Codex Alexandrinus

Codex Alexandrinus

Eastern Mediterranean — Ca. 400

One of the oldest and most complete specimens of the Bible: this precious 5th century manuscript of the Greek Bible boasts some of the earliest known colophons with volutes and other decorative tailpieces

  1. The Codex originated from the Eastern Mediterranean, possibly Alexandria, where it was stored for centuries

  2. It was brought to Constantinople in 1621 and eventually came to England as gift to King Charles I in 1627

  3. Bishop Brian Walton gave the text the first position in a polyglot Bible that was published in 1657

Codex Alexandrinus

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Codex Alexandrinus

This 5th century manuscript of the Greek Bible is one of the most precious books to survive to the present day and constitutes one of the oldest and most complete specimens of the Bible alongside the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. Its Greek uncial text is neatly written in two columns and the codex also boasts some of the earliest known colophons with volutes and other decorative tailpieces. The manuscript is presumed to have originated from the Eastern Mediterranean and is named after the city of Alexandria, where it resided for centuries before being taken to Constantinople by Patriarch Cyril Lucaris in 1621. It was then gifted to King Charles I of England in 1627 and was incorporated into a 1657 polyglot Bible juxtaposing passages from the Bible in parallel columns and was given the primary position to emphasis its authority. Today, the Codex Alexandrinus is counted among the most prized possessions of the British Library’s prestigious collections.

Codex Alexandrinus

Named after the city of Alexandria in which it was stored for centuries, the Codex Alexandrinus was the first ancient manuscript of great importance to be extensively studied by textual scholars and philologists. It is counted among the so-called “four great uncial codices”, the only surviving Greek Bibles that contain or originally contained the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, which also include the Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Ephraemi. These four manuscripts are considered to be authoritative for the creation of any modern translation of the Bible, especially regarding the New Testament.
The Codex Alexandrinus was made about a century later than the others and is the only one to feature any ornamentation but is otherwise similar in design to the rest of the group leading to speculation that they originated from the same scriptorium in the Eastern Mediterranean. It contains a nearly complete copy of the Old Testament, including the deuterocanonical books, and all of the New Testament save for the first few pages for the Book of Matthew as well as various other apocryphal works.

Created by Professional Scribes, but Where?

Like the other three great uncial codices, the Codex Alexandrinus is obviously the work of professional scribes who were well-practiced in their trade but any other details concerning its provenance can only be guessed at based on clues in the text. Paleographers have dated the manuscript to the 5th century by comparing the style of its writing with other specimens. It has traditionally been hypothesized that a scriptorium once under the direction of the famous biblical scholar Eusebius in Caesarea, Palestine could be the common point of origin for all of these manuscripts. However, other scholars have argued that the Codex Alexandrinus could easily have been created in Alexandria itself, which was still an important center of learning and culture.
The manuscript was neatly written in two columns on 773 vellum folios of the highest quality; the opening lines of each book written in red ink and the end of each book is marked by a colophon with decorative tailpieces. An enlarged letter marks the beginning of each sentence and the Codex Alexandrinus is also the oldest manuscript to use enlarged letters to indicate new sections. Originally arranged into four volumes – three for the Old Testament and one for the New – it was later rebound into a single codex. The Gospels are the oldest specimen of the Byzantine text-type while the rest of the New Testament is written in the Alexandrian text-type. Regardless of where exactly it was created, the manuscript is a testament to the prolific manuscript culture of Late Antiquity.

From Alexandria to Constantinople to London

After centuries in Alexandria, perhaps more than a millennium, the manuscript was brought to Constantinople by the Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril Lucaris (1572–1638), upon his elevation to the See of Constantinople. Lucaris, the first to suggest the manuscript originated in Alexandria, became deeply involved in the politics of the Ottoman capital and was temporarily banished or deposed several times due to the machinations of his enemies in the Orthodox Church, who opposed his efforts to reform the Church along Calvinists principles, as well complaints from French and Austrian Ambassadors. At the same time, he enjoyed support from the ambassadors of Protestant countries such as England and the Netherlands.
In gratitude, Lucaris presented the manuscript to the English ambassador Sir Thomas Roe (ca. 1581–1644) in 1624 as a gift to King James I, but the King died the following year before the manuscript reached him. The manuscript was finally received by James’ son and heir, King Charles I (1600–49), in 1627. It was critical for the creation of the 1657 *London Polyglot Bible
by Bishop Brian Walton (1600–61), widely regarded as the last great polyglot. Walton assigned the Codex Alexandrinus with the letter “A” and the first position in the multilingual work juxtaposing biblical passages in different languages including Syriac, Persian, and Ethiopic.


Size / Format
779 folios / 32.0 × 28.0 cm
Ca. 400
Greek Uncial
Rubrics and initials
Complete Bible, originally divided into 4 separate volumes
Previous Owners
Athansius III
Cyril Lucar
Thomas Roe
Charles I
Old Royal Library

Available facsimile editions:
The Codex Alexandrinus
British Library – London, 1909–1957
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Codex Alexandrinus

British Library – London, 1909–1957

Publisher: British Library – London, 1909–1957
Commentary: 1 volume by Frederic G. Kenyon
Language: English
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Reproduction of volume VIII (New Testament) of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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