Bellifortis – VDI Verlag – Cod. Ms. philos. 63 – NiedersĂ€chsische Staats- und UniversitĂ€tsbibliothek Göttingen (Göttingen, Germany)

EichstĂ€tt (Germany) — 1402–1405

Military treatises by Roman strategists, designs for state-of-the-art military equipment in the 14th century, and reflections on the role of magic and astrology in war: the Bellifortis by Konrad Kyeser

  1. Konrad Kyeser (1366 – after 1405) was a German military engineer and author from EichstĂ€tt

  2. He created the most popular treatise on military technology in the Late Middle Ages

  3. Magic’s role in war is studied alongside the stratagems of Roman generals like Vegetius and Frontinus


Cod. Ms. philos. 63 NiedersÀchsische Staats- und UniversitÀtsbibliothek Göttingen (Göttingen, Germany)
Facsimile Copy Available!
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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)

The most important military treatise of the Late Middle Ages presented in the sophisticated style of the Gothic period: the Bellifortis by Konrad Kyeser (1366 – after 1405). Its contents are a collection of ancient Roman military treatises and the latest designs for weapons of war. Furthermore, the work takes into account the effects of astrology and magic on warfare, making it a truly comprehensive work on the art of war. His work is adorned by illustrations that are exemplary specimens of the Gothic style and even include a realistic portrait of the author, the first of its kind since Late Antiquity.


Konrad Kyeser (1366 – after 1405) was the author of the most important illustrated treatise on military engineering from the Late Middle Ages, which is evident from the fact that at least twelve 15th century copies of the manuscript and ca. 45 altogether survive today. Bellifortis can be translated as "Strong in War" or "War Fortifications" and is concerned with the art of siege warfare in particular. The German military engineer and physician began work on the original manuscript in Prague for King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia (1361-1419), but after Wenceslaus was deposed in 1400, Kyeser went into exile in his hometown of EichstĂ€tt, during which time he finished the work and dedicated it to the new King Rupert of Germany (1352-1410). The work summarizes material from classical authors like Vegetius and Frontinus while also depicting “cutting edge” military technology but is also heavily impregnated with allusions to astrology and magic.

A Masterpiece Created in Exile

The artwork of the original manuscript indicates that the illuminators were themselves exiles from the royal court of King Wenceslaus in Prague, one of the richest and most sophisticated in Europe and arguably the birthplace of the International Gothic style. As a result, this important treatise on the art of war is illustrated in a manner that is second to none and dedicated to no less than a king. A portrait of Kyeser found in the text is arguably the first realistic depiction of an author since Late Antiquity. The backbone of the work consists of two classical texts: De re militari, a Roman military manual written by Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus in the late-4th century, and Strategemata, a collection of examples of military stratagems from ancient Greek and Roman history written by Sextus Julius Frontinus (ca. AD 40-103), who served the Emperor Domitian as a general in Germania.

Magic and Warfare

Kyeser believed that warfare was best studied by considering every possible factor, including astrology and sorcery. Thus, magic is presented in the Bellifortis alongside depictions of weapons both old and new: trebuchets, battering rams, movable portable bridges, cannons, rockets, chariots, ships, mills, scaling ladders, incendiary devices, crossbows, and instruments of torture are all depicted in great detail by eminent masters of Gothic art. Alexander the Great in particular is presented as an example of a great general who makes use of various war tactics while also being a military inventor. The famous Macedonian is shown both holding rocket-like weapons in his hands while being credited with the creation of large war carriages and is even portrayed with magical abilities. Nonetheless, Kyeser does not dispense with realistic considerations and expressed his belief that the armies of the Holy Roman Empire would benefit from the enterprising and inventive nature of the German people: "Just as the sky shines with stars, Germany shines forth with liberal disciplines, is embellished with mechanics, and adorned with diverse arts."


Alternative Titles
Conrad Kyeser aus EichstÀtt: Bellifortis
Size / Format
280 pages / 34.0 × 25.0 cm
Littera bastarda
Many expansive miniatures, some of them full-page
Manual of military technology, based on De Re Militari by Vegetius and Strategemata by Frontinus
Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia, King of Germany
Rupert of the Palatinate, King of Germany
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Bellifortis – VDI Verlag – Cod. Ms. philos. 63 – NiedersĂ€chsische Staats- und UniversitĂ€tsbibliothek Göttingen (Göttingen, Germany)
VDI Verlag – DĂŒsseldorf, 1967
Detail Picture


Archimedean Screw

This miniature of an Archimedean screw is the oldest surviving representation of this device in the Middle Ages. However, the hydraulic machine, also known as a screw pump, is not a medieval invention, but was already known in antiquity - possibly as early as 8th or 7th century BC Mesopotamia. Both in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, Archimedean screws were primarily used to transfer water to a higher level. Here's how it works: Inside a pipe, a precisely fitted screw rotates around the central axis. This repeatedly creates closed compartments in which the water is spiraled upward.

Bellifortis – VDI Verlag – Cod. Ms. philos. 63 – NiedersĂ€chsische Staats- und UniversitĂ€tsbibliothek Göttingen (Göttingen, Germany)
Single Page


Spearhead 'Meufaton'

In 334 BC Alexander the Great began his Conquest of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, which was only the starting point of his imperial intentions. Legend says that after crossing the Hellespont (today's Dardanelles) with his enormous army, he threw his spear 'Almerio' into the soil of the still foreign dominion, symbolizing his supposed claims to the whole of Asia Minor.

The oversized and symbolically charged head of this victory-bringing spear is presented to us in this miniature by a lanky squire with soft facial features and blond curls. Its name, 'Meufaton', is painted on the spearhead along with a mystical sign. The latter is said to enhance the magical effect and, according to the text, should also be painted on the palm of the wearer's hand. The miraculous power of the weapon, which helps the wearer to defeat his enemies, is further represented here by its sheer size.

Bellifortis – VDI Verlag – Cod. Ms. philos. 63 – NiedersĂ€chsische Staats- und UniversitĂ€tsbibliothek Göttingen (Göttingen, Germany)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Bellifortis

VDI Verlag – DĂŒsseldorf, 1967

Publisher: VDI Verlag – DĂŒsseldorf, 1967
Binding: Cream leather binding
Commentary: 1 volume by Götz Quarg
Language: German
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: €
(under 1,000€)
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