"Libraries in the Ancient World" by Lionel Casson

Libraries in the Ancient World Lionel Casson

Publication date:
11 Aug 2002
Yale University Press
192 pages: 197 x 127mm
30 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

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.

Lionel Casson is Professor Emeritus of Classics, New York University, and the author of Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World as well as many other books on ancient maritime history and ancient travel.

"Which came first, the book or the library? This monograph by the classicist Lionel Casson provides a detailed answer that will appeal not just to bibliophiles but to anyone who enjoys picking up odd bits of intriguing historical information."—Amanda Heller, Boston Sunday Globe

"[I]nformative. . . . [A] succinct account of the development of reading, writing and book collecting in Mesopotamia, Greece, and the Roman Empire. . . . The reader can only wish . . . that he follows this short but engaging book with a sequel."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"[A] charming and brief narrative history of the birth (and deaths) of libraries in the ancient world."—Robert Messenger, New York Times Book Review

"[A] book that many readers will enjoy immensely. Yale has produced a handsome volume, well designed by Mary Valencia (off-white paper stock, inviting layout, abundant illustrations), neither too long nor too short, and written in limpid, understated prose by an expert on ancient civilization. For a quick overview of 3,000 years of book making, selling, care and preservation—from roughly 2,500 B.C. to 600 A.D.—this is the roll, or rather codex, to start with. . . . [D]iverting and instructive."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

"A wonderful book for those who love libraries and the books within."—History Magazine

"Casson’s book is not limited to where and when important libraries existed, it offers a social history transcending the idea of a library as we know it. . . . As appealing to the archaeologist as the bibliophile."—Publishers Weekly

"A wonderful book on a wonderful subject. Casson knows what is interesting and tells us in spellbinding style."—G.W. Bowersock, Institute for Advanced Study