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The History of Publishing Ep. 3: Early Christianity and The Codex

We have reached the stage in the History of Publishing when the book morphs into the form we know and love. The introduction of the codex to replace the papyrus scrolls was revolutionary.



The bound pages of the codex could be opened instantly to any point in the text, making it possible to write on both sides of the page. The development of the codex was due to the changes in learning and the rise of vellum or parchment, made from animal skin.


Parchment is a form of leather that went through an extreme refinement process in order to be made into the pages of a codex. The skin was washed and scalped then stretched tight on a frame, scraped, whitened and smoothed. This new material facilitated the success of the codex as the sheet of parchment was far more durable and flexible.


Many older Christian writings were contained within codices, while pagans still favoured the scroll. Christianity and Judaism revered sacred writings; the vellum and parchment codex was far stronger than the papyrus scroll and therefore would keep its contents in a better condition. Christians also referred to many different sources in these texts and so, cross-referencing was an important and constant part of learning. This is obviously much easier to do when working from codices rather than scrolls. We should also take into account Christianity's intentions to reject the pagan literature and beliefs.


The rise and spread of Christianity highlighted the social potential of the codex form. Christianity produced many books containing their teachings and faith. The process of introducing the universal religion throughout the Roman Empire and subsequent centuries showcased just how intrinsically vital books were in the dissemination of information and ideology.


Next Episode: Episode 4. The Medieval Book

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