Ernest Cushing Richardson, of Princeton University Library in the early 20th century, researched Antediluvian, Ancient, and Medieval libraries for over twenty-five years. Apart from mythology and speculation, he found that there is much evidence of the existence of many early libraries.
There have been writers who claimed that Adam was the father of the Caucasian race only and that the Mongoloid and Negroid races preceded him. This suggests that there may have been even earlier libraries. It also might coincide with the claims of some anthropologists that man appeared first in Central Africa, not Mesopotamia.
- Adam’s Library
Before the fall, it included a work of the Creator God in several volumes on stone. Its purposes were to teach Adam the alphabet and to preserve a record of the creation. Two new editions after the fall were placed in a “house” on a mountain to the east where the cherubim were guarding the Garden of Eden. By inference, they were the first librarians.
- Libraries of Descendants of Adam
Seth’s library contained astrological and astronomical works. Ham’s library of heretical works was not allowed to be taken into the ark. Cain, Enos, Enoch, and Methuselah also had libraries.
- Noah’s Library
It contained Adam’s library and numerous other ones. Among Noah’s own writings was a history of the world prior to the flood. At the time of the flood, Noah was commanded to bury his books in a pit at Sippara (see Mesopotamia). There was no room, except for a few books, on the ark. After the flood, the library was dug up. Since Egyptians have reported that many libraries were lost in the flood, but this one was not, it is likely that all of these books were made of stone, as those of Adam’s library were. This would suggest that weight on the ark would be a factor in not including this library. It formed the nucleus of the Babylonian libraries.
There are many suggested dates for the existence of Noah”s library. Although these books are considered to be apocryphal, many do go back more than two thousand years.
This was a consolidation of the libraries of the temples at Nisibis and Sinope. The books were in Greek and Syriac.
This was an archive in existence at the time of those at Amarna, Lashish, and Taanach. It contained over 10,000 clay tablets in two sections. One set was on black and grey clay. The other was on yellow and brown clay. These included letters and treaties.The citidel archive consisted of two rooms. The floor and the roof were wooden. The temple treasury library had three rooms. The books were found below the level of the floor rather than to the east side of the room.
The community was known as “booktown.” The library held Hittite books.
This library was located in a house or small temple. There were about 1,000 tablets of Akkadian and Sumerian texts and also Hurrian and Hittite texts. The texts were liturgy and other literary. Included was a handbook library of 100 tablets. Other collections were located in nearby areas.
The Library of Celsus was set up by the governor, Tiberius Julius Aquila Polemaeanus, who left money to purchase and to maintain the books. This was a donation to the city and a memorial to his father. It was completed by his heirs.
It contained mostly Greek works, including those of Euripedes, Herodutus, Homer, and Longianus. It was open to the public so that young people could learn.
This library was in operation from the 17th century BCE to the 13th century BCE. The mass of tablets from Royal Palace A was created by an unknown monarch. The tablets dealt with governmental activity, prosaic handbooks, Hittite renderings of Sumerian and Babylonian epics, religion, myths, legends, and historical annals. There were also detailed bibliographic entries and information on shelving. A few were written in Akkadian. There were smaller libraries in Palaces E and K.
There were smaller collections in some of the temples of the city. These were similar in content to that of other collections. Labels fastened to the shelves were small tablets with only the title of cuneiform texts or series of tablets. Catalogues listed missing and damaged tablets.
This was the second best preserved ancient library in Asia Minor. The building had two storeys and was about 14.8 metres square. Windows allowed the entry of natural light. There were square pilasters of buttresses which projected inwards. There were also alcoves about 2.5 metres deep. Two internal walls provided for bookshelves in rows of three niches. The purposes of the shelves were to store bound volumes and to keep the papyrus rolls dry. The reading room was about 13.4 metres by 8.7 metres. Outside was a front courtyard about 5 metres wide. The floor was covered with mosaics.
This library was founded by Attalus I about 200 BCE and lasted for several hundred years. It was located next to the temple of Athena. A listing of the holdings was drawn up. His son Eumenes II brought it to its peak. He strove to have the library to be equal to the one at Alexandria. This caused the Egyptians to halt the export of papyrus to Pergamium. As a result, the librarians developed a new form of parchment as a replacement. Eventually, the library declined and suffered loss of rolls to the Romans. These may have been returned by Augustus. Later, some volumes were taken to Samarkand.
It was a memorial library in existence during Roman times.
This library contained mostly works in Greek. Included were those of a local physician, who was considered to be the Homer of medical poetry.
In probably the 2nd century C.E., a citizen of Sagalassos, T. Flavius Severianos Neon, had a library built in honour of his father. It became known as the Neon Library. On its back wall are seven inscriptions honouring the founder and six members of his family. There appears to be about twenty semicircular niches for statues. Two walls of the library were rebuilt after a catastrophe. It appears to have been repaired a second time between 350 C.E. and 375 C.E. At this time, there was a policy to protect and spread pagan literature in a Christian society. A little later, the Christian population destroyed the building and its contents. Then a primitive structure was erected near the ruins. It appears that this structure may have been destroyed through arson.
It was located on the upper floor of a building with mud brick walls. There were 3,000 clay tablets and fragments found. The writing was in Hittite and Hurrian.
The fragmentary clay tablets found appear to be the remains of a library in a palace. They are dated to the second half of the 13th century BCE. The writings include rituals, oracles, and cultic inventories.
This library, created by Tiglath-Pileser I, operated between 1115 BCE and 1077 BCE. This king was probably the first founder of a library. Some of the tablets were literary, but most of the writings were professional for use by scribes and priests. The greatest number dealt with omens determined by astrology, sacrificial animals, and natural events. The next largest group were the standardized handbooks of vocabulary lists, plants, trees, animals, gods, place names, multiplication tables, and astronomy. There were also some hymns and musical compositions.
A unique set of parchments and papyri were found. They contained literary and religious texts, official and business documents, and military archives. They were written in Aramaic, Pahlavi, Greek, and Latin.
The library was created about 718 BCE or a little later. There were clay tablets in a family house. They included medical and astrological texts, prayers, lists, epics, myths, and wisdom literature.
This library existed in the 7th and 8th centuries B.C.E. The books included the reignal year of the king, and the month and the day that they were written. The catalogue entry includes the title of the work, the number of lines, the contents, and the opening words. There appears to have been some sort of classification of tyhe books.
One of the greatest libraries in the ancient world was a private collection of King Ashurbanipal and in use in the period from 1115 BCE to 1077 BCE. It contained about 1,500 titles, many of which were in multiple copies. The largest number of them were in technical literature of religion and magic. The next largest number was in scholarly texts, containing lists of cuneiform signs, words and names, and dictionaries for translating from Sumerian into Akkadian. There were such literary works as The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Epic of Creation, The Myth of Atrachasis, and The Epic of Irra. Tablets were taken from the temples of Babylon, from the library in Ashur, and from private collections to add to this library. Also, there were about 300 wooden boards containing written works. Theft of the holdings was a threat that caused security measures to be imposed. There were borrowing privileges with some of the collections of the day, particularly for specific professions.
In about 365 BCE, the ruler Clearchus opened a library to the public.
- Burned Writings
In the 3rd century BCE, Shi Huangdi tried to destroy all Chinese literature, history, and philosophy written before his dynasty. Books at the time were written on strips of wood or bamboo. However, by the 1st century BCE, much space in the palace precincts was given to books. This included 484 duplicate bundles of the works of Kuan Tzu.
This was a Buddhist Grotto Library. The texts were carved on stone, and are well preserved. Confuscian and Taoist works are included, but Buddhist scriptures constitute the largest collection.
In existence about 550 CE, it contained the most complete collection of Buddhist in Chinese. It was known as the Fang Shan collection. It was unique in that there were no books. Words were carved on stelae and the walls of caves.
- Imperial Library
This library existed during the 3rd century CE. The library was divided into classics, histories, philosophers, and collected works. Bamboo books were copied onto paper. The catalogue was written on fine silk and stored in silk bags.
Lao-tse, according to tradition, was the keeper of the imperial library located here. This was the most famous library in ancient China. It was built up during the Chou dynasty. However, during the succeeding dynasty, all books, except a few topics, were publicly burned.
- Tun Huang
This is a cave library containing a collection of 15,000 rolls and a few books. The writing, some dating at 400 CE, was on paper, which was well preserved. An early printed work in roll form is dated May 11, 868, CE.
Writing was with red and black ink on marble tablets. One tablet contained a record of payments.
Sharda Peeth was a famous university in the period of the Brahmans and the Upanishads. Its library was well-organized, containing rare manuscripts. These were later destroyed by the iconclast Sikandar.
This was a well-equipped university library, consiting of three buildings, one nine storeys high. Among the collections was one of rare sacred works. The system of classification was by subject. This library was the largest in Asia at the time. It was destroyed in the 12th century CE. Many manuscripts were saved and taken to Nepal and Tibet.
It is the oldest known library in India. It flourished for more than one thousand years, up to the middle of the 5th century CE. It was located in a university centre. It was a fine library of books to support all the subjects taught. The librarian knew the classification as devised by Panini. It contained the great works of the Brahman and Buddhist scholars. The main subject areas philosophy, literature, political science, and medicine. The library was allowed to decline after 250 CE, and was finally destroyed in the middle of the 5th century by invading Huns, who thought it was a fort.
This was a Christian library founded by Origen in the 3rd century CE. It was passed on to Pamphilus. It survived the burning of the Christian libraries by Emperor Diocletian in 303 CE. This library was used by Eusebius in 30 CE and by Jerome in the 4th century CE. It survived until Palestine was captured by the Persians in 614 CE, when all Christian records were destroyed.
The books of the Law, the writings of Moses and the prophets, the book of Joshua, and sermons and exhortations of the prophets were preserved in the Hebrew temple. Most of the library was destroyed during the Babylonian captivity. However, much of it was restored by Nehemiah and Ezra after the return of the Israelites. Again, much of it was lost when Antiochus destroyed Jerusalem. It may have been re-established by Judas Maccabeus. There are several references to the collections in the Old Testament of the Bible.
There was a library at Solomon’s Porch. The Greek section was in the southwest corner. The Hebrew and New Hebrew section was in the southeast corner. Another room used for various purposes was in the south porch.
King Herod established a central Graeco-Jewish archive. It was comparable to the Alexandrian libraries of the same period and the Hadrian and Nanian libraries of a later period.
- Khirbet Qumran
Remnants of more than 600 rolls of papyrus and thin sheet copper were found in several caves. This collection is known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Included on the rolls are some books of the Old Testament of the Bible, a collection of hymns, a manual of discipline, and other religious works. Apparently, there was a type of master library maintained with a scriptorium. These are works of an Essene group, dating to about 125 BCE to 70 CE.
Lachish letters were found on eighteen inscribed potsherds. Also found was a clay seal having the marks of papyrus fibres.
Priests at the Tabernacle at Shiloh from at least as far back as the 6th century BCE collected historical, legal, and literary texts. The Biblical books from Deuteronomy to II Chronicles were compiled from records here. Within these books are mentioned other writings in existence at the time.
It was operating in 1400 BCE. In one room was found a book-chest made of baked clay, which contained tablets in the Babylonian language.
- Types of Libraries in Israel
- central library at Jerusalem
- temple libraries
- local public libraries, including a special Greek public library
- synagogue libraries, the most used
- monastic libraries of the Essenes
The oldest known printed text, found here, was printed between 704 CE and 751 CE. It is a scroll which is twenty feet long. The printing was done with twelve wooden blocks. The paper scroll was made from fibres of the paper-mulberry tree. The scroll was located in the Pulguksa Temple.
It was called Diz-i-Nipisht. It held the original Avesta, the sacred book of the Zoroastrians.
It was probably the library of the temple to the god. It included between 100 and 200 tablets of an earlier time.
Thousands of tablets from pre-Abrahamic times were found.
Thousands of tablets from pre-Abrahamic times were found.
This library in the Red Temple existed about 3000 BCE. It contained clay tablets in pictographic script.
It has been claimed that King Sulgi of Ur founded a scribal academy here in about 2100 BCE. It contained collected hymns.
One room of this library contained treaties by an Assyrian king with neighbouring princes. One wing had records, including tablets concerning taxation and trade, and agriculture and administrative reports.
This library existed in the mid 3rd millenium BCE. An excavation uncovered a group of tablets dealing with the following: geographical names, a list of gods, a list of professions, a list of Sumerian works of literature, writing exercises, and a number of hymns. The owner of the collection is not known.
This library existed in pre-Abrahamic times. The 50,000 tablets were temple archives and public and private business documents. Included were hymns, prayers, incantations, a deluge narrative. In the school library, there was a school collection, including books used as exercises.
In operation about 2600 BCE, it was probably attached to a temple. It contained many documents in various subjects that the scribes had drafted.
This library existed about 2350 BCE. It is a business collection and a school collection of about 30,000 tablets in cuneiform. The tablets were piled in layers of five or six deep on low shelves in two groups of narrow brick galleries. The treasury library room was 32 feet long, 7 feet wide, and 5-6 feet high. The ledges were at a hieight of 2.5 feet.
A Great House of Tablets, a building housing records, existed about 2100 BCE. It contained a well-organized law library or legal archive. One set of tablets contained a code of laws 300 years before Hammurabi. There were also the records of a national court for over a century. A catalogue used key-words selected from the first two lines of text.
Libraries was located in two small buildings of Istar temples. They date to about 625 to 500 B.C.E.
The library of Anu-iksur, an exorcist, contained tablets stored in pots. They were exorcistic texts and documents. Other tablets contained astronomical and astrological texts, myths, and hymns. There were hundreds of tablets in the library of Iqisa, another exorcist.
- Apadana Palace
Clay tablets were found here. There was evidence of great libraries in Persia during the time of the Achaemenians.
- Dora Orupus
Many pieces of leather with economic and political records written upon them have been found.
The archives were located in the palace of Cyrus. It was one of the chief repositories of the laws of the Medes and the Persians. It also contained gold and silver treasures. Literary spoils from Greece and Egypt were included here. Documents were written on skins. There were also clay tablets.
- Firuz Abad
Ardeshir Babakan was a learned man who wanted to preserve knowledge of the Sassanian period. He tried to collect ancient works from the Achaemenian period onward, especially those of the Parthian period. He placed the surviving works from Persia, India, and China into a treasury in his palace. His son, Shapur I, continued the work, including the collecting of the Avesta in book form.
- Gundi Shapur
A large library was established by Anushirvan the Just for the university there. Books were collected from around the known world. One of the books translated from Sanskrit to Pahlavi was Arabian Nights.
Sultan Husain Mirza Baiqara assigned Ustad Kamal ad Din Bihzad, the greatest artist of the period and the leader of the Herat art school, to the position of Director of the Royal Library. He was in charge of artists responsible for painting, illumination, page decoration, cover-making, and bookbinding.
- Imperial Library of Ardeshir II
This was a famous library of the Sassanian period. Ctesias researched from documents recorded on skins in this library for his book Persica.
King Zahhak built the city of Istakhr. In it were built twelve palaces, one for each zodiac sign, which contained treasures of scientific books and which housed learned people. Alexander the Great invaded Persia and destroyed the palaces and the libraries. Before burning the books, he had copied and translated many into Latin and Coptic.
This was a suburban village of the city Isfahan. It was a non-seismatic site with viscous soil. The library structure, named Saruyeh, was built with cement-like clay. In the vestibule, there were placed many books written in ancient Persian script in various branches of learning. This building was created as a result of astrologers forecasting a deluge in 231 years in the future. Tahmures Shah wanted a safe place for the recorded learning. The writing was inscribed on poplar bark and cowskin. One book in the collection was used by Indian and Chaldean scholars to chart the motion of stars and the cause of the motion. It was known as the Hezarat Cycles. In the Hegira year 350, part of the interior of the building fell, exposing many books.
The library was located in an administrative building. There were school texts written on round tablets. There were also omen tablets.
Archaeologists found a large archive of economic and political records written on pieces of leather.
About 485 CE, the Nestorian Christians who fled from Syria built this library. It was a good source of Greek science and philosophy. Scholars from Greece were attracted here. By 750 CE, the Moslems, seeing the value of this library, translated many of the books into Arabic.
Many pieces of leather with economic and political records written upon them have been found.
It was from the archive here that the great leather roll of documents and daily events was obtained to read to Ahasuerus.
It was so capably kept that it became a byword. The historical writings were of great exactness and were preserved in archives. The library was readily accessible and open to the public.
The library had authentic records that were preserved in archives. Like the one at Sidon, it was readily accessible and open to the public.
A royal library was established in the late 7th century CE under the Umayyid dynasty. In 690 CE, the archives were separated from the literary and religious works and placed into a House of Archives. The palace library was open for use by students and scholars. In it were copies of books obtained from all parts of the known world. They included works on alchemy, medicine, astrology, literature, history, philosophy, and the Moslem religion.
It is dated to 2300 BCE to 2250 BCE. A collection of about 2,000 clay tablets was found in an archive room in a buried royal palace. They contained the following: administrative records dealing with the distribution of textiles and metals; cereals, olive oil, agricultural land, and breeding of animals; names of professions, geographical locations, birds, and fish; incantations; and the text of a Sumerian myth. The writing on the tablets was in Sumerian and Eblaite.
There were hundreds of inscriptions, dealing with fixed tariffs, Queen Zenobia, the priesthood, and wine consumption.
A library in the royal palace of King Nigmed existed about the 13th century BCE. The clay tablets included diplomatic correspondence, treaties, laws, some history, some commercial texts, and a dictionary of Ugartic and Sumerian. Also at the same time was one in the home of the high priest. It was mainly theological; but there were also some epic poetyry, magic lore, history, scientific dictionaries (unilingual and bilingual). There were also genealogical lists of kings and priests.
(This page was updated in December 2012.)