What really happened to the Library of Alexandria? – Elizabeth Cox


2,300 years ago, the rulers of Alexandria
set out to fulfill one of humanity’s most audacious goals: to collect all the knowledge in the world
under one roof. In its prime, the Library of Alexandria housed
an unprecedented number of scrolls and attracted some of
the Greek world’s greatest minds. But by the end of the 5th century CE,
the great library had vanished. Many believed it was destroyed
in a catastrophic fire. The truth of the library’s rise
and fall is much more complex. The idea for the library came
from Alexander the Great. After establishing himself as a conqueror, the former student of Aristotle
turned his attention to building an empire of knowledge
headquartered in his namesake city. He died before construction began, but his successor, Ptolemy I, executed Alexander’s plans
for a museum and library. Located in the royal district of the city, the Library of Alexandria may have been built
with grand Hellenistic columns, native Egyptian influences, or a unique blend of the two–there are
no surviving accounts of its architecture. We do know it had lecture halls,
classrooms, and, of course, shelves. As soon as the building was complete, Ptolemy I began to fill it with
primarily Greek and Egyptian scrolls. He invited scholars to live
and study in Alexandria at his expense. The library grew as they contributed
their own manuscripts, but the rulers of Alexandria still wanted
a copy of every book in the world. Luckily, Alexandria was a hub for ships
traveling through the Mediterranean. Ptolemy III instituted a policy requiring
any ship that docked in Alexandria to turn over its books for copying. Once the Library’s scribes
had duplicated the texts, they kept the originals
and sent the copies back to the ships. Hired book hunters also scoured
the Mediterranean in search of new texts, and the rulers of Alexandria attempted
to quash rivals by ending all exports of the Egyptian
papyrus used to make scrolls. These efforts brought hundreds
of thousands of books to Alexandria. As the library grew, it became possible to find information
on more subjects than ever before, but also much more difficult to find
information on any specific subject. Luckily, a scholar named Callimachus of
Cyrene set to work on a solution, creating the pinakes, a 120-volume catalog
of the library’s contents, the first of its kind. Using the pinakes, others were able to navigate
the Library’s swelling collection. They made some astounding discoveries. 1,600 years before Columbus set sail, Eratosthenes not only realized
the earth was round, but calculated its circumference
and diameter within a few miles of their actual size. Heron of Alexandria created
the world’s first steam engine over a thousand years before it was finally reinvented during
the Industrial Revolution. For about 300 years after its founding
in 283 BCE, the library thrived. But then, in 48 BCE, Julius Caesar
laid siege to Alexandria and set the ships in the harbor on fire. For years, scholars believed the library
burned as the blaze spread into the city. It’s possible the fire destroyed
part of the sprawling collection, but we know from ancient writings that scholars continued to visit
the library for centuries after the siege. Ultimately, the library slowly disappeared
as the city changed from Greek, to Roman, Christian, and eventually Muslim hands. Each new set of rulers viewed
its contents as a threat rather than a source of pride. In 415 CE, the Christian rulers even had
a mathematician named Hypatia murdered for studying
the library’s ancient Greek texts, which they viewed as blasphemous. Though the Library of Alexandria
and its countless texts are long gone, we’re still grappling
with the best ways to collect, access, and preserve our knowledge. There’s more information available today and more advanced technology
to preserve it, though we can’t know for sure that our digital archives
will be more resistant to destruction than Alexandria’s ink and paper scrolls. And even if our reservoirs of knowledge
are physically secure, they will still have to resist
the more insidious forces that tore the library apart: fear of knowledge, and the arrogant belief
that the past is obsolete. The difference is that, this time,
we know what to prepare for.

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100 thoughts on “What really happened to the Library of Alexandria? – Elizabeth Cox”

  1. TED-Ed says:

    What do you know about history's most mysterious book? Find out more here:

  2. Thanh Bui says:

    Caesar happened.

  3. fanny yip says:

    I love the period of Greek ,ppl love thinking , free and respect knowledge and comfortable , not like now

  4. 49 says:

    Moral of the story, don’t put all your eggs in one basket!!

  5. Polyphonic Monkey says:

    Roman catholic church took it all. I’m positive if we got into their vaults we would find unimaginable things filling in gaps in out history

  6. George Jenkins says:

    Another atheist tries to pretend our calendar is not based on the life of Jesus. CE is the folly of the modern liberals who try to redefine history. ADios.

  7. Nicolai Vedel says:

    There was knowledge and techology, then a dark age: establish religion, and then agian: knowledge and technology!

  8. sharon anderson says:

    once again the abrahamic religions destroy.

  9. Jeremy Ashford says:

    question not answered

  10. Milo Estobar says:

    2000 years advance… stalled by some idiots… I should have my consciousness uploaded into internet…

  11. M. Rojas says:

    I would like to point out that Christians didnt kill the Mathematician. It was the +100 year old Roman Catholic Church that killed him. They professed themselves to be Christian but are not

  12. SlainSoul says:

    Library of Alexandria was burned and given the last strike by the Arabs not from Romans, Rome would love to have all those knowledge to use it against anyone.

  13. Anthony Palermo says:

    Think of it: All of the knowledge to construct massive, monumental, megalithic stone structures like the Pyramids of Giza were probably lost in the burning of the Library of Alexandria.

  14. elijahthesamurai says:

    Can we get a vid on the Library of Ashurbanipal @ Nineveh?

  15. Nariman Terano says:

    Once again, my theory of religious extremism is confirmed

  16. Peter Sinclair says:

    The destruction of the Serapeum in Alexandria in 391 CE is mentioned less often, where, under Theodosius, the Christians rioted against the Pagans.

  17. BlkHistoryDecoded says:

    The library of Timbuktu in Africa has a similar story and is conveniently ignored by historians now I see why.

  18. Rattling Gemini says:

    Maybe, if the Library of Alexandria wasn't destroyed cellphones and internet was invented in the 1500's. And by 2000's we're probably inhaling from a cannister now since Earth is over polluted Earth.

  19. angela taylor says:

    What happened? They raided it, took the loot to the Vatican, and burned everything else to cover their tracks.

  20. Leland Levy says:

    This is basically the great citidale from Game Of Thrones 🤷🏽‍♂️

  21. Michael Majid says:

    Imagine if the Egyptians had already discovered relativity centuries before einstein

  22. THE COMPILATION says: sub to sub

  23. Sebastian Bennett says:

    If that library never burned… we would be living the Star Wars life…

  24. Vansh Sharma says:

    Kind of strange, how we don't even care about our most important resource-knowledge.

  25. Giuseppe Saraceno says:

    It's a clearer explication of the destruction of the library. Why has this video fear to speak about the distruction of the VII century by muslims? Cardini's article is nearest to the truth showing mistakes of Romans, Christians and Muslims. Only if we love truth without fear we will build a world without fundamentalism and true love

  26. The Secret says:

    Similar incident happened to us here in ancient India at Nalanda University 800 years ago. Bakhtiyar Khalji absolutely demolished it by setting thousands of literatures on fire 😔

  27. robert smith says:

    Reminds me of the book in the movie Fahrenheit 451.

  28. robert smith says:

    The book of Enoch is now available on PDF on the internet. if you're going to read an ancient text that's the one to read. the church did its best to hide that one from as many people as it could. but copies were held in Ethiopia under the Christian church that was in Ethiopia.

  29. robert smith says:

    An ancient keeper or manuscripts was also known as Penemue. Not sure if I spelled that correctly.

  30. サラゴサ藤田百合子 says:

    I often spend my free times inside the university library. And i really enjoyed reading books there. It's really a catastrophic event losing this library. I my self got interested on it.

  31. サラゴサ藤田百合子 says:

    That's quite sad sometimes realizing not every source on the Internet tells the facts. Sometimes. It is fundamentally modified by others who wants to take advantage of one's ignorance.

  32. Mike Jay says:

    Europeans burnt it like they do anything showing they weren’t first

  33. Derrick Wold says:

    Interesting topic, I wonder how much more advanced we would be if this library had never been destroyed.

  34. James Linnstrom says:

    So what exactly happened to the Library of Alexandria?? The video wimps out and never answers it. They don’t want to appear Islamophobic.

  35. Down Hill says:

    Islam is the mistake of world. Islamic generals destroyed Nalonda University and burnt 9 millions books.

  36. suzi perret says:

    Fear of knowledge is a great religious ploy to control people.

  37. Abubakar Sadique says:

    Veeeeery informativeee….

  38. Killa Watt says:

    One of humanity's greatest tragedies. Just imagine what we lost. It likely set human knowledge back hundreds of years up.

  39. Andrie Florence says:

    If there was no war we could have flying cars today

  40. Ali Walk says:

    Those who acknowledge God in ALL their ways shall have they're path directed by HIM 👋👼👼👼💨💞

  41. David Jackson says:

    Knowledge is power and also if you want power, then get rid of knowledge.

  42. birkaran gill says:

    Julius caesar of all people.

  43. Gassmask S.I says:

    We should star another crusade to gencide all muslims in the name of the library of alexandria

  44. castiel carlysle says:

    imagine the rich troves of ancient and forgotten knowledge that Library could endow its visitors.

  45. Susette Santiago says:

    My friends…this is the biggest lie ever perpetrated….Africa built the original libraries and Egyptians perfected the buildings and catalogs…by the time the Greeks came out of their caves…Egypt already had full fledged learning schools….the Greeks infiltrated learned and then betrayed their teachers by plundering these libraries…setting humanity back by at least 10 thousand years due to the amount of knowledge stolen….this process is called the Neanderthal effect and I gave it it's name and process….

  46. Rueckenwind says:

    Ask vatican for uploading its library. Think about why they didnt

  47. Anarcho-fascist says:

    Here’s what likely happened with the library of Alexandria

  48. Purple Potato says:

    Thank you. Now I have depression

  49. SpeedStriker says:

    "Fear of knowledge and the arrogant belief that the past is obsolete"? That's a funny way of spelling "copyright laws" and "postmodernism".

  50. Mainux Abi says:

    Reminds me with Library of Ohara on One Piece


    I wouldn’t have minded reading a few scrolls from the Comedy section when the library was in existence back then.

  52. Mr. Failed says:


  53. Mr. Failed says:


  54. Mr. Failed says:


  55. Mr. Failed says:


  56. SDSUMIGUEL says:

    Imagine if the internet was deleted.

  57. SDSUMIGUEL says:

    Most of the books were $99 click-funnel marketing e-books.

  58. Kirigaya Kazuto says:

    i really hate christians in history they view other culture, knowledge and history as blasphemy and burn the evidence

  59. C.K. Robbins says:

    So imagine if that Library didn't disappeared we would have cars in 1600s. Damn. Humans really cost their own demise.

  60. Sad Potato says:

    So you're telling me humanity's progress has been held back cuz of imaginary gods and war? Sad to see nothing's changed nowadays.

  61. Stephen Pike says:

    You could say that a video about the Library of Alexandria was long "overdue"….

  62. Chad The goat says:

    Just wonder if this library was still here how great do you think our knowledge would be?

  63. Sho Lom says:


  64. the commenter says:

  65. Pedjoeang Tampan says:

    Library Genesis

  66. Riko Saikawa says:

    Religion destroys much

  67. Mac Bizzo says:

    scrolls were not ink and paper, they were leather and copper plates

  68. Anshu Khadka says:

    humanity was so ahead back then but everything……. just vanished

  69. Faithless Hound says:

    The destruction of the library of Alexandria was not a unique event. The first emperor of China had all the history, philosophy and poetry books burned in 221 BC and several hundred scholars buried alive the following year. The Aztec emperor Itzacoatl had all the historical books burned in the 15th century (before the Spanish arrived). In the 16th century the Catholic bishop of Yucatan had all the Mayan manuscripts destroyed. The Jesuits did the same in the Philippines. As recently as the 19th century Christian missionaries wiped out the script and records of the Easter Islanders. Among illiterates it is easier to wipe out historical memory just by banning the old songs and stories: as happens at every change of religion, including the Reformation in Europe.

  70. D C says:

    Digitization of books has not worked

  71. Mark Rigsby says:

    Great video, of History.

  72. Mayesa Dasa says:

    Muslims burned it down according to their own historical records. They were not afraid of the books there.
    The general who burned it down said " whatever is true there we Muslims already know. Whatever isn't true there must be destroyed."

  73. Shane McDowall says:

    Heron invented a steam turbine, not a steam engine. Heron's machine was only about 1% efficient and not capable of useful work.

  74. Saguntum-Iberian-Greek Konstantinopoli says:

    You don't mention that when the arabs conquered the city, in 640 AD one of the tribesman asked the caliph umarif they should burned the Library, the latter said:
    His quotes:
    If these books are in agreement with the quran then we have no need of them, and if they are opposed to the quran, destroy them
    The Library was then burned to the ground to never be restored again ever leading Egypt to its modern image.

  75. Niidea1986 says:

    For a moment I thought there would be a "protect your data with x password manager" message at the end xP

  76. Shane McDowall says:

    The Great Library of Alexandria did not disappear in a catastrophe, it slowly declined and ceased to function at some point in the AD 260s.

  77. Shane McDowall says:

    Antikythera Mechanism anyone ?

  78. Damarion Pompey says:

    If the library of Alexandria was still here we would of been more advanced than we are today.

  79. Alexander Ross says:

    What became of the copies?

  80. sean lim says:

    It was probably destroyed by the great fire started by emperor nero who burned the whole of Rome to ashes

  81. Benedek András Vincze says:

    When in doubt, whip it out

  82. Lemon drops says:


  83. ElCharroDesafinado says:

    Lots of serious historical research into the destruction of this library here:

  84. S V D says:

    Do a video on Nalanda and Takshashila universities also…

  85. Arunodoy Sarmah says:

    Religion power threw human to the dark ages

  86. Anony Mousse says:

    Can we get an F?

  87. Joe G says:

    (Speculation) Rulers at that time were not necessarily afraid of the knowledge contained in the library, destroying it was a cover, they were afraid of the general public having access to all that knowledge, the Vatican archives was built to control and hide any knowledge contained in the great library that may have empowered the general population. Most if not all of its contents survive in the catacombs under the Vatican, this is why it’s the most heavily fortified and protected place on earth.

  88. SleepyGuy says:

    So the library vanished cause of religion and war.

  89. EMRE KÖSEOĞLU says:

    How do we know, that knowing more than we know today in general, and having the library protected in particular case, would be better for humanity? How do you describe "better" (or good)? And how do you identify "humanity"?

  90. sachseco says:

    the muslims used the scrolls to use for fuel for their camp fires!

  91. Vosian says:

    The second half of this video is absolutely false. First of all, the Romans did not view the library as a "threat." Why on earth would they? Emperor Hadrian continued to award positions in the Library to scholars, a century into the Principate period of the Empire. Secondly, the Christian leaders of Alexandria did not kill Hypatia for blasphemy. She was killed by a mob because of rumors she was working to undermine the city bishop's relationship with the Roman prefect; it had nothing to do with beliefs, hers or her killers. And thirdly, the end of the Library is not the dramatic tragedy pop history paints it as. The simple, sad truth is that the Library became irrelevant. Other libraries started popping up around areas of Roman rule, using the methods from the one in Alexandria. And as Alexandria began to decline in prestige, so too did the library, as it wasn't the only one of its kind anymore. By the time Aurelian sacked the city to reassert his control as Emperor in 272 AD, whatever remained of the original library was almost certainly destroyed; if not, then it absolutely faded from the earth when Diocletian also laid siege to the city twenty five years later.

    Very shoddy research in this video. A quick stop at the Library's wikipedia page can debunk all of this.

  92. Fiaz Art says:

    Read in the name of thy lord.

  93. Black SugarrCube says:

    I am egyptian and i live in alexandria! الاسكندرية

    What now?

  94. Lois Walsh says:


  95. Gary Hayden says:

    Just testing the sectism of the YouTube Google culture.

  96. Gary Hayden says:

    I have my rules to make it in Mexico. 1. Money 2. Friends 3. Power and number 4. Which is most important and may apply to youtube whether you like it or not is. Don't own anything someone else wants. I think your great, most of the time.

  97. Reginald M says:

    I love these videos on ancient history.

  98. Philippe Zaki says:

    Hepatia was murdered but not for studying in the library, she was killed because she was undermining the newfound authority of the patriarch of Alexandria.
    Also a medieval Arabic historian mentioned how people of his time used scrolls from the library as toilet paper.

  99. Billy Carol says:

    Indonesian subtitle….. thanks

  100. KLeM Aviation says:

    Maybe, this may have saved us, and maybe not.
    As we know, when a robot that has self-preservation, and awareness, the first thing that goes to mind is the fact that the robots might kill us, the creators to rule everything.
    If the library didn't burn down, there is a chance that we might be fighting robots right now. But again, if they are aware of themselves and us, they may not want to harm us, like a human born to grow.

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