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Leiden University digitises 80,000 pages of medieval manuscripts

Leiden University Libraries and Brill publishing house have digitised one of the University's top collections. The collection is now available as an online publication: Codices Vossiani Latini Online.

Medieval manuscripts

Handschrift op perkament. Frankrijk, eerste helft 11de eeuw. Op de linkerbladzijde wordt Terentius, auteur van zes blijspelen, dicterend afgebeeld, terwijl zijn schrijver de verzen op een rol noteert.
Manuscript on parchment. France, first half of the 11th century. The left-hand page shows Terentius, author of six verse comedies, dictating to his scribe, who records the verses on a scroll.

The collection of Medieval manuscripts held by Leiden University Libraries (UBL) is famous throughout the world. The Latin manuscripts, which were collected by Dutch humanist scholar Isaac Vossius (1618-1689), are the core of the collection. Brill publishing house and UBL have digitised these texts and the medieval text sources and made them available as an online publication accessible for researchers worldwide.  Codices Vossiani Latini Online provides access to 465 manuscripts compiled in 363 volumes. All together there are more than 80,000 pages of text.

Top collection

Pseudo-Apuleius, Herbarium. Handschrift op perkament. Het oudst bekende Latijnse handschrift met botanische illustraties. Het verhaalt over de gentiaan, een plant die helpt tegen slangenbeten.
Pseudo-Apuleius, Herbarium. Manuscript on parchment. The oldest known Latin manuscript with botanical illustrations. It features the gentian, a plant that is effective against snake bites.

Vossius’s extensive library - according to contemporaries, the best in Europe - was sold to Leiden University in 1690. The highlights of the collection include the earliest sources of the famous didactic poem  De rerum natura by Roman poet Lucretius and the oldest preserved illustrated herbarium in Latin (dating from around 600). The works also include the so-called ‘Leidse Aratea’, a Carolingian codex (dating from around 840) with 39 beautiful miniatures of constellations based on examples from classical antiquity.

Online access to the collection

Lucretius, De rerum natura. Latijn. Handschrift op perkament. Noord-West Duitsland, ca. 825.
Lucretius, De rerum natura. Latin. Manuscript on parchment. North-West Germany, circa 825.

Students and staff within Leiden University (that is, holders of a ULCN account) have free access to the online collection. Other users are requested to contact Brill for access to  BrillOnline Primary Sources. This platform comprises a range of other digital heritage collections, including two selections from the UBL's extensive Oriental collection, the result of a previous collaboration with Brill.

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In spite of its venerable age (it was founded in 1587), UBL is one of the Netherlands' most innovative libraries. As a knowledge partner it supports scientific research and teaching with new services and will shortly be able to add to its facilities a new building to house its sizeable Asian collections (due to be completed in 2017). The library's special collections, including important Western and Oriental manuscripts, archives, letters, old prints, atlases and maps, drawings and photographs, are used extensively by Leiden academics and their students, and attract scholars from throughout the whole world. The collection of medieval manuscripts has 1,800 codices and more than a thousand text fragments.

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