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Libraries in the Ancient World

Libraries in the Ancient World

Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Libraries in the Ancient World
    Book Description:

    This delightful book tells the story of ancient libraries from their very beginnings, when "books" were clay tablets and writing was a new phenomenon. Renowned classicist Lionel Casson takes us on a lively tour, from the royal libraries of the most ancient Near East, through the private and public libraries of Greece and Rome, down to the first Christian monastic libraries. To the founders of the first public libraries of the Greek world goes the credit for creating the prototype of today's library buildings and the science of organizing books in them.

    Casson recounts the development of ancient library buildings, systems, holdings, and patrons, addressing questions on a wide variety of topics, such as:

    • What was the connection between the rise in education and literacy and the growth of libraries?

    • Who contributed to the early development of public libraries, especially the great library at Alexandria?

    • What did ancient libraries include in their holdings?

    • How did ancient libraries acquire books?

    • What was the nature of publishing in the Greek and Roman world?

    • How did different types of users (royalty, scholars, religious figures) and different kinds of "books" (tablets, scrolls, codices) affect library arrangements?

    • How did Christianity transform the nature of library holdings?

    Just as a library yields unexpected treasures to a meandering browser, this entertaining book offers to its perusers the surprising history of the rise and development of ancient libraries-a fascinating story never told before.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13313-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Maps
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 The Beginnings: The Ancient Near East
    (pp. 1-16)

    It was in Egypt and Mesopotamia, lands abundantly watered by great rivers, that civilization arose. And it is there that we find the earliest examples of that key feature of civilization, writing: inscribed clay tablets that date shortly before 3000 B.C. have been discovered among the archaeological remains of the Sumerians, a gifted people settled in southern Mesopotamia.

    The Egyptians were not far behind, but we cannot follow the history of their writings nearly as well because they used a perishable writing material. In ancient times the banks of the Nile were lined with papyrus plants—the bulrushes of the...

  6. 2 The Beginnings: Greece
    (pp. 17-30)

    The libraries of the Near East, of limited scope and purpose, were a far cry from the library as we know it, with shelves full of books on all subjects and doors open to readers with interests in all subjects. Such a library had to await the coming of the Greeks. For they were a people endowed with what was needed to bring it into existence—a high level of literacy and an abiding interest in intellectual endeavor.

    As it happens, when the Greeks first appear in history, during the Mycenaean Age as historians call it, roughly 1600 to 1200...

  7. 3 The Library of Alexandria
    (pp. 31-47)

    The library of Alexandria, founded around 300 B.C. or a few decades later, was the first of its kind, and throughout ancient history remained the greatest of its kind. Yet it seems to have suddenly sprung into being. Its nearest match in size, Ashurbanipal’s library, was for the king’s use and specialized in materials for his particular needs. The collection Aristotle put together, despite its extent and variety, was strictly personal, a tool for his multifarious studies. The library of Alexandria was comprehensive, embracing books of all sorts from everywhere, and it was public, open to anyone with fitting scholarly...

  8. 4 The Growth of Libraries
    (pp. 48-60)

    By the beginning of the second century B.C., there were other royal libraries in existence besides Alexandria’s.

    There was a library in the capital of the Seleucids at Antioch at least by the reign of Antiochus III (222–187 B.C.), perhaps even earlier. It was important enough to entice Euphorion, a renowned scholar-poet, into accepting Antiochus’ offer of the post of director. Nothing else is recorded about it; apparently it never acquired much of a reputation.

    The library that did acquire a reputation was the creation of the Attalids of Pergamum, a dynasty whose founder, Philetaerus, was a man of...

  9. 5 The Beginnings: Rome
    (pp. 61-79)

    Sicily and the southern part of the Italian peninsula had been settled by Greeks from the eighth century B.C. on. Through trade and travel, their highly developed culture with its convenient alphabetic system of writing became known to the various peoples to the north, above all to the Etruscans, who, from the seventh to the fourth century B.C., dominated the central part of the peninsula. The Etruscans took over the Greek alphabet and adapted it for writing Etruscan. Just south of them, and in close contact with them, lived the Romans. They took over the Etruscan alphabet and adapted it...

  10. 6 Libraries of the Roman Empire: The City of Rome
    (pp. 80-108)

    Julius Caesar, in the days when he “bestrode the world like a colossus,” had plans to enhance Rome’s cultural status by giving it a public library; his assassination cut the project short. It was revived by one of his supporters, Asinius Pollio, who was not only a respected author himself but whose circle of friends included such literary lights as Catullus and Horace and Vergil, three of Rome’s greatest poets. Indeed, it was his intervention that saved Vergil’s property from being confiscated during the conflicts that followed upon Caesar’s death. In 39 B.C., Pollio commanded a successful military expedition and...

  11. 7 Libraries of the Roman Empire: Outside the City of Rome
    (pp. 109-123)

    In A.D. 395 the vast expanse ruled by Rome, stretching from Britain to the Near East, split into an Eastern and a Western Empire. It was the inevitable result of a fundamental difference. What became the Eastern Empire—Greece, the Greek islands, Asia Minor, the Levant, Egypt—was Greek-speaking and enjoyed a Greek culture that long predated conquest by Rome and that was never displaced, despite the flooding in of Roman soldiers, administrators, traders, businessmen, and others. In what became the Western Empire—Italy, France, Spain, Britain, the northern coast of Africa—the situation was reversed: once the legions had...

  12. 8 From Roll to Codex
    (pp. 124-135)

    Until the second century A.D. library holdings were all in the form of rolls, some of parchment but the majority of papyrus. When the curtain goes up on the early Middle Ages half a millennium or so later, codices, in shape and make-up like the modern book, have replaced the roll, and they are chiefly of parchment. The roll continued to serve for documents and the like, writings of the sort that go into files or archives, but the codex took over in literature, scientific studies, technical manuals, and so on, writings of the sort that go onto library shelves....

  13. 9 Toward the Middle Ages
    (pp. 136-146)

    By the beginning of the fifth century A.D. the Roman Empire had undergone two fundamental changes, one political and the other spiritual. It had split into halves, each ruled by its own emperor, a western with its capital at Ravenna or Milan and an eastern with its capital at Constantinople. In both, Christianity had emerged as the prevailing religion.

    The rise and triumph of Christianity had a profound effect upon literature: it elevated religion into a predominant concern. To be sure, there were still writers, in both Greek and Latin, who dealt with secular subjects, but they are minor compared...

  14. Abbreviations
    (pp. 147-148)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 149-166)
  16. List of Illustrations
    (pp. 167-170)
  17. Index
    (pp. 171-177)