Honors Bachelor of Arts

Document Type


Faculty Advisor

Thesis Advisor: Dr. Shannon Byrne




One of the longest-lasting and least recognized changes that occurred under the Roman Empire is the transition from scrolls as a vessel for literature to codices, the format which, in some way, is still used today. Indeed, until the invention of the printing press, texts had not undergone as impactful a shift as was experienced during the period between 250 and 450 AD. This shift was tied closely to the spread of Christianity; the codex’s rise to dominance maps closely to the spread of Christianity, and this is no accident. As will become apparent, Christians possessed a strong and distinctive preference for the codex over the scroll. Beyond its relationship to the spread of Christianity, the codex also had practical advantages that facilitated its adoption. In this thesis, I will examine the spread of the codex as it became the dominant vessel for literature and, in doing so, will demonstrate some of the reasons that explain why the codex overtook the scroll.

In part one, I will examine the development of the codex as a technology. The codex descends from two earlier technologies, the wooden tablet and parchment notebook, which will be examined in this part. I will then look at early mentions of the codex, especially its first mention by Martial, and the status of the codex before it became dominant.

In part two, I will look at the Christian usage of the codex. The most important question to answer in this section is why Christians preferred the codex over the scroll. This preference is key to explaining why the codex was able to replace the scroll in a relatively short span.

In my third part, I will examine the spread of the codex from the Christians to the rest of the Roman literary world. Christian preference alone cannot explain why the codex became the dominant; other explanations are required. In this section, I will look at the advantages that the codex offered over the scroll and how they helped to facilitate its spread.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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