A military manual, published within two decades of the invention of letterpress printing

Vegetius, Flavius Renatus. Epithomia rei militaris, libri numero quatuor.

[Cologne], N[ikolaus] G[ötz], [ca. 1475].

Folio (217 x 297 mm). 36 (instead of 40) ff. [a-d10], wanting the first and final blanks (as common) and leaves [a]5-6, missing text supplied in near-contemporary manuscript (but omitting initials). 38 lines, 2 columns, 3- and 4-line Lombardic initials supplied in red, red initial strokes and paraphs. 19th century unsophisticated boards.


One of the earliest editions of Vegetius's famous military manual. The book gives an account of the Roman military institutions, organization and science, and includes a discussion of naval warfare. Writing under Emperor Theodosius the Great around 400 AD, Vegetius aimed to counter what he perceived as a progressive decay of the Roman military strength. "The printing of this edition is not clean and somewhat rough in general. Exceedingly rare" (cf. Schweiger). Ebert and Schweiger both date this to "between 1474 and 1478".

Annotated throughout in a contemporary hand. The two missing leaves of text have been supplied in different handwriting, no later than the early sixteenth century (watermark of inserted leaves: couronne à diadème, 138 mm high, not identified but similar to Briquet 4900ff., 4950ff., Piccard I.VI, 27-29: various locations, but mainly 1490s to 1520s). Blanks lacking (as from the Bodleian copy); the BSB copy wants the final two leaves (including [d]9, the last leaf of text). Only 19 copies listed in public collections; no sale records for this edition. Provenance: 1) William O'Brien (1832-99), Irish bibliophile and judge who presided over the 1882 "Phoenix Park Murders" (his handwritten pencil acquisition date "6 March 1868" on pastedown); 2) bequeathed as part of his enormous collection, which included 100 incunabula, to Milltown Park Jesuit Library (Dublin) in 1899 (their bookplates, with bequest plate).


Hain 15911. Goff V-106. GW M49487. Proctor 1126. BSB-Ink V-61. Bod-inc V-050. Grosjean & O'Connell 117. Schweiger II.2, 1121. Ebert 23435.