The Library

During the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II 605 – 562 BC.

There was a great library in Babylon. In Greece, the Athenian tyrant Peisistratos would die in the sixth century BC.

founded the first large public library.

From this mixed heritage of both Greek and Near Eastern book collections came the idea for the Library of Alexandria.

The old library burned down under Caesar. The library is the most famous in the world.

In 2002, Alexandria received a new library, which was built with the help of UNESCO and has an area of approx.

of 45000 m2. The Great Library in Alexandria, Egypt,

was one of the largest and most important libraries of antiquity.

The library was part of a larger research institution called the Mouseion,

which was dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts.

The idea of a universal library in Alexandria may have been proposed by Demetrius of Phalerum,

an exiled Athenian statesman living in Alexandria, to Ptolemy I Soter,

who may have drawn up the plans for the library, but the library itself

was probably only built during the reign of his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus.

The library quickly acquired many papyrus scrolls,

largely due to the Ptolemaic kings’ aggressive and well-financed text acquisition policies.

It is not known exactly how many such roles were housed at any one time, but estimates vary.

Alexandria was considered the capital of knowledge and learning due to the Great Library.

Many important and influential scientists worked in the library in the third and second centuries BC,

including, among others: Zenodotus of Ephesus,

who worked to standardize the texts of the Homeric poems;

Callimachus, who wrote the Pinakes, was sometimes considered the world’s first library catalogue;

Apollonius of Rhodes, who wrote the epic poem the Argonautica;

Eratosthenes of Cyrene, who calculated the circumference of the Earth accurately within a few hundred kilometers;

Aristophanes of Byzantium, who invented the system of Greek diacritics and was the first to divide poetic texts into lines;

and Aristarchus of Samothrace, who produced the definitive texts of the Homeric poems,

as well as extensive commentaries thereon. During the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes

the Serapeum established a daughter library, this was a temple for the Greco-Egyptian god Serapis.

In 145 v. In the past, problems arose in the library.

And this began a purge of intellectuals from Alexandria. During the reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon,

which resulted in Aristarchus of Samothrace, the chief librarian, resigning his position and being exiled to Cyprus.

Many other scholars, including Dionysius Thrax and Apollodorus of Athens, fled to other cities,

where they continued to teach and conduct scholarship.

The library, or part of its collection, was accidentally burned by Julius Caesar during his civil war in 48 BC.

Unfortunately, it is unclear how much was actually destroyed and how much survived.

The geographer Strabo mentions that he found the Mouseion around 20 BC.
and the prodigious scholarly output of Didymus Chalcenterus in Alexandria from this period indicates that he had access to at least some of the library’s resources.

The library became smaller in Roman times due to lack of funding and support.

Membership appears to have ended in 260 AD. Between 270 and 275 AD.

the city of Alexandria saw a revolt and an imperial counterattack that likely destroyed what was left of the library,

if it still existed at that time.

The Daughter Library of the Serapeum may have been preserved after the destruction of the main library.

The Serapeum was built in 391 AD.

destroyed and demolished under a decree of the Coptic Christian Pope Theophilus of Alexandria,

but it did not appear to contain any books at the time, and was mainly used as a gathering place

for Neoplatonist philosophers following the teachings of Iamblichus.

The library was built in the Brucheion Royal Quarter as part of the Mouseion.

The main purpose was to show the wealth of Egypt, with research as a lesser objective,

but its contents were used to help the ruler of Egypt. The exact layout of the library is not known,

but ancient sources describe the library of Alexandria as a collection of scrolls, Greek columns,

a peripatos walk, a space for communal dining, a reading room, meeting rooms,

gardens and lecture halls could create a model for the modern university campus. A hall contains shelves for the collections of papyrus scrolls.

The Ptolemaic rulers wanted the library to be a repository of all knowledge and they worked to expand the library’s collections through an aggressive and well-funded book purchasing policy.

They sent royal agents with large sums of money and the order gave them as many texts as possible on any subject

and by each author to purchase and collect. Older copies of texts were preferred to new,

because older copies were believed to be less copied and therefore more likely to resemble the original author.

This program included trips to the Rhodes and Athens book fairs.

According to the Greek medical writer Galen, according to the decree of Ptolemy II

all books found on ships entering port,

taken to the library, where they were copied by official scribes.

The original texts were kept in the library and the copies were delivered to the owners.

The library focused in particular on acquiring manuscripts of the Homeric poems,

which formed the basis of Greek education and were revered above all other poems.

The library had therefore acquired many different manuscripts of these poems,

where each copy is labeled to indicate where it comes from.

In addition to collecting works from the past, the Mouseion in which the library was located also served as home to a large number of international scholars, poets, philosophers and researchers,

which, according to the Greek geographer Strabo from the first century BC,

had a large salary, free food and shelter and exemption from taxes.

They had a large, circular dining room with a high domed ceiling where they ate meals together.

There were also numerous classrooms, where the scholars were expected to at least occasionally teach students.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus was said to have a great interest in zoology,

so it is speculated that the Mouseion may even have had a zoo for exotic animals.

According to the classical scholar Lionel Casson, the idea was that if scholars were completely freed from all the burdens of everyday life, they would be able to devote more time to research and intellectual pursuits.

Al in 283 v. B.C. they numbered perhaps between thirty and fifty learned men.

The first recorded chief librarian was Zenodotus of Ephesus who lived 325 – 270 BC. B.C.

Zenodotus’s most important work was devoted to the creation of canonical texts for the Homeric poems and the early Greek lyric poets.

Most of what is known about him comes from later commentaries that record his favorite readings of certain passages.

Zenodotus is known to have written a glossary of rare and unusual words arranged in alphabetical order, making him the first person known to have used alphabetical order as a method of organization.

Since the collection in the Library of Alexandria seems to have been arranged alphabetically by the first letter of the author’s name from a very early date, Casson concludes that it is very likely that Zenodotus was the one who organized it in this way.

However, Zenodotus’ alphabetization system used only the first letter of the word and it was not until the second century AD,

known that someone had applied the same method of alphabetization to the remaining letters of the word.

After Zenodotus died or retired, Ptolemy II appointed Philadelphus Apollonius of Rhodes 295 – 215 BC,

A native of Alexandria and a student of Callimachus, he became the second chief librarian of the Library of Alexandria.

A native of Alexandria and a student of Callimachus, he became the second chief librarian of the Library of Alexandria.

According to legend, during the librarianship of Apollonius, the mathematician and inventor Archimedes arrived 287 -212 BC.

Visit the Library of Alexandria.

During his stay in Egypt, Archimedes is said to have observed the rise and fall of the Nile,

which led him to invent the Archimedes screw,

which can be used to transport water from low lying bodies to irrigation ditches.

The third chief librarian, Eratosthenes of Cyrene 280 – 194 BC Chr.,

is best known today for his scientific works, but he was also a literary scholar.

Eratosthenes’ most important work was his treatise Geographika, which originally consisted of three parts.

The work itself did not survive, but many fragments of it have been preserved through quotations in the writings of the later geographer Strabo.

Eratosthenes was the first scholar to apply mathematics to geography and map making and,

in his treatise on the measurement of the earth, he calculated the circumference of the earth and was only

less than a few hundred kilometers away.

As the library grew, it ran out of space to house the scrolls in its collection,

so during the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes it opened a satellite collection in the Serapeum of Alexandria.

During the early second century BC, several scholars from the Library of Alexandria studied works on medicine.

Zeuxis the Empiricist is credited with writing commentaries on the Hippocratic Corpus and he actively participated in obtaining medical writings for the library’s collection.

A scholar named Ptolemy Epithetes wrote a treatise on wounds in the Homeric poems,

a subject that straddles the border between traditional philology and medicine.

However, it was also in the early second century BC.

that the political power of Ptolemaic Egypt began to decline.

After the Battle of Raphia in 217 BC. B.C. Ptolemaic power became increasingly unstable.

There were revolts among parts of the Egyptian population and in the first half of the second century BC. B.C.

the connection with Upper Egypt was largely disrupted.

Aristarchus of Samothrace 216 – c. 145 v. B.C.

was the sixth head librarian.

He earned a reputation as the greatest of all ancient scholars and not only produced texts of classical poems and prose works,

but complete hypomnemata, or long, detached commentaries on them.

These commentaries usually quote a passage from a classical text,

explain its meaning, define unusual words used in it and comment on whether the words in

the passage were actually those used by the original author or whether they were later interpolations added by scribes.

He made many contributions to various studies, but especially the study of the Homeric poems and his editorial opinions

are commonly cited as authoritative by ancient authors.

Part of one of Aristarchus’s commentaries on Herodotus’ history is preserved in a papyrus fragment. In 145 v. B.C.

However, Aristarchus became entangled in a dynastic struggle in which he supported Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator as the ruler of Egypt.

Ptolemy VII was assassinated and succeeded by Ptolemy VIII Physcon,

who immediately began punishing all those who had supported his predecessor,

forcing Aristarchus to flee Egypt and take refuge on the island of Cyprus,

where he died shortly afterwards.

Ptolemy VIII expelled all foreign scholars from Alexandria and forced them to disperse throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

Ptolemy VIII Physcon’s removal of the scholars from Alexandria caused a shift in the history of Hellenistic science.

The scholars who had studied at the Library of Alexandria and their students continued to conduct research and write treatises,

but most of them no longer did so in collaboration with the library.

A diaspora of Alexandrian science took place,

in which scholars spread first into the eastern Mediterranean and later into the western Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, in Alexandria, from the middle of the second century BC, Chr.,

the Ptolemaic rule in Egypt less stable than before.

Faced with increasing social unrest and other major political and economic problems, the later Ptolemies did not pay as much attention to the Library and the Mouseion as their predecessors.

The status of both the library and the chief librarian declined.

Several of the later Ptolemies used the position of chief librarian as a mere political plum to reward their most devoted supporters.

Ptolemy VIII appointed a man named Cydas, one of his palace guards,

to chief librarian and Ptolemy IX Soter II 88-81 BC. Would have given the position to a political supporter.

Eventually, the position of chief librarian lost so much of its former prestige that even contemporary authors were no longer interested in establishing the terms of office for individual chief librarians.

In 48 v. BC, during Caesar’s civil war, Julius Caesar was besieged in Alexandria.

His soldiers set fire to some of the Egyptian ships in Alexandria harbor as they attempted to clear the yards to blockade the fleet of Cleopatra’s brother Ptolemy XIV.

This fire apparently spread to the parts of the city closest to the docks, causing significant destruction.

The Roman playwright from the first century AD.

and the Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger quotes Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita Libri, written between 63 and 14 B.C.

It was written that the fire Caesar caused destroyed 40,000 scrolls from the library of Alexandria.

Scholars have interpreted Cassius Dio’s wording to indicate that the fire did not destroy the entire library itself,

but only a warehouse near the docks used by the library to house scrolls.

Whatever destruction Caesar’s fire caused, the library was clearly not completely destroyed.

Furthermore, Plutarch records that Marc Antony, in the years leading up to the Battle of Actium in 33BC.

Cleopatra had given up all 200,000 scrolls in the Library of Pergamum.

Plutarch himself notes that his source for this anecdote was sometimes unreliable and it is possible that the story

more than propaganda is intended to show that Mark Antony was loyal to Cleopatra and Egypt rather than to Rome.

In 642 AD Alexandria was captured by the Muslim army of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As.

Several later Arabic sources describe the destruction of the library on the orders of Caliph Omar.

Bar-Hebraeus, writing in the thirteenth century, quotes Omar and says to Yaḥyā al-Naḥwī: “If those books are in accordance with the Qur’an, we have no need of them; and if they are against the Qur’an, destroy them.

Later scholars, including Father Eusèbe Renaudot in 1793, are skeptical of these stories,

given the time that had passed before they were written down and the political motives of the various writers.