The Ancient Book

William A. Johnson

in The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199843695
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

 The Ancient Book

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  • Classical Studies
  • Greek and Roman Papyrology
  • Historical Archaeology


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From the beginnings of Greek written literature until deep into the Roman era, a “book” was fashioned by taking a premanufactured papyrus roll, writing out the text, attaching additional fresh rolls as the length of text required, and, when finished, cutting off the blank remainder. This article notes that literary texts were produced, in general, with strict attention. It describes what constituted the ancient book. Books on papyrus in the form of rolls (bookrolls) were the norm from the beginnings through the early Roman era. Over the course of the second to the fourth centuries ce, the codex came to replace the bookroll. The article also considers the content of the books, and the Oxyrhynchite texts.

Keywords: bookroll; papyrus roll; codex; Oxyrhynchite texts; Greek written literature

Article.  11734 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Greek and Roman Papyrology ; Historical Archaeology

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