The manuscripts of Caesar’s works

An email reached me this evening, asking what are the earliest manuscripts of the works of Julius Caesar.  I thought my reply might be of general interest. I obtained the following details from L.D.Reynolds, Texts and Transmissions, pp.35-6, written by Michael Winterbottom.

The extant mss fall into two families.  The alpha family contains only the Bellum Gallicum, and is notable for allusions in colophons to late antique ‘correctores’.  The beta family contains the whole collection of works.  Where the two overlap, the readings are often rather different.

Alpha family

There are 6 early witnesses to the alpha family.  Two derive from a common lost ancestor: these are:

  • Amsterdam 73, 2nd quarter of the 9th century, written at Fleury (=A)
  • Paris lat. 5056, 11-12th century, written at Moissac (=Q)

The remaining four derive from another now lost ms: 

  • Paris lat. 5763, 1st quarter of the 9th century, French, later at Fleury (=B)
  • Vatican lat. 3864, 3rd quarter of the 9th century, written at Corbie (=M)
  • Florence, Laur. Ashb. 33, 10th century, possibly French (=S)
  • British Library Additional 10084, 11-12th century, probably from Gembloux (=L)

Some 75 mss later than the 9th century have been listed by Virginia Brown, who has classified them into groupings tentatively.

Beta family

The Klotz edition of 1950 used 8 mss, although at least 3 of these are now considered to be non-primary.  The five are:

  • Florence, Laur. 68.8, basically 10-11th century, probably Italian, once the property of Niccolo Niccoli (=W)
  • Vatican latinus 3324, 11-12th century, possibly French (=U)
  • Paris lat. 5764, 3rd quarter of the 11th century, French (=T)
  • Vienna 95, 1st quarter of the 12th century, probably from Trier (=V)

and apparently S above is also a member of this family (not sure how that works).  There is no agreement about how all these are related or to be classified.  Virginia Brown classified and eliminated 162 later mss of this family.  (I would imagine, myself, that the majority of these are 15th century, the sort of books being made in quantity in Italy on the eve of the invention of printing).

How the text travelled from the ‘correctores’ of late antiquity to the earliest manuscripts is not clear.  Brown argues that all our manuscripts derive from a single copy in a minuscule book hand.  One factor that must be considered is that the medieval authors who refer to Caesar (mostly French and German) refer only to the Bellum Gallicum.

It would be interesting to know what the “testimonia” are — the quotations of the text in antique authors.  But for that, I’d have to look further!

UPDATE: A search in Google Books on testimonia caesar brought up an edition here with quotations from Caesar’s lost works in Cicero, etc.  It’s an 1813 edition of Caesar’s works, with English notes, by a certain Thomas Clark.


3 thoughts on “The manuscripts of Caesar’s works

  1. Dear Roger

    Thank you for this useful summary survey of the MSS for Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum.

    I’m trying to write a simple, accessible leaflet on the reliability of the New Testament, and as part of that I want to draw a comparison between the MSS transmission of Caesar’s Gallic War and the New Testament (as others like Josh McDowell have done before).

    However, I would like to make the comparison as fairly as possible. Often it is quoted as being about 24,000 copies of the NT v 10 copies of Caesar, but I’m wondering if this is really fair!

    It seems that the figure of 10 MSS for Caesar only includes these 10 early witnesses listed on your blog. I presume these are all complete copies of the Bellum Gallicum? Do you know if there are any earlier fragments, as we have with the NT (e.g. the Rylands fragment)?
    It also excludes the 237 later MSS listed by Virginia Brown. Do you know any more about how late these 237 are that Brown eliminates? Where can I read her survey? It seems strange that in the Alpha family she excludes 75 MSS for being later than the C9th, while she includes MSS as late as the C11-12th in her list of 6 early witnesses. I wonder what criteria she uses for designating C11-12th MSS like Q & L early witnesses, while eliminating other C10th MSS?

    When it comes to the 24,000 figure for the NT, it seems that this must include fragments as well as whole copies, and translations as well as those in the original Greek. Do you know what age of MSS this figure includes? Would it include MSS dated all the way up to the C15th and the eve of the invention of printing (like the ones that Brown excludes)?

    I would have thought a fairer comparison might be to only compare the following:
    • complete copies of Bellum Gallicum with complete copies of at least one gospel (e.g. P66 or P75)
    • copies in the original language
    • copies up to a certain date (e.g. C12th – seeing as that seems to be the cut-off point with the dating of early witnesses for Bellum Gallicum)?

    I’d be grateful for any thoughts or assistance.

    Many thanks,

    Andy Mossop

Leave a Reply