Although most of the manuscripts of the works of Hero of Alexandria (1st century CE) in the British Library contain both the Pneumatika and the Automaton-making, Burney 81, like two-thirds of the extant manuscripts of Hero, contains only the Pneumatika. Made in Italy in the middle of the 16th century, the manuscript is noteworthy for its particularly elaborate diagrams. These diagrams, depicting constructions mentioned in the text, incorporate images of animals, people, or buildings. This is in contrast to many other manuscripts of the same text, in which the diagrams are considerably more bare-bones.
Burney 81 also includes a brief extract from the De Architectura of the Latin author Vitruvius (1st century BCE), which discusses the pneumatic discoveries of Ctesibius (3rd century BCE). Hero’s Pneumatika draws on a long tradition of mechanical writing dating back to Ctesibius himself, and the scribe’s inclusion of this excerpt at the beginning of the manuscript indicates the importance of this lineage.
The manuscript formerly belonged to Charles Burney (1757–1817), the bibliophile whose vast collection of manuscripts, theatrical ephemera, and newspapers was acquired by the British Museum in 1818.