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The Library

Alexandria - Capital Cities

What: The “Seat of the Muses” or Museon, better known as the Royal Library of Alexandria, the most famous Ancient Library in the World. Allegedly being modelled after the Aristotle’s Lyceum in Athens and may have held up to 750,000 scrolls, although the number is highly speculative depending on the old texts

But this is not all, the Museon also grew to host Scholars and became the first idea of a University. The idea behind this being that if the Scholars had all mediocre chores, such as preparing food, taken out of their hands then their minds could be put to a better and more fruitful use

Who: Founded by Pharaoh Ptolemy I in 283BC

Who used the Library: The Seat of the Muses taught many students subjects which included Medicine which included the highly controversial subject of human anatomy, Astronomy, Zoology, Mathematics and Philosophy. Recent archaeological excavations have discovered what is thought to be the remains of some of the lecture rooms. The calculations tentatively suggest that these could have housed up to 5,000 students.

Destroyed: By 640AD all the Papyrus Scrolls from the Library appear to have been destroyed or lost

Today: We use the word Museum from the Library’s use of the word Muse-on

Procurement of Texts


The procuring of the works was one of the keys to the Library’s success. This was accomplished in part by the searching of each ship which entered Alexandria’s Ports and subsequently seizing any and all suitable material found inside.


As Alexandria was a flourishing City Port with links throughout the Mediterranean Sea and beyond, at this juncture, the trickle of Papyrus Scrolls gifted to the Library was supplemented greatly in this way.


The seized Scrolls were assessed at the Library and then either returned to the ship, or a copy of the original returned to the ship with the original being confiscated in its entirety to be held within the Library.

Artist’s Impression of the Library

Famous Names


Manetho arranged the Egyptian Pharaonic Eras into the Order in which they Ruled and the Dynasties in which they Ruled.  Historians are generally still using his work today

Aristarchus confirmed that the earth revolved around the Sun whilst studying in Alexandria and using the texts available to him

Callimachus defined the ordering and logging of all the texts in the library, a system which is used worldwide today

Euclid wrote his Elements text and then taught his geometrical theorems and mathematics and may well have taught Archimedes who is well known to have spent time here at his father’s devise and is reported to have developed the Archimedes Screw whilst studying within the Library confines as he had the opportunity to view the rising and falling of the Nile’s annual floods

NB: Euclid’s Elements are taught in nearly every school worldwide today


Hypatia taught Philosophy and Astronomy and had a hand in keeping the peace between the Christian and Pagan communities for some time, being consulted by the influential leaders in Alexandria

The brain was defined as the controlling Organ to be found within the Human Body at the Library by Herophilus

Eratosthenes calculated the earth’s circumference with near perfect accuracy after proving that the earth was round and studied the stars in the library

The first Star Map was established by Hipparchus which enabled him to accurately calculate the Solar Year

Literary scholars were given their start by Zenodotus who grammatically defined Homer’s texts The Iliad and The Odyssey. He also arranged a full and detailed audit of the texts held in the Library in alphabetical order

The End


145BC  Pharaoh Ptolemy VIII
purged the intellectuals from Alexandria as a whole which meant many prominent leaders with the Library and its associated schools were either exiled or fled from persecution

48BC    Roman Emperor Julius Caesar
“accidentally” allowed the burning of at least part of the Library’s collection during his Civil War intervention in Egypt. I highlight accidentally as he fired his own ships in order to win the battle against Pharaoh Ptolemy XIV by preventing Pharaoh from being able to use his own fleet in the fight against the Roman invader

20BC    Geographer Strabo
visits a partially rebuilt but not fully re-stocked Library


Artist’s Impression of the Fire

Roman Period in Alexandria  
Library suffered as it did not have support of funding from the Roman leadership. Indeed, the Roman leaders changed the entrance to the Library’s school from Membership being granted based on your scholarly works to that of those performed in Athletics, Distinction in Government or in the Military, specifically reflecting what they considered to be Roman virtues. This is reflected in the Roman Head Librarian, Tiberius Claudius Balbilus, a Military Officer, Politian and Administrator who had no scholarly record at all

Rebellions between Alexandria’s diverse religious and non-religious sectors built from friction into rebellion. The resulting rioting appears to have destroyed the main bulk of the Library and its contents

391AD Coptic Christian Pope Theophilus of Alexandria       
he decreed that the final parts of what made up the Library were destroyed after being vandalised


The Library of Alexandria was first suggested to be rebuilt in the 20th Century in 1974 from the University of Alexandria. In 2002, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was opened with several goals

  • modern library
  • cultural center
  • museum to commemorate the original Library
  • it is home to the International School of Information Science to train professionals for libraries in Egypt and the Middle East

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