From ancient times to the present many cultures around the world have considered libraries as storehouses of ideas, creativity and knowledge. Today we will look at five of the most notable libraries in history and explore why they may be considered significant.
The Great Library of Alexandria
The Great Library of Alexandria is the most famous library in classical antiquity. Over the years it has gained a mythical status as a ‘universal’ library where all scholars of the ancient world could come and share ideas. The library was located within the grounds of the Royal Palace in Alexandria a port city in northern Egypt and was built around 295 BCE by Ptolemy I. The library was a complex with shrines dedicated to each of the nine muses, lectures areas, observatories, a zoo and living quarters. It was thought to house the works of great scholars and writers including Homer, Plato and Socrates. The library’s destruction is most commonly thought to have happened in 48 BCE when Julius Caesar occupied Alexandria. When Caesar tried to leave the port town, Egyptian ships trapped him in. Caesar ordered his men to set fire to the ships however the fire got out of hand and destroyed many buildings including the library. Imagine how much knowledge we would have access to today if the library was still standing?
Illustration of what the Great Library of Alexandria could have looked like
It has been over a year since I last blogged about ancient Roman cooking, even though I have tried a few more recipes in the meantime, as people who follow me on Twitter or Facebook have probably noticed.
Pullum Numidicum (Numidian Chicken) accompanied with Conchicla Cum faba (Beans with Cumin) and served with Hapalos Artos (soft bread)
One of my last cooking sessions was on the occasion of Hadrian’s birthday on 24th January. Pullum (chicken) dishes from ancient Rome have proven to be a favourite of mine and I invite you to try this recipe taken from Apicius’ De Re Coquinaria Book VI Pullum Numidicum (Numidian Chicken). Pullum Numidicum is a chicken dish flavoured with pepper and asafoetida that is roasted and served with a spiced date, nut, honey, vinegar and stock sauce. I choose to accompany my Pullum Numidicum with Conchicla Cum faba (Beans with Cumin). Read more…
A sculpted panel at the Gupta-period (4th-6th century CE) caves of Udayagiri, Madhya Pradesh, India. The caves are rock-cut Hindu shrines and this panel shows Vishnu as the boar-headed incarnation Varaha. The god rises from the cosmic waters, defeating the primeval serpent monster, and rescuing the goddess Bhudevi (earth), who hangs from his tusk.
Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra (Creative Commons: Attribution).
“Fire of Troy” by Kerstiaen de Keuninck (1560-1632 AD). Oil on panel, last third of the 16th century CE (?). H. 58.3 cm (23 in), W. 84.8 cm (33 in). Public domain.
The decline of the Late Bronze Age civilizations of the Mediterranean and Near East has puzzled historians and archaeologists for centuries. While many have ascribed the collapse of several civilizations to the enigmatic Sea Peoples, Professor Eric H. Cline, former Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at George Washington University, presents a more complicated and nuanced scenario in his new book, 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed.
Professor Eric H. Cline speaks to Ancient History Encyclopedia’s James Blake Wiener about his new title and the circumstances that lead to the collapse of the cosmopolitan world of the Late Bronze Age in this interview.
Palmyra (also known as Tadmor) is mentioned frequently in the news, as the so-called Islamic State is advancing on this ancient gem of a ruined city in Syria. The formerly prosperous metropolis of Palmyra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with good reason. From 44 BCE to 272 CE, the city became a wealthy trade centre at the crossroads between Roman, Greek, and Persian cultures. Located in an oasis in the Syrian desert along key trade routes across the ancient world, it was an important hub for trade, and many caravans passed through this city, increasing its wealth. Its architecture and arts reflects this mix of styles and economic wealth.
This winged ibex was a handle for a metal amphora-shaped vessel, made in the 4th century BCE in Achaemenid Persia. This high level of detail was achieved through the use of lost-wax technique.
It has been suggested that this piece of art resembles both the god Bes and the Greek god Silenus, which may indicate that a Greek artisan made this piece of art.
Louvre Museum, Paris. Sully wing, ground floor, Room 12a.
W: 15 cm
Photo by Jan van der Crabben (Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike).
Mosaic depicting musicians, signed by Dioskourides of Samos. The mosaic shows an episode from a comedy since the figures are wearing theatrical masks. The figures are playing musical instruments often connected with the cult of Cybele: the tambourine, small cymbals and the double flute. The mosaic was found in the so-called Villa of Cicero near Pompeii and dates to the 1st century BCE. It was made with tiny tesserae, in a technique called opus vermiculatum. (Naples National Archaeological Museum)
Photo by Carole Raddato (Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike).