A library has always been a place where knowledge is shared and acquired by both scholars and researchers. But what do know about the first library in the world? Lets delve into the world of scholars


The Great Library of Alexandria, situated in Egypt’s city of Alexandria, stood as a prominent and extensive repository during ancient times. Within the larger research establishment known as the Mouseion, dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts, the library played a pivotal role. Although the concept of a comprehensive library in Alexandria might have originated with Demetrius of Phalerum, an exiled Athenian statesman residing in the city, it was potentially Ptolemy I Soter who conceived the idea and his successor Ptolemy II Philadelphus who oversaw its construction. Over time, the Library amassed a significant collection of papyrus scrolls, a result of the proactive and well-financed efforts by the Ptolemaic kings to acquire various texts. While the exact number of scrolls housed remains uncertain, estimates suggest a range between 40,000 and 400,000 at its zenith.

the great alexander library
the great alexander library


Following his downfall in Athens, Demetrius found shelter at the court of King Ptolemy I Soter around 297 BCE, where he assumed the role of a trusted advisor. Recognizing Demetrius’s extensive expertise, Ptolemy enlisted him in approximately 295 BCE to establish both the library and the Mouseion. After losing power in Athens, Demetrius sought asylum with King Ptolemy I Soter’s court by approximately 297 BCE and became a valued consultant. Around 295 BCE, Ptolemy harnessed Demetrius’s diverse knowledge by assigning him the responsibility of creating the library and the Mouseion. The Library of Alexandria was established under the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt (323-30 BCE) and flourished under the patronage of the early kings to become the most famous library of the ancient world, attracting scholars from around the Mediterranean, and making Alexandria the preeminent intellectual center of its time until its decline after 145 BCE.

the great alexander library

Although legend claims the idea of the great library came from Alexander the Great, this has been challenged and it seems to have been proposed by Ptolemy I Soter (r. 323-282 BCE), founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, and built under the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (282-246 BCE), who also acquired the first books for its collection. Under Ptolemy III Euergetes (r. 246-221 BCE), the library’s collection increased as books were taken from ships at port, copied, and the originals were then housed in the stacks


As the library still existed after the time of Caesar and is referenced during the early Christian era, the most probable explanation for its fall is a loss of patronage by the later Ptolemaic rulers (after Ptolemy VIII expelled foreign scholars in 145 BCE) and uneven support by Roman emperors leading to a decline in the upkeep of the collection and buildings. Religious intolerance, following the rise of Christianity, led to civil strife, which encouraged many scholars to find positions elsewhere, further contributing to the library’s deterioration.

The fall of the great Alexander Library

The final fate of the Library of Alexandria has been debated for centuries and continues to be. According to the most popular claim, it was destroyed by Julius Caesar by fire in 48 BCE. Other claims cite its destruction by the emperor Aurelian in his war with Zenobia in 272 CE, by Diocletian in 297 CE, by Christian zealots in 391 and 415 CE, or by Muslim Arab invaders in the 7th century.


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The image of the Great Library of Alexandria, and all the knowledge of the ancient world, going up in flames is certainly more dramatic than the more mundane scenario of the library declining due to neglect fostered by petty political intrigue and a changing socio-political-religious zeitgeist, but the latter is almost certainly what actually happened. There is no question that written works were destroyed in 48 BCE and after, but this does not mean that all the books housed in the library at its zenith were lost. As noted, copies were made of the collection, and these departed Alexandria with their owners.

The fall of the great Alexander Library
The fall of the great Alexander Library

Alexandria may have been able to boast of the greatest library in the ancient world under the early Ptolemies, but no account from antiquity supports the claim that the reading place was still a great intellectual center by the Roman Period. It is clear, from references in the works of various ancient writers, that a considerable number of manuscripts were lost at Alexandria between c. 48 BCE and 415 CE, but what these were is unknown. Many of the works referenced as part of the library’s collection still exist today all over the world and form part of the collection of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (“Library of Alexandria”), opened in 2002 in Alexandria, Egypt, as an homage to the great library of antiquity


The claim that the loss of the Library of Alexandria in a great conflagration turned the knowledge of the ancient world into smoke and set humanity’s intellectual development back thousands of years is a fable that has become increasingly accepted through repetition in articles, books, television shows, documentaries, videos, and assorted pamphlets blaming one party or another for the destruction of the library to advance a given agenda.

If the great library was still around till this moment,would it have shaped what we all know about the ancient times? what do you think? let us know in the comment section

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