Decline of Library of Alexandria

The Library of Alexandria, in reality two or more libraries in the ancient Egyptian capitol, has achieved an almost mythic stature in the study of classics from the time of the Renaissance. The apocryphal burning of the Library during Julius Caesar`s occupation of the city has been described as the greatest calamity of the ancient world, wherein the most complete collection of all Greek and Near Eastern literature was lost in one great conflagration. In reality, the Library and its community of scholars not only flourished during the Hellenistic era of the Ptolemies, but continued to survive through the Roman Empire and the incessant turbulence of the Empire`s most volatile and valuable city. For valuable indeed was the granary of the empire, which was also a prosperous trade center between east and west, linked to the Mediterranean and, not far to the east, to the Red Sea and Indian traderoutes via a canal. This cosmopolitan city drew Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Jews into a unique and not entirely harmonious coexistence. The Alexandrian Museum and Library, then, was an ideal place for scholars from these different cultures to meet and exchange learning, and was a repository for the literature and accounts of the Alexandrian intelligensia and the Roman Empire in general. However, while sources agree on the Museum`s uniqueness and value, no surviving account of its activities actually exists, and modern scholarship has largely ignored this poorly-documented portion of history.

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