometricis. — 17. item Augustinus de solutionibus diversarum quaestionum. — 18. concordiae evangelistarum libri IIII sancti Augustini.

        19. ecclesiastica historia Eusebii. — 20. excerptiones Eugypii. — 21. retractatio in libris confessionum Augustini. — 22. tractatus sancti Ambrosii de officiis. — 23. expositio Hesychii presbyteri super leviticum. — 24. Rufinus in librum numeri. — 25. historia Hegesippi. — 26. codex pragmaticus Tiberii Augustii. — 27. tripertita historia. — 28. Augustinus de opere monachorum. — 29. liber sancti Ambrosii de trinitate ad Gratianum imperatorem. — 30. homiliae Origenis de Balaam et Balac et in eodem Iohannis de reparatione lapsi. — 31. Tertullianus de resurrectione carnis, de trinitate, de spectaculis, de munere, de prescriptionibus ereticorum, de ieiuniis adversus fisicos, de monogamia, de pudicitia. — 32. Augustinus de utilitate credendi. — 33. Salvianus episcopus de gubernatione Dei.

        34-43. libri sancti Clementis numero decem. — 44. Hieronymi libri tres in Zachariam prophetam. — 45. item Hieronymus in Hieremiam prophetam. — 46. collationes abbatis Piamon de tribus generibus monachorum. — 47. Ambrosius episcopus de fide ad Gratianum imperatorem. — 48. Augustinus de trinitate. — 49. homeliae Origenis in genesim. — 50. Hieronymus de nominibus urbium vel locorum. — 51. Ratbertus Paschasius de corpore et sanguine Domini. — 52. Fulgentius episcopus de remissione peccatorum. — 53. altercatio Atici [Attici Mai.] orthodoxi et Cretoboli [Critobuli Mai.] heretici. — 54. Hieronymus in Danihelem prophetam. — 55. Optati Milibitani [milivetani Mai.] episcopi libri septem ad Parmenianum scismaticam. — 56. Eusebius de fide adversus Sabellium. — 57. Augustinus de singularitate clericorum. — 58. libri duo Hieronymi contra Rufinum presbyterum. — 59. item Hieronymus contra lovinianum. — 60. Firmiani Lactantii liber de falsa religione.

(Mai Spicilegium Roman. V, 202-3. ex Ms. 520 reginae Christinae, parvam partem dedit Delisle Mém. de l’institut de France. Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres. t. 24, 339. vel in Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes Ser.V. tom.Ip.512. cf. Montfaucon bibl. Mss. II, 1406.)

Many of these books and names will mean little to most of us.  Irenaeus Against Heresies is there; a rare Tertullian also.  Eusebius’ Church History is there, plus Eusebius “Adversus Sabellium” must mean his five books Against Marcellus, in a Latin version; I had not known until this moment that such existed.  Augustine and Ambrose and Jerome are all well represented.  Origen’s Homilies on Genesis are present.  And so is Euclid, amazingly enough!

Paging through Becker is to gain an idea of what books were really circulating in the west in the Middle ages, at least before 1300 when he ends.

But what about the Greek East?  What sort of inventories exist for Greek monastic collections?  I would very much like to know; because I don’t know of any equivalent book for these.

Book lists do exist.  A 16th century list — probably part of a bookseller’s bait-and-switch scam — is here.  But what about the abbey inventories?


6 thoughts on “Medieval library catalogues

  1. In the East monasteries had a different function in society than in the West. Since the Empire also preserved a functioning state monastic libraries were not the only available libraries, the imperial library of Constantinople had the status of the Master Library, if a book could not be found locally, a copy was available there.

    What however in Greece has emerged is that monasteries do NOT keep a comprehensive list of their property, at least publicly available, so that they can claim more from time to time! This is of course is mostly about land but then again in Greece at least land is their most valuable possesion, not books. I believe that inventories were taken from time to time but considering how many people managed to steal books from the libraries of Athos before its liberation, I cannot be sure on their comprehensiveness.

    During the Second Balkan war the Bulgarian army stripped the monasteries of Eikosifinissa and St. John the Baptist in Serres of their libraries. Though by the Neilly treaty they were obliged to return them for the most part they did not. They form today most of the manuscripts of the Bulgarian royal library. This was discovered in the mid 1990’s. In all of this time Greece could not go on and claim return of the books or stop some from being sold at Sotheby’s or some other auction house because a catalog was never available…

  2. I remember reading on the web an undergraduate student’s term paper on the libraries of Constantinople. It is located online on the website of her university’s library but I no longer remember which one (only that it was on the US midwest) and came across it through google scholar. She said the imperial library was found by St. Constantine (no surpise there), was hurt after the fall of Julian but still at the time of Theodosius the Great had a collection in the 5 digits (20,000 books? – 60,000 books? Can’t remember). I am not sure if it was an independant institution of the Holy Palace or if it was attached the Pandedacterion, Europe’s first University, which was located at the Magnaura palace of the Holy Palace complex. It was looted/destroyed in 1204, today Topkapi palace lies on top of the whole Holy Palace comples though the holy relics (including the gifts of the Three Magi) were donated to Athos by Mehmet the Conqueror’s nanny (she was the daughter of the king of Serbia).

    The destruction of the Library of Alexandria by whoever destroyed it (Diocletian? Christian Fanatics? Osman, the third Imam?) was not that destructive an event because many of the volumes were available in Constantinople at that time

  3. This is great stuff – thank you. I’ve just been looking for that term paper, but without success. You wouldn’t mind seeing if you could find it (not spend a lot of time, but you may recall where you saw it)? It sounds as if it contained wonderful information.

  4. What I remember is that I saw it some 6 months ago when I was in Crete. I was data mining the web, searching for classical journals and run across a university library. The Google scholar link was something like “papyri” or “documentary papyri” and after seeing the original paper then I went up and run into the university library’s index of publicly available articles. It was a small establishment and the term paper was only for libraries in Constantinople before the Arab Conquest. Also what was interesting was that the student did NOT use primary sources, all her citings were to secondary literature. Not much help, I know, but this is what I remember …

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