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Library of Alexandria

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Lisa Wolfe
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« on: September 21, 2010, 01:14:40 pm »

Caesar's conquest in 48 BCE
The ancient accounts by Plutarch,[10] Aulus Gellius,[11] Ammianus Marcellinus, and Orosius agree that Caesar accidentally burned the library down during his visit to Alexandria in 48 BCE.

Plutarch's Parallel Lives, written at the end of the first or beginning of the second century, describes a battle in which Caesar was forced to burn his own ships:

“ when the enemy endeavored to cut off his communication by sea, he was forced to divert that danger by setting fire to his own ships, which, after burning the docks, thence spread on and destroyed the great library.[10] ”

William Cherf argued that this scenario had all the ingredients of a firestorm and in turn set fire to the docks and then the library, destroying it. This would have occurred in 48 BCE, during the fighting between Caesar and Ptolemy XIII. In the second century CE, the Roman historian Aulus Gellius wrote in his book Attic Nights that the Royal Alexandrian Library was burned by mistake when some of Caesar’s soldiers started a fire. Furthermore, in the fourth century, both the pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus and the Christian historian Orosius wrote that the Bibliotheca Alexandrina had been destroyed by Caesar's fire. The anonymous author of the Alexandrian Wars writes that the fires Caesar's soldiers had set to burn the Egyptian navy in the port of Alexandria went as far as burning a store full of papyri located near the port.[12] However, the geographical study of the location of the historical Bibliotheca Alexandrina in the neighborhood of Bruchion suggests that this store cannot have been the Great Library.[13] It is most probable here that these historians confused the two Greek words bibliothekas, which means “set of books”, with bibliotheka, which means library. As a result, they thought that what had been recorded earlier concerning the burning of some books stored near the port constituted the burning of the famous Alexandrian Library. In any case, whether the burned books were only some books found in storage or books found inside the library itself, the Roman stoic philosopher Seneca (c. 4 BCE – CE 65) refers to 40,000 books having been burnt at Alexandria.[14] During Marcus Antonius' rule of the eastern part of the Empire (40-30 BCE), he plundered the second largest library in the world (that at Pergamon) and presented the collection as a gift to Cleopatra as a replacement for the books lost to Caesar's fire. Abaddi speaks to this story as anti-Antony propaganda, from Rome, to show his loyalty to Egypt.

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