Transcriptions | “Gladiatoria” New Haven

Gladiatoria – New HavenLatest publication

This transcription was the first step on my way to exploring the world of the Gladiatoria manuscripts. Together with my colleague Bartłomiej Walczak I have spent many years of working on this intriguing group of medieval codices. Our latest effort, just recently published, is an extensive edition of what we believe to be the most beautiful specimen out of that group of six manuscripts. The edition renders the whole manuscript in full colour, and insightful accompanying essays shed light on the various aspects of how to fight in armour and give an overview not only about the Gladiatoria group in general but also about the stunning history of this very manuscript from New Haven.
After more than five years of work, I believe we
have created a valuable volume that lovers of then historical martial arts will cherish.
Further information about the book can be found on the homepage or in the literature section.
Here is a brief excerpt.

Dierk Hagedorn, April 2015


This is the transcription of an Early High German illustrated manuscript from the first half of the 15th century. It belongs to the so-called Gladiatoria group. The original is located at Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut. The mansucript used to belong to the Universitäts- und Forschungsbibliothek Gotha Herzogliche Bibliothek Gotha [supplement fromApril 2013 with reference to Cornelia Hopf, head of the manuscript departmant at the Forschungsbibliothek Gotha], where it was once archived under the number Ms. Memb. II 109. For a long time, it was considered to be missing; see also Hils, Leng.

The Gladiatoria group

Named after the Krakow manuscript Ms. Germ. Quart. 16, the Gladiatoria group consists of the following manuscripts:

  • Krakow, Biblioteka Jagiellonska, Ms. Germ. Quart. 16
  • Manuscript 'T', sold at an auction in Heidelberg as single leaves
  • New Haven, Connecticut, Yale Center for British Art (formerly Gotha, Forschungsbibliothek Schloß Friedenstein, Ms. membr. II 109)
  • Paris, Musée National du Moyen Age, CL23842 (formerly Donaueschingen, Fürstenbergische Hofbibliothek, Cod. 862)
  • Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, KK 5013 (formerly P 5013)
  • Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August-Bibliothek, Cod Guelf. 78.2 Aug. 2o

The manuscript from Krakow is written in a more upright and more precise bastarda than the other two manuscripts from New Haven and Vienna – the only ones also to contain text passages. Additionally, the quality of the illustrations is superior to the other versions. E.g. the turf below the feet of the fencers shows flowers, grass and other plants, whereas in the other versions the fighters have to move on a barren, flatly coloured underground. The armour is depicted with more detail also.

The only information about the so-called Manuscript 'T' according to Hils are descriptions of three separately sold single leaves from an auction.

The New Haven manuscript which is transcribed here, is very similar to the Vienna version; both seem to originate from the same scribe, even the alignment of the text is partially identical. The writing is an accurate bastarda with hardly any corrrections and only infrequent abbreviations.

The codex from Paris is a compendium, and only the leaves 195r – 212v show an excerpt from Gladiatoria without text.

The Vienna manuscript ist very similar to the New Haven version, being only a bit more extensive – particularly concerning the dagger section.

The Wolfenbüttel codex Cod Guelf. 78.2 Aug. 2o offers only rough illustrations, coloured in a simple and flat manner, but no text – apart from some occasional remarks below the feet of the fighters and a single name on the mantling of a helmet (Johan Balder, f. 63r). This manuscript contains remarkably more techniques with the dagger than any other Gladiatoria version. Additionally, it features "Bloßfechten" and wrestling techniques as well as sword-and-buckler and staff fighting which do not occur in other Gladiatoria manuscripts. Since it also contains a war book and – in the very beginning – verses by Johannes Liechtenauer, it is most likely that it is a compendium from various different sources.

As Hans-Peter Hils already determined, the Codex from Vienna Cod. Vindob. B 11093 shows some similarities but does not belong to the group. Rainer Leng however adds this manuscript to the Gladiatoria complex, which I cannot verify. Admittedly, it deals with armoured fencers but the contentual differences are far too distinctive in order to come to that conclusion. (See also Hils: Meister Johann Liechtenauers Kunst des langen Schwerts, p. 201 f; Leng: Katalog ..., p. 22 – 34.)

The New Haven manuscript

As stated above, the present Yale version belonged formerly to the Universitäts- und Forschungsbibliothek Gotha Herzogliche Bibliothek Gotha, and was believed to be missing since World War II. According to Hils and Leng, the manuscript originally consisted of three separate parts bound together: the Gladiatoria part (1r – 43r), a fragment by Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, "El testimonio vengado" (45r – 55r) and a part with Spanish poems and French and Latin passages (57 – 100) (Leng, p. 23 f). In 2008 Leng still accounts parts one and three as missing (part two had already been restituted to Gotha in 1997). He surmises the manuscript to be identical to the manuscript 'T' which was sold at an auction by the antiquarian bookshop Dr. Helmut Tenner (see above). Considering the known number of leaves of the Gladiatoria part (1r – 43r) this assumption can be excluded for sure since the New Haven manuscript contains all of the 43 leaves. This assumption has been proven to be absolutely accurate, with the help of Hans-Peter Hils’ essay »Gladiatoria. Über drei Fechthandschriften aus der ersten Hälfte des 15. Jahrhunderts« (Codices manuscripti, Jahrgang 13/1987, Heft 1/2). [Supplement from April 2013.]

Parts of the manuscript are unfortunately lost due to clippping and croppping of the pages (possibly when it was assembled from its three parts mentioned above). This makes the text occasionally a little hard to read or to decipher at all. By comparison to the Vienna codex which has a very similar layout, several centimetres are missing, so even arms and legs of the fencers have been chopped off and other parts of the drawing are missing also. Furthermore, the text passages at the bottom of three leaves have been cut off entirely: foll. 3rv, 4rv and 7rv. I have added missing or illegible passages from the manuscripts from Krakow or Vienna.

Different from the Krakow version techniques with the long shield – along with either sword or club –, with sword and buckler or Hungarian shield and with the staff are missing in this manuscript. (The latter three consist of a single page in the Krakow codex anyway.)

Several different paginations and foliations occur throughout the entire manuscript, some of them old (contemporary?), some modern. However, none of them is particularly consistent or continuous. Leaf seven is considerably dirty on both front and back compared to the rest of the manuscript.

It is noteworthy that the suits of armour in all Gladiatoria versions are quite similar in most respects, particularly concerning the shape of the helmets, nevertheless there are a couple of distinctions. The present New Haven codex is the only one that features harnesses with a "Kastenbrust" breastplate, a fashion of armour popular in Germany in the middle of the 15th century: foll. 8v, 11r, 24v, 25r.

Overview of the Gladiatoria manuscripts

The following comparing overview shows the contentual similarities and differences of the four most important Gladiatoria manuscripts. It becomes clear that not every single technique can be found in every manuscript. Unfortunately, the most extensive codex from Wolfenbüttel contains no text, so I have used the artistically demanding Krakow version as the reference manuscript. Occasionally the illustrations differ slightly from manuscript to manuscript, in case the differences become quite pronounced I have made a remark. The pages from the Vienna codex signed with an (x) represent images of a superior quality than the rest of the manuscript and resemble the New Haven version closely without being identical nevertheless.






1v     33r
2r 1r   35v
2v 1v   33v
3r 2r 1r 36r
3v 2v 1v 36v
4r 3r 2r 79v (similar img.)
4v 3v 2v 80r
5r 4r 3r 32r
5v 4v 3v 37r
6r 5r 4r 34v
6v 5v 4v 32v
7r 6r 5r 35r


7v 6v 5v 41r
8r     68v
8v     69v
9r 7r 6r 44v
9v 7v 6v 45v
10r 8r 8r 41v (similar img.)
10v 8v 8v 46r
11r 9r 9r 47r
11v 9v 9v 46v
12r 10r 10r 48r
12v 10v 10v 47v
13r 11r 7r 69r
13v 11v 7v 43r
14r 12r 11r 73v
14v 12v 11v 55v
15r 13r 12r 55r
15v 13v 12v 63r
16r 14r 13r 67v
16v 14v 13v 63v
17r 15r 14r 62r
17v 15v 14v 56r
18r 16r 23r 56v
18v 16v 23v 50r
19r 17r 26r 50v
19v 17v 26v 51v
20r 18r 24r 58r
20v 18v 24v 48v
21r     49r
  19r 25r  
21v 19v 25v 49v
22r 20r 15r 52v
22v 20v 15v 53r
23r 21r 16r 53v
23v 21v 16v 54v
24r 22r 17r 54r
24v 22v 17v  
25r 23r 18r 57r
25v 23v 18v 64r
26r 24r 28r 64v
26v 24v 28v 51r
27r 25r 27r 58v
27v 25v 27v 61r
28r 26r 22r 61v
28v 26v 22v 65r
29r 27r 19r 45r
29v 27v 19v  
30r 28r (x) 20v 66v
30v 28v (x)   67r
31r 29r 20r 66r
31v 29v 21r 65v
32r 30r 21v 68r
32v 30v 29r  
33r 31r 29v  


  31v (x) without text 30r  
33v 32r 30v 103v
34r 32v 31r 100r
34v 33r 31v 108v
35r 33v 32r 96v
35v 34r 32v 107r
36r 34v 33r  
36v 35r 33v 80v
37r 35v 34r 105r
37v 36r 34v 84r
38r 36v 35r 95r
38v 37r 35v 110r
39r 37v    
39v 38r   91r
40r 38v 36r 88r
40v 39r 36v 87v
41r 39v 37r 94r (similar img.)
41v 40r 37v 98v
42r 40v   97v
42v 41r   107v (similar img.)
43r 41v   81v
43v 42r    
  42v   111r (similar img.)
  43v   85v (similar img.), 107
44r 44v   90r
44v 45r (different img.)   96r
45r 45v   94v
45v 46r   104r
46r 46v 38r 95v
46v 47r 38v  
47r 47v   99v
47v 48r   98r
48r 48v 39r 97r
48v 49 (x) without text 39v 108r
49r 53r 40v  
  49v 40r  

Long shield and sword

49v – 51v      

Long shield and club

52r – 54r      


      112r – 123r
(122rv empty)

Sword and buckler

54v     113v

"Messer" and Hungarian shield





56r 53v    
56v 54r    
57r 54v 41r 73r
57v 55r 41v 74r
58r 55v 42r 74v
58v 56r 42v  
59r 56v 43r  

War book

      124r – 157v

Longsword "Bloßfechten"

      1v – 28v
(2v, 15r – 16v empty)

Staff weapons

      29r – 31v
(30v, 31r empty)


The transcription

The transcription follows the original as closely as possible. I have not dissolved the letter "v" in either "u" or "v". Abbreviations or other special characters remain mostly intact - considering the restraints of internet typography.

I am profoundly indebted to Christian Tobler and Jeffrey Forgeng without whose substantial help and support this project would not have been possible. Thank you very much.


Rainer Leng (compiler): Katalog der deutschsprachigen illustrierten Handschriften des Mittelalters, Band 4/2, Lieferung 1/2 – 38. Fecht- und Ringbücher. C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 2008
Hans-Peter Hils: Meister Johann Liechtenauers Kunst des langen Schwertes. Peter Lang, 1985
Hans-Peter Hils: »Gladiatoria. Über drei Fechthandschriften aus der ersten Hälfte des 15. Jahrhunderts« (Codices manuscripti, Jahrgang 13/1987, Heft 1/2)
Martin Wierschin: Meister Johann Liechtenauers Kunst des Fechtens. C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1965

Dierk Hagedorn, June 2009