List of book-burning incidents
Notable book burnings have taken place throughout history.
- 1 Antiquity
- 1.1 Destruction of Ebla
- 1.2 Destruction of Mari
- 1.3 Destruction of Alalakh
- 1.4 Destruction of Ugarit
- 1.5 Library of Ashurbanipal (by Babylonians, Scythians and Medes)
- 1.6 Chinese philosophy books (by Emperor Qin Shi Huang and anti-Qin rebels)
- 1.7 Protagoras's "On the Gods" (by Athenian authorities)
- 1.8 Zoroastrian scriptures and Persian royal archives (by Alexander the Great)
- 1.9 Jewish holy books (by the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV)
- 1.10 Aeneid (unsuccessfully ordered by Virgil)
- 1.11 Roman history book (by the aediles)
- 1.12 Torah scroll (by Roman soldier)
- 1.13 Sorcery scrolls (by early converts to Christianity at Ephesus)
- 1.14 Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion burned with a Torah scroll (under Hadrian)
- 1.15 Burning of the Torah by Apostomus (precise time and circumstances debated)
- 1.16 Epicurus's book (in Paphlagonia)
- 1.17 Manichaean and Christian scriptures (by Diocletian)
- 1.18 Books of Arianism (after Council of Nicaea)
- 1.19 Library of Antioch (by Jovian)
- 1.20 "Unacceptable writings" (by Athanasius)
- 1.21 The Sibylline books (various times)
- 1.22 Writings of Priscillian
- 1.23 Etrusca Disciplina
- 1.24 Nestorius' books (by Theodosius II)
- 2 Middle Ages
- 2.1 Archives of Ctesiphon (during Arab conquest)
- 2.2 Repeated destruction of Alexandria libraries
- 2.3 Qur'anic texts with varying wording (ordered by the 3rd Caliph, Uthman)
- 2.4 Competing prayer books (at Toledo)
- 2.5 Abelard forced to burn his own book (at Soissons)
- 2.6 The writings of Arnold of Brescia (at France and Rome)
- 2.7 Nalanda University
- 2.8 Samanid Dynasty Library
- 2.9 Buddhist writings in the Maldives
- 2.10 Destruction of Cathar texts (Languedoc region of France)
- 2.11 Maimonides' philosophy (at Montpellier)
- 2.12 The Talmud (at Paris), first of many such burnings over the next centuries
- 2.13 Rabbi Nachmanides' account of the Disputation of Barcelona (by Dominicans)
- 2.14 The House of Wisdom library (at Baghdad)
- 2.15 Lollard books and writings (By English Law)
- 2.16 Wycliffe's books (at Prague)
- 2.17 Codices of the peoples conquered by the Aztecs (by Itzcoatl)
- 3 Early Modern Period (from 1492 to 1650)
- 3.1 Library and archives of the Novgorod Republic (by Ivan III and Ivan IV)
- 3.2 Decameron, Ovid and other "lewd" books (by Savonarola)
- 3.3 Arabic and Hebrew books (at Andalucia)
- 3.4 Tyndale's New Testament (in England)
- 3.5 Angelo Carletti's theological works (by Martin Luther)
- 3.6 English Monastic Libraries (during the Dissolution of the Monasteries)
- 3.7 Servetus's writings (burned with their author at Geneva, and also burned at Vienne)
- 3.8 "The Historie of Italie" (In England)
- 3.9 Maya sacred books (by Spanish Bishop of Yucatan)
- 3.10 Arabic writings in Spain (by King Philip II)
- 3.11 "Obscene" Maltese poetry (by the Inquisition)
- 3.12 Arwi books (by Portuguese in India and Ceylon)
- 3.13 Bernardino de Sahagún's manuscripts on Aztec culture (by Spanish authorities)
- 3.14 Luther's Bible translation
- 3.15 Uriel da Costa's book (By Jewish community and city authorities in Amsterdam)
- 3.16 Marco Antonio de Dominis' writings (in Rome)
- 4 Early Modern Period (from 1650 until the turn of the 19th century)
- 4.1 Books burned by civil, military and ecclesiastical authorities between 1640 and 1660 (in Cromwell's England)
- 4.2 Earl of Worcester's library (by New Model Army)
- 4.3 Book criticising Puritanism (in Boston)
- 4.4 Quaker books (in Boston)
- 4.5 Great Fire (London)
- 4.6 Hobbes books (at Oxford University)
- 4.7 Swedish National Archives
- 4.8 Mythical (and/or mystical) writings of Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (by rabbis)
- 4.9 Protestant books and Bibles (by Archbishop of Salzburg)
- 4.10 Amalasunta (by Carlo Goldoni)
- 4.11 The writings of Johann Christian Edelmann (by Imperial authorities in Frankfurt)
- 4.12 Books that offended Qianlong Emperor
- 4.13 Anti-Wilhelm Tell tract (at Canton of Uri)
- 4.14 Books by Voltaire
- 4.15 Vernacular Catholic hymn books (at Mainz)
- 4.16 Egyptian archaeological finds (threatened burning by French scholars)
- 5 Industrial Revolution period
- 5.1 "The Burned Book" (by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)
- 5.2 Musin-Pushkin's library (In Great Moscow Fire)
- 5.3 Records of the Goa Inquisition (by Portuguese colonial authorities)
- 5.4 Original Library of Congress Collection (by British troops)
- 5.5 The Code Napoléon (by German Nationalist students)
- 5.6 Early braille books (in Paris)
- 5.7 Library of St. Augustine Academy, Philadelphia (by anti-Irish rioters)
- 5.8 Chinese literary works (By Anglo-French troops in Beijing)
- 5.9 Edmond Potonie's papers (by French Police)
- 5.10 Library of Strasbourg (in German bombardment)
- 5.11 Library of the Louvre (during suppression of the Paris Commune)
- 5.12 "Lewd" books (by Anthony Comstock and the NYSSV)
- 5.13 Emily Dickinson's correspondence (on her orders)
- 5.14 Ivan Bloch's research on Russian Jews (by Tsarist Russian government)
- 6 WWI and interbellum era
- 6.1 Leuven University Library (by World War I German Army)
- 6.2 Many books (by Communists in Russia)
- 6.3 Valley of the Squinting Windows (at Delvin, Ireland)
- 6.4 George Grosz's cartoons (By court order in Weimar Germany)
- 6.5 Irish National Archives (in Civil War)
- 6.6 Jewish, anti-Nazi and "degenerate" books (by the Nazis)
- 6.7 Theodore Dreiser's works (at Warsaw, Indiana)
- 6.8 Works of Goethe, Shaw, and Freud (by Metaxas dictatorship in Greece)
- 6.9 Pompeu Fabra's library (by Franco's troops)
- 7 World War II
- 7.1 Norman Lindsay's artistic work (by anti-pornography US officials)
- 7.2 Leuven University Library (by World War II German occupation troops)
- 7.3 Chinese libraries (by World War II Japanese troops)
- 7.4 Works in the British Museum (by German bomber planes)
- 7.5 Jean Genet's "Our Lady of the Flowers" (by French prison guard)
- 7.6 André Malraux's manuscript (by the Gestapo)
- 7.7 Various libraries in Warsaw, Poland (during World War II)
- 7.8 Books in the National Library of Serbia (by World War II German bomber planes)
- 7.9 Douai Municipal Library
- 7.10 Books in German libraries (by World War II Allied bomber planes)
- 8 Cold War era and 1990s
- 8.1 The books of Knut Hamsun (in post-WWII Norway)
- 8.2 Post-WWII Germany
- 8.3 Books in Kurdish (in north Iran)
- 8.4 Comic book burnings, 1948
- 8.5 Books by Shen Congwen (by Chinese booksellers)
- 8.6 Judaica collection at Birobidzhan (by Stalin)
- 8.7 Communist and "fellow traveller" books (by Senator McCarthy)
- 8.8 Wilhelm Reich's publications (by U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
- 8.9 Brazil, military coup, 1964
- 8.10 Religious, Anti-Communist and Genealogy books (in the Cultural Revolution)
- 8.11 Beatles Burnings – Southern USA, 1966
- 8.12 Leftist books in Chile after the 1973 coup d'état
- 8.13 Burning of Jaffna library
- 8.14 The Satanic Verses (worldwide)
- 8.15 Oriental Institute in Sarajevo (1992)
- 8.16 National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992)
- 8.17 Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature & National Library of Abkhazia (by Georgian troops)
- 8.18 The Nasir-i Khusraw Foundation in Kabul (by the Taliban regime)
- 9 21st Century
- 9.1 Berkeley book burning
- 9.2 Abu Nuwas poetry (by Egyptian Ministry of Culture)
- 9.3 Independent Librarians (in Cuba)
- 9.4 Iraq's national library, Baghdad 2003
- 9.5 Harry Potter books (in various American cities)
- 9.6 Inventory of Prospero's Books (by proprietors Tom Wayne and W.E. Leathem)
- 9.7 New Testaments in city of Or Yehuda, Israel
- 9.8 Non-approved Bibles, books and music in Canton, North Carolina
- 9.9 Bagram Bibles
- 9.10 2010–11 Florida Qu'ran burning and related burnings
- 9.11 Operation Dark Heart, memoir by Anthony Shaffer (by the U. S. Dept. of Defense)
- 9.12 The burning of the library in the Institut d'Egypte in Cairo
- 9.13 Suspected Colorado City incident
- 9.14 Qur'ans in Afghanistan
- 9.15 Manuscripts in Timbuktu
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Destruction of Ebla
Destruction of Ebla 2240 BC, then in 1600 BC.
Destruction of Mari
Destruction of Mari in 1765 BC.
Destruction of Alalakh
Destruction of Alalakh circa 1200 BC.
Destruction of Ugarit
Destruction of Ugarit 1180 BC.
Library of Ashurbanipal (by Babylonians, Scythians and Medes)
In 612 BC the Assyrian capital Nineveh was destroyed by a coalition of Babylonians, Scythians and Medes. During the burning of the Royal Palace, a great fire ravaged the Library of Ashurbanipal where the scholar King Ashurbanipal had amassed a great number of texts and tablets from various countries. Modern historians believe the library may have contained a considerable number of texts written on such mediums as leather scrolls, wax boards, and possibly papyri – all of them vulnerable to fire. However, the considerable number of clay cuneiform tablets became partially baked. Thus, ironically, this potentially destructive event helped preserve the tablets, which lay in the earth and were eventually found by 19th century archaeologists.
Chinese philosophy books (by Emperor Qin Shi Huang and anti-Qin rebels)
Following the advice of minister Li Si, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the burning of all philosophy books and history books from states other than Qin — beginning in 213 BCE. This was followed by the live burial of a large number of intellectuals who did not comply with the state dogma.
Li Si is reported to have said: "I, your servant, propose that all historian's records other than those of Qin's be burned. With the exception of the academics whose duty includes possessing books, if anyone under heaven has copies of the Shi Jing, the Classic of History, or the writings of the hundred schools of philosophy, they shall deliver them [the books] to the governor or the commandant for burning. Anyone who dares to discuss the Shi Jing or the Classic of History shall be publicly executed. Anyone who uses history to criticize the present shall have his family executed. Any official who sees the violations but fails to report them is equally guilty. Anyone who has failed to burn the books after thirty days of this announcement shall be subjected to tattooing and be sent to build the Great Wall. The books that have exemption are those on medicine, divination, agriculture and forestry. Those who have interest in laws shall instead study from officials."
The damage to Chinese culture was compounded during the revolts which ended the short rule of Qin Er Shi, Qin Shi Huang's son. The imperial palace and state archives were burned, destroying many of the remaining written records that had been spared by the father.
The Classical Greek philosopher Protagoras was a proponent of agnosticism, writing in a now lost work entitled On the Gods: "Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life. According to Diogenes Laertius, the above outspoken Agnostic position taken by Protagoras aroused anger, causing the Athenians to expel him from their city, where the authorities ordered all copies of the book to be collected and burned in the marketplace. The same story is also mentioned by Cicero. However, the Classicist John Burnet doubts this account, as both Diogenes Laertius and Cicero wrote hundreds of years later and no such persecution of Protagoras is mentioned by contemporaries who make extensive references to this philosopher. Burnet notes that even if some copies of Protagoras' book were burned, enough of them survived to be known and discussed in the following century.
Zoroastrian scriptures and Persian royal archives (by Alexander the Great)
The burning of Persepolis/Pārśapura, ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire, was one of the stains on the record of Alexander the Great, contrasting with the efforts he otherwise made to act humanely towards the defeated Persians. Various accounts attribute it to an accident, a drunken revelry by Alexander's soldiers, or a deliberate act of revenge for the burning of the Acropolis of Athens by Persians centuries before. There was evidently no deliberate targeting of books and written material, but – though not mentioned in Greek and Latin accounts – such destruction did result from the setting on fire of palaces made mostly of highly combustible cedar wood. The Book of Arda Wiraz, a Zoroastrian work composed in the 3rd or 4th century CE, mentions the destruction of Royal archives and of "all the Avesta (Zoroastrian Scriptures) and Zend (commentraries)" which were "written with gold ink upon prepared cow-skins". The Bundahishn – an encyclopædiaic collection of Zoroastrian cosmogony and cosmology – also refers to "Aleskandar" (Alexander) having burned the Avesta following his defeat of "Dara" (Darius III). For this act of sacrilege, Alexander's name was regularly accompanied in Zoroastrian texts by the appelation Gojastak or Gojaste (The Damned). As late as the 10th Century CE, the native Iranian writer Biruni, in his The chronology of ancient nations, mentioned regretfully the loss of historiographical sources due to that burning.
Jewish holy books (by the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV)
In 168 BCE the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV ordered Jewish 'Books of the Law' found in Jerusalem to be 'rent in pieces' and burned – part of the series of persecutions which precipitated the revolt of the Maccabees.
Aeneid (unsuccessfully ordered by Virgil)
In 17 BCE, Virgil died and in his will ordered that his masterpiece, the Aeneid, be burned, as it was a draft and not a final version. However, his friends disobeyed him and released the epic poem after editing it themselves.
Roman history book (by the aediles)
In 25 CE Senator Aulus Cremutius Cordus was forced to commit suicide and his History was burned by the aediles, under the order of the senate. The book's praise of Brutus and Cassius, who had assassinated Julius Caesar, was considered an offence under the lex majestatis. A copy of the book was saved by Cordus' daughter Marcia, and it was published again under Caligula. However, only a few fragments survived to the present.
Torah scroll (by Roman soldier)
Flavius Josephus relates that about the year 50 a Roman soldier seized a Torah scroll and, with abusive and mocking language, burned it in public. This incident almost brought on a general Jewish revolt against Roman rule, such as broke out two decades later. However, the Roman Procurator Cumanus appeased the Jewish populace by beheading the culprit.
Sorcery scrolls (by early converts to Christianity at Ephesus)
According to the New Testament book of Acts, early converts to Christianity in Ephesus who had previously practiced sorcery burned their scrolls: "A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas." (Acts 19:19, NIV)
Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion burned with a Torah scroll (under Hadrian)
Under the Emperor Hadrian, the teaching of the Jewish Scriptures was forbidden, as, in the wake of the Bar Kochva Rebellion, the Roman authorities regarded such teaching as seditious and tending towards revolt. Haninah ben Teradion, one of the Jewish Ten Martyrs executed for having defied that ban, is reported to have been burned at the stake together with the forbidden Torah scroll which he had been teaching. According to Jewish tradition, when the flame started to burn himself and the scroll he still managed to say to his pupils: "I see the scrolls burning but the letters fly up in the air" – a saying considered to symbolize the superiority of ideas to brute force. While in the original applying to sacred writings only, 20th Century Israeli writers also quoted this saying in the context of non-religious ideals.
Burning of the Torah by Apostomus (precise time and circumstances debated)
Among five catastrophes said to have overtaken the Jews on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the Mishnah includes "the burning of the Torah by Apostomus". Since no further details are given and there are no other references to Apostomus in Jewish or non-Jewish sources, the exact time and circumstances of this traumatic event are debated, historians assigning to it different dates in Jewish history under Seleucid or Roman rule, and it might be identical with one of the events noted above (see Apostomus page).
Epicurus's book (in Paphlagonia)
Manichaean and Christian scriptures (by Diocletian)
The Diocletianic Persecution started on March 31, 302, with the Roman Emperor Diocletian, in a rescript from Alexandria, ordering that the leading Manichaeans be burnt alive along with their scriptures. This was the first time a Roman Imperial persecution ever called for the destruction of sacred literature. On the following year, on February 23, 303, Diocletian ordered that the newly built Christian church at Nicomedia be razed, its scriptures burned, and its treasures seized. Later persecutions included the burning of both the Christians themselves and of their books. As related in later Christian Hagiography, at that time the governor of Valencia offered the deacon who would become known as Saint Vincent of Saragossa to have his life spared in exchange for his consigning Scripture to the fire. Vincent refused and let himself be executed instead. In religious paintings he is often depicted holding the book whose preservation he preferred to his own life (see illustration in Saint Vincent of Saragossa page.)
Books of Arianism (after Council of Nicaea)
The books of Arius and his followers, after the first Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.), were burned for heresy by the Roman emperor Theodosius I who published a decree commanding that, "the doctrine of the Trinity should be embraced by those who would be called catholics; that all others should bear the infamous name of heretics". Arius was exiled and presumably assassinated following this, and Arian books continued to be regularly burned into the 330s.
Library of Antioch (by Jovian)
"Unacceptable writings" (by Athanasius)
Elaine Pagels claims that in 367, Athanasius ordered monks in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in his role as bishop of Alexandria to destroy all "unacceptable writings" in Egypt, the list of writings to be saved constituting the New Testament.
The Sibylline books (various times)
The Sibylline Books were a collection of oracular sayings. According to myth, the Cumaean sibyl offered Lucius Tarquinius Superbus the books for a high price, and when he refused, burned three. When he refused to buy the remaining six at the same price, she again burned three, finally forcing him to buy the last three at the original price. The quindecimviri sacris faciundis watched over the surviving books in the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, but could not prevent their being burned when the temple burned down in 83 BCE. They were replaced by a similar collection of oracular sayings from around the Mediterranean in 76 BCE, along with the sayings of the Tiburtine sibyl, and then checked by priests for perceived accuracy as compared to the burned originals. These remained until for political reasons they were burned by Flavius Stilicho (died 408).
Writings of Priscillian
In 385, the theologian Priscillian of Ávila became the first Christian to be executed by fellow-Christians as a heretic. Some (though not all) of his writings were condemned as heretical and burned. For many centuries they were considered irreversibly lost, but surviving copies were discovered in the 19th century.
Nestorius' books (by Theodosius II)
The books of Nestorius, declared to be heresy, were burned under an edict of Theodosius II(435). The Greek originals of most writings were irrevocably destroyed, surviving mainly in Syriac translations.
Archives of Ctesiphon (during Arab conquest)
The Sassanid Empire's capital Ctesiphon was conquered by Arab armies under the military command of Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas in 637, during the caliphate of Umar. Though the general population was not harmed, the palaces were burned, leading to destruction of archives recording centuries of Sassanid history. According to an account written two centuries later in Tarikh al-Tabari by the Persian author Al-Tabari, the Arab Commander Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas wrote to Caliph Umar ibn al-Khatta-b asking what should be done with the books at Ctesiphon. Umar wrote back: "If the books contradict the Qur'an, they are blasphemous. On the other hand, if they are in agreement, they are not needed, as for us Qur'an is sufficient." Thus, the huge library was destroyed and the books, the product of the generations of Persian scientists and scholars were thrown into fire or the Euphrates.
Modern scholars have casted doubt on this incident. Franz Rosenthal, scholar of Islam at Yale University, calls it a "variant of [a] famous legend", and Bernard Lewis, scholar of Oriental studies at Princeton University and Touraj Daryaee, professor in the history of Iran and the Persianate World at University of California, Irvine, have also stated that the story is fabricated.
Repeated destruction of Alexandria libraries
The library of the Serapeum in Alexandria was trashed, burned and looted, 392, at the decree of Theophilus of Alexandria, who was ordered so by Theodosius I. Around the same time, Hypatia was murdered. One of the largest destructions of books occurred at the Library of Alexandria, traditionally held to be in 640; however, the precise years are unknown as are whether the fires were intentional or accidental.
Qur'anic texts with varying wording (ordered by the 3rd Caliph, Uthman)
Uthman ibn 'Affan, the third Caliph of Islam after Muhammad, who is credited with overseeing the collection of the verses of the Qur'an, ordered the destruction of any other remaining text containing verses of the Quran after the Quran has been fully collected, circa 650. This was done to ensure that the collected and authenticated Quranic copy that Uthman collected became the primary source for others to follow, thereby ensuring that Uthman's version of the Quran remained authentic. Although the Qur'an had mainly been propagated through oral transmission, it also had already been recorded in at least three codices, most importantly the codex of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud in Kufa, and the codex of Ubayy ibn Ka'b in Syria. Sometime between 650 and 656, a committee appointed by Uthman is believed to have produced a singular version in seven copies, and Uthman is said to have "sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered any other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt."
Competing prayer books (at Toledo)
After the conquest of Toledo, Spain (1085) by the king of Castile, it was being disputed on whether Iberian Christians should follow the foreign Roman rite or the traditional Mozarabic rite. After other ordeals, it was submitted to the trial by fire: One book for each rite was thrown into a fire. The Toledan book was little damaged after the Roman one was consumed. Henry Jenner comments in the Catholic Encyclopedia: "No one who has seen a Mozarabic manuscript with its extraordinarily solid vellum, will adopt any hypothesis of Divine Interposition here."
Abelard forced to burn his own book (at Soissons)
The provincial synod held at Soissons (in France) in 1121 condemned the teachings of the famous theologian Peter Abelard as heresy; he was forced to burn his own book before being shut up inside the convent of St. Medard at Soissons.
The writings of Arnold of Brescia (at France and Rome)
The rebellious monk Arnold of Brescia – Abelard's pupil and colleague – refused to abjure his views after they were condemned at the Synod of Sens in 1141, and went on to lead the Commune of Rome in direct opposition to the Pope, until being executed in 1155. The Church ordered the burning of all his writings, which was carried out so thoroughly than none of them survives and it is unknown even what they were – except for what can be inferred from polemics against him. Nevertheless, though no written word of Arnold's has survived, his teachings on apostolic poverty continued potent after his death, among "Arnoldists" and more widely among Waldensians and the Spiritual Franciscans.
The library of Nalanda, known as Dharma Gunj (Mountain of Truth) or Dharmagañja (Treasury of Truth), was the most renowned repository of Buddhist and Hindu knowledge in the world at the time. Its collection was said to comprise hundreds of thousands of volumes, so extensive that it burned for months when set aflame by Muslim invaders in 1193.
Samanid Dynasty Library
The Royal Library of the Samanid Dynasty was burned at the turn of the 11th century during the Turkic invasion from the east. Avicenna was said to have tried to save the precious manuscripts from the fire as the flames engulfed the collection.
Following the conversion of the Maldives to Islam in 1153 (or by some accounts in 1193), the Buddhist religion – hitherto state religion for more than a thousand years – was suppressed. The copper-plate document known as Dhanbidhū Lōmāfānu gives information about events in the southern Haddhunmathi Atoll, which had been a major center of Buddhism – where monks were beheaded, and statues of Vairocana, the transcendent Buddha, were destroyed. At that time, also the wealth of Buddhist manuscripts written on screwpine leaves by Maldivian monks in their Buddhist monasteries was either burnt or otherwise so thoroughly eliminated that it has disappeared without leaving any trace.
Destruction of Cathar texts (Languedoc region of France)
During the 13th century, the Catholic Church waged a brutal campaign against the Cathars of Languedoc (smaller numbers also lived elsewhere in Europe), culminating in the Albigensian Crusade. Nearly every Cathar text that could be found was destroyed, in an effort to completely extirpate their heretical beliefs; only a few are known to have survived.
Maimonides' philosophy (at Montpellier)
Maimonides' major philosophical and theological work, "Guide for the Perplexed", got highly mixed reactions from fellow-Jews of his and later times – some revering it and viewing it as a triumph, while others deemed many of its ideas heretical, banning it and on some occasions burning copies of it. One such burning took place at Montpellier, Southern France, in 1233.
The Talmud (at Paris), first of many such burnings over the next centuries
In 1242, The French crown burned all Talmud copies in Paris, about 12,000, after the book was "charged" and "found guilty" in the Paris trial sometimes called "the Paris debate". These burnings of Jewish books were initiated by Pope Gregory IX, who persuaded French King Louis IX to undertake it. This particular book burning was commemorated by the German Rabbi and poet Meir of Rothenburg in the elegy (kinna) called "Ask, O you who are burned in fire" (שאלי שרופה באש), which is recited to this day by Ashkenazi Jews on the fast of Tisha B'av.
Since the Church and Christian states viewed the Talmud as a book hateful and insulting toward Christ and gentiles, subsequent popes were also known to organize public burnings of Jewish books. The most well known of them were Innocent IV (1243–1254), Clement IV (1256–1268), John XXII (1316–1334), Paul IV (1555–1559), Pius V (1566–1572) and Clement VIII (1592–1605).
Once the printing press was invented, the Church found it impossible to destroy entire printed editions of the Talmud and other sacred books. Johann Gutenberg, the German who invented the printing press around 1450, certainly helped stamp out the effectiveness of further book burnings. The tolerant (for its time) policies of Venice made it a center for the printing of Jewish books (as of books in general), yet the Talmud was publicly burned in 1553 and there was a lesser known burning of Jewish books in 1568.
Rabbi Nachmanides' account of the Disputation of Barcelona (by Dominicans)
In 1263 the Disputation of Barcelona was held before King James I of Aragon between the monk Pablo Christiani (a convert from Judaism) and Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (also known as Nachmanides). At the end of disputation, king awarded Nachmanides a monetary prize and declared that never before had he heard "an unjust cause so nobly defended." Since the Dominicans nevertheless claimed the victory, Nahmanides felt compelled to publish the controversy. The Dominicans asserted that this account was blasphemies against Christianity. Nahmanides admitted that he had stated many things against Christianity, but he had written nothing which he had not used in his disputation in the presence of the King, who had granted him freedom of speech. The justice of his defense was recognized by the King and the commission, but to satisfy the Dominicans Nahmanides was exiled and his pamphlet was condemned to be burned.
The House of Wisdom library (at Baghdad)
The House of Wisdom was destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, along with all other libraries in Baghdad. It was said that the waters of the Tigris ran black for six months with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river.
Lollard books and writings (By English Law)
The De heretico comburendo ("On the Burning of Heretics"), a law passed by the English Parliament under King Henry IV of England in 1401, was intended to stamp out "heresy" and in particular the Lollard movement, followers of John Wycliffe. The law stated that "...divers false and perverse people of a certain new sect ...make and write books, [and] do wickedly instruct and inform people". The law's purpose was to "utterly destroy" all "preachings, doctrines, and opinions of this wicked sect". Therefore, all persons in possession of "such books or writings of such wicked doctrine and opinions" were ordered to deliver all such books and writings to the diocesan authorities, within forty days of the law being enacted, so as to let them be burned and destroyed. Those failing to give up their heretical books would face the prospect of being arrested and having their bodies as well as their books burned.
Wycliffe's books (at Prague)
In 1410 John Wycliffe's books were burnt by the illiterate Prague archbishop Zbyněk Zajíc z Házmburka in the court of his palace in Lesser Town of Prague to hinder the spread of Jan Hus's teaching.
Codices of the peoples conquered by the Aztecs (by Itzcoatl)
According to the Madrid Codex, the fourth tlatoani Itzcoatl (ruling from 1427 (or 1428) to 1440) ordered the burning of all historical codices because it was "not wise that all the people should know the paintings". Among other purposes, this allowed the Aztec state to develop a state-sanctioned history and mythos that venerated the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli.
Early Modern Period (from 1492 to 1650)
Library and archives of the Novgorod Republic (by Ivan III and Ivan IV)
In the course of the Novgorod Republic being conquered and subjugated by the rising power of Muscovy, the Republic's library and archives were destroyed, simultaneously with many of the republic's citizens being massacred and tortured and its wealth being looted. The library's destruction can be variously dated either to Novgorod's conquest by Ivan III in 1478, or to the 1570 Massacre of Novgorod perpetrated by his grandson Ivan IV.
Decameron, Ovid and other "lewd" books (by Savonarola)
In 1497, followers of the Italian priest Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned books and objects which were deemed to be "immoral", some – but by no means all – of which might fit modern criteria of pornography or "lewd pictures", as well as pagan books, gaming tables, cosmetics, copies of Boccaccio's Decameron, and all the works of Ovid which could be found in Florence.
Arabic and Hebrew books (at Andalucia)
In 1490 a number of Hebrew Bibles and other Jewish books were burned at the behest of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1499 about 5000 Arabic manuscripts were consumed by flames in the public square in Granada, Spain, on the orders of Ximénez de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo and head of the Spanish Inquisition, excepting only those on medicine, which are conserved in the library of El Escorial. Many of the poetic works were allegedly destroyed on account of their symbolized homoeroticism. The German Romantic poet Heinrich Heine wrote about this, stating "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" (Where they burn books, they will also, in the end, burn humans), a quote written on the monument for the Nazi book burnings today.
Tyndale's New Testament (in England)
Angelo Carletti's theological works (by Martin Luther)
English Monastic Libraries (during the Dissolution of the Monasteries)
During the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England (1536–1541), many monastic libraries were destroyed. Worcester Abbey had 600 books at the time of the dissolution. Only six of them have survived intact to the present day. At the abbey of the Augustinian Friars at York, a library of 646 volumes was destroyed, leaving only three surviving books. Some books were destroyed for their precious bindings, others were sold off by the cartload, including irreplaceable early English works. It is believed that many of the earliest Anglo-Saxon manuscripts were lost at this time.
In 1553, Servetus was burned as a heretic at the order of the city council of Geneva, dominated by Calvin – because a remark in his translation of Ptolemy's Geographia was considered an intolerable heresy. As he was placed on the stake, "around [Servetus'] waist were tied a large bundle of manuscript and a thick octavo printed book", his Christianismi Restitutio. In the same year the Catholic authorities at Vienne also burned Servetus in effigy together with whatever of his writings fell into their hands, in token of the fact that Catholics and Protestants – mutually hostile in this time – were united in regarding Servetus as a heretic and seeking to extirpate his works. At the time it was considered that they succeeded, but three copies were later found to have survived, from which all later editions were printed.
"The Historie of Italie" (In England)
"The Historie of Italie" (1549), a scholarly and in itself not particularly controversial book by William Thomas, was in 1554 suppressed and publicly burnt by order of Queen Mary I of England – after its author was executed on charges of treason. Enough copies survived for new editions to be published in 1561 and 1562, after Elizabeth I came to power.
Maya sacred books (by Spanish Bishop of Yucatan)
July 12, 1562, Fray Diego de Landa, acting Bishop of Yucatan – then recently conquered by the Spanish – threw into the fires the sacred books of the Maya. The number of destroyed books is greatly disputed. De Landa himself admitted to 27, other sources claim "99 times as many" – the later being disputed as an exaggeration motivated by anti-Spanish feeling, the so-called Black Legend. Only three Maya codices and a fragment of a fourth survive. Approximately 5,000 Maya cult images were also burned at the same time. The burning of books and images alike were part of de Landa's effort to eradicate the Maya "idol worship", which he considered "diabolical". As narrated by de Landa himself, he had gained access to the sacred books, transcribed on deerskin, by previously gaining the natives' trust and showing a considerable interest in their culture and language: "We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction." De Landa was later recalled to Spain and accused of having acted illegally in Yucatan, though eventually found not guilty of these charges. Present-day apologists for de Landa assert that, while he had destroyed the Maya books, his own Relación de las cosas de Yucatán is a major source for the Mayan language and culture. Allen Wells calls his work an “ethnographic masterpiece”, while William J. Folan, Laraine A. Fletcher and Ellen R. Kintz have written that Landa‘s account of Maya social organization and towns before conquest is a “gem.”
Arabic writings in Spain (by King Philip II)
The fifteenth-century expulsion of Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula brought about further demise of Islamic libraries. Muslim books were burned wholesale by Catholic Spain. Of Western Europe's Islamic written heritage, little more than the Latin translations of Arabic books, housed at the religious and intellectual centers of Cordoba and Toledo, remained. In 1567, Philip II of Spain issued a royal decree forbidding Moriscos (Muslims who had converted to Christianity but still constituted a distinct community) from the use Arabic on all occasions, formal and informal, speaking and writing. Using Arabic in any sense of the word would be regarded as a crime. They were given three years to learn "Christian" language, after which they would have to get rid of all Arabic written material.
"Obscene" Maltese poetry (by the Inquisition)
In 1584 Pasquale Vassallo, a Maltese Dominican friar, wrote a collection of songs, of the kind known as "canczuni", in Italian and Maltese. The poems fell into the hands of other Dominican friars who denounced him for writing "obscene literature". At the order of the Inquisition in 1585 the poems were burned for this allegedly 'obscene' content.
Arwi books (by Portuguese in India and Ceylon)
With the 16th-century extension of the Portuguese Empire to India and Ceylon, the staunchly Catholic colonizers were hostile to Muslims they found living there. An aspect of this was a Portuguese hostility to and destruction of writings in the Arwi language, a type of Tamil with many Arabic words, written in a variety of the Arabic script and used by local Muslims. Much of Arwi cultural heritage was thus destroyed, though the precise extent of the destruction might never be known.
The 12-volume work known as the Florentine Codex, result of a decades-long meticulous research conducted by the Fransciscan Bernardino de Sahagún in Mexico, is among the most important sources on Aztec culture and society as they were before the Spanish conquest, and on the Nahuatl language. However, upon Sahagún's return to Europe in 1585, his original manuscripts – including the records of conversations and interviews with indigenous sources in Tlatelolco, Texcoco, and Tenochtitlan, and likely to have included much primary material which did not get into the final codex – were confiscated by the Spanish authorities, disappeared irrevocably, and are assumed to have been destroyed. The Florentine Codex itself was for centuries afterwards only known in heavily censored versions.
Luther's Bible translation
Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible was burned in Catholic-dominated parts of Germany in 1624, by order of the Pope – part of the exacerbation of Catholic-Protestant relations due to the Thirty Years' War, then in its early stages.
The 1624 book An Examination of the Traditions of the Pharisees, written by the dissident Jewish intellectual Uriel da Costa, was burned in public by joint action of the Amsterdam Jewish Community and the city's Protestant-dominated City Council. The book, which questioned the fundamental idea of the immortality of the soul, was considered heretical from the Jewish and the Christian points of view alike.
Marco Antonio de Dominis' writings (in Rome)
The theologian and scientist Marco Antonio de Dominis came in 1624 into conflict with the Inquisition in Rome and was declared "a relapsed heretic". He died in prison, which did not end his trial. On December 21, 1624 his body was burned together with his works.
Early Modern Period (from 1650 until the turn of the 19th century)
Earl of Worcester's library (by New Model Army)
Book criticising Puritanism (in Boston)
The first book burning incident in the Thirteen Colonies occurred in Boston in 1651 when William Pynchon, founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, published The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, which criticised the Puritans, who were then in power in Massachusetts. The book became the first banned book in North America, and subsequently all known copies were publicly burned. Pynchon left for England prior to a scheduled appearance in court, and never returned.
Quaker books (in Boston)
In 1656 the authorities at Boston imprisoned the Quaker women preachers Ann Austin and Mary Fisher, who had arrived on a ship from Barbados. Among other things they were charged with "bringing with them and spreading here sundry books, wherein are contained most corrupt, heretical, and blasphemous doctrines contrary to the truth of the gospel here professed amongst us" as the colonial gazette put it. The books in question, about a hundred, were publicly burned in Boston's Market Square.
Great Fire (London)
In 1666, during the Great Fire of London, many booksellers moved their books to the stone crypts of Old St. Paul's Cathedral to escape destruction of their books, but falling masonry broke through into the crypt and let the fire in and all the books were burned.
Hobbes books (at Oxford University)
Swedish National Archives
In 1697, gross negligence caused the burning down of the Tre Kronor in Stockholm, including the National Library and its archives, resulting in irreparable loss of much information about centuries of Swedish history.
Mythical (and/or mystical) writings of Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (by rabbis)
During the 1720s rabbis in Italy and Germany ordered the burning of the kabbalist writings of the then young Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. The Messianic messages which Luzzatto claimed to have gotten from a being called "The Maggid" were considered heretical and potentially highly disruptive of the Jewish communities' daily life, and Luzzatto was ordered to cease disseminating them. Though Luzzatto in later life got considerable renown among Jews and his later books were highly esteemed, most of the early writings were considered irrevocably lost until some of them turned up in 1958 in a manuscript preserved in the Library of Oxford.
Protestant books and Bibles (by Archbishop of Salzburg)
In 1731 Count Leopold Anton von Firmian – Archbishop of Salzburg as well as its temporal ruler – embarked on a savage persecution of the Lutherans living in the rural regions of Salzburg. As well expelling tens of thousands of Protestant Salzburgers, the Archbishop ordered the wholesale seizure and burning of all Protestant books and Bibles.
Amalasunta (by Carlo Goldoni)
In 1750, the Imperial Book Commission of the Holy Roman Empire at Frankfurt/Main ordered the wholesale burning of the works of Johann Christian Edelmann, a radical disciple of Spinoza who had outraged the Lutheran and Calvinist clergies by his Deism, his championing of sexual freedom and his asserting that Jesus had been a human being and not the Son of God. In addition, Edelmann was also an outspoken opponent of royal absolutism. With Frankfurt's entire magistracy and municipal government in attendance and seventy guards to hold back the crowds, nearly a thousand copies of Edelmann's writings were tossed on to a tower of flaming birch wood. Edelmann himself was granted refuge in Berlin by Friedrich the Great, but on condition that he stop publishing his views.
Books that offended Qianlong Emperor
China's Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799) embarked on an ambitious program – the Siku Quanshu, largest compilation of books in Chinese history (possibly in human history in general). The enterprise included, however, also the systematic banning and burning of books considered "unfitting" to be included – especially those critical, even by subtle hints, of the ruling Qing Dynasty. During this Emperor's nearly sixty years on the throne, the destruction of about 3000 "evil" titles (books, poems, and plays) was decreed, the number of individual copies confiscated and destroyed variously estimated at tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands. As well as systematically destroying the written works, 53 authors of such works were executed, in some cases by lingering torture or along with their family members (see literary inquisition#Qing, Qianlong Emperor#Burning of books and modification of texts). A famous earlier Chinese encyclopedia, Tiangong Kaiwu (Chinese: 天工開物) was included among the works banned and destroyed at this time, and was long considered to be lost forever – but some original copies were eventually discovered, preserved intact in Japan. Ironically, the Qianlong Emperor's own masterpiece – the Siku Quanshu, produced only in seven hand-written copies – was itself the target of later book burnings: the copies kept in Zhenjiang and Yangzhou were destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion, and in 1860, during the Second Opium War an Anglo-French expedition force burned most of the copy kept at Beijing's Old Summer Palace. The four remaining copies, though suffering some damage during World War II, are still preserved at four Chinese museums and libraries.
Anti-Wilhelm Tell tract (at Canton of Uri)
The 1760 tract by Simeon Uriel Freudenberger from Luzern, arguing that Wilhelm Tell was a myth and the acts attributed to him had not happened in reality, was publicly burnt in Altdorf, capital of the Swiss canton of Uri — where, according to the legend, William Tell shot the apple from his son's head.
Books by Voltaire
Voltaire, the pen name of François-Marie Arouet, was a writer whose works were burnt several times in pre-revolutionary France. His "Lettres philosophique", published in Rouen in 1734 and giving his describing British attitudes toward government, literature, and religion clearly implied that the British constitutional monarchy was better than the French absolute one – which led to the book being burned.
Later, Voltaire's Dictionnaire philosophique, which was originally called the Dictionnaire philosophique portatif, had its first volume, consisting of 73 articles in 344 pages, burnt upon release in June 1764.
An "economic pamphlet", Man With Forty Crowns, was ordered to be burnt by Parliament, and a bookseller who had sold a copy was pilloried. It is said that one of the magistrates on the case exclaimed, "Is it only his books we shall burn?"
Vernacular Catholic hymn books (at Mainz)
In 1787, an attempt by the Catholic authorities at Mainz to introduce vernacular hymn books encountered strong resistance from conservative Catholics, who refused to abandon the old Latin books and who seized and burned copies of the new German language books.
Egyptian archaeological finds (threatened burning by French scholars)
Many French scholars accompanied Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1799, where they made many important finds. When forced to surrender to the British in 1801, the scholars initially strongly resisted the claim made by the British to have the collections of the expedition handed over. Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire ominously threatened that, were that British demand persisted in, history would record "a second burning of a library in Alexandria". The threat was, however, not carried out, and the finds were finally handed over and ended up in the British Museum.
Industrial Revolution period
"The Burned Book" (by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)
In 1808, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov burned the only copy or copies of one of his own books for an unknown reason. Many Hasidic Jews continue to search for "The Burned Book," as they call it, by looking for clues in his other writings.
Musin-Pushkin's library (In Great Moscow Fire)
The vast destruction caused by the great Moscow fire of 1812 (during the Napoleonic occupation) included destruction of the entire library of Count Aleksei Musin-Pushkin - statesman, historian and art collector. Among the irreplaceable old books destroyed was the only known manuscript of the Medieval Tale of Igor's Campaign. Fortunately, Musin-Pushkin had already published the text; still, historians mourn the lost original.
In 1812 the Goa Inquisition was suppressed, after hundreds of years in which it had been enacting various kinds of religious persecution in the Portuguese colony of Goa, India. In the aftermath, most of the Goa Inquisition's records were destroyed – a great loss to historians, making it is impossible to know the exact number of the Inquisition's victims.
Original Library of Congress Collection (by British troops)
On August 24, 1814, during the Burning of Washington, British and Canadian troops set fire to the Capitol building, thereby destroying some 3,000 volumes in the initial collection of the Library of Congress which was established fourteen years earlier. Ironically, most of these books had been ordered from London before the outbreak of the War of 1812. Immediately following the British withdrawal, former President Thomas Jefferson sold to the US Government his entire private library, 6700 volumes, to replace the loss – from which the Library of Congress went on to expand to its enormous present size. The material destroyed is the modern digital storage equivalent of 3.42gb and could easily be hosted on one single present day smart phone, tablet, or sd card.
The Code Napoléon (by German Nationalist students)
On October 18, 1817 about 450 students, members of the newly founded German Burschenschaften ("fraternities"), came together at Wartburg Castle to celebrate the German victory over Napoleon two years before, condemn conservatism and call for German unity. The Code Napoléon as well as the writings of German conservatives were ceremoniously burned 'in effigy': instead of the costly volumes, scraps of parchment with the titles of the books were placed on the bonfire. Among these was August von Kotzebue's History of the German Empires. Karl Ludwig Sand, one of the students participating in this gathering, would assassinate Kotzebue two years later.
Early braille books (in Paris)
In 1842, officials at the school for the blind in Paris, France, were ordered by its new director, Armand Dufau, to burn books written in the new braille code. After every braille book at the institute that could be found was burned, supporters of the code's inventor, Louis Braille, rebelled against Dufau by continuing to use the code, and braille was eventually restored at the school.
Library of St. Augustine Academy, Philadelphia (by anti-Irish rioters)
On May 8, 1844, the Irish St. Augustine Church, Philadelphia was burned down by anti-Irish Nativist rioters (see Philadelphia Nativist Riots). The fire also destroyed the nearby St. Augustine Academy, with many of the rare books in its library – though in this case the arsonists did not specifically target the books, but rather sought to destroy indiscriminately everything belonging to Irish Catholic immigrants.
Chinese literary works (By Anglo-French troops in Beijing)
In 1860, during the Second Opium War, twenty captive Westerners were tortured and killed by the Chinese government. In retaliation, the British High Commissioner to China, Lord Elgin, ordered the destruction of The Old Summer Palace in Beijing, which was then carried out by French and British troops. The palace complex had been built up by succeeding Chinese dynasties for nearly a thousand years, and many unique works of art were destroyed or looted by the soldiers. Also unique copies of Chinese literary work and compilations, stored there, were burned down as part of the general destruction.
Edmond Potonie's papers (by French Police)
In 1868 the French police, under Napoleon the Third, seized the extensive papers and Europe-wide correspondence of the Parisian Pacifist and Social Reformer Edmond Potonie. The papers, which might have been of considerable value to historians, have disappeared irrevocably and are assumed to have been destroyed.
Library of Strasbourg (in German bombardment)
In the Siege of Strasbourg during the Franco-Prussian War, Strasbourg was heavily and indiscriminately bombarded by the Prussian army, aiming to break the inhabitants' morale. On 24 and 26 August 1870, the Museum of Fine Arts was destroyed by fire, as was the Municipal Library housed in the Gothic former Dominican Church, with its unique collection of medieval manuscripts (most famously the Hortus deliciarum), rare Renaissance books, archeological finds and historical artifacts. Ironically, many of the destroyed books and artifacts formed part of the German historical and cultural heritage, dating to periods long before Strasbourg became a French city.
Library of the Louvre (during suppression of the Paris Commune)
On 23 May 1871, during the suppression of the Paris Commune, 12 men under the orders of a Communard, Dardelle, set various public buildings in Paris on fire. The library and other portions of the Louvre were also set on fire and entirely destroyed. The museum itself was only miraculously saved.
"Lewd" books (by Anthony Comstock and the NYSSV)
Anthony Comstock founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1873 and over the years burned 15 tons of books, 284,000 pounds of plate, and almost 4 million pictures. Lobbying the United States Congress also led to the enactment of the Comstock laws.
Emily Dickinson's correspondence (on her orders)
Following the death of noted American poet Emily Dickinson in 1890, her sister Lavinia Dickinson burned almost all of her correspondences in keeping with Emily's wishes, but as it was unclear whether the forty notebooks and loose sheets all filled with almost 1800 poems were to be included in this, Lavinia saved these and began to publish the poems that year.
Ivan Bloch's research on Russian Jews (by Tsarist Russian government)
In 1901 the Russian Council of Ministers banned a five-volume work on the socio-economic conditions of Jews in the Russian Empire, the result of a decade-long comprehensive statistical research commissioned by Ivan Bloch. (It was entitled "Comparison of the material and moral levels in the Western Great-Russian and Polish Regions"). The research's conclusions – that Jewish economic activity was beneficial to the Empire – refuted antisemitic demagoguery and were disliked by the government, which ordered all copies to be seized and burned. Only a few survived, circulating as great rarities.
WWI and interbellum era
Leuven University Library (by World War I German Army)
On August 25, 1914, in the early stage of the First World War, the university library of Leuven, Belgium was destroyed by the German army, using petrol and incendiary pastilles, as part of brutal retaliations for the extensive activity of "francs-tireurs" against the occupying German forces. Among the 300,000 books destroyed were many irreplaceable books, including Gothic and Renaissance manuscripts. At the time, this destruction aroused shock and dismay around the world.
One of the notable losses was that of Rongorongo text E, which was one of only two dozen surviving examples of the as yet undeciphered rongorongo script of Easter Island. Rubbings and possibly 3-dimensional replicas were preserved in libraries and collections elsewhere.
Many books (by Communists in Russia)
Valley of the Squinting Windows (at Delvin, Ireland)
In 1918 the Valley of the Squinting Windows, by Brinsley MacNamara, was burned in Delvin, Ireland. MacNamara never returned to the area, his father James MacNamara was boycotted and subsequently emigrated, and a court case was even sought. The book criticised the village's inhabitants for being overly concerned with their image towards neighbours, and although it called the town "Garradrimna," geographical details made it clear that Delvin was meant.
George Grosz's cartoons (By court order in Weimar Germany)
In June 1920 the left-wing German cartoonist George Grosz produced a lithographic collection in three editions entitled Gott mit uns. A satire on German society and the counterrevolution, the collection was swiftly banned. Grosz was charged with insulting the army, which resulted in a court order to have the collection destroyed. The artist also had to pay a 300 German Mark fine.
Irish National Archives (in Civil War)
At the culmination of the April 1922 fighting in and around the Four Courts in Dublin, as the Republican forces hitherto barricaded in the building were surrendering, the west wing was obliterated in a huge explosion, destroying the Irish Public Record Office located at the rear, with nearly one thousand years of irreplaceable archives being destroyed. Responsibility for this act was bitterly debated for years afterwards, the government accusing the Republicans of having deliberately perpetrated the destruction of the archives while they rebutted that it was completely accidental.
Jewish, anti-Nazi and "degenerate" books (by the Nazis)
The works of some Jewish authors and other so-called "degenerate" books were burnt by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. Richard Euringer, director of the libraries in Essen, identified 18,000 works deemed not to correspond with Nazi ideology, which were publicly burned.
On May 10, 1933 on the Opernplatz in Berlin, S.A. and Nazi youth groups burned around 25,000 books from the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft and the Humboldt University; including works by Albert Einstein, Vicki Baum, Bertolt Brecht, Heinrich Heine, Helen Keller, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Erich Maria Remarque, Frank Wedekind, Ernest Hemingway and H.G. Wells. Student groups throughout Germany in 34 towns also carried out their own book burnings on that day and in the following weeks. Erich Kästner wrote an ironic account (published only after the fall of Nazism) of having witnessed the burning of his own books on that occasion. Radio broadcasts of the burnings were played in Berlin and elsewhere, and 40,000 turned up to hear Joseph Goebbels make a speech about the acts. See here for a partial list of authors whose books were burned.
In May 1995, Micha Ullman's underground “Bibliotek” memorial was inaugurated on Bebelplatz square in Berlin, where the Nazi book burnings began. The memorial consists of a window on the surface of the plaza, under which vacant bookshelves are lit and visible. A bronze plaque bears a quote by Heinrich Heine: “Where books are burned in the end people will burn.”
Theodore Dreiser's works (at Warsaw, Indiana)
Works of Goethe, Shaw, and Freud (by Metaxas dictatorship in Greece)
Ioannis Metaxas, who held dictatorial power in Greece between 1936 and 1941, conducted an intensive campaign against what he considered Anti-Greek literature and viewed as dangerous to the national interest. Targeted under this definition and put to the fire were not only the writings of dissident Greek writers, but even works by such authors as Goethe, Shaw, and Freud.
Pompeu Fabra's library (by Franco's troops)
In 1939, shortly after the surrendering of Barcelona, Franco's troops burned the entire library of Pompeu Fabra, the main author of the normative reform of contemporary Catalan language, while shouting "¡Abajo la inteligencia!" (Down with intelligentsia!). .
World War II
Norman Lindsay's artistic work (by anti-pornography US officials)
In 1940 the Australian artist Norman Lindsay sought to make his artistic work safer from the recently started World War II by sending 16 crates of paintings, drawings and etchings to safekeeping in the U.S. However, many of these works were of frank and sumptuous nudes, very daring by the standards of the time. When they were discovered due to the train they traveled in catching fire, they were impounded and burned as "pornography" by American officials. Lindsay's older brother Lionel remembers Norman's reaction was, "'Don't worry, I'll do more.' And he did."
Leuven University Library (by World War II German occupation troops)
In May 1940, during Nazi Germany's offensive in Europe in World War II, the university library of Leuven, Belgium was destroyed by the German army and 900,000 books burned. This was after 300,000 others had burned when the library was attacked in World War One.
Chinese libraries (by World War II Japanese troops)
During World War II, Japanese military forces destroyed or partly destroyed numerous Chinese libraries, including libraries at the National University of Tsing Hua, Peking (lost 200,000 of 350,000 books), the University Nan-k'ai, T'ien-chin (totally destroyed, 224,000 books lost), Institute of Technology of He-pei, T'ien-chin (completely destroyed), Medical College of He-pei, Pao-ting (completely destroyed), Agricultural College of He-pei, Pao-ting (completely destroyed), University Ta Hsia, Shanghai (completely destroyed), University Kuang Hua, Shanghai (completely destroyed), National University of Hunan (completely destroyed). In addition other libraries had some or all of their collection removed to Japan, including the University of Nanking, Royal Asiatic Society in Shanghai, University of Shanghai, and Soochow University
Works in the British Museum (by German bomber planes)
In September 1940 during the Blitz in London, a plane commanded by Nazi Germany dropped a bomb on the British Museum. It is not believed that it was intended to hit the Museum in particular, but 124 volumes were destroyed and 304 other volumes were damaged past repair.
Jean Genet's "Our Lady of the Flowers" (by French prison guard)
In 1943 Jean Genet – then an obscure petty criminal – underwent one of the many prison terms in his life. The prison authorities provided to prisoners sheets of rough brown papers, from which they were supposed to make papers. Instead, Genet used the paper to write a largely autobiographical book which would eventually be named Notre Dame des Fleurs (Our Lady of the Flowers). As later recounted by Jean-Paul Sartre in his forward to the book, a prison guard discovered that the prisoner Genet had been making this "unauthorized" use of the paper, confiscated the manuscript and burned it. Undaunted, Genet wrote it all over again. The second version survived and Genet took it with him when leaving the prison. It was this book which eventually established Genet's literary credentials and enabled him to leave the world of crime and become an internationally known author.
André Malraux's manuscript (by the Gestapo)
During the Second World War the French writer and anti-Nazi resistance fighter André Malraux worked on a long novel, The Struggle Against the Angel, the manuscript of which was destroyed by the Gestapo upon his capture in 1944. The name was apparently inspired by the Jacob story in the Bible. A surviving opening part named The Walnut Trees of Altenburg, was published after the war.
Various libraries in Warsaw, Poland (during World War II)
Much of Warsaw, Poland was destroyed during World War II by the Nazis: an approximated 85% of buildings, including 16,000,000 volumes. 10% of the buildings were destroyed in the Invasion of Poland that ignited the war in 1939, 15% in the reorganization of Warsaw and the first Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 25% in the second and far more famous Uprising, and the last 35% due to systematic German actions after the Uprising was defeated. 14 libraries, not including the libraries in the University of Warsaw and the Warsaw Institute of Technology that were also razed, were completely burned to the ground. German Verbrennungskommandos (Burning detachments) were responsible for much of the targeted attacks on libraries and other centers of knowledge and learning.
Part of the Krasiński Library's building was destroyed in September 1939, leading to its collections, which had almost all survived, being moved in 1941. In September 1944, an original collection of 250,000 items was shelled by German artillery, although many books were saved by being thrown out the windows by library staff. In October, what had survived was deliberately burned by the authorities, including 26,000 manuscripts, 2,500 incunables (printed before 1501), 80,000 early printed books, 100,000 drawings and printmakings, 50,000 note and theatre manuscripts, and many maps and atlases.
The Załuski Library – established in 1747 and thus the oldest public library in Poland and one of the oldest and most important libraries in Europe – was burned down during the Uprising in October 1944. Out of about 400,000 printed items, maps and manuscripts, only some 1800 manuscripts and 30,000 printed materials survived. Unlike earlier Nazi book burnings where specific books were deliberately targeted, the burning of this library was part of the general setting on fire of a large part of the city of Warsaw.
The extensive library of the Polish Museum, Rapperswil, founded in 1870 in Rapperswil, Switzerland, had been created when Poland was not a country and was thus moved to Warsaw in 1927. Through 1944, most of the library's 20,000 engravings, 92,000 books, and 27,000 manuscripts were burned.
Books in the National Library of Serbia (by World War II German bomber planes)
In World War II, bomber planes under orders by Nazi Germany specifically targeted the National Library of Serbia in Belgrade. All the collections were destroyed, totaling 500,000 books, 1,424 Cyrillic manuscripts and charters, 1,500 maps and prints, 4,000 journals, 1,800 newspaper titles, and Serbian historical correspondences.
Douai Municipal Library
on August 11, 1944, the Bibliothèque Municipale of Douai, France, was burned in an Allied bombing of the city following the Normandy landings. The library had been founded by Louis XV in 1767 and included many rare and valuable books. Also destroyed in the fire were many of the former holdings of the University of Douai and the collections of the Jesuits of the College of Anchin, both of which had been transferred to the Municipal Library during the French Revolution.
Books in German libraries (by World War II Allied bomber planes)
The firebombing of German cities during World War II caused extensive destruction of German libraries, including the Library of the Technical University of Aachen (50,000 volumes), the Berlin Staatsbibliothek (2 million volumes), the Berlin University Library (20,000 volumes), the Bonn University Library (25% of its holdings), the Bremen Staatsbibliothek (150,000 volumes), the Hessische Landesbibliothek in Darmstadt (760,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in Darmstadt (two thirds of its collection), the Stadt- und Landesbibliothek in Dortmund (250,000 of 320,000 volumes), the Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden (300,000 volumes), the Stadtbibliothek in Dresden (200,000 volumes), the Essen Stadtbücherei (130,000 volumes), the Frankfurt Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek (550,000 volumes, 440,000 doctoral dissertations, 750,000 patents), the Giessen University Library (nine tenths of its collection), the Greifswald University Library (17,000 volumes), the Hamburg Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek (600,000 volumes), the Hamburg Commerz-Bibliothek (174,000 of 188,000 volumes), the Hannover Stadtbibliothek (125,000 volumes), the Badische Landesbibliothek in Karlsruhe (360,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in Karlsruhe (63,000 volumes), the Kassel Landesbibliothek (350,000 of 400,000 volumes), the Murhardsche Bibliothek in Kassel (100,000 volumes), the Kiel University Library (250,000 volumes), the Leipzig Stadtbibliothek (175,000 of 181,000 volumes), the Magdeburg Stadtbibliothek (140,000 of 180,000 volumes), the Marburg University Library (50,000 volumes), the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich (500,000 volumes), the Munich University Library (350,000 volumes), the Munich Stadtbibliothek (80,000 volumes), the Munich Benedictine Library (120,000 volumes), the Münster University Library (360,000 volumes), the Nürnberg Stadtbibliothek (100,000 volumes), the Württembergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart (580,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in Stuttgart (50,000 volumes), the Würzburg University Library (200,000 volumes and 230,000 doctoral dissertations). The above is only a shortlist of the most notable losses; in all it is estimated that a third of all German books were destroyed
Cold War era and 1990s
The books of Knut Hamsun (in post-WWII Norway)
Following the liberation of Norway from Nazi occupation in 1945, angry crowds burned the books of Knut Hamsun in public in major Norwegian cities, due to Hamsun's having coolaborated with the Nazis.
On May 13, 1946 the Allied Control Council issued a directive for the confiscation on all media that could supposedly contribute to Nazism or militarism. As a consequence a list was drawn up of over 30,000 titles, ranging from school textbooks to poetry, which were then banned. All copies of books on the list were to be confiscated and destroyed; the possession of a book on the list was made a punishable offence. All the millions of copies of these books were to be confiscated and destroyed. The representative of the Military Directorate admitted that the order was no different in intent or execution from Nazi book burnings.
Books in Kurdish (in north Iran)
Following the suppression of the pro-Soviet Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in north Iran in December 1946 and January 1947, members of the victorious Iranian Army burned all Kurdish-language books that they could find, as well as closing down the Kurdish printing press and banning the teaching of Kurdish.
Comic book burnings, 1948
In 1948, children – overseen by priests, teachers, and parents – publicly burned several hundred comic books in both Spencer, West Virginia, and Binghamton, New York. Once these stories were picked up by the national press wire services, similar events followed in many other cities.
Books by Shen Congwen (by Chinese booksellers)
Around 1949, the books that Shen Congwen (pseudonym of Shen Yuehuan) had written in the period 1922–1949 were banned in the Republic of China and both banned and subsequently burned by booksellers in the People's Republic of China.
Judaica collection at Birobidzhan (by Stalin)
As part of Joseph Stalin's efforts to stamp out Jewish culture in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Judaica collection in the library of Birobidzhan, capital of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast on the Chinese border, was burned.
Communist and "fellow traveller" books (by Senator McCarthy)
In 1953 United States Senator Joseph McCarthy recited before his subcommittee and the press a list of supposedly pro-communist authors whose works his aide Roy Cohn found in the State Department libraries in Europe. The Eisenhower State Department bowed to McCarthy and ordered its overseas librarians to remove from their shelves "material by any controversial persons, Communists, fellow travelers, etc." Some libraries burned the newly forbidden books. President Dwight D. Eisenhower initially agreed that the State Department should dispose of books advocating communism: "I see no reason for the federal government to be supporting something that advocated its own destruction. That seems to be the acme of silliness." However, at Dartmouth College in June 1953, Eisenhower urged Americans concerning libraries: "Don't join the book burners. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book...."
Wilhelm Reich's publications (by U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
Noted psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich was prosecuted in 1954, following an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in connection with his use of orgone accumulators. Reich refused to defend himself, and a federal judge ordered all of his orgone energy equipment and publications to be seized and destroyed. In June 1956, federal agents burned many of the books at Reich's estate near Rangeley, Maine. Later that year, and in March 1960, an additional 6 tons of Reich's books, journals and papers were burned in a public incinerator in New York. Reich died of heart failure while in federal prison in November 1957.
Brazil, military coup, 1964
Following the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état, General Justino Alves Bastos, commander of the Third Army, ordered, in Rio Grande do Sul, the burning of all "subversive books". Among the books he branded as subversive was Stendhal's The Red and the Black.
Religious, Anti-Communist and Genealogy books (in the Cultural Revolution)
It is the Chinese tradition to record family members in a book, including every male born in the family, who they are married to, etc. Traditionally, only males' names are recorded in the books. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), many such books were forcibly destroyed or burned to ashes, because they were considered by the Chinese Communist Party as among the Four Old Things to be eschewed. Also many copies of classical works of Chinese literature were destroyed, though – unlike the genealogy books – these usually existed in many copies, some of which survived. Many copies of the Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian books were destroyed, though to be promoting the "old" thinking.
Beatles Burnings – Southern USA, 1966
John Lennon, member of the popular music group The Beatles, sparked outrage from religious conservatives in the Southern 'Bible Belt' states when his quote 'The Beatles are more popular than Jesus' was taken out of context from an interview he had done in England five months previous to the Beatles' 1966 US Tour (incidentally, their final tour as a group). Disc Jockeys, evangelists, and the Ku Klux Klan implored the local public to bring their Beatles records, books, magazines, posters and memorabilia to Beatles bonfire burning events.
Leftist books in Chile after the 1973 coup d'état
After the victory of Augusto Pinochet's forces in the Chilean coup of 1973, bookburnings of Marxist and other works ensued. Journalist Carlos Rama reported in February 1974 that up to that point, destroyed works included: the handwritten Chilean Declaration of Independence by Bernardo O'Higgins, thousands of books of Editora Nacional Quimantú including the Complete Works of Che Guevara, thousands of books in the party headquarters of the Chilean Socialist Party and MAPU, personal copies of works by Marx, Lenin, and anti-fascist thinkers, and thousands of copies of newspapers and magazines favorable to Salvador Allende including Chile Today.
Burning of Jaffna library
In May 1981 a mob composed of thugs and plainclothes police officers went on a rampage in minority Tamil-dominated northern Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and burned down the Jaffna Public Library. At least 95,000 volumes were destroyed, including a very rare collection of ancient palm leaf volumes.
The Satanic Verses (worldwide)
The 1988 publication of the novel The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie, provoked angry demonstrations and riots around the world by followers of political Islam, some of whom considered it blasphemous. In the United Kingdom, book burnings were staged in the cities of Bolton and Bradford. In addition, five UK bookstores selling the novel were the target of bombings, and two bookstores in Berkeley, California were firebombed.
Oriental Institute in Sarajevo (1992)
National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992)
On August 25, 1992, the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina was firebombed and destroyed by Serbian nationalists. Almost all the contents of the library were destroyed, including more than 1.5 million books that included 4,000 rare books, 700 manuscripts, and 100 years of Bosnian newspapers and journals. These numbers makes this event a single largest book burning in history of human kind.
Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature & National Library of Abkhazia (by Georgian troops)
Georgian troops entered Abkhazia on August 14, 1992, sparking a 14-month war. At the end of October, the Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature named after Dmitry Gulia, which housed an important library and archive, was torched by the invaders; also targeted was the capital's public library. It seems to have been a deliberate attempt by the Georgian paramilitary soldiers to wipe out the region's historical record.
The Nasir-i Khusraw Foundation in Kabul (by the Taliban regime)
In 1987, the Nasir-i Khusraw Foundation was established in Kabul, Afghanistan due to the collaborative efforts of several civil society and academic institutions, leading scholars and members of the Ismaili community. This site included video and book publishing facilities, a museum, and a library. The library was a marvel in its extensive collection of fifty-five thousand books, available to all students and researchers, in the languages of Arabic, English, and Pashto. In addition, its Persian collection was unparalleled – including an extremely rare 12th-century manuscript of Firdawsi’s epic masterpiece The Book of Kings (Shāhnāma). The Ismaili collection of the library housed works from Hasan-i Sabbah and Nasir-i Khusraw, and the seals of the first Aga Khan. With the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the late 1980s and the strengthening of the Taliban forces, the library collection was relocated to the valley of Kayan. However, on August 12, 1998, the Taliban fighters ransacked the press, the museum, the video facilities and the library, destroying some books in the fire and throwing others in a nearby river. Not a single book was spared, including a thousand-year-old Quran.
Berkeley book burning
Abu Nuwas poetry (by Egyptian Ministry of Culture)
In January 2001, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture ordered the burning of some 6,000 books of homoerotic poetry by the well-known 8th Century Persian-Arab poet Abu Nuwas, even though his writings are considered classics of Arab literature.
Independent Librarians (in Cuba)
In 2003 "Independent Librarians" were put on trial in Cuba in some cases their books were ordered destroyed by the court. For example, in the case of Julio Antoniao Guevara, the trial judge ordered: "As to the disposition of the photographic negatives, the audio cassette, medicines, books, magazines, pamphlets and the rest of the documents, they are to be destroyed by means of incineration because they lack usefulness." Among some of the many thousands of materials burned or destroyed by the Cuban Department of Interior were books on the U.S. Constitution, Martin Luther King, journalism manuals, a book called "Fidel's Secret Wars," and in one case, even a book by Jose Marti, the Cuban hero of independence beloved by most Cubans and often quoted by Castro. American writer Ray Bradbury strongly condemned these book burnings.
Iraq's national library, Baghdad 2003
Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Iraq's national library and the Islamic library in central Baghdad were burned and destroyed. The national library housed rare volumes and documents from as far back as the 16th century, including entire royal court records and files from the period when Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire. The destroyed Islamic library of Baghdad included one of the oldest surviving copies of the Qur'an.
Harry Potter books (in various American cities)
There have been several incidents of Harry Potter books being burned, including those directed by churches at Alamogordo, New Mexico and Charleston, South Carolina in 2006. See Religious debates over the Harry Potter series.
Inventory of Prospero's Books (by proprietors Tom Wayne and W.E. Leathem)
On May 27, 2007, Tom Wayne and W.E. Leathem, the proprietors of Prospero's Books, a used book store in Kansas City, Missouri, publicly burned a portion of their inventory to protest what they perceived as society's increasing indifference to the printed word. The protest was interrupted by the Kansas City Fire Department on the grounds that Wayne and Leathem had failed to obtain the required permits.
New Testaments in city of Or Yehuda, Israel
In May 2008, a "fairly large" number of New Testaments were burned in Or Yehuda, Israel. Conflicting accounts have the deputy mayor of Or Yehuda, Uzi Aharon (of Haredi party Shas), claiming to have organized the burnings or to have stopped them. He admitted involvement in collecting New Testaments and "Messianic propaganda" that had been distributed in the city. The burning apparently violated Israeli laws about destroying religious items.
Non-approved Bibles, books and music in Canton, North Carolina
The Amazing Grace Baptist Church of Canton, North Carolina, headed by Pastor Marc Grizzard, intended to hold a book burning on Halloween 2009. The church, being a King James Version exclusive church, held all other translations of the Bible to be heretical, and also considered both the writings of Christian writers and preachers such as Billy Graham and T.D. Jakes and most musical genres to be heretical expressions. However, a confluence of rain, oppositional protesters and a state environmental protection law against open burning resulted in the church having to retreat into the edifice to ceremoniously tear apart and dump the media into a trash can (as recorded on video which was submitted to People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch blog); nevertheless, the church claimed that the book "burning" was a success.
Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida announced in July 2010 that he threatened to burn 200 copies of the Qur'an on September 11, 2010, then did not do so. However, after promising not to, he proceeded to burn a Qur'an in the sanctuary of the church March 20, 2011
On September 11, 2010:
- Mohammed Vawda publicized his intentions to burn a Bible in retaliation in Johannesburg, but was stopped by a South African judge after a Muslim group brought Vawda to court
- Fred Phelps burned a Qur'an with the American flag at the Westboro Baptist Church
- Bob Old and another preacher burned a Qur'an in Nashville, Tennessee
- A New Jersey transit worker burned a few pages of a Qur'an at the Ground Zero Mosque in Manhattan
- Alex Stewart smoked a roll of pages from the Bible and the Qur'an in Brisbane
- Burned Qur'ans were found in Knoxville, Tennessee, East Lansing, Michigan, Springfield, Tennessee, and Chicago, Illinois.
Operation Dark Heart, memoir by Anthony Shaffer (by the U. S. Dept. of Defense)
The burning of the library in the Institut d'Egypte in Cairo
On December 19, 2011, protesters against the military government in Egypt, burnt the library in the Institute d'Egypt in Cairo. Images of men on TV were shown dancing around the fire. They burnt thousands of rare books, journals and writings. The cost of the material is estimated at tens of millions of dollars – much that was lost was considered priceless.
Suspected Colorado City incident
|This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (May 2013)|
Sometime during the weekend of April 15–17, 2011, books and other items designated for a new public library in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints polygamous community Colorado City, Arizona were removed from the facility where they had been stored and burned nearby. A lawyer for some FLDS members has stated that the burning was the result of a cleanup of the property and that no political or religious statement was intended, however the burned items were under lock and key and were not the property of those who burned them.
Qur'ans in Afghanistan
On February 22, 2012, 4 copies of the Qur'an were burned at Bagram Airfield due to being among 1,652 books slated for destruction. The remaining books, which officials claimed were being used for communication among extremists, were saved and put into storage.
Manuscripts in Timbuktu
Islamist rebels in Timbuktu (in the breakaway region of Azawad in Mali) reportedly burned two libraries containing thousands of the Timbuktu Manuscripts on 27–28 January 2013. Dating back as far as 1202 and written in such languages as Arabic, Songhai, Tamasheq, Bambara, Hebrew, and Turkish, the writings were almost wholly undigitised. Notable works included copies of the Tarikh al-Sudan and Heinrich Barth's letters of recommendation. The rebels are described as being affiliated with AQIM.
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