What really happened to the Library of Alexandria? - Elizabeth Cox


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2,300 years ago, the rulers of Alexandria set out to fulfill one of humanity’s most audacious goals: to collect all the knowledge in the world under one roof. In its prime, the Library of Alexandria housed an unprecedented number of scrolls and attracted some of the Greek world’s greatest minds. But by the end of the 5th century CE, the great library had vanished. Many believed it was destroyed in a catastrophic fire. The truth of the library’s rise and fall is much more complex. The idea for the library came from Alexander the Great. After establishing himself as a conqueror, the former student of Aristotle turned his attention to building an empire of knowledge headquartered in his namesake city. He died before construction began, but his successor, Ptolemy I, executed Alexander’s plans for a museum and library. Located in the royal district of the city, the Library of Alexandria may have been built with grand Hellenistic columns, native Egyptian influences, or a unique blend of the two--there are no surviving accounts of its architecture. We do know it had lecture halls, classrooms, and, of course, shelves. As soon as the building was complete, Ptolemy I began to fill it with primarily Greek and Egyptian scrolls.