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Renassault

The price of a book in ancient Rome

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Hello,

 

Recently I've had a nagging question at me. I'm wondering how much a book cost in Rome at around 50 AD. Now, before anyone corrects me, I know that the book in the modern sense didn't exactly exist. They had parchments until the codex was invented c.90 AD in Rome as Juvenal (or someone else) relates. But they did have "the quire" I think, which was a stack of 24 papyrus scrolls. So my question is, how much did a "book" or "quire" or even a single papyrus scroll, or something like that cost in ancient Rome around the year 50? I know that prices would have probably varied from region to region, but any information in general is more than welcomed. I found a cryptic reference in a book to another book called, Paulus: Sein Leben und Wirken (1904), where the author of the first book hastily summarized that a "quire" cost about 20pf. in Rome. What a "pf." means NOBODy knows (they're both Germans, so pfenning?? Surely not). The reference was originally in connection with the Greek silver drachma, but I don't know if that's what the mysterious "20pf." refers to. I looked up the reference to Clemen (p.825, n.2 but I found no note), and after about 30-40 minutes of writing out pre-modern German on google translate (with my almost nonexistent knowledge of German save for a few words), it had practically nothing to do with the citation.

 

Also, if you happen to know how much something else costs, from any other time (or place), feel free to share, it's much appreciated (e.g. how much a vase cost in Greece, 450 BC, or a horse in India 150 AD), it's just the price of a book in around the 1st century in Rome that seriously interests me.

 

Thank you :)

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The only thing I know is that the writer was getting nothing of those money because romans did not had copyright laws.

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Hmm that's interesting :) , and yeah, I'd bet a writer had to have some sort of other job if he wanted to make a living hehe. Not unlike today :P . But yeah, a book still had a value with regards to its content, and especially magic books, would have been pricier as per the footnote in the book I'm reading... but a bit pricier than 20pf. in Rome means??? Nothing that I know lol, it was near the end of the book, it grabbed my interest and it seems the author had been rushing a bit, not giving too much time to less central questions and issues and just left me in the mud like that :( .

 

Did you know that there has been a 14th century BC book (sorta) made out of wood btw? It seems to explain the reference to "wooden books" or something like that in Homer :)

 

Thanks for your input :)

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Also, if you happen to know how much something else costs, from any other time (or place), feel free to share, it's much appreciated (e.g. how much a vase cost in Greece, 450 BC, or a horse in India 150 AD), it's just the price of a book in around the 1st century in Rome that seriously interests me.

 

I'm quite sure that Plato mentions that a book (philosophical) would cost around one drachma (which was about one days wager for an unskilled worker) around 400 BC. You could also take a look at Diocletianus price edict, a topic discussed numerous times on these boards.

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Hello,

 

Recently I've had a nagging question at me. I'm wondering how much a book cost in Rome at around 50 AD. Now, before anyone corrects me, I know that the book in the modern sense didn't exactly exist. They had parchments until the codex was invented c.90 AD in Rome as Juvenal (or someone else) relates. But they did have "the quire" I think, which was a stack of 24 papyrus scrolls. So my question is, how much did a "book" or "quire" or even a single papyrus scroll, or something like that cost in ancient Rome around the year 50? I know that prices would have probably varied from region to region, but any information in general is more than welcomed. I found a cryptic reference in a book to another book called, Paulus: Sein Leben und Wirken (1904), where the author of the first book hastily summarized that a "quire" cost about 20pf. in Rome. What a "pf." means NOBODy knows (they're both Germans, so pfenning?? Surely not). The reference was originally in connection with the Greek silver drachma, but I don't know if that's what the mysterious "20pf." refers to. I looked up the reference to Clemen (p.825, n.2 but I found no note), and after about 30-40 minutes of writing out pre-modern German on google translate (with my almost nonexistent knowledge of German save for a few words), it had practically nothing to do with the citation.

 

Also, if you happen to know how much something else costs, from any other time (or place), feel free to share, it's much appreciated (e.g. how much a vase cost in Greece, 450 BC, or a horse in India 150 AD), it's just the price of a book in around the 1st century in Rome that seriously interests me.

 

Thank you :)

 

 

In the context of a German writer writing about a monetary unit, 'pf' almost certainly refers to 'Pfennig', the pre-Euro 'penny' (1/100 of a Deutschmark). Obviously, that has limited meaning in the context of ancient Rome, though he could be converting for the benefit of the reader. If true, 20pf sounds very cheap.

 

I doubt anyone had a book transcribed en masse on the off chance of selling the transcriptions. Though no doubt it happened on a small scale if the author was certain of selling a number, or to distribute among certain (say) libraries or other users. Anyone wanting a copy of an existing book would have paid scribes to make that copy for them. There would have been agencies, probably consisting of an owner and a number of Greek (or other educated) slaves, to do the actual transcription.

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<SNIP>

 

Also, if you happen to know how much something else costs, from any other time (or place), feel free to share, it's much appreciated (e.g. how much a vase cost in Greece, 450 BC, or a horse in India 150 AD), it's just the price of a book in around the 1st century in Rome that seriously interests me.

 

Thank you :)

 

There is one major source on prices in ancient Rome although it comes from the time of Diocletian around AD 301 which is Diocletian's 'Edict on Maximum Prices' (also known as the Edict on Prices or the Edict of Diocletian; in Latin Edictum De Pretiis Rerum Venalium) This site notes that the Edict on Maximum Prices was

issued by Diocletian in the names of all four co-emperors in November-December 301. It must have been transmitted from Antioch or Alexandria, where Diocletian was at the time, and posted publicly across the Empire. Exceptionally, however, the text is known because governors of four Eastern provinces had it posted not just in some perishable medium but permanently, inscribed on public buildings. Fragments of the inscriptions have been found in almost 40 locations.

 

Here is a site which seems to have a reasonable write up of the various items specified compared with some wage rates.

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Were books commodities in the same sense that they are today? How were they produced? How were they sold? How large would the library of an educated Romans have been? Perhaps these questions will help the discussion.

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Having now dug out my copy of Greek and Roman Technology it lists Diocletian's Edict as specifying the price for a scribe producing 100 lines of tyhe 'best script' as 25 denarii.

 

I'll need to check another book on Greek and Roman libraries to see if it provides any details but IIRC in the first century most copies of 'books' would have been produced by slave scribes.

 

Presumably either they would neeed to have had their own copy to work from or else you would have had to provide the relevant work for them to copy and the price would then be whatever was agreed for doing so.

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If you have access to JSTOR look for an article in Classical world 79 called Book prices and Roman literacy by John J Phillips.

 

You will also find in Martial's Epigrams a line where he remarks that his books are available from a gent called Atrectus at the bargain price of 5 denarii a volume.

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If you cannot find the sources that Maty has referred you to already then Lionel Casson's Libraries in the Ancioent World may provide some other sources to check out or at least talk about sales practices in general if not prices.

 

I don't go for the translation of Martial Casson uses on page 104 which states the price of Martial's new work at Tryphon's store as "four coppers, and not a penny more". However the notes for pages 103-105 list several sellers of Martial's and other ancients author's works so you may find pricing information there as well or possibly in the secondary references also cited.

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Interesting stuff but there's a part of me that's a bit uneasy with establishing prices. What we should realise is that the Romans did not control prices in the same we are accustomed to today. I know that from time to time laws limited the price for specific goods and services, but essentially prices were open to negotiation. After all, with such an emphasis on wealth and a cut-throat commercial sphere, it's not unreasonable that caveat emptormeant what it said. At best then the costs mentioned should be regarded as evidence for the associated period.

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Interesting stuff but there's a part of me that's a bit uneasy with establishing prices. What we should realise is that the Romans did not control prices in the same we are accustomed to today. I know that from time to time laws limited the price for specific goods and services, but essentially prices were open to negotiation. After all, with such an emphasis on wealth and a cut-throat commercial sphere, it's not unreasonable that caveat emptormeant what it said. At best then the costs mentioned should be regarded as evidence for the associated period.

 

Agreed in fact this is one of the points specifically made by Casson four booksellers handled Martial's works and three of those stocked different editions:

 

Tryphon - regular or cheap copies

Atrectus - deluxe copies highly decorated on the outside so much more expensive

Secundus - 'novelty' editions on parchment rather than papyrus and in the form of a codex - a very rare treat so Martial gave directions to the shop.

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This is a very interesting discussion people! :thumbsup:

 

As the demand for books increased towards the end of the Roman republic, and it became the fashion for the Roman nobles to have a library, the trade of booksellers naturally arose. They were called Librarii (Cic. de Leg. III.20), Bibliopolae (Mart. IV.71, XIII.3). Their shop was called taberna libraria (Cic. Phil. II.9). These shops were chiefly in the Argiletum (Mart. I.4), and in the

Edited by Gaius Paulinus Maximus

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Well thank you all for your responses. I managed to read John J. Phillips' article from JSTOR that Maty suggested. There was some mention about Martial talking about a forgerer and something about 6-10 sesterces, though what the sesterces were meant for is disputed; but the price of the papyrus scroll plus transcription is usually taken. There was a mention to an 1882 book by Theodor Birt called, Das antike Buchwesen in seinem Verh

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Did Romans had magic books? Some practices regarded by Romans as sorcery were forbidden and punished while others that we may consider magic were part of the state cults like divination in entrails or bird flight. Also Ancient medicine was something that we will regard as mostly magic rather then science. Modern distinctions between religion, magic and science were non existent for Romans.

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