Liber Memorialis

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The Liber Memorialis is an ancient book in Latin featuring an extremely concise summary—a kind of index—of universal history from earliest times to the reign of Trajan. It was written by Lucius Ampelius, who was possibly a tutor or schoolmaster. Nothing is known of him or of the date at which he lived; the times of Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, the beginning of the 3rd century have all been suggested. However, in Chapter V De Orbe Terrarum (The World), he wrote:[1]

Main nations of Asia: Indian, Seric, Persian, Median, Parthian, Arabian, Bithynian, Phrygian, Cappadocian, Cilician, Syrian, Lydian. Main nations of Europe: Scythian, Sarmatian, Germanian, Dacian,Moesian, Thracian, Macedonian, Dalmatian, Pannonian, Illyrian, Graecian, Italian, Gallic, Spanish

Moesia and Dacia provinces were captured by the Goths in 376 so this book had to have been written many years before. However, from 250-275, Rome lost control many times in these regions. The Parthian dynasty was overthrown in 224 by the Sassanids but in Chapter V, Ampelius lists [emphasis added]:

Main rivers around the world: Indus, Ganges and Hydapes in India; Araxes in Armenia, Thermodon and Phasis in Colchide, Tanais in Scythia, Strymon et Hebrus in Thracia, Spechios in Thessaly, Hermus and Pactolus (other names are Maeander and Caystrus) in Lydia, Cydnus in Cilicia, Orontes in Syria, Simois and Xanthus in Phrygia, Eurotas in Lacedaemone, Alpheus in Elide, Ladon in Arcadia, Achelous and Irachus in Epirus, Savus and Danube which is called Ister in Moesia, Eridanus and Tiber in Italia, Timavus in Illyria, Rhodanus in Gaul, Hiberus and Baetic in Hispania, Bagrada in Numidia,Triton in Gaetulia, Nile in Egypt,Tigris and Euphrates in Parthia, Rhine in Germania.

This suggests that in Ampelius's time, Parthia still included Mesopotamia and he probably lived between Trajan and Aurelius when Roman controlled Mesopotamia and Germanic tribes had not yet crossed Danube river. The book is dedicated to a Macrinus, who may have been the emperor who reigned 217–218, but that name was not uncommon, and it seems more likely he was simply a young man with a thirst for universal knowledge, which the book was compiled to satisfy.

The book's object and scope are indicated in its dedication:

Since you desire to know everything, I have written this 'book of notes,' that you may learn of what the universe and its elements consist, what the world contains, and what the human race has done.

The Liber Memorialis seems to have been intended as a textbook to be learned by heart. This little work, in fifty chapters, gives a sketch of cosmography, geography, mythology (Chapters I-X), and history (Chapters X to end). The historical portion, dealing mainly with the republican period, is untrustworthy and the text in many places corrupt; the earlier chapters are more valuable, and contain some interesting information.

Chapter VIII (Miracula Mundi) contains the following, the only reference by an ancient writer to the famous sculptures of the Pergamon Altar, which were discovered in 1871, excavated in 1878, and are now in Berlin:

At Pergamum there is a great marble altar, 40 feet (12 m) high, with colossal sculptures, representing a battle of the giants

The first edition of the Liber Memorialis was published in 1638 by Claudius Salmasius (Saumaise) from the Dijon manuscript, now lost, together with the Epitome of Florus. An 1873 edition by Wölfflin was based on Salmasius's copy of the lost codex. The more recent editions are

  • Erwin Assmann's Teubner edition of 1935
  • Nicola Terzaghi's edition, published by Chiantore in Turin ca. 1947 (preface dated 1943)
  • Marie-Pierre Arnaud-Lidet's 1993 edition for the Collection Budé (includes French translation)



  • Glaser, Rheinisches Museum, ii. (1843)
  • Wölfflin, De L. Ampelii Libro Memoriali (1854)
  • Zink, Eos, ii (1866)
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ampelius, Lucius". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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