The Early History of Books

Books have been in the human possession since the Ancient Times. However, they have evolved over the centuries; therefore, their shape and form has changed many times over! They have not always been in the the traditional hardback or paperback version as we have know for many years in the present day era.

Ancient Times

Although they were not actually ‘books’, the written word had very different forms during the Ancient Times. The earliest form of writing were in shape of pictures and symbols. Later, they took form as tablets of wood, then clay, dating as far back as 7th century BC.

In the Near and Middle East (or Mesopotamia, as it was called then), they used clay tablets themselves, and began to establish the earliest forms of libraries. They were not the only nation with the same idea, as Ancient Greece also began to create libraries.

Pompeii lady with wax tablet. Source: awesomestories.com

A few thousand years later, the Ancient Egyptians began to write on papyrus. Around the same time, the Ancient Chinese invented paper in 103 AD, although they had written on bone, silk, bamboo, and shells long before then.

In South America, the Mayans created codex, written on bark paper. The Romans had wax tablets, and papyrus scrolls. According to Horrible Histories, the Romans invented the book…

The Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, books turned into what we are all familiar with. For the most part of the era, there were manuscripts made with parchment or vellum, which monks and book makers made all by hand. Parchment had been around since the 3rd century BC, and it is made from animal skin.

The earliest form of writing were in shape of pictures and symbols. Later, they took form as tablets of wood, then clay, dating as far back as 7th century BC.

It was an expensive (and stinky!) process, where the skin was soaked in faeces and urine. They even went as far as using waste from the royal households, as it was believed that it would make the parchment more superior.

The process to make the parchment was a long, and tedious. Followed by another long process to make the book, and decorate it with text or images.

Medieval manuscript. Source: medievalists.net

The arrival of the Printing Press in 1455 by Gutenburg was revolutionary. More books could be made in less time, and be available to the common man (and woman!), rather than just the chosen few.

It’s been said that when the Press began to get more popular, Chaucer’s joined in with this revolution with his most famous work, The Canterbury Tales. The Press enabled his texts to reach wider readership, therefore allowed the poorer people to own a book and, be able to learn to read.

Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press (by Francesco Loli). Source: publishhistory.wordpress.com
Georgian Era to the Modern Era

The Ancient Times and the Middle Ages certainly laid the foundation for the history of the book. The Georgian times saw the beginning of the newspaper, and the typical hardback books with leather covers. During thus same  era, many famous novelists, such as Jane Austen began to write. This continued to the Victorian Era when a few other prolific writers such as Charles Dickens, began to pen novels that would become our classics.

Books have been in the human possession since the Ancient Times. However, they have evolved over the centuries; therefore, their shape and form has changed many times over!

The Modern era has seen the inventions of the paperbak, desktop publishing, and mini-computer tabets. There have been many fears that people will cease to read books, and libraries will close; all because we now live in the Social Media age. But I think, like how books have evolved in the early ages, they will continue to do so.

I find it funny now we have tablets like the Romans used to, but now they are made od aluminium and glass, not clay! Perhaps we have taken a full circle, and we are back to the early history of books, but with new inventions?

Sources: Wikipedia - Mesopotamia, Codex, Parchment, Canterbury Tales; memory from Medieval Studies knowledge.
Written and researched for World Book Day, albeit a week late!
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