In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Herculaneum Papyri

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Archaeological Background
  • Anthology
  • Bibliographies
  • Inventories
  • Digital Images
  • Journal
  • Conservation and Imaging
  • Techniques of Reconstruction
  • Language, Grammar, Lexica
  • Paleography
  • Chrysippus
  • Documentary Papyri

Classics Herculaneum Papyri
W. Benjamin Henry
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0170


The library of the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum is the only known library preserved in place from the Greco-Roman world. Carbonized in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, hundreds of papyri were rediscovered in 1752–1754 during the excavation of an aristocratic villa which many believe to have been that of L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, father-in-law of Julius Caesar. Piso was the patron of an important Epicurean philosopher, Philodemus of Gadara (b. about 110–d. about 35 BCE), and the vast majority of the books discovered to date are either by Philodemus (including multiple copies and what may be drafts) or likely to have belonged to his working collection. Among the latter are important texts by earlier Epicureans, including the On nature of Epicurus himself, in copies paleographically dated to long before Philodemus’s lifetime. Besides the Epicurean texts, there are a few Stoic books, also perhaps originally the property of Philodemus or his school, and a relatively small number of Latin texts, both poetry and prose. These may be the remnants of a larger Latin library, the greater part of which lies buried in the unexcavated part of the Villa. Following a long period of relative neglect, the Herculaneum papyri have begun in recent years to be recognized as a source of unique value and to be studied intensively. A turning point was the foundation of the Centro Internazionale per lo Studio dei Papiri Ercolanesi (CISPE) at the initiative of Marcello Gigante in 1969. The Centro’s journal, Cronache Ercolanesi, has published some of the most important modern studies in the field, and authoritative editions of many of the principal texts have appeared there and in the series La Scuola di Epicuro, directed by Gigante until his death in 2001. New light has been shed on the collection and its history by the study of archival documents, while textual and paleographical studies have profited immeasurably from the availability of a complete set of digital infrared images, made around the turn of the millennium. Readings can now be easily verified, and much text hitherto considered illegible can at last be read with the aid of the images. Further technological innovations may be expected to bring to light major texts in years to come both from the unopened rolls found in the original excavations and from those that scholars hope to unearth when excavation resumes.

General Overviews

Several surveys have appeared in recent years, reflecting the renewed interest in the subject. Capasso 1991 is the fullest; the briefer Delattre 2006 is more up-to-date in some areas. Sider 2005 brings out the importance of the subject in a beautifully illustrated and up-to-date study recommendable for the general or undergraduate reader, while Sider 2009 is a good starting point for more advanced readers. Longo Auricchio 2008 provides an up-to-date and nontechnical overview of the library and its contents.

  • Capasso, Mario. 1991. Manuale di papirologia ercolanese. Galatina, Italy: Congedo.

    An authoritative guide to the field by a leading expert, lavishly illustrated. Particularly helpful on the history of the discovery and of work on the papyri from the earliest period to the date of publication, and on physical and paleographical aspects of the rolls.

  • Delattre, Daniel. 2006. La Villa des Papyrus et les rouleaux d’Herculanum: La bibliothèque de Philodème. Liège, Belgium: CEDOPAL.

    Surveys the main issues, taking account of recent discoveries from a period of particularly rapid progress.

  • Longo Auricchio, Francesca. 2008. La biblioteca ercolanese. Atene e Roma, 2d new ser. 2:190–209.

    An accessible survey of the library and the books so far identified.

  • Sider, David. 2005. The library of the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

    A nontechnical survey, accessible to general readers and undergraduates, with many excellent illustrations.

  • Sider, David. 2009. The special case of Herculaneum. In The Oxford handbook of papyrology. Edited by Roger S. Bagnall, 303–319. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A brief account, providing a good introduction for graduate students and others beginning work in the field.

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