CAESAR, Caius Julius (100-44 B.C.), Commentarii de bello Gallico, in Latin, MANUSCRIPT ON PAPER
[Austria, probably Salzburg], 1463
291 x 215mm. i + 86 + i leaves: 1-712, 82(of 6, iii-vi cancelled blanks), COMPLETE, vellum sewing guards in centre of each gathering, original foliation in red arabic numerals 1-84 starting on third recto, followed here, horizontal catchwords at lower right on final versos, 36 lines in brown ink in a semi-cursive bookhand between two verticals ruled in brown ink, justification: 180 x 115mm, heading book numbers in red, rubrics in red display capitals, three- to four-line initials in red, the first initial not supplied, side-notes in a contemporary hand (dampstaining to inner lower corners of first two gatherings, minor browning to some margins, unobtrusive marginal worming). Contemporary, probably Austrian, cut-leather panelled brown calf over wooden boards, pairs of scored and ruled fillets around scrolling acanthus springing from a central roundel, brass clasps and catches to fore-edges, page-edges at head with title, two notarised deeds as flyleaves (rebacked with original spine laid down, edges and corners restored, some scuffing, replacement clasps).
1. The manuscript, dated 1463, is the work of a scribe who has signed himself 'Johannes T[....]': 'Scil[icet] sc[ri]p[tu]m Anno i[ncarnationis] 1463 die 25 febris cum laude om[ni]potente p[er] ih[es]um ego Ioh[annes] ... ?scripsi ... scribi fecit'. The paper has a balance watermark, close to Piccard V, 227, found in southern Germany and Austria in the 15th century. The two notarised deeds used as flyleaves come from the diocese of Salzburg. The first is dated 17 January 1461 o.s. at Friesach, in which Martin Grebowitz resigns the rectorship of St Walpurgis at Eberstein; the second is dated 17 October 1458 at Hartberg, in which Lorenz Warr exchanges the rectorship of St Andrew's, Auger, for the parish church of Our Lady, Munichkirchen, both recording the names of witnesses.
2. Joseph Jacob Henry de Battis, doctor of theology and canon of St Willibald in Eichstatt, 1769: engraved armorial bookplate pasted inside upper cover (Warnecke 127).
Julius Caesar, Commentarii de bello Gallico ff.1-73v, headed Gaii Julii Caesaris Co[m]mentaria de bellis apud Gallias per eum gestis primus liber feliciter incipit, Books I-VIII, here as Books I-X, Book I being divided to form Books I and II at Bello Helvetiorum confecto, I, 30.1, the end of the Helvetian war, f.7, and Book VI divided to form Books VII and VIII at Quoniam ad hunc locum, VI, 11.1, on the customs of the Gauls and Germans, f.47v. Book VIII, here Book X, is preceded by the rubric G. Iulii Caesaris commentaria finiunt feliciter in decimum ad Balbum Additum, to mark the end of Caesar's unfinished text and the dedicatory letter of his continuator, Hirtius, to Balbus, f.73v, with a further rubric for the start of Hirtius's text, f.74; on f.84, FINIS appears beside ...potius disceptandi quam belligerandi, where Hirtius's addition ends and the scribe continues with a passage misplaced from earlier in Book VIII (here Book X, f.89), 51.1 to 53.2, Exceptus est Cesaris...fungebantur [sic] animi inimicorum Cesaris.
Julius Caesar was anxious to establish his own record of his successful campaigns in Gaul from 58 to 52 B.C., which included the less successful invasion of Britain. To answer those who accused him of purely personal ambition, he wished to appear as a straightforward soldier, fighting wars that were essential to Rome. Fascinating for its insights into a man who shaped the history of the western world, his first-hand account of the Gallic Wars is a crucial source for the history of Britain and Germany as well as Gaul. Books I-VII were probably written year by year, when events were fresh in Caesar's mind, and issued together in 51 B.C. Book VII ends with the defeat of Vercingetorix so that Aulus Hirtius (d.43 B.C.), Caesar's lieutenant in Gaul, took up the narrative in Book VIII with the ensuing uprisings and the beginnings of Caesar's disputes with the authorities in Rome.
The text of De bello gallico was transmitted in two basic forms: as part of collections of all the works attributed to Caesar and as an independent entity. About 75 independent manuscripts are known, of which about a quarter end with the misplaced passage from VIII, 51.1. This group depends on two of the earliest manuscripts, both made in France in the ninth century (Paris, BnF, Latin 5763 and Biblioteca Vaticana, Vat. lat. 3864). The misplaced passage was recognised as problematic and scribes frequently marked a break from the preceding text. A rare feature of this copy is the redivision of the original eight books into ten, not recorded by Virginia Brown in her catalogue of the independent manuscripts, 'Latin manuscripts of Caesar's "Gallic War"', pp.105-57 in Palaeographica diplomatica et archivistica. Studi in onore di Giulio Battelli, 1979; see also her The Textual Transmission of Caesar's Civil War, 1972.
De bello gallico is apparently the only work associated with Caesar to have been much used by medieval writers, with 16 independent manuscripts known from the 12th to the 14th centuries. There are, however, 54 15th-century manuscripts and it was one of the first classical texts to be printed, in Rome in 1469. The humanist desire to return to the sources of ancient history and to emulate the Latin language of the time of Cicero explains its new popularity. For scholars north of the Alps, Caesar offered one of the few written sources for their own past. The sub-division of Books I and VI in the present copy gives a new importance to the Helvetian wars and to the customs of the Gauls and Germans, just the sections to interest a local Salzburg readership in 1463. The patron who commissioned this manuscript was acquiring an elegant copy of a text fundamental to the history of the Roman world and contributing to the forging of a German identity.