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A codex (Latin for block of wood, book; plural codices) is a book in the format used for modern books, with separate pages normally bound together and given a cover.

Developed by the Romans from wooden writing tablets, its gradual replacement of the scroll, the dominant form of book in the ancient world, has been termed the most important advance in the history of the book prior to the invention of printing.[1] The spread of the codex is closely associated with the rise of Christianity which has been using it as the exclusive book format of the Bible almost from the beginning.[2] First described by the 1st century AD Roman poet Martial, who already praised its convenient use, the codex achieved numerical parity with the scroll around 300 AD, and had completely replaced it throughout the now Christianised Greco-Roman world by the 6th century.[3]

The codex holds considerable practical advantages over other book formats, such as compactness, sturdiness, ease of reference (a codex is random access, as opposed to a scroll, which is sequential access), and especially economy; unlike the scroll, both recto and verso could be used for writing.[4] Although the change from rolls to codices roughly coincides with the transition from papyrus to parchment as favourite writing material, the two developments are quite unconnected. In fact, any combination of codices and scrolls on the one hand with papyrus and parchment on the other is technically feasible and well attested from the historical record.[5]

Although technically any modern paperback is a codex, the term is now reserved for manuscript (hand-written) books which were produced from Late Antiquity through the Middle Ages. The scholarly study of these manuscripts from the point of view of the bookbinding craft is called codicology, while the study of ancient documents in general is called paleography.



The Romans used precursors made of reusable wax-covered tablets of wood for taking notes and other informal writings; while codices of parchment or papyrus appear to have been widely used as personal notebooks, for instance in recording copies of letters sent (Cicero Fam. 9.26.1). The pages of such notebooks were commonly washed or scraped for re-use; and consequently writings on codex were considered informal and impermanent.

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