What Was the Most Famous Library in Ancient Times?

Libraries have been an integral part of human civilization since ancient times, and they continue to be so today. The earliest known libraries were from Mesopotamia, around 2600 BCE. However, the most famous library in ancient times was the Great Library of Alexandria.

The Great Library of Alexandria

The Great Library of Alexandria was founded in the third century BCE by Ptolemy I Soter, a general and close friend of Alexander the Great. The library was located in the Egyptian city of Alexandria and quickly became one of the largest and most important libraries in the ancient world.

The Collection

The library aimed to collect all known knowledge from around the world at that time. It contained not only books but also scrolls, manuscripts, and other written works. The collection was so extensive that it reportedly housed between 40,000 to 400,000 scrolls.

The Importance

The Great Library was not only a repository for knowledge but also a center for learning and research. It attracted scholars from all over the Mediterranean world who came to study its vast collection and exchange ideas with each other.

The library’s importance went beyond just academia; it also played a crucial role in promoting trade and commerce in Alexandria. The librarians were tasked with collecting information on plants, animals, minerals, and medicines from around the world – information that would be invaluable to traders.

The Destruction

Unfortunately, this hub of knowledge did not last forever. The library suffered several setbacks throughout its history due to fire outbreaks and political turmoil in Egypt. One devastating incident occurred during Julius Caesar’s siege of Alexandria in 48 BCE when parts of the library were burned down.

Another major blow came during Emperor Aurelian’s campaign against Zenobia – Queen of Palmyra – when part of the library burned down yet again.

Finally, by CE 391, the library was closed permanently by the order of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, who considered it a symbol of paganism. The remaining manuscripts were either destroyed or scattered to other libraries around the world.


The Great Library of Alexandria was undoubtedly the most famous library in ancient times. Its vast collection and importance as a center for learning made it a hub for scholars and traders from all over the world. Although its destruction was an irreparable loss to human knowledge, its legacy continues to inspire us to this day.