Ancient books had no spines. Instead, many of those from Oxyrhynchus and elsewhere came equipped with tags made of papyrus or parchment, called sillyboi which were glued or tied to the outside of the roll and allowed the book to be identified at a glance while still stored in a capsa (kibotos), a container for papyrus book-rolls.
About a half dozen such tags have been published, most of them from Oxyrhynchus. Cicero refers to them with the spelling sittybai in his letters to Atticus (Ad Att. iv 8.2, iv.5.4). The tags were attached to the back of the roll, hanging down, with the title on the tag facing outwards, as seen in a wall painting from Herculaneum.
Title tag: Tryphon, On the Dialect of the Laconians (second century AD)
A sillybos or label bearing the name and title of a book by the grammarian Tryphon. He wrote numerous works on the Greek lyric poets. This book probably explained the language and words of poets like the seventh century lyric poet Alcman who wrote in that dialect.
‘On the Dialect of the Laconians by Tryphon, son of Ammonius, [the first book?] of two books.’
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri vol. XXIV no. 2396.
Title tag: Hermarchus, In Empedoclem IX (first or second century AD)
Sillybos or title tag for the ninth book of the treatise Against Empedocles by the third century BC philosopher Hermarchus, a pupil of Epicurus. Hermarchus’ original treatise extended to twenty-two books, according to a later biographer, Diogenes Laertius, who calls the work by the title Epistles concerning Empedocles. The sillybos shows that Cicero and a papyrus from Herculaneum give the correct title in the form Against Empedocles.
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri vol. XLVII no. 3318.
Title tag: Commentary on Simonidea (second century AD)
Sillybos or title-tag for a commentary (hypomnema) on a book entitled simply Simonidea. The monogram abbreviation hyp(omnema) also appears in the next example, and in a title (probably also a sillybos) for a commentary on book 4 of the poet Alcman (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2392). E. Lobel thought that ‘Simonidea’ might be taken to mean various poems of Simonides. But the normal title for a commentary on these would be Hypomnema on Poems of Simonides (Simonidou melon hupomnema). R. Pfeiffer argued that the title was for a popular exposition of the collection of proverbs known as ‘Sayings of Simonides’.
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri vol. XXV no. 2433.
Title tag: Commentary on Aristophanea (second century AD)
Sillybos or title-tag for a commentary (hypomnema) on a book entitled Aristophanea. Presumably these were points of interpretation or discussion on the plays of the fifth century Athenian comic dramatist Aristophanes (or alternatively on the work of the third century grammarian and scholar Aristophanes of Byzantium). In the first line, the last three letters of the author’s name can be read, perhaps [Aristarch]os ([Aristar]khou | Arist[o]phaneion). In the last line, the number six has been written (normally this would express a book number), followed by the monogram abbreviation hyp(omnema).
P.Oxy. inv. 5 1B.44/G(b).
Memorandum(?): Homer, Iliad 2 + month (third century AD)
A square slip of papyrus recording the title Iliad, Book II, followed by a date: the month Mekheir (February) and a number (zeta crossed out and corrected to eta?). Purpose unknown. Several sillyboi (Oxyrhynchus Papyri nos. 381 and 958) designate records (mnemonika) for business or administrative activities specified by month and year of an emperor’s reign. The papyrus slip might be thought to label a copy of Iliad 2 similarly written in the month Mecheir. But in comparison with extant sillyboi, the slip seems too wide to hang properly if attached to the end of the papyrus roll, and is thus more likely a reader’s note or reminder for reading or study.
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri vol. XXXI no. 2605.