Vergilius Augusteus

Vergilius Augusteus – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. lat. fol. 416 et Cod. lat. Vat. 3256 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)

Rome (Italy) β€” Second half of the 4th century

Pioneering medieval book art: one of the oldest testimonies of Virgil's work in a Late Antique 4th century manuscript with large decorated initials on every page

  1. This Virgil (70–19 BC) manuscript is of interest to philologists, paleographers, and art historians alike

  2. The 4th century manuscript has 15 decorative initials that were trendsetting for illumination

  3. Although only 284 of the nearly 13,000 original verses are preserved, they are among the very oldest testimonies to Virgil's work

Vergilius Augusteus

Facsimile Copy Available!
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  1. Description
  2. Single Page
  3. Facsimile Editions (1)
Vergilius Augusteus

The epitaph of Virgil (70–19 B.C.), handed down by Suetonius, succinctly summarizes the subjects of his poetic life: "pastures, fields, and rulers." This refers to his pastoral poems, Eclogues, the verses on agriculture, Georgica, and above all the Roman national epic he wrote, the Aeneid. In all these genres he expressed himself in a total of almost 13,000 verses. In view of this, the 284 verses preserved in the manuscript of Vergilius Augusteus may at first seem few. Nevertheless, it is equally of interest for philologists, paleographers, and art historians. The reason is that this Late Antique manuscript from the 4th century is one of the closest in time to Virgil himself. While the script of the continuous text, the capitalis quadrata, represents only an interlude in the development of the Latin book script, the 15 decorative initials have become trendsetting for illumination.

Vergilius Augusteus

What makes the Vergilius Augusteus so famous? The philologist will answer that it is one of the oldest extant copies of Virgil’s work. However, at the same time he will have to admit that the modest number of verses – 284 out of originally nearly 13,000 – limits its importance as a textual witness considerably. In fact, had the fragments never appeared, it would have made little difference to the current critical edition of Virgil’s opera maiora.
The paleographer will uphold the Vergilius Augusteus as one of the few remains of a rare form of Late-Classical majuscule script, the Capitalis quadrata. However, being a somewhat artificial branch on the tree of Latin handwriting, this particular form of lettering was of short duration and did not notably influence the development that followed.
For the art historian the Vergilius Augusteus is a document of primary historical importance, since its fifteen decorated initials mark the beginning of the development that in due time would lead to the virtually numberless initials in thousands upon thousands of Medieval manuscripts. Thus, it may be said that the greatest importance of the Vergilius Augusteus resides in its decoration, for all the latter’s seeming modesty.


Alternative Titles
Augustus Vergil
Codex Augustus
Size / Format
14 pages / 42.0 Γ— 34.5 cm
Second half of the 4th century
14 ornamental letters
Fragments of Virgil's Georgica from Book I and Book III
Previous Owners
Claude Dupuy
Fulvio Orsini
Pierre Pithou
Georg Heinrich Pertz

Available facsimile editions:
Vergilius Augusteus – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. lat. fol. 416 et Cod. lat. Vat. 3256 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1976
Single Page

Vergilius Augusteus

Georgica, Book I

This page from the first book of the Georgica, as a later annotation in the upper margin knows, begins, like all the others, with a plain initial that far surpasses the first line. It is ornamented with a wavy pattern and features a subtle, uncolored border that frames the entire letter, giving it a graphic character that fits well with the even capitalis quadrata of the text.

Although the initial appears simple, it has a remarkable significance. It is one of the earliest surviving initials in Western book illumination and represents the beginning of a long process that led to the fact that for a long time it was almost impossible to imagine books without initials. As if it were the most natural thing in the world, initials structured, organized, and hierarchized texts throughout the Middle Ages and modern times and were a central component of any layout. The modest initials of the Vergilius Augusteus stand at the beginning of this development.

Vergilius Augusteus – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Cod. lat. fol. 416 et Cod. lat. Vat. 3256 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Vergilius Augusteus

Publisher: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1976
Binding: Half leather
Commentary: 1 volume (32 pages) by Carl Nordenfalk
Languages: English, German

C. Nordenfalk, Stockholm. 32 pp. text, 5 illustrations.
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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