The transition from the papyrus roll of late antiquity to the codex, akin to the modern day book, paralleled the rise of Christianity in the first few centuries of the Common Era. The correlation between these two events is widely documented in medieval scholarship and a number of factors have to be considered when discussing this switch. Two variables that drove this transition were the need for a format more suitable to recording the longer narrative text of the New Testament and a more durable materiality that would allow for the preservation of the written word and the intercontinental travel undertaken by early Christian missionaries.
With the change in format, there were more opportunities to depict images alongside their relevant text, as each page, or folio, presented a single confined space in which an illustrator and scribe could work. This is opposed to the long, continuous format of the scroll where the text could progress unencumbered by page divisions. One of the earliest extant Bibles produced in the codex format, the Quedlinburg Italia (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, MS Theol. lat. fol. 485), exemplifies the proliferation of images. This manuscript was produced in Rome in the early fifth century and, as can be seen in the images, organized pages dominated by images. This manuscript is believed to have been made in the same scriptorium of the famous Vatican Vergil (Rome, BAV, Vat. lat. 3225) where images also came to play an important literary function.
The transition from roll to codex communicates the interdependence between materiality and functionality that underlies so many medieval objects. It is a relationship that we will continue evaluate in our study of Medieval Materiality.
Lowden, John. “The Beginning of Biblical Illustration.” Imagining the Early Medieval Bible, ed. John Williams (University Park: Penn State Press, 1999): 8-59.
Quedlinburg Italia (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, ms theol. lat. fol. 485)
Vatican Vergil (Rome, BAV, Vat. lat. 3225)
Homer, Book 2, Papyrus Roll, c. 150 C.E.