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“Burning Knowledge”: studies of bookburning in ancient Rome
Sarefield, Daniel Christopher

2004, Doctor of Philosophy, Ohio State University, History.
This dissertation investigates the ancient Roman practice of bookburning. The public destruction of religious writings by fire was a development of the Hellenistic period. It was in this period that strictly religious associations began to develop and writing was first becoming important for religious practices of many kinds, and for the dissemination of religious ideas. The earliest incidents of bookburning suggest that this action was taken from time to time against religious activities and practitioners that were outside of the supervision and control of Roman officials, who saw these novel and foreign practices as a threat to the proper religious observances that were believed to ensure the harmony with the gods upon which the security and stability of Roman society was dependent. To burn a forbidden book was, therefore, an act of piety on the part of the destroyer, who in this early period was invariably a representative of the state. It was commonly performed as a religious ritual and care was taken to make certain that it was seen by the greatest number of witnesses. During the period of the Roman Empire, further developments to the practice of bookburning occurred, as this ritual came to be used by religious officials in intercommunal conflicts within the Graeco-Roman religious milieu. They were not strictly representatives of the state. Bookburning became a method by which religious communities and authorities could express their power and opinions regarding their rivals and their beliefs. However, Roman emperors continued to authorize and even oversee bookburning for the same reasons as their predecessors. With the rise of Christianity to the status of Roman state religion during the fourth century C.E., bookburning came to be an activity performed by a wide range of individuals, from imperial officials, to bishops and other Christian religious authorities, and even pious laypersons. The purpose of bookburning remained the protection of the harmony with the divine, but the locations and performers of these destructions came to associate this activity more and more with the interests of the Christian Church.
Timothy Gregory (Advisor)
275 p.

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