Which is the Oldest Book in the University’s Library?Student life
The university owns several million books. But which ones are the very oldest? And are they available to the public?
Anyone who finds themselves working with the oldest books and documents in the UB’s (Lund University Libraries) collection can feel both secure and comfortable. The most exclusive writings are kept below ground in a series of correctly heated and bombproof storage rooms.
Historian Per Stobaeus, whose work has him utilizing this part of the library daily, shows us some of the very oldest items in the possession of the university.
”The very oldest printed book owned by the UB is De Bello Gallico by Caesar, which was printed in Rome in 1469”, he enthusiastically divulges.
The book is in Latin and tells of the Gallic war. It is the oldest printed edition of the text, and has been used extensively in the Latin curriculum.
”It was a gift bestowed upon the university by king Karl XI. It was originally taken as a spoil of war from Bohemia during the Thirty Years’ War. So the book has been in the UB from the very beginning.”
Swedish books from the 15th century
As to which Swedish book is the oldest in the UB, it depends.
”The oldest book printed in Sweden in our possession is the prayer book Breviarium Upsalense. It was printed in Stockholm in 1496”, says Per Stobaeus.
But the real high quality prints from this period were done outside of Sweden, he adds.
The oldest Swedish book in the UB printed outside Sweden is Brevarium Lincopense. Hans Brask, otherwise known for his role in the Stockholm Bloodbath, had the book printed in Nürnberg in 1493.
”It consists of daily prayers for priests”, says Per Stobaeus.
2 000 year old handwritings
The very oldest handwritings in the UB’s collection is an array of around 800 papyruses from Egypt, written in Greek around 0 A.D.
Much of the oldest material in the UB is digitalized and available to the public. Anyone who wishes to physically browse these precious artifacts must provide a valid reason, and the actual reading is done under surveillance in a special reading room.
Do you ever entertain visitors from other countries?
”Yes, we do. For instance, we have a large collection of handwritings in Uyghur from west China. And we’ve also had visiting researchers from the US, China and France these last few years”, says Per Stobaeus.
What if a reader destroys a book or a handwriting?
”That’s a difficult question. But if the cause is extreme recklessness on the part of the handler it could potentially lead to prosecution. We are tasked with preserving for the future”, says Per Stobaeus.
Text: Bengt Pettersson
Translation: Jesper Lodin