Ancient Knowledge

A library is a collection of materials that are easily available to use; these can include things like books and other forms of media. Libraries can be virtual or physical; oftentimes, physical libraries are places of quiet and extensive learning and study. Their existence stretches back well into the ancient past; besides the well-known Library of Alexandria, history has played host to many other highly significant centers of learning.



Remnants of Sarouyeh library. © Wikimedia / GNU Free Documentation License. 2009.

Located near the site of the modern city of Isfahan, Sarouyeh was a library in ancient, pre-Islamic Iran. Those who have described it have said that the ancient collection inspired awe equal to that caused by seeing the Egyptian pyramids.


Bogazkoy Archive

The Hittite version (above, at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums) and Egyptian (below, at the Precinct of Amun-Re in Karnak). © Wikimedia / Inscription : Iocanus / Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. 2009.

This collection of texts was found at the site of the ancient Hittite capital of Hattusas, or modern Bogazkoy, in Turkey. The 25,000 tablets were created circa the 2nd millennium BC; written in cuneiform, the languages on the tablets include Hittite, Hurrian, Hattic, Akkadian, and Assyrian.


Library of Ashurbanipal

Library of Ashurbanipal.jpg
Library of Ashurbanipal in British Museum. © Wikimedia / Gary Todd. 2017.

Named after the last great king of the Assyrian Empire, this is a collection of 30,000 clay tablets and fragments, dating from the 7th century BC. The Library is an invaluable resource to historians wanting to learn about the ancient Near East. The tablets were discovered at the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh; this corresponds to modern-day northern Iraq, somewhere around the city of Mosul.


Royal Library of Antioch

Map of Antioch in Roman and early Byzantine times. © Wikimedia / Christano64. 2010.

Located in ancient Syria, in the Seleucid Empire, this library was commissioned circa 221 BC. It was considered to be, at one point, the cultural capital of the ancient world; its collection included a large stock of pagan literature. It was destroyed in 363 AD by Emperor Jovian.


Library of Caesarea

Representation of Origen writing, from a manuscript of In numeros homilia XXVII, c. 1160. © Wikimedia / Licensed for public domain use. 2012.

Also known as the Theological Library of Caesarea Maritima, this ancient Christian library was in ancient Palestine. It had a collection of over 20,000 manuscripts and was the most extensive ecclesiastical library of the time.


House of Wisdom

Manuscript with depiction by Yahya ibn Vaseti found near Maqama of Hariri located at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. Image depicts a library with pupils. © Wikimedia / Zereshk Licensed for public domain use.

Also known as the Grand Library of Baghdad, this was either a major public academy and intellectual center or a large private library belonging to the Abbasid caliphs of the Islamic Golden Age. The existence of the House of Wisdom is derived from contemporary scholars of the time; the House of Wisdom itself was destroyed in the Siege of Baghdad in 1258.


Villa of the Papyri

Restored Villa of the Papyri. © Wikimedia / Ethel Ross Barker, Buried Herculaneum Licensed for Public domain use. 1908.

This ancient Roman villa was located in the southern Italian city of Herculaneum (modern-day Ercolano). It is named for the unique library of scrolls, or papyri, discovered there in 1750; also discovered were numerous works of art- frescoes, bronzes, and sculptures. Situated below the volcano Mount Vesuvius, the villa was buried during the eruption of 79 AD; even today, most of it is still underground.


Library of Celsus

Facade of the Library of Celsus. © Wikimedia / Banh Lieu Song Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0. 2010.

Located in Ephesus, Anatolia—modern Selcuk, Turkey. This library was commissioned circa 110 AD; it is one of the only remaining examples of a library from the Roman Empire. Was the third-largest of the Roman realm, behind Alexandria and Pergamum; it contained about 12,000 scrolls.



Library of Pergamum before excavation, 1885. © Wikimedia / Bohn, Richard Licensed for Public Domain use. 2014.

Built between 220 and 159 BC, the Library of Pergamum was located at the northern end of the Acropolis in Pergamum, Turkey; it was one of the most important libraries of the ancient world, second only to the library at Alexandria. It consisted of four rooms and contained approximately 200,000 volumes. During the Hellenistic period, it was also a center of parchment production; a legend says that parchment was invented in Pergamum to replace the use of papyrus.


Imperial Library of Constantinople

Located in the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, this was the last of the ancient world’s great libraries. Founded by emperor Constantius II, the library preserved knowledge of the ancient world long after the destruction of the other great libraries. Endured several destructive events during its existence. During the fall of Constantinople on its fourth crusade; the library was destroyed in (April 1204).

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