Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Libraries in antiquity, a short overview

Talking about a library in antiquity, we automatically have – be it abstract – visions of the famous Library of Alexandria in Egypt. Yet, there were, of course, many more such buildings where literary works, as well as legal and administrative documents, were kept, and where lectures were held by a wide number of philosophers and occasional orators.

The library was, of course, not a Greek invention. The oldest library (2500-2250 BC) was, for instance, the one that was discovered in Ebla, Syria, containing a huge number of clay tablets. More recent are the clay tablets found at Mari (1900 BC) and Ugarit (1200 BC) both in Syria. The Hittites were not lacking behind as shown at Hattusa, Turkey, with some 30,000 tablets going back to 1900-1190 BC.

Among the more recently constructed libraries in Turkey there is The Royal Library of Antioch-on-the-Orontes (today’s Antakya) founded in the third century BC under Antioch III.

Next comes the Library of Pergamon (today’s Bergama in Turkey) founded by the Attalid kings between 197 and 159 BC which with its 200,000 volumes is known as being second only to the Library of Alexandria. When the import of papyrus from Egypt was blocked by the Ptolemies, Pergamon started to use fine calfskin as alternative writing support, creating the first parchment or pergamum. The Library of Celsus in Ephesos also in modern Turkey was built in 135 AD and was closely linked to those of Alexandria and Pergamon.

The oldest Greek library is the one founded by Aristotle in Athens in the fourth century BC which contributed widely to the later collection in Alexandria. After Athens, the libraries of Cos and Rhodes were inaugurated, as well as the Library of Hadrian in Athens, all from the first/second century AD.

The Library of Alexandria has not survived and the few descriptions that reached us leave a lot to our imagination. Among the best preserved and/or best restored, we note the Library of Celsus in Ephesos and the Library of Hadrian in Athens which will help us to recreate an overall image of these interesting structures.

The Library of Celsus in Ephesos is an inevitable landmark to every tourist who walks down the Curetus Street and is beckoning him from the onset. It is indeed a very impressive building with a carefully reconstructed façade, yet it is consistent with the grandeur and wealth of Ephesos. The high Corinthian columns support richly decorated ceiling caissons and frame the statues of four goddesses on their high pedestal, i.e. Sofia, (wisdom), Arete (virtue), Ennoia (intelligence) and Episteme (knowledge). It was Consul Gaius Julius Aquila who built this Library around 105-107 AD for his father, a worthy and most prestigious present no doubt. The inside walls were originally covered with colored marble and still vaguely show traces of the niches where the papyrus scrolls were kept in partitioned wooden cupboards (armaria). The room is quite grand, measuring 11 x 17 meters and reminds me of Ptolemy’s library as shown in Oliver Stone’s movie Alexander.

The Library of Hadrian in Athens was evidently built by the emperor of the same name circa 132-134 AD as part of his ambitious plans for the city. It has been erected close to the Roman Agora and served as a repository for the city’s official archives besides its books. The peristyle-formed library measured 122 x 82 meters and today it is still accessible through an impressive propylon with Corinthian columns of Karystos marble. The large courtyard was surrounded by 100 columns of Phrygian marble and counted a number of semi-circular seating spaces. At its center, there was a garden and a decorative pool now occupied by the ruins of several basilicas built in the 7th and 12th century. The library itself was located at the far end of the courtyard, opposite the entrance propylon and was composed of a central reading room flanked on either side by an auditorium with curved seating resembling a theater. Of additional interest are the remains of the small Agios Asomatos sta Skalia church dedicated to the Archangel Michael built in between the Corinthian columns at the entrance and still showing traces of a Byzantine fresco.

With its high surrounding walls, this library was built to impress – just like elsewhere probably where the remains are not sufficient to show it.

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