Ambrosian Iliad

Ambrosian Iliad – Ediciones Grial – Cod. F. 205 P. Inf. – Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Milan, Italy)

Alexandria (Egypt) β€” Around 500

58 epic images of fierce battles and impressive architecture: the only surviving late antique miniatures of Homer's famous Iliad, created around 500 in Alexandria, Egypt

  1. This Homer fragment from ca. 500 is one of only three surviving literary manuscripts from Late Antiquity

  2. 58 fascinating miniatures with a variety of compositions can be found on the landscape-oriented sheets

  3. Battles, including depictions of single combat, are contrasted with more tranquil architectural scenes

Ambrosian Iliad

Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (2)
Ambrosian Iliad

Hiding behind the term Ambrosian Iliad are 51 fragments of a large-format parchment manuscript of Homer's Iliad, which was created in Egyptian Alexandria around 500. It is thus the only surviving copy of the important epic from ancient times. Of particular importance here are the 58 intriguing miniatures, which boast an enormous variety of compositional schemes: From sensational single combats and dramatic battle scenes with complex figures to haunting representations of rulers and expressive dialogue scenes. Additionally, Homer's Iliad Picta, together with the Vergilus Vaticanus and the Vergilius Romanus, is one of only three manuscripts of classical literature from antiquity still preserved today and thus not only a unique testimony of late antique book illumination, but above all of antique literature.

Ambrosian Iliad

The Iliad, Homer’s mythical epic represents the beginning of European intellectual and literary history and thematized the ten-year war for the city of Troy. However, the Ambrosian Iliad designates a very special specimen of this literary work. It consists of 51 fragments of a large-format, illustrated manuscript in landscape format, which was manufactured in Egyptian Alexandria ca 500. 58 fascinating miniatures, indicating a considerable variety of composition are to be found on the surviving sheets. Thus, there are impressive battle scenes, exciting single combat, and tranquil scenes of magnificent architectures. This manuscript occupies a singular position above all because it is the only surviving specimen of Homer’s Iliad to originate from antiquity.

Packaged War Stories

In 24 books, the author portrays the dramatic stories that occurred in the last 51 days of the ten-year-long war between the Greeks and the Trojans. The catalyst for this struggle, in which the gods also take sides, was the abduction of Helen, the gorgeous sister-in-law of the Mycenaean King Agamemnon, by the Trojan Prince Paris. In all likelihood, the dramatic stories are not based on a single historic conflict between the two parties 1200 year before Christ. It is more likely that tales of numerous armed conflicts during antiquity flowed into the literary depiction.

Homer – Only a Legend?

In fact, there is no verified evidence proving the existence of Homer as a historical person. Everything that is known about him today is based on subsequent legends. According to these, the Greek poet is supposed to have performed his art primarily in port cities for the entertainment and edification of the common people. If there actually was a Homer, then he was the first poet of the western world whose works have been handed down to us today in writing.


Alternative Titles
Homers Ilias Picta
Ilias Ambrosiana
Ilias Picta
Iliade Ambrosiana
Homerus, Ilias, fragmenta chartacea (Ilias picta)
Size / Format
51 leaves / 18.6 Γ— 22.0 cm
Around 500
Greek Uncial
58 illuminations
Homer's Iliad: text (partially) and pictures (including battle scenes and noble scenes)
Previous Owners
Gian Vincenzo Pinelli (1535–1601)
Federico Borromeo (1564–1631), cardinal and Archbishop of Milan

Available facsimile editions:
Ambrosian Iliad – Ediciones Grial – Cod. F. 205 P. Inf. – Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Milan, Italy)
Ediciones Grial – Valencia, 2009
Limited Edition: 800 copies

Urs Graf – Bern, 1953
Limited Edition: 800 copies
Detail Picture

Ambrosian Iliad

Greeks Feasting in their Encampment

After landing near Troy and constructing defenses around their camp, the Greeks are shown celebrating their successful journey across the Aegean Sea and the establishment of their base with a feast. A servant tends to a large pot over a fire as two soldiers bring back large platters of food to their comrades who are seated in small groups before tents of various colors. Some of the soldiers wear helmets and breast plates while others are bare-headed and unarmored.

Ambrosian Iliad – Ediciones Grial – Cod. F. 205 P. Inf. – Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Milan, Italy)
Single Page

Ambrosian Iliad

The Greeks March to the Walls of Troy

After the Trojans are defeated in battle by Achilles and the rest of the Greeks, they are driven back to the city where they take refuge behind the great walls of Troy. All except for Hector, who stands outside the gate alone in the upper left corner of the page. The Greeks approach in lockstep with their multi-colored shields raised to protect them from arrows.

One of the most notable features of the Iliad is its detailed descriptions of the tactics, arms, and armor of the ancient warriors, which are reflected in this manuscript’s wonderful miniatures. Despite the damage to the parchment, this scene is highly realistic and shows the figures in natural poses with their feet firmly planted in wide stances and ready for combat.

Ambrosian Iliad – Ediciones Grial – Cod. F. 205 P. Inf. – Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Milan, Italy)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Ilias Picta

Ediciones Grial – Valencia, 2009

Publisher: Ediciones Grial – Valencia, 2009
Limited Edition: 800 copies
Binding: The 51 surviving fragments of the Iliad Picta are compiled in an album. Each fragment sheet can be detached from the frame to view both sides. The pages of the album are separated by transparent sheets on which the description of the underlying fragment is printed in Spanish.
Commentary: By Enrique Celis Real (on transparent pages between the miniatures)
Language: Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)

#2 Ilias Picta

Urs Graf – Bern, 1953

Publisher: Urs Graf – Bern, 1953
Limited Edition: 800 copies
Binding: Bound in simulated vellum, gilt-stamped
58 plates in colour, 52 monochrome
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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