by Rachel Hiser Remmes

The Vergilius Vaticanus (Rome, BAV, Vat. Lat, 3225), or Vatican Vergil, is a rare treasure of the late antique world. Produced in Rome around 400 C.E., the manuscript records the works of the poet Virgil. Among the remaining fragments is the story of Aeneas’ travels and founding of the Latium peoples in The Aeneid. The word and image format of the codex situates blocks of text from the story alongside selected illustrated scenes. Although Virgil’s writings were over four centuries old by the time the Vergilius Vaticanus was produced, the format of the manuscript, compiled as a codex and not a papyrus roll, was inventive and unique to manuscript production at this time.

The format of the codex, as bound pieces of parchment with folios similar to contemporary pages in a book rather than one long scroll, allowed for easier use. A reader could flip back and forth between folios as he or she read and viewed the story. While the codex format had been in use before the Vergilius Vaticanus, the manuscript exists as one of the earliest known examples of this binding. Our own twenty-first century technology has reimagined, yet again, the codex by digitizing it. Since 2014 the Vatican Library has been been digitizing thousands of manuscripts, including the Vergilius Vaticanus. The digitized works are available on their website for public enjoyment and scholarly interest.

Further Reading: 

Wright, David Herndon. The Vatican Vergil: A Masterpiece of Late Antique Art. University of California Press, 1993.

List of Illustrations:

The Sack of Troy, Vergilius Vaticanus, Vat. lat. 3225, fol. 19r, late 4th-early 5th century, Rome, ink on parchment.

Marine Scene, Vergilius Vaticanus, Vat. lat. 3225, fol. 58r, late 4th-early 5th century, Rome, ink on parchment. 

The Death of Dido, Vergilius Vaticanus, Vat. lat. 3225, fol. 41r, late 4th-early 5th century, Rome, ink on parchment.

The Trojan Council, Vergilius Vaticanus, Vat. lat. 3225, fol. 73r, late 4th-early 5th century, Rome, ink on parchment.

The Illiad, Book 2, c. 150 C.E., Egypt, papyrus roll.

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