Books have been around a long time. They are ways to collect and present information, spread ideas, and to entertain. Despite printers appearing rather recently in our history, books have been made as early as 600 BC. The oldest surviving books are: the Etruscan Gold Book, the Pyrgi Gold Tablets, the Nag Hammadi Library, the St. Cuthbert Gospel, and the Book of Kells.
The oldest surviving book is the Etruscan Gold Book. According to Wigan Lane Books, “Thought to be the oldest multi-page book in the world, dating to about 660 BC, the Etruscan Gold Book was discovered 70 years ago whilst digging a canal off the Strouma river in Bulgaria. The book is made from 6 sheets of 24 carat gold, bound together with rings. The plates are written in Etruscan characters, and also depicted is a horse, horseman, a Siren, a lyre, and soldiers” (“10 Of the Oldest Known Surviving Books in the World”). However, with the Etruscan language being obsolete, the exact meaning of its contents cannot be fully deciphered.
The second-oldest surviving book is the Pyrgi Gold Tablets. As stated by AncientPages.com, “Dating back to 500 B.C., the Pyrgi gold tablets were discovered in 1964 in an excavation of a sanctuary in ancient Pyrgi, the port of the southern Etruscan town of Caere in Italy. What makes the tablets so special is that they are bilingual. Two of the tablets are inscribed in the Etruscan language, [and] the third in Phoenician and are today regarded as the oldest historical source of pre-Roman Italy among the known inscriptions” (“Pyrgi Gold Tablets: A Rare Ancient Bilingual Treasure”). It provides a dedication to the god Ishtar by King Thefarie Velianas.
Moving on to the third-oldest surviving book, we have the Nag Hammadi Library, which is rather a collection of tomes. According to Wigan Lane Books,”…13 leather bound papyrus codices were discovered in 1945 buried inside a sealed jar, by a local man in the town of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. The books, containing Gnostic texts, are dated from around the first half of the 4th century AD. Written in the Coptic language, the codices are thought to have been copied from Greek” (“10 Of the Oldest Known Surviving Books in the World”). As of now, you can see these books in Cairo, Egypt in the Coptic Museum.
Next we travel to Britain for the fourth-oldest surviving book, known as the St. Cuthbert’s Gospel. As detailed by the British Library, “A manuscript copy of the Gospel of St John, the St Cuthbert Gospel was produced in the North East of England in the late 7th century and was placed in St Cuthbert’s coffin on Lindisfarne, apparently in 698. The Gospel was found in the saint’s coffin at Durham Cathedral in 1104” (“British Library Acquires the St Cuthbert Gospel the Earliest Intact European Book”). Surprisingly, it is in excellent condition and very neatly written.
Lastly, the fifth-oldest surviving book is the Book of Kells. According to Wigan Lane Books, “The Book of Kells is kept in the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland, and is thought to have been created by Celtic monks around 800 AD. The book is an incredibly ornate illuminated manuscript Gospel book, written in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament” (“10 Of the Oldest Known Surviving Books in the World”). It is considered as Ireland’s finest national treasure.
Though many ancient books are now only referred to and are not around anymore, there are some volumes that have survived that are older than Jesus Christ. The oldest available book is Etruscan Gold Book, written around 600 BC. Many of these incredible ancient books are ornate and are religious in nature. Other books that are famed for their age are the Pyrgi Gold Tablets, the Nag Hammadi Library, the St. Cuthbert Gospel, and the Book of Kells.
“10 Of the Oldest Known Surviving Books in the World.” Wigan Lane Books, 21 Apr. 2019, wiganlanebooks.co.uk/blog/interesting/10-of-the-oldest-known-surviving-books-in-the-world/.
“British Library Acquires the St Cuthbert Gospel the Earliest Intact European Book.” The British Library, The British Library, 1 Jan. 1AD, www.bl.uk/press-releases/2012/april/british-library-acquires-the-st-cuthbert-gospel–the-earliest-intact-european-book.
“Pyrgi Gold Tablets: A Rare Ancient Bilingual Treasure.” Ancient Pages, 23 Nov. 2018, www.ancientpages.com/2018/11/23/pyrgi-gold-tablets-a-rare-ancient-bilingual-treasure/.