Library of Pergamum

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The Library of Pergamum in Pergamum, Turkey, was one of the most important libraries in the ancient world.

The City of Pergamum[edit]

Founded sometime prior to the Hellenistic Age, Pergamum or Pergamon was an important ancient Greek city, located in Anatolia. It is now the site of the modern Turkish town, Bergama. Ruled by the Attalid dynasty, the city rose to prominence as an administrative center under King Eumenes II of Pergamum, who formed an alliance with the Roman Republic, severing ties with the Greeks.

Under the rule of Eumenes II, Pergamum was a wealthy, developing city with a population of over 200,000 people. Culturally it was rivaled only by the cities of Alexandria and Antioch. Many important works of sculpture and architecture were produced at this time, including the Great Altar of Pergamon. Upon the death of Attalus III, son of Eumenes II, in 133 BC, Pergamum was bequeathed to the Roman Republic. After the fall of Constantinople, Pergamum became part of the Ottoman Empire.

Pergamum was also an important city in the New Testament and was explicitly mentioned by St. John as one of the Seven Churches of Revelation in the Book of Revelation. The ruins of Pergamum and its library are now major archaeological sites in Turkey.

The Library of Pergamum[edit]

Pergamum was home to a library said to house approximately 200,000 volumes, according to the writings of Plutarch. Built by Eumenes II and situated at the northern end of the Acropolis, it became one of the most important libraries in the ancient world. The cultured Pergamene rulers built up the library to be second only to the Great Library at Alexandria. [1] Flavia Melitene, who was a distinguished citizen of Pergamum and wife of a town Councillor was instrumental in supplying the library.[2] She also presented a statue of Hadrian to the library as a gift.[3] It is known that a certain Artemon was employed in the library during the second century B.C. though his personification is obscure.[4] Legend has it that Mark Antony later gave Cleopatra all of the 200,000 volumes at Pergamum for the Library of Alexandria as a wedding present, emptying the shelves and ending the dominance of the Library at Pergamum.[5] Another account states that Mark Antony bequeathed the collection to Cleopatra as a reimbursement for the conflagration of the Library of Alexandria by Julius Caesar.[6] No index or catalog of the holdings at Pergamum exists today, making it impossible to know the true size or scope of this collection.

Historical accounts claim that the library possessed a large main reading room, lined with many shelves. An empty space was left between the outer walls and the shelves to allow for air circulation. This was intended to prevent the library from becoming overly humid in the warm climate of Anatolia and can be seen as an early attempt at library preservation. Manuscripts were written on parchment, rolled, and then stored on these shelves.[7] A statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, stood in the main reading room.


Pergamum is credited with being the home and namesake of parchment (charta pergamena). Prior to the creation of parchment, manuscripts were transcribed on papyrus, which was produced only in Alexandria. When the Ptolemies of Africa refused to export any more papyrus to Pergamum, King Eumenes II commanded that an alternative source be found. It has been conjectured that the Pergamenes may have discovered that "by simplifying the composition of the pelt preparation bath, allied with a special mode of drying wet unhaired pelts (by stretching them as much as possible) smooth taut sheets of uniform opacity could easily be obtained." [8] This led to the production of parchment, which is made out of a thin sheet of sheep or goat skin. Parchment reduced the Roman Empire’s dependency on Egyptian papyrus and allowed for the increased dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe and Asia. The introduction of parchment also greatly expanded the holdings of the Library of Pergamum.


  1. ^ "Pergamum". Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 1. 
  2. ^ Pearcy, L. T. (1988). Galen's Pergamum. Archaeology, 38(6), 33-39.
  3. ^ Pearcy, L. T. (1988). Galen's Pergamum. Archaeology, 38(6), 33-39.
  4. ^ Broggiato, M. (2011). Artemon of Pergamum: A historian in context. Classical Quarterly, 61(2), 545-552.
  5. ^ Kekeç 1989, p. 40.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "The Library of Pergamum (Pergamon) is Founded (197 BCE – 159 BCE)". Jeremy Norman & Co., Inc. 


Coordinates: 39°7′56″N 27°11′3″E / 39.13222°N 27.18417°E / 39.13222; 27.18417