The Codex Argenteus Online


This digital version of the 1927 edition of the Silver Bible, Codex argenteus, in Uppsala University Library is the result of a joint project between Tampere University of Technology and Uppsala University Library. The digitising of the facsimile edition and constructing the database were done by David Landau, Master of Science at Tampere University of Technology, Department of Information Technology. The multimedia structure was prepared with the help of Technical Licentiate Jarmo Toivonen at the same department. The contact person at Uppsala University Library is Lars Munkhammar, Senior Librarian, who has also written this preface. The final digital editing was handled by Ann-Sofi Cullhed, assistant librarian at Uppsala University Library, and Uwe Klosa, system developer at Uppsala University Library. The digitising work was made possible through funds: Niilo Helander Foundation (Niilo Helanderin Säätiö, Niilo Helanders Stiftelse) and Cultural Foundation for Sweden and Finland (Kulturfonden för Sverige och Finland, Suomalais-ruotsalainen kulttuurirahasto).

The copyright of this digital version of the 1927 edition of the Codex argenteus is owned jointly by Tampere University of Technology and Uppsala University Library.

Codex argenteus – the "Silver Bible" in Uppsala University Library is the most comprehensive still existing text in Gothic language. It contains what is left of a luxury book of the four gospels, an evangeliarium, written in the early sixth century in Northern Italy, probably in Ravenna, and probably for the Ostrogothic king Theoderic the Great. The text is part of Wulfila’s translation of the Bible from Greek to Gothic, made in the fourth century.

The Codex argenteus is written with gold and silver ink on very thin, purple-coloured parchment of extremely high quality. For a long time it was alleged that the parchment was made from the skin of new-born or even unborn calves, but modern research shows that it was more likely made from the skin of kids. The purple colour does not come from the purple snail but from vegetable dyes. The silver writing is predominant, which explains why the book is called "the Silver Book", or the Codex argenteus. Originally, it probably had a deluxe binding, decorated with pearls and jewels. The writing surface on the leaves of the manuscript has been filled according to the principle of the "golden section", i. e. the height is related to the width in the same way as the sum of the height and width is related to the height. The four arches at the bottom of each page are canon tablets, one for each evangelist. They contain a system of cross references to passages of the gospels. This is the so-called Eusebian system designed by Eusebius of Caesarea (d. 339/40).

The Silver Bible is known to have existed in the sixteenth century, when it was kept in a Benedictine monastery in Werden near the Ruhr. Before the year 1600, it came into the possession of Emperor Rudolf II and was in Prague when the Swedes invaded the city in 1648. It was brought to Stockholm as part of the enormous Swedish war booty. There it was incorporated into Queen Christina’s library. After the queen’s abdication, it passed into the hands of one of her librarians, Isaac Vossius, who took it to the Netherlands. From there, it was purchased by the Swedish Chancellor Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, who was also the Chancellor of Uppsala University. He donated it to the university in 1669.

The codex originally consisted of at least 336 leaves. Of these, 187 are extant in Uppsala. One other leaf (as far as we know) has survived for posterity, in Speyer in Germany. It was found sensationally in 1970 in the Speyer Cathedral along with some hidden relics of a saint. This leaf, judging from its format and other details, appears to have journeyed along different paths than the other leaves before it came to light again. The discovery of this leaf, which has been named "the Haffner leaf" after its discoverer Franz Haffner, kindled new life in the discussions of the fate of the Codex argenteus between sixth century Ravenna and sixteenth century Werden. A history of more than a thousand years, which is mainly shrouded in oblivion. This is The Mystery of the Thousand Years. This mystery does of course stimulate our fantacy. There are, however, beside fancies some facts as well as qualified guesses and scientifically based theories about the fate of the Codex argenteus during this millennium.

There are several editions of the Silver Bible text. The very first one, editio princeps, was made in Holland in 1665. The standard edition was made by the Uppsala professor Anders Uppström in 1854 and 1857. The latest and most important one is the facsimile edition made in 1927 with high-technological photographic equipment and the competence of Professor The Swedberg and Dr. Hugo Andersson.

Svedberg was Professor of Chemistry at Uppsala University, and in 1926 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was among other things very fascinated by the problems of detecting, revealing, and restoring lost and invisible text passages in manuscripts with the help of photographic techniques. Together with Dr. Ivar Nordlund he performed photographic experiments on some leaves from the Codex argenteus in 1917.

This experimentation was a pilot study to prepare a great facsimile edition of the codex where the most important aspect should be the legibility of the text. The edition was planned as – and became – a jubilee manifestation for the 450th anniversary of Uppsala University in 1927. Svedberg and Nordlund did photographic experiments using four different techniques. Two of these techniques were later used for the edition. One of them was to show the page exposed by ultraviolet reflected radiation, which made the text appear light on a dark ground. The other one was to use a fluorescent technique, which made the text appear dark on a light ground. However, none of these techniques made the golden parts of the text show up very well. Therefore the hard to decipher pages with golden ink were also presented as supplementary images on a reduced scale. These were made by using three different techniques: with yellow filter, with X-rays, and with oblique lighting.

For the photography work of the 1927 edition, a special workshop was established in the basement of Carolina Redeiva, the main building of Uppsala University Library. A specially constructed camera for the purpose was bought from A. W. Penrose & Co. in London. The X-ray work was done at the radiotherapy department of Uppsala University Hospital. The research assistant Hugo Andersson was the photographer during the project.

In addition to the images of the pages in the Codex argenteus, the 1927 edition even contains an exhaustive introduction in Latin by the philologist in Uppsala, Professor Otto von Friesen and the senior librarian Anders Grape, later the Director of Uppsala University Library. Hugo Andersson wrote an appendix in English concerning the photographic procedure. The facsimile edition of 1927 was printed by Malmö Ljustrycksanstalt.

In the present digital version of the 1927 edition the main text part of the introduction in Latin, Introductio, by Friesen and Grape has been excluded, as well as the appendix by Andersson. In 1928 these works were translated into Swedish with the title "Om Codex argenteus. Dess tid, hem och öden. Av Otto v. Friesen och Anders Grape. Med ett appendix av Hugo Andersson". The book was printed in Uppsala as no. 27 in the series Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Litteratursällskapet.

Uppsala in July 2004

Some works about the Codex argenteus

Andersson-Schmitt, Margarete, Anmerkungen zur Bedeutung des Haffner-Blattes für die Geschichte des Codex argenteus. (Nordisk tidskrift för bok- och biblioteksväsen 62–63: 1975–76, pp. 16–21.)

Friesen, Otto von & Grape, Anders, Introductio. (Codex Argenteus Upsaliensis jussu senatus universitatis phototypice editus. Uppsala & Malmö, 1927, pp. 11–118.)

Friesen, Otto von & Grape, Anders, Om Codex argenteus. Dess tid, hem och öden. (Skrifter utgivna av Svenska litteratursällskapet, 27.) Uppsala 1928.

Grape, Anders, Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie, Isaac Vossius och Codex argenteus. (Symbola litteraria. Hyllningsskrift till Uppsala universitet vid jubelfesten 1927 från universitetsbibliotekets tjänstemän och universitetets boktryckare Almqvist & Wiksells Boktryckeri A.-B. Uppsala 1927, pp. 133–147.)

Grape, Anders, see: Friesen, Otto von

Haffner, Franz, Fragment der Ulfilas-Bibel in Speyer. (Pfälzer Heimat, 22:1971, H. 1, 31. März, pp. 1–5.)

Haffner, Franz, Herkunft des Fragmentes der Ulfilas-Bibel in Speyer. (Pfälzer Heimat, 22:1971, H. 3/4, 17. Dezember, pp. 110–118.)

Hermodsson, Lars, Goterna. Ett krigarfolk och dess Bibel. Stockholm 1993.

Hermodsson, Lars, Silverbibelns väg till Werden. (Kungl. Humanistiska Vetenskaps-Samfundet i Uppsala. Årsbok 1986, pp. 5–32.)

Johansson, J. Viktor, De rudbeckianska förfalskningarna i Codex Argenteus. (Nordisk tidskrift för bok- och biblioteksväsen, 42:1955, pp. 12–27.)

Kleberg, Tönnes, Codex Argenteus. Silverbibeln i Uppsala. 3 uppl. Uppsala 1981.

Kleberg, Tönnes, Codex Argenteus. The Silver Bible at Uppsala. 6 ed. Uppsala 1984.

Landau, David, Digitizing text heritage. Master of Science Thesis. Tampere University of Technology, Department of Information Technology, 2003.

Landau, David, The study of old texts with the aid of digital technology: the Gothic manuscripts. (Tampere University of Technology, Institute of Software Systems. Report 26. October 2001.

Munkhammar, Lars, The Mystery of the Thousand Years. The hidden history of Codex argenteus. Gotica Minora. Ed. Christian T. Petersen. Hanau: Syllabus 2002, pp. 1–13.

Munkhammar, Lars, Codex argenteus. From Ravenna to Uppsala – the wanderings of a Gothic manuscript from the early sixth century. 64th IFLA General Conference August 16 – August 21, 1998.

Munkhammar, Lars, Silverbibeln. Theoderiks bok. Stockholm 1998.

Nordlund, Ivar, see: Svedberg, The

Possnert, Göran & Munkhammar, Lars, Silverbibelns ålder och bindningshistoria i ljuset av C14-analys. (Annales Academiæ Regiæ Scientiarum Upsaliensis – Kungl. Vetenskapssamhällets i Uppsala Årsbok, 33:1999–2000, pp. 53–65.)

Scardigli, Piergiuseppe, Die Goten. Sprache und Kultur. München 1973.

Svedberg, The & Nordlund, Ivar, Fotografisk undersökning av Codex argenteus. (Uppsala universitets årsskrift. 1918:i. Matematik och naturvetenskap. i. Uppsala 1918.

Tjäder, Jan-Olof, Studier till Codex Argenteus’ historia. (Nordisk tidskrift för bok- och biblioteksväsen, 61:1974, pp. 51–99.)

Tjäder, Jan-Olof, Silverbibeln och dess väg till Sverige. (Religion och bibel. Nathan Söderblom-sällskapets årsbok, 34:1975, pp. 70–86.)