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Someday throughout the reign of Ptolemy I or Ptolemy II, the Egyptian state determined to construct an establishment devoted to accumulating all human data within the Metropolis of Alexandria.

As the town grew, this establishment grew together with it to turn out to be the best data repository within the historic world.

…after which Julius Caesar burned it down. Perhaps

Study extra in regards to the Library of Alexander, the way it was created, and the way it ended on this episode of Every thing In all places Each day.


The Library of Alexandria was the best-known library within the historic world, but it surely actually wasn’t the primary. 

We all know of not less than one assortment of over cuniform Hittite tablets that had been discovered within the modern-day Turkish metropolis of Bo?azkale.

There was additionally a big library situated on the Academy of Gondishapur in western Iran. It was an infinite assortment of Persian, Indian, and Chinese language texts which could have numbered as excessive as 400,000. 

In reality, the Academy of Gondishapur was so necessary that I would do an episode on it sooner or later. 

That being mentioned, there weren’t a number of libraries. The written phrase was nonetheless uncommon presently. Every thing needed to be written or copied by hand. Literacy was comparatively uncommon and restricted to only some individuals. 

Regardless of how lengthy its civilization was round and lots of of its nice monuments, Egypt wasn’t actually a terrific middle of studying. Data and literacy had been the realms of a choose priestly class who did the job of governing the nation on behalf of the pharaoh.  

This all modified when Alexander the Nice conquered Egypt. Alexander established himself as the brand new Pharoah. He introduced an infusion of Greek tradition into the ruling of Egypt and a better appreciation for data, studying, and philosophy. 

In any case, Alexander was personally tutored as a baby by Aristotle. 

Alexander didn’t stick round and left to go conquer extra lands, a narrative which I coated in my episodes about Alexandria and Alexander’s Tomb.

After his loss of life, one among his high generals, Ptolemy, returned to Egypt along with his corpse and commenced the final dynasty in historic Egypt: the Ptolemic Dynasty. 

It was in all probability throughout the reign of Ptolemy I that the concept was hatched to create a middle of studying in Alexandria. 

In line with legend, the concept for creating a middle of studying got here from Demetrius of Phalerum, who, like Alexander, was a scholar of Aristotle. He was exiled from Athens and got here to Alexandria to serve within the courtroom of Ptolemy. 

It was established someday across the late 4th century or early third century BC. 

I’m utilizing the time period “middle of studying” as a substitute of “library” for a great motive.  The library was simply part of a a lot bigger establishment often called the “Musaeum” or the “Mouseion.” 

The Musaeum was named after the Greek Muses, the goddesses of literature, science, and the humanities.

The Musaeum is the premise for our phrase “museum,” but it surely was actually rather more akin to a college. It was a group of thinkers and philosophers who studied all features of the world. The time period thinker on the time would have additionally included pure philosophy, which at present we name science.

The Library was then only a half, albeit an necessary half, of the better Musaeum, which itself was a part of the better royal palace. 

We don’t know what number of students had been a part of the musaeum, however the perfect guess after it opened is that it hosted 30-50 students initially and as many as 100 in a while. 

Nevertheless, we do know a number of different issues about it. For starters, in contrast to different collections of students, the musaeum wasn’t related to any specific philosophical college. The musaeum was philosophically agnostic and impartial.

The musaeum was run by a priest which was appointed by the king. All the students who had been a part of the musaeum didn’t should pay taxes, had their meals and lodging coated, and had been paid by the Egyptian state.

There have been fairly a number of noteworthy issues that had been achieved on the musaeum. They categorized Egyptian historical past into the 30 dynasties that we nonetheless use at present. They translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek into a piece often called the Septuagint. Additionally they calculated the circumference of the Earth and likewise developed the primary heliocentric idea of the photo voltaic system. 

Archimedes might have give you the concept of his Archimedes screw whereas finding out at Alexandria.

There was additionally quite a lot of translation of different texts, debates, lectures, literary criticism, and scientific experiments. There was additionally a medical college the place college students would dissect cadavers. That is noteworthy as a result of it was rarely finished, and there have been main taboos towards it up till and even by way of the Renaissance. 

The Musaeum finally included lecture halls, laboratories, gardens, an observatory, a eating corridor, and even a zoo. It actually was identical to a college campus.

The library was so well-known simply due to how intensive it was and the way aggressive Alexandria was about rising its assortment.

The pinnacle librarian was not a member of the priesthood. He was a scholar who additionally had the dignity of being the tutor to the son of the king. 

The primary identified head librarian was Zenodotus of Ephesus. His specialty was Greek poems, and he additionally was identified for creating a listing of very uncommon and unusual phrases. That record was the primary time that we all know of in historical past of somebody placing one thing in alphabetical order. 

Zenodotus additionally began the ebook assortment on the library, and by ebook, I actually imply largely scrolls. From right here on out, I’ll use books and scrolls interchangeably, but it surely was largely scrolls.

Zenodotus really organized the texts by alphabetical order based mostly on the creator. Nevertheless, his alphabetical system solely prolonged to the primary letter of the phrase, not subsequent letters. That seemingly logical subsequent step didn’t occur till the second century. 

Every scroll would have a small tag that dangled off the top, which included details about the creator, title, and topic. 

Callimachus of Cyrene was a later head librarian who subdivided the scrolls into genres after which categorized every thing by creator beneath that. The classes had been rhetoric, regulation, epics, tragedies, comedies, lyrics, poetry, historical past, drugs, arithmetic, pure science, and miscellaneous.

The storage of scrolls was on cabinets, and the cabinets had been stored half a meter from the partitions to permit for airflow to maintain the scrolls dry. A giant concern was the expansion of mildew and mildew on damp papyrus. 

The early Ptolemic kings had been very aggressive about buying content material for the library. They might buy scrolls on the two main markets for texts on the time, Athens and Rhodes. 

Additionally they, famously, had a coverage of looking out any ship which entered the Alexandria harbor for books. If there have been books on board, they’d ship them to the library to see if they’d them, and in the event that they didn’t, they’d copy the ebook and return the copy to the ship and hold the unique. 

That they had an enormous rivalry with the opposite large library within the Mediterranean at the moment, the Library of Pergamum. At its peak, the Library of Pergamum had an estimated 200,000 texts, whereas the Library of Alexandria in all probability had twice that many.

Alexandria merely had extra sources to throw at buying their assortment than Pergamum did. 

One of many myths that most individuals consider in regards to the Library of Alexandria is that it ended with the fireplace set by Julius Caesar. This isn’t true. 

The musaeum and the library had each fallen into critical decline throughout the reign of Ptolemy VIII round 145 BC. This coincided with a interval of decline and territorial contraction of Ptolemic Egypt. At one level, the entire students had been expelled from the musaeum and the library.

So the heyday of the Library was properly earlier than the Romans ever obtained to Alexandria. 

In 48 BC, Julius Caesar went to Alexandria to chase down Pompey to complete off the Roman Civil Conflict. The Egyptians killed Pompey as a present to Caesar, one which angered him, and he stayed holed up in Alexandria within the royal palace. 

He was besieged by Ptolemy XIV, the brother of Cleopatra. Caesar set fireplace to ships within the harbor to maintain Ptolemy at bay which inadvertently unfold to the town after which to the library. 

There are not any accounts indicating that the library was burned on goal, and it’s extremely uncertain that will have been the case as there was no strategic motive to take action. 

It additionally isn’t identified how a lot of the library burned. One downside is that we actually do not know the place the bodily library was really situated. 

Some individuals say that the fireplace completely destroyed the library. Nevertheless, Roman historians like Cassius Dio appear to point that it was solely partially broken. One other idea is that the primary library wasn’t really burned in any respect, however moderately it was only a storage facility close to the harbor which the library used. 

Simply 15 years later, in 33 BC, Mark Antony seized all 200,000 scrolls within the Library of Pergamum and gave them as a present to Cleopatra.

This has been interpreted in numerous methods by completely different historians. On the one hand, the library should nonetheless have existed if such a big present had been made. Alternatively, it might need been given to replenish the works misplaced in Caesar’s fireplace. 

We don’t know. 

Over the subsequent 300 years of Roman Imperial rule, we all know that the library and the musaeum nonetheless existed, however we don’t know that a lot about it. We all know Emperor Claudius expanded the musaeum as he himself was a historian. 

Beneath Roman rule, plainly the library suffered an extended decay. The Romans weren’t students just like the Greeks had been. It by no means reached the identical heights it did below the early Ptolemaic rulers. 

We do know that one other department of the Library opened within the metropolis on the Temple of Serapis. We all know this solely as a result of Emperor Theodosius I ordered the closure of all pagan temples, and the library on the Temple Serapis was one among them. 

The library on the temple of Serapis might need been opened as a result of the primary library and musaeum might need been destroyed earlier. The emperors Aurelian and Diocletian each fought battles to reclaim the town, which could have destroyed the unique library. 

We don’t know. 

What we do know is that one of many final main students to show on the Serapis was a girl by the identify of Hypatia of Alexandria. Hypatia was by all accounts in style and properly revered within the metropolis, however she was finally killed throughout a Christian riot within the 12 months 415. 

Issues turn out to be very murky once more. We don’t know what occurred to the library or what occurred to the texts. By all accounts, it appears there was some type of studying middle which nonetheless existed in Alexandria, however how intensive it was is unknown. 

It’s completely doable that the majority or the entire pagan works had been destroyed by Christians. We don’t know. 

The final we actually hear about something was when the Caliph Omar conquered Alexandria in 642. 

Omar ordered the destruction of all of the books within the metropolis. He’s reported to have mentioned, “If these books are in settlement with the Quran, now we have no want of them; and if these are against the Quran, destroy them.”

Oddly sufficient, one thing nearly each caliph instantly after Omar wouldn’t have finished. 

There was a motion to create a brand new Library of Alexandria within the 20th Century, and this mission got here to fruition in 2002 with the opening of the Bibelotechia Alexandria. 

I really visited the brand new library again in 2009. It’s a very trendy constructing which has a really distinguished place close to the Alexandria coast. It’s principally the equal of a pleasant, comparatively new school library. 

Whereas the fireplace of Julius Caesar did seize a lot of the eye in historical past, the reality is that the library was on the decline earlier than the fireplace ever occurred, and subsequent rulers of Alexandria over the centuries completed off regardless of the fireplace didn’t because of a scarcity of concern with studying and data. 

Nonetheless, for not less than a number of centuries, the Library of Alexandria was unquestionably the best repository of information within the historic world. 


Every thing In all places Each day is an Airwave Media Podcast. 

The chief producer is Darcy Adams.

The affiliate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett.

Right now’s assessment comes from listener Paul Stephen over on Fb he writes. 

Thanks, Gary in your dedication to your unbelievable podcast.

You appear to pack simply the correct amount of knowledge and data into each episode.

Thanks, Paul. It’s a number of work day-after-day, however I take pleasure in doing it, and the extra individuals who hear, the extra it makes the work worthwhile.

Bear in mind, should you go away a assessment or ship me a boostagram, you can also have it learn the present.



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