L is for Library of Alexandria

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Ancient library, Alexandria, Egypt

L is for Library of Alexandria

If you plan to study Ancient History the Library of Alexandria should be on your list. Read below a brief summary of the library and how it contributed to the world below.

Library of Alexandria had the most extensive library of Classical antiquities. The Library of Alexandria (Egypt) is one of the oldest known libraries in the World!! It was established by Alexander’s successor, Ptolemy II in 283 BC as a “shrine of knowledge”. Ptolemy II Soter’s vision was to make the Royal Library of Alexandria the center point for all ancient civilizations. Ptolemy sent ships to many ancient civilizations requesting they send over their prized literary; his aim was to collect a copy of every book ever written and house them under the vast roof of Alexandria. Estimations range from 40,000 scrolls to 600,000.

The Great Library of Alexandria has assumed legendary qualities in the centuries since its creation and its demise. The concept of a universal library, an institution that would contain the entire world’s intellectual works, is one that has enchanted scholars for centuries. While there are indications of earlier attempts, the first lasting attempt, and the one that has become fixed in the cultural consciousness of western civilization is that of Alexander the Great. Old Persian and Armenian traditions link to Alexander the Great, that upon seeing the great library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, he was inspired to combine all the works of the various nations he conquered, translate them into Greek, and collect have them housed under one roof. While his inspiration was certainly prompted at least in part by a desire to consolidate information, and thereby having power, under Greek authority, it is also an indicated of Alexander’s desire for his empire to be a multicultural.

Alexandria, Egypt was the perfect location to construct this multicultural library of knowledge. With the presences of a natural harbor and a nearby supply of fresh water combined along with the already existing colony of Macedonians made this selection, perfect. The harbor made it easy to collect these great works ships came and went daily adding to the collection.

Although we refer to this learning center as The Library of Alexandria or The Library at Alexandria, it was so much more than library. Students came from all over the Mediterranean world to learn. It cultivated several of the ancient world’s most renowned scholars. The area around the library became a campus of sorts, a self-contained community of scholars, complete with living quarters. Great minds from around the world would gather in the grounds of the Library & the Mouseion (the area with in the Royal palace where the Library was built to share their theories etc.


Here are just a few of the major scholars who lived at the Library of Alexandria.


Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

Hypatia Mathematician: Hypatia was, simply, the last great Alexandrian mathematician and philosopher. By writing a commentary on The Conics of Apollonius of Perga, which divided cones into sections by a plane, Hypatia made geometry intelligible to her students and ultimately transmissible to the modern world.




photo Courtesy of apprendre-math.info

Claudius Ptolemy – Map-Maker and Astronomer: Ptolemy wrote an 8-volume* work on geography (known as the Geography) that was the definitive work on the topic from the second century until the Renaissance. Making it more accessible to the European population, from 1406-09, Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia translated Ptolemy’s Greek Geography into Latin. He listed about 8000 place names with coordinates so others could use the information to plot their own maps.


Euklid-von-Alexandria_1_(bw) Photo Courtesy of LibraryThing.com

Euclid Mathematician: (c. 325-265 B.C.) was one of the most important mathematicians ever. His Elements is a treatise on geometry that uses the logical steps of axioms and theorems to form proofs in plane geometry. People still teach Euclidean geometry today.


As one could imagine The Library was a hot bed of intellectuals who were changing how we saw the world, heavens and one another. This was not always met with excitement and these theories were suspected to part of reason for the libraries demise. Knowledge meant power and several sects did not believe ordinary people should have such power. Although there are several theories of the burning of the Library at Alexandria, the library may have suffered several fires or acts of destruction, of varying degrees, over several years. Different cultures have blamed each other throughout history, or distanced their ancestors from responsibility, and therefore leaving conflicting and inconclusive fragments from ancient sources on the exact details of the destruction.


Burning of the Library of Alexandria


Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

More specifically, while there are several reports of fires in Alexandria linked to the destruction of the library, there is not solid historical evidence of one “great fire” believed to have destroyed the entire library. That being said, you’ll often hear three names bandied about as the top players in the library’s demise: Julius Caesar, Theophilius of Alexandria, and Caliph Omar of Damascus.

Here are four possible occasions for the partial or complete destruction of the Library of Alexandria: Julius Caesar’s fire during his civil war in 48 BC; the attack of Aurelian in AD 270 – 275; the decree of Coptic Pope Theophilus in 391 AD; and the Muslim conquest of Egypt in (or after) AD 642. So, as you can see one cannot point their finger at just one perpetrator.


The Library of Alexandria Today (Bibliotecha Alexandrina)


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In 2002, another library was built near the site of the original Library of Alexandria. Bibliotecha Alexandrina aims to maintain the spirit of the original library. People from all walks of life are coming together with the aim to preserve knowledge, from rare ancient texts to a science museum to computer systems. Countries from all over the world have sent books in an attempt to rebuild the collection that was lost to history. This time, just in case, the building is virtually fireproof. (Thank goodness)

Read more about the Library of Alexandria here:

The Library of Alexandria (FREE for Kindle)

Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books

Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria(FREE for Kindle)




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BIO: Andrea Warren is a devoted wife & mother of two sensational kids. Along with her two-legged family she is also the surrogate mother of two neurotic dogs and a hilarious cat named Taco. Most days you will find her homeschooling her children, blogging at www.waldorfsaladandcottagefries.com, bargain hunting, reading & cooking all at her new home in Texas.


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