Library of Alexandria and its DestructionIntroductionDestruction of Great Library of Alexandria can be term as a major loss leaving unanswered question as to what happened to it. This library was founded by Ptolemy II Soter being part of Museum in City of Alexandria, although it has been unclear whether this library part of this museum or was in a separate building.
City of Alexandria was founded by Alexandria the Great in the shores of Mediterranean Sea in his visit to Egypt and became the capital for pharaohs. Later this city was taken over by Ptolemy the King of Egypt who moved from old city of Memphis to city of Alexandria. Ptolemy respected learning; this made him to convert the city of Alexandria to a city of learning and culture. His desire to learn developed to establishment of the Great library of Alexandria. Ptolemy founded Museum which was harboring Library of Alexandria at around 283 BC. This Museum was designed to be place of study accommodating lecture halls, a zoo and shrines and the library.Library of Alexandria is one of the great institutions associated with ancient civilization in Egypt.
It has been describe as one of wonders of ancient world making modern civilization to appreciate ancient civilization. Library of Alexandria gives an attractive history of academic and research “…it is estimated that at one time the library of Alexandria held over a million document from Assyria, Greece, Persia, Egypt, India and many other nations Over 100 scholars lived at the Museum full time to perform research, write, lecture or translate copy documents” (Chesser para. 2). From this description it is clear that Library of Alexandria was big but to accommodate all these it had other branch for example branch in The Temple of Serapis which was holding about 10 percent of total Library of Alexandria holdings.
Therefore, partial destruction of this library on several occasions hence the burning of Library of Alexandria has been lamented for age as loss of ancient world greatest storage for knowledge. Although destruction of this library has been blamed on Julius Caesar who directed burning ships in the harbor, Theophilus a Patriarch of Great City of Alexandria conversion to Christian destroyed library material contained in the Temple of Serapis branch and converted it to church. The other personality linked to its destruction is Caliph Omar who ordered destruction of the royal library as it knowledge would contradict teaching of Koran.Destruction of this great ancient institution remains mystery since the suspects involved in its destruction were not accessible and it was not clear for the role they played although they are blamed for this destruction.Ancient library of AlexandriaAlexandria the great the founder of the city of Alexandria “the main harbor of Egypt was once called the pearl of the Mediterranean.” He built this city in 331 BC (Arab para 1). This city was taken over by Ptolemy the King of Egypt who moved from old city of Memphis to city of Alexandria. Ptolemy respected learning; this made him to convert the city of Alexandria to a city of learning and culture.
His desire to learn developed to establishment of the Great library of Alexandria (Trumble pp. 2). Under various Ptolemy Regimes, City of Alexandria gained a major achievement which has been described in the modern civilization as Seven Wonders of the World. Although there were other libraries existing at this time for example papyrus libraries in Egypt and a great library in Athens Library of Alexandria can be termed as the largest in all ancient times. Apart from being a library it held other academic activities for example acted as a research institute conducted in Alexandria Museum.
Library of Alexandria was reputed to have stored all developed knowledge of ancient world. Built in district known as “Brucheim”, it was described as a large building with decorated lecture and banquet. It was built as part of museum in 290 by Ptolemy 1 –Soter (Arab pp 6).
Other academic source claims that University and The Great Library were built in the reign of his son by name Ptolemy II Philadelphus. “The actual founder was Demetrius Phalereus, a follower of Aristotle and counselor of Ptolemy I-Soter, who suggested to the king the idea of establishing a great research center with a universal library attached to it” (Arab para 6).Desire by Soter to crown City of Alexandria as a powerful civilization and cultural centre made his to take this idea positively and funded establishment of the Royal Library. Until Soter’s death Demetrius was in charge of this library making historians to view him as the actual founder.
This development made City of Alexandria to be a capital of civilization and cultural center as well as powerful kingdom. Famous Greek philosophers scholars and writers were the library staff and were able to correct and more than 700,000 papyri and scroll. Unfortunately, this library never lived to pass the wisdom of the ancient which is now lost to us, because it was burnt down.The great library was established by Pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter from Demetrius request and greatly improved by Ptolemy II who procured all books that existed. Ptolemy II wrote to world sovereign and lent there books to copy. Greek authorities lent him books which he copied keeping original and sending copies back. Ships getting to Alexandria were searched of book with purpose of copying them and compared the content with existing books.
Borrowed academic and researched academic materials were arranged in systematic order close to the current library codification for easier search of materials by academicians. Famous Greek scholars and writers contributed immensely to development of this library.The library was headed by Chief librarian chosen under merit from the most outstanding scholar in the field of literature and science appointed by the Ptolemy himself. Appointed scholar would head all proceeding of the library as the president of king’s library. This post was first held by Demetrius who is believed to be the found of this institution assisted by Pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter. Invitation of great artist scientist and philosopher made this library to be able to bank rich information which could not be found in any other place. It is believed that in the reign of Ptolemy III-Euergetes, the library grew to amount of academic material being too much to be accommodated in the original library.
This made Ptolemy III to establish a subsidiary library in the Temple of Sarapis which grew to be a major library and in time of Roman it was a vigorous learning palace.Library of Alexandria was operated in such a formal was in that apart from being head by Chief librarian chosen by the king by merit it contained library assistants called Hyperetea who executed more less the work done by modern library assistants. Hyperetea registered and classified books. “This included its source, author’s name, and that of scholar who edited the text book. Books were labeled as ‘symmigeis’ (mixed) when they included more than one work, and ‘amigei’ (unmixed) for single texts” (Arab para 10).
This show the current codification of library could have there in classification of academic materials in library of Alexandria.Leadership of various Ptolemy made City of Alexandra to be a prestigious placing of having library with almost all books in world of this time. Note that Old Testament used today is a product of this great library. Apart from Greek books acquired for storage, other works from all parts of world which include Israel, Persia, India and Africa was acquired and documented for storage. This made library of Alexandria to be able to provide all books in which mathematics, medicine, physics, geography, literature, astronomy, economic, was established making a strong foundation of different academic disciplines we have today. This was possible since chief librarian was at disposal of a large budget which enabled him to be able to collect book and academic materials through buying or transcription throughout the world. Among the most reputable academic material that were bought were Aristotle book.
Destruction of library of Alexandria can be termed as a major loss since important culture and civilization store in it vanished in ashes. A part from collection of books, this library acted as a home to international famous academic personalities who were welcomed in courtesy of Ptolemy together with there families signaling how scholars and their contributions were highly regarded. Library of Alexandria was a place of study which included lecture area where books were stored in armaria closed, labeled cupboards. Unfortunately all the collections were burnt down a great loss to world civilization.Being the most famous library in ancient world, it acted as centre of learning as well as taking scientific research.
The scientific researches that took place were in different field which include medicine, biological astronomy, physics where the scholar aim was directed towards understanding the world. The Ptolemy did not just collect book but also financed research which resulted to calculation of size of earth, mapping it and invention of India by sailing from west of Spain. All these research was done through the help of material in this great library. Also, research on whether the borrowed books were correct was done to avoid storage of any wrong information.
A large budget was always put at disposal of chef librarian for buying books all over the world where the Greek books featured most especially collections of Aristotle. The organization of this library shows that serious work could have been going on and it destruction show a major loss to humanity. Library of Alexandria had a systematic organization borrowed from Aristotle’s division of knowledge.
That is following style of Aristotle which divided philosophy in to various disciplines. Division of academic work in this library was first designed by Callimachus in accordance to Aristotle style of division into; geometry, mathematics, philology astronomy and medicine.Many great minds who researched in Great Library of Alexandria included; Hypatia 370 BC in Alexandria the last researcher before burning of the great library of Alexandria (Chiorazzi & Russell pp 129). She was a mathematician, physist, and an astronomer. Other researchers who researched in this great library were mathematician Euclid (300BC) during razing of Ptolemy II-Philadephus. According to Arab (para 14), she did good analysis of Archimedes work. Heron (AD 62) the Alexandria mathematician researched and came up with formula of triangle. Eratosthenes (275-195BC) researched and came up with Earth diameter.
Also, this library contributed to research which resulted to improvement of medicine discipline. This was done by professor ‘Herophilus of Chalcedon’. The development of this research contributed to Greek respect to Egyptian knowledge in medicine as the used to borrow this knowledge. In the field of mathematic, Library of Alexandria had stored major contribution in the field of geometry. Pythagoreans and prime numbers mathematic are believed to have been in this great Library before its destruction. Euclid’s The Element book is said to have been the foundation for world of mathematics and geometry was found in this library and still in use in current world. The Element book by Euclid has since then translated into different foreign language which contributed a lot to thinking of great personalities like Isaac Newton showing how this library was storing important knowledge. It is said that Archimedes spent a bit of lifetime in the library of Alexandria and considered to have contributed to storage of most reputable mathematical knowledge among other mathematicians.
This means his contribution to integral calculus and differentiation calculus being part of material which was documented in the Library of Alexandria shows how its destruction was a major loss to civilization of ancient and current world. Other knowledge which could have been traced after Archimedes spending part of his life time in this library was about finding measurements of surface area of sphere and cylinder and law governing the two. Other law concerning floating and sinking which contributed to study of gravity, law of levers and different measure of circle that is diameter and circumference could have been availed by Archimedes before destruction of this library. Sieve of Eratosthenes created by Eratosthenes which is still vital in the in getting primary figures was also available in this library. Mathematics of Apollonius associated with cone which later helped in identification of solar system by astronomer Johannes Kepler was also store in this library.
In the field of medicine library of Alexandria was harboring knowledge of major personalities. Major knowledge in nervous system heart and blood circulation, digestive system, importance of nutrition and mental illness was contained in this great library. This is because Alexandrians had done major studies on anatomy which can be traced from time Aristotle who had come up to master human anatomy. Other personality which contributed in this field for was Herophilus (335-280 BC). Helophilus contribution to field of anatomy and gave foundation of medicine field could have contributed to this knowledge to the library of Alexandria. Among major prove he made in this field is that there is no association between heart and liver and the emotion which he attributed to brain.
He was associated wit naming and describing of prostate and the duodenum. Herophilus established basics of field of gynecology and enlighten that menses was a normal condition as well as quantifying the pulse and discovering various part of brain. Erasistratus (276-195 BC) is another scholar who could have contributed a lot and his work could have been part of materials damaged in the library of Alexandria. He contributes a lot in the science of physiology, discovered epiglottis, nervous system and made various parts of heart for example tricuspid valve.Alexandrians geography knowledge on the earth spherical characteristic was in existence in time of this library. Library of Alexandria had major proves to show earth was sphere and circulation of it circumference done or discovered by Eratosthenes. He explained the earth was not flat and established that if it was flat Alexandria could not experience a shadow. Angle of shadow between Alexandria and Cyene helped him to be able to measure circumference of earth.
This knowledge became very vital in development which helped discovery and designing of maps which paved way for navigators to discover circumnavigation. Hipparchus (190-125BC) has contribute to geography of earth by defining longitude and latitude showing how the Library of Alexandrian could have been carrying a lot of geographical knowledge still in use in our modern civilization.From the above description ancient Library of Alexandria was a reputable institution and its destruction means a lot of loss to mankind and waste of effort of various Ptolemy who made it to be successful. Stories explaining demise of this library have been in circulation for many centuries and blame for the damage being put to three parties who occupied power and rule City of Alexandria after it was defeated by Greeks. “The suspects respectively are a Roman, a Christian and a Moslem – Julius Caesar, Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria and Caliph Omar of Damascus” (Hannam para 3). Fact that this destruction of this library could not have been destroyed by all these characters but only one of them give did it making it to be unclear on who was really contributed to destruction of Royal Library of Alexandria. This paper tries to reconcile different research material and try to get near to reality of destruction of Ancient Library of Alexandria.According to Arab (para.
18), conflict evolved between Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra and resolved by Caesar after his landing at city of Alexandria at around 48 BC. His intervention on resolve this conflict was biased since he sided with Cleopatra making her to be able to over throne Ptolemy kingdom. This was followed by rage of accusation where Ptolemy accused both Cleopatra and Caesar of treason and directed the army to recapture the palace. This translated to the so called Alexandria War where Caesar’s supplies were overwhelmed by his enemy’s fleet that was in charge of the harbor. Attempt by Caesar to avoid naval warfare translated to burning 110 Egyptian ships at the Egyptian shore which was a bright thought since his enemy could not be able to attack his army. This resulted to Caesar being able to control entrance to the harbor and able to occupy Pharos with advantage of direct communication with his army across the marine. Although this was a major success it translated to a tragedy. Fire from burning of ship at the dock spread making the great library and 40,000 books to be burnt hence a major “loss of treasure and human heritage” (Arab para 18).
Blame of destruction of Library of Alexandria has been disputed, with a number of historians, modern scholars and researcher refuting this fact.Denial of Caesar involvement in destruction of Library of Alexandria is based on the records of the Caesar’s assistant author of the Alexandria book. He indicated that Great city of Alexandria was not built anywhere with wood and could have been fire proof in the time ships were burning. This bring confusion to what whether Caesar contributed to destruction of this library although the some other details of this book Caesar Assistant author contradicts himself when he described “Alexandrians in their attempt to in their attempt to rebuild their fleet were short of oars and therefore used the wood of the roofs from porticos, gymnasia and public building” (Arab para, 27), giving some sense to possibility of Great library catching fire from spread of burning from burning of Egyptian ship in the shore.Explaining this episode, Hannam, confirmed a lot of Arab claims on the alleged attack by Julius Caesar (para 4, 5). According to Hannam on legendary account of this story claimed that Roman was by this time civilized and it ruler by name Julius Caesar could have been responsible for vandalism which made the world to loose such a great ancient institution.
Julius did this act of destruction during his attack of Alexandria in quest to get his political rival by name Pompey. In this pursuit he got himself in a trickery situation of being cut of by Egyptian troops. Pompey was Roman powerful personality of this time who collided with Caesar and had sought refuge in Egypt. In the pursuit mission Caesar realized that he had no alternative other that set ships in harbor ablaze. This thought was successful as enemies were not able to extend their wrath to his troop but this resulted to the most unfortunate act in history of civilization. After the enemy fleet caught fire, this fire did not stop and spread out side the dock. According to Hannam (para 7), Great library was next to the dock infected with flames, unfortunately this fire spread to it reducing more than 400,000 academic scripts to ashes. To confirm this allegation it Julius Caesar was in Alexandria in 47-48 in his chase for Pompey and was able to control this city easily since he had managed to destroy all Egyptian fleet.
According to Hannam, it is claimed that he was staying in palace with Cleopatra before attacked by Pharaoh Army although he overpowered them show possibility of Caesar involvement in destruction of Library of Alexandria.Hannam (para 7, 8, 9) in search for evidence on Caesar involvement in destruction of this great library, tries to review various histories given on this account. The first documented history on this is Caesar written confirmation accounting for the civil war himself. In his writings he described how he set ablaze Alexandrine fleet and dockyard to safeguard his safety. Caesar writings on this account are silent on whether fire spread to other parts away from shore to an extent of burning the Great Library of Alexandria. Conformation of Arab’s story on this account, Hannam (para 4) this story o Civil wars was taken by one of Caesar generals by name Hirtius but is silent on setting fire to Great Library on claim that city was built on stone meaning it would not burn. This account has been described as Caesar’s attempt to cover his action since Alexandria had a capability of burning just like any other city.
As mentioned earlier in this paper, Theophilus who was a Christian is also mentioned as a suspect involved in destruction of Library of Alexandria. According to Hannam (para 19, 20), Theophilus legendary account described Theophilus as Christian leader of Alexandria and lead a group of arsonists who were against any group against Christianity. At this time Christianity was in competition with classical culture and it was becoming increasingly intricate to be a pagan. In the city of Alexandria there was a temple by name Serapeum which was attached to branch of Library of Alexandria.
Great Library of Alexandria contained a lot of knowledge and Theophilus knew that all ancient wisdom which existed that time was in this library. This wisdom would limit possibility of people believing in bible making Theophilus to declare destruction of all pagan temples. Destruction of Serapeum was not easy as it was a huge structure scaring Christian to assault it. Patriarch went back in Rome and told him about impossibility of destroying such a big structure but gave strict instruction of it destruction.
“Realizing they had no chance, the priests and priestesses fled their temple and the mob moved in. The vast structure was razed it foundations and the scrolls from the library were burnt in huge pyres in the streets of Alexandria” (Hannam para 19). This was followed by conversion of Serapeum structure into a Christian church. It is said this event took place in 391 AD. Destruction of the Serapeum and its connection to the royal library could have been connected with Theodosius who was crazy on converting all structure and subjects at his disposal to Christianity.
Various evidence connecting Serapeum and Library of Alexandria has been given by Hannam. Although not much reliable it scholar like Plutarch said that there were several sub library outside Royal Library which is also confirmed by other scholars who said there were other sub libraries. This indicates that scroll burnt in the Serapeum to be part of larger Royal Library of Alexandria. According to Bishop Epiphanius (died 402 AD), “there were over 50,000 volumes in the ‘daughter’ library that he places in Serapeum” (Hannam para 20). Other account indicates that there were few materials in the daughter Library in Serapeum as compared to the Royal library which is a clear indication of existence of this sub library. Despite all these stories it may be impossible to ascertain all these stories at account of eyewitness hence lack of concrete evidence linking Serapeum and Great Library of Alexandria. For example, city of Alexandria suffered major destruction up 391 AD affecting even place where Museum and library were located giving more contradiction whether destruction was caused by Theophilus or the prolonged massacres ending 391 AD. Roman history written put forward by Ammianus associate destruction of Serapeum in a confused way.
He indicated that “library it held were those burnt by Caesar in the Alexandria war” (Hannam para 22), and in another occasion in his writing indicated that there were no academic materials in time of it destruction. Accounts association with part Theophilus held in destruction of Library associated with Serapeum never do not establish enough evidence beyond reasonable doubt. All material giving account of destruction Serapeum are never indicates there was a library in this building. Blame game between religions could have taken centre stage meaning accounts blaming Theophilus could have been biased making us unable to conclude Theophilus guiltiness on purported destruction.The other version talking about destruction of Library of Alexandria is associated with Caliph Omar a Moslem leader. According to Hannam, Egypt was invaded by Moslems who were ruling were ruling from Spain to India under Caliph Omar.
Egyptian local embraced leadership of Caliph and after he realize existence of Royal library storing world great knowledge from the locals he order it destruction while in Mecca. Reason for this destruction was possibility that great knowledge coming from this Library would contradict Koran, hence destruction of great library of Alexandria. Some of evidence attempting to confirm this accusation are existence of Moslem force in Egypt at around 640AD but does not give clear story on alleged destruction. Despite the claim of destruction of Caliph Omar literature traced from this time or talking about Omar rule are quiet on the destruction giving doubt of his involvement in said destruction.DiscussionAlexandria was a religion place which saw debates between Christian, and pagans who brought tension that threatened the great library. The prosperity of this library follows on the hand of Caesar, tin his quest to conquer Egypt.
This resulted to library fortunes falling together with Alexandria itself in smokes blamed on. Its not know the much damage done on library or remained of the museum. there are other version of history where even if the destruction of this library is mainly blamed on Julius Caesar , it is not well known who actually was behind its destruction because, in other occasions it is said it was destroyed during Muslim conquest in 642 AD, attack of Aurelian or even at decree of Theophilus in 391 . According to Macleod, Muslim is not blame for this destruction leaving all blame to Caesar (pp10). Cleopatra was supported by Julius Caesar against his brother Ptolemy XIV leading to civil war which resulted to burning of riches in 48 BC.
Apart from library other still says copies of books were also burnt as they waited to be shipped to other library.Effort to rebuild this library has been put where first call came from University of Alexandria allocating land for it rebuilding. This call was later embraced by the government and lobbying for international sponsorship for rebuilding project commencing in 1988.Destruction of ancient library of Alexandria was unfortunate because information which could have been passed to modern was destroyed, but after this tragic event progress has been done to re-correct mistake to have been done by Caesar. According to Verde on his introduction remark (pp 1) say there is effort to regain the spirit of great library of Alexandria. This is done by Egypt with partnership with UNESCO, by fact that this library was founded in the 4th century BC having objective of keeping, borrowing and copying as many book as possible give need to recapture this knowledge.In the current world the ideas of Ancient library Alexandria has been copied so as to improve the keeping and documentation of knowledge.
Donors through Egyptian government and UNESCO have been mobilized to banking book for purpose of passing knowledge has been greatly adopted in the current world. The current world is trying to bank all material in the internet for the purpose of storage and sharing ideas through the world. This shows the appreciation of ideas of ancient library of the Alexandra whose its objectives were to consolidate knowledge from books for purpose of sharing and passing them to other generations.The work played by historians today have shown the passage of information that there existed such as a precious ancient library give a clear evidence that ancient idea has been well appreciated and in fact practiced. This gives appreciation of the work done by Ptolemy which needed to be passed to generations. According to Trumble (para 17) as of such ancient time of Library of Alexandria are remembered today for example theories of the universe. This means lack of getting concrete evidence in destruction is unfortunate to history of academic and modern civilization.
ConclusionThe Great Library of Alexandria was estimated to have 500,000 scrolls comprised works of Aristotle, Euripides among other which gives the current world duty to reading these materials. Complete work of these ancient authors and put them to their original texts. By fact that work of Ancient Authors like Euclid who founded the geometry used today, was among researchers who made ancient library of Alexandria to be famous. This means that the work done on this ancient library was highly respected and preserved. It is true the Element of Geography is still used in our present schools which give a credit to our high appreciation to one other’s ideas.
This is true because the ideas like geometry have been respected up to today’s world.Work Cited:Arab S M.: The ancient library of Alexandria and the re-built of the modern one,1998.
Retrieved on 8th March 2008 from http://www.arabworldbooks.com/bibliothecaAlexandrina.
htmChesser Preston: The Burning of the Library of Alexandria (nd.). Retrieved on 4th December 2008 from; http://ehistory.osu.edu/world/articles/ArticleView.
cfm?AID=9Chiorazzi M G & Russell G. Law Library Collection Development in the Digital Age,ISBN 0789020238 Haworth Press, 2002.MacLeod R, The Library OF Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World,ISBN 1850435944, I. B.
Tauris, 2004.Hannam J.: The Mysterious Fate of the Great Library of Alexandria, 2003. Retrieved on 5th December 2008 from; http://www.bede.org.uk/library.htmTrumble K.: The Library of Alexandria, ISBN 0395758327, Clarion Books, 2003.