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Meetings with Remarkable Forgeries (British History)
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Mick Harper
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So why won't you be doing it?

Consider what "where only a few cropmarked sites indicated the presence of former settlements" actually means. It means archaeologists had hitherto assumed a paucity of people and an impoverished culture. Since archaeologists tend only to dig sites where there are cropmarks or other discrete signs of human habitation, they carry on believing everywhere was a paucity of people and an impoverished culture. Don't believe all that 'Ooh, we're such radical revisionists because we're now saying it may not have been quite as bad as we were saying a few years ago' guff. They're always saying that and they never actually believe it. Not deep down.

All of a sudden they are forced to be systematic. Eleven miles of road and only six months to excavate it. And they find this completely random slice of England not just teems with life but the kind of life that is indistinguishable from what comes after and what came before save a bit of top dressing from whoever was Top Dog at the time.

Will they expand this vision to the whole of Britain? I'll give you a clue. No.
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Mick Harper
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Two world records for the price of one!

Durham Cathedral Library
Next up, some of our beautiful #AngloSaxon embroideries, given to the shrine of St Cuthbert by King Athelstan in 934. These are the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon embroideries in England, & the only to show human figures. #medievaltwitter #embroidery



Dah dooh de dooh....
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Mick Harper
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That was meant to be the Pink Panther theme but I've never been gifted musically.
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Mick Harper
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You will recall that the Codex Amiatinus is a major focus of both the Anglo-Saxon exhibition at the British Library and of our own sceptical ire. You will also recall that forgers have a very great tendency to attach famous people to their productions to enhance value. What would seem to be a dangerous policy works triumphantly well because scholars make a bee-line to sing hosannas to anything that brings glory to their profession and celebrity always does that. But not always.

Famous people tend to be high-ups and high-ups tend not to involve themselves with the workaday world of manuscripts. Famous non-high-ups are in very short supply, so a little has to go a long way. Step up, Peter the Lombard. He’s famous in his own right but even more famous for being part of the Heloise and Abelard imbroglio in twelfth century Paris.

Anyway, the people who brought us the Codex Amiatinus decided to include his name on it. Little knowing, or little caring, that the official provenance (when it was eventually demanded) would require Peter the Lombard to be in Amiata, Tuscany in the ninth century! This has been effortlessly finessed by creating another Peter the Lombard but to hide the join he’s given a slightly different name

Peter of the Lombards (Petrus Langobardorum), one of the abbots of San Salvatore

Now the people who brought us the Codex Amiatinus, i.e. the British Library for their Anglo-Saxon exhibition, made a tiny error in their bumf by using the 'Peter the Lombard' tag rather than the 'Peter of the Lombards' tag, so yours truly thought it his civic duty to draw this to their attention....
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Mick Harper
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Thu, 24 Jan 2019 14:59

Dear Sirs
Your introduction to the Codex Amianatus (by Alison Hudson) contains a factual error that you might care to correct. She has written

Peter the Lombard (fl. late 9th century) partially erased an inscription in the front of the book, recording how it was a gift from Ceolfrith to St Peter’s, and replaced Ceolfrith’s name with his own.

In fact, Peter the Lombard is a well-known twelfth century literary figure. If it is of any interest we are demonstrating the manuscript you are currently showing in your exhibition is a modern fake. It’s all laid out here http://www.applied-epistemology.com/phpbb2/viewtopic.php?p=42272#42272

Kind regards

Mick Harper
Applied Epistemology Library

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After the usual "Thank you for your email. We aim to respond to all written general enquiries within 5 working days of receipt" I got the substantive reply the next day. [Since this and the following are all official statements by the BL, I think I may quote them here without undue censure.]

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Fri, 25 Jan 2019 9:07

Dear Mick
Thank you for contacting us and for your information.

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But what did it mean?
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Mick Harper
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It turned out, as you might expect, to be a brush-off since nothing more was heard. But you know me, not easily brushed
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Thu, 31 Jan 2019 11:52

Did anything come of my comment re Peter the Lombard or was your reply pro forma?

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which got an immediate reply
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Thu, 31 Jan 2019 13:08

Your comments were forwarded to the exhibition curators.

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Well, you might have said so earlier but I thought it politic to get it on the record all the same
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Thu, 31 Jan 2019 13:12

Much obliged. I look forward to their response.

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Another week passes, another week of silence. I thought a bit of gingering-up was called for. I am after all an occasional taxpayer.
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Thu, 7 Feb 2019 16:47

Still no word from the curators. Perhaps you might do some progress chasing on my behalf? Here's hoping

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This too got an immediate reply
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Fri, 8 Feb 2019 8:46

The exhibition curators acknowledged receipt of your message but we can make no guarantee of a response to it.

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Not to me they didn't. I responded in best taxpayer of Tunbridge Wells fashion
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Fri, 8 Feb 2019 11:40

I am puzzled. The BL's stated policy is to guarantee a response -- in your case within set time limits but if it has to be passed on without time limits. Has this policy changed? I will accept a brush-off at this point.

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And within hours everyone had got their ducks in a row
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Fri, 8 Feb 2019 14:01

From the exhibition curator:
‘Thank you for your comments. The consensus among all scholars of this period and of this very well studied manuscript is that you are mistaken.’


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Oh well, time to wrap it up.
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Fri, 8 Feb 2019 15:30

If your curators truly believe that the same bloke can be signing codices in Tuscany in the ninth century and cavorting with Heloise and Abelard in Paris in the twelfth, then I recommend they not be allowed to carry matches or sharp knives in to work.

Thanks for your indefatigablity

Mick


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Mick Harper
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Curiously, the Codex Amiatinus is a forgery but not a fake. There is no chance that ordinary crims (i.e. financial rather than governmental) would produce such a massive and finely wrought artefact for the sort of money being paid out for museum-ware in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This is probably an ordinary Bible that any second division Italian monastery would have, resting on a lectern, for reading improving texts to the monks at meal times (or whenever, my knowledge of Italianate sacerdotal socialising is limited).

When the abbey of San Salvatore, Amiata's fixtures and fittings were dispersed in 1791, their public Bible was dispersed along with everything else to who-knows-where. Actually, it may have come from who-knows-where since there is no Amiatine link apart from the inscription. Which is where we come in because that's the forgery bit. It occurred to some chancer (exactly who I'll leave to Hatty, who's known a few in her time) that a bog-standard, two-a-penny, second-hand, slightly foxed, good-sized Bible could be turned into the most celebrated Bible in the world (o.n.o.) by the simple expedient of putting a well known seventh century English name on the fly leaf, overwriting it with a well-known twelfth century Italian name and selling it on to a nineteenth century Florentine library on the lookout for historical treasures that hadn't already been snaffled by the Uffizi.

Something like that.
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Hatty
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That figures. The most obvious chancer turns out to be an Italian Cardinal, Angelo Mai (1782 - 1854), in charge of the libraries in Milan and the Vatican, where he busied himself discovering and then deciphering hitherto unknown manuscripts.

He won a European reputation for publishing for the first time a series of previously unknown ancient texts. These he was able to discover and publish, first while in charge of the Ambrosian library in Milan and then in the same role at the Vatican Library. The texts were often in parchment manuscripts that had been washed off and reused; he was able to read the lower text using chemicals. In particular he was able to locate a substantial portion of the much sought-after De republica of Cicero and the complete works of Virgilius Maro Grammaticus.

It is on his skill as a reader of palimpsests that Mai's fame chiefly rests.

It was Cardinal Mai's protege, Giovanni de Rossi, who found the Codex Amiatinus palimpsest. De Rossi announced the Codex had belonged to Ceolfrith and the proof was the flyleaf had originally had his name.

It was only at that time that de Rossi discovered that the original inscription was that of Ceolfrith of the English.


De Rossi got away with it even though the Codex was supposed to have been in the monastery for the last thousand years but the inscription hadn't ever been noticed. No worries. Cardinal Mai's 7th century Virgil is still accepted even though

a great deal remains uncertain about Virgilius, his origins and his real purpose in writing.


His two works seem to have spanned some three or four hundred years

It is unknown exactly when or where he was active: in the eleventh and twelfth centuries he was known to Abbo of Fleury and others as Virgil of Toulouse, and subsequent scholars have tried to attribute him to Spain, the Basque Country and Gaul. Apparent traces of Hebrew have also prompted suggestions that he may have been Jewish. Supposed knowledge of some Old Irish vocabulary and verse has led to the most recent attribution to Ireland, and there is good evidence that his writings were well known to early medieval Irish scholars. However, the Irish evidence is not watertight, and Virgil's origins remain undetermined.

His writings survive in around twenty manuscripts or fragments, dating from the eighth to the eleventh century. The three principal manuscripts (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale Latinus 13026; Amiens, Bibliothèque municipale, 426; and Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale IV.A.34) on which modern editions have been based were all written in early ninth-century France.

He displays knowledge of authors such as Isidore of Seville, Virgil and Aelius Donatus, but never quotes them by name. Instead one finds in his works a plethora of obscure and unlikely-sounding authorities mentioned nowhere else and quotations attributed to well-known authors which cannot be identified in their writings.
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Mick Harper
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Virgilius knowing Virgil, who da thunk it! Although I suppose if you're christened in his honour you probably would take an interest. My middle names are 'Applied' and 'Epistemology'. Thanks, mum and dad.

It takes a palimpsest scholar to miss a Ceolfrith palimpsest, it takes a thousand years of monks to miss a Peter the Lombard over-write.
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Hatty
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But the great Codex Amiatinus is only one of the minor works of Cardinal Mai's gang. Their big project was the Codex Vaticanus and the struggle with their German counterparts over who was to have custody of the world's oldest bible. This is not just a question of museum bragging rights, we are dealing now with who was to have custody of the Word of God.

What we're concerned with are the provenances of the two candidates, the Italians' Codex Vaticanus versus the Germans' Codex Sinaiticus. Which crime family would come out on top?
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Hatty
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They were faced with the same problem of provenances – neither had one.

Let’s line the docs up

Codex Vaticanus
The provenance and early history of the codex is uncertain

This is code for no-one knows where or when it was made. One guess was

The manuscript is believed to have been housed in Caesarea in the 6th century

The Codex disappears for a thousand years or so and then turns up as one of the founding documents of the Vatican Library, established in the fifteenth century

The manuscript has been housed in the Vatican Library (founded by Pope Nicholas V in 1448) for as long as it has been known, possibly appearing in the library's earliest catalogue of 1475... but definitely appearing in the 1481 catalogue

But we’ll never know for sure because a Great Man arrived and scattered everything to the four winds....
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Hatty
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Or did he?

Out of the blue, the unremarked, unmolested, unassuming Codex Vaticanus entered European history in 1809 when Napoleon Bonaparte stole the manuscript.

Cairn Info, a French academic website, gives a fuller account of the ransacking of the Vatican library

By the end of the year on 18th December, the emperor ordered Miollis to send the Papal archives to Paris. Miollis seized over ten depositories. Radet was charged with selecting the artistic and manuscript collections and with the packing and transportation by armed guards of the land convoys. In less than two months, the first convoy departed in February 1810, and the majority of convoys followed until February 1811. The last one departed in 1813.

Already there's a slight discrepancy in dates but that's looting for you. Is there any mention of the Codex?

These wagons loaded with crates of documents and archival treasures moved along the dirt roads to Turin and then over the Mont-Cenis pass to their final destination at Hotel Soubise. During the journeys, eight crates fell into a ditch near Susa, and two wagons were lost during a flood at Borgo San Donnino.

In June of 1810, Daunou asked the Papal archivist, Gaetano Marini, who accompanied the archives to Paris, why some particular documents were missing. Marini, who spent much time protecting the archives during the revolutionary government in Rome, confessed that he hid the missing documents before leaving.

How Daunou could verify that 'some particular documents' were unaccounted for is a mystery. Still, the loss of a few crates might provide a convenient cover story for the as-yet unmentioned Codex.

The documents were retrieved and hence the eighth-century Liber Diurnus, then thought to be the ancient formula to admit the pope to his office, the priceless collection of 78 gold-sealed bulls dating back to the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1164, and the important records of the Council of Trent, were sent to the Hotel Soubise.

In all 3,239 crates reached their new home and relatively few were lost during the journey. Daunou and his team counted the acquisitions and recorded that they had 102,435 registers, volumes or bundles. They neglected to request the records of the reigning Pope Pius VII, which were buried in the Vatican gardens and not retrieved for almost fifty years.

It sounds like a complete nightmare. In fact Danou made a commendable fist of it

At Soubise Daunou went to work organizing the archive by arranging the documents and cataloguing them. If he had been able to complete the project, the rearrangement would have been excellent. But Daunou lost control of the project before he finished re-cataloguing the papal archives, and thus the rearrangement simply made the whole collection quite disorganized. The Vatican archive thus lost the integrity of the old piecemeal system of organization, without acquiring a completely new organizational structure.

But this was not the fault of Daunou. Although he was anticlerical and against everything papal, he was an honourable man and tried to the best of his ability to maintain and organize the archives while keeping them safe. He was however quite willing to allow scholars access to the previously inaccessible papers, and even to allow high ranking officials to borrow them although some papers never returned. Overall, the Vatican archives did not suffer much in Paris. The biggest loss was during their return.

For some reason no scholar nicked, or reportedly borrowed, the Codex Vaticanus which was returned to the Vatican by the French in 1815, apparently unscathed.

Returning looted objects was as expensive and cumbersome an operation as removing them had been

After a cost of 620,000 francs to move the archives to Paris, the price of the return would be even higher, due to the financial crisis. Neither the Pope nor the King of France had that amount of money to spend on the project. Nevertheless, a convoy was sent in May 1814 with the most important materials the Vatican needed and wanted to coincide with the return of Pope Pius VII who was released from captivity in France. The convoy included objects needed for ceremonies, and things from the Pope’s private chapel. Also included in the wagon train was a mitre given by the Queen of Etruria, and a tiara presented by Napoleon at his coronation.

Surprisingly, or not, the 'oldest extant manuscript of the Greek bible' doesn't seem to have been included in the Vatican's list of retrieved treasures.

The shipment departed in October and contained what the Vatican wanted immediately: part of the private archives, the Propaganda of the Secretariat of Briefs, part of the Inquisition archive, and the Congregation of the Council. When Marino Marini heard that the cargo was in danger because the armed escort was stirring up the people as they passed, he went after them and caught up just as one of the crates fell into the Taro River and was damaged. He joined the escort back to Rome.

Whether all the important Vatican papers got back safely is moot but it turns out not all the books and manuscripts from the Vatican Library were considered valuable by the cardinals themselves. Some appeared quite happy to offload them.

With the 60,000 francs spent on the first convoy, Marino Marini, who initially opposed the idea of selling some of the documents, changed his mind. He even expanded the proposal to burn the archive of ‘the Bishops and Regulars’, some of the Penitentiary and Rota, and all the remaining archives of the Inquisition. In June 1816, Cardinal Consalvi asked all of his departments in Rome to check if they had papers in Paris which they thought ‘useless,’ and thus could cut the costs of their return. Almost all the departments preferred to get their documents back. One congregation warned that the bundles labelled ‘useless’ should not necessarily be considered so, since they placed that label on important bundles with the intention of deceiving the French. Four minor congregations stated they lost no papers. However, the new agent in Paris, Count Ginnasi, who replaced Marino Marini, was selling archival documents by weight.
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Mick Harper
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It's those damned Vikings again! But not for that long. They go

The last one departed in 1813

They come back

a convoy was sent in May 1814 with the most important materials
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Hatty
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How Daunou could verify that 'some particular documents' were unaccounted for is a mystery. Still, the loss of a few crates might provide a convenient cover story for the as-yet unmentioned Codex.

It's completely obvious that not even France's chief archivist could vouch for the Codex Vaticanus being among the crate-loads of docs so I think we can safely disregard the claim put out by the Vatican Library that the Codex was looted by Napoleon Bogeyman.

Whether the Codex was part of the Vatican Library in 1809 is itself questionable so when we're told that

The manuscript has been housed in the Vatican Library (founded by Pope Nicholas V in 1448) for as long as it has been known, possibly appearing in the library's earliest catalogue of 1475... but definitely appearing in the 1481 catalogue

it's as well to check. The 1481 catalogue of the Vatican Library was the project of Bartolomeo Platina, the first Vatican librarian.

When its first librarian, Bartolomeo Platina, produced a listing in 1481, the library held over 3,500 items, making it by far the largest in the Western world

Platina was the author of several cookbooks and the Lives of the Popes, a “history” for the Papacy, but that's not to say he was cooking the books.

A similar question mark surrounds the Codex Sinaiticus, discovered in 1844 but apparently sighted somewhat earlier by a passing Italian

The first written record of the Codex Sinaiticus may be identifiable in the journal of an Italian visitor to the Monastery of Saint Catherine in 1761. In it the naturalist Vitaliano Donati reported having seen at the Monastery ‘a Bible comprising leaves of handsome, large, delicate, and square-shaped parchment, written in a round and handsome script’.

Can't be the Codex surely? According to Tischendorf he'd found it in fragments, stuffed into a rubbish basket.
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Mick Harper
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It's completely obvious that not even France's chief archivist could vouch for the Codex Vaticanus being among the crate-loads of docs so I think we can safely disregard the claim put out by the Vatican Library that the Codex was looted by Napoleon Bogeyman.

I do not think this is a fair, or even a reasonable, inference. Certainly it is true that the French cannot vouch for its existence. How could they,
in that short a time and with that many discrete objects? The Vatican is also entitled to 'claim' that it went off with Boney's forces since he took more or less the lot, and more or less the lot came back.

However, it is fair to say, given the mayhem and the break in the chain-of-custody, that the artefact called the Codex Vaticanus later in the nineteenth century need not be the artefact called the Codex Vaticanus in the Vatican's pre-Napoleonic records. Assuming it did exist and was recorded.
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