Readersforum's Blog

June 25, 2013

Share it like Cicero: How Roman authors used social networking

romansBy Tom Standage

 

One of the stories I tell in “Writing on the Wall” is about the way the Roman book-trade worked. There were no printing presses, so copying of books, which took the form of multiple papyrus rolls, was done entirely by hand, by scribes, most of whom were slaves. There were no formal publishers either, so Roman authors had to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations and social distribution of their works via their networks of friends and acquaintances.

It was crucial to choose the right person to dedicate the book to. The ideal candidate would be famous, influential and somewhat vain, so that he would be sure to mention the book to his friends, thus ensuring that people heard about it. He would also have an impressive library with plenty of traffic from visiting scholars and philosophers. The new book, prominently displayed in the library as a set of rolls in an elegant presentation box, would then be seen by people who might take pick up a papyrus roll and start reading it.

 

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