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Writing material: codex

Already in Hellenistic times, for example for short messages and letters, there was a Greek tradition of using wooden boards covered with wax and often bound together. Letters were incised into the wax with a sharp point. After smoothing the wax, it was possible to write again on the same surface.

(click on the images for a larger picture)

Under Roman rule (after 30 BC in Egypt), the codex (plural: codices) was introduced: the codex is a bound volume of sheets of writing material, the original form of the modern book. In the late Roman Empire, such books largely replaced papyrus rolls (compare the table). Papyrus was still very often used as the writing material of codices, but more and more it was replaced by parchment and later by paper.

The codex may have been more a Roman innovation than a Greek or Eastern Mediterranean development: the oldest known fragment of a codex is a parchment with a Latin text from Oxyrhynkhos and dates to the first century AD (Legras 2002: 86, fig. 44), the date of the Latin epigram by the Roman poet Martial recommending codex book as a conveniently portable form. However, there may be antecedents in the writing traditions of the Near East. Codices of the 2nd and 3rd century AD are not longer than 300 pages. In the 4th and 5th century AD they can have more than thousand pages (Vaticanus gr. 1209 - 4th century AD).

There are two types of codices according to the arrangement of the leaves:

type A consists of folded pages placed together.

type B leaves were put together and then folded in the middle.


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