Inside Roman Libraries

Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity

By George W. Houston

Inside Roman Libraries

348 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 halftones, 7 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3920-8
    Published: July 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-1781-7
    Published: November 2014

Studies in the History of Greece and Rome

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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 W. 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 considers 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.

About the Author

George W. Houston is professor emeritus of classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For more information about George W. Houston, visit the Author Page.


“An excellent teaching resource and a valuable addition to the collection of anyone with an interest in the book in the ancient world.”--Journal of Roman Studies

“George Houston’s comprehensive survey of the life and contents of Roman libraries should be regarded as a major contribution to the work of both students of ancient library culture and classical scholars sensu lato.”--GNOMON

"Inside Roman Libraries is a pleasure to read. Through a careful collection of evidence, it makes a highly original contribution to our understanding of ancient literary culture."--Peter van Minnen, University of Cincinnati

Multimedia & Links

Read: Houston's guest blog post, "From a Trash Heap: The Mind of an Ancient Book Collector," at