What Do We Know About Literacy Rates in the Ancient World?

Jax

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
6,347
Seattle
Pliny and Trajan? Their letter exchange was Latin, quite definitely.
Hi GoldSeven, Thanks for the correction, for some reason I was sure that Pliny and Trajan were writing in Greek.:eek:


Josephus probably had not much of a reason to translate his work into Latin?
But he was having his work The Jewish War translated into Greek from Aramaic upon arriving in Rome with Titus after the war. This was a propaganda piece for Vespasian. Why not Latin?
 

Jax

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
6,347
Seattle
Literacy exists on various strata. Being able to write your name or a simple sentence does not mean you were necessarily able to read or compose literature.
Ok, let's define our terms and make literacy the ability to read and write at an educated level and not just graffiti and simple bills etc.
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,959
Blachernai
But he was having his work The Jewish War translated into Greek from Aramaic upon arriving in Rome with Titus after the war. This was a propaganda piece for Vespasian. Why not Latin?
Greek had a wider readership, and my guess would be that as an elite in the eastern Mediterranean he had been raised with it. The 'Wars' is a substantial work, and he was probably more comfortable composing in a language more native to him.
 

Jax

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
6,347
Seattle
Was Latin considered harder to read and write than Koine? Or was the opposite true?
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,959
Blachernai
Was Latin considered harder to read and write than Koine? Or was the opposite true?
Generally Greek is considered to be more difficult, although the lack of an article in ancient Latin has always caused me a lot of grief.
 
Mar 2013
1,086
Breakdancing on the Moon.
As has been mentioned there were different levels to reading. It was one thing to recognise your name, a maker's mark, some basic vocabulary etc another time to be able to read the mundane acta and quite another thing entirely to be able to read literature, especially poetry. The later came written in a definitive "book hand" without punctuation on a scroll.

Note that types of writing (we can identify book hand, school hand etc) and punctuational systems (some people used interpuncts to separate the words and a stress marker per word, for example) we used for differing purposes.

Reading itself would be graded from: I can vocalise letters to I can actually give a lectio, a quasi-professional reading and a marked event in Imperial Roman culture.

Roman education was tiered. You'd start by learning the alphabet not as we do but in successive groupings of syllables and then go on to reading lists of words/sentences. Reading practice would go on from there, slowly. At the higher levels you'd study poetry, composition and hopefully rhetoric and law. To very roughly, and somewhat poorly, summarise our evidence.

The percentage was very, very small indeed.
 

Jax

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
6,347
Seattle
As has been mentioned there were different levels to reading. It was one thing to recognise your name, a maker's mark, some basic vocabulary etc another time to be able to read the mundane acta and quite another thing entirely to be able to read literature, especially poetry. The later came written in a definitive "book hand" without punctuation on a scroll.

Note that types of writing (we can identify book hand, school hand etc) and punctuational systems (some people used interpuncts to separate the words and a stress marker per word, for example) we used for differing purposes.

Reading itself would be graded from: I can vocalise letters to I can actually give a lectio, a quasi-professional reading and a marked event in Imperial Roman culture.

Roman education was tiered. You'd start by learning the alphabet not as we do but in successive groupings of syllables and then go on to reading lists of words/sentences. Reading practice would go on from there, slowly. At the higher levels you'd study poetry, composition and hopefully rhetoric and law. To very roughly, and somewhat poorly, summarise our evidence.

The percentage was very, very small indeed.
What level of ability would be necessary to read a Greek novel or for instance the Gospel of Mark?
 
Mar 2013
1,086
Breakdancing on the Moon.
Not much. Knowledge of Greek and literacy basically. Most Greek novels would be slightly more classicising in their Greek than the gospels are. But not very difficult for anyone with the usual exposure to Greek. We're not talking Thucydides here. In one of his poems Persius (who IS a difficult poet) actually uses a Greek novel as an insult e.g if this is too complex for you mate go read the Kallirhoe.

Honestly if you're going to read one of the novels, in my personal opinion, your major asset will be patience because believe me they are bloody awful.
 

Jax

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
6,347
Seattle
Not much. Knowledge of Greek and literacy basically. Most Greek novels would be slightly more classicising in their Greek than the gospels are. But not very difficult for anyone with the usual exposure to Greek. We're not talking Thucydides here. In one of his poems Persius (who IS a difficult poet) actually uses a Greek novel as an insult e.g if this is too complex for you mate go read the Kallirhoe.

Honestly if you're going to read one of the novels, in my personal opinion, your major asset will be patience because believe me they are bloody awful.
What social group range would you assign to people in this time period who read Greek novels or the Gospels and further who wrote them?