Sunday, 24 July 2005
Books in Ancient Rome
A bucket of scrolls
Printing did not exist in the ancient world so books were all hadwritten. There was no such thing as paper made of wood pulp either, so papyrus was used, a sheet made of processed papyrus reeds which grew in the Nile region of Egypt. Papyrus was indeed one of Egypt's most important exports.
Papyrus was expensive and it came in several gradings according to quality. A encyclopaedia from around 70 A.D. lists these as:
Grade 1: the Emperor Augustus's own, the finest of all, favoured above all for letter-writing (these were 13-inch sheets)
Grade 2: His wife Livia's own (also 13 inches)
Grade 3: priestly, reserved for Egyptian sacred texts (10-inch sheets)
Grade 4: amphitheatre papyrus, amde at Rome in Fannius' workshop under the amphitheatre and extremely thin (9-inch sheets)
Grade 5: Saite, named after an Egyptian town with low quality papyrus beds (less than 9 inches)
Grade 6: Taeneotic, named after another Egyptian town, sold by weight, not quality
Grade 7: traders', no good for writing on, used for wrapping bundles of finer papyrus or other merchandise (less than 6-inch sheets)
As a nobleman, if you wished to borrow a particular literary work from someone, you would obtain the said scrolls and have your slaves copy them all.
The shape of the book we would recognise today was called a codex and was mainly used to bind documents and was not widely in use.
As for the scrolls, each individual one could not hold a large amount of text so a book would be conprised of a bucket of several scrolls, depending on the size of the work of course.
Posted by Anna at Sunday, July 24, 2005