Inside Roman Libraries

Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity

GEORGE W. HOUSTON
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469617817_houston
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  • Book Info
    Inside Roman Libraries
    Book Description:

    Libraries of the ancient world have long held a place in the public imagination. Even in antiquity, the library at Alexandria was nearly legendary. Until now there has been relatively little research to discover what was inside these libraries, how the collections came into being and evolved, and who selected and maintained the holdings. In this engaging and meticulously researched study, George Houston examines a dozen specific book collections of Roman date in the first comprehensive attempt to answer these questions.Through a careful analysis of the contents of the collections, Houston reveals the personalities and interests of their owners, shows how manuscripts were acquired, organized, and managed, and identifies the various purposes that libraries served. He takes up the life expectancy of manuscripts, the sizes of libraries, and dangers to books, as well as the physical objects within libraries from scribal equipment to works of art. The result is a clearer, more specific, and more detailed picture of ancient book collections and the elements of Roman libraries than has previously been possible.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1782-4
    Subjects: History, Library Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    There is no lack of interest in, and scholarly study of, ancient book collections. Even in antiquity, the library at Alexandria entered the public imagination and became a virtual myth; and in modern times the royal library at Pergamum, the carbonized rolls from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, and the great imperial libraries in the city of Rome are all well known and much studied. In general, interest has centered on these collections as institutions, on their building histories and architecture, and on their functions.¹ Much less attention has been paid to the actual collections of book rolls,...

  6. 1 Assembling a Collection
    (pp. 12-38)

    We must begin at the beginning, with the creation of a book collection. How do book collections come into existence? What options did ancient Romans have when they wished to acquire texts, and how much choice—in variety of title, in quality of manuscripts—did they have? In this chapter, we will look in some detail at the different methods by which Romans acquired and built up their collections. For the most part, these are predictable, even obvious—they include purchase, gift, inheritance, and so on—and they are reasonably well attested in our sources. Others, such as confiscation, are...

  7. 2 Lists of Books Preserved on Papyrus
    (pp. 39-86)

    In the autumn of 47 BC, Cicero wrote from Rome to his freedman Tiro, who was at Cicero’s villa in Tusculum. Tiro was not feeling well. Cicero sent him best wishes, advice, news, and instructions, and also mentioned that he would soon be sending along ahorologium(presumably a sundial) and some books. Soon thereafter, he wrote a follow-up note: Tiro was to put the books away, but wait until he felt better before preparing a list (index) of them.¹ Cicero’s offhand remark gives Tiro no specific instructions, and that omission provides useful information about what he and Tiro took...

  8. 3 The Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum
    (pp. 87-129)

    From lists, we turn to the physical remains of book collections. Known from archaeology, these materials will help us explore not only the authors and titles in particular collections, but the physical nature of an ancient collection. What condition were the book rolls in? How old were they? Do we find any evidence in the surviving manuscripts that might help us learn something about how the ancients managed their collections, how they sorted and stored the volumes and recovered them from storage? We will look primarily at two types of remains. One class of evidence—concentrations of literary papyri found...

  9. 4 The Book Collections of Oxyrhynchus
    (pp. 130-179)

    Situated on a western branch of the Nile about two hundred kilometers south of Cairo, the ancient Oxyrhynchus (modern el-Behnesa) was a city of considerable size and importance. Its population probably numbered, at its height, between fifteen and thirty thousand, making it roughly the size of, or somewhat larger than, Pompeii, and it was the administrative center of the Oxyrhynchite nome.¹ Over the course of time, the people of the town discarded huge amounts of material, creating vast trash heaps; and fortunately for us, they occasionally discarded rolls and sheets of papyrus that contained works of literature, reference works, and...

  10. 5 Spaces, Storage, Equipment, and Art
    (pp. 180-216)

    There was more inside a Roman library than a collection of manuscripts. Even small collections required storage facilities of some sort, and if an owner wished to repair old or make new copies, or have his workers do so, scribal equipment would be needed. Book collections could then, as now, be impressive displays of one’s taste and intelligence, and the Romans responded to this potential by providing handsome surroundings for their collections, as well as works of art to complement them. In this chapter, we will survey such nonbook materials, treating them in three groups: first, containers and storage facilities...

  11. 6 Personnel and Their Activities
    (pp. 217-252)

    Book rolls and equipment we have; it is time now to put people in our libraries. In this chapter, I will set out the evidence for the people who managed and maintained book collections and libraries, from owner to slave worker, and for their tasks and responsibilities. Our goal is to see how Roman libraries functioned and how collections of manuscripts, once assembled, were organized, maintained, and made usable.¹ Given this focus, we will be concerned primarily with relatively large collections, since small collections would need only occasional maintenance and, in most cases, no specific staff. Through his comments on...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 253-264)

    If we return now to the questions we posed in the introduction about ancient book collections—how they were formed, what they contained, how they reflected their owners’ tastes, what quality of book rolls was to be found in them, and the like—we will find that we can suggest a range of responses to our questions. The range is wide, but it is not infinite. We have a significant body of evidence, grounded in surviving parts of Roman book collections, that provides us with a set of possibilities and establishes realistic limits for any Roman book collection. We know...

  13. APPENDIX 1. Lists of Books on Papyrus: Greek Texts, English Translations, and Commentary
    (pp. 265-279)
  14. APPENDIX 2. Checklist of Books in the Collection of the Villa of the Papyri
    (pp. 280-286)
  15. APPENDIX 3. Catalog of Manuscripts in the Breccia + GH3 Find
    (pp. 287-296)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 297-318)
  17. Index of Ancient Sources
    (pp. 319-322)
  18. General Index
    (pp. 323-328)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 329-330)