It is not a secret that the Alexandrian library was the greatest ancient library in the history. It should be emphasized that, the given library contained more information comparing with other libraries. The library probably made a very significant contribution to the libraries of today and its destruction was a great loss for World’s population. The saved information on mathematics, astronomy, mechanics, and medicine continues to help other people to learn more about these things and expand on the ideas.
The main question for many researchers today is – what effects the Alexandrian library would have had on the World if it hadn’t been destroyed? Let’s make a short analysis of the history of the Alexandrian library first in order to find the answers to the given question. So, it was established at the beginning of the third century BC in the city founded by Alexander the Great. The fact is that Alexandria was the greatest city the Western world had ever seen. People of various nations came there to live, trade or to learn. Usually, its harbors were overcrowded with merchants, scholars and tourists (Marlowe 7).
This was a city, where Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs, Syrians, Hebrews, Persians, Nubians, Phoenicians, Italians, Gauls and Iberians could exchange merchandise and experience. After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy became the ruler of Egypt and made Alexandria its capital. Taking care of the fame and greatness of his country, he started attracting famous scientists, poets and artists from other countries to Egypt. By the initiative of the great philosopher and scientist, Aristotle, the Muses temple was built, where such ingenious mathematicians as Archimedes and Euclid, famous astronomers, philosophers and poets worked and lived afterwards.
Later, Egyptian kings created the Alexandrian library, the treasures of which were gathered with the huge energy and generosity of the Ptolemies. For instance, Ptolemy II sent his special ambassadors all over the World, who found the most valuable books and brought them to the library. In general, the Alexandrian library included about 700 thousands of books (Bevan 34). Later, it was impossible to place all books within the library’s building. So, the library was divided into two parties. So, one part of books was placed in the main building, other part – in the library’s subsidiary called as a daughter library.
Thus, the Alexandrian library became the hugest library of the Ancient World. In fact, it included all interesting works, which were created by the Ancient civilization. Library’s building consisted of several large buildings. Books were kept in the bookcases with horizontal shelves and double-wing doors. The rooms were usually decorated with statues of the great writers and scientists of that period of time. There were also the rooms intended for the librarian’s assistants and the special buildings, where manuscripts were rewritten, sorted and put in order.
The librarian’s assistants had the certain work responsibilities. Some of them were responsible for taking stock of new manuscripts, other copied the works which if it was impossible to buy. Also, there were people, who kept order and protected books against moth and moisture. As a rule, the great scientists and poets of that time were assigned the post of a librarian. The list of librarians included such philologist as Zenodotus, famous mathematician and geographer – Eratosthenes and Aristophanes (Marlowe 15).
Poet Callimachus left about 800 scientific works on history, grammar, poetry and etc. He was a creator of a new so-called “Alexandrian direction” in the poetry field (Bevan 39). It should be noticed that first of all the ancient books of the lost library would have been especially important for such science as history if a lot of historical documents which were usually used for evidences of many events had managed to survive. Probably, the lost evidences would have helped to avoid various misunderstandings between today’s religions.
As for Eratosthenes, he was a librarian more than 40 years. This researcher made a huge contribution to the geographical science. He was the first man in the history, who managed to calculate the circumference of the Earth planet (Johnson 76). As it is known, for that purpose he used various resources of the library studying the notes of the ancient travelers. Also, Eratosthenes studied history and made several discoveries in the field of mathematics. Unfortunately, both a lot of his labors and the resources he used in the Alexandrian library were destroyed later.
As we can see, the library’s resources played a big role in the development such science as geography. So we can come to the conclusion, if the data of the Alexandrian library had survived, today’s researches would have had an opportunity to study it using the modern technologies and to present the new discoveries in the field of geography to the world. Probably, if the notes of travelers hadn’t been burned we would have analyzed them by the help of the modern technologies and even would have managed to predict the climate changes, which the Earth may have to face in the nearest future.
Having created a catalogue of 44 constellations and the list of 475 stars, Eratosthenes made an essential contribution to the development of astronomy science (Marlowe 26). His labors in the given field helped Egyptian sailors and showed them the way of navigation across the Mediterranean Sea. Hipparchus was famous with inventing longitude and latitude, importing the 360-degree circular system from Babylonia, calculating the length of a year within six minutes accuracy, amassing sky-chart of constellations and stars, and speculated that stars might have both births and deaths (Bevan 46).
His inventions are widely used by scientists all over the World at the present moment and none knows how many new stars would have been opened later if the Alexandrian library hadn’t been destroyed. In fact, the destruction is invaluable loss for such science as astrology. If the astrological data of the Alexandrian library had been analyzed in accordance with the historical events of that time, it would have been possible to develop the special system for predicting the global disasters. For instance, researching the works of many famous astrologists could allow studying the impact of the Moon and Jupiter on the Earth planet.
Also, the possible collisions between the planets of the Solar system, which could take place in the future and other space threats would have been predicted if the astrological data of the Alexandrian library hadn’t been destroyed. These data would have helped to find the answers to the questions concerning the mysteries of the development of the Earth and to create its space history. As we can see, there are a lot of discussions and arguments, which are connected with unknown past of the Earth planet. But unfortunately there are no evidences, which could clearly answer all these questions.
Probably, a lot of the evidences were destroyed in the fire of the Alexandrian library. Working in the Alexandrian library the ancient researchers made a lot of various discoveries and inventions in the field of mechanics. They included: the lever, Archimedes screw, hand-cranked device for lifting water, a windmill-driven pipe organ, a steam boiler, which was later adapted for Roman baths and self-trimming lamp. It is clear that the works of the Alexandrian library made the World technical revolution, which allowed to mechanize man’s labor completely.
So, there is no doubt, if those works hadn’t been destroyed, our scientists would have gained much from them and managed to speed up the progress of technological development. It should be pointed out that the Alexandrian library had a huge effect on the development of medicine. The point is that the medical Alexandrian school continued to be leading school in the medicine history till the times of the Byzantine epoch (Johnson 80). The study of anatomy was developed extensively by many Alexandrians. The vivisection way was often used for studying anatomy in the ancient anatomical experiments.
Those awful researches chocked the ancient commentators with their cruelty. However, those experiments led to discovering a great number of the new structures and functions in the human organism. In fact, the Greek language had almost no words left sufficient for scientific terminology. So, the Alexandrian library contained a lot of information that would have become a useful treasury for the researchers of anatomy today if it hadn’t been burned. The library contained a lot of secrets which were widely used by Egyptians for mummifying bodies.
The fact is that after they preserved bodies removing the internal organs and drying out the body by the help of different types of salts and chemicals. Herophilus, was the first scientist who distinguished the brain and the nervous system as a unit, and learned of the function of the heart (Bevan 54). Taking into consideration these facts, we can say that if these secrets had survived, now they would have a significant effect on the development of medicine field today and allowed to increase the lifetime of a man.
Possibly, analyzing the ancient secrets, doctors would have come to the certain conclusions and took the necessary steps, which would have helped them to improve curing cancer. Anyway, these secrets would have speeded up the development process of medicine that could allow our doctors to cope with such diseases as AID’s and various infectious hepatitis more successfully. Unfortunately, a great deal of these secrets was destroyed by the fire and our thoughts about the fast development of medicine can be just a might-have-been dream.
It should be added that Aristotle gathered various books, which collected labors on the governmental management as the progress in the given field and culture was the main purpose for wise rulers of that time. Unfortunately, those works hadn’t managed to survive. They would have been very useful for today’s rulers. Probably, if the experience gained by famous ancient rulers of that time had been studied properly and correct conclusions had been made from it, the World population would have managed to avoid a lot of wars and conflicts.
Anyway, that experience would have helped us to solve many complicated problems, which seem to be unsolved today. There is quite detailed information about the greatest ancient library. The date of its establishment, the first its organizers, the number of rolls, the lists of librarians and even the names of some readers are known. However, the answer to the question who destroyed the Alexandrian library continues to be just a mystery. There are a lot of legends, which are connected with the given fact.
For instance, the most wide-spear legend alleges that the Alexandrian library was burned by Amr bin Aas at the behest of the Second Caliph, Umar. In accordance with the given legend, Amr provided the numerous bath furnaces of the city with the volumes of the Alexandrian library. The fact is that he often stated “If these writing of the Greeks agree with the book of God, they are useless and need not be preserved; if they disagree, they are pernicious and ought to be destroyed” (Hitti 166).
As a result, Amr found out that a lot of books were contrary to the Quran and that’s why he took decision to destroy the library completely. According to the other legend of the library’s destruction, it was destroyed much earlier, in the fourth century A. D, even long before the moment Islam took place in the city. The given legend tells us that the Alexandrian library managed to survive the collapse of Alexander’s empire and continued to exist till the third century AD. Then one part of the library was burn by Julius Caesar in 47 BC.
In the third century Alexandria was captured by Christians, which burned the library (Johnson 88). However, as it was noticed in other sources the main museum and library were burned when the civil war of the third century AD took place. As to the library’s subsidiary, it was burned by Christians in 391 AD (Marlowe 26). Some historians suggest that the main building of the great ancient library was burnt as early as 48 BC by Julius Ceasar and later the daughter library, was destroyed about AD 389 as a result of an edict by the Emperor Theodosius.
“At the time of the Arab conquest, therefore, no library of importance existed in Alexandria and no contemporary writer ever brought the charge about Amr or Umar” (Hitti 168). Analyzing this legend, we can add that some modern researchers point out the fact that the given story is completely unfounded. It is a very interesting fact that the Christian chronicles made any reference to that story, which was mentioned in the 13th century (Robertson 250). Taking into account the given point of view we can come to the conclusion that the great library was probably destroyed in internal dissensions before the coming of the Arabs.
Having analyzed the given argument from his point of view, Bertrand Russell explained the conclusion he made by the following words: “Every Christian has been taught the story of the Caliph destroying the Library in Alexandria. As a matter of fact, this library was frequently destroyed and frequently recreated. Its first destroyer was Julius Caesar, and its last antedated the Prophet. The early Mohammedans, unlike the Christians, tolerated those whom they called ‘people of the Book’, provided they paid tribute.
In contrast to the Christians, who persecuted not only pagans but each other, the Mohammedans were welcomed for their broadmindedness, and it was largely this that facilitated their conquests. To come to later times, Spain was ruined by fanatical hatred of Jews and Moors; France was disastrously impoverished by the persecution of Huguenots” (Russell 218). Thus, summarizing all opinions listed above and going deep into the given historical event we can come to the point that now it is impossible to find who burned the Alexandrian library and when the destruction took place.
Despite the fact that the arguments and discussions on these questions go on, we can see, that most likely the given fact will continue to be the mystery of the ancient history forever. Despite all active actions and efforts made by the leading international organizations to create the analogue of Alexandrian library, it is quite obvious for us, that even theoretically it is impossible to restore the treasures of this ancient library completely.
There is no doubt that if the library hadn’t been lost, now it would have become a necessary link between the North, South, West and East and very important element in the network of informational communications, which would have been able to provide the work of many hugest libraries all over the World. So, the scientist would have had an opportunity to pay their attention to the works, which were directly connected with the real historical events of Alexandria, Egypt and the Near East.
Taking into accountant today’s achievements in the field of computer sciences and the modern technologies we can predict that if the great ancient library had survived its rolls would have been converted into the files of electronic format and therefore the Alexandrian library would have become the most powerful electronic library all over the World. So, if the library hadn’t been destroyed, undoubtedly its book would have been translated into the most wide-spread World languages – English, Spanish, French, Arabic and others.
It should be also said that if such electronic library was created, it would make an essential contribution to the development of the modern science and would allow to solve many important problems in such fields as mathematics, mechanics, medicine, industrial production, art and even politics. Today, the electronic format files of the Alexandrian library would have become available for many scientists and researcher all over the World and would have allowed them to study the experience and achievements of the past.
Probably, the mistakes of the ancient times would have been studied in detail and today’s researchers would have had a splendid opportunity to take them into account in their practice and also to avoid repeating them in the future. Coming to the conclusion, we can say that if the Alexandrian library had survived, today’s researchers would have been able to unite the World experience of the past, future and present times in a single whole, that would have had a very significant effect on the future generations.
Taking into account the interest, which other countries take in the Alexandrian library and the history of the Ancient Egypt, we can also predict that if this library had survived, it would have provided Egypt with a vast income like the gas natural resources in Russia. The money would have become an additional powerful funding source for the cultural development of the country and could be spent on the other researches dedicated to studying the mysteries and treasures of the Ancient Egypt.
Bevan, Edwyn. The House of Ptolemy. Chicago: Argonaut Inc. , 1968 Hitti, Philip. History of the Arabs. London: Macmillan, 1970 Johnson, Emer D. History of Libraries in the Western World. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, Inc. , 1970 Marlowe, John. The Golden Age of Alexandria. London: Trinity Press, 1971 Robertson John M. A Short History of Free Thought. London: Watts & Co, 1914 Russell, Bertrand. Human Society in Ethics and Politics. London: Routledge, 1992