1. The Family
  2. Roman Names
  3. Marriage and Women
  4. Children and Education
  5. Slaves and Dependents
  6. The House and Furniture
  7. Dress and Ornaments
  8. Food and Meals
  9. Amusements
  10. Travel and Correspondence
  11. Sources of Income
  12. Farming and Country Life
  13. Town Life
  14. Funeral Customs
  15. The Roman Religion
  16. The Water Supply of Rome

The Private Life of the Romans
by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston
Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932)


Table of contents



REFERENCES: Marquardt, 469-474, 731-738, 799-833; Blümner, 442-474; Becker-Göll, II, 418-462, 469-474, III, 1-45; Friedländer, I, 268-428; Sandys, Companion, 208-210, 237-242, 421-435; Cagnat-Chapot, I, 246-249, 41-56, II, 285-296; Pauly-Wissowa, under carpentum, cisium, charta, Brief, Buch, Buchhandel, Bibliotheken, cursus pūblicus; Smith, Harper’s, Rich, Walters, Daremberg-Saglio, under via, tabula or tabulae, liber, bibliothēca, and other Latin words in the text of the book; Baumeister, 2079-2083, 354-356, 361-364; Jones, Companion, 40-51; McDaniel, 168-178. See, also, Hall, 1-21, 53-69; Johnston, 13-26, 27-47; Showerman, 485-502, 235-236; Gest, 108-169.

Introduction (§379)

Travel by Water (§380)

Travel by Land (§381)

The Vehicles (§382)

Carriages (§383)

The Raeda and Cisium (§384)

The Roads (§385-386)

Construction (§387)

The Inns (§388)

Speed (§389)

Sending Letters (§390)

Writing the Letter (§391)

Sealing and Opening of Letters (§392)

Books (§393)

Manufacture of Papyrus (§394)

Pens and Ink (§395)

Making the Roll (§396-397)

Size of the Rolls (§398)

Multiplication of Books (§399)

Commercial Publication (§400)

Rapidity and Cost of Production (§401)

Libraries (§402)

   379. For our knowledge of the means of traveling employed by the Romans we have to rely upon indirect sources (§ 12), because, if any books of travel were written by Romans they have not come down to us. We know, however, that while no distance was too great to be traversed, no hardships too severe to be surmounted, the Roman in general cared little for travel in itself, for the mere pleasure, that is, of sight-seeing as we enjoy it now. This was partly due to his blindness to the charms of nature in its wilder aspects, more perhaps to the feeling that to be out of Rome was to be forgotten. He made once in his life the grand tour (§ 116), when he visited famous cities and strange or historic sites; he spent a year abroad, in the train of some general or governor (§ 117), but, this done, only the most urgent private affairs or public duties could draw him from Italy. And Italy meant to him only Rome and his country estates (§ 145). These he visited when the hot months had closed the courts and adjourned the senate; he roamed restlessly from one estate to another, enjoying the beauty of the Italian landscape, but impatient for his real life to begin again. Even when public or private business called him from Rome, he kept in touch with affairs by correspondence; he expected his friends to write him voluminous letters, and was ready himself to return the favor when positions should be reversed. So, too, the proconsul kept as near to Rome as the boundaries of his province would permit.

   380. Travel by Water. The means of travel were the same as our ancestors used a century ago. By water the Roman used sailing vessels, rarely canal boats; by land, vehicles drawn by horses or mules; for short distances sedan chairs or litters. There were, however, few transportation companies, few lines of boats or vehicles, that is, few running between certain places and prepared to carry passengers at a fixed price on a regular schedule. FIG. 244: A ROMAN BOAT. From a relief at RomeThe traveler by sea whose means did not permit him to buy or charter a vessel for his exclusive use had often to wait at the port until he found a boat going in the desired direction and then make such terms as he could for his passage. And there were other inconveniences. The boats were small, and this made them uncomfortable in rough weather; the lack of the compass caused them to follow the coast as much as possible, and this often increased the distance; in winter navigation was usually suspended. Traveling by water was, therefore, avoided as much as possible. Rather than sail to Athens from Ostia or Naples, for example, the traveler would go by land to Brundisium, by sea across to Dyrrachium, and continue the journey by land. Between Brundisium and Dyrrachium boats were constantly passing, and the only delay to be feared was that caused by bad weather. The short voyage, only 100 miles, was usually made within twenty-four hours. For a detailed and easily accessible account of an ancient voyage, see Acts, xxvii-xxviii.

   381. Travel by Land. The Roman who traveled by land was distinctly better off than Americans of the time of the Revolution. His inns were not so good, it is true, but his vehicles and horses were fully equal to theirs, and his roads were the best that have been built until very recent times. Horseback riding was not a recognized mode of traveling (the Romans had no saddles), but there were vehicles, covered and uncovered, with two wheels and with four, for one horse and for two or more. These were kept for hire outside the gates of all important towns, but the price is not known. To save the trouble of loading and unloading the baggage it is probable that persons going great distances took their own vehicles and merely hired fresh horses from time to time. There were, however, no post-routes and no places where horses were changed at the end of regular stages for ordinary travelers, though there were such arrangements for couriers and officers of the government, especially in the provinces. For short journeys and when haste was not necessary, travelers would naturally use their own horses as well as their own carriages. Of the pomp which often accompanied such journeys something has been said in § 152.

   382. The Vehicles. The streets of Rome were so narrow that wagons and carriages were not allowed upon them at hours when they were likely to be thronged with people. Through many years of the Republic, and for at least two centuries afterwards, the streets were closed to all vehicles during the first ten hours of the day, with the exception of four classes only: market wagons, which brought produce into the city by night and were allowed to leave empty the next morning, transfer wagons (plaustra) conveying material for public buildings, the carriages used by the Vestals, flāminēs, and rēx sacrōrum in their priestly functions, and the chariots driven in the pompa circēnsis (§ 343) and in triumphal processions. Similar regulations were in force in almost all Italian towns. This, in imperial times, made general the use within the walls of the lectīca and its bearers (§ 151). (See illustration in Walters under lectīca, and Sandys, Companion, page 209.) Besides the litter in which the passenger reclined, a sedan chair in which he sat erect was common. Both were covered and curtained. The lectīca was sometimes used for short journeys, and in place of the six or eight bearers, mules were sometimes put between the shafts, one before and one behind, but not until late in the Empire. Such a litter was called basterna.

FIG. 247
From a relief now in the Louvre, Paris.

   383. Carriages. The monuments show us rude representations of several kinds of vehicles and the names of at least eight have come down to us, but we are not able positively to connect the representations and the names, and have, therefore, only very general notions of the form and construction of even the most common. Some, of ancient design, were retained wholly, or chiefly, for use as state carriages in the processions that have been mentioned. Such were the pīlentum and the carpentum, the former with four wheels, the latter with two, both covered, both drawn by two horses, both used by the Vestals and priests. The carpentum is rarely spoken of as a traveling carriage; its use for such a purpose was a mark of luxury. According to Livy, the first Tarquin came from Etruria to Rome in a carpentum, and the one shown in Figure 247 is a carriage of this kind. The petōritum also was used in the triumphal processions, but only for the spoils of war. It was essentially a baggage wagon and was occupied by the servants in a traveler’s train. The carrūca was a luxurious traveling van, of which we hear first in the late Empire. It was furnished with a bed on which the traveler reclined by day and slept by night.

   384. The Raeda and Cisium. The usual traveling vehicles, however, were the raeda and the cisium. The former was large and heavy, covered, had four wheels, and was drawn by two or four horses. FIG. 248: THE CISIUMIt was regularly used by persons accompanied by their families or having baggage with them, and was kept for hire for this purpose. For a rapid journey, when a man had no traveling companions and little baggage, the two-wheeled and uncovered cisium was the favorite vehicle. It was drawn by two horses, one between shafts and the other attached by traces; it is possible that three were sometimes used. The cisium had a single seat, broad enough to accommodate a driver also. It is very likely that the cart on a monument found near Trèves (Fig. 248) is a cisium, but the identification is not certain. Cicero speaks of these carts making fifty-six miles in ten hours, probably with one or more changes of horses. Other vehicles of the cart type that came into use during the Empire were the essedum and the covīnus, but we do not know how they differed from the cisium. These carts had no springs, but the traveler took care to have plenty of cushions. It is worth noticing that none of the vehicles mentioned has a Latin name; the names, with perhaps one exception (pīlentum), are Celtic. In like manner, most of our own carriages had foreign names, and many French terms came in with the automobile.

   385. The Roads. The engineering skill of the Romans and the lavish outlay of money made their roads the best that the world has known until very recent times (§ 386). They were strictly military works, built for strategic purposes, intended to facilitate the dispatching of supplies to the frontier and the massing of troops in the shortest possible time. Beginning with the first important acquisition of territory in Italy (the Via Appia was built in 312 B.C.) they kept pace with the expansion of the Republic and the Empire, so that a great network of roads covered the Roman world, all indeed leading to Rome, as the proverb has it. In Britain, for instance, the roads, some of which are still in use, converged at Londinium (London). They ran as far north as the wall of Antoninus Pius, and out to points on the coast. After crossing the Channel one found the highway again as it may still be traced, running down through Gaul and on to Rome. In the fourth century of our era nineteen great roads, it is said, went out from Rome through the fifteen gates of the Wall of Aurelian. In Italy roads were built at the cost of the State; in the provinces the conquered communities bore the expense of construction and maintenance, but the work was done under the direction of Roman engineers, and often by the legions between campaigns. Roads ran in lines as straight as possible between the towns they were to connect, with frequent crossroads and branch roads only less carefully constructed. The grade was always easy, because hills were cut through, gorges and rivers were crossed on arches of solid stone, and valleys and marshes were spanned by viaducts of the same material.

FIG. 250

   386. The surface of the roads was rounded, and there were gutters at the sides to carry off rain and melted snow. FIG. 251: A MILESTONEMilestones showed the distance from the starting-point of the road and often that to important places in the opposite direction, as well as the names of the consuls or emperors under whom the roads were built or repaired (Fig. 251) The roadbed was wide enough to permit the meeting and passing, without trouble, of the largest wagons. For the pedestrian there was a footpath on either side, sometimes paved, and seats for him to rest upon were often built by the milestones. The horseman found blocks of stone set here and there for his convenience in mounting and dismounting. Where springs were discovered, wayside fountains for men and watering-troughs for cattle were constructed. Such roads often went a hundred years without repairs, and some portions of them have endured the traffic of centuries and are still in good condition today. It might be noted that in the United States good roads finally came into existence and milestones and crossroad signs were revived neither for military nor business purposes, but for pleasure driving, with the increased use of the automobile.


   387. Construction. Our knowledge of the construction of the military roads is derived from a treatise of Vitruvius on pavements and from existing remains of the roads themselves. The Latin phrase for building a road, mūnīre viam, epitomizes the process exactly, for mūnīre means “to build a wall” (moenia); and throughout its full length, whether carried above the level of the surrounding country (Fig. 252) or in a cut below it, the road was a solid wall averaging fifteen feet in width and perhaps three feet in height. FIG. 252: EMBANKMENT AND CROSS SECTIONThe method followed will be easily understood from Figure 253. A cut (fossa) was first made of the width of the intended road and of a depth sufficient to hold the filling, which varied with the nature of the soil. The earth at the bottom of the cut (E) was leveled and made solid with heavy rammers (§ 213). Upon this was spread the statūmen (D), a foundation course of stones not too large to be held in the hand; the thickness of the layer varied with the porosity of the soil. Over this came the rūdus (C), a nine inch layer of coarse concrete or rubble (§ 210) made of broken stones and lime. Over this was laid the nucleus (B), a six-inch bedding of fine concrete made of broken potsherds and lime, in which was set the final course (A) of blocks of lava or of other hard stone furnished by the adjacent country. This last course (dorsum) made the roadway (agger viae) and was laid with the greatest care so as to leave no seams or fissures to admit water or to jar the wheels of vehicles. FIG. 253: CONSTRUCTION OF A ROADIn the diagram the stones are represented with the lower surface flat, but they were commonly cut to a point or edge, as in Figure 252, in order to be held more firmly by the nucleus. The agger was bounded on the sides by umbōnēs (G, G), curbstones beyond which lay the footpaths (F, F), sēmitae or marginēs. On a subsoil of rocky character the foundation course or even the first and second courses might be unnecessary. On the less traveled branch roads the agger seems to have consisted of a thick course of gravel (glārea), well rounded and compacted, instead of the blocks of stone, and the crossroads may have been of still cheaper materials.

   388. The Inns. There were numerous lodging houses and restaurants in all the cities and towns of Italy, but all were of the meanest character. Respectable travelers avoided them scrupulously; they either had stopping-places of their own (dēversōria) on roads that they used frequently, or claimed entertainment from friends (§ 303) and hospitēs (§ 184), whom they would be sure to have everywhere. FIG. 254: PLAN OF AN INN, POMPEIINothing but accident, stress of weather, or unusual haste could drive them to places of public entertainment (tabernae dēversōriae, caupōnae). The guests of such places were, therefore, of the lowest class, and innkeepers (caupōnēs) and inns bore the most unsavory reputations. Food and beds were furnished the travelers, and their horses were accommodated under the same roof and in unpleasant proximity. The plan of an inn at Pompeii (Fig. 254) may be taken as a fair sample of all such houses. The entrance (a) is broad enough to admit wagons into the wagon-room (f), behind which is the stable (k). In one corner is a watering-trough (l), in another a lātrīna (i). On either side of the entrance is a wine-room (b, d), with the room of the proprietor (c) opening off one of them. The small rooms (e, g, h) are bedrooms, and other bedrooms in the second story over the wagon-room were reached by the back stairway. The front stairway has an entrance of its own from the street; the rooms reached by it had probably no connection with the inn. Behind this stairway on the lower floor was a fireplace (m) with a water heater. An idea of the moderate prices charged in such places may be had from a bill which has come down to us in an inscription preserved in the Museum at Naples: a pint of wine with bread, one cent; other food, two cents; hay for a mule, two cents. The corners of streets, especially at points close to the city walls, were the favorite sites for inns, and they had signs (the elephant, the eagle, etc.) like those of much later times.

   389. Speed. The lack of public conveyances running on regular schedules (§ 380) makes it impossible to tell the speed ordinarily made by travelers. Speed depended upon the total distance to be covered, the degree of comfort demanded by the traveler, the urgency of his business, and the facilities at his command. FIG. 256: A TRAVELER STARTING OUT. Grave relief from Aesernia, now at NaplesCicero speaks of fifty-six miles in ten hours by cart (§ 384) as something unusual, but on Roman roads it ought to have been possible to go much faster, if fresh horses were provided at the proper distances, and if the traveler could stand the fatigue. The sending of letters gives the best standard of comparison. There was no public postal service, but every Roman of position had among his slaves special messengers (tabellāriī), whose business it was to deliver important letters for him. They covered from twenty-six to twenty-seven miles on foot in a day, and from forty to fifty in carts. We know that letters were sent from Rome to Brundisium, 370 miles, in six days, and on to Athens in fifteen more. A letter from Sicily would read Rome on the seventh day, from Africa on the twenty-first day, from Britain on the thirty-third day, and from Syria on the fiftieth day. In the time of Washington it was no unusual thing for a letter to take a month to go from the eastern to the southern states in winter.

FIG. 257

   390. Sending Letters. For long distances, especially over seas, sending letters by special messengers was very expensive, and, except for the most urgent matters, recourse was had to traders and travelers going in the desired direction. Persons sending messengers or intending to travel themselves made it a point of honor to notify their friends in time for letters to be prepared; they also carried letters for entire strangers, if requested to do so. There was great danger, of course, that letters sent in this way might fall into the wrong hands or be lost. It was customary, therefore, to send a copy of an important letter (litterae eōdem exemplō, ūnō exemplō), or at least an abstract of its contents, by another person and, if possible, by a different route. It was also possible to disguise the meaning by the use of fictitious names known to the correspondents only or by the employment of regular cipher codes. Suetonius tells us that Caesar simply substituted for each letter the one that stood three places lower in the alphabet (D for A, E for B, etc.), but elaborate and intricate systems were also in use.

   391. Writing the Letter. The extensive correspondence carried on by every Roman of position (§ 379) made it impossible for him to write with his own hand any but the most important of his letters or those to his dearest friends. The place of the stenographer and writing machine of today was taken by slaves or freedmen, often highly educated (§ 154), who wrote at his dictation. Such slaves were called in general terms librāriī, more accurately servī ab epistulīs, servī ā manū, or āmanuēnsēs. Notes and short letters were written on tablets (tabellae: Fig. 49, page 87) of firwood or ivory of various sizes, often fastened together in sets of two or more by wire hinges (cōdicillī, pugillārēs: Fig. 257). FIG. 258: BRONZE STILUSThe inner faces were slightly hollowed out, and the depression was nearly filled with wax, so as to leave a raised rim about the edges, much like the frame of an old-fashioned slate. Upon the wax the letters were traced with an ivory, bone, or metal tool (stilus, graphium) which had one end pointed like a pencil, for writing, and the other broad and flat, like a paper cutter, for smoothing the wax Fig. 258). With the flat end mistakes could be corrected or the whole letter erased and the tablets used again, often for the reply to the letter itself. Such tablets were used not only for letters, but also for the schoolboy’s exercises (§ 110) and for business documents. For longer communications the Romans used a coarse “paper” (papyrus), the making of which is described in § 394. Upon it they wrote with pens made of split reeds and with a thick ink made of soot (lampblack) mixed with resinous gums. Paper, pens, and ink were poor, and papyrus expensive, and the bulky tablets, which could be used again, were preferred for all but the longest letters. FIG. 259: A LETTER WRITTEN ON PAPYRUSParchment did not come into general use until the fourth or fifth century of our era.

   392. Sealing and Opening of Letters. For sealing the letter, thread (līnum), wax (cēra), and a seal (signum) were necessary. The seal (§ 255) not only secured the letter against improper inspection, but also attested the genuineness of those written by the librāriī; autograph signatures seem not to have been thought of. The tablets were put together face to face with the writing on the inside, and the thread was passed around them and through small holes bored through them, and was then securely tied. Upon the knot softened wax was dropped and to this the seal was applied. Letters written on sheets of papyrus (schedae) were rolled longitudinally and then secured in the same way. On the outside was written the name of the person addressed, with, perhaps, the place where he was to be found, if the letter was not sent by a special messenger. When the letter was opened, care was taken not to break the seal; the cutting of the thread gave access to the contents. If the letter was preserved, the seal was kept attached to it in order to attest its authenticity. In the fifth chapter of the Third Oration against Catiline Cicero describes the opening of a letter.

FIG. 260

   393. Books. Almost all the materials used by the ancients to receive writing were known to the Romans and used by them for one purpose or another, at different times. For the publication of works of literature, however, during the period when the great classics were produced, the only material was “paper” (papyrus), the only form the roll (volūmen). The book of modern form (cōdex), written on parchment (membrānum), played an important part in the preservation of the literature of Rome, but did not come into use for the purpose of publication until long after the canon of the classics had been completed and the great masters had passed away. The Romans adopted the papyrus roll from the Greeks; the Greeks had received it from the Egyptians. When the Egyptians first used it we do not know, but we have in museums Egyptian papyrus rolls that were written at least twenty-five hundred years before the Christian era. The oldest Roman books of this sort that have been preserved were found in Herculaneum, badly charred and broken. Those that have been deciphered contain no Latin author of any value. A specimen of the writing on one of these, a mere fragment by an unknown author, is shown in Figure 260. At the time it was buried, there were still to be seen rolls in the handwriting of the Gracchi, and autograph copies of works of Cicero, Vergil, and Horace must have been common enough. All these have since perished, so far as we know.

FIG. 261

   394. Manufacture of Papyrus. The papyrus reed (Fig. 261) had a triangular stem which reached a maximum height of perhaps fourteen feet with a thickness of four or five inches. The stem contained a pith of which the paper made by a process substantially as follows. The stem was cut crosswise, and the rind removed. The pith was cut into thin lengthwise strips as evenly as possible. The first seems to have been made from one of the angles to the middle of the opposite side, and the others parallel with it to the right and to the left. The strips were then assorted according to width, and enough of them were arranged side by side as closely as possible upon a board to make their combined width almost equal to the length of the single strip. Across these was laid another layer at right angles, with perhaps a coating of glue or paste between them. The mat-like sheet that resulted was then soaked in water and pressed or hammered into a substance not unlike our paper, called by the Romans, charta. After the sheets (schedae) had been dried and bleached in the sun, they were freed of rough places by scraping and trimmed into uniform sizes, depending upon the length of the strips of pith. The fewer the strips that composed each sheet, or in other words the greater the width of each strip, the closer the texture of the charta and the better its quality. It was possible, therefore, to grade the paper by its size, and the width of the sheet rather than its height was taken as the standard. The best quality was sold in sheets about ten inches wide; the poorest that could be used to write upon came in sheets about six inches wide. The height in each case was perhaps one inch to two inches greater. It has been calculated that a single papyrus plant would make about twenty sheets, and this number seems to have been made the commercial unit of measure (scāpus) by which the paper was sold, a unit corresponding roughly to our quire.

   395. Pens and Ink. Usually only the upper surface of the sheet—formed by the horizontal layer of strips—was used for writing. FIG. 262: PENS, PENCASE, AND CRAYON HOLDERThese strips, which showed even after the process of manufacture, served to guide the pen of the writer. In the case of books where it was important to keep the number of lines constant to the page, lines were ruled with a circular piece of lead. The pen (calamus) was made of a reed brought to a point and cleft in the manner of a quill pen. For the black ink (ātrāmentum: § 391) was occasionally substituted the liquid of the cuttlefish. Red ink was much used for headings, ornaments, and the like, and in pictures the inkstand is generally represented with two compartments (Fig. 263), presumably one for black ink, one for red ink. The ink was more like paint than modern ink, and, when fresh, could be wiped off with a damp sponge. It could be washed off even when it had become dry and hard. To wash sheets in order to use them a second time was a mark of poverty or niggardliness, but the reverse side of schedae that had served their purpose was often used for scratch paper, especially in the schools (§ 110).

   396. Making the Roll. A single sheet might serve for a letter or other brief document, but for literary purposes many sheets might be required. FIG. 263: A DOUBLE INKSTANDThese were not fastened side by side in a back, as are the separate sheets in our books, or numbered and laid loosely together, as we arrange sheets in our letters and manuscripts, but, after the writing was done, they were glued together at the sides (not at the tops) into a long, unwieldy strip, with the lines on each sheet running parallel with the length of the strip, and with the writing on each sheet forming a column perpendicular the length of the strip. On each side of the sheet therefore, a margin was left as the writing was one, and these margins, overlapping and glued together, made a thick blank space, a double thickness of paper, between every two sheets in the strip. Very broad margins, too, were left at the top and bottom, where the paper would suffer from use a great deal more than in our books. When the sheets had been securely fastened together in the proper order, a thin slip of wood might be glued to the left (outer) margin of the first sheet, and a second slip (umbilīcus) to the right (also outer) margin of the last sheet, much as a wall map is mounted today. FIG. 264: WRITING INSTRUMENTSWhen not in use, the volume was kept tightly rolled about the umbilīcus. Some authorities think that the umbilīcī were not always attached to the rolls, but that they might be slipped in when the books were in use.2

   397. A roll intended for permanent preservation was always finished with greatest care. The top and bottom (frontēs) were trimmed perfectly smooth, polished with pumice-stone, and often painted black. The back of the roll was rubbed with cedar oil to defend it from moths and mice. To the ends of the umbilīcus were added knobs (cornua), sometimes gilded or painted a bright color. The first sheet would be used for the dedication, if there was one, and on the back of it were frequently written a few words giving a clue to the contents of the roll; sometimes a pen-and-ink portrait of the author graced this page. FIG. 265: CAPSAIn many books the full title and the name of the author were written only at the end of the roll on the last sheet, but in any case to the top this sheet was glued a strip of parchment (titulus) with the title and author’s name upon it; the strip projected above the edge of the roll. For every roll a parchment cover was made, cylindrical in form, into which it was slipped from the top; the titulus alone was visible. If a work was divided into several volumes (see § 398), the rolls were put together in a bundle (fascis) an kept in a wooden box (capsa, scrīnium) like a modern hat box. When the cover was removed, the titulī were visible, and the roll desired could be taken without disturbing the others (Fig. 265). The rolls were kept sometimes in cupboards (armāria: § 230), where they were laid lengthwise on the shelves with the titulī to the front, as shown in the figure in the next paragraph.

   398. Size of the Rolls. When a volume was consulted, the roll was held in both hands and unrolled column by column with the right hand, while with the left the reader rolled up the part he had read on the slip of wood fastened to the margin of the first sheet (Fig. 266), or around the umbilīcus. FIG. 266: READING A ROLL. Relief from a sarcophagusWhen he had finished reading, he rolled the volume back upon the umbilīcus, usually holding it under his chin and turning the cornua with both hands. In the case of a long roll this turning backward and forward took much time and patience and must have sadly soiled and damaged the roll itself. The early rolls were always long and heavy. There was theoretically no limit to the number of sheets that might be glued together, and consequently none to the size or length of the roll. It was made as long as was necessary to contain the given work. In ancient Egypt rolls were put together of more than fifty yards in length, and in early times rolls of corresponding length were used in Greece and Rome. From the third century B.C., however, it had become customary to divide works of great length into two or more volumes. The division at first was purely arbitrary and made wherever it was convenient to end the roll, no matter how much the unity of thought was interrupted. A century later authors had begun to divide their works into convenient parts, each part having a unity of its own, such as the five “books” of Cicero’s Dē Fīnibus, and to each of these parts, or “books,” a separate roll was allotted. An innovation so convenient and sensible quickly became the universal rule. It even worked backward; some ancient works, which had not been divided by their authors, e.g., Herodotus, Thucydides, and Naevius, were now divided into books. About the same time, too, it became the custom to put upon the market the sheets already glued together, to the amount at least of the scāpus (§ 394). It was, of course; much easier to glue two or three of these together, or to cut off the unused part of one, than to work with the separate sheets. The ready-made rolls, moreover, were put together in a most workmanlike manner. Even sheets of the same quality (§ 394) would vary slightly in toughness or finish, and the manufacturers of the roll were careful to put the very best sheets at the beginning, where the wear was the most severe, and to keep for the end the less perfect sheets, which might sometimes be cut off altogether.

   399. Multiplication of Books. The process of publishing the largest book at Rome differed in no important respect from that of writing the shortest letter. Every copy was made by itself, the hundredth or the thousandth taking just as much time and labor as the first had done. The author’s copy would be distributed for reproduction among a number of librāriī, his own, if he were a man of wealth, a Caesar or a Sallust; his patron’s, if he were a poor man, a Terence or a Vergil. Each of the librāriī would write and rewrite the portions assigned to him, until the required number of copies had been made. The sheets were then arranged in the proper order, if the ready-made rolls were not used, and the rolls were mounted as has been described (§ 396). Finally the books had to be looked through to correct the errors that were sure to be made, a process much more tedious than the modern proofreading, because every copy had to be corrected separately, as no two copies would show precisely the same errors. Books made in this way were almost exclusively for gifts, though friends would exchange books with friends and a few might find their way into the market. Up to the last century of the Republic there was no organized book trade, and no such thing as commercial publication. When a man wanted a book, instead of buying it at a bookstore he borrowed a copy from a friend and had his librāriī make him as many more as he desired. In this way Atticus made for himself and Cicero copies of all the Greek and Latin books on which he could lay his hands, and distributed Cicero’s own writings everywhere.

   400. Commercial Publication. The publication of books at Rome as a business began in the time of Cicero. There was no copyright law and no protection therefore for author or publisher. The author’s pecuniary returns came in the form of gifts or grants from those whose favor he had won by his genius; the publisher depended, in the case of new books, upon meeting the demand before his rivals could market their editions, and, in the case of standard books, upon the accuracy, elegance, and cheapness of his copies. The process of commercial publication was essentially the same as the method already described, except that larger numbers of librāriī would be employed. The publisher would estimate as closely as possible the demand for any new work that he had secured, would put as large a number of scribes upon it as possible, and would take care that no copies should leave his establishment until his whole edition was ready. After the copies were once on sale, they could be reproduced by anyone. The best houses took all possible pains to have their books free from errors; they had competent correctors to read them copy by copy, but in spite of their efforts blunders were legion. Authors sometimes corrected with their own hands the copies intended for their friends. In the case of standard works purchasers often hired scholars of reputation to revise their copies for them, and copies of known excellence were borrowed or hired at high prices for the purpose of comparison.

   401. Rapidity and Cost of Publication. Cicero tells us of Roman senators who wrote fast enough to take evidence verbatim, and the trained scribes must have far surpassed them in speed. Martial tells us that his second book could be copied in an hour. It contains five hundred and forty verses, which would make the scribe equal to nine verses to the minute. It is evident that a small edition, consisting of copies not more than twice or three times as numerous as the scribes, could be put upon the market more quickly than it could be produced now. The cost of the books varied, of course, with their size and the style of their mounting. Martial’s first book, containing eight hundred twenty lines and covering thirty-nine pages in Teubner’s text, sold at thirty cents, fifty cents, and one dollar; his Xenia, containing two hundred and seventy-four verses and covering fourteen pages in Teubner’s text, sold at twenty cents, but cost the publisher less than ten. Such prices would hardly be considered excessive now. Much would depend upon the reputation of the author and the consequent demand. High prices were put on certain books. Autograph copies—Gellius (late in the second century, A.D.) says that one by Vergil cost the owner one hundred dollars—and copies whose correctness was vouched for by some recognized authority commanded extraordinary prices.

   402. Libraries. The gathering of books in large private collections began to be general only toward the end of the Republic. Cicero had considerable libraries not only in his house at Rome, but also at his countryseats. Probably the bringing to Rome of whole libraries from the East and Greece by Lucullus and Sulla started the fashion of collecting books; at any rate collections were made by many persons who knew and cared nothing about the contents of the rolls, and every town house had its library (§ 206) lined with volumes. In these libraries were often displayed busts of great writers and statues of the Muses. Public libraries date from the time of Augustus. The first to be opened in Rome was founded by Asinius Pollio (died 4 A.D.), and was housed in the Ātrium Lībertātis. Augustus himself founded two others, and the number was brought up to twenty-eight by his successors. The most magnificent of these was the Bibliothēca Ulpia, founded by Trajan. Smaller cities had their libraries, too, and even the little town of Comum boasted one founded by Pliny the Younger and supported by an endowment that produced thirty thousand sesterces annually. The public baths often had libraries and reading-rooms attached to them (§ 365).

FIG. 267

1 Inscription on a milestone of the Via Salaria. “Erected by the consul [117 B.C.] Lucius Caecilius Metellus, etc. One hundred nineteen (miles) from Rome.”

2 For a discussion of the umbilīcus see The Classical Weekly, VI, 169-170.


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