History is filled with fascinating stories of libraries which were packed floor to ceiling with fantastic writings on all subjects, and the tales of these libraries have passed into legend. Ancient leaders were very keen to encourage learning and create centres where scholars could develop their knowledge, and there were several around the Mediterranean region in particular. Here are just a few to think about.

Library of Ashurbanipal

This is the oldest known library dating back to the 7th century BC. The library was founded by Ashurbanipal, the ruler of Assyria. The site is where the city of Nineveh is now in Iraq. The library was home to tens of thousands of tablets, the content was organised by subject, and there was undoubtedly a vast amount of scholarly information here, as well as some very early literature. The library was compiled as Ashurbanipal gathered works from other territories as he conquered them. The ruins of the library were found in the middle of the 19th century, and the writings found are now with the British Library.


The Library of Alexandria was founded by Ptolemy I Soter, in the 4th century BC following the death of Alexander the Great. He wanted to create a library which would be a great centre of learning. It is thought that at one point, the library may have been home to more than half a million scrolls; all works of literature and academic texts. Scholars from around the Mediterranean travelled to study in the library, and some even lived there, being paid by the government to carry out research and produce copies of the scrolls. It is thought that the library burned down in 48 BC, but historians believe that it continued to survive for a few hundred years more, albeit not in the same form. Experts believe that the library finally ceased to be in 270 AD when Aurelian was the Roman Emperor.

Library of Pergamum

Another ancient library, Pergamum, was built in the third century BC. Situated in an area which is now Turkey, it is thought that the library consisted of more than 200000 scrolls. The layout of the library consisted of four rooms within a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena. Three of the rooms held the contents of the library, and the fourth was used for conferences and meetings. This library was at one point thought to be almost as good as that at Alexandria, and the two were in keen competition to acquire knowledge and be seen as the leading seat of learning of the time. Legend has it that Egypt stopped shipping parchment to the region to try to slow down the library’s growth.