25 Incredible Ancient Libraries You Should Know About

Posted by , Updated on July 2, 2018


Libraries were rare in ancient times. After all, most people couldn’t even read. If by chance they could, the written word was difficult to come by because they were carved unto hardened tablets, or painstakingly copied on papyrus (which had to be re-done every several years due to the ink fading and bugs). As you can see, having a library (or archive) was a BIG DEAL. It indicated that your city was cultured and educated. However outside of the Library of Alexandria, most of us couldn’t name any other ancient library. Today, we’re about to change that. Check out these 25 incredible ancient libraries you should know about.


The Library Of Alexandria was one of the wonders of the ancient world, and was destroyed brutally in a fire around 48 BC (no one is completely sure) when Julias Cesear himself set fire to the harbor in hopes to defeat an invading army. There's no part of this story that isn't tragic and sad.

Incendie_Alexandrie_by_Hermann_Goll_1876Source: https://www.britannica.com

The Bodleian Library is the main research library at the University of Oxford, in England. It was founded in 1602, when Thomas Bodley donated monies and part of his own collection to replace books and documents that had been destroyed in one of the many upheavals England had over the Religion Du Jour. Currently the Bodleian holds around 11 million volumes not including online publications and journals, and is still regularly used by students and scholars.

Oxford_-_Bodleian_Library_-_Entrance_building_facadeSource: https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk

The Library at Timgad was a gift to the Roman people from Julius Quintianus Flavius Rogatianus. No one is exactly sure when it was built, and it's architecture is pretty uninteresting - it's a rectangle, it's estimated to have held around 3,000 scrolls - but it IS significant in that it showed a developed library system in a Roman city, which requires a high standard of learning and culture.


The remains of a temple in the ancient Babylonian town of Nippur were found to have a number of rooms of clay tablets, which indicated that this Nippur temple had a well stocked library taking from the first half of the 3rd millennium - BC.

Ruins_from_a_temple_in_NaffurSource: Image Source:

The Ch'in Dynasty lasted from 221 BCE to 207 BCE, but had a lasting impact on the region. After all, it's where we get the name "China" from. During most of this time, the government kept a very carefully curated library, as they sought to control access to information (these people would not have survived the internet). Any books that the government didn't like were burned, as well as some scholars. Despite the overbearing and violent government setting things on fire, many people sealed books in the walls of their homes to keep them safe. The government's goal was not to destroy information, but control it, and to this end a new system of writing was established and common people were encouraged to read. This act alone would unify China for centuries.

CMOC_Treasures_of_Ancient_China_exhibit_Source: http://eduscapes.com

Image Credits: 1. Anderson sady via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 2. Erik Anderson via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 3. Fæ (Travail personnel) via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 4. Benh LIEU SONG via en.wikipedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 5. myself via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 2.5, 6. Sasha Isachenko via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 7. Baz Lecocq at nl.wikipedia via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY 2.5 NL, 8. Photographer Rama via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 2.0 FR, 9. Public Domain, 10. Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 2.0, 11. Cassius Ahenobarbus via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 12. Photographer Marie-Lan Nguyen via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY 2.5, 13. Public Domain, 14. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less, 15. DerHexer via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0, 16. Unknown photographer via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 17. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less. 18-19. Shutterstock, 20. Public Domain, 21. Editor at Large via en.wikipedia.org CC BY-SA 2.5, 22. Public Domain, 23. Yelles via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 24. Remi Mathis via commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0, 25. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

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