What Were Books Like in Ancient Greece?

Books have been a part of human civilization for centuries, and the ancient Greeks were no exception. The Greeks were known for their love of literature, and their contributions to the world of books are still felt to this day. In this article, we will explore what books were like in ancient Greece.

Ancient Greek Writing Materials

Before we delve into the content of ancient Greek books, it’s important to understand the materials they used to create them. In ancient Greece, writing materials included papyrus, parchment, and vellum.

Papyrus was made from the pith of a reed plant and was commonly used in Egypt and other parts of the Mediterranean. Parchment was made from animal skin and was popular in Europe, while vellum was also made from animal skin but was considered a higher quality material.

Ancient Greek Books: Form and Content

Ancient Greek books took on various forms, including scrolls and codices. Scrolls were long sheets of papyrus or parchment that were rolled up for storage.

They were commonly used for literary works such as epic poems like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Codices were bound volumes that resembled modern-day books with pages that could be turned. These were used for a wide range of texts including scientific works like Aristotle’s Physics.

The content of ancient Greek books was diverse as well. Literature played an important role in ancient Greece, with genres ranging from epic poetry to drama to philosophy. Ancient Greeks also produced significant scientific works on topics such as mathematics, astronomy, and medicine.

Epic Poetry

Epic poetry is one of the most well-known genres in ancient Greek literature. The most famous examples are Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, which tell stories about gods and heroes during the Trojan War era. These epic poems were often performed orally by bards or poets at public events and were later written down on scrolls.


Drama was also an important part of ancient Greek literature. Greek drama consisted of two main forms: tragedy and comedy. Tragedies explored themes such as fate, morality, and the human condition.

Examples of famous tragedies include Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Euripides’ Medea. Comedies, on the other hand, were lighthearted and entertaining. Aristophanes’ The Clouds is a well-known example of ancient Greek comedy.


Ancient Greece was also known for its contributions to philosophy, with famous thinkers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Philosophical works were often written in the form of dialogues or treatises and covered topics such as ethics, metaphysics, and politics. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is an example of a philosophical work from ancient Greece.

The Role of Books in Ancient Greek Society

Books played an important role in ancient Greek society. They were used for entertainment as well as education. Schools in ancient Greece used books to teach children various subjects, including reading, writing, arithmetic, music, and philosophy.

Books were also important for preserving knowledge over time. Many ancient texts have been lost to history due to various factors such as war or natural disasters. However, some works have survived through copies made by scribes who carefully transcribed them onto new scrolls or codices.


Ancient Greek books played a significant role in the development of literature and knowledge that has shaped our modern world today. From epic poetry to scientific works to philosophical treatises, the Greeks produced a wide range of texts that continue to be studied and admired today. By understanding what ancient Greek books were like and how they shaped their society’s culture and knowledge base, we can appreciate the rich legacy they have left behind.