The Library of Celsus
If you do
a search for ‘Ephesus’ in any search engine, you will find a picture of the
Library of Celsus. That, I suppose, is the modern meaning of the word ‘iconic.’
It was built around 117 CE by Tiberius Julius Aquila Polemeanus in honor of his father, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemeanus. Celsus started his cursus honorum as a junior officer in a legion, and continued through successive promotions to become the Legate of a legion, a Senator, a Consul, and, eventually, the Governor of Asia. Aquila, who also attained the rank of Consul, buried his father in a vault beneath their new library. His statue occupied a place of honor in the reading room.
From “The Missing Book”
To read a book, a reader would unroll the first few sheets of text and stretch them flat between two wooden spools. When these sheets were read, the reader would roll them on to the second spool while unrolling more sheets from the first. Modern readers would reasonably expect that this method of reading would require a table, but G. W. Houston in Inside Roman Libraries says that he was unable to find any contemporaneous pictures of Romans reading at tables, but found many showing Romans with scrolls spread across their laps.
Instead of shelves, books in libraries were stored in cubby holes. In the Library of Celsus, the rectangular spaces once occupied by cubby holes are built into the walls. Inside each cubby, scrolls were stacked on wooden shelves. Since the title and author of a rolled-up scroll would be hidden, each book had an exterior tag displaying identification details. These tags, according to G. W. Houston were known as sillyba (singular sillybon)—temptingly close to our modern word syllabus.
The Library of Celsus occupies a central location at the foot of Curetes Street in the ruined city. It’s a beautiful building, intriguing the eye with its clever interplay of columns and archways on the first and second floor. No wonder that tourists tend to gather in the forecourt, take their selfies, and eat their sandwiches on the steps. Occasionally, the Ministry of Tourism offers a concert of classical music in the forecourt, starting at sunset, a memorable experience for those lucky enough to be there.