By the end of the 5th cent. bc, books were no rarity, even if some regarded them as a fad of intellectuals like Euripides; Athens had booksellers, and exports reached the Black (Euxine) Sea. Individuals collected the best‐known poets and philosophers. Of famous collectors, Aristotle took first place; but his library, like that of the other philosophic schools, remained private property.
Institutional libraries begin with the Hellenistic monarchies. The model was apparently the Peripatos (see peripatetic school), rather than the temple and palace libraries of the near east. The first Ptolemies (see ptolemy (1); egypt, Ptolemaic ) collected ambitiously and systematically; the Alexandrian Library (see Alexandria ) became legend, and Callimachus' Pinakes made its content accessible. There were rivals at Pella, Antioch, and esp. Pergamum. Holdings were substantial: if the figures can be trusted, Pergamum held at least 200,000 rolls, the main library at Alexandria nearly 500,000—the equivalent, perhaps, of 100,000 modern books. Smaller towns had their own libraries, some at least attached to the gymnasium.
The Romans inherited some libraries direct (Aemilius Paullus (2) brought home the Macedonian royal library, Sulla obtained Aristotle's books after the sack of Athens), together with the traditions of private collection and public endowment. Cicero accumulated several libraries (and visited those of Varro, Faustus Cornelius Sulla, and Marcus Licinius Lucullus, son of Lucius Licinius Lucullus ); Persius left 700 rolls of Chrysippus. The private library became fashionable: Trimalchio boasted both Greek and Latin libraries; Seneca the Younger and Lucian satirize those whose books serve only for show. Successful Greeks and Romans founded libraries in their native cities. On the monarchic scale, Caesar planned a public library in Rome, under Varro's direction; Asinius Pollio actually founded one in the Atrium Libertatis (see libertas). There followed (among the grandest) Augustus' library on the Palatine, Vespasian's near the templum Pacis, Trajan's in his forum Traiani; libraries were included in the baths of Trajan, Caracalla, and Diocletian. The new capital Constantinople was speedily provided with a library, which eventually reached 120,000 books. Origen's library at Caesarea provided the Christian exemplar.
Hellenistic libraries apparently consisted of simple storage‐rooms attached to a stoa or the like; such is the only ancient library to survive in situ, that of the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. The great Roman libraries provided reading‐rooms, one for Greek and one for Latin, with books in niches round the walls. Vitruvius advises that libraries should face east, to provide for good light and against damp. Books would be stored in cupboards, which might be numbered for reference. A statue of a divine (or imperial) patron occupied a central niche; busts of authors adorned the building. Catalogues listed authors under broad subject‐headings; attendants fetched the books (borrowing was for a privileged few). The library of Pantaenus at Athens had its rules inscribed on stone: ‘No book shall be taken out, for we have sworn.…Open from dawn to midday.’ The staff would comprise a librarian; attendants, often slaves; copyists and restorers. New acquisitions might be provided by gift, or by purchase; Pliny the Younger's library at Comum had an endowment of 100,000 sesterces.