Length of books in ancient history

Dec 2012
436
Does anyone know what would be the longest known books in ancient history? I read that the Records of the Grand Historian was actually longer than the OT, but would their be any surviving books that would be even longer than that? What would be the average length of books in the ancient world (pre 500 or so)?
 

fascinating

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,403
how long would that be exactly though? compared to something like a bible much space did it fill up?
The Loeb Classical Library prints the Natural History as 7 (smallish) volumes, but it doesn't seem to include all of Pliny's 37 'books' (I think some of them may be lost). I don't know but I think the total might reach the same kind of size as the Bible. However, Pliny's work was exceptional. My modern copy of Caesar's Germania and Tacitus' Agricola are both rather small books, a lot less than a modern weighty novel (but about the same size as my copy of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf). I have paperback version of Tacitus' Annals which is substantial novel-sized, but that was written as 16 books, of which only 8 survive to appear in my English version. Thinking about the Bible, a "book" such as the gospel of Luke, to take a random example, is only a few dozen pages long, in the modern, small typography, version I have in my possession. Perhaps we can compare Pliny's 37 books with the Bible's 73, so assume that the former was around half the size of the latter.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,900
Australia
The Bible isn't a valid benchmark. It is a compilation of 66 books all written by different people. Natural History was written by one person.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,595
Dispargum
The Bible isn't a valid benchmark. It is a compilation of 66 books all written by different people. Natural History was written by one person.
True, but the Bible has the advantage of being familiar to most Historum members.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,595
Dispargum
The best way to measure the length of a book is word count. The Bible has 783,137 words. Pliny's "Natural History" contains over one million words.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Edratman

fascinating

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,403
The best way to measure the length of a book is word count. The Bible has 783,137 words. Pliny's "Natural History" contains over one million words.
I am amazed it's over a million words, all researched and written by one man, that really is impressive.

In a way I am surprised the Bible is that short. Regarding novels, or non-fiction books eg history, there is no length standard of course, but it seems to me that most books I see are about 100,000 words (300+ pages of 300+ words a page). Quite a few people have written more than 8 such books. Interesting.
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,893
Blachernai
The TLG says that Diodoros Siculus' Biblioteca is the longest ancient history, counting 401,562 words. Cassius Dio's Roman History is next with 365,962. Overall these works are ranked #10 and #13 in terms of length.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,206
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Just for accuracy [not to add something really important to the thread], since I've spent years chasing manuscripts through the centuries of the Middle Ages ... I would add a technical comment ...

"books"?

Books are not that ancient, even codes are not that ancient.

In the case of parchment rolls you had to talk about meters [or an other unity of measurement about length] instead of pages ...

My personal suggestion is to substitute the word "book" with the generalist word "work".

But this is not about the discussion, it's just a technical detail.