Medieval manuscripts in Dutch Collections
Medieval manuscripts in Dutch Collections

The Keppel Fragment

Quintus Septimius Tertullianus, De spectaculis. Latin. Parchment, 1 f., 336xc.255 mm. Cologne, early 9th century. Arnhem, Huisarchief Keppel

In De spectaculis (‘On the games’) the North-African church father Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus (c. 160-c. 220) deals with the question of whether Christians should attend public shows, such as gladiatorial games and other spectacles in arena or (amphi)theatre. His answer, not surprisingly, is negative: these violent shows, impregnated with idolatry, merely distract true believers from their ultimate goal. Instead Christians should await the second coming of Christ, the greatest spectacle the world will ever see. On that day, Tertullianus adds cynically, they can slake their thirst for bloodshed. Despite his censure of the Roman games, he nevertheless offers valuable information on their history.

Tertullianus wrote his De spectaculis in Carthage around the year 200. The work is extremely rare, for it has come down to us in only three manuscripts, which moreover are all defective: first, the splendid ninth-century 'codex Agobardinus' in Paris (BnF : ms. lat. 1622) has been severely damaged by water in the relevant section; second, a manuscript of the thirteenth or fourteenth century in the Bibliotheca Vaticana (ms. Otto­bonianus Latinus 25) only contains extracts of the treatise. Third, the Keppel fragment, albeit minor in size, is superior to the other manuscripts in its antiquity as well as its textual trustworthiness.

The Keppel fragment contains 54 lines of clearly legible text, on the recto and the verso of a single parchment leaf, with almost the same dimensions that the original book must have had. The leaf was cut into two – fortunately without loss of text – by a bookbinder in the mid-sixteenth century. Thereafter, the two pieces survived as endpapers in a register in the archive of the manor of Keppel, near Doesburg in Guelders. On palaeographical grounds the fragment can be dated in the beginning of the 9th century. Lieftinck, who introduced the then newly rediscovered fragment in 1951, revealed that it shares paleographical characteristics with manuscripts written by scribes of the cathedral of Cologne who where active at the time of archbishop Hildebald (785-819). But there is more: the Tertullianus codex, of which the Keppel leaves are the sole remains, is most likely mentioned in a catalogue of books belonging to the cathedral of Cologne, which was written in 833 but is now missing. This makes the Keppel fragment one of the oldest manuscripts in a Dutch public collection with an indication of date – a treasure to be cherished!


  • G.I. Lieftinck, ‘Un fragment de De spectaculis de Tertullien provenant d'un manuscrit du neuvième siècle’, in: Vigiliae christianae. A review of early christian life and language 5 (1951), p. 193-203. 

  • E. Dekkers, ‘Note sur les fragments récemment découverts de Tertullien’, in: Sacris erudiri. Jaarboek voor godsdienstwetenschappen 4 (1952), p. 372-383.

  • Qvinti Septimi Florentis Tertvlliani opera. Pars I: Opera catholica adversvs Marcionem. Turnhout 1954, (= Corpus Christianorvm Series Latina:1).

  • G.I. Lieftinck, Manuscrits datés conservés dans les Pays-Bas. Catalogue paléographique des manuscrits en écriture latine portant des indications de date. Tome premier: Les manuscrits d’origine étrangère (816-c. 1550). Amsterdam 1964, p. 27 no. 62.

  • Marie Turcan, Tertullien, Les spectacles (De specta­culis). Introduction, texte critique, traduction et com­mentaire. Paris 1986. (= Sources Chrétiennes: 332).



See also

  • A psalter from Royal libraries

    Psalter. Latin, Parchment, 185 ff., 245x177 mm. Northern England, 1190-1200. Leiden, UB : ms. BPL 76 A

  • Flemish surgical instruments

    Small manual for a surgeon, based on the Cyrurgie by Meester Jan Yperman (incomplete). Flemish. Paper, 130x95 mm. Flanders, last quarter of the 15th century. Leiden, UB : ms. BPL 3094

  • The Zwolle bible

    Bible. Latin. Parchment, 6 volumes, c. 530x390 mm. Brethren of the Common Life, Zwolle, 1464-1476. Utrecht, UB : Cat 31 and 15.C.11

  • The Utrecht Psalter

    Psalter. Latin. Parchment, 91 ff., 330x255 mm. Benedictine monastery of St. Peter, Hautvillers near Reims, c. 820-835. Utrecht, UB : Cat. 32 / 1

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