The Library of Pergamum: A Contender for the Greatest Library of the Ancient World

The Library of Pergamum: A Contender for the Greatest Library of the Ancient World

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The shelves were closed cupboards about 2 meters (6.56 ft.) high, leaving the space on the rest of the wall to the roof free for windows to admit natural light. The room may have been used for debates, lectures, ceremonies, and study. Only a small portion of the collection would have been housed in this room, since it could not have held the 200,000 volumes.

Ancillary rooms were built from time to time to house the growing collection during Eumenes II’s rule. These new rooms were not architectural masterpieces by any means, but they were functional and used to hold the vast amount of volumes. The new rooms also functioned as scriptoria and writing rooms.

Diagram of the Library of Pergamum

Diagram of the Library of Pergamum. ( Public Domain )

Space was left between the shelves and the outer walls of the building to allow for air to circulate around the volumes in the large, central reading room. The reason for this was to prevent the library from becoming overly humid in the warm Anatolian climate. This is widely seen as an early attempt at library preservation. Humidity has always been one of the greatest enemies of libraries. The rolled papyri and parchment volumes were stored in closed cupboards for protection from the damp that came from the foundations and the large open windows. Soon after their construction, the windows required awning to be built above them to shelter them from the rain and dust of the outside world - glass window panes were not used until the late 1st century BC.

In Ruins Today

Although it is in ruins, the library still stands as a testament to the great wealth of knowledge possessed by the Greeks, Romans, and their allies. It is an archaeological treasure trove that gives us a window into the past with regards to the volumes it may have held and ancient art and architecture. As such, it remains an extremely important site today, as it was in the ancient world.

The library before excavations.

The library before excavations. ( Public Domain )

Top Image: The ancient city of Pergamum ( biblicalarchaeology.org)

By Veronica Parkes

References

Jeremy Norman & Co. (2016) ‘The Library of Pergamum (Pergamon) is Founded.’ http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=173

Hörnqvist, M. (2002) ‘On the library of Pergamon.’ http://www2.idehist.uu.se/distans/ilmh/Ren/bibl-pergamon.htm

University of Chicago (n.d.) ‘The Library at Pergamum.’ http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/greece/Paganism/pergamumlibrary.html

Yeomans, S. (2016) ‘Ancient Pergamon: City of science...and satan?’ http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-sites/pergamon-2/

Comments

Great Article Veronica. Well researched. It is time we deconstruct the eroneous myth that the Moslems destroyed the Library of Alexandria when in fact, Islamists were as cosmopolitan as the Greco Roman crowd of the day. Pergamum, and later the Iberian libraries, cannot be ignored. Western intelectualism owes a great debt to the scribes of Pergamum and Cordova.
The people of Alexandria were no slouches and knew when attacks were emminant, so the library collections were likely moved to Pergamum for safe keeping before invasion. The children of Mohammad were very tolerant and interested in science and the arts during this era and were actually living side by side with Christians and Jews during the Golden Age of Islam (abt. 640 to 1492ce).We should all pray for another such era. At the end of this golden age of Islam in Iberian Spain, when Isabel and Ferdinand's house of Aragon cast the last of the Moors and Turks from the the land, the zealous good Christians also deported hundreds of thousands of Jews, Pagans and non Catholic Christians. With no where to go and stripped of their possessions, refugees were shipped off to North Africa and Italy. Tens of thousands died of starvation, disease and exposure or became a meal for lions and jackals. Let the truth be told.

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