The Early History of the Codex

The Early History of the Codex

A New Methodology and Ethics for Manuscript Studies (EthiCodex)

Image credit: Bodleian Library MS. Gr. Bib. g. 3 (P)
© Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, CC-BY-NC 4.0

When did we start reading books with pages? In the ancient Mediterranean world, literature had been written and copied on scrolls for centuries, but something happened during the Roman imperial period (circa 100-400 CE). The codex (that is, the book with pages) replaced the scroll as the main vehicle for the transmission of literature. The development of the technology of the codex marked a major change in the production and transmission of knowledge. But when exactly did this change happen, and why?

Answering these questions involves an assessment of the earliest surviving samples of the codices, but the corpus of surviving ancient codices and codex fragments is troublesome for several reasons. It contains very few samples with secure dates. The physical features of many surviving codices have not yet been adequately described (early generations of scholars were mainly interested in the texts carried within the codices and not the books themselves). Finally, a significant portion of the corpus lacks adequate provenance data. The Early History of the Codex: A New Methodology and Ethics for Manuscript Studies (EthiCodex) aims to address these problems and establish a new foundation for the study of birth of the codex. The project is based at the Centre for the Advanced Study of Religion at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion, and Society and funded by the Research Council of Norway.