Libraries represent an essential component of Greco-Roman culture's expansion across the Mediterranean. The first public library in Rome was the Atrium Libertatis, founded in the first century BC, an institution that was probably influenced by the tradition of the eastern Mediterranean as seen in the royal libraries of the Hellenistic kingdoms and the Greek gymnasia. The literary sources and the archaeological record reveal that all the public libraries so far discovered had multiple purposes that mingled the essential tasks of this type of institution. This multifunctional architectural style expanded outward from Rome back into the eastern Mediterranean, particularly during the second century AD, integrating new functions and influenced by local traditions. This article examines the historical development of the most representative features of Roman libraries and proposes new insights into the multifunctionality of these complex spaces.

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