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Table of Contents
The Library of Alexandria was a very important library of the ancient world. Although the library didn’t survive the tests of time, evidence has been found to show that it once stood in the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt.
See the fact file below for more information on the Library of Alexandria or alternatively, you can download our 24-page Library of Alexandria worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
PLANNING OF THE LIBRARY
- Ancient civilizations had local and regional libraries and archives that were primarily built to conserve their heritage and traditions.
- After being impressed by the achievements of their neighboring civilizations, many Greek scholars went on expeditions to seek and explore the resources of “oriental” knowledge.
- Alexander used the Greeks’ hunger for knowledge to turn his plans of conquering faraway lands into reality. During his conquest, he ordered his companions, scholars, and generals to give him a detailed report about regions that were previously uncharted and unmapped, which added empirical knowledge of geography.
- The reports given to him sparked a movement of study and scientific research about the natural physical characteristics of the earth and its inhabitants.
- During this quest for knowledge, the Great Library of Alexandria was born.
- King Ptolemy I Soter tasked his adviser, Demetrius of Phaleron, to establish the Library and the Mouseion.
- Ptolemy wished to furnish his library with the writings of all men that were worthy of serious attention. The “Letter of Aristeas”, written in the 2nd century BCE, reveals that the institution was to become a universal library.
- The Great Library of Alexandria became a repository for many ancient texts. The library was a collection of scrolls stored in a collection of buildings in the city, named after and created by Alexander the Great.
STRUCTURE AND CONTENTS OF THE LIBRARY
- The library is believed to had several buildings and was part of the Mouseion, a research institute, which has a large number of study rooms, another smaller library, and a zoo.
- The Great Library is believed to be a complex of reading rooms, meeting rooms, lecture halls, a garden, and a peripatos. However, due to historical discrepancies, the exact structure and layout of the library cannot be verified.
- With the patronage of Ptolemaic dynasty, the library grew and served as a major center of scholarship.
- It became the first known library to collect books from outside of the borders of its country.
- One source tells of the decree given by Ptolemy III Euergetes that ordered everyone who visited the city to surrender all scrolls and books they were carrying. These were then copied by official scribes and added to the library’s collection.
- A daughter library was also built during the reign of Ptolemy III.
- Using royal funding, books were also bought from book fairs in Athens and Rhodes.
- The majority of the books in the library were written in Greek. Some academic work produced in the city implies that the library amassed the whole Greek literature body.
- The Great Library also contained a huge section for Egyptian books that were written by priests out of Ptolemy I’s encouragement to record past traditions and heritage.
- One of the most important collections in the library was the “books of Aristotle”. Athenaeus, a Greek grammarian and author, stated that the books were purchased by Philadelphus for a hefty sum of money, while a report from Strabo, a Greek geographer and historian, says that Aristotle’s books were passed on until Sulla confiscated them in 86 BCE.
- Some estimate that the Great Library of Alexandria stored up to 500,000 documents written on papyrus during its peak.
- An increasing number of scholars came to visit the library as the collection of knowledge about the world grew.
- The documents stored in the Great Library were of fictional and nonfictional nature. One document could be composed of several scrolls, creating the need for a way to organize and catalog them. The library also started giving their more famous editors the title of head librarians.
- The scientific method was first used and practiced in the Library of Alexandria. The empirical standards of the method were used for comparative textual criticism, an important point to ensure that the texts copied onto their papyrus scrolls were accurate.
- Once the accuracy of the documents was certain, the editors made copies of the text for royalty, scholars, and wealthy bibliophiles over the world. This brought some income to the library.
- The Library was also especially recognized for its work on Homeric texts.
DESTRUCTION OF THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA
- Another controversial issue concerning the Library of Alexandria is how it was destroyed.
- A number of sources say that Julius Caesar was responsible for the fall of the library when he ordered his men to set fire to their ships in the city’s harbor to avoid the Egyptian fleet cutting him off from his fight against Pompey. It is said that the fires spread through a large part of the city and the Great Library was included in the fire.
- In his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon mentions that the destruction was caused by the Christian bishop Theophilus. In this version, Theophilus told Emperor Theodosius that in order to establish supremacy of Christianity, the pagan elements in the city should be burned down.
- Another version of how the library was destroyed puts the blame on the 642 AD Muslim army invasion. Under the command of Amr, Caliph Omar directed the army to destroy the Library.
- Although there is a lack of information about the destruction of the library, it has been reasonably established that on several occasions before and after the first century BC, segments of the collection were partially destroyed.
- Because there are no distinct accounts about the construction and destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, the Great Library exists solely in written accounts.
- The layout of the Library of Alexandria became a model for university campuses.
- By the close of the Hellenistic period, most cities in the Eastern Mediterranean including medium-sized towns had built a public library.
- When the Roman Empire transitioned into Christianity, the Library of Alexandria was modeled directly into Christian libraries that were built all across the eastern part of the empire.
- The government of Egypt built a museum complex and a major library at Alexandria, calling it the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, in commemoration of the ancient library. The Bibliotheca was inaugurated in 2002.
- The idea of this library was first proposed by Lofty Dowidar in 1974, who was the president of the University of Alexandria at the time.
Library of Alexandria Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Library of Alexandria across 24 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Library of Alexandria worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Library of Alexandria which was a very important library of the ancient world. Although the library didn’t survive the tests of time, evidence has been found to show that it once stood in the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- A Library of Words
- Terms and Definitions
- Great Alexandria
- Mr. Phalerum
- Ancient Grounds
- My Books
- Library Partner
- Libraries, Museums, Fun!
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