As is often the case with a question like this, we have to go with the
"oldest known" which in reality might be different than the "oldest."
The "first' of anything is frequently lost in the mists of history.
While we may have the first known date that somebody jumped off a
cliff with feathers strapped to his arms, there may have been people
jumping off cliffs for years before the first one was 'discovered'
The same with the codex form of book binding.
I must presume you are asking about codex style books rather than
scroll type books because of your use of the phrase "bounded
Some say that Julius Caesar invented the first codex during the Gallic
Wars. He would issue scrolls folded up accordion style and use the
"pages" as reference points.
The earliest recorded use of the codex for literary works dates to
Martial in the late 1st century CE.
http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/codex - encyclopedia article
Codice style books were also produced in Mesoamerica by later
civilizations such as the Aztecs but none date before the time of
The early Mesoamerican codices were books made from tree park or deer
skin by the Mixtec, Aztec and Maya. Nearly all of these were
destroyed by the Spaniards. Some of the earliest Maya codices may
fall close in time to Martial but there is no way of proving such a
thing as none survive. Interestingly, the Aztecs had once destroyed
their own libraries so that they could rewrite history.
And as to the first book "put together" (or at least one of the first)
we have a strong hint, also from Martial who wrote of it with the
"This bulky mass of multiple folds
all fifteen poems of Ovid holds."
- A page from the American Library Association website. - the quote is
found about two thirds of the way down the page.
"The codex was more compact, durable, and convenient to use but did
not completely replace the traditional roll for several centuries. The
fact that Christians used the codex exclusively probably expedited its
victory." - Quote from the website listed immediately above.
The oldest surviving codex is the Vatican Vergil. You will find a
photo of one of its pages here:
http://webed.vw.vccs.edu/vwbaile/Media/vatvergl.jpg - From Virginia
Western Distance Learning
"The Vatican Vergil is the most important surviving ancient example of
an illustrated book of classical literature. We have several early
illustrated biblical manuscripts, but the Vatican Vergil, having been
made in Rome within a couple of decades of the year 400, is older than
all but one of these,..." The older illustrated Biblical manuscript
consists only of a few illustrations cut from a larger document the
name of which is unknown and it may have been either a codex or a
"The codex first came into use in the first century after Christ, but
it was a rarity in the beginning, almost a plaything. Soon the
Christians adopted the codex as an appropriate form for their Holy
Book, but the roll continued in general use even in the fourth
century. For classical literature it seems that only in the fourth
century did the codex become a generally accepted form of book. When
the Vatican Vergil was produced, therefore, it was probably one of the
first luxury editions of Vergil in codex form. It was most likely
copied from a set of rolls..." - quoted from From David. H. Wright,
"The Vatican Vergil: A Masterpiece of Late Antique Art"
http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/~amiddltn/unitone/vatvintro.html - A
UC Berkeley website
Just as a personal note, the fact that the Vatican Vergil was produced
as a "luxury edition" would tell me that there was at least a previous
codice type model from which to copy the form of manufacture but
nobody knows the name of it.
Now there are a few "codices" which are claimed to be older, such as
the Chester Beatty Manuscripts which are known as the Chester Beatty
Codices or Chester Beatty Codex. These were found in Egypt in the
1930s, dated to the end century CE, and are now part of the Chester
Beatty Collection. The manuscripts are in the form of "leaves" or
pages of papyrus. The reason they cannot be considered as part of the
"book" answer is that there is no indication these "pages" were ever
bound together. They could have simply been kept in a folder rather
than in a binding as was common practice by the time of Coptic Egypt.
You can learn more about the collection and the Chester Beatty Library here:
http://www.cbl.ie/ - Website of the Chester Beatty Library
So as you can see from above, we are back to the man with the feathers
on his wings jumping from cliffs. The oldest codice type book for
which we have a "hint" of a title, is the collected poems of Ovid.
The oldest "surviving codex" is The Vatican Vergil. The codex style
may have been invented by Julius Caesar but its first use for which
there is evidence is Martial, there was a later but parallel
development in Mesoamerica and there are earlier documents with
"pages" but where we are unsure if they were ever "bound."
As for the question: - "what was the first book ever put together?" -
- The answer is simple. We will probably never know. While Martial
experimented with the codex form, there may have been others at the
same time or even before, such as Julius Caesar. They have not been
discovered. But since such ideas seldom arise from a vacuum, there
may yet be earlier material waiting for an excavator's trowel.
In fact, when I say "never from a vacuum" in this case, there are
known precedents from which the idea could arise. The early
Greco-Roman diptych consisted of two tablets, or pugillares hinged
together. Each half consisted of wood, metal, or ivory shallow boxes
filled with wax. Writing was scratched on the wax surface with a
stylus and could easily be erased and written over. Other forms
included triptychs with three "pages," and even an octoptych (eight
pages), discovered at Herculaneum. You can find out more about that,
plus a history of books and a definitive statement about the
characteristics of a codex here:
http://www.cbbag.ca/BookArtsWeb/TheBook.html - "The Book, an
Introduction" from Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild
Now we can head to China. We know the Chinese had several styles of
book binding by the mid 8th century CE. Some of the best examples are
part of the Dunhuang collection in the UK. These Dunhuang "booklets"
had butterfly bindings, stiched bindings, concertina, whirlwind and
The oldest of these bindings was the "butterfly" binding. This was
the first Chinese book format to depart completely from the idea of
the scroll. Although both concertina and whirlwind bound books had
characteristics of the leaf book, they were both strongly influenced
by the scroll and still shared many of the its features. Butterfly
binding, on the other hand, managed to break away from this
bookbinding tradition, starting on a new direction for the making of
It is nearly impossible to know exactly how this format evolved and
how long the history of that development was. The most important
innovation of this format was the development of the folded leaf. -
"A butterfly bound book was made by folding sheets of paper in half,
forming four sides each (diagram). Paste would then be applied to the
folded edge of the paper, and the folded sheets would be stacked
together (diagram) so that the folded edges met to form the spine of
the book (diagram). The shape of the leaves and the manner in which
the book opened and closed resembled the wings of a butterfly,
therefore the book was given this rather descriptive name." - Quote
from (and diagrams found at)
International Dunhuang Project
The earliest known "bound" books also come from China. While these
are not "codices" in the classic sense, they need to be included in
the answer simply because of a single precedent, which was the
These 'bound' documents consisted of bamboo or wood strips written
with characters by brush. These slips are called jian, the earliest
form of books in China and date as early as the 16th century BCE.
Writing on bamboo or wood slips was done from top to bottom, with each
line comprising from 10 to at most 40 characters. To write a work of
some length, one would need thousands of slips. The written slips
would then be bound together with strips into a book. Some books were
so heavy that they had to be carried in carts. In some cases the blank
slips were first bound into books before they were written on. You
can find more information about jian books here:
http://www.crystalinks.com/chinascript.html - Chinese Script - From
Crystalinks. While Crystalinks would be what is called a "New Age"
website, it is jam-packed with interesting and accurate information
about an enormous range of topics. I make heavy use of it as a source
for my own webpages.
The earliest known printed book is an Oriental block-printed book of
868 AD, known as the Diamond Sutra, printed in Japan which was then
under the control and influence of the Chinese. This book is in the
form of a scroll; the Japanese developed a form of binding called
Orihon, in which a lengthy sheet is accordion folded and then bound
along one edge. (sort of like the Chinese butterfly binding)
Of course there is another definition of "codex" which is a collection
of laws. By that definition, the oldest known codex is the "Code of
Hammurabi" - but that does not really apply to this question.
You will also find the term "codice" wrongly used as a descriptive
term for many ancient documents (such as Egyptian papyri scrolls) even
though the book form was not that of a bound codex.
Search - Google
Terms - codex history, book binding history, oldest known
codices/codex, bindery history
If I may clarify anything before rating the answer, please ask.
Request for Answer Clarification by
13 Jun 2004 17:01 PDT
The answer is fragmentary at best. The origion of the paper is of two
sources: the papyrus of ancient Egypt and the Chinese invention of
bark paper at about 3-2 century B.C. While papyrus was distributed,
especially at first, by the Pheonician city of Byblos, (Jubayl of
Modern Lebanon)which gave its name to the enitre industry of paper
production and religious literature and later also for book
production, paper made of wood bark arrived at the west via the Arabs.
With all due respect to Vergil, the first books to be written were of
law, tax and Gospels. The most famous discovery of such books is the
'Nag Hammady Library' which was discovered in in Egypt in 1945 and
contained BOOKS written in Coptic during the 4th century A.D. which
were translations of books written before in Greek. The Mesoamerica
material is about a thousand years later and it is a great point for
the politically correct minded person. I'm looking for information
about the development of book between the first century B.C. to the
third century A.D. the very origin of book writing, making,
Clarification of Answer by
13 Jun 2004 19:15 PDT
Then I need a return clarification from you. When you used the term
"bound" in your question it indicated you were looking only for a
"bound" codex, that is, "modern" style books.
I'm very familiar with the origin of papyrus. I'm a retired Egyptologist.
If you are interested in "books" with or without binding, then that is
a question different from the one asked which specified "paper bounded
together" which signifies a book with a "binding."
Book has more than one definition when it comes to 'style' and I
limited the answer to "bound" books. The question is answered "as
As for the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, yes they are in codex form but not
as old as Martial therefor were not used in the answer.
Do you want information about scroll type books, loose pages not
bound, clay tablets, or simply the extended expression of an idea or
concept which when strung together becomes a book? If that is the
case, then we can take the history of books back much further than the
1st century BCE. We can go back to the world's earliest known named
author, En-hedu-Ana, the first known author to write in the first
person and sign her work. She was the daughter of Sargon the Great and
6 literary compositions of hers still survive. The "The Exaltation of
Inanna," "Stout-hearted Lady," "Inanna and Ebih," "e-u-nir" which is a
Collection of 42 Temple Hymns written for the temples of Sumer and
Akkad, "e-u-gim e-a," "Hymn of Praise to Ekishnugal and Nanna on
Assumption of en-ship" and "Hymn of Praise of Enheduana."
If you want that kind of answer, please let me know and I will be glad
to provide it. All we have to go on is the specifics of the question
as asked and the question indicated the origin of modern style bound
In fact, if you want the entire history of books regardless of bindery
style, or lack of it, it will be much more interesting for me to
answer than it was with the limitations I thought the question
And I have never been "politically correct" a day in my life. < attempt at humor.
Give me direction and we will go there.
Request for Answer Clarification by
14 Jun 2004 05:55 PDT
Thank you Mr. Digs for your helpful effort and kind patience. Two
millenia ago a new technoloy appeared -- whether using papyrus from
Egypt, parchment from Pergamum in Asia Minor, or wood fiber in China
-- paper shaped sheets written on both sides, containing long and even
several articles/treatises and bound/put together in different forms,
replaced the older technologies resulting with increased literacy,
much greater availability of manuscripts, and the emergence of private
libraries (unlike the former temple and state libraries). More
importantly, it is impossible to imagine the transformation of Judaism
from a temple worship into literary driven religion and the emergence
of Christianity without the new invention in the private household.
Was it the result of the availability of the new technology?...which
all bring me to the question of looking for the 'first books', looking
specifically for the contributers, the makers, the distributers of the
first books: "when, where, who invented these books and what was the
first book ever put together?"
Clarification of Answer by
14 Jun 2004 10:10 PDT
Now I have something more to go on. Much of what I have covered in
the main part of the answer will still apply of course and I will try
not to repeat any more than possible though I might refer back to some
of that material.
As far as the change in the technology, the move from scroll type
books to the codex (or modern book), nothing changes from the original
answer. The physical history of the evolution of the "book" remains
the same whatever the reason we seek for that transformation.
Two other things did change during that time between the 1st century
BCE and the 3 - 4th centuries CE. One was the growth of international
trade under the auspices of the Roman Empire which made writing
material more readily available and the associated increase of one
type of publically offered service (among many) and that was the
emergence of the "scriptoria" from being associated mostly with
temples, large libraries, government offices to being what we might
call today a neighborhood commercial enterprise and the resultant
increase in the numbers of people who trained for that type of
This came about also because of the increase in trade. It actually
began much earlier than the 1st century BCE but per the parameters of
your question, that will minimally be taken into account.
The earliest merchants needed not much more than a simple method of
accounting profits and losses. As merchant houses grew and became
more complex, this system of accounting needed to grow with it.
Shipping manifests were needed, production figures recorded, profits
and losses, destinations, trade logs and journals, even a form of
early cultural anthropology as merchants and their agents had to know
how to conduct trade internationally and how to conduct themselves in
cultures other than their own.
This increased need for recorded information brought the public
scriptoria, as a neighborhood "small business," into increased play.
Not only did merchants and other enterprises need this service, but
the number of private communications (letters) increased due to the
expanded availability of such services, and due to sheer numbers and
demand, the scribes became a middle class social entity in their own
right with their own organizations, guilds, social clubs and more.
And of course this development of the commercial scriptoria created an
enormous amount of documentation which would have been assembled into
'book' form just as a way of organizing the sheer mass of material.
The "paper shaped sheet" written on both sides, was not so much a
change in technology as it was a method of economical use of available
material, combined with cutting or re-cutting what was already in use
for easy storage in folders or simple stacking as a space saving
The related increase in the production of private and popular
literature is secondary to, and only the result of, the increased
needs of commerce. The ancients were just like moderns in that a
"spill over" into private use of services initially designed for
commerce or the state is not at all uncommon.
Which leads us to the second change during that period, - not one of
technology, - but one of fashion.
At the beginning of the time frame you want, the concept of books was
already well developed with histories having been written (both world
wide and local), popular legends, myth, Travel documentaries such as
Herrodotus, even early versions of the fantasy tale had already come
about and were in what you would describe as book form. The 'novel'
had already been invented. The tale of Sinue and his travels, where
he meets dragons and all sorts of fabulous creatures, the precursor of
Sinbad, was already a thousand years old and circulated fairly widely
as "popular " literature. For the upper middle classes and upper
classes, by the beginning of the first century, private libraries were
already established and pleasure reading as well as instructive
reading was wide spread. In fact, by the end of the 1st century BCE,
the Roman fashion among upper classes was to have a room elegantly
furnished as a library, and reserved for that purpose. However
ignorant a person might be, it was fashionable to appear learned by
having such a library, though that person might never even read the
titles of the books.
The efforts of Cicero, Atticus, Varro, and others in increasing their
libraries is well known. Serenus Sammonicus possessed a library of
62,000 books. By the beginning of the time period you want covered,
books were already here and had been for quite some time. The
monopoly of the former former temple and state libraries had already
In fact, as we move later in the period you want covered, the number
of private libraries actually decreased rather than increased due to
changes in economic fortune and affordability. By the 4th century,
the scriptoria had largely returned to being a venue only affordable
to the ultra wealthy and gradually turned back into mostly exclusive
service to the state, commerce and temple (or church).
So the increase and distribution in the number of books at the time
had little to do with the development of writing surfaces such as
papyrus, paper (which came later) or much of anything else, and it was
certainly not due to the development of a new technology. The
introduction of new materials other than papyrus, such as the exotic
papers and parchment you mentioned, did not make books more available
at the time but were used only for the creation of more "luxrious"
books as special collectors items for the wealthy. The mass
production techniques for these materials did not come along with
their import and introduction.
This increase in production and distribution came about due to the
lowering of prices for such goods due to increased availability of
material and through the increased production of the scriptoria. It
was still all done by hand, once again, no new technology, and even
the lower prices were still beyond the reach of the vast majority.
As for the emergence of Christianity without the "book" being found in
the private house, that is exactly the way it did emerge. Actually
the development of Christian, Jewish or other ancient religious texts
are only a side issue and not really pertinent to the story of the
development of books. Christians did adopt the style of the codex as
their own after the codex had itself been developed but the
relationship goes not much deeper than that.
The fact that Christian scripture was not to be readily found in
ancient private homes and libraries, as you seem to think, can be
established in two ways. First and formost was the was the way early
church itself treated scripture and the Gospels. The remnant of that
early treatment is still preserved in church services. The ancient
Christians valued their scriptures so highly, not only for what they
contained but their rarity as well, that when the scriptures were
brought out of hiding and into the congregations, it was a solemn
moment. In modern Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox
traditions, the "Entry of the Gospel" in solemn procession is the
visible remnant of the ancient tradition of bringing the Gospels out
of hiding and joyfully into the congregation.
The second reason relates to the first. The scriptures were kept in
hiding. Due to the social situation of the times, the keeping of
documents related to the various mystery cults, including
Christianity, in a private house was an invite to disaster. And even
those who took the chance, were only among the very wealthy who could
afford such documents.
While it might "be impossible to imagine" the development of
Christianity without such books in the home, I can't really change
history just to give credence to that concept.
And that situation did not change. As we move later into the time
period and on into the early Middle Ages, due to the decline and
eventual near extinction of the "public scriptoria" the scriptures
still remained a perogative of only the ultra rich ruling classes and
the church itself. By then, they controled the only scriptoria still
found in Western Culture.
The change in technology which made books widely available was the
later invention of the printing press and that has no part in this
The change that took place during the time frame you are asking about
was not a technological change, but a change in the availability of
materials, the resultant lower price due to that increased
availability, the development of the codex as a binding style (which
still did not increase the availability of books, just made them more
expensive. In that day and age, a simple scroll was cheaper to buy
than a bound book). And by the end of the time frame of your
question, the decline in book availability was already well underway.
I cannot invent a technological change that did not happen.
Your statement: - "Two millenia ago a new technology appeared --
whether using papyrus from Egypt, parchment from Pergamum in Asia
Minor, or wood fiber in China -- paper shaped sheets written on both
sides, containing long and even several articles/treatises and
bound/put together in different forms, replaced the older technologies
resulting with increased literacy, much greater availability of
manuscripts, and the emergence of private libraries (unlike the former
temple and state libraries). More importantly, it is impossible to
imagine the transformation of Judaism from a temple worship into
literary driven religion and the emergence of Christianity without the
new invention in the private household." - - tends to come more from
the concept of an "alternative history" designed to support a
particular view, rather than from history as it actually happened.
As for who put together the first book, it still remains lost in the
mists of time and far predates the period you want covered. As for
the first "known" book, regardless of the materials used to produce
it, we still have the works of En-hedu-Ana which were circulated in
the ancient Near East. And that is as far back as we can currently go
and say - this is the person who produced the first book.
Clarification of Answer by
14 Jun 2004 10:13 PDT
Just as a side note about papyrus. It was not introduced during that
time period but had already been used for documents for at least 3000
years and likely somewhat longer. So that cannot be construed as "new
technology" for the purpose of the answer.
Request for Answer Clarification by
14 Jun 2004 11:55 PDT
Dear Professor (I assume) Digs:
Thanks for the beautifully elaborated answer and the enthusiastic
response! Besides...progress in knowldge and understanding often
results with refutation of theories and misconceptions. Your
successful challenge to my too readly adaptation of common notions was
delightful, forceful and beneficial!! A.E.A.
Clarification of Answer by
14 Jun 2004 12:30 PDT
Thank you for the kind words and all the glittery stars. We hope to
see you return.