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De origine urbis Venetiarum, etc.

Giustiniani, Bernardo, 1408 or 1409-1489
Venice: Per Bernardinum Benalium, [not before 31 January 1492 or 1493]


Digital facsimile

[120] leaves (leaf [1] blank) ; 31 cm. (fol.)

"[H]istory of Venice from the city's founding to the wars with the Turks into the 15th century, and an enduring and well-respected source on the political, social, and architectural history of Venice. Following the downfall of Constantinople, the city began to celebrate itself as a bulwark of Christianity against the infidels in order to garner popular support for its domestic wars - in particular through the new medium of printing. Bernardo saw Venice as a true "sea-wall of Christianity" against the Turks, and devotes much space to explaining the history of the conflicts between East and West. His lengthy disquisition on Mohammed and the origin of Islam in Book VIII (ff. g4r-g6v) is naturally less than favourable, but is notable for its inclusion in an otherwise inward-facing treatise. - Giustiniani's account of these events may indeed be one of the earliest, and lengthiest to appear in any incunable. He begins by describing the origin of the Saracens - a wild and savage race condemned to exile, living in the deserts of Arabia and subsisting by means of theft and hunting. Their villages were scattered far apart and they lived in tents, under the open sky. Their stature was upright, their complexion swarthy and sparsely bearded; they were strong and agile. This was the race into which Mohammed was born. According to Giustiniani, he soon became skilled as a master robber, next seducing a wealthy widow in order to secure not only her money but the 'castles' left to her by her former husband. Here, Giustiniani's account becomes particularly interesting: we find in fact the first recorded appearance of an entirely new Christian legend about Mohammed, based on the tradition of Bahira, the Arab Nestorian monk who was supposed to have foretold the birth of the Prophet. (continued) In Giustiniani's version, however, Bahira (who in the Christian tradition is known as Sergius) came to Mohammed after being cast out of the Church for his heretical opinions. Eager for revenge, the monk advises Mohammed that to gain power and the confidence of the people, it is necessary to promise two things: liberty of life and the sanction of religion. The subjects of the Eastern Emperor, Sergius says, are oppressed with taxes and will gladly follow Mohammed if he relieves their financial burdens. But it is also necessary, says the monk, "to seek some authority from heaven, which many princes do. People are especially stirred by religion. The rude and ignorant, destitute of all reason, waver in their faith. The Christians are divided into a hundred heresies, exhausted by exactions. If you will appear to them as one sent from heaven, and if you will show them the way to liberty, and if you will pronounce absolution from every tribute, for this bribe, more pleasing than any other, all will flock to your standards" (ff. g4v-g5r, trans. Labalme). In Giustiniani's account, Mohammed took the monk's advice to "bribe" the people, combining Judaic law and Christian belief in order to please everyone. Giustiniani here lists a variety of heresies committed by Mohammed, ranging from the rite of circumcision to the approval of many wives. All of this, says Giustiniani, is related in the Qu'ran, a book written "without any order, ability, or learning". Yet from these humble beginnings, Giustiniani goes on the trace the rapid advance of Islam across the Middle East and beyond in the first century following Mohammed's death.

(continued) Giustiniani's lengthy rebuttal of Islam is interesting not only for the novel legend of the "two promises" found in no other Medieval source (cf. Roggema), but also for the amount of detail included - evidently garnered from second-hand sources, showing a keen desire to refute the infidel to the East in order to justify the Holy Wars." website (viewed February 9, 2016).

Edited by Benedictus Brognolus who obtained the privilege for this book on 17 August 1492; dated (in the Venetian style, cf. BM 15th cent., V, 374): "Venetiis pridie Calendas februarii M.ccccLxxxxii." on leaf A4 recto.

Printing place and printer's name from colophon on leaf p6 recto, which reads in full: Impressum Venetiis per Bernardinum Benalium. Date from ISTC (Incunabula Short Title Catalogue).

The verso of leaf p6 is a variant setting of the recto of the second leaf of the Orationes. Cf. BM 15th cent.

For variants see Hillard. Cf. ISTC.

Capital spaces, most with guide letters.


Physical Description



Venice (Italy) -- History -- Early works to 1800.; Venice (Italy) -- Civilization -- Early works to 1800.; Venice (Italy) -- History -- Turkish Wars, 1453-1571 -- Early works to 1800.