Codices Latini Antiquiores ("The More Ancient Latin Manuscripts"), generally abbreviated CLA, is a catalogue of all surviving manuscripts in Latin (whether codices or scrolls) written before the 9th century. The complete title of the work is Codices Latini Antiquiores: A Paleographical Guide to Latin Manuscripts Prior to the Ninth Century. Elias Avery Lowe founded the project in 1929 and directed it himself until his death in 1969.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the history of Latin script was insufficiently known and based only on partial analyses. The need for a complete catalogue of early manuscripts, with an international character, was strongly felt in order to evaluate the differences in importance between the various cultural centres of book production, the transmission of ancient culture, and the creation of new ways of writing.
CLA covers only literary works; this includes legal texts but not documentary texts such as charters. It comprises 11 volumes, organized according to the current location of the manuscripts. These were followed by a supplement in 1971 and two sets of addenda published in 1985 and 1992. Paleography is the foundational principle of the project: every entry is accompanied by a photograph of the manuscript in black and white, in a 1:1 scale, along with a description of its contents, its state of preservation, the kind of writing used, and the possible date and geographical origin.
Two similar projects have appeared: the first one for documentary texts from Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, under the title Chartae Latinae Antiquiores (ChLA). The second, under the title Manuscrits datés, was directed under the auspices of the Comité international de paléographie latine. Unlike CLA and ChLA, it covers the entire medieval period, but is confined to manuscripts bearing a specific date or datable within a narrow period.
Other editorial projects stick to a more limited scope:
A reprint of CLA was carried out in 1988, though in a reduced format in comparison to the original.
CLA is a major work for the understanding of the history of writing during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. The collection, representing the masterwork of Elias Avery Lowe during his activity at Princeton University, had its roots in Lowe's doctoral thesis about the oldest calendars from Monte Cassino (1908) under the direction of Ludwig Traube.
The German palaeographer Bernhard Bischoff worked on CLA starting from 1933, and is responsible for many of the descriptions. He subsequently embarked on a comparable catalogue of ninth-century continental manuscripts which remained unfinished at his death; two volumes have since appeared, covering libraries alphabetically from Aachen to Paderborn.
With the various supplements, the CLA comprise 18,884 codices or scrolls and more than 2,000 works, including a great number of fragments. Before the mid 4th century, only fragmentary scraps of literary texts and ancient classics survive; afterwards, until 800, most works are of a theological character. The copying and production of texts of secular interest stopped almost completely around the 6th and 7th centuries.
The facts found about Italy are remarkable in particular. Between 400 and 800, the production of books is constant, and the number of surviving works grows over time. These Italian works, most of which are of theological interest, were exported to all of Europe until such places started a production of books of their own. In France, this only occurs in the mid 8th century; in England and Ireland, around 730; in Germany and Switzerland, around 800. From the 5th century to the 7th century, the most important movement of books goes from Italy to France. During the 8th century, the transportation of manuscripts from France and the Anglo-Saxon domains (Ireland and England) towards the continent is a cultural and historical phenomenon of great importance.
However, such statistics can't be determined for classical pagan works, which were apparently displaced more recently.
Codices Latini Antiquiores. A Palaeographical Guide to Latin Manuscripts Prior to the Ninth Century. Ed. Elias Avery Lowe: