Scroll, Codex, and Canons:
the Relationship of Ancient Book Formats
to Larger Collections and Anthologies

(with Special Reference to Jewish and Christian Scriptures)

by Robert A. Kraft, University of Pennsylvania
21 February 2008


Information on the presentation format is available

Estimated number of physical scrolls (46) needed to cover the traditional Greek Christian Bible canon

05 Pentateuch (Five Books of Moses)
02 Joshua, Judges+Ruth
06 Samuel-Kings, Chronicles
04 Ezra+Nehemiah, Esther, Tobit, Judith
04 1-2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees
09 Job, Psalms+Odes, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs
02 Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach
05 Isaiah, Jeremiah+Lamentations+Baruch+Letter, Ezekiel, Daniel, "the Twelve"
04 Gospels
01 Acts
03 Epistles of Paul, Hebrews, General Epistles
01 Revelation (Apocalypse)


From Martial's Epigrams 14, on bookish gifts:

Pugillares citrei
Tablets/notebooks of citrus wood
Quinquiplices [cera]
Five-leaved tablets/notebooks [waxed]
Pugillares eborei
Ivory tablets/notebooks
Three-leaved tablets/notebooks
Pugillares membranei
Parchment tablets/notebooks

Esse puta ceras, licet haed membrana vocetur:
Suppose it to be wax, though it is called parchment

delebis, quotiens scripta novare voles.
You will erase whatever you want to write anew.
Vitellian tablets [for love notes]
The same [requesting money]
Chartae maiores
Large sheets of papyrus
Chartae epistulares
Papyrus sheets for letters

Homeri Batrachomyomachia
Homer's "Battle of Frogs and Mice"
Homerus in pugillaribus membraneis. Homer in hand-held parchments (notebooks?)

Ilias et Priami regnis inimicus Ulixes The Iliad and Ulysses, enemy of Priam's kingdom,

Multiplici pariter condita pelle latent. are there together, preserved in many folds of skin
Virgili Culex
Virgil's "Gnat"
14.186 Vergilius in membranis.  Vergil on parchment

Quam brevis inmensum cepit membrana Maronem! How small a quantity of parchment has comprised vast Maro!

Ipsius vultus prima tabella gerit. The first leaf bears his own countenance
Menandrou Qais [Greek]
Menander's "Thais"
14.188 Cicero in membranis.  Cicero on parchment

Si comes ista tibi fuerit membrana, putato If this parchment will be your companion, suppose

Carpere te longas cum Cicerone vias. yourself to be making a long journey with Cicero
Monobyblos Properti
The "Monobiblos" of Propertius
14.190 Titus Livius in membranis. Titus Livy on parchment.

Pellibus exiguis artatur Livius ingens
Compressed in tiny skins vast Livy, 

Quem mea non totum bibliotheca capit for whom complete my library has not room.
14.192 Ovidi Metamorphosis in membranis. Metamorphoses of Ovid on parchment

Haec tibi, multiplici quae structa est massa tabella, This mass that has been built up for you with multifold tablets

Carmina Nasonis quinque decemque gerit. contains the fifteen lays of Naso
Calvi de aquae frigidae usu
Calvus "On the Use of Cold Water"

Ulpian, writing between C.E. 211 and 217 is reported to have said (Digest 32.52):

Under the heading "books" (librorum) all volumes (volumina) are included, whether they are made of papyrus (in charta), of parchment (in membrana), or of any other material whatsoever; but even if they are written on wood-slabs (in philyra) (as is sometimes done), or upon any kind of prepared skins (in alio corio), they come under the same appellation. If, however, they are codices of parchment (in codicibus sint membraneis), or papyrus (vel chartaceis), or even ivory (vel etiam eboreis), or any other material, or are composed of wax tablets (in ceratis codicillis), let us determine whether they ought to be included? Gaius Cassius writes that where books (libris) are bequeathed, the parchments (membranas) are also included. Hence, it follows that everything relating to them will be included if the intention of the testator was not otherwise.

Then, after discussing the question whether a bequest of libri [books] covers unwritten papyrus rolls (chartae) and unwritten parchments (membranae), Ulpian  adds (Digest 32.52.5):

Wherefore, when books (libri) are bequeathed, the question is not inappropriately asked whether those are included which are not yet written upon (nondum perscripti). I do not think they are included, any more than cloth which is not yet entirely woven is included under the heading "clothing." But books which have been written (perscripti libri), but have not yet been beaten or ornamented [??], are included in such a legacy, as well as such as are not glued together, or corrected [repaired?], and also parchments (membranae) which are not sewed, are also included.

Paulus, who succeeded Ulpian as Praetorian Prefect  in 223 writes (Sententiae 3.6.87):

When books (libris) are bequeathed, volumes of papyrus (chartae volumina) , or of parchment (vel membranae) and wood-slabs (et philyrae) are included, and codices, as well (codices quoque). By the designagtion "books" (librorum) not merely volumes of papyrus (volumina chartarum), but also any kind of writing which is contained in anything is understood.

One more passage from Ulpian (Digest 32.52.1): 

If a hundred books (libri) are bequeathed, we must deliver to the legatee a hundred volumes (volumina), and not a hundred parts which anyone may select as he wishes, each of which constitutes a written book (ad libri scripturam); hence, when the works of Homer are all contained in a single volume (in uno volumine), we do not count them as forty-eight books (libros), but the entire volume of Homer (unum Homeri volumen) should be understood to constitute a "book" (pro libro).

Christian codices dated to 2nd century [from Roberts & Skeat]


Gamble, Harry Y. The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1985.
+__. Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven: Yale UP 1995)



Roberts, Colin H. The Codex. Proceedings of the British Academy 40 (1954) 169-204 [passim]
+__. "Early Christianity in Egypt." Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 40 (1954) 92-96
__. Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt

(Roberts &) Skeat


40 label of codex fragment as Christian

Caesar passage

Suetonius, Divus Julius 56.6 describes the form of Julius Caesar's despatches to the Senate in the following words:

Some letters of his to the senate are also extant, and he seems to have been the first to convert such documents to pages and the format of a memorandum book, whereas previously consuls and generals did not send their reports except (on sheets) written against the papyrus fibers.

Epistulae quoque eius ad Senatum extant, quas primum videtur ad paginas et formam memorialis libelli convertisse, cum antea consoles et duces non nisi transversa charta scriptas mitterent.

Bagnall lectures

bibliog and sites





Contents and order of the two great 4th century Bible Codices

Vaticanus                                                                 Sinaiticus

Genesis-Deuteronomy                                              [fragments of all but Exodus]

Joshua-Judges-Ruth                                                 [fragments of Joshua & Judges]

Samuel-Kings 1-4                                                    [not preserved]

Chronicles1-2                                                          [fragments of 1 Chronicles]

1 Esdras&2 Esdras (Ezra-Nehemiah)                       [fragments of 2 Esdras (Ezra-Nehemiah)]

Psalms                                                                      Esther

Proverbs                                                                  Tobit

Ecclesiastes (Qohelet)                                               Judith

Song of Songs                                                          1 Maccabees

Job                                                                           4 Maccabees

Wisdom                                                                    Isaiah

Sirach                                                                       Jeremiah-Lamentations

Esther                                                                       [fragments of 9 Minor Prophets]

Judith                                                                        Psalms

Tobit                                                                         Proverbs

the 12 minor prophets                                                Qohelet

Isaiah                                                                        Song=same

Jeremiah-Baruch-Lamentations-Epistle of Jeremiah    Wisdom   

Ezekiel                                                                       Sirach

Daniel                                                                        Job

Gospels & Acts                                                         =same

General Epistles, the

Pauline Epistles, and the

Epistle to the Hebrews (to Hebrews 9:14)                  Hebs 1-2 Tim Titus Phlm Acts James ++

[lacks 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Revelation] Rev, Barn, Shep, +