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Library of Alexandria (Original)

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« Reply #60 on: April 01, 2008, 01:17:31 pm »


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« Reply #61 on: April 01, 2008, 01:18:10 pm »


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Greek and Hellenic Philosophy, Science and Humanities
Definition of the polis
Origin Of the polis
Subdivisions of the city state
Political factions within the city state
Cultural History
Presocratic philosophy

Eleatics: Xenophanes of Colophon- gave currency to the antithesis of the One and the Many. Emphasized the distinction between knowledge and opinion - Parmenides of Elea - Zeno of Elea

Thales of Miletus (624-546) -celebrated for his mathematical attainments, as well as for a theory of the material cause of the universe- 'all things are water'

Anaximander of Miletus (611-547)
Anaximenes of Miletus
Heracleitus of Ephesus- 'fire is principal; all things are in flux'

Pythagoras- originally of Samos, afterwards of Croton, a mathematician, vegetarian, and social reformer (Diodorus Siculus X.3-10)

Physicists- Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (500-428); Leucippus of Abdera; Empedocles (495-435): Four elements- love and hate
Democritus (460-351)- atomic theory

Gorgias of Leontini (483-376)

Protagoras of Abdera (481-411) 'man is the measure of all things'

Sophists- flourished from about the middle of the fifth to the middle of the fourth century --Sophistry of literature: Protagoras>Evenus of Paros>Polymathic sophistry professed by Hippias of Elis> eristic sophistry: Euthydemus and Dionysodorus; sophistry of forensic rhetoric: Tisias of Syracuse brought to central Greece by Gorgias in 427> Political rhetoric: Isocrates (436-338)
Cynics- Antisthenes of Athens-'virtue is the supreme end of human life'; Diogenes of Sinope

Aristippus of Cyrene and the Cyrenaic School

Socrates (469-399) of Athens, bred as a sculptor. He served with distinction at Potidaea in 432-429, at Delium in 424, and at Amphipolis in 422. Brought to trial and condemned to death in 399 by the restored democrats

Plato (427-347)
The Academy- Speusippus (347) , Xenocrates (339), Polemo (314), Crates(270)

Aristotle (384-270)
The School of the Peripatetics- The Lyceum:

Theophrastus (323-288), Eudemus, Strato of Lampsacus

Epicurus (341-270)

The Seven Wise Men: ****** Solon, Myson, Chilon, Pittacus, Bias (Diodorus Siculus IX.1-

Hecataeus of Miletus: one of the founders of geographical science; wrote in prose:Genealogies

Herodotus (484-430)
Thucydides (c. 460-400)
Xenophon (445-355): Anabasis, Hellenica :Philo-Laconian and anti-Theban
Manetho (c. 350-300) was a high priest of Heliopolis in Egypt who wrote in Greek a history of Egypt from the oldest times down to Alexander's conquests

Polybius of Megalopolis (c. 200-118 BCE)
Poseidonius of Apamea 235-151 bce- a pupil of the stoic Panaetius. Taught in Rhodes where Cicero heard his lectures. A friend of Pompeius: his historical work beginning in 144 BCE where Polybius ended, appears to have come down to 82 BCE This work was a basic source for Livy, Diodorus, Appian,

Plutarch and Josephus
Diodorus Siculus, Greek historian of Agyrium in Sicily, c. 80-20 BCE, wrote forty books of world history in three parts- 1]a mythical history of peoples Greek and nonGreek up until the Trojan war; 2] a history up until Alexander's death (323 BCE); and a history up until 54 BCE
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Plutarch of Chaeronea (2nd half of 1st century CE- early 2nd century)
Arrian of Nicomedia (2nd century CE)

Quintus Curtius (wrote in Latin) - 1st century CE wrote a history of Alexander in ten books, the first two of which are lost.

Tragic historians
Historians no longer extant
Aristobolous of Cassandreia FGrH 139 a contemporary of Alexander and a source for Arrian

Charon of Lampsacus: composed a history of Persia: published after 465 BCE
Dionysius of Miletus wrote a history of Persia down to the death of Darius and included the defeat at Marathon
Scylax of Caryanda: a Carian Greek employed by Darius to survey the course of the Indus who published an account of his expedition; he also wrote a work of contemporary history which centered around his fellowcountryman Heracleides of Mylasae, who deserted the Persians and helped the Greeks against the invasion of Xerxes.
Antiochus of Syracuse: composed a history of the western Greeks: the early history of Sicily and Italy and the early Greek colonies

Cratippus : a leading historian of Athens after Thucydides

Theopompus- continued the work of

Thucydides in his Hellenica which covered the same period as Cratippus
Philistus of Syracuse: history of Sicily
Hellanicus of Lesbos: he wrote about the history of Persia, customs of barbarians, on the mythical period of Greece, on the origins of Greek cities in Asia, on the history of Athens: 683-682>411 BCE; construction of a systematic chronology> Hellanicus sought to reconstruct a complete chronicle of Greek history, from genealogies, mythographers, logographers, archon lists, oriental dating and inscriptionary evidence such as the list of Argive priestesses of Hera
Zoilos 'the scourge of Homer'
Anaximenes one of the teachers of Alexander

Ephoros - born c. 400 bce at Cyme in Asia Minor, died 356. He was a pupil of Isocrates. He was the author of the first 'universal history', beginning with the mythical origins of Greece up until 356 BCE in 29 books However this was distinctly a history of Greece not a history of the world; called 'universal' as it was PanHellenic. He almost certainly depended upon Hellanicus of Lesbos for the period of the Fifty years

Eumenes of Cardia
Diyllus the Athenian historian compiled a universal history in twenty six books covering years 357-297 [Jacoby FGH no. 73]
Psaon of Plataea wrote a continuation of Diyllus' work in thirty books [Jacoby, FGH #78]

Hegesias:wrote a history of Alexander
Ptolemy FgrH 138

Callius of Syracuse FGH, no. 564
Timaeus (340-256 bce) of Tauremenium FGrH 566 illustrates the translation from Attic to Hellenistic literature; exiled from Sicily 317 BCE Polybius devotes nearly the whole of book xii to an attack on Timaeus Diod. xxi.17; ' his hatred of the Sicilian tyrants and particularly Agathocles has colored the surviving historical tradition' (Austin p.52 n. 7)

Duris of Samos, a pupil of Theophrastus, became tyrant of Samos and wrote a history of greece from 370 bce at least to the death of Lysimachus [ FHG,2.468 and fr. 33], also a biography of Agathocles and a history of his home city [Jacoby FGH #73]
Phylarchus : wrote a history of the years 272-220

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« Reply #62 on: April 01, 2008, 01:18:33 pm »


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« Reply #63 on: April 01, 2008, 01:19:08 pm »


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I have just run across some new information on the development of the Library of Alexandria, seems suitable to post it here..!

The Legend of the Library
"And concerning the number of books, the establishment of libraries, and the collection in the
Hall of the the Muses, why need I even speak, since they are all in men's memories?"

-- Athenaeus [1]

The library of Alexandria is a legend. Not a myth, but a legend. The destruction of the library of the ancient world has been retold many times
and attributed to just as many different factions and rulers, not for the purpose of chronicling that ediface of education, but as political slander.
Much ink has been spilled, ancient and modern, over the 40,000 volumes housed in grain depots near the harbor, which were supposedly
incinerated when Julius Caesar torched the fleet of Cleopatra's brother and rival monarch. So says Livy, apparently, in one of his lost books,
which Seneca quotes.[2] The figure of Hypatia, a fifth-century scholar and mathematician of Alexandria, being dragged from her chariot from
an angry Pagan-hating mob of monks who flayed her alive then burned her upon the remnants of the old Library, has found her way into
legend as well, thanks to a few contemporary sources which survived.[3] Yet while we know of many rumors of the destruction of "The
Library" (in fact, there were at least three different libraries coexisting in the city), and know of whole schools of Alexandrian scholars and
scholarship, there is scant data about the whereabouts, layout, holdings, organization, administration, and physical structure of the place.


Demetrius of Phaleron

The first mention we have of the library is in The Letter of Aristeas (ca. 180-145 B.C.E.), a Jewish scholar housed at the Library
chronicling the translation of the Septuagint into Greek by seventy-two rabbis. This massive production was commissioned by the Athenian
exile Demetrius of Phaleron under his patron, Ptolemy I, Ptolemy Soter.[4] Demetrius himself was a former ruler, no less than a ten-year
tyrant of Athens, and a first-generation Peripatetic scholar. That is, he was one of the students of Aristotle along with Theophrastus and
Alexander the Great. Demetrius, helped into power in Athens by Alexander's successor Cassander, provided backing for Theophrastus to
found a Lyceum devoted to his master's studies and modelled after Plato's Academy. [5] After Ptolemy I Soter, on of Alexander's successful
generals, secured the kingship for himself of conquered Egypt, Theophrastus turned down the Pharoah's invitation in 297 B.C.E to tutor
Ptolemy's heir, and instead recommended Demetrius, who had recently been driven out from Athens as a result of political fallout from the
conflicts of Alexander's successors [Diog. Laert. 5.37].[6]

Precedents for the Museum

According to Aristeas, Demetrius recommended Ptolemy gather a collection of books on kingship and ruling in the style of Plato's
philosopher-kings, and furthermore to gather books of all the world's people that he might better understand subjects and trade partners.
Demetrius must also have helped inspire the founding of a Museum in Ptolemy's capital, Alexandria, a temple dedicated to the Muses. This
was not the first such temple dedicated to the divine patrons of arts and sciences. However, coming as it did in the half-century after the
establishment of Plato's Academy, Aristotle's Lyceum, Zeno's Stoa and the school of Epicurus,[7] and located in a rich center of international
trade and cultural exchange, the place and time were ripe for such an institution to flower. Scholars were invited there to carry out the
Peripatetic activities of observation and deduction in math, medicine, astronomy, and geometry; and most of the western world's discoveries
were recorded and debated there for the next 500 years.[8]

The Museum

Archaeologists have not uncovered the foundations of the Museum, although they have excavated portions of the "daughter Library" in the
nearby temple of Serapis. From scattered primary sources this much seems relatively clear: it was in the Bruc****m (northeast) sector of the
city, probably in or adjacent to the palace grounds. It was surrounded by courts, gardens, and a zoological park containing exotic animals
from far-flung parts of the Alexandrian empire. According to Strabo [17.1.8], at its heart was a Great Hall and a circular domed dining hall
(perhaps Roman?) with an observatory in its upper terrace; classrooms surrounded it. This is very similar to the layout of the Serapeum,
which was begun by Ptolemy II Philadelphus and completed by his son.[9] An estimated 30-50 scholars were probably permanently housed
there, probably fed and funded first by the royal family, and later, according to an early Roman papyrus, by public money.[10]

The Stacks

The physical shelves of the Library may have been in one of the outlying lecture halls or in the garden, or it may have been housed in the
Great Hall. They consisted of pigeonholes or racks for the scrolls, the best of which were wrapped in linen or leather jackets. Parchment
skins--vellum-- came into vogue after Alexandria stopped exporting papyrus in an attempt to strangle its younger rival library, set up by the
Seleucids in Pergamon. In Roman times, manuscripts started to be written in codex (book) form, and began to be stored in wooden chests
called armaria .[11]


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Development of the Library
The Septuagint

Aristeas, writing 100 years after the library's inception, records that Ptolemy I handed over to Demetrius the job of gathering books and
scrolls, as well as letting him supervise a massive effort to translate other cultures' works into Greek. This process began with the translation
of the Septuagint, the Old Testament, into Greek, for which project Ptolemy hired and housed 72 rabbis at Demetrius' suggestion. [Letter of
Aristeas 9-10]. [12]

Acquisition of Books

At the time of Demetrius, Greek libraries were usually collections of manuscripts by private individuals, such as Aristotle's library of his own
and other works. Egypt's temples often had shelves containing an assortment of religious and official texts, as did certain Museums in the
Greek world. It was Ptolemy I's great ambition to possess all known world literature[13] that pushed these idiosyncratic collections-- the
web sites of the ancient world-- into the realm of a true library. John Tzetzes records several centuries later that Callimachus cataloged
400,000 "mixed" scrolls (probably those that contained more than one chapter, work, or even author, see example in Vatican) and 90,000
"unmixed", plus an additional 42,000 in the Serapeum.[14] Ptolemy's successors' methods for achieving his goal were certainly unique.
Ptolemy III wrote a letter "to all the world's sovereigns" asking to borrow their books [Galen 17.1 Kühn p. 601ff][15], When Athens lent
him the texts to Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles, he had them copied, returned the copies, and kept the originals. Supposedly, all ships
that stopped in the port of Alexandria were searched for books which were given them same treatment, thus the term "ship libraries" for the
collection housed in the Museum. This unorthodox procedure did at least inspire the first systematic work in emendation and collation of
classical texts without which none of the authors would have survived.

The First Librarians

While Demetrius was a convert of Serapis[16] and thus probably an official of the new Greco-Egyptian cult invented by Ptolemy, the
Serapeum was not yet built at his death and he is remembered neither as librarian of that institution nor at the Museum. The first recorded
Librarian was Zenodotus of Ephesus, holding that post from the end of Ptolemy I's reign until 245 B.C.E. His successor Callimachus of
Cyrene was perhaps Alexandria's most famous librarian, creating for the first time a subject catalog in 120,000 scrolls of the Library's
holdings, called the Pinakes or Tables.[17] It was by no means comprehensive, but was more like a good subject index on the web.
Apollonius of Rhodes, his younger rival and the writer of the notoriously meticulous epic, Argonautica, seems to have been Callimachus'
replacement.[18] Eratosthenes of Cyrene, Stoic geographer and mathematician, succeeded him in 235, and compiled his "tetagmenos epi
teis megaleis bibliothekeis", the "scheme of the great bookshelves". In 195 Aristophanes, a Homeric scholar of no relation to the comic
playwright, took up the position, and updated Callimachus' Pinakes. The last recorded librarian was Aristarchus of Samothrace, the
astronomer, who took up the position in 180 B.C.E. and was driven out during dynastic struggles between two Ptolemies. While the library
and Museum persisted for many centuries afterwards, from that time onward scholars are simply recorded as Alexandrian, and no Librarians
are mentioned by name.[19]


While it is doubtful the library had a perfectly systematic organization, but rather tended to house new chests and shelves of papyri in the
groups in which they were acquired, the Alexandrians from Callimachus onwards tried to keep track of their holdings via a subject catalog. In
this they followed Aristotle's divisions of knowledge, or at least his style of breaking up what had previously fallen under the umbrella of
"philosophy" into subdivisions of observational and deductive sciences. Since this paper is an overview of the work and scholarship carried
out at Alexandria, I will adhere to the subject divisions first set forth by Callimachus in his Pinakes, of mathematics, medicine, astronomy,
and geometry, as well as philology. I have added the Aristotelian category of mechanics for some of the applied science which grew out of
Alexandrian studies.


Alexandrian mathematicians concerned themselves for the most part with geometry, but we know of some researches specific to number
theory. Prime numbers were a source of fascination from the time of the Pythagoreans onwards. Eratosthenes the Librarian dabbled in
numbers along with everything else, and is reported to have invented the "sieve", a method for finding new ones.[20] Euclid also was known
to have studied this tricky subject.

Eudoxis of Cnidus (see biography), Euclid's pupil, probably worked out of Alexandria, and is known for developing an early method of
integration, studied the uses of proportions for problem solving, and contributed various formulas for measuring three dimensional figures.
Pappus (See biography), a fourth century A.D. scholar, was one of the last of the Greek mathematicians and concentrated on large numbers
and constructions in semicircles (See Vatican manuscript), and he was also an important transmitter into European culture of astrology
gleaned from eastern sources.[21] Theon and his daughter Hypatia also continued work in astronomy, geometry, and mathematics,
commenting on their predecessors, but none of their works survive.


Astronomy was not merely the projection of three-dimensional geometry into a fourth, time, although this is how many Greek scientists
classified it. The movements of the stars and sun were essential for determining terrestrial positions, since they provided universal points of
reference. In Egypt, this was particularly vital for property rights, because the yearly inundation often altered physical landmarks and
boundaries between fields. For Alexandria, whose lifeblood was export of grain and papyrus to the rest of the Mediterranean, developments
in astronomy allowed sailors to do away with consultation of oracles, and to risk year-round navigation out of sight of the coast.[22] Earlier
Greek astronomers had concentrated on theoretical models of the universe; Alexandrians now took up the task of detailed observations and
mathematical systems to develop and buttress existing ideas.

Maps of Heaven

Eratosthenes, the versatile third librarian, amassed a poetic catalog of 44 constellations complete with background myths, as well as a list of
475 fixed stars.[23] Hipparchus was credited with inventing longitude and latitude, importing the 360-degree circular system from Babylonia,
calculating the length of a year within six minutes accuracy, amassing sky-chart of constellations and stars, and speculated that stars might
have both births and deaths.[24]

Schemes of the Universe

Aristarchus applied Alexandrian trigonometry to estimate the distances and sizes of the sun and moon, and also postulated a heliocentric
universe (biography). A fellow Museum scholar, the Stoic Cleanthus, accused him of blatant impiety.[25] Hipparchus of Bithynia, during the
reign of Ptolemy VII, discovered and measured the procession of the equinoxes, the size and trajectory of the sun, and the moon's path.[26]
300 years later Ptolemy (no known relation to royalty, see biography) worked out mathematically his elegant system of epicycles to support
the geocentric, Aristotelian view,[27] and wrote a treatise on astrology, both of which were to become the medieval paradigm.[28] (See
Vatican manuscript on astronomy and exhibit on geography.)


The Alexandrians compiled and set down many of the geometric principles of earlier Greek mathematicians, and also had access to
Babylonian and Egyptian knowledge on that subject. This is one of the areas in which the Museum excelled, producing its share of great
geometers, right from its inception. Demetrius of Phaleron is said to have invited the scholar Euclid (biography) to Alexandria, and his
Elements are well-known to be the foundation of geometry for many centuries. [29] His successors, notably Apollonius of the second
century B.C.E., carried on his research in conics (Vatican manuscript, biography), as did Hipparchus in the second century A.D. Archimedes
(biography)is credited with the discovery of pi.[30]

Eratosthenes and Spherical Geometry: Calculating the Earth's circumference

The third librarian of Alexandria, Eratosthenes (275-194 B.C.E), calculated the circumference of the earth to within 1%, based on the
measured distance from Aswan to Alexandria and the fraction of the whole arc determined by differing shadow-lengths at noon in those two
locations. He further suggested that the seas were connected, that Africa might be circumnavigated, and that "India could be reached by
sailing westward from Spain." Finally, probably drawing on Egyptian and Near Eastern observations, he deduced the length of the year to
365 1/4 days and first suggested the idea of adding a "leap day" every four years.[31]

Mechanics: Applied Science

Archimedes (see biography) was one of the early Alexandria-affiliated scholars to apply geometers' and astronomers' theories of motion to
mechanical devices. Among his discoveries were the lever and-- as an extension of the same principle-- the "Archimedes screw," a
handcranked device for lifting water.[32] He also figures in the tale of the scientist arising from his tub with the cry of "Eureka" after
discovering that water is displaced by physical objects immersed in it.[33]

Hydraulics was an Alexandria-born science which was the principle behind Hero's Pneumatics, a long work detailing many machines and
"robots" simulating human actions. The distinction between practical and fanciful probably did not occur to him in his thought-experiments,
which included statues that poured libations, mixed drinks, drank, and sang (via compressed air). He also invented a windmill-driven pipe
organ, a steam boiler which was later adapted for Roman baths, a self-trimming lamp, and the candelaria, in which the heat of candle-flames
caused a hoop from which were suspended small figures to spin.[34] His sometimes whimsical application of the infant sciences are
reminiscent of the modern Rube Goldberg's "inventions" during the technological revolution of this century.


The study of anatomy, tracing its roots to Aristotle (see Andrea's case study on Aristotelian anatomy), was conducted extensively by many
Alexandrians, who may have taken advantage both of the zoological gardens for animal specimens, and Egyptian burial practices and craft
for human anatomy. One of its first scholars, Herophilus, both collected and compiled the Hippocratic corpus, and embarked on studies of
his own. He first distinguished the brain and nervous system as a unit, as well as the function of the heart, the circulation of blood, and
probably several other anatomical features. His successor Eristratos concentrated on the digestive system and the effects of nutrition, and
postulated that nutrition as well as nerves and brain influenced mental diseases. Finally, in the second century A.D., Galen drew upon
Alexandria's vast researches and his own investigations to compile fifteen books on anatomy and the art of medicine.[35] (See Vatican


The Museum of Alexandria was founded at a unique place and time which allowed its scholars to draw on the deductive techniques of
Aristotle and Greek thought, in order to apply these methods to the knowledges of Greece, Egypt, Macedonia, Babylonia, and beyond. The
location of Alexandria as a center of trade, and in particular as the major exporter of writing material, offered vast opportunities for the
amassing of information from different cultures and schools of thought. Its scholars' deliberate efforts to compile and critically analyze the
knowledge of their day allowed for the first systematic, long-term research by dedicated specialists in the new fields of science suggested by
Aristotle and Callimachus. Whole new disciplines, such as grammar, manuscript preservation, and trigonometry were established. Moreover,
the fortuitious collection of documents in an Egyptian city allowed the transmission and translation of vital classical texts into Arabic and
Hebrew, where they might be preserved long after copies were lost during the Middle Ages in Europe. Alexandria and its cousins, the
Lyceum, Academy, and the younger Pergamon library, were probably the prototypes both for the medieval monastery and universities.
While modern scholars often lament the amount of information lost through the centuries since the Museum's fall, an amazing number of
Alexandrian discoveries and theories, especially in mathematics and geometry, still provide the groundwork for modern research in these
fields. Finally, the methods of research, study, and information storage and organization developed in the Library are much the same as those
used today, but just as the medium of linear scrolls gave way to books in its halls, we now are watching the transformation from books to
multilayered documents in the electronic medium.



Bevan, Edwyn. The House of Ptolemy. Argonaut Inc. Chicago: 1968.

Canfora, Luciano. The Vanished Library. trans. Martin Ryle. University of California Press. Berkely: 1989.

Ellis, Ptolemy of Egypt. Routledge. New York: 1994.

Fraser, P. M. Ptolemaic Alexandria. Volume I of III. Oxford University Press. Oxford: 1972.

Johnson, Emer D. History of Libraries in the Western World. Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen: 1970.

Marlowe, John. The Golden Age of Alexandria. Trinity Press. London: 1971.

[This message has been edited by Helios (edited 08-25-2004).]

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« Reply #65 on: April 01, 2008, 01:27:08 pm »


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The Mysterious Fate of the Great Library of Alexandria

What happened to the Royal Library of Alexandria? We can be certain it was there once, founded by Ptolomy II Soter, and we can be
equally certain it is not there now. It formed part of the Museum which was located in the Bruchion or palace quarter of the city of
Alexandria. This great ancient city, occupying a spit of land on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, had been founded by Alexander the
Great in his flying visit to Egypt and became the capital of the last dynasty of Pharaohs descended from Alexander's general Ptolemy. The
Great or more properly Royal Library formed a part of the Museum but whether or not it was a separate building is unclear.

Stories about its demise have been circulating for centuries and date back to at least the first century AD. These stories continue to be told
and embellished today by those who wish to make a moral attack against the alleged vandals. We find that three parties are blamed for the
destruction and they correspond to the three occupying powers that ruled Alexandria after it had been lost by the Greeks. Let me first tell
those stories as we hear them today - without references, largely inaccurate and used as polemic. Then I will try and establish what, if
anything we can know before finally and rather indulgently making my own suggestions.

The suspects respectively are a Roman, a Christian and a Moslem - Julius Caesar, Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria and Caliph Omar of
Damascus. It is clear that the Royal Library could not have been burnt down or otherwise destroyed by all three of these characters and so
we find we have too many sources for the event of the destruction rather than a paucity. As scholars of the Gospels will vouch, this too can
be an embarrassment. How we decide to reconcile the stories will depend almost entirely on how we criticise the sources and which of them
we choose to consider most reliable.

Archaeology can be a help with ancient history although it tends to be silent about the things in which we are most interested leading the more
foolish archaeologists to claim they never happened. In the case of Alexandria a series of earthquakes and floods in the middle ages mean
that the entire palace quarter in the North East of the city is now underwater and largely inaccessible. Recent work in underwater
archaeology has revealed more but we will probably never be able to dig around in the foundations of the Museum. The Great Temple of
Serapis, to which we will later return, was in the south-western quarter and parts of its foundations have been excavated.

Julius Caesar

First, let us read the legendary account:

It is often said that the Romans were civilised but their most famous general was responsible for the greatest act of
vandalism during antiquity. Julius Caesar was attacking Alexandria in pursuit of his archrival Pompey when he found
himself about to be cut off by the Egyptian fleet. Realising that this would leave him in a desperate predicament, he
took decisive action and sent fire ships into the harbour. His plan was a success and the enemy fleet was quickly
aflame. But the fire did not stop these and jumped onto the dockside which was laden with flammable materials ready
for export. Next it spread in land and before anyone could stop it, the Great Library itself was blazing brightly as
400,000 priceless scrolls were reduced to ashes. As for Caesar himself, did not think it important enough to
mention in his memoirs.

The accused was indeed in Alexandria in 47 - 48 BC after arriving in pursuit of his rival Pompey. Caesar was able to occupy the city without
any trouble after destroying the Egyptian fleet and was residing in the palace with Cleopatra when more trouble started. Some henchmen of
the Pharaoh attacked with a sizable force and Caesar suddenly found himself stuck in a hostile city with very few forces. That he still won out
is a tribute to his luck and powers of leadership. This much is uncontested but to unravel the fate of the Royal Library we must examine the
ancient sources.

Julius Caesar - The Civil Wars

The earliest account we have of this these events is in The Civil Wars penned by Caesar (died 44BC) himself. In it he explains how he had
to set the dockyards and Alexandrine fleet alight for his own safety as he was in dire straits. As to whether the fire spread away from the
shore and also damaged the Royal Library, he is silent. The narrative in The Civil Wars break off at the start of the campaign in Egypt and the
story is taken up by one of his lieutenant's called Hirtius (died 43BC) in The Alexandrine War. It does not include any mention of setting
fire to Alexandria but instead states that in fact the city would not burn as it was made purely of stone.

We can log this as a Not Guilty plea by the accused but note that a reason he might have mentioned that Alexandria does not burn would be
to hide his own action of burning it. Future history demonstrated many times that Alexandria burns just as well as any other city. The fire is
also not mentioned by Cicero in his philippics against Caesar's ally Mark Anthony. This is a valuable witness for the defence, as Cicero did
not like Caesar at all. Unfortunately it is also an argument from silence and it is very possible that Cicero either did not know about everything
that happened, saw no need to mention this particular event or mentioned it in the quarter of his works no longer extant.

Strabo - Geography

The great scholar, Strabo (died after 24AD) was in Alexandria in 20BC and in all his detailed description of the palace and Museum does
not mention the library at all. This omission is often explained by scholars claiming that the library was inside the Museum or annexed to it.
But even so, not breathing a word about this famous institution is very suspicious. Can we conclude that the library was no longer there but
that political constraints meant that its fate still could not be mentioned?

Modern writer, Mostafa El-Abbadi, comes up with a more subtle point. He shows how Strabo mentions the body of research available to
one of the earlier librarians was much greater than Strabo himself had access to. He concludes that this shows that Strabo did not have
access to the wisdom of the Royal Library that his illustrious predecessor had. The point is small but potentially significant.

Livy and Florus - Epitome of the History of Rome

The first mention of the fire at Alexandria would seem to come from Livy (died 17AD) in his History of Rome. The book that it was included
in is lost and the surviving Summaries are too brief to include it. However, a second century Epitome written by Florus survives and it says
that the fire was started by Caesar to clear the area around his position so the enemy had no cover from which to fire arrows. The library
itself is not mentioned by Florus although it was in the same area of the city as Caesar who was occupying the palace at the time.

The Younger Seneca - On Tranquillity of the Mind

In fact we do know that the Royal Library is mentioned by Livy because he is later quoted by Seneca (died 65AD) in his dialogue On the
Tranquillity of the Mind where he also says that a great number of books were destroyed. It has been asserted that Seneca must have got
his knowledge about the destruction of the books from Livy but a close reading of the dialogue does not bear this out. Seneca actually only
states that Livy thought the library was "the most distinguished achievement of the good taste and solicitude of kings" and then only so as he
can disagree.

The actual number of books destroyed that Seneca gives is matter of some controversy that we will need to briefly address. In ancient
manuscripts it is common for large numbers to be expressed as a dot placed above the numeral for each power of ten. Clearly in copying it is
easy to make a mistake with the number of dots and errors by a factor of ten are frequent. That may have happened in the case of On the
Tranquillity of the Mind. The manuscript from Monte Cassino actually reads 40,000 books but this is usually corrected to 400,000 by editors
as other sources such as Orosius give this figure for the number of scrolls destroyed. I have not seen the manuscript, of course, so do not
know if this way the number is expressed. However, even if it was given in words the difference between 40,000 and 400,000 is also pretty
small. I propose therefore that the number given by Seneca, and indeed all other ancient sources, should be ruled as inadmissible as evidence
because we cannot be sure of what it was originally.

Plutarch and Dio Cassius - Life of Caesar and Roman History

After this, the references become more explicit. Plutarch (died 120AD), in his Life of Caesar throws in a reference to the destruction of the
library almost casually. Now Plutarch does not seem to carry a brief against Caesar, although he is happy to criticise him, so we should take
this reference seriously. Additionally, he had visited Alexandria and presumably might have noticed if the library was still in existence. Dio
Cassius (died 235AD) tells us that warehouses of books near the docks were accidentally burnt by Caesar's men. His words are difficult to
pin down and have led some scholars to suggest that only books waiting for export were destroyed. This reads far more into the text than it
allows and I do not think that Dio saying that the books 'happened' to be in the path of the flames means that usually they were kept
somewhere else.

Aulus Gellius - Attic Nights

Gellius (died 180 AD) included in his Attic Nights contain a brief passage about libraries where the destruction of the Royal Library is
mentioned as taking place by accident during our first war against Alexandria when auxiliary soldiers started a fire. This first war was
Caesar's campaign and the second was when Octavian took Egypt from Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. In The Vanished Library, Luciano
Canfora claims that this passage is an interpolation on the strength that the introduction does not mention it but again the evidence for this
seems flimsy. Gellius claims 700,000 books went up in smoke.

Ammianus Marcellinus and Orosius - Roman History and History against the Pagans

One of the final pagan Roman historians, Ammianus Marcellinus (died 395AD), tells us about the fate of the library during an aside about the
city of Alexandria in his Roman History. He relates the story of the fire started by Julius Caesar is 'the unanimous belief of the ancient
authors' but confuses the library building with the Serapeum and increases the number of scrolls destroyed to 700,000 (perhaps Gellius is his
source). The story is repeated with the figure of 400,000 scrolls destroyed by Orosius (died after 415AD), an early Christian historian, in his
History against the Pagans. Both these writers are far too late to be accurate sources on their own but they do tell us that by the fourth
century the Royal Library was widely believed to have been destroyed by Julius Caesar. We will be discussing them further below with
regard to the destruction of the Serapeum which occurred in their own time.

The verdict on Caesar

Taken together we can conclude a number of things from these sources:

The earliest descriptions of the Alexandrine War, written by Caesar or his crony, deliberately cover up anything that reflects badly on
the great man. Their silence about burning down the world's greatest library, even by accident, is not surprising.
The library as a separate building did not exist by the time of Strabo's visit in 20BC.
The belief that Caesar had destroyed the library was widespread by the time his family no longer occupied the throne of the emperors
in the late first century AD. Plutarch, Gellius and Seneca are all evidence for this. We must therefore assume that the library did not
exist at this time. Plutarch, a Greek, would certainly have known if it did.

Although we cannot prove his guilt with first hand evidence, it seems justified to claim that the book stacks of the Royal Library were burnt
down by Julius Caesar. Perhaps the reading rooms, which in any case were part of the Museum, survived but, as Seneca and all the other
sources tell us, the books themselves perished. That scholarship continued in Alexandria after this time cannot be doubted but I can find no
explicit mention of the Royal Library after Caesar's ill-fated visit. Indeed as Athenaeus of Naucratis (died after 200AD) mournfully wrote in
the Deipnosophistai "And concerning the number of books and the establishment of libraries and the collection in the Museum, why need I
even speak when they are all the the memory of men."


Again, the legendary story first:

Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, is also the patron saint of arsonists. As Christianity slowly strangled the life
out of classical culture in the forth century it became more and more difficult to be a pagan. There stood in
Alexandria the great temple of Serapis called the Serapeum and attached to it was the Great Library of
Alexandria where all the wisdom of the ancients was preserved. Now Theophilus knew that as long as this
knowledge existed people would be less inclined to believe the bible so he set about destroying the pagan temples.
But the Serapeum was a huge structure, high on a mound and beyond the abilities of the raging Christian fanatics
to assault. Faced with this edifice, the Patriarch sent word to Rome. There the Emperor Theodosius the Great,
who had ordered that paganism be annihilated, gave his permission for the destruction of the Serapeum. Realising
they had no chance, the priests and priestesses fled their temple and the mob moved in. The vast structure was razed
to it foundations and the scrolls from the library were burnt in huge pyres in the streets of Alexandria.

Theophilus was indeed the Patriarch of Alexandria at the time that the Serapeum was converted in a Christian church although he has never
been made a saint! The date for the events recorded is usually given as 391AD when Theodosius was emperor and energetically converting
all his subjects to Christianity. The contention made is that there was another library in the Serapeum temple that a Christian mob destroyed
during their sacking of the temple. We need to establish if there really was a library there and also if Theophilus destroyed it.

The intervening years

About the library the sources are reasonably silent but this is not a surprise because we know already that we cannot be talking about the
Royal Library itself. However, Alexandria remained a centre of scholarship and other libraries existed. The Emperor Claudius set up the
eponymous named Claudian to be a centre for the study of history and Hadrian founded a library at the Caesarean temple during his visit.
Less reliably, Plutarch informs us that Mark Anthony gave Cleopatra the entire contents - some 200,000 rolls - of the Pergamon library as a

The 12th century Byzantine scholar, John Tzetzes, in his Prolegomena to Aristophanes preserves some details about the catalogue of the poet
Callimachus (died after 250BC) who said there were nearly 500,000 scrolls in the Royal Library and another 42,000 odd in the outer or
public library. Note that Callimachus is not known to have referred to the Serapeum Library although he is often assumed to be doing so.
The fourth century Bishop Epiphanius of Cyprus (died 402AD) in his Weights and Measures (actually a biblical commentary!) says that
there were over 50,000 volumes in the 'daughter' library that he places in the Serapeum. Our previous observations about numbers fully
apply here even if it seems fair to say that there were many fewer scrolls in the daughter than in the Royal Library. Epiphanius also tells us that
by his day the entire Bruchion quarter of Alexandria was laid waste, no doubt doe the the actions of Aurelian or Diocletian. There is a
detailed report of the acropolis of Alexandria in a Progymnasmata by Aphthonius of Ephesus (died after 400AD) which he presents as an
example of how to give a description. He speaks of book repositories open to the public and we can assume this refers to the Serapeum.
Unfortunately the date of the description is impossible to determine and nor can we tell if it is an eyewitness account. However, we do have
enough evidence in total to assert that there was once a library at the Serapeum even if it is not the same as the 'outer library' attached to the
Royal Library.

Despite the continuation of academic activity, Alexandria suffered much in the years up to 391AD. Augustus reduced it, Caracalla massacred
many of its citizens over a perceived insult and Aurelian also sacked the city and the palace quarter in which the Museum was situated.
Finally, the city was taken with great destruction by Diocletian at the start of the fourth century.

Ammianus Marcellinus - Roman History

In the Roman History, Ammianus waxes lyrical about the Serapeum but he then gets a bit confused and says that the libraries it held were
those burnt by Caesar in the Alexandrine War. The point is perhaps vital though because he had visited Alexandria and yet says of the
Serapeum "in it have been valuable libraries" in the perfect tense. This was before 391AD when Theophilus and his gang set to work and
very strongly suggests there were no books present in the temple at the time of its destruction.

Rufinus Tyrannius - Ecclesiastical History

The earliest description of the sack of the Serapeum was almost certainly one by Sophronius, a Christian scholar, called On the Overthrow
of Serapis and now lost. Rufinus (died 410AD) was an orthodox Latin Christian who spent many years of his life in Alexandria. He arrived in
372AD and whether or not he was actually present when the Serapeum was demolished, he was certainly there at around the same time. He
rather freely translated Eusebius's History of the Church into Latin and then added his own books X and XI taking the narrative up to his
own time. It is in book XI that we find the best source for the events at the Serapeum which he describes in detail. His account largely agrees
with the one given above except that he makes no mention of any library or books at all. He seems to regret the passing of the Serapeum but
puts the blame squarely on the local pagans for inciting the Christian mob. The only English translation of his work is still very much in
copyright so until I have produced another myself the reader will just have to take my word for it.

Eunapius - Lives of the Philosophers

The pagan writer Eunapius of Antioch (died after 400AD) included an account of the sack of the Serapeum in his Life of Antonius who,
before he died in 390AD, had prophesied that all the pagan temples in Alexandria would be destroyed (not a desperately surprising
contingency at the time). Eunapius wants to show how right he was. As well as being a pagan, Eunapius is vehemently anti-Christian and
spares no effort in making Theophilus and his followers look as foolish as possible. His narrative is laced with venom and sarcasm as he
describes the sack of the temple as a battle without an enemy. If a great library had been destroyed then Eunapius, the pagan scholar, would
surely have mentioned it. He does not.

Socrates Scholasticus, Hermias Sozomen and Theodoret

Socrates (died after 450AD) also wrote a History of the Church that continued on from that of Eusebius. His was more detailed and in
Greek rather than Latin. It contains a chapter about the destruction of the Serapeum which acknowledges that the deed was ordered by the
Emperor, that the building was demolished and that it was later converted to a church. Again, no mention is made of any books that might
have been in the Serapeum or what could have happened to them. His passage about the cross-shaped hieroglyphics found in the temple
gives us some idea of how Christianity turned various pagan symbols to its advantage.

The histories of Sozomen (died 443AD) and Theodoret (died after 457AD) cover a similar period. Despite being pleased to report in detail
the Serapeum's destruction they also make mention no books at all although Theodoret says that the wooden idols of Serapis were burnt.
Both of these histories are heavily dependent on Socrates but do include details from other sources.

Paulus Orosius - History against the Pagans

Orosius (died after 415AD) was a friend of Saint Augustine who wrote a History against the Pagans that was fully intended to paint all
non-Christians in a bad light. So as a historian he is useless but when he says something that suggests that his fellow Christians were not
whiter than white, that is to say, against the grain of his usual bias, we have to take it seriously. In his aside on the Great Library, he says
something of significance which is both an eyewitness detail and suggests that his fellow Christians are in the wrong. He says "…there exist in
temples book chests which we ourselves have seen and when these temples were plundered these, we are told, were emptied by our own
men in our own time." His statement that there was no other major library in Alexandria at the time of Caesar's expedition is interesting and
would seem to count against there being a Serapeum library at that time. However, Orosius is too late a source to carry much weight in this

From Orosius we can deduce that Christians did empty some temples of books but we cannot go much further. We cannot say the books
were destroyed as this is not stated nor can we say which temples he is talking about or who was responsible. However, we can be sure he
was not talking about the Serapeum as all sources agree it was razed to the ground and the temples Orosius visited are not only still standing
but even have their internal furninshings. The most likely explanation is that the books were removed to Christian libraries or sold.

The verdict on Theophilus

It is hard enough to establish beyond doubt that there was a library in the Serapeum at all but if there was, Ammianus makes clear that it was
no longer there by the mid fourth century. This is confirmed by the silence of all the sources, including one that would be keen to report
Christian atrocities, for the destruction of the temple in 391AD. Note that this is not an 'argument from silence' because there is no reason at
all to expect a mention of books in the Serapeum when it was demolished. An invalid 'argument from silence' is when we claim something that
is not mentioned did not happen, even though other evidence suggests it did. There is no positive evidence for the existence of the library and
instead near conclusive eye witness evidence against.

The story that Theophilus destroyed a library is clearly a fiction that we can very precisely lay at the door of Edward Gibbon. It is in his
monumental Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that we first find the allegation made. Gibbon seems mainly concerned to clear the Arabs
of the responsibility of destroying the library and allows his marked anti-Christian prejudice to cloud his better judgement. His excellent
footnotes show he had exactly the same sources as we do but drew the wrong conclusions. The story has recently been popularised by Carl
Sagan who includes it in Cosmos. He spices the story up with a role for the murdered philosopher Hypatia, even though there is no evidence
connecting her to the library at all.

Caliph Omar

First the legendary account:

The Moslems invaded Egypt during the seventh century as their fanaticism carried them on conquests that would
take form an empire stretching from Spain to India. There was not much of a struggle in Egypt and the locals found
the rule of the Caliph to be more tolerant than that of the Byzantines before them. However, when a Christian
called John informed the local Arab general that there existed in Alexandria a great Library preserving all the
knowledge in the world he was perturbed. Eventually he sent word to Damascus where Caliph Omar ordered that
all the books in the library should be destroyed because, as he said "they will either contradict the Koran, in which
case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous." Therefore, the books and scrolls were taken
out of the library and distributed as fuel to the many bathhouses of the city. So enormous was the volume of
literature that it took six months for it all to be burnt to ashes heating the saunas of the conquerors.

The leader of the Moslem forces that took Egypt in 640AD was called 'Amr and it was he who was supposed to have asked Omar what to
do about the fabled library that he found himself in control of.

There are only a few sources that we need to examine. They are very late The first of the two late sources dates from the 12th century and is
written by Abd al Latif (died 1231) who, in his Account of Egypt while describing Alexandria, mentions of the ruins of the Serapeum. The
problems with this as historical evidence are enormous and insurmountable. He admits that the source of his information was rumour and the
fantasy about Aristotle does not bode well for the veracity of the rest of the piece.

In the thirteenth century the great Jacobite Christian Bishop Gregory Bar Hebræus (died 1286), called Abû 'l Faraj in Arabic, fleshes the
story out and includes the famous epigram about the Koran. Again there is no clue as to where he found the story but it seems to have been
one doing the rounds among Christians living under the dominion of the Moslems. Gregory is happy to record plenty of far fetched tales
about omens and monstrosities so we must treat this story with the greatest suspicion. As it is not even included in the original version of his
history but only in the Arabic version that he translated and abridged himself very late in life, he may not have known the story when he first
put pen to parchment. In The Vanished Library, Canfora mentions a Syriac manuscript published in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century
by François Nau. It was written by a Christian monk in the ninth century and details the conversation between John and Caliph Omar. After
help from email correspondents, I have finally been able to find this elusive document in its French translation and ascertained that it makes no
mention of any library and appears to be an example of a theological dialogue between two representative individuals. In other words it is not
historical and has no pretensions to be.

The verdict on Omar

The errors in the sources are obvious and the story itself is almost wholly incredible. In the first place, Gregory Bar Hebræus represents the
Christian in his story as being one John of Byzantium and that John was certainly dead by the time of the Moslem invasion of Egypt. Also, the
prospect of the library taking six months to burn is simply fantastic and just the sort of exaggeration one might expect to find in Arab legends
such as the Arabian Nights. However Alfred Butler's famous observation that the books of the library were made of vellum which does not
burn is not true. The very late dates of the source material are also suspect as there is no hint of this atrocity in any early literature - even in
the Coptic Christian chronicle of John of Nikiou (died after 640AD) who detailed the Arab invasion. Finally, the story comes from the hand
of a Christian intellectual who would have been more than happy to show the religion of his rulers in a bad light. Agreeing with Gibbon this
time, we can dismiss it as a legend.

Another good link:

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Christianity and Pagan Literature

One thing that everyone thinks they know about early Christians is that they went around and burnt down libraries and anything else they felt
threatened by. For a 'fact' that is so widely believed, there is remarkably little evidence around. When challenged the best that most people
can do is mention the Christians who destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria but as I have established in this article, that is itself a myth.
That has not stopped authors like Carl Sagan in Cosmos and others who really ought to know better, from recycling it to make anti-Christian

After finding the example most commonly given was untrue, I decided to launch an in-depth inquiry into the two related questions of what has
happened to the majority of the corpus of ancient writing and whether the Christian contribution to their preservation has been positive or
negative. This survey only covers the early church and the period through the Dark Ages so it does not examine the work of medieval
inquisitors or later church authorities. I hope to look at these areas at a later date but for the moment my conclusions are as follows:

Indiscriminate destruction of ancient literature by institutional Christianity never occurred;

There was no attempt to suppress pagan writing per se;

On a few occasions, pagan tracts specifically targeted against Christianity were condemned but others have been preserved;

Suppression of heretical Christian writing was widespread;

Magical and esoteric works were treated in exactly the same way as they were under the pagan Emperors which was not very

With some exceptions, respect for pagan learning was widespread among Christians;

Survival of classical literature is almost entirely due to the efforts of Christian monks laboriously copying out texts by hand.

Burning down libraries

The idea of deliberating setting fire to a repository of knowledge appals us in a way that few other crimes can do. As demonstrated by the
astronomical sums paid at auction, we value art far more than human life. Tens of thousands of Afghans could die in war without anyone in
the West caring very much but, as the BBC reported, when the Taleban demolish a couple of ancient statues, there is world wide horror and

This attitude has meant that the false accusation that Edward Gibbon laid at the door of the Patriarch Theophilus in chapter 28 of his Decline
and Fall of the Roman Empire regarding the Great Library of Alexandria has been tremendously damaging to Christianity and is repeated
by every author with a bone to pick. But although we can establish that this library was not destroyed by a Christian mob, were there not
other ancient libraries that did suffer exactly that fate? The saying that there is no smoke without fire would seem to be exceedingly
appropriate in this case. I do not for a second claim to have analysed every ancient source but I have read a good deal and have only located
one example of deliberate destruction of an entire library recorded by the chroniclers.

The chronicler in question is John of Antioch about whom we know almost nothing. He was a Greek speaking Christian historian who may
have lived between the sixth and tenth centuries. All his works are lost and only fragments of his chronicle remain preserved in other places.
Among them is following passage from the great Byzantine encyclopaedia called the Suda in the article on the Emperor Jovian:

Emperor Hadrian had built a beautiful temple for the worship of his father Trajan which, on the orders of Emperor Julian, the
eunuch Theophilus had made into a library. Jovian, at the urging of his wife, burned the temple with all the books in it with his
concubines laughing and setting the fire.

Scholars believe that it is John of Antioch is being quoted. The Suda itself is full of snippets of information but it is treated with justifiable
caution by the scholars who have studied it. Certainly, it is very often wrong but usually not deliberately. Instead it just quotes earlier authors
uncritically and repeats their mistakes.

In favour of the verity of this story, John was from the city of Antioch where the alleged event happened and Jovian did visit there during the
few months of his reign. On the other hand, the problems with its credibility are extremely wide ranging.

1.The pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus was actually with Jovian in Antioch and does not breath a word about any libraries (We
complains about their closure at other points in his narrative so was not uninterested in the question. We will return to other these
libraries later).
2.Although Jovian was a Christian he is recorded by the rhetor Themistius to have insisted on tolerance towards pagans.
3.The great pagan orator Libanius who lived in Antioch at the time and from whom we have speeches, lectures and no less than 1,500
letters, makes no mention of the library's destruction.
4.We have no other record of there being a temple of Trajan built by Hadrian in Antioch.
5.John was writing several hundred years after the library burning is supposed to have taken place but no one else mentions it. No
source for his story is given although some scholars like RC Blockley believe it may have come from Eunapius of Sardis who was a
near contemporary of Jovian and whom John of Antioch used as a source.

All the counter arguments depend on silence which demonstrates just how hard it is to prove a negative. On a personal note, the involvement
of Jovian's wife and concubines makes me feel the story is less convincing although the women could be later accretions. If we knew that
burning down libraries was the sort of thing that Jovian or other Christians actually did, we might have a case for believing it happened here
but as it is a single example it cannot be allowed to simply reinforce our prejudices. Still, this remains the only possible record of a library
being deliberately destroyed that I have been able to find in the sources and those who with an anti-Christian axe to grind should use this case
rather than Alexandria. Furthermore, it does illustrate that Christian writers were happy to report such things and repeat them from other
sources. Contrary to the allegations of many sceptics, the Christian scribes made no effort to censor this alleged misdeed of Jovian even
though he was a Christian emperor.


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Magical and Prophetic Texts
That is not to say that many texts were not destroyed by the Christian Roman Emperors. We find that in fact they were, but often for reasons
completely divorced from theology and as a continuation of exactly the policy that had been followed by their pagan antecedents.

The relationship between the state and soothsayers in the Roman Empire was always ambiguous. Although some educated Romans like
Cicero viewed the practices of these people as so much hokum, many thought that astrology, augury and other forms of divination actually
worked. This made the practitioners dangerous people who had to be controlled. For this reason, they were either regulated by the state or,
if they worked unofficially, persecuted to ensure they stayed in line. Astrologers were regularly persecuted and expelled, from the first time in
139BC and throughout the duration of the Empire.

We learn from Suetonius that Augustus, as soon as he became High Priest and in charge of such matters, rounded up over 2,000 prophetic
books and burnt them. He left only the famous Sibylline books which he locked away in the Temple of Palatine Apollo so that they could
only be consulted by those who could be trusted to give an official interpretation.

We can read about the final fate of these esteemed but probably less than enlightening books in the elegy Concerning my Return by Rutilius
Namatianus who says of the Gothic general, Stilicho, who rose to be chief minister of the Western Emperors at the end of the fourth century
"Before this, he burnt the predictions which carried the power of the Sybil." Rutilius is writing shortly afterwards and hence he is nearly
contemporary. Consequently, it seems likely that Stilicho completed the job Augustus started in destroying prophetic texts.

Later on, John of Salisbury in the thirteenth century, tells us in his Policraticus a different story. He is really far too late to be reliable and
admits he is reporting a rumour, so is mentioned here only for completeness. According to John, the story was that Pope Gregory the Great
had burnt some books from the Palatine Library in yet another purge of prophetic writings. He writes:

As well as this, that man most holy teachings, Gregory, who poured forth a charming shower of proclamations and inspired the
whole church, not only ordered magical works out of his palace, but, as our ancestors hand down, gave to the fire writing
forbidden for reading - whatever was held by in the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine - works in which there were teachings
which seemed to reveal to men the mind of the heavens and supernatural prophecies.

Although there is nothing intrinsically unlikely about Pope Gregory continuing the policy of Rome's pagan rulers in destroying these apparently
subversive works we have seen the job appears to have been completed already. Some commentators have taken one or the other above
passages to mean that the entire Palatine Library was destroyed but this is an interpretation that the sources, even if they are reliable, cannot

As far as the Emperors were concerned there was one kind of divination activity that was treated as the highest form of treason and punished
accordingly - that of predicting the future of the Imperial family. Ammianus Marcellinus gives the most terrifying account of how these things
could spiral out of control. He tells of reign of terror under the Emperor Valens reminiscent of Caligula or Commodus involving the show trial
and execution of dozens of people who were suspected of divination of this kind although the evidence came from others tortured into
confessions. The victims' books were seized and claimed to be prophetic texts although Ammianus says that in fact they were mainly
concerned with art and law. These books were burned and in the resulting panic many people destroyed their entire private libraries to
ensure they had no incriminating evidence in their homes.

In a further example, Diocletian is said by John of Antioch, again in the Suda, to have destroyed the esoteric works of the Egyptians on
alchemy and magic:

He also sought out the forbidden books by the ancient Egyptians concerning the alchemy of gold and silver and threw them to
the flames so that the confidence and spirit for rebellion would not be available to the Egyptians due to either the means of their
art or the amount of their wealth.

The story is again unsupported and unreliable but accurately reflects the reputation that Egypt had for being the repository of forbidden
knowledge as well as typical Roman policy toward magical texts.

The fact that Augustus and Diocletian were pagan Emperors and that Valens and Stilicho were Christians does not figure at all in the analysis
of these events. Certainly, although Constantine made Christianity the official religion, the Roman Empire remained just as much of a military
despotism as it ever was. It was not until Theodosius was reprimanded by Archbishop Ambrose that some of the Emperors' megalomaniac
proclivities were to be at all circumscribed by Christianity and even then, not by much.

The Christian church prior to the Middle Ages had a very healthy attitude towards magic and related subjects as it simply dismissed them as
superstition not worthy of attention. The episode in the Acts of the Apostles where the magicians destroy their own scrolls to show they
realise how useless they are is illustrative of this. The church would therefore have not particularly cared about such texts but as they were not
copying them either, very few have survived the ravages of time. In the early Renaissance, in many ways a far more superstitious time than the
Middle Ages, they again became popular, especially the Corpus Hermiticum and related works.


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« Reply #68 on: April 01, 2008, 01:28:20 pm »


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Persecution of Christians
The Church History of Eusebius sometimes gives the impression that Christian martyrs were being slaughtered in their thousands for three
hundred years. Scholars today take a rather dim view of this idea and accept that persecution specifically aimed at Christians was both rare
and highly localised. Pliny's letter to Trajan appears to sum up the Roman attitude that hunting down Christians was not the done thing but
they were to be executed if they happened to be caught.

Late in the day, however, on the advice of his protégé Galerius, the Emperor Diocletian launched what is usually referred to as the Great
Persecution. It was a indeed a bloody affair that involved the suppression of literature as well as persons. Of course, it is unlikely that
Diocletian made any distinction between orthodox and heretic Christians. Eusebius and the Suda both mention that there was wide scale
destruction of Christian texts and some scholars such as Bruce Metzger believe it was so efficient that it explains why almost no pre 300AD
New Testament manuscripts survive. When the persecution finally came to an end the most pressing concern of Christians was what to do
about all the people who had recanted under the threat of the scaffold and now wanted to return to the church.

The last pagan Emperor was Julian who tried a much more subtle approach. He wanted to reinvigorate paganism so it could win the battle
for hearts and minds against Christianity. He wrote that his efforts to restore paganism were being seriously hampered by the charity and
good deeds of the Christians and in any case his two years on the throne were not sufficient to have much effect. He wrote to his friend
Arsacius, a Galatian pagan priest:

Why then do we think that this is sufficient and do not observe how the kindness of Christians to strangers, their care for the
burial of their dead, and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done the most to advance their cause? Each of these things, I think,
ought really to be practised by us.

Persecution by Christians

In the end the Roman Empire was not converted at the point of a sword but rather because quite soon anyone who wanted to get anywhere
had to be a Christian and hence people lost little time in becoming one. This was partly because most pagans were happy to become nominal
Christians and unlike earlier martyrs did not feel that any faith was worth dying for. Substituting the household gods for household saints was
not seen as a radical step and furthermore paganism had been becoming increasingly monotheistic (usually worshipping the sun) before the
advent of Christianity. The Bishop of Troy was happy to move between religions with a clean conscience as he could not really tell them
apart. Even pagan polemic aimed at Christians seems more concerned with how stupid and dirty they were than any immediate danger they
presented. Temples were quarried for their valuable marble although even today dozens still survive almost intact. A few were pulled down
by fanatical monks but it is the rarity of these events that makes them so noteworthy to the historians of the time.

In the one example I have been able to find of the persecution of pagans involving the destruction of their holy books, the chronicler John
Malalas says that during the reign of Justinian in the sixth century:

In that month of June during that persecution, pagans were arrested and paraded around. Their books were burnt in the ring for
animal shows together with pictures and statues of their loathsome gods.

Christianity was introduced to act as a unifying force in an increasingly fragmented Empire. This meant that it immediately became a political
matter and indeed it was politically important that Christianity was itself united. The idea of religion as civic duty was handed down from
centuries of pagan practice while Emperor Julian had already seen that the monolithic Christian creed had a marked advantage over his
disparate pagans whom he had tried to reform.

Luckily for the desired unity, orthodoxy had been fighting heretics for a couple of centuries already and with the full might of the Imperial state
behind them, they took this battle to its conclusion. In general, during the fourth and fifth centuries, the argument was reasonably civilised but
from time to time violence erupted or official coercion was used. Later on, methods became steadily more severe as heresy came to be seen
as a cancer at the heart of society until even the accusation of heresy could be used as a political weapon. If you want to find evidence of
Christians destroying manuscripts then it is here you should look.

The Theodosian Code, a law book that collects all the Imperial Decrees and was published by Theodosius II in the early fifth century is quite
explicit that the writings of certain heretics should be destroyed. Likewise, we find Pope Leo the Great ordering the burning of Manichean
writings in Rome after he had found how far they had penetrated into his church. There can be no doubt that heretical Christian texts were
lost in this way although the scale of destruction would have been quite modest. The idea of huge pyres of manuscripts burning in a city
square is pure myth. Most heretical works perished due to neglect in that after they wore out there was no one left to copy them. Heretics
would not have been able to afford expensive and long lasting vellum for their books so would instead have had to rely on fragile papyrus that
simply does not last.

It is the case that a few of the most forthright pagan attacks on Christianity were also targeted for suppression. Most famous is Porphyry's
Against the Christians. He was a pupil of the great neo Platonist, Plotinus, and wrote a massive work to combat the new religion. He was
particularly offended by the way it was taking over pagan philosophical ideas and turning them to its own ends. The book was condemned in
the fourth and fifth centuries but today we can still study Porphyry's arguments from the long quotations of his work found in Christian
refutations. Likewise, the arguments of other pagan apologists survive in works such as Origen's Against Celsus. On the other hand, Julian's
Against the Galilaeans, Eutropius's various insults, the works of Libanius and other works of late pagan polemic against Christianity have
been preserved by the very faith they were attacking.


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« Reply #69 on: April 01, 2008, 01:28:44 pm »


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The End of the Classical Age
By the fifth century learning in the Western Empire was rapidly decaying as barbarian hordes swept over the dying Roman civilisation.
Ammianus Marcellinus had complained in a rather rhetorical way that the libraries of Rome had been shut during his time in the mid forth
century. It is likely that they were transported with many other works of art and learning to the new capital of Constantinople being built on
the shore of the Bospherus. We hear that the Christian Emperor Constantius founded an centre of learning and a library there under
Themistius, the master of Rhetoric.

Whatever was left in Rome was destroyed during the sackings of 410AD by the Goths, in 455AD by the Vandals and many times thereafter.
Although most cities were ransacked and fell into ruin, the barbarians quite quickly converted to Christianity which meant that at least they
tended to spare book filled monasteries and churches from their depredations.

In Alexandria too, at the start of the fifth century, Orosius found that pagan temples, while still standing, had been emptied of their book . He
does not say where they were taken but Constantinople is again not unlikely. The Emperor Justinian is notorious for his closing the academy
of Athens in 529AD and causing the pagan teachers to flee to Persia, although they all came back a few years later and were allowed to
write and study unmolested. Meanwhile, John Philoponus, a philosophical master at Alexandria in the sixth century, found there was little
conflict between his work studying Aristotle and being a professing Christian. Indeed his religion seems to have led him to make some of the
most exciting advances in ancient natural philosophy.

The Loss of Literature

It has been claimed that about ten million words of classical Greek and one million words of classical Latin, excepting Christian works, have
come down to us. Of the former, two million words are the medical corpus of Galen alone, while of the later about a third is made up of the
surviving three quarters of the works of Cicero. In fact, whereas much classical Greek is technical and not of interest to the general reader,
nearly all preserved classical Latin is worth reading in its own right.

So just what proportion of ancient literature has been lost? This is difficult to answer but we can get a rough estimate from the size of ancient
libraries. Archaeology suggests that the biggest contained 20,000 or so scrolls and the Great Library of Alexandria itself is most reliably said
to have contained 40,000. On the other hand, all the extant pagan classical works would not fill much more than a thousand scrolls so we
have been left with about 5% of what might be found (barring repeat copies) in Rome. Of course, this does not tell us what people were
actually reading and we can get a better idea of this from the papyri retrieved from the sands of Egypt, especially at Oxyrynchus. Of the
Greek literary papyri that have been edited, a full third are scraps of Homer, a further third are from works familiar from the manuscript
tradition and the remainder are previously unknown. This suggests that roughly half of the most popular works (even excluding Homer) have
been preserved through the Dark Ages by the copying of manuscripts.

Literature was lost in two main ways - it either was not copied after the original version fell apart or it was the victim of disasters and war.
The latter cases were probably all too common and one would be hard pressed to find any Greek or Roman city that was not sacked or
pillaged at some point. On top of this we have to add natural disasters such as earthquakes, flood and accidental fire. Rome suffered many
times, as did Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Constantinople was wracked by frequent periods of civil unrest and fell in 1205 and 1453.
The later of these, when the Turks finally snuffed out the Byzantine Empire, is said to be the occasion of the loss of the last complete copy of
Diodorus Siculus's History.

But even without these downfalls, we can explain the loss of most ancient writing simply by noting that it was written on papyrus scrolls and
this is an exceedingly delicate medium that does not stand well to being handled. The document would require recopying before it fell to bits
and this was an extremely time consuming and expensive business. Not only that, once Egypt was conquered by the Arabs, papyrus was in
short supply and very much more expensive parchment had to be used instead. This was made from treated leather and many sheets were
needed to produce a good length book.

The shortage of both materials and personnel meant that choices had to be made about what would be copied and what would not be.
Although it is common today to hear people complain that the monks who did the work did not copy what interests us and instead what
interested them, this is simply anachronism and close to bigotry. They copied what they thought was important and worth the effort. That it
was more often Christian works of their own time that seemed relevant to their own lives, rather than works that were ancient even then,
should not surprise us. And nor should they be condemned by anyone who has not copied out the complete works of Shakespeare by hand
on real parchment (which lasts 30,000 years rather than the expected 1,000 for paper) on the off chance that CD-ROM technology does not
survive the apocalypse.

Some of the reasons that important literature disappeared are in fact very prosaic. The most important was language. When the Roman
Empire was at its height the educated classes could read both Latin and Greek but after the fourth century the two languages split on
geographical grounds with Greek completely dying out in Western Europe. In the East, Latin was first confined to the army and then
disappeared altogether. As late as the thirteenth century the humanist scholar Petrarch could bemoan in a letter to Nicolas Sygeros that he
was unable to read any of his collection of Greek manuscripts. Clearly, copying a manuscript that no one understands is not going to be a
priority so Latin in the East and Greek in the West was lost.

This is also the reason for the near total lack of scientific scholarship in Western Europe before the translations into Latin of the High Middle
Ages. There never was a scientific tradition in Latin, only popular writings like Pliny the Elder's Natural History. Once Greek died out, these
were all that anyone could read and the technical Greek works (apart from one or two like Plato's Timeaus that had already been translated
into Latin) were lost to the West.

Another major factor was the educational curriculum. In Byzantium, attic Greek was valued as a much finer form of literature than other
dialects. Consequently attic playwrights, orators and thinkers saw their works preserved while other writers were not copied. The most high
profile casualty was Menander who wrote comic plays in everyday Greek. He was once very popular but then his lower style fell out of
favour and not a single one of his plays survives in the manuscript tradition (luckily large portions of several of his plays have been found on
papyri in Egypt).

Palimpsests are another interesting case. The ruinous cost of parchment combined with its ability to withstand centuries of wear and tear
meant that it was frequently reused. The old writing was scrapped off and the new written over the top. However, the process left faint
images of the original text which later scholars have been able to read. Some important pagan works have been accidentally preserved in this
way such as part of Cicero's De Republica and the recently rediscovered Archimedes palimpsest. There is no evidence that the monks doing
the scrapping were deliberately targeting pagan texts although we may sometimes find their priorities unfortunate. The text they were
scrapping off had, itself, been transcribed by earlier Christians and a perusal of a manuscript catalogue (such as the British Library's on-line)
shows that in most cases the underlying material on a palimpsest is Christian as well. One of the earliest known bibles, the Codex Ephraemi
Rescriptus, had the sermons of Ephraemus written over the top of it.

In history and geography, many texts were lost because they were perceived to be out of date. Copying out Erastothenes' Geography
seemed a waste of time when everyone knew that Stabo's work, which is still extant, was better. Likewise, nearly all the earliest Byzantine
chronicles, like Julius Africanus are lost because they were considered to have been superseded by the later ones like Georgius Syncellus
which is still preserved.


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« Reply #70 on: April 01, 2008, 01:29:07 pm »


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The Preservation of Literature
The preservation of what classical Latin works that we do possess was almost entirely down to the Christian church. It helped in a number of

1.It preserved the use of the Latin language and hence ensured that classical works could continue to be used and understood;
2.Its monks copied texts as they wore out. Not a single complete text survives from Roman times but instead those we possess were
recopied from the ninth century in monastery scriptoria.
3.As Christianity is a highly literary religion it had to ensure that enough people remained literate in order to use sacred texts. This
naturally spilled over into secular work as well.
4.The monastic libraries were safe havens for valuable and delicate manuscripts that Christian raiders (though not pagan ones like the
Vikings) generally left alone.

It might be claimed that as the Church was the only institution that contained people able to read and write it is hardly surprising that the Latin
that survived was in their hands. This misses the point. There is no evidence that the church was in any way jealous of its learning and anyone
who paid could have received an education. But among the upper class warriors of the Franks, Saxons and Goths there was simply no such
desire until Charlemagne encouraged them in the ninth century. For this reason, had the church not occupied its unifying, educational and
preserving role no other institution would have done so. The amount of classical Latin literature that has come down to us is a pitiful remnant
of what there once was, but we can think the church for what we have.

In the fifteenth century humanists (in the context the term simply means a classical scholar) like Poggio searched the libraries of the
monasteries seeking to acquire, by fair means and foul, copies of ancient works and by 1450 nearly all the classical Latin known today had
been recovered.

In the Eastern Empire there was no sudden collapse but instead a thousand year decay. This meant that learning was carried on for much
longer and something like ten times as much classical Greek survives as classical Latin. The amount that was still extant in the ninth century
when Photius compiled his Bibliography was considerably more than still known today. Unfortunately, Byzantium was hammered over the
next five hundred years by successive invasions by Turks and Normans who, between them, destroyed it utterly. As these disasters unfolded,
Byzantine learning, despite some brief revivals, shrunk so that it could not replace what the invaders took away. On the other hand, only a
tiny fraction of late Byzantine manuscripts have been edited and there remains that chance that substantial parts of earlier classical works have
been copied and remain to be discovered.

Of course, the Greek works that survive are those that the Christian Byzantines choose to preserve for us. Hence they give a very skewed
view of what Greek thought was actually like. For instance, we have seen that the medical works of Galen make up a full fifth of the entire
surviving classical Greek corpus. Add Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy and the mathematical works and we find that Christians were by far the most
keen on copying scientific and medical writings. The papyri from Egypt and epigraphical evidence show that this was not the concern of most
Greeks. In other words, we think Greeks were a rational lot because Christians were interested in their rational thought. Hence, the
preponderance of Greek science in the surviving corpus tells us that the Christians who preserved it were very interested in science - not that
the classical Greeks were. Oddly, Stoicism, the Greek philosophy that comes closed to Christianity is severely under represented as is
Epicurianism and Cynicism. And yet these three schools rejected much of reason and science, concentrating instead on ethical issues. We are
left with the strong impression that it was Christians who appreciated Greek science a whole lot more than the Greeks did.

The final destruction of Byzantium coincided with the Renaissance in the West. The extent to which the two events are linked has long been
debated but there is no doubt that the rediscovery of the Greek language by the humanists helped preserve much of the detritus left by the
loss of the Greek Empire. The conquering Ottoman Turks were also happy to let most of the Greek monasteries continue in peace and
discoveries were made in their dusty libraries well into the twentieth century.


Today we regret how much has been lost but we have been remarkably careless ourselves. Many classic television serials, such as Doctor
Who from the 1960s, have disappeared because at the time no one felt they were important enough to use up video tape for. Even more
tragically, large numbers of early movies like the second part of the incomparable Wedding March (1928) have been lost through
carelessness and the perishability of nitrate film (for further details see here). Some surviving classics were preserved in a single print. To
those of us who mourn the loss of classical literature this is a depressingly familiar story.

Further Reading

There are relatively few books about this subject that are not either Christian apologetics or atheist propaganda. Glenn Miller's summary is
informative from a Christian point of view while good examples of the later include the works of Joseph McCabe that can be found in the
Internet Infidels' Historical Library. While McCabe is worthless as scholarship, he certainly is a rollicking read. For my own article, I have
tried to track down the primary sources rather than use secondary works but the following, including some general references, have all been

The Early Church - Henry Chadwick
The Beginnings of Western Science - David Lindberg
Libraries in the Ancient World - Lionel Casson
Themistius and the Imperial Court - John Vanderspoel
Dictionary of Scientific Biography
Oxford Classical Dictionary
Books for the Burning - Clarence Forbes (link to actual article)

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« Reply #71 on: April 01, 2008, 01:29:28 pm »


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   posted 08-26-2004 01:46 AM                       
I especially enjoyed your : "Christianity and Pagan Literature" offering earlier. I imagine that the greatest part of it was oral, and the basis of ALL literature of course.

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« Reply #72 on: April 01, 2008, 01:29:47 pm »


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   posted 08-26-2004 08:21 AM                       
Thank you again for picking this up, Helios.
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« Reply #73 on: April 01, 2008, 01:30:20 pm »

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Rate Member   posted 11-27-2004 10:51 AM                       
Just tougth i would add this as a side note.
Hofburg in Wienna are reported too have a large collections of old writings, amoungs them also lot of Papyrus scrolls.

The collection of these writings migth have started as early as the 13 or 14 century-

But also here can things have gotten lost.
There are reports of fires both in the 14 century and as late as in 1992.

I have tried too find info but it seems unclear if any of the writings them selves has been damaged by this fires or not.

Anyway what i would like too know, are if those writings who still exists in Hofburg have been checked out and translated.

Can it still be answers too be found in some of these dokuments?Huh?

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« Reply #74 on: April 01, 2008, 01:30:40 pm »


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   posted 11-29-2004 08:07 AM                       
I would like to learn more about these writings myself. Hofburg kept many ancient artifacts at it, but not only did it fall victim to fire, but was probably also looted in the postwar period after World War II.

What sort of information do you think was stored in there?

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