The transition from roll to codex as the standard format of the book is one of the most culturally significant innovations of late antiquity, the period between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD.

The Codex and Crafts in Late Antiquity examines the structural, technical, and decorative features of the major types of codices—the wooden tablet codex, the single-gathering codex, and the multigathering codex. Along with surviving artifacts and iconographic evidence, handmade replicas are used to explore the craft processes applied in the making of these early books. The exhibition presents the codex as an innovation, rather than an invention, that evolved using techniques already widely employed by artisans and craftspeople in the creation of everyday items such as socks and shoes, revealing that the codex was a fascinating, yet practical, development.

A Focus Project curated by Georgios Boudalis, Head of the Book and Paper Conservation Laboratory, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki, Greece; Research Fellow, Bard Graduate Center, Spring 2015; and Visiting Professor, Bard Graduate Center, Fall 2016. Focus Projects are small-scale academically rigorous exhibitions and publications that are developed and executed by Bard Graduate Center faculty and postdoctoral fellows in collaboration with students in our MA and PhD programs.

Crafting the Codex

This film shows the process of binding a codex using tenth-century Eastern Mediterranean techniques from the Coptic, Syriac, Georgian, and Byzantine book-binding traditions.

Exhibition Website

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A multigathering codex, the precursor of today’s bound book, is a complex object with many parts that work together to protect the text and to make it easily accessible for reading. In late antiquity (3rd–8th centuries AD), makers of codices adapted a number of existing craft techniques. This interactive features the five main processes used to make a bound codex, all of which are closely related to processes used to make other common items. For example, techniques for sewing endbands resemble those used in finishing the edges of textiles and mats, and techniques for decorating leather covers are similar to those used in making shoes. Through drawings, photographs, and animations, this interactive demonstrates craft techniques used to make multigathering codices.