Library of Antioch

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The Royal Library of Antioch was commissioned by Antiochus III (or Antiochus the Great) of the Seleucid Empire (a successor state of Alexander the Great's empire) around 221 B.C. in Ancient Syria and opened it to scholars. Euphorion of Chalcis, an intellectually influential ancient poet from Greece, accepted the challenge issued by the king and established the royal library at Antioch. He also served as principal librarian until his death.[1] The library, along with the city itself, was considered by some to be the cultural capital of the ancient world, even more prestigious than Pergamon.[2]

Map of the City where the Library was thought to be located upper end of the Colonaded Street lower slope of Mt. Silpius.


The Royal Library of Antioch was destroyed in 363 AD by the Christian Emperor Jovian, who "at the urging of his wife, burned the temple with all the books in it with his concubines laughing and setting the fire", which greatly displeased the citizens of the city as they could only watch angrily as the collection went up in smoke. Johannes Hahn in his work Gewalt und religiöser Konflikt (pp. 178–180) relates:

"Jovian ordered the destruction of the Traianeum, which Julian had converted to a library, because he wanted to gain the favor of the Antiochians. However, he failed completely: not only the pagans but also the Christians interpreted this as a barbaric act."[3]

The Royal Library of Antioch had been heavily stocked with "unholy" pagan literature by the aid of his non-Christian predecessor, Emperor Julian. This collection also included the pagan works of the library of George, Arian Bishop of Alexandria, hated by Christians and pagans alike, who was murdered by an Alexandrian pagan mob in 361.[4] The Emperor Julian then procured his library—replete with many classical texts—and added them to the library of Antioch.[citation needed]

The Museion[edit]

There is also a possibility that another structure was also considered a part of the Royal Library, but this is uncertain according to scholars. At some time between 114 B.C and 92 B.C. during the reign of either Antiochus IX (114-95 BC) or Antiochus X (95-92 BC), Antioch also acquired the means for a Museum with a library to be built with the monies bequeathed to the city in the will of Maron, a merchant of Antioch who had relocated to Athens, but like many merchants of the day who moved left a portion of his estate to his native city.[5]

This Museion was very similar to its rival Alexandria, though that of Alexandria seems to have come first. Of course, the most famous part of the Alexandria complex was the famed Library. Antioch's also contained a substantial library component.

In reality, these complexes had their origins as shrines to the Muses but that transmogrified rather rapidly into the first universities. While Alexandria's had a long and illustrious fame turning out well known artists and intellectuals over the centuries, Antioch's, had a more humble and obscure output.

The Museion in Antioch was reportedly on the lower slopes of Mt Silpius near to the "old" city but on the higher side of the colonnaded street. We have a report in Stinespring of the Vatican Codex that may refer to this establishment:

"And they constructed buildings of learning. Among these is a circular structure, in the middle of which is a dome 100 cubits high; and in this is a reproduction of the heavens, including stars, signs of the zodiac and horoscopes, with movements which have been worked out by the savants and completed by the Brahmins, who in the science of the heavens, have reached the highest rank. So nothing moves in the real heavens, without having its likeness reproduced: sun, moon and everything which is in the heavens."

According to Lassus, the Museion was near the agora of Epiphania, was founded under Antiochus Philpator, burnt under Tiberius, reconstructed by Marcus Aurelius and then under Probus, embellished under the Empress Eudoxia in 438 AD. Constantine converted it to use as the prefectory of the comes Orientis (the Count of the East, the principal Byzantine official in the Eastern part of the Empire) but it was burnt down in a riot of the Green faction on the 9th of July 507.[6]


  1. ^ Lamb, Annette (2012). "History of Libraries". Retrieved 2016-03-07.
  2. ^ "Top 10 Destroyed Libraries". ArtCocktail. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
  3. ^ Antiochian (2008-04-27). "Antiochepedia = Musings Upon Ancient Antioch: The Museion". Antiochepedia = Musings Upon Ancient Antioch. Retrieved 2016-04-23.
  4. ^ "Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, Book XXII, chapter 11". Retrieved 2017-04-07.
  5. ^ Downey, Glanville (2015-12-08). Ancient Antioch. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400876716.
  6. ^ Antiochian (2008-04-27). "Antiochepedia = Musings Upon Ancient Antioch: The Museion". Antiochepedia = Musings Upon Ancient Antioch. Retrieved 2016-04-23.