How many people could read and write in the ancient world of the Greeks and Romans? No one has previously tried to give a systematic answer to this question. Most historians who have considered the problem at all have given optimistic assessments, since they have been impressed by large bodies of ancient written material such as the graffiti at Pompeii. They have also been influenced by a tendency to idealize the Greek and Roman world and its educational system.In Ancient Literacy W. V. Harris provides the first thorough exploration of the levels, types, and functions of literacy in the classical world, from the invention of the Greek alphabet about 800 B.C. down to the fifth century A.D. Investigations of other societies show that literacy ceases to be the accomplishment of a small elite only in specific circumstances. Harris argues that the social and technological conditions of the ancient world were such as to make mass literacy unthinkable. Noting that a society on the verge of mass literacy always possesses an elaborate school system, Harris stresses the limitations of Greek and Roman schooling, pointing out the meagerness of funding for elementary education.