Continuities and changes in the practice of letter-collecting from cicero to late antiquity

Bronwen Neil*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Letter-collections in classical and late antiquity give witness to the flourishing of letter-writing, from the formulaic exchanges between the elites of the Graeco-Roman empire to more wide-ranging correspondence by Roman, Gallic and eastern bishops and the monks of Egypt. While in classical antiquity only the elites could afford to write and send letters, due to the expense of the materials and limited access to postal services, in late antiquity the letter and the letter-collection became democratised, and their purpose broadened far beyond the original scope of Graeco-Roman letters. This volume is the first multi-authored study of classical, New Testament and late-antique letter-collections, crossing the traditional divide between these disciplines by focusing on Latin and Greek epistolary sources. Its authors attend to various aspects of the mechanics of making and transmitting letter-collections, whether in the ancient author’s lifetime or in the following centuries. Any attempt to identify the rationale behind most compilations of letters from classical and Christian antiquity is difficult, not least because poor survival rates make pronouncements on letter-collections hazardous. Nevertheless, through careful study of compilation techniques and distribution strategies, we may assess and compare the epistolary outputs of classical and early Christian writers, both individually and collectively. Epistolary theory has been the focus of much excellent scholarship in recent decades, especially in the fields of classical and New Testament studies. Until recently, however, scholarship on letter-collections mostly focused on individual authors and their collections, and did not seek to emphasise the ways in which late-antique letter-collections were similar to or distinct from Graeco-Roman epistolography. The shift in focus on letter-collections as a literary unit in their own right is signalled by Roy Gibson’s groundbreaking 2012 article, in which he argued that there was considerable continuity of purpose other than biographical or historical narration in the rationales of those who collated non-fictional classical and late-antique letters.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCollecting early Christian letters
Subtitle of host publicationfrom the apostle Paul to late antiquity
EditorsBronwen Neil, Pauline Allen
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781316135655
ISBN (Print)9781107091863
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


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