5 Oldest Handwritten Book in the World

5 Oldest Handwritten Book in the World

Long before the printing press was invented, books were carefully written by hand and circulated among those who could afford them! Over the years, the number of books written by hand has certainly come down, but several handwritten books have stood the test of time.

In this article, we’re going to look more closely at some of the oldest handwritten books in the world, their histories, and where they are today. Let’s get right into it. 

5 Oldest Handwritten Books in the World

5.  Codex Sinaiticus

Script used: Greek
Year of discovery: 1844
Time period written: 4th century, after 325 AD

Codex SinaiticusPhoto Source: Wikipedia Commons

The Codex Sinaitcus is one of the oldest handwritten books in the world. It is from the 4th century, and is a handwritten copy of the Greek bible. It’s interesting to note that this version of the Greek bible is one of the most complete handwritten copies of the Greek bible that have survived and remained intact until today. Its contents consist mainly of the Greek Old Testament, as well as the Greek New Testament. It includes the Shepherd of Hermas, the deuterocanonical books, and even the Epistle of Barnabas.

Ever since its discovery, this bible has been a highly useful text among scholars of religion and theological studies, as well as for critical studies scholars. Its paper was made of vellum parchment, while its folios were made of sheep and calfskin.

Did you know?

The Codex Sinaitcus is currently split and located in various parts of the world, including Germany, England, and Russia.

4. Codex Vaticanus

Script used: Greek
Year of discovery: 1475
Time period written: 4th century

Codex VaticanusPhoto Source: Wikipedia Commons

The Codex Vaticanus is, just like the Codex Sinaitcus, a handwritten copy of the Greek bible, and one of the world’s oldest handwritten books. It is a Christian manuscript and is also a part of the four great uncial codices. 

Unlike the other great codices, the Codex Vaticanus was discovered after reading Erasmus’s correspondence with the Vatican Library’s prefects. Many historical, critical, and theological scholars have stated that this handwritten book is one of the world’s most important books to understand the bible.

Did you know?

The Codex Vaticanus was named after the Vatican Library, where it has been conserved and displayed since the 15th century.

3. Codex Alexandrinus

Script used: Greek 
Year of discovery: Approximately 1621
Time period written: 5th century

Codex AlexandrinusPhoto Source: Wikipedia Commons

While the Codex Alexandrinus is one of the four great codices, it emerged in the 5th century and not the fourth. However, just like the other codices, it is known for being one of the world’s oldest handwritten books, as well as being one of the Greek bible’s manuscripts.

This codex, or book, consists of 773 pages made from vellum, 630 of which belonged to the Old Testament, while the remaining pages belonged to the New Testament. The content within the codex was written with red ink in the uncial script. It’s interesting to note that there is hardly any punctuation in this book! Any punctuation marks that currently exist in this book were added several years after the book was written.

Did you know? 

The Codex Alexandrinus was the first manuscript to be given the importance that it has. It has been referred to and studied extensively by scholars, students, and professors over the years.

2. St. Cuthbert Gospel

Script used: Uncial script
Year of discovery: 1104
Time period written: Late 7th Century

St. Cuthbert GospelPhoto Source: Wikipedia Commons

The St Cuthbert Gospel wears many of the world’s oldest hats! In addition to being one of the oldest handwritten books in the world, it is also one of the oldest manuscripts, as well as one of the oldest literary books in the world as well. This gospel was written in Latin in the early years of the 8th century.

It is widely known for its size; this book is just over 5 inches tall and 3 inches wide, making it one of the first pocket-sized books the world had ever seen at the time. Its text contains the Gospel of John, written in the uncial script, and has been bound with goatskin that was dyed red. It’s also interesting to note that St Cuthbert’s Gospel was named after Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, North East England.

Did you know?

St Cuthbert’s Gospel is considered by experts to be one of the most significant books in the world. It is also known for being one of the earliest books from Europe to be completely intact even today.

1. Book of Kells

Script used: Insular majuscule script
Year of discovery: 9th century
Time period written: 800 AD

The Book of KellsPhoto Source: Wikipedia Commons

The Book of Kells also wears several hats. This book is a handwritten, illuminated manuscript, and is also a Celtic Gospel book. It was written in Latin in a Columban monastery, which was either in Scotland or Ireland. This book completely different from some of the other handwritten gospels out there, thanks to the detailed illustrations included in it. The art within this book has often been labeled as the pinnacle of Insular illustration by various scholars and art history experts!

It’s interesting to note that the text within the Book of Kells contains the gospels present in the New Testament. It has around 340 pages, but has been bound into four books since the mid-1950s. Each page is made from calf vellum, while iron gall ink was used for the writing within this boko.

Did you know? 

The Book of Kells is currently on display in the Trinity College Library, in Dublic, and visitors can only see two pages at a time. The pages are rotated once every 3 months, but those interested can view the digitized version of this book online.


In this article, we walked you through a list of some of the oldest handwritten books in the world. These books have all survived several centuries, and today, they play an integral part in the world of literature and academic. We encourage you to read more about these handwritten books and improve your own knowledge! 

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