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p239 Capsa, Capsarii

Unsigned articles on p239 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

Woodcuts are from Smith's Dictionary; any color photos are mine © William P. Thayer

[image ALT: A photograph of a lifesize statue of an adolescent in a toga, with a bookbox at his feet. It is an ancient Roman statue of a student in the Vatican Museums.]

To complete Smith's article, here's how big these book-boxes were: statue of a schoolboy now in the Octagonal Court of the Vatican. (See the detail here, just of the box.)

CAPSA (dim. CAPSULA), or SCRINIUM, the box for holding books among the Romans. These boxes were usually made of beech-wood (Plin. H. N. XVI.43 s84), and were of a cylindrical form. There is no doubt respecting their form, since they are often placed by the side of statues dressed in the toga. The following woodcut, which represents an open capsa with six rolls of books in it, is from a painting at Pompeii.


[image ALT: An engraving of a squatly cylindrical case, with a lock, open at the top to reveal 6 scrolls standing on end. It is an illustration of an ancient Roman book-box, called a capsa.]

There does not appear to have been any difference between the capsa and the scrinium, except that the latter word was usually applied to those boxes which held a considerable number of rolls (scrinia da magnis, Mart. I.3). Boxes used for preserving other things besides books, were also called capsae (Plin. H. N. XV.17 s18; Mart. XI.8), while in the scrinia nothing appears to have been kept but books, letters and other writings.

The slaves who had the charge of these book-chests were called capsarii, and also custodes scriniorum; and the slaves who carried in a capsa behind their young masters the books, &c. of the sons of respectable Romans, when they went to school, were also called capsarii (Juv. X.117). We accordingly find them mentioned together with the paedagogi (Suet. Ner. 36).

When the capsa contained books of importance, it was sealed or kept under lock and key (Mart. I.67); whence Horace (Ep. I.20.3) says to his work, Odisti claves, et grata sigilla pudico. (Becker, Gallus, vol. I p191; Böttiger, Sabina, vol. I p102, &c.)

Thayer Note: See also this particularly clear modern line drawing at VROMA.

CAPSARII, the name of three different classes of slaves:—

  1. Of those who took care of the clothes of persons while bathing in the public baths [Balneae, p189]. In later times they were subject to the jurisdiction of the praefectus vigilum (Dig. 1 tit. 15 s3).

  2. Of those who had the care of the capsae, in which books and letters were kept [Capsa].

  3. Of those who carried the books, &c. of boys to school [Capsa].


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Page updated: 1 Oct 06