What would happen today if a great portion of the world's knowledge was suddenly destroyed forever -- all in one day?
That is exactly what happened in ancient times with the burning of the great Ancient Library of Alexandria.
The Library's mandate was to collect all the world's knowledge. It did so through aggressive and well-funded trips to the book fairs of the ancient world in places like Rhodes and Athens. The library also had authority to confiscate any important writings found on ships visiting the great port at Alexandria.
In addition to this, the collection might have contained 500,000 scrolls donated by King Ptolemy II Philadelphus and the 200,000 scrolls given to Cleopatra as a wedding gift from Mark Antony.
If true, the Library of Alexandria was the largest library of the ancient world and likely contained copies of many priceless works of antiquity that have been lost forever.
No one knows exactly when the library was destroyed but it was
probably triggered by one of four events:
1. Julius Caesar's Fire during the Alexandrian War (48 BCE)
2. The attack of Aurelian (272 CE)
3. The decree of Coptic Pope Theophilus (CE 391)
4. The Muslim conquest (CE 642)
There are ancient accounts of the library being destroyed in all four ways and modern historians can't agree which is most historically accurate. Whatever the trigger, we know that much of the collection was lost in a great fire.
Forever a Mystery
Some ancient texts claim that the following inscription was carved
into the wall above the shelves of the library: The place of the
cure of the soul . But it is unclear if this is true.
Ancient descriptions of the library tend to conflict and there is no
reliable source to tell us its layout, content of its collections or even how it was destroyed. Research continues, but it is likely that many of these questions are destined to remain great mysteries of antiquity.