You know we love a library here at Décor Books, and today we’re taking a look at one of the most legendary, spectacular examples.
The Ancient Library of Alexandria stood in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. Even to this day it’s renowned for being one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world, functioning as a major centre of scholarship. It was home to huge collections of priceless works, lecture halls and stunning gardens, but it suffered a tragic (albeit slightly mysterious) fate all those years ago.
And when we’re talking about many years ago, we mean many years. This library was built during the 3rd century BC – do the maths and that’s around 2316 years ago. People travelled worldwide to learn there, as it was part of a larger research institution called the Musaeum of Alexandria, where many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied.
The Ancient Library of Alexandria is probably most famous, unfortunately, for the fire that burnt it down. Most of the books and ancient scripts it was home to were kept as papyrus scrolls – so many that it’s unknown how many it held at any given time. After the inferno ripped through the building, many scrolls were tragically lost. The destruction of this library has since become a symbol for the loss of cultural knowledge.
So who was to blame? Sources differ on who was responsible for its destruction and when it actually occurred. The library may in truth have suffered several fires over many years, but there is one name that most often gets the blame… None other than Julius Caesar himself.
In 48 BC, Caesar was pursuing Pompey into Egypt when an Egyptian fleet at Alexandria suddenly cut him off. Greatly outnumbered and in enemy territory, Caesar ordered the ships in the harbour to be set on fire. The fire spread rapidly, destroying the Egyptian fleet.
Unfortunately, it also burned down part of the city – the area where the great Library stood. Caesar wrote of starting the fire in the harbour but neglected to mention the burning of the library. This sneaky omission proves little, since he was not in the habit of including unflattering facts while writing his own history – it can be said that Caesar certainly liked to sugarcoat it.
In the next post, we’ll be looking at who else was to blame for the fire… Be sure to check back and find out who’s on this historical hit list of suspects!