The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Alexandrian Library

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Edition of 1920. See also Library of Alexandria on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

ALEXANDRIAN LIBRARY, a remarkable collection of books, the largest of the ancient world, was founded by the first Ptolemy and fostered by his son. It quickly grew and, already in the time of the first Ptolemy, Demetrius Phalereus had 50,000 volumes or rolls under his care. During its most flourishing period, under the direction of Zenodotus, Aristarchus of Byzantium, Callimachus, Apollonius Rhodius and others, it is said to have contained 490,000, or, according to another authority, including all duplicates, as many as 700,000 volumes. The greater part of this library, which embraced the collected literature of Rome, Greece, India and Egypt, was contained in the famous museum, in the quarter of Alexandria called the Brucheion. During the siege of Alexandria by Julius Cæsar this part of the library was destroyed by fire; but it was afterward replaced by the collection of Pergamos, which was presented to Cleopatra by Mark Antony. The other part of the library was kept in the Serapeum, the temple of Jupiter Serapis, where it remained till the time of Theodosius the Great When this emperor permitted all the heathen temples in the Roman empire to be destroyed, the magnificent temple of Jupiter Serapis was not spared. A mob of fanatic Christians, led on by the Archbishop Theophilus, stormed and destroyed the temple, together, it is most likely, with the greater part of its literary treasures, in 391 A.D. It was at this time that the destruction of the library was begun, and not at the taking of Alexandria by the Arabs under the Caliph Omar, in 641. There are strong reasons for believing that no library then existed there. Consult Petit-Radel, ‘Recherches sur les Bibliothèques Anciennes et Modernes’ (1819); Ritschl, ‘Die Alexandrinische Bibtiothek’ (1838); Weniger, ‘Das Alexandrinische Museum’ (1875).