Research opportunity for University of Toronto undergraduates

The Ancient Books team is expanding! Several positions are available for interested UofT undergraduates through the Jackman Humanities Institute Scholars-in-Residence program. This is a 4-week program in May that brings together undergraduate students to work with UofT faculty on research projects. In addition to free accommodation on campus, a dining plan, and a $1000 award, Scholars-in-Residence get the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to original research projects.

Portrait of St Matthew from the Askew Gospel Book. London, British Library, Add MS 5111, f 12r. Eastern Mediterranean, 12th century.

London, British Library, Add MS 5111, f 12r. Eastern Mediterranean, 12th century.

The Ancient Books project seeks students interested on working on the topic ‘How Scrolls Became Books’. Between the first and the fourth centuries CE, the standard format for books changed from scroll to codex (the book as we know it today). This project seeks to understand what this change meant for the people who read and wrote books in this period. Student researchers will analyze how book formats differed across time, place, and genre. Scholars will work primarily from digital images, but there will be opportunities for field trips to nearby special collections libraries. Training in research methods, data gathering and analysis, and technical skills will be provided. Scholars will work closely with the project principal investigator, Prof. Cillian O’Hogan, and a graduate student Research Assistant. Knowledge of Latin or Ancient Greek, though helpful, is not required.

The oldest codex fragment in existence, the De Bellis Macedonicis papyrus, dating from c. 100 CE.

London, British Library Papyrus 745 (recto). C. 100 CE. Found at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt.

For further information about the Scholars-in-Residence program, please see the application page. Interested students are also welcome to contact Prof. O’Hogan directly with any queries they may have. The application deadline is February 22, 2019.

A Student’s Guide to the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae Online

(A blog post by Amber Leenders, research assistant to the project 2017-18)

Until this year, I had never worked with the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL). On the rare occasions that I did take a peek at it, I was intimidated by the enormous walls of text that make up most entries. However, I’ve built up respect and even admiration for the dictionary this year as I’ve researched and categorized some of the vocabulary related to books, paper, parchment, and more.

In this post, I aim to provide a few tips to smooth the way for any Latin student wishing to learn more about the nuances or historical context of words using the TLL. Especially for anyone wishing to study Late Antique texts, the TLL is an essential resource, since it contains citations from sources up to 600 CE.

The TLL is published online by De Gruyter, and it has some start guides in multiple languages. Access to the database is usually provided by universities and other institutions. On its website, the TLL provides additional information about how to navigate the online database. The TLL‘s website also provides an important newer version of its Index, including material published since 1990.

The “User Guide” in English is here, which is the best starting place. This provides an illustrated breakdown of the database and its features.

The Praemonenda in English is here. This document includes details on the writing of the TLL, how entries are formatted and organized by topic, and abbreviations and other conventions.

The “Search Help” document (German and English) is here. This helps to locate specific lines in the TLL and search by different criteria.

Each word has an article, citation, and outline view, which will emphasize different information about the entries. Toggle through to see what works for your research needs. The article will be full of citations from various authors, organized into sections based on shared meaning. Editorial notes about the entries are included in italicized text.

Not every quote will have a full citation; if the quote is from the same author and work as the previous one, the citation will only include the new line number. If you’re not sure if a number refers to the same text as a previous abbreviation, hover over the link with your cursor—the URL that pops up at the bottom of the screen will show a unique ID number depending on the work, so you can match it to previous quotes.

To see which author and work a quote is from, you will have to go to the Index Librorum. This is the complete bibliography of the TLL, and each author and work has its own separate ID #. Clicking on the blue abbreviation links will take you to the relevant Index page. The abbreviation in the Index should match the abbreviation in the work. If it’s not clear who the author is, it might be an unusual text like a certain codex, inscription, papyrus, or Bible verse, for example. If you’re looking for one author or work in particular, look up the abbreviation for that author and CTRL+F on the article page.

Example Article View:

screenshot of a section of a TLL entry

Example Index Librorum:

example of the TLL index librorum

It takes some practice to extract information quickly from the TLL, but in time it can become a powerful research tool.

Best of luck!

Amber Leenders is an MA student in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology at UBC and was a Research Assistant on the Ancient Books Project in the academic year 2017-18.

[Posted edited on October 11 to include additional information kindly provided by the TLL].

Project updates

A new academic year brings changes for the Ancient Books project. After a very busy first half of 2018, the project is leaving UBC and moving to the University of Toronto, where I am starting a tenure-track position at the Centre for Medieval Studies. UBC has been supportive of this project from the beginning: both in the initial granting of two Undergraduate Research Awards, which enabled the project to get going, and in the tremendous resources made available as I was putting together a SSHRC Insight Development Grant application. Because of this funding, the project has been able to employ four extremely talented undergraduate and graduate student research assistants.

The SSHRC grant has also enabled me to travel and present preliminary findings from the project at meetings of the Classical Association of Canada and the Canadian Society of Patristic Studies, as well as funding Justin, one of the project RAs, to go on a two-week trip to examine papyri in London, Oxford, and Manchester.

Both Justin and Amber have written blog posts which will appear on the blog in the coming weeks, as will some reflections on the many wonderful things I learned from my students in a graduate seminar that ran last semester on the topic of ‘The Ancient Book’. Once I am settled in Toronto I hope to be able to post more regular updates to the blog.

Libros in giro per axem: Book Storage in Late Antiquity

(A blog post by one of our research assistants, Amber Leenders.)

In the course of reading about manuscripts and their importance in late antique Gaul, I recently came across a curious reference to the seventh-century figure of St. Eloi. According to his hagiographer, the bishop Audoin, Eloi was in possession of a “revolving bookcase.” The phrase that Audoin uses is libros in giro per axem, translated as something like “a great many sacred books arranged in a circle turning on an axis.” He describes how the saint, deep in his routines of prayer and devotion, plucked books out of the revolving structure and flitted from one to the other like “a very wise bee.” St. Eloi’s shelf probably turned on a central, vertical axis like this one.

While it’s fantastic to think about such a feature in the saint’s personal study, I had to wonder – what was the norm for book storage at this time? The revolving bookcase does not reappear until centuries later, and judging from the lack of vocabulary to describe it in Latin, it had not been popular before this point either.

As Rouse and Rouse point out in their article about St. Eloi’s books, the appearance of such a bookcase shows acceptance of the codex form over the earlier papyrus roll. Before the transition to the codex, texts would have usually been written on papyrus scrolls. These were rolled up and stored lying flat on shelves, with an identification tag at the end so it was easy to identify the manuscript. The word for this summarizing tag in Greek is sillybos—the origin of our modern word “syllabus.”

Codices could have been stored on shelves too, although they were not necessarily stood on end like modern library books. The shape of a manuscript’s binding and the location of its title can provide clues as to how it was stored. A good example is the binding of Byzantine books; the end band (the binding of the spine of the book) would often extend past the length of the pages, making it unstable in this position. (See this video for more information.)

Instead of standing such codices upright on shelves, it is more likely that they were stored in chests, such as the one shown in the illuminated manuscript below. This would have been a good way to protect the books and give them a storage space to lie flat:

Portrait of St Matthew from the Askew Gospel Book. London, British Library, Add MS 5111, f 12r. Eastern Mediterranean, 12th century.

In late antique Gaul, books were considered an essential feature in monasteries, and might have accumulated in scriptoria where monks could read and work as scribes. An illustration from the Codex Amiatinus shows a possible method of monastic book storage: sturdy wooden cupboards, with books lying flat on the shelves.

Portrait of Ezra from the Codex Amiatinus. Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Amiat. 1, f. 5r

Whether shelf, cubicle, chest, or a saintly rotating bookcase, the storage methods for books can tell us interesting things about how manuscripts were made, stored, and accessed.


Marzo, Flavio. ‘Byzantine Bookbindings’. The British Library Greek Manuscripts website

Nicholls, Matthew. ‘Ancient Libraries’. The British Library Greek Manuscripts website,

Parpulov, Georgi. ‘Byzantine Libraries’. The British Library Greek Manuscripts website,

Rouse, Mary A., and Richard H. Rouse. ‘Eloi’s Books and Their Bookcase’. Manuscripta 55 (2011), pp. 170–92.



Amber Leenders is an MA student in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology at UBC and a Research Assistant on the Ancient Books Project.

Summer work

The project has now been running for about five months, and we have reached a milestone of sorts recently with the departure of our summer undergraduate research assistants. The generosity of the Faculty of Arts at UBC allowed me to hire two very talented undergraduate students through the International Work Learn Award program. They have done extensive work on building the two databases that will form the backbone of the project, as well as helping me with some other smaller projects.

Alexandra Ore has been busy putting together the database of pre-600 Latin codices. This database, which consists of over 500 items, pulls information from the NUI Galway project, Earlier Latin Manuscripts, as well as Trismegistos. To the information in these two resources, Alexandra has added (where possible) detail about origin and provenance of individual items, as well as tracking how much digital coverage is available (whether the item has been digitised in full, in part, or not at all). Over the coming two years of the project, we will add greater detail about physical characteristics not always recorded for early Latin codices, such as column width, width between columns, margin sizes, evidence for binding, and so on. A great deal of this work will be done from digital facsimiles where they are available, and Alexandra’s heroic work has made it possible for us to get going on this very quickly.


Beginning of Sidonius Apollinaris Epistulae, British Library Harley 4084, f 1r. France, S., 2nd half of the 12th century. Public domain image.

Ches Walton’s summer project focused more on the literary and philological side of things. Initially, Ches spent some time getting to know the fifth-century bishop and author Sidonius Apollinaris, and finding and categorizing references to books as objects, libraries, and related topics in his letters and poems. This research has been used by the PI in an ongoing project on books as cultural artefacts in the fifth century CE, which will be completed later this year.

After working through the extensive writings of the bishop of Auvergne, Ches began contributing to the other major database of the project, which will eventually contain all references to books as physical objects in pre-600 Latin and Greek literature. Ches has been working through the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae entries for membrana (“parchment”) and related words, finding instances in which this word is being used to refer to parchment books. Ultimately, we hope to be able to identify whether there is any change over the first five centuries CE in how books are described. The existence of the TLL entries for many of the words expedites matters considerably, but we will eventually get on to words that have not yet been included in the Thesaurus.

It has been a busy but productive summer. Ches and Alexandra are now focusing on their final year of undergraduate study, and I am incorporating their findings into my research and training in two new graduate research assistants – on whom more later!

– Cillian O’Hogan


Announcing the project

This post marks the formal launch of a new project, ‘Romans, Christians, and their Books, 300-486 CE’. The project explores how the changing form of the book in late antiquity shaped how readers and writers thought about literature. The project website also serves as the landing-page for a graduate seminar which will run in the second term of the 2017-18 academic year at UBC, on the topic of ‘The Ancient Book’.

Preliminary work on the project is being undertaken over the summer of 2017 thanks to two International Work Learn Undergraduate Awards from the Faculty of Arts at UBC, which enabled the appointment of two undergraduate research assistants, Ches Walton and Alexandra Ore.

As the project continues, this blog will be updated periodically with news and short accounts of our findings. You can also follow us on Twitter at @lt_ant_books.