Burning scroll

Who Destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria?


The destruction of the great library of Alexandria has been lamented as one of the biggest losses of the ancient world. Nearly one million documents from across Assyria, Greece, Persia, Egypt, India and many other powerful civilizations at the time graced its shelves. No traces of the library have ever been found, but historic records speak of its devastating demise. 

The Rise of Alexandria

Alexandria, one of the greatest cities of the ancient world, was founded by Alexander the Great after his conquest of Egypt in 332 BC.  After the death of Alexander in Babylon in 323 BC, Egypt fell to the lot of one of his lieutenants, Ptolemy. It was under Ptolemy that the newly-founded Alexandria came to replace the ancient city of Memphis as the capital of Egypt. This marked the beginning of the rise of Alexandria.

Yet, no dynasty can survive for long without the support of their subjects, and the Ptolemies were keenly aware of this. Thus, the early Ptolemaic kings sought to legitimize their rule through a variety of ways, including assuming the role of pharaoh, founding the Graeco-Roman cult of Serapis, and becoming the patrons of scholarship and learning (a good way to show off one’s wealth, by the way). It was this patronage that resulted in the creation of the great Library of Alexandria by Ptolemy.



Over the centuries, the Library of Alexandria was one of the largest and most significant libraries in the ancient world. The great thinkers of the age, scientists, mathematicians, poets from all civilizations came to study and exchange ideas.  As many as 700,000 scrolls filled the shelves. However, in one of the greatest tragedies of the academic world, the Library became lost to history and scholars are still not able to agree on how it was destroyed .

The Great Library of Alexandria ( CC by SA 4.0 )

Theory 1: Julius Caesar

Perhaps one of the most interesting accounts of its destruction comes from the accounts of the Roman writers. According to several authors, the Library of Alexandria was accidentally destroyed by Julius Caesar during the siege of Alexandria in 48 BC. Plutarch, for instance, provides this account:

When the enemy tried to cut off his (Julius Caesar’s) fleet, he was forced to repel the danger by using fire, and this spread from the dockyards and destroyed the great library. 
(Plutarch, The Life of Julius Caesar, 49.6)

This account is dubious, however, as the Musaeum (or Mouseion) at Alexandria, which was right next to the library was unharmed, as it was mentioned by the geographer Strabo about 30 years after Caesar’s siege of Alexandria. Nevertheless, Strabo does not mention the Library of Alexandria itself, thereby supporting the claim that Caesar was responsible for burning it down.

However, as the Library was attached to the Musaeum, and Strabo did mention the latter, it is possible that the library was still in existence during Strabo’s time. The omission of the library can perhaps be attributed either to the possibility that Strabo felt no need to mention the library, as he had already mentioned the Musaeum, or that the library was no longer the centre of scholarship that it once was (the idea of ‘budget cuts’ seems increasingly probable). In addition, it has been suggested that it was not the library, but the warehouses near the port, which stored manuscripts, that was destroyed by Caesar’s fire.

Theory 2: Christians

The second possible culprit would be the Christians of the 4 th century AD. In 391 AD, the Emperor Theodosius issued a decree that officially outlawed pagan practices. Thus, the Serapeum or Temple of Serapis in Alexandria was destroyed and converted into a Christian Church. Many documents are thought to have been destroyed in the process. However, this was not the Library of Alexandria, or for that matter, a library of any sort, although it is believed that it held about ten percent of the library of Alexandria’s documents.

No ancient sources mention the destruction of any library during this particular time period. Hence, there is no evidence that the Christians of the 4 th century destroyed the Library of Alexandria.

Theory 3: Muslims

The last possible perpetrator of this crime would be the Muslim Caliph, Omar. According to this story, a certain “John Grammaticus” (490–570) asks Amr, the victorious Muslim general, for the “books in the royal library." Amr writes to the Omar for instructions and Omar replies:

If those books are in agreement with the Quran, we have no need of them; and if these are opposed to the Quran, destroy them.

There are at least two problems with this story. Firstly, there is no mention of any library, only books. Secondly, this was written by a Syrian Christian writer, and may have been invented to tarnish the image of Omar.

Mystery Remains

Unfortunately, archaeology has not been able to contribute much to this mystery. For a start, papyri have rarely been found in Alexandria, possibly due to the climatic condition, which is unfavourable for the preservation of organic material. Secondly, the remains of the Library of Alexandria itself have not been discovered. This is due to the fact that Alexandria is still inhabited by people today and only salvage excavations are allowed to be carried out by archaeologists.

While it may be convenient to blame one man or group of people for the destruction of what many consider to be the greatest library in the ancient world, it may be over-simplifying the matter.  

The library may not have gone up in flames at all, but rather could have been gradually abandoned over time. If the Library was created for the display of Ptolemaic wealth, then its decline could also have been linked to an economic decline. As Ptolemaic Egypt gradually declined over the centuries, this may have also had an effect on the state of the Library of Alexandria. If the Library did survive into the first few centuries AD, its golden days would have been in the past, as Rome became the new centre of the world.

Top image: Ancient scroll burning ( Elena Ray / Adobe Stock)       

By Ḏḥwty


Empereur, J.-Y., 2008. The Destruction of the Library of Alexandria: An Archaeological Viewpoint. In: M. El-Abbadi & O. M. Fathallah, eds. What Happened to the Ancient Library of Alexandria?. Leiden; Boston: Brill, pp. 75-88.

Newitz, A., 2013. The Great Library at Alexandria was Destroyed by Budget Cuts, Not Fire. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 8 May 2014].

Plutarch, Life of Julius Caesar ,
[Perrin, B. (trans.), 1919. Plutarch's Lives. London: William Heinemann.]

Wikipedia, 2014. Destructionn of the Library of Alexandria. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 8 May 2014].


John Grammaticus” (490–570) could not have told a story about Amr who conquered Egypt in 640. Anachronizm.

John Grammaticus” (490–570) could not have told a story about Amr who conquered Egypt in 640. Anachronizm.

I want to know more about the books you've read. Please help point me in a good direction. I love Tesla, btw. Look forward to hearing from you !

The great flood that wiped out the last civilization only happened like 3.5 thousand years ago! Vedantins like Julius Caesar wiped out all the knowledge he could. They burned the knowledge that Nikola Tesla tried to bring back! The three Giza pyramids. ( Giza power plants! Math that Hermes (Thoth gave to Pythagoras sacred geometry) Knowledge that showed man's death was an eathereal ( spiritual death and imprisoned in the ELF state! Energy Low Frequency. so we could not shift into the energy state of higher of different dimensions. We lost our wings and gave You must wounder if Sumeria was so advanced than why did they write on clay? Easy. They did not want all information lost! They hid this in the older cities they built over on top !This why we have some of the truth that Vedatins like JP Morgan, Rockefeller, Rothschild, Henry Ford,Extra of the Greed law makers that have been in power after the flood 3.5 thousand years ago will keep the nowledge from fallen in our hands. Controlling us with Superstition and myth of religions! Nikola Tesla! Steeling great knowledge of the past and keeping it for themselves. They do this because Just because all is true does not mean there is not a creator. They use the Excuse that people would panic out of fear not seeing God in the human form( an old man sitting on a chair. That sound foolish We need to except this is the worse civilization out of all the rest. Man was a higher life from but we devolved instead of evolving into a wasteful, destructive, greedy, materialistic civilization! This one is now punching holes in the Ionosphere. We can use the vacuum of space for energy but we can not punch holes into it. That would end the life force of Earth, making us as Mars. tells us that mars was in a closer orbit to Earth , Wehad space stations on it but something made And to ad to that the ancient knowledge lost shows and proves that we had a pole shift recently by maps found showing Antarctica without ice different Latitude (mean long) the plate I believe may shift not just in Lat, But in Latitude and Longitude. . Mars was closer and had an atmosphere and Oceans, Life close to our own. Do research and read the lost books of EA (Enki. i study physics, ancient history, and astrology.

Peter Harrap's picture

Libraries are flammable. Egypt is hot, but people still smoke. They did then. Just one glowing rope end left accidentally on a shelf, or a candle? You do accept they also had candles? Good.


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