Ancient roman Books

In antiquity, the standard form of books was taken from Pharaonic Egypt, scrolls usually made of papyrus and rarely of parchment. In ancient Rome, these book scrolls were widespread with Greek and Latin texts starting in the 3rd / 2nd century BC. The oldest Greek literature is likely that of Homer from 700 BC. It was not preserved as contemporary scrolls. Still, it can be assumed that the use of scrolls in Greece goes back to archaic times. In Greece, pictorial representations of scrolls exist from the 5th century BC. 

But the oldest original findings of Greek papyrus scrolls come from Egypt. They date back to the 4th century BC. At that time, the great philosophical schools of Athens already owned book collections. The founding of libraries in several capital cities of Hellenic kingdoms, for example in Alexandria or Pergamon, helped the ancient book production gain momentum. There is evidence that books were copied in the library of Alexandria and also for these other libraries. The philologists therefore must have had their own book production, or at least one linked to the library. 

Ancient Roman Scribes

The scribes in ancient Rome were paid according to the number of written lines. In a Diocletiani price edict (306 AD), three pay levels are listed. In the margin of the text, the lines were counted (stichometry). Since the price for private copies was calculated the same way, copies with stichometric numbers did not necessarily have to come from a bookseller. However, one sample from a bookseller might be a papyrus at the University of Milan, which contains the name Sosos in Greek script at the end of a commentary on Ilias. The papyrus, found in Egypt, could be from the Roman publishing house of the brothers Sosius. The epistles of Horace (65 – 8 BC) were also published by the brothers Sosius.

Changes in Ancient Books

The ancient papyrus scroll remained the predominant form for books until the 2nd century AD. In addition, since the 6th century BC there were early forms of the so-called codex in Greece. The ancient codex (plural codices) originally denoted a stack of wood or wax tablets with writing or that were intended for writing. Later these were also folded or bound papyrus or parchment “stacks” enclosed with two wooden blocks. In Latin, by the way, codex (originally caudex) means “trunk of a tree” or “block of wood”, and later the word meant “book” or “booklet.” In the Roman imperial period, both the Codex as well as the older book form, the scroll, were in use.

In the 4th century AD, the codex became the predominant form of book in late antiquity. Up to modern times, the book form changed very little. With the replacement of scrolls with the codex, however, papyrus was also increasingly replaced by the more precious and expensive parchment, which was also, however, dependent on imports.

Ancient Wooden Tablet Codices as the Predecessor of the Modern Book

The ancient wooden tablet codices remained in use for various purposes in the form of so-called diptych (also triptych or polyptych depending on the number of “pages”) throughout the entire ancient Roman period. This developed in the form of the codex made of parchment papers (rarely from papyrus) bound between two covers. The ancient codex was first in use at the same time as the book scrolls, but by late antiquity (4th/5th century AD) had replaced these as the standard form of ancient books. The oldest papyrus scrolls were even systematically copied to parchment codices. The reason: it was more convenient to use the codices and they were preferred by Christians. The late antique codex in this form is the predecessor of the Middle Age and modern book.