These Ancient Libraries Would Make Any Book Lover Drool
These Ancient Libraries Would Make Any Book Lover Drool

These Ancient Libraries Would Make Any Book Lover Drool

D.G. Hewitt - January 21, 2019

These Ancient Libraries Would Make Any Book Lover Drool
When Alexander the Great saw the library at Ashurbanipal, he demanded one of his own. Ancient Origins.

3. The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal was so impressive that when Alexander the Great saw it, he demanded that he have a library built for him.

The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal was commissioned by King Ashurbanipal, the last of his dynasty. He wanted a library fit for royalty and one that would present him as an enlightened and educated man. It was built close to the modern-day city of Mosul, Iraq, and was, for the time, a huge project. The King donated his personal collection to the library, making key works available to priests and scholars, and over the years, the collection grew in size and breadth. Most works were collected from across Mesopotamia, above all from Babylonia, with text copied from parchment onto clay tablets.

Around 30,000 such tablets were discovered by archaeologists in the 19th century. The undoubted highlight is The Epic of Gilgamesh, a masterpiece of Babylonian poetry and the oldest-surviving work of great literature anywhere in the world. In 612BC, the city of Nineveh, where the Library of Ashurbanipal was located, was raided. The palace was burned down, engulfing the library too. Fortunately, while countless wax manuscripts would have been lost, the clay tablets survived the destruction. Today, the Ashurbanipal Library Project continues working to catalog all of the 30,943 tablets found where the library once stood.

These Ancient Libraries Would Make Any Book Lover Drool
Clay tablets housed at the Libraries of Ugarit are still of great interest to scholars. National Geographic.

2. The Libraries of Ugarit may have been in ruins for more than 1,500 years but the tablets they housed are still of great interest to scholars of the Bible.

In around 1,200BC, Ugarit was one of the most important port cities in the Mediterranean. It was a bustling place and the evidence suggests that the Libraries of Ugarit were some of the most-progressive cultural centres of the age, and scholars still study their collections. In total, archaeologists have identified four different libraries in the ancient city of Ugarit, located in modern-day Syria. As well as a palace library, there was also a library in the main temple. What’s more, two residences also had private libraries, proof that the people of the city were educated as well as wealthy.

While the parchments and leather manuscripts the libraries would have held have long since been lost, thankfully, the librarians of the age also inscribed many texts on cuneiform tablets. Many of these survive to this day. Of particular interest to historians of religion are the so-called Baal Cycle tablets. Written in the language of Ugaritic, the tablets tell the story of the god Baal, worshiped by the Canaanites. These epic poems provide a valuable insight into a possible close relationship between the Israelites and the Canaanites, both groups who are mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible.

These Ancient Libraries Would Make Any Book Lover Drool
The Emperor built the Library of Timgad to thank his most loyal soldiers. Flickr.

1. The Library of Timgad was specially built by the Emperor Trajan in a new town gifted to his most loyal soldiers.

When the Roman Emperor Trajan wanted to reward the soldiers of the 30th Legion for their services he gave them a whole new town in the middle of lush, fertile land. From the very start, Timgad was more than just a military settlement. It was a place of learning and culture too. The town, in modern-day Algeria, boasted a fine public library. Though just ruins today, the Library of Timgad is held up as proof that Roman culture spread far beyond the Rome city limits – in this case, spreading out into North Africa.

Alongside the imposing Library of Celsus in Turkey, this is one of just two Roman-era public libraries constructed outside of Rome that historians have definitive evidence for. Parts of the library still stand to this day. Built in the 2nd century, the library would have housed manuscripts relating to religion, military history and good governance. These would have been rolled up and stored in wooden scroll cases. These would then be placed in shelves or recesses, separated by ornate columns. These shelves can still be seen standing in the midst of the town ruins, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The House of Wisdom: One of the Greatest Libraries in History.” Ancient Origins, January 2017.

“Ancient Libraries: 200s BCE.”

“Library of Celsus in Ephesus.” Turkish Archaeological News, September 2016.

“The Library at Pergamum.” The University of Chicago.

“Ashurbanipal Library Phase 1.” The British Museum.

“Timgad: Top choice Roman sites in Algeria.” Lonely Planet.

“Ancient Libraries.” W.A. Johnson, Duke University, 2002.

“8 Legendary Ancient Libraries.” Evan Andrews,, November 2016.

“Inside 10 of the world’s most ancient and beautiful libraries.” Business Insider, April 2016.