List of libraries in the ancient world

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The great libraries of the ancient world served as archives for empires, sanctuaries for sacred writings, and depositories of literature and chronicles.


  • Timgad (250 A.D.) (modern Algeria)

    The library was a gift to the Roman people and province of Thamugadi or Timgad by Julius Quintianus Flavius Rogatianus in the third century.[1] The library contained an expansive arched hall which consisted of a reading room, stack room, and a rotunda for lectures.[1] The library was quite large measuring 81 feet (25 m) in length by 77 feet (23 m) in width.[1] Oblong alcoves held wooden cabinets along walls of which the manuscripts were maintained.[1] In addition there is evidence for free-standing bookcases in the center as well as a reading desk.[1] There is no evidence as to how many books the library harbored although it is estimated that it could have accommodated 3000 scrolls.[1]


  • Hattusa (1900 B.C. – 1190 B.C.) (modern Bogazkoy)

    This archive constituted the largest collection of Hittite texts discovered with approximately thirty thousand inscribed cuneiform tablets.[2] The tablets had also been classified according to a precise system.[2]

  • Royal Library of Antioch (221 B.C. – 363 A.D.) (Modern Antakya)

    The library was commissioned in the third century B.C. by Euphorion of Chalcis by the Greek sovereign Antiochus III the Great.[3] Euphorion was an academic and was also the chief librarian.[4]

  • Library of Pergamum (197 B.C. – 159 B.C.) (modern Bergama)

    The Attalid kings formed the second best Hellenistic library after Alexandria, founded in emulation of the Ptolemies. Parchment, a predecessor of vellum and paper, was widely used in the library, and came to be known as pergamum after the city. The library had collected over 200,000 volumes and the reason why the library was so successful was because of Pergamum's hegemony which was a purveyor of scholarship.[5]

  • Library of Celsus (135 A.D. – 262) (located within the city of Ephesus)

    This library was part of the triumvirate of libraries in the Mediterranean which included the aforementioned Library of Pergamum and the great Library of Alexandria listed below. The library was actually a tomb and a shrine for the deceased Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus for whom the library is named.[6] 12,000 volumes were collected at this library which were deposited in several cabinets along the wall.[6]

  • The Imperial Library of Constantinople (337–361 A.D. – 29 May 1453) (Constantinople, modern Istanbul)

    The library was established by Constantius II who was the son of the first Christian emperor Constantine. Constantius requested that the rolls of papyrus should be copied onto parchment or vellum in order that they would be preserved.[7] It is known that several documents from the Library of Alexandria were spared incineration and secured here at the library.[7] Some assessments place the collection at just over 100,000 volumes which included papyrus scrolls and codices bound in parchment,[7] although 120,000 volumes had been destroyed in a fire in a.d. 473.


  • Han Imperial Library. Catalogue preserved in the Yiwenzhi chapter of the Book of Han. At the time of inventory contained 596 works divided into six genres; scripture, philosophy, poetry, warfare, astrology, and medicine.
  • Qin reign (third century BCE): It was the practice of Chinese emperors to assemble and maintain their official written archive. The first Qin emperor was a determined opponent of Confucianism, and worked to eradicate texts and teachings of that philosophy. [5]
  • Tang dynasty (6th–10th century): The Tang Dynasty is known as the Golden Age of Imperial Chinese history. Academy libraries were places where young men came to study for civil service exams, and became an important part of the Chinese meritocracy. Private collection of books was also common during this time. Wood-block printing spread throughout the kingdom at this time, making books more affordable. Social status was determined, in part, by the cultural refinement acquired through personal book collections.[5]


  • The Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt, fl. 3rd century BC (c. 295 BC).

    Founded by Ptolemy, this library was said to have amassed an estimated 400,000 manuscripts and was considered the leading intellectual metropolis of the Hellenistic world.[5] The Serapeum in Alexandria served as an extension of the library.

  • Serapeum of Alexandria, offshoot collection of the great Library of Alexandria
  • Temple of Edfu Archive/Library (237–57 B.C.)

    This library was an extension of the Temple itself. The walls of this chamber are bestrewn with engravings and captions depicting numerous receptacles filled with manuscripts of papyrus as well as scrolls bound in leather.[8] These documents chronicled the circadian workings of the temple, but also detailed construction drafts and directives on how the temple walls should be decorated.[8]


  • The Library of Aksum

    The kingdom of Aksum, by the first century CE, was a noted trading hub for Europe, Asia, and Africa.[5] By the third century, it was the equal of the Roman, Persian, and Chinese empires.[5] Aksum had a unique written language, Ge'ez, and their libraries held their own translation of the Christian Bible, and other important early Christian works. It is believed that Coptic monks translated many of these works.[5] Notably, the Book of Enoch, a pre-Christian religious text, was originally written in Ge'ez.[5] By the 7th century CE, the kingdom of Aksum fell due to Islamic expansion, agricultural difficulties, and a trading shift away from the Red Sea in favor of the Persian Gulf, but it is remembered as a society that celebrated literacy, education, and libraries.[5]


  • The Library of Aristotle (Athens) (384–321 B.C.)

    The Library of Aristotle was a private library and the earliest one reported on by ancient chroniclers. It is not known what books nor the number of books that were included in the library. Accounts in antiquity state that the library formed part of the later Library of Alexandria in Egypt.[9]

  • Kos Library (Kos) (100 A.D.)

    The library was a local public library situated on the island of Kos and known as a crossroads for academia and philosophical faculties.[10] A record of individuals who were supposedly responsible for the establishment of the library are acknowledged in an inscription near the monument.[10]

  • The Library of Pantainos (Athens) (100 A.D.)

    Dedicated to both Athena Archegetis and the Roman emperor Hadrian, the library was connected to the Agora in Athens.[11] Titus Flavius Pantainos had it built, and he, along with his children, also devoted it to the citizens of Athens.[12] While the precise date of its dedication is not clear, it is believed to have been dedicated between 98 AD and 102 AD.[12] There is speculation that the library may have actually been built by the father of Pantainos.[12] Being a Roman-period library, the design is quite unconventional. A spacious alcove with an adjoining courtyard enclosed by three galleries formed the arrangement of the structure.[12] An inscription discovered dictates proper library etiquette: "No book is to be taken out because we have sworn an oath. The library is to be open first hour until the sixth."[11] The library was ultimately consumed by the invading Germanic Heruli tribe in 267 AD.[11]

  • The Library of Rhodes (Rhodes) (100 A.D.)

    The library on the island of Rhodes was a distinct component of the larger gymnasium structure. An enclosure that had been excavated revealed a section of a catalog analogous to modern library catalogs. The catalog, which classified titles by subject, displayed an inventory of authors in consecutive order together with their published efforts. It has also been determined that the library employed a qualified librarian.[10]

  • Hadrian's Library (Athens) (132 A.D.)

    It was created by Roman Emperor Hadrian on the north side of the Acropolis of Athens. The library was seriously damaged by the Herulian invasion of 267 and repaired later. During Byzantine times, three churches were built at the site, the remains of which are preserved.

Indian subcontinent[edit]

The great seats of learning in the ancient Indian subcontinent include:


  • The Academy of Gondishapur in western Iran, established during the Persian Sassanid Empire in the 3rd through 6th centuries.

    The breadth of this institution was enormous and included a university, teaching hospital, and a library filled with over 400,000 titles.[14] The academy was the epitome of the Sassanid Empire with its faculty highly proficient in the conventions of Zoroastrianism and ancient Persian as well as classical Indian scholarship.[14]


  • The Library of Ashurbanipal (established 668–627 BC) in Nineveh (near modern Mosul, Iraq)

    Long considered to be the first systematically collected library, was rediscovered in the 19th century. While the library had been destroyed, many fragments of the ancient cuneiform tablets survived, and have been reconstructed. Large portions of the Epic of Gilgamesh were among the many finds.[15][16][17]

  • Nippur temple library (2500 B.C.)

    The earliest version of the Great Flood was discovered here.[18]

  • Nuzi (Modern Yorgan Tepe) (1500 B.C.)

    This archive consisted of over 6,000 tablets written primarily in Babylonian cuneiform, however a select few were composed in the indigenous Hurrian language.[19]

  • The House of Wisdom (Baghdad) (9th–13th centuries)

    An Abbasid-era library and Arabic translation institute in Baghdad, Iraq. 8th century – 1258. The academy was expressed by not only the library, but a celestial observatory.[20] There is a dearth of information on this institution and the majority of knowledge about it comes from the accounts of the Muslim scholar and bibliographer Ibn al-Nadim.[20]




  • Ebla (2500 B.C. – 2250 B.C.)

    Constitute the oldest organized library yet discovered: see Ebla tablets.[24]

  • Ugarit (Modern Ras Shamra) (1200 B.C.)

    Several thousand texts consisting of diplomatic archives, census records, literary works and the earliest privately owned libraries yet recovered.[25] Even though the tablets were written in several different languages, the most important aspect of the library were the 1400 texts written in a previously unknown tongue called Ugaritic.[25]

  • Tell Leilan (Northeast Syria) (1900 B.C.)

    This archive housed over a thousand clay tablets [26]

  • Mari (Modern Tell Hariri) (1900 B.C.)

    The archive held approximately 15,000 tablets which included works on litigation, letters, foreign negotiations, literary, and theological works [27]

  • Sufiya Mosque Library, Grand Umayyad Mosque (Aleppo) (12th Century)

    More than 10,000 volumes were housed in this library which were entrusted to the mosque by Prince Sayf al-Dawla.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Pfeiffer, H. (1931). The Roman Library at Timgad. Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 9, 157-165.
  2. ^ a b Kinsella, John Francis. "The Evidence".
  3. ^ Antiochian (26 May 2013). "Antiochepedia = Musings Upon Ancient Antioch: Lost Sources (besides Pausanias)".
  4. ^ "History of Libraries".
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Murray, S. (2009). The library: an illustrated history. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. p. 49.
  6. ^ a b Celsus Library, Ephesus Turkey. (n.d.). Ephesus ancient city. Artemis temple, virgin mary house, saint john basilica. Ephesus Turkey. Retrieved March 31, 2013, from
  7. ^ a b c Foundation of the Imperial Library of Constantinople (Circa 357 CE): From Cave Paintings to the Internet. (n.d.). Timeline Outline View : From Cave Paintings to the Internet. Retrieved March 31, 2013, from "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-04-11. Retrieved 2013-03-31.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ a b "The Archive or Library in the Temple of Edfu :".
  9. ^ "The Library of Aristotle: Basis for the Royal Library of Alexandria? (384 BCE – 321 BCE)". (n.d.).: Retrieved September 15, 2014, from
  10. ^ a b c "History of Libraries".
  11. ^ a b c "AgoraPicBk 16 2003: Library of Pantainos".
  12. ^ a b c d "The Desert Fathers: Athens (Greece)...Library of Pantainos".
  13. ^ "Really Old School", Garten, Jeffrey E. New York Times, 9 December 2006.
  14. ^ a b Mirrazavi, F. (2009). Academy of Gundishapur. Iran Review. Retrieved March 31, 2013, from
  15. ^ Polastron, Lucien X.: Books On Fire: the Tumultuous Story of the World's Great Libraries 2007, page 3, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London
  16. ^ Menant, Joachim: "La bibliothèque du palais de Ninive" 1880, page 33, Paris: E. Leroux, "Quels sont maintenant ces Livres qui étaient recueillis et consérves avec tant de soin par les rois d'Assyrie dans ce précieux dépôt ? Nous y trouvons des livres sur l'histoire, la religion, les sciences naturelles, les mathématiques, l'astronomie, la grammaire, les lois et les coutumes; ..."
  17. ^ "Artwork From Ancient Assyrian Palaces on Exhibit". Assyrian International News Agency. Retrieved 2010-01-04. The king asserted that he could read the wedge-shaped cuneiform script, and his desire to preserve in one place all of the world's important works of literature and science has been called visionary. Some of the works collected by Ashurbanipal were 1,000 years old at the time. Included in the king's library were fragments from a copy of the Epic of Creation (7th century BC) as well as from The Epic of Gilgamesh (7th century BC), considered the most important work of Mesopotamian literature. In the 19th and 20th century, more than 20,000 cuneiform tablets were discovered by the British Museum.
  18. ^ John P. Peters, The Nippur Library, Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 26, pp. 145–164, 1905
  19. ^ Springer, I. (n.d.). Nuzi and the Hurrians. Glen Dash Home Page. Retrieved March 30, 2013, from
  20. ^ a b Mackenson, R. S. (1932). Four Great Libraries of Medieval Baghdad. The Library Quarterly, 2(3), 279-299.
  21. ^ Pliny, Natural History 35.10
  22. ^ Sider, S. (1990). Herculaneum's Library in 79 A.D: The Village of the Papyri. Libraries and Culture, 25(4), 534–542.
  23. ^ Carriker, A. (2003). The library of Eusebius of Caesarea. Leiden: Brill.
  24. ^ Murray, S. (2009). The library: an illustrated history. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. ;.
  25. ^ a b Ugarit. (n.d.). QHST Home. Retrieved March 31, 2013, from
  26. ^ Eidem, J. (2011). The royal archives from Tell Leilan: old Babylonian letters and treaties from the Eastern Lower Town palace. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
  27. ^ "Great Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology: The Mari Archive". (n.d.). Associates for Biblical Research. Retrieved March 30, 2013, from
  28. ^ Lamb, A. (n.d.). "Early Libraries: 800s CE". History of Libraries. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from


  • Johnson, Elmer D. (1965) A History of Libraries in the Western World. Scarecrow Press NY

External links[edit]