Top 10 oldest books in the world in 2023

Discovering the Written Treasures of the Past: Unveiling the Top 10 Oldest Surviving Books in the World as of 2023
top 10 oldest books in the world in 2023

As humans, we have a natural inclination towards storytelling and literature. Through the ages, we have created countless tales that have captured our imagination, and many of these stories have withstood the test of time, becoming classics that are still read and enjoyed today. However, while we marvel at the literary works that have endured throughout history, we may overlook the importance of the oldest surviving books in the world.

These ancient texts offer a unique glimpse into the earliest forms of writing, and they hold significant cultural and historical value. The knowledge and insights that can be gleaned from these texts are priceless, and they provide a valuable link to our past.

From the epic of Gilgamesh to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, these books are a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of our ancestors. They offer us a connection to our cultural heritage and give us a sense of the evolution of human civilization. Without these ancient books, our understanding of our past would be incomplete, and we would be less aware of the rich tapestry of human history.

Here are the top 10 oldest surviving books in the world :


1. Madrid Codex

Madrid Codex (Maya)

The Madrid Codex, also known as the Tro-Cortesianus Codex, is among the few surviving books that can be attributed to the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of 900-1521 AD. Discovered in Spain during the 1860s, it is believed to have been created in Yucatán and written in Yucatecan, a group of Mayan languages that includes Itza, Yucatec, Mopan, and Lacandon. Experts hold varying opinions regarding the codex's exact creation date, with some suggesting it was produced before the 16th-century Spanish conquest. Presently, the book is housed in the Museo de América in Madrid, Spain, and is believed to be approximately 494 years old.

2. Gutenberg Bible

Gutenberg Bible, Lenox Copy, New York Public Library, 2009

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Gutenberg Bible, also known as the 42-line Bible, is the oldest mechanically printed book in the world, with the first copies printed between 1454 and 1455 AD by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany. Although there were earlier examples of book printing in China using movable type, the Gutenberg Bible is considered to be the oldest surviving printed book of its kind in the Western world. Today, there are 48 original copies known to exist, with 21 being complete. The included image depicts the copy held by the New York Public Library, which was the first to be brought to the USA. Its estimated age is 559 years old.


3. Celtic Psalter

Celtic Psalter - Image via University of Ediburgh

Scotland's oldest surviving book, the Celtic Psalter, is often compared to Ireland's Book of Kells. This pocket-sized book contains the Psalms and is currently held at the University of Edinburgh. Although it was created in the 11th century AD, it was not displayed to the public until 2009. The University of Edinburgh website offers a glimpse of some of the book's pages. The Celtic Psalter is estimated to be 938 years old.

4. Diamond Sūtra

Diamond Sutra. Cave 17, Dunhuang, ink on paper

The Diamond Sūtra, a sacred Buddhist text, is widely regarded as the oldest surviving printed book with a confirmed date of creation. Discovered alongside other printed materials in a walled-up cave in China, the book is comprised of Chinese characters printed on a scroll of gray paper and wrapped around a wooden pole. The book was meticulously copied by a man named Wong Jei in May 868 AD, as per his parents' instructions, which is documented at the end of the text. As of now, the Diamond Sūtra is estimated to be 1,145 years old.

5. Siddur, Jewish Prayer Book

The Green Collection - Siddur, Jewish Prayer book

In 2013, a significant finding was made - a Jewish prayer book called a "siddur" that dates back to around 840 AD. This discovery marked the third major one of the year. The book is fully intact and still in its original binding, and it is so ancient that it includes Babylonian vowel pointing, similar to the language of Old or Middle English for English speakers. Experts used this information to determine that the book was created during the time of the Geonim, who were Babylonian and Talmudic leaders during the Middle Ages. Its estimated age is 1,173 years old.

6. Book of Kells

Book of Kells

Believed to have been crafted by Celtic monks circa 800 AD, the Book of Kells is housed in the Trinity College Library located in Dublin, Ireland. This Latin manuscript Gospel book is impressively decorated with illuminations and features the four Gospels of the New Testament. It is estimated to be around 1,213 years old.

7. St Cuthbert Gospel

St Cuthbert Gospel - British Library

The St Cuthbert Gospel, which was buried with St Cuthbert, an early British Christian leader, on the island of Lindisfarne off Northumberland around 698 AD, is Europe's oldest known surviving intact book. Despite narrowly surviving Viking invasions, the book was eventually moved to Durham to evade Viking raiders, where it was rediscovered in 1104 AD. In 2012, the British Library purchased the book for £9 million as part of a fundraising campaign. An inscription was added to the inside cover when the book was rediscovered. (See image below.)

St Cutchbert inscription - British Library

The digitized version of the book is now available on the website of the British Library. It is believed to be around 1,315 years old.

8. Nag Hammadi Library

Nag Hammadi Library - Codex IV

In 1945, a man from Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt unearthed a sealed jar containing 13 leather-bound papyrus codices, which are considered to be among the oldest surviving bound books. These codices contain Gnostic texts and are believed to date back to the first half of the 4th century AD. They were written in Coptic but are thought to be copies of Greek originals. The Nag Hammadi codices are now housed at the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt, and are estimated to be 1,693 years old.

9. Pyrgi Gold Tablets

Pyrgi Gold Tablets

Discovered during the excavation of an ancient sanctuary in Pyrgi, Italy in 1964, three gold plates believed to be 2,513 years old have been found. The plates, which have holes around their edges, are thought to have been bound together at one time. Two of the plates are inscribed in Etruscan text, while the third is written in Phoenician and contains a dedication from King Thefarie Velianas to the Phoenician goddess Astarte. These precious artifacts are now on display at the National Etruscan Museum in Rome, Italy.

10. Etruscan Gold Book

Etruscan Gold Book

Discovered 70 years ago during the excavation of a canal off the Strouma river in Bulgaria, the Etruscan Gold Book is believed to be the world's oldest surviving multi-page book, dating back to approximately 660 BC. The book consists of six sheets of 24-carat gold bound together with rings and features Etruscan characters as well as depictions of a horse, horseman, Siren, lyre, and soldiers. The anonymous 87-year-old donor presented the book to Bulgaria's National History Museum in Sofia. The Etruscans, an ancient group of people who migrated from Lydia (now modern-day Turkey) and settled in central Italy nearly 3,000 years ago, created the book. It is estimated to be 2,673 years old.




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