From the very moment that writing arose, people trusted books with all their wisdom. They wrote on clay tablets, papyri, palm leaves, parchment. Writers, scientists, and philosophers strove to preserve their thoughts, knowledge, and experience for posterity. Therefore, the creation of temples of knowledge – libraries, has always been approached with particular trepidation.
It should come as no thunderbolt that today many of these storehouses of wisdom are on the list of the world’s top attractions. Surprising facts about the most outstanding libraries of the Ancient World from different parts of the globe, further in the review.
Libraries have been around since time immemorial. Thanks to them, scientists were able to find a lot of helpful information about many of the great civilizations of antiquity. About those whose texts, books and documents have not reached our times – science knows almost nothing. In the ancient world, they perfectly understood the value of information and did everything possible to preserve it. The rulers brought books from all over the Earth, from wherever they could get when it was impossible to get the original, copies made from it. Texts translated from foreign languages; scribes copied manually. Descendants fully appreciated this titanic work.
Villa of the papyri
This library was not the most extensive library of antiquity. But this is the only storehouse of wisdom, the collection of which has survived to this day. The library contained 1,800 scrolls in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum in a villa built by Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius.
In 79 AD, a terrible catastrophe occurred – the eruption of the dormant volcano Vesuvius. The library turned out to safely bury for centuries under layers of volcanic ash. Archaeologists rediscovered the blackened, charred scrolls in the 18th century. Modern researchers have only recently found a way to decipher all of these ancient texts. It already knows that the library contains several texts by the Epicurean philosopher and poet Philodemus.
Libraries of Trajan’s Forum
Around AD 112, Emperor Trajan completed the construction of a vast multi-purpose complex in the heart of Rome. This forum boasted squares, markets, and religious temples. Most importantly, it also included one of the most famous libraries of the Roman Empire.
The library consisted of two parts: one for works in Latin and the other for positions in Greek. Its premises locate on opposite sides of the entrance with Trajan’s column. Both sections of the library are elegantly decorated with marble and granite.
These included large reading rooms and two levels of alcoves with bookshelves. About 20,000 scrolls kept there. Historians cannot say for sure when Trajan’s magnificent double library ceased to exist.
Library of Celsus
In ancient Rome, significant attention was paid to the development of science. More than two dozen large libraries existed on the territory of the great empire. The capital was by no means the only place where many magnificent literary works keep. The male child of the Roman consul Tiberius, Julius Celsus Polemaan, built a library for his father in Ephesus in 120 AD.
The richly decorated facade of the building has survived to this day. Marble stairs and columns and four statues that embody Wisdom, Virtue, Intelligence, and Knowledge amaze with the subtlety of execution and incredible beauty. The interior of the room consisted of a rectangular hall and several small niches with bookcases. The library contained about 12,000 scrolls. One of the exciting features of this library is Celsus itself is buried inside in a decorative sarcophagus.
The most famous of the ancient library in the world founded around the 7th century BC. It was done for the “royal contemplation” of the ruler of Assyria, Ashurbanipal. It was on the territory of modern Iraq in the city of Nineveh.
The library contained several tens of thousands of cuneiform tablets, strictly ordered by subject. Most of these tablets had archival documents, religious and scientific texts. There were also literary works, including the legendary “The Tale of Gilgamesh.” King Ashurbanipal was very fond of books. Plundering the territories he conquered, the ruler managed to collect a wealthy library.
Archaeologists discovered the ruins of this true temple of human wisdom in the middle of the 19th century. Most of the content now house in the British Museum in London. Curiously, there is a threatening inscription on some of the books and tablets that all sorts of troubles await the one who stole these tablets. King Ashurbanipal acquired many of his tablets by robbery, but he was worried that a similar fate would befall him. The writing in one of the texts warns that if someone infringes on theft, the gods will “overthrow him” and “erase his name, his seed on earth.”
Library of Alexandria
After the decease of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, power over Egypt passed into the hands of his former military leader Ptolemy I Soter. The newly minted ruler decided to create an actual scientific center in Alexandria. The result of his efforts was the Library of Alexandria. This temple of science has become a genuine intellectual pearl of the ancient world.
Unfortunately, scientists know incredibly little about what books and texts keep in this library. Researchers believe the library could have stored over half a million papyrus scrolls. These were literary works, historical texts, and books on law, mathematics, and natural science. In those days, scholars from all over the Mediterranean coast sought to get to the Library of Alexandria. Many of them even lived right there and received government scholarships. Scientists have carried out various studies and rewrote existing texts. At different times, the real luminaries of the science of the ancient world stayed there: Strabo, Euclid, and Archimedes.
The end of the great library was tragic. In 48 BC, it burned down. Julius Caesar accidentally set fire to the harbor of Alexandria during a battle with the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy XIII troops. The fire destroyed most of the scrolls and books. Despite this, the library continued to function as a research center. Some scholars argue that it finally ceased to exist in 270 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Aurelian.
Library of Pergamum
The Pergamum Library create during the Attalid dynasty in the 3rd century BC. It locates on the territory of modern Turkey. In those ancient times, it was a true treasury of human knowledge. About 200,000 scrolls keep there. The library houses a temple complex dedicated to the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena. It consisted of four rooms.
Three rooms use for storing books. Another served as a place for scientific discussions, banquets, and meetings.
The ancient chronicler Pliny the Elder wrote that the Pergamum library eventually became so famous that it competed with the Alexandrian library. There is even a legend that the Ptolemaic dynasty forbade the supply of papyri to Pergamum. Thus, they tried somehow to slow down the development of the Pergamum library. This was good for the city. It later became a leading center for the production of parchment paper.