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.


  • Hattusa (1900 B.C. - 1190 B.C.) (Modern Bogazkoy)
This archive constituted the largest collection of Hittite texts discovered.[1][verification needed]
The Attalid kings formed the second best Hellenistic library after Alexandria, founded in emulation of the Ptolemies. When the Ptolemies stopped exporting papyrus, partly because of competitors and partly because of shortages, the Pergamenes invented a new substance to use in codices, called parchment, or pergamum after the city. This was made of fine calfskin, a predecessor of vellum and paper. 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.[2]
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 Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus for whom the library is named.[3] 12,000 volumes were collected at this library which were deposited in several cabinets along the wall.[3]
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.[4] It is known that several documents from the Library of Alexandria were spared incineration and secured here at the library.[4] Some assessments place the collection at just over 100,000 volumes which included papyrus scrolls and codices bound in parchment.[4]


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.[2] The Serapeum in Alexandria served as an extension of the library.
The Nag Hammadi Library consists of no fewer than thirteen codices comprising fifty texts all which concern the Gnostic movement.[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 [6]



The breadth of this institution was enormous and included a university, teaching hospital, and a library filled with over 400,000 titles.[8] 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.[8]


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.[9][10][11]
  • Nippur temple library (2500 B.C.)
The earliest version of the Great Flood was discovered here.[12]
  • 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.[13]
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.[14] 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.[14]



The only library known to have survived from classical antiquity. This villa's large private collection may have once belonged to Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus in the 1st century BC. Buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed the town in 79 AD, it was rediscovered in 1752, around 1800 carbonized scrolls were found in the villa's top story. Using modern techniques such as multi-spectral imaging, previously illegible or invisible sections on scrolls that have been unrolled are now being deciphered. It is possible that more scrolls remain to be found in the lower, unexcavated levels of the villa.[17]


  • Ebla (2500 B.C. - 2250 B.C.)
Constitute the oldest organized library yet discovered: see Ebla tablets.[18]
  • 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.[19] 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.[19]
This archive housed over a thousand clay tablets [20]
  • 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 [21]
More than 10,000 volumes were housed in this library which were entrusted to the mosque by Prince Sayf al-Dawla.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beckman, G. (1983). Mesopotamians and Mesopotamian Learning at Hattusa. Journal of Cunieform Studies, 35(1/2), 97-114.
  2. ^ a b Murray, S. (2009). The library: an illustrated history. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub.
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Nag Hammadi Library. (n.d.). The Gnosis Archive. Retrieved March 31, 2013, from
  6. ^ The Library of Aristotle: Basis for the Royal Library of Alexandria? (384 BCE – 321 BCE). (n.d.). : Retrieved September 15, 2014, from
  7. ^ "Really Old School," Garten, Jeffrey E. New York Times, 9 December 2006.
  8. ^ a b Mirrazavi, F. (2009). Academy of Gundishapur. Iran Review. Retrieved March 31, 2013, from
  9. ^ Polastron, Lucien X.: Books On Fire: the Tumultuous Story of the World's Great Libraries 2007, page 3, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London
  10. ^ 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; ..."
  11. ^ "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." 
  12. ^ John P. Peters, The Nippur Library, Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 26, pp. 145–164, 1905
  13. ^ Springer, I. (n.d.). Nuzi and the Hurrians. Glen Dash Home Page. Retrieved March 30, 2013, from
  14. ^ a b Mackenson, R. S. (1932). Four Great Libraries of Medieval Baghdad. The Library Quarterly, 2(3), 279-299.
  15. ^ Carriker, A. (2003). The library of Eusebius of Caesarea. Leiden: Brill.
  16. ^ Pliny, Natural History 35.10
  17. ^ Sider, S. (1990). Herculaneum's Library in 79 A.D: The Village of the Papyri. Libraries and Culture, 25(4), 534-542.
  18. ^ Murray, S. (2009). The library: an illustrated history. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. ;.
  19. ^ a b Ugarit. (n.d.). QHST Home. Retrieved March 31, 2013, from
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ Great Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology: The Mari Archive. (n.d.). Associates for Biblical Research. Retrieved March 30, 2013, from
  22. ^ 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]