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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

Making a Book in the Middle Ages Took Years and Was Literally Physical Torture

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Making a book in the Middle Ages was extremely hard work. It took the skin of several calves to make the vellum (a writing material), an army of monks in a scriptorium, rare ink for the illustrations, and six months’ time. Writing for hours on end was torture (monks called it just that when they wrote in book margins, which read like ransom notes). Yet if not for the work of these monks, every single work from antiquity would have been lost. Almost no writing from ancient Greece or Rome survives in its original form; all of it was copied and preserved in medieval monasteries.

In this episode, we explore the arduous process of making a book. We will specifically look at the Codex Gigas, the largest medieval book in the world (it’s a yard tall, 19 inches across, 9 inches thick, and weighs 165 pounds). It is also known as The Devil’s Bible because according to legend, the author sold his soul to the devil to complete it.

Overall, we have these monks to thank for keeping ancient science and philosophy alive. If not for their punishing efforts to record these ancient documents, they would have been lost forever.
August 13, 2020
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to
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