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Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History. London: Bohn (1862) Preface to the online edition

Some years ago I noticed the absence of an English translation of Ammianus Marcellinus from the internet.  I therefore obtained a photocopy of the 1862 edition -- how, I no longer recall.  This sat on the shelf, an inch and a half thick, for a long time.  But this Easter, while busy with other things, I found that the work still had not been transcribed.  In a moment of enthusiasm I resolved to scan it.  I started at 9pm, for 3 hours, and then to midday for another 3.  This created bitmap images of the pages, at 400 dots-per-inch.  I then ran Finereader 8.0 over these files, and then sat down to proof the results.  By 9pm all had been proofed, although only by ignoring all the footnotes.  Books 14 and 15 were laid out by 11pm.  The following day I laid out all the rest, starting at 1pm, by dint of not creating anchors for every verse.  The whole exercise was complete by 5pm on Easter Saturday, 7th April, 2007.

I give these times to point out to others what may be achieved in a short time.  If I can scan, proof and layout a 650-page history in two days, there can be little excuse not to place online the largest works.

I regret greatly that I was unable, for pressure of time, to scan the footnotes.  These were few, and many of interest.  Likewise the quality of the proofing is probably not as good as usual, again under time pressure and with other tasks pressing on me.  But I realised that if I did not scan Ammianus, no-one would, or not soon.  This is regrettable, for he is a fine historian and the tale he tells is of very great relevance to our own day.  It is greatly to be regretted that books 1-13 are lost.  Where there are dots in the text, these mark gaps (lacunae) in the extant text.

A modern Penguin translation exists, which unfortunately omits all the digressions.   The Loeb Classical Library translation by J. Rolfe may or may not be out of copyright, but I would prefer not to scan Loeb volumes which are in print. Scanning them can only hurt their scanty sales, and we have no other parallel-language series of texts in English available to the ordinary man.

The following notes about the manuscripts are summarised from L.D.Reynolds, Texts and Transmissions (1983) pp.6-8.

The text reaches us in sixteen handwritten copies.  Fourteen of these belong to the renaissance, and the other two are 9th century:

All the renaissance copies are copies of V.  This was discovered at Fulda in 1417 by the book-hunter Poggio Bracciolini, and 'liberated' by him from there in circumstances that are unclear, and probably because they involved dubious methods.  Sadly the keepers of rare manuscripts, then and now, have often been neglectful but greedy, and obtaining copies is still a task requiring patience, politics and determination.  

Poggio describes his find in letter IX.12 (p.375 of de Tonellis edition) to Francesco d'Arezzo:  "I have restored Ammianus Marcellinus to the Muses, when I had extracted it from the libraries -- or rather dungeons -- of the Germans.  Cardinal Colonna has that codex which I carried off, in ancient letters, but so badly written that nothing could be more corrupt."  The codex first belonged to Odo Colonna (who became Pope Martin V at the Council of Constance), and then to his nephew Prospero.  By 1423 it was in the hands of Niccolo Niccoli in Florence, who made a copy himself (F: Bibl. Naz. Conv. Soppr. J. v. 43) from which ten of the renaissance manuscripts descend; the other 3 are direct copies (D: Vatican lat. 1874; E: Vatican lat. 2969, written in Rome in 1445; N: Paris lat. 6120).

Poggio also knew of the Hersfeld codex (Letter III, 12, p.208), which featured in the famous search-list made by Niccolo Niccoli for Heinrich von Grebenstein, and sought to obtain it, but in vain.  The Abbot of Hersfeld lent M to the Froben press in 1533.  By then it already lacked the last chapter of book 30 and all of book 31.  Around 1584-5 it was dismembered at the village of Friedewald, seven miles from Hersfeld, to provide covers for account books, and its fate remained unknown until 1875.  In 1936 it was demonstrated that V was copied from M, which is therefore the ancestor of all extant modern texts.  In M there are symptoms that it had been copied in turn from an Insular manuscript, from Britain or Ireland.  Reynolds considers a report of a possible majuscule manuscript at Lorsch to be highly suspect.  There seems to be no such volume listed in the 10th century catalogue of the enormous library at Lorsch, listing some 590 volumes and printed by G. Becker in Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui.

Roger Pearse
Easter, 2007


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This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2007. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

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