The Library of Alexandria


June 2, 2013BlogNo comments

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Gathering the sources of knowledge in one place and making it public. This solemn idea of spreading knowledge is not a modern concept. The concept of a library is much older than you think.

The Establishment of the First Library Ever

Allegedly, world’s first library was built in old city of Alexandria, Egypt. The exact time is unknown but claims say it was built by either Ptolemy I (323-283 BC) or his son Ptolemy II (283-246 BC).

The library was not a single building. Actually, there was one main library and other was in the temple of Serapeum or the “daughter library”. Other than that, it was a big premise of buildings including museums, research facilities, rooms for different subjects like astronomy, anatomy and some places as a zoo for exotic animals. Thus, giving the scholars a huge opportunity to work and study on different subjects and flourish their knowledge and understanding further.

Library of Alexandria

Library of Alexandria

There were no books like today at that time obviously. They used papyrus scrolls to store the data. Papyrus was the plant grew near Nile delta, which was vastly available at the time. If we look at the figures, there were around 500,000 scrolls in the library, departed under the section of “mixed” (probable meaning – book contained with more than one work) and “unmixed” (book contained a single work).

Supposedly, it was the very first attempt to capture all the knowledge they could acquire and put it into one place. To do so, they even used aggressive and deceptive methods. Ships coming at the harbor would be searched for the books. If they find any, there was a rule to bring it to library. Then royal scribes would write down all the books and keeping the original copy for library the copies would be given back to the owners. It happened also with the private collectors.

The biggest collection King Ptolemy III acquired from the Athenians. He ‘borrowed’ original scripts of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides from them in exchange of fifteen talents (450 KG of precious metal) as guarantee. The deal was done and then Ptolemy III never returned the original scripts, keeping them safe in the library of Alexandria.

Another big pile of books (over 200,000) came from Roman politician and General Mark Antony as a wedding gift to Cleopatra, a descendant of the Ptolemy dynasty.

Thus, over the years and generations, the great library of Alexandria flourished with the books of local and foreign knowledge and became a big center for research facility. Many well-known scientists, mathematicians and astronomers were the part of the community and they even discovered some of their findings in this premise.

The major inventions by famous personalities were the screw-shaped water pump till used today was invented here by Ptolemy, Eratosthenes measured the diameter of earth, Euclid discovered the rules of geometry and an important book called the Almagest by Ptolemy about the universe was also written here. Another famous personality Archimedes was also a member of the group.

Thus, in ancient times, library of Alexandria was established as a firm ground for research, knowledge and inventions.

The Infamous Destruction

The general idea of the destruction of the library is that Caesar destroyed it in the war of Alexandria by an accidental fire. In 48 BC, during the Alexandrian War, Caesar had to burn his own ships. That fire of the ship accidently spread to the library. Thus, harming and burning around 40000 books. It was a big loss, but by the time the rest of the library was saved.

5th century scroll illustrating the destruction of serapeum by king Theophilus

5th century scroll illustrating the destruction of serapeum by king Theophilus

Although, destined to destroy, library got the second destructive wave by the Emperor Aurelian around 3rd century. In this attack, another great fraction of the collection was destroyed in the attack.

Third attempt of destruction was made by Theodosius in 391. King Theodosius made Paganism illegal. Thus, the temples of Alexandria were forcibly closed. The Serapeum, which was also a temple, was supposedly destroyed the king, as there are no clues of its presence after 4th century.

The last fatal destruction was done by the Arabians. In 642 AD, the Muslim army of Amr ibn al Aas conquered Alexandria and destroyed the library once and for all.

These accidents, attacks and destructions destroyed the precious accumulation of knowledge. This loss can’t be fulfilled in any way.

In Modern Times

As a remembrance of the library of Alexandria, the Egypt government has built another gigantic and memorable library called Bibliotheca Alexandrina. It is an oval shape-building as the symbol of a rising sun. The design was selected from the some 1400 entries. The construction coasted around $ 220 million, a big amount for the country, but the most of the fund was donated by the Arab states. The shelves of the library are filled with some 500,000 books, magazines and informative CD-DVDs.

We can call Library of Alexandria as the ancient times’ Because as today people searches Google even to know how to tie a tie, in that time also people went to the library to know about anything due to the vast resource available there.

The Modern Library Bibliotheca Alexandrina

The Modern Library Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Inside Bibliotheca Alexandrina Library

Inside Bibliotheca Alexandrina Library

Well, after the arrival of internet and gadgets, people are more and more leaning over the electronic media. They are storing more than 3000 books in a tablet or an e-reader. Thus, they are literally carrying their own libraries with them anywhere. That’s a huge step of humanity in every aspect.Though, due to the huge collection of data, the remarkable people attached to it, lifespan filled with wars and foreign-attacks and the uncertain end, the first library which established the idea of gathering knowledge, will be remembered as a milestone in human-history.

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