These seven fragments are what remain of a complete scroll of the 1st century BCE containing a portion of a work by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BCE).
The original scroll, together with almost 2,000 other fragments, was found in a luxurious villa in Herculaneum next to Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of the Vesuvius in 79 CE. The house, now known as the Villa of the Papyri, was discovered in 1752 and in the following years there were almost 2,000 papyri were found at its exceptionally rich private library. The scrolls were carbonised in the intense heat of volcanic flows into compact and highly fragile black blocks which were found in their original containers in the villa preserved under the cement-like layers of rock. Earlier attempts to open the charred rolls often resulted in their complete destruction, but a machine designed by the Abbot Antonio Piaggio could unroll several of them without considerable loss. The texts recovered from the papyri are almost exclusively of philosophical content preserving works from Epicurus and Philodemus of Gadara (110–30 BCE).
The seven fragments, recovered and published in Piaggio’s workshop in Italy, were part of a gift containing a number of scrolls that King Ferdinand of Naples had sent to George IV of England in exchange for a royal giraffe for his private zoo. Together with four other Herculaneum fragments and five hitherto unopened rolls, they have remained in the Royal Collection till 1906 when Edward VII presented them to the British Museum.
- Article by:
- Matthew Nicholls
- Scholarship, The makers of Greek manuscripts
How were books stored and accessed in the ancient world? Matthew Nicholls explores what the surviving evidence of ancient books can tell us about libraries in antiquity.