The Vatican Library's manuscript of De re militari (On matters military) arrived online October 24 and Urb.lat.281 is a real page-turner. Leonardo da Vinci is reputed to have read this and to have been inspired by it to some of his own inventions. On folio 147v we find an astonishing dragon machine with a cannon in its snout, capable of firing incendiary missiles:
That is just part of the image.This particular dragon just happens to have a basket on its head with nine commandoes wearing blue helmets, ready to jump down and hack you to bits.
Who doesn't remember the James Bond Aston-Martin with knives that emerge from the hubcaps? In this book, it's a heavy battle-wagon drawn by oxen that does the same.
On fol. 168v there's a tortoise, a machine for getting up close to walls and battering them down, and of course it even looks like a tortoise:
Ponder the weird raking fire weapon on fol. 166r:
Or how about some 15th-century Meccano on fol. 144r:
Valturio (1405–1475) (see French Wikipedia) was a man of letters rather than a proper engineer and this handbook is derivative rather than original. It even starts off with a copious list of sources:
De re militari is also remarkable in book history. A couple of dozen manuscripts were made at great cost to be presents to princes (this is Federico da Montefeltro's copy), but 17 years later a print version appeared in 1472 for the new mass market. It is regarded as the first modern handbook on any subject, dealing with the entirety of its topic in a systematic way, and integrating images and text.
A total of 72 manuscripts came online in this batch. Here is the full list:
- Urb.lat.281, De re militari (above). Anthony Grafton's Rome Reborn catalog calls the book the most important Renaissance forbear of Machiavelli's Art of War. The St. Louis catalog notes that this copy is dated May 11, 1462 and signed by the scribe Sigismondi Nicolai Alamani.
- Vat.lat.3281, a magnificent old palimpsest containing fragments from a 5th- or 6th-century Vulgate Bible, scribed in southern Italy perhaps as soon as 50 years after the death of Jerome. It was torn apart and re-used in the 12th century for the Achilleis of Statius in Beneventan script (Lowe 1 14, Trismegistos 66110).