Project Title: Ancient Roman Libraries: Culture, Access and Patronage at Play
Student: Sarah Lucas ’15
Mentor: Dr. Ellen Arnold
My ancient studies capstone explores the society and culture surrounding ancient Roman libraries as well as their development and evolution. This topic is a difficult one due to the small number of surviving archaeological sites, as well as the limited number of primary sources referencing book collections. However, through analysis of the remaining literary and physical records, this paper examines how ancient Rome mimicked, expanded and stole Greek and Egyptian concepts of libraries, assimilating and reinterpreting them into something that became inherently Roman. Private collections transformed into quasi-public, quasi-private libraries and eventually resulted in the consistent establishment of imperial public libraries throughout the empire. Imperial power, Roman strength, culture and learning were all projected within these buildings and their collections, enabling libraries to truly represent the empire around them and the era in which they were created. Following this, an analysis of accessibility and patronage is conducted, examining the physical and social implications of the libraries. Construction, layout, literacy rate, user makeup and censorship are all considered when studying how the Roman book collections were used and accessed by the general public and social and intellectual elite.
The rapid creation and evolution of libraries within antiquity displays the Roman and inherently human inclination to quickly confront problems, implement solutions, and claim entities and information as their own. This offers a hope for the current transformation that modern libraries are currently undergoing, as they also encounter new issues of technology, censorship, and accessibility, much like their Roman predecessors. Therefore, through examining the development of ancient Roman libraries, it becomes apparent that the human desire for the collection and storage of knowledge is extremely tenacious and will continue to survive for many more millennia, providing hope for lovers of literature and knowledge.