I wonder how long were the typical scholar books at the time of Aristote, Pythagoras and others. This is quite a large time frame but I mean roughtly "in ancient times".

Basically my question is : were the publications in these times similar to books as we know them today or were they more like the 4-6 pages scholar papers that we know today ?

I think this question is important since it could provide us important insight on the way they approached and transfered knowledge.

  • 2
    Only 1% of ancient Greek texts survived to today. The ones that did are of all sorts of lengths and types. The Bible and similar texts were extensively reprinted during the Middle Ages, but books were not as common back then. – D J Sims Feb 26 '16 at 10:31
  • @Mustang: But of course the Bible is not properly A book, but a collection of books dating from different periods. – jamesqf Feb 26 '16 at 19:47
  • Based on Conrad answer I gather that their publications were much shorter than what we have today, especially considering the fact that the publications he mentions were among the most involved of these times. – tobiak777 Feb 27 '16 at 16:32

Plato:Republic ~220,000 words (in translation), Symposium ~25,000 words (in translation)

Aristotle: Poetics ~20,000 words (in translation), Physics ~85,000 words (in translation)

It is fairly easy to find the word counts for English translations of surviving works


Books, as we know them, did not exist in the ancient times. Texts were written on scrolls. Scrolls did not have pages. On the size of these scrolls we can make a good judgment: longer works were subdivided into "books", which probably corresponds to scrolls. This is the terminology of the modern editions.

For example Euclid's Elements consists of 13 "books". This means that the whole composition originally had 13 scrolls. Herodotus Histories consists of 9 "books", and so on. Of course this division into "books" could change with time when the things were copied, but the size of an ancient "book" is approximately stable, and probably this was a size of a standard scroll.

A book in the modern sense (set of bound sheets) was invented in late antiquity. It was called Codex in Latin.

  • Thanks a lot, but then my remaining question is how can I get an idea of the length of a scroll... my main objective is to be able to compare the length or their publications with the length of our publications. You give me insightful guidelines, but it's still an involved research - which I am at the minute trying to do - to find more about these roll/scrolls – tobiak777 Feb 26 '16 at 13:42
  • All "research" that remains for you is to open a few ancient works, and count the length of a "book" in it. And take the average, or whatever you can do with these numbers. For example, 9 "books" of Herodotus occupy 452 pages in my modern edition.I will not do this routine work for you. – Alex Feb 26 '16 at 21:10
  • The codex was not "invented in late antiquity"! It became the standard book format in the 4th century AD, but the first examples are roughly two hundred years older. – Lisa Jan 11 '18 at 10:27

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