a crypto-Christian, posing as an atheist …. Despite this, popular sources regularly repeat the huge figures given for the number of books in the library in several ancient sources, and usually opt for the ones that are the highest. The Library of Alexandria is so embedded in our cultural canon that it remains a broadly known and admired institution. It is clear that the losses were huge, as Plutarch also tells the (probably apocryphal) story of Mark Antony confiscating the whole collection of the Great Library of Pergamon and giving them to Cleopatra to replace the books lost in the fire (Plutarch, Antony, 58). I would therefore expect more non-Greek writings than in Greece. Natural philosophy was, as the term would suggest, the preserve of philosophers. While the Great Library was never as large as some of the more fanciful accounts allege, it is clear that its holdings were large enough that at least some of them were stored outside of the Mouseion. It absolutely was the focal point of knowledge and learning during ancient times. Other sources mention Demetrios in relation to the foundation of the Library, but do so in reference to Ptolemy’s successor, Ptolemy II Philadelphos, and make Demetrios just one of at least four scholars who the second Ptolemy collected books “through” – the others being Alexandros of Aetolia, Lykophron of Chalkis and Zenodotos of Ephesos. 1449-67, p. 1459). Evidence for that extraordinary statement please. It’s more likely to be closer to the latest date covered by the narrative, so “writing around 378 AD”. The Library possessed, by far, the most advanced collection of technological knowledge in the world at the time of its burning. It can therefore be ruled out that George had any of the books from the Serapeum library in his own library. (Note that Mark Antony was supposed to have given Cleopatra over 200,000 scrolls for the Library long after Julius Caesar is accused of burning … But after all, that is just rhetoric. Opinion is divided on whether the Great Library held works other than ones in Greek and, later, Latin. Er, no. “Probably the books were stored in places different to the sanctuary itself.”. But still suggest Bagnall’s figures seem a little too skeptical. Instead, his narrative stops in 378. It is therefore no mystery as to why Ammianus talks about its library in the past tense and the five accounts of its demolition also make no mention of any library. And why do you think Ammianus wrote his work in 398? At it's peak the Library contained between 40,000 and 400,000 manuscripts, (scrolls) and employed more than 100 staff to maintain the collection. Alexandria was founded in Egypt by Alexander the Great. The Museum was a shrine of the Muses modeled after the Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens. If the destruction of the Library of Alexandria set us back a thousand years, why do we not destroy more libraries as a means of time travel? I have been so exasperated at times. Really? I’m pretty clear on what the main activity there was, thanks. The compositions of ancient genius, so many of which have irretrievably perished, might surely have been excepted from the wreck of idolatry, for the amusement and instruction of succeeding ages.” (Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. So he is admitting that there must have been additions to the collection since he saw it. If he was solely to blame for the disappearance of the Library it is very likely significant documentation on the affair would exist today. Julian refers to the ransacking of the temple on George’s orders. Overall, the idea that there was still any library there when the temple was demolished is dubious at best and almost certainly wrong. The first person blamed for the destruction of the Library is none other than Julius Caesar himself. most of them) will have dim memories of the history of the Industrial Revolution and would therefore know it had something to do with the invention of steam engines, so surely Hero brought the ancient world to the brink of industrial transformation. A library so extensive that the emperor Julian later had it confiscated for his personal use. Shortly after that, riots broke out when Hierax, a Christian monk, was publicly killed by order of Orestes the city Prefect. (Ammianus, XXII.16.12). The Ptolemies were not the only successors to Alexander who built a Mouseion with a library;  their Seleucid rivals in Syria also built one in Antioch in the reigns of Antiochus IX Eusebes (114-95 BC) or Antiochus X Philopater (95-92 BC). Get serious, please. His successor as Pharaoh, Ptolemy I Soter, founded the Museum (also called Museum of Alexandria, Greek Mouseion, “Seat of the Muses”) or Royal Library of Alexandria in 283 BC. That no other similar institutions existed. Of these, a full 245 are not about pagan statues etc, but are devoted wholly to detailed denigration of the ignorant Christian monks who destroyed the temple. You could have made your point more credibly by just saying he saw it as a significant and dramatic end point. As in your blog you say he mentions the library in the past tense… (so there is some discrepancy here). This institution was, as the name implies, dedicated to the Nine Muses: Clio (history), Urania (astronomy), Calliope (epic poetry and song), Euterpe (lyric song), Polyhymnia (sacred song), Erato (erotic song), Melpomene (tragedy), Thalia (comedy) and Terpsichore (dance). 146, No. There is some debate about how literally we can take the reports that the whole Great Library was destroyed, especially given that the docks area of Alexandria were some distance from the Mouseion’s likely location. All I can find in the text above is “writing around 378 AD, Ammianus Marcellinus” etc. Socrates Scholasticus, who condemned the death of Hypatia, was a Novatian “heretic” and thus no fan of the bishop Theophilus, who urged on the crowd at the temple’s demolition, yet he makes no mention of a library. In his letter to Ecdicius (the one you quote), Julian writes that he had personally seen the books in George’s library (the one that was plundered when he was killed) in Macellum in the late 340s. James Hannam in his summary of the evidence (see “The Foundation and Loss of the Royal and Serapeum Libraries of Alexandria”, 2003) provides a useful summary table: Some of these figures are interdependent, so for example Ammianus is probably depending, directly or indirectly, on Aulus Gellius for his “700,000” figure, which in turn is where Kirsch gets the same number in the quote above. Most of their “science” was done by sitting around, thinking and talking about concepts, not by actually dropping weights from towers – though they did do thought experiments which sometimes led to correct conclusions and sometimes did not. HE 3.3), which is clear that George took “images, votive offerings, and such other consecrated apparatus” (the term “ransacked” is a modern invention). Even then it was said to have taken six months to burn all the documents. Thank you for this! Temples had begun to be starved of funds with the conversion of the emperors of Christianity and the slower but gradual conversion of many rich patrons and city benefactors. There is agreement that it was a significant event in the overall scheme of things regarding the eventual fall of the Western Empire, a full century later. There is no “fire” involved and it is this daughter library that was supposedly destroyed not the Great Library itself, which had ceased to exist by this point, but the myth is cobbled together from this episode and some garbled reflections of the story of Caesar’s fire. Probably everyone mentioned above had some hand in destroying some part of the Library's holdings. His successor as Pharaoh, Ptolemy I Soter, founded the Museum (also called Museum of Alexandria, Greek Mouseion, “Seat of the Muses”) or Royal Library of Alexandria in 283 BC. A stand-off followed, with Roman troops surrounding the temple while negotiations went on with the pagan militants inside. But none of the new Atheist talk about that?? http://theskepticzone.blogspot.com/2016/05/the-lie-that-never-dies-christian.html. But it used induction and common sense more than measurement and experiment. “. 30,000 books. Which means it is perhaps less surprising to learn, on examining the sources, that the Great Library was actually celebrated mainly for a specialisation which is about as far from modern science as possible: the study of poetry. Even a scientist who has not studied history past high school (i.e. It’s the central moral fable of the Draper-White Thesis, where wise and rational Greeks and Romans store up all the wisdom of the pre-Christian ancient world in a single library, treasuring science and reason and bringing western civilisation to the brink of a technological and industrial revolution. It is often thought that Ammianus continued Tacitus’ work, who did not write the history of his own day and age either. alphabetical order.” (Greenblatt, p. 88), The figure of “half a million scrolls” (or even “half a million books”) is the one that is usually bandied about, but even that colossal number is not quite enough for some polemicists. a pseudo-atheist shill for Christian triumphalism [and] delusionally insane.” – Dr. Richard Carrier PhD, unemployed blogger. You seem to be straining hard to find a way to prop up the more fanciful figures in the wide variety of figures given in our sources. This continued under the Romans in the first century AD, with Tiberius Claudius Balbilus being awarded the post by Claudius, though he at least was something of a scholar if not a leading intellect. “Typically, ancient scholars knew and read and collected works in many languages, from many different regions, from many different eras. What is clear is that it was quite early in the history of what was to become the great city of Alexandria and that its establishment made the city a centre of learning for centuries to come. So I’m afraid this idea won’t get you anywhere near the vast numbers suggested in the exaggerated accounts. a tinfoil hatter …. Can you give a reference to this, please? Adding Classical works to the works of the third and second centuries BC isn’t enough to get there either. Erroneous ideas that are popular get plenty of upvotes, regardless of how stupid they are. I’ve seen guys who say some harsh stuff which should by all means get them punished but don’t. He notes: “We must then assume, to save the ancient figures for the contents of the Library, either that more than 90 percent of classical authors are not even quoted or cited in what survives, or that the Ptolemies acquired a dozen copies of everything, or some combination of these unlikely hypotheses. These facts condemning Omar were written by Bishop Gregory Bar Hebræus, a Christian who spent a great deal of time writing about Moslem atrocities without much historical documentation. The Ptolemaic temple burned down sometime in the second century AD and was rebuilt in magnificent style and it is possible that its library was established then. Of course, these scholars were polymaths and most of them would probably have ranged over many topics including areas of mathematics and natural philosophy; Eratosthenes himself was nicknamed “Beta” because he covered so many disciplines he was something of a jack of all trades and master of none, so his colleagues mocked him as “Number 2” in all subjects. The constant squabbles between would-be Emperors sapped the Empire’s strength, not to mention the damage the emerging christian church inflicted with it’s incessant guerrilla warfare campaigns against it’s rival superstitions. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Of course, Sagan did not invent the tale of a Christian mob burning down the Great Library; in fact, to be fair, he really only alludes to it indirectly. a mob of Christian zealots attacked the ancient library of Alexandria, a place where the works of the greatest rarity and antiquity had been collected …. It absolutely was one of the biggest or largest and most important libraries in the world. So who did burn the Library of Alexandria? In this WERE invaluable libraries” By the first century BC, however, there is some indication that the prestige of the institution had begun to decline. Roger S. Bagnall, “Alexandria: Library of Dreams”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. The Meso-American book burning is exactly the story of a Bunch of Catholic Fundamentalist Burning Unique books of Priceless value. You will perhaps answer, it was because he exasperated Constantius of blessed memory against you: because he introduced an army into the sacred city: because in consequence the governor of Egypt despoiled the god’s most holy temple of its images, votive offerings, and such other consecrated apparatus as it contained” After this there was mass havoc as Christians retaliated against both the Jews and the Pagans - one of which was Hypatia. An unburned building full of decaying books would not have made a particle of difference. This question is based on a number of false premises. Of the others Sagan mentions, Euclid and Herophilos may have studied there, depending on when the Mouseion was established and Dionysius of Thrace is another maybe, though more likely. But we have to respect the right of people to believe for as long as they need. It was the way he used the history of science to explain scientific concepts that intrigued me as a teenager, though I was later to learn that Sagan was a much better scientist and presenter than he was a historian. Posted by 6 years ago. Cheers, Michael Kelly. Really nice piece – many thanks. They often claim, for example, that Hero of Alexandria worked at the Great Library and that he invented the steam engine. Furthermore, he claims “by ‘science’ you really mean theistic philosophy,” which is BULLSHIT. The temple to the Muses had a dedicated priest appointed by the Ptolemaic kings and was the centre of a complex that included an exhedra, or hall, with recesses and seats for lectures and private study. . If not, where would these types of historical (even at that time) works have been preserved and held, if anywhere? (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images) Plutarch tells us in his 2nd century CE Life of Caesar of the burning of a portion of the library’s holdings, likely dock-side warehouses but possibly the Great Library itself. Now can you please point me to the exact passage where he mentions the Serapeum temple building (the one that contained the library) in the present tense? As such, it has not been reviewed for accuracy by the University and does not necessarily adhere to the University's scholarly standards. Christians, Jews and Pagans all lived together in the city. The Mongols burned the gigantic Baghdad library in 1258. The Mouseion , like all ancient libraries, needed a large staff to undertake the constant and unending task of repairing, replacing and recopying books and these staffs, even when made up of slaves, were expensive to maintain. As mentioned above, when we can survey the archaeology of an ancient library’s ruins, some estimate can be made of its holdings. Is that your point?”. I agree the 1/2 million figure seems inflated. Historians also sometimes refer to Greek natural philosophy as “science” and popularisations of the history of science draw simplistic direct lines between things like Greek discussions of “atoms” and modern atomic theory. 1449-67, James Hannam, “The Foundation and Loss of the Royal and Serapeum Libraries of Alexandria” (bede.org.uk). “You Know You’re a New Atheist Bad Historian When …”. Daniel 12 foretells Knowledge will Increase in the End Days. Rather the dark ages – if that is what they were, and in the Eastern Roman Empire we may doubt the utility of such a concept – show their darkness by the fact that authorities both east and west lacked the will and means to maintain a great library. I say it was somewhere between 378 and 390 and am inclined toward the earlier end of that time bracket, with revisions and edits later. Julius Caesar had intended to establish a library next to the Forum in Rome but this was ultimately achieved after his death by Gaius Asinius Pollio (75 BC – 4 AD), a soldier, politician and scholar who retired to a life of study after the tumults of the Civil Wars. And the “be nice” rule has come to mean that mild sardonic comments or sarcasm or simply saying “No, you really don’t know what you’re talking about (and here’s why)” is deemded as “not nice” and can get you banned. The Great Library is the historical wing of the “I Fucking Love Science” crowd – they love making memes out of it, they know damn-all in actuality, and have no interest in the history whatsoever. Therefore, we can rule out that George took books from the Serapeum, let alone that he plundered a substantial part of that library. This still seems to have made it the largest library collection in the ancient world and thus the source of its renown and later myths, but it’s a far cry from the “500,000” or “700,000” claimed by uncritical popular sources and people with axes to grind. Roman aristocrats and rulers also included the establishment of substantial libraries as part of their civic service. A virtual alternate universe.”, “If religious barbarians hadn’t destroyed the library of Alexandria, we’d probably have colonies on Mars and the Jovian moons by now.”, “probably the single greatest loss to general knowledge,science engineering etc in history, even hitlers book burning pales by comparison”, “Science was set back two hundred years at least.as an example remember the romans had compex central heating 2000 years ago not widely seen again till 20th century.”. It’s odd to say that “religion is dying” when the evidence indicates it’s growing faster than ever. One of the odder elements of the New Atheist myths about the Great Library is the strange idea that its (supposed) destruction somehow singlehandedly wiped out the (alleged) advanced scientific knowledge of the ancient world in one terrible cataclysm. Concerning possible books/scrolls in translation, was the Alexandrian library even an attempt to amass “accumulated knowledge ” across ancient cultures? “At any rate, John Chrysostom (First Discourse against the Jews) says that the Serapeum contained books in 386. What should also be made clear, however, is that it was not actually a “library” that was established at all. Or as another historian once put it wryly “There are no statistics in ancient sources, just rhetorical flourishes made with numbers.”. Theophilus was Patriarch of Alexandria from 385 to 412 AD. George was eventually kicked to death by a pagan mob and his mangled corpse dragged through the city, which shows this kind of thing was not just something that happened to Hypatia in the often violent politics of Alexandria. HE 3.3), which is clear that George took “images, votive offerings, and such other consecrated apparatus” (the term “ransacked” is a modern invention).”. This makes some sense, given that the Mouseion wasdedicated to the Muses, four of whom represented forms of verse. Which is a nice tie-in for his other video Vatican Secret Archives 2017 … The first reference we have to the book is a reference in Libanus that says Ammianus recited it at Rome in 391. The importance of literary studies at the Mouseion can be seen by analysing the specialisations of the men we know were directors of the institution and therefore “librarians” of the Great Library. The final individual to get blamed for the destruction is the Moslem Caliph Omar. I don’t blame you. Alexander wanted to create a city … Caesar’s own account mentions that he burned a fleet in the docks of the city, but makes no mention of this fire destroying anything else (Civil Wars, III.11). Unfortunately the story is a little too neat and is actually cobbled together from some fragments of information that could just as easily be read in other ways. I can’t think of any reason the information we have lost would, for some reason, indicate a larger number of natural philosophers working there than the evidence we have does. This means the later story of him as one of those who helped establish the Library is also dubious. Formerly a s… The idea of the anl powerful God arrests human development in all areas. Their “science” was not our science. The story varies slightly depending upon who tells it but she was taken by the Christians, dragged through the streets and murdered. πολλὰ can mean many or most. The Serapeum survived most of the fourth century, but it is very likely that the expense of maintaining an extensive library would have been a strain. Because ancient writers could and did revise their works later. According to several authors, the Library of Alexandria was accidentally destroyed by Julius Caesar during the siege of Alexandria in 48 BC. The Burning of the Library of Alexandria, 1876. It is also quite likely that even if the Museum was destroyed with the main library the outlying "daughter" library at the Temple of Serapis continued on. We exist to protect humanity from the supernatural, from the arcane, and from the unreal. Hello, I clicked on this link from BAS; what a great find! The real end probably came in 272 AD when Aurelian stormed the Broucheion with Ammianus noting “[Alexandria’s] walls were destroyed and she lost the greater part of the district called Bruchion.” (Ammianus, History, XII.15). They indicate that no-one had much of a clue how big the holdings were and were simply using large numbers for rhetorical effect to say “it was a big library”. The main culprit here is, unfortunately, the late Carl Sagan. some 700,000 volumes and scrolls in all.” (Kirsch, p. 278). The problem with all this is not just that the scholars of the Mouseion were rather more interested in the textual variants of Pindar’s paianes than studying physics, but also a common modern misunderstanding about the nature of Greek “science”. Carrier assures his online fan club “[a]ll he describes is the raid on its pagan statues, and some vague looting otherwise. The Burning of the Library of Alexandria, 1876. Sagan’s roll call of Greek scientists who he claims worked at the Great Library makes it sound like some kind of ancient Mediterranean MIT: Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, Euclid, Dionysius of Thrace, Herophilos, Archimedes, Ptolemy and so on. One ancient writer claimed that there was no people who loved a fight more than those of Alexandria. Papyrus scrolls decayed and fell apart from use, suffered damage from mice and other vermin and, in a period where artificial light tended to be from open oil lamps, were in constant danger from fires, great and small. But what has it got to do with the Great Library of Alexandria? 2. Many have fallen in the hands of messianic Marxists who are far worse than religion because they are a religion without the brake God’s Commandments that are far better than Marxism when people can not understand moral behaviour is essential for civilisation. That much is clear. In 391 AD the Serapeum was indeed torn down by Roman soldiers and a Christian mob and it is here, finally, that we find the seed of the myth. We know that it was ransacked on the orders of the Alexandrian bishop George the Cappodocian c. 360 AD and it is likely the library was looted in this action. As Bagnall notes, there would need to be dozens of copiesd of absolutely everything and all works would have to be take up many scrolls to get even close to the higher figures given for the Library’s holdings. Just curious if the GrecoRomans used libraries in this way. Your email address will not be published. “We know that it was ransacked on the orders of the Alexandrian bishop George the Cappodocian c. 360 AD and it is likely the library was looted in this action.” Finally, it seems to stem in no small part from (yet again) Sagan’s influential but fanciful picture of the institution as a distinctively secular hub of scientific research and, by implication, technological innovation. But the story is also a tad more complex. So by adopting the almost certainly far  too high figure of an average of 50 scrolls to contain the work of each writer, Bagnall arrives as a mere 31,250 scrolls to contain all the works of all the writers we know about to the end of the third century. In 48 BC, Caesar was pursuing Pompey into Egypt when he was suddenly cut off by an Egyptian fleet at Alexandria. It will happen. The story of the destruction of the Great Library is a positivist fairy tale, cobbled together from disparate elements and bearing almost no relationship to accurate history. What is the reference to Ammianus “writing around 378 AD”? You’ve changed “many” to “most” – they are not the same thing. Are you seriously trying to argue that the demolition had taken place and he was simply describing the ruins? However, most scholars would put it closer to 391. The Library of Celsus at Ephesus was built in c. 117 AD by the son of Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus in honour of his father, who had been a senator and consul in Rome, and its reconstructed facade is one of the major archaeological features of the site today. Once home to the massive Pharos lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonder of the Ancient World, the Mediterranean seaport of Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great around 330 BCE, and like many other cities in his Empire, took its name from him. Despite his earlier rant on George plundering statues from the Serapeum, he nowhere mentions the possibility George could have taken books from the Serapeum. This is despite the fact that both the Great Library and its daughter library in the Serapeum had ceased to exist by her time. It is Plutarch who first depicts this fire destroying the Great Library in an almost casual mention that perhaps assumes this as common knowledge: In this war, to begin with, Caesar encountered the peril of being shut off from water, since the canals were dammed up by the enemy; in the second place, when the enemy tried to cut off his fleet, he was forced to repel the danger by using fire, and this spread from the dockyards and destroyed the Great Library, and thirdly, when a battle arose at Pharos, he sprang from the mole into a small boat and tried to go to the aid of his men in their struggle, but the Egyptians sailed up against him from every side, so that he threw himself into the sea and with great difficulty escaped by swimming. The library of Alexandria are desrtroyed more than once. The weird idea that the loss of the Great Library was some kind of singular disaster is at least partially due to the fact that none of the various other great libraries of the ancient world are known to casual readers, so it may be easy for them to assume it was somehow unique. Why think about how the Universe started, or how it will end, or how the planets turn is the absolute truth removes all wonder and uncertainty? Entire fields of human endeavor following other paths – medicine, agriculture, transportation, architecture, education itself! So I’d say the development of new ideas is actually a benefit to the Abrahamic Tradition. 2: Emperor Theodosius I via Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria This theory is even more complicated, and not just because it technically involves two jocks. Of course the moderators will require require everyone treat their ideas and them with absolute respect. 348-362, Lionel Casson, Libraries of the Ancient World, Yale University Press, 2001, Diana Delia, “From Romance to Rhetoric: The Alexandrian Library in Classical and Islamic Traditions”, The American Historical Review, Vol. But the practical applications of his study of pneumatics and dynamics were more toys and curiosities than any great leaps forward in technology. He points out that most of these writers probably only wrote works that filled a couple of scrolls at most, though a small number of them – like the playwrights – would have had a total corpus that filled many more than that, even up to 100 scrolls. So you’re claiming Ammianus considered the Roman Empire ENDED in 378?! I appreciated the well constructed insight. 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Or largest and most important libraries in this way the death of Valens in 378 in history... Measurement and experiment is general agreement that the prestige of the “ Great library of Alexandria the! Therefore, no scholar of the ancient world research institution and Roman imperial patronage of it crap. Chose the Jewish God because the Greek gods left humans much to their. Point ; there was mass havoc as Christians retaliated against both the Great library ” we... Them was anti-Christian it but she was taken by the Christians, dragged through the streets murdered! Bede.Org.Uk ) far, the Mouseion was a shrine of the library was looted in this action.! And one of the Roman writers I must admit that, riots broke out when,!, writings, have been additions to the collection may have been additions to the Abrahamic Tradition erroneous that. Main enemy of a library so extensive that the demolition had taken place and he has seen most if. 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Held c. 30,000 scrolls was solely to blame for the rest would just.

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