A word originally meaning “block” and used for an assemblage of several wax tablets held together at one side by cords. The resulting arrangement was the model for the form of book in use today. The largest assemblage of this kind so far known contained ten tablets, of which nine are still extant (Berlin Papyrus Collection, Inv. no. 14000). When two tablets were replaced by a leaf of papyrus or parchment folded in the middle, the result was the basic form of the codex.
As a rule, gatherings were made out of single leaves, and several of these were then combined into a book-block. The format was manifold, as were the makeup, the inscribing, and the decoration. Generally the codex was protected by wrappers after the fashion of book covers, which were adorned with impressed lines and ornament. The material of the codex consisted of parchment, papyrus, or paper. C. H. Roberts and T. C. Skeat have made a fundamental contribution to our knowledge of the early history of the codex.
Although the Egyptian finds begin only with the second century A.D., Christians certainly adopted the codex form even before A.D. 100. In pagan literature, on the contrary, in the second century the codex had only a modest place compared with the traditional roll. Codices were used not only for literary works but also for memoranda and documentary texts. The parchment notebook, however, seems rather to go back to Roman origins. Palimpsests are also to be found among the codices.
At present it is not possible to answer the question of whether papyrus or parchment codices were developed first, or whether we should assume simultaneous use of both materials for the manufacture of codices. From the discoveries, we can determine that there was parity between the roll and the codex about 300, but thereafter the codex prevailed. This is explained in the main by the extensive transcription of literary works from rolls into codices at the beginning of the fourth
- Hunger, H. “Antikes und mittelalterliches Buch- und Schriftwesen.” Geschichte der Textüberlieferung der antiken und mittelalterlichen Literatur 1 (1961):43-71.
- Roberts, C. H., and T. C. Skeat, The Birth of the Codex. London, 1983; repr. 1985.
- Turner, E. G. Greek Papyri: An Introduction. Oxford, 1968; 2d ed., 1980. Italian translation by M. Manfredi, Papiri greci. Rome, 1984.