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A: Roma, Lazio, Italy

The Earliest Image of a Book Cabinet or Armarium

Circa 200 CE
Milkau Ein Römer liest eine Schriftrolle 83 2

Lid of marble sarcophagus, c. 200 CE, in the garden of Villa Balestra in Rome.

The earliest depiction of a Roman book cabinet, or book press, or armarium occurs on the lid of a marble sarcophaus in the garden of the Villa Balestra in Rome. This has been dated about 200 CE.

"In the central portion, 21 in. high, by 151/2 in. wide, is seated figure, reading a roll. In front of him is a cupboard, the doors of which are open. It is fitted with two shelves, on the uppermost of which are eight rolls, the ends of which are turned to the spectator. On the next shelf is something which looks like a dish or shallow cup. The lower part of the press is solid. Perhaps a second cupboard is intended. Above, it is finished off with a cornice, on which rests a very puzzling object. I thought that it was intended to represent a wooden tablet covered with wax, and that the reader had laid it open on the top of his bookpress to indicate that he was making notes from the roll which he was reading. Professor Petersen, on the contrary believes that certain lines on the marble, which I admit are tolerably distinct, are intended to represent surgical instruments, and so to indicate the profession of the seated figure. There is a Greek inscription on the sarcophagus but it merely warns posterity not to disturb the bones of the deceased" (Clark, The Care of Books [1901] 40-41).

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