Why It is Worth to Know About These Ancient Libraries?

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If we realize, true human evolution started after the invention of writing. After that people started sharing their thought, myths and religious knowledge and culture with others as written artifacts was easy to carry and can be read again if required. Gradually this skill reached one civilization to another civilization.

By the time, civilizations skilled so much in writing that they started to produce so many artifacts. Out of those some are important and would have required in the future to re-skill people or spread the religious knowledge to the next generations.

Gradually basic thought processes converted to philosophies, discoveries, and inventions. So much of information which needs to handle in such a way that people can find them easily in one place. That lead to the foundation of the first library.

It was those ancient libraries where our ancestors kept all the gained knowledge that is guiding us to understand those ancient civilizations deeply.

Nippur Temple Library (2500 B.C.)

Nippur recorded as “The city of God Enlil” the “Lord Wind”, ruler of the cosmo was one of the most ancient of Sumerian cities. Nippur was located in modern Nuffar in Afak, Al-Qādisiyyah Governorate, Iraq. This site was first excavated in 1851 but full-scale excavation was performed in four-season between 1889 and 1900.

Left – Nippur Temple

A triangular shape mound is an isolated hill where the temple of Nippur is situated. At its highest point, at the northwestern extremity, this hill rises about forty-five feet above plain level.

The bulk of the clay tablets found during the excavations were found eighteen to twenty-four feet below the surface of the mound in a series of rooms that were marked for the library on the accompanying plan. In these rooms, such a large number of tablets were found together and many of them were rested on shelves as it is as they were left.

It is estimated that more than 40,000 tablets and fragments have been excavated in this mound alone dating from the middle of the 3rd millennium BC onward into the Persian period.

Babylonian cuneiform tablet with a map from Nippur, Kassite period, 1550-1450 BCE found during excavation.

Nippur Temple Library was a combination of library and school (It was determined immediately after an examination of the contents of the unearthed tablets and fragments). Learn more about Mesopotamian schooling tablets. The earliest version of the Great Flood was discovered here. This library included the clay tablets of:

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Hattusa (1900 B.C. – 1190 B.C.)

Lion Gate
Sphinxes gate
Recreation of Fortification Wall

The library of Hattusa was founded in the city Hattusa which was the capital of the Hittite Empire in the Late Bronze Age. Its ruins lie near modern Boğazkale, Turkey.  The Old Hittite city comprised an area of almost one square kilometer. It was protected by a massive fortification wall. Within the wall, many great structures were built, among them many temples – houses for “the Thousand Gods of the Hatti Land.

The earliest traces of settlement on the site are from the sixth millennium BC. The trade network from Assur introduced writing to Hattusa, in the form of cuneiform. A carbonized layer apparent in excavations attests to the burning and ruin of the city of Hattusa around 1700 BC.

One of the most important discoveries at the site has been the cuneiform royal archives of clay tablets, known as the Bogazköy Archive. This archive consisting:

During the excavations, archaeologists discovered over 14000 cuneiform texts on clay tablets of the 2nd millennium BC. This is one of the oldest state (royal) archives. It gives the most complete ideas about the Hittite kingdom and its inhabitants.

Clay Tablet Egyptian–Hittite_peace_treaty

One particularly important tablet Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty, currently on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, details the terms of a peace settlement reached years after the Battle of Kadesh between the Hittites and the Egyptians under Ramesses II, in 1259 or 1258 BC.

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Takshasila (1000 BC)

Taxila Library

Taxila is a significant archaeological site in a modern city with the same name in Punjab, Pakistan. Ancient Taxila was an important city of Ancient India, situated at the pivotal junction of the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia.

The origin of Taxila as a city goes back to c. 1000 BCE. Some ruins at the Taxila date to the time of the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE followed successively by Mauryan Empire, Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, and Kushan Empire periods. The University of Ancient Taxila was considered to be one of the earliest universities in the world.

Taxila is connected since the mythological period. Hindu scripture Ramayana describes Takshashila as a magnificent city famed for its wealth which was founded by Bharata, the younger brother of Lord Rama, and probably named the city of his son name Taksha.

Takshasila had a great influence on Hindu culture and the Sanskrit language. It is perhaps best known for its association with Chanakya the strategist and known philosopher of India who guided Chandragupta Maurya and assisted in the founding of the Mauryan empire.

Once a grand library of one of the oldest universities in ancient times where thousands of scripture formed and it produced hundreds of great students across the world.

  • It is believed that the great Hindu scripture the Mahabharat recited in Taxila.
  • Chanakya’s  Arthashastra  (The knowledge of Economics) is said to have been composed in Taxila. 
  • The Ayurvedic healer Charaka also studied at Taxila. He also started teaching at Taxila in the later period. 
  • Pāṇini, the grammarian who codified the rules that would define Classical Sanskrit, has also been part of the community at Taxila.
  • The institution is significant in Buddhist tradition since it is believed that the Mahāyāna branch of Buddhism took shape there.

By the time, the great ancient trade routes “the Silk route” connecting these regions ceased to be important, the city sank into insignificance and was finally destroyed by the nomadic Hunas in the 5th century.

The Library of Ashurbanipal (668–627 BC)

The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, named after Ashurbanipal, the last great king of the Assyrian Empire which was located in the city of Nineveh.

The collection of Nineveh actually a collection of two different libraries. Some parts of the clay tablets discovered in 1849 in the Royal Palace of King Sennacherib (705–681 BCE). Three years later during excavation archaeologists discovered a similar “library” in the palace of King Ashurbanipal (668–627 BCE).

Ashurbanipal was known as a tenacious martial commander; however, he was also a recognized intellectual who was literate and a passionate collector of texts and tablets.

Approximately 28,000-odd cuneiform tablets found in the royal citadel of Nineveh, which are now housed in the British Museum. Assurbanipal was one of the few Assyrian kings to have been trained in the more intellectual scribal arts by one Balasi, a senior royal scholar. He systematically built up the palace library through a variety of means.

The texts were principally written in Akkadian in the cuneiform script and all the books were placed systematically in the library:

  • The tablets were often organized according to shape.
  • Four-sided tablets were for financial transactions.
  • Round tablets recorded agricultural information.
  • Tablets were separated according to their contents and placed in different rooms: government, history, law, astronomy, geography, and so on.
  • The contents were identified by colored marks or brief written descriptions, and sometimes by the “incipit,” or the first few words that began the text.

Multiple type of clay tablet belong to different category were discovered.

Few of the most famous and important clay tablets were discovered are:

Epic of Gilgamesh
Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa with astrological forecasts
Bilingual Dictionary Tablet of synonyms
The Creation Clay tablet
Goddess Ishtar’s visit to her sister

Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BCE by a coalition of Babylonians, Scythians, and Medes, an ancient Iranian people. It is believed that during the burning of the palace, a great fire must have ravaged the library, causing the clay cuneiform tablets to become partially baked. This potentially destructive event helped preserve the tablets.

The Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt 295 BC

Library of Alexandria
Recreation of the Alexandria Library
Present day Library of Alexandria

The Great Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. The Library was part of a larger research institution called the Mouseion, which was dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts.

Once built then Library quickly acquired many papyrus scrolls. It is unknown precisely how many such scrolls were housed at any given time, but estimates range from 40,000 to 400,000 at its height.

Many important and influential scholars worked at the Library during the third and second centuries BC. Known scholars connect with the library of Alexandria

  • Zenodotus of Ephesus, who worked towards standardizing the texts of the Homeric poems.
  • According to legend, the Syracusan inventor Archimedes invented the Archimedes’ screw, a pump for transporting water, while studying at the Library of Alexandria.
  • Callimachus, who wrote the Pinakes, sometimes considered to be the world’s first library catalog.
  • Apollonius of Rhodes, who composed the epic poem the Argonautica.
  • Eratosthenes of Cyrene, who calculated the circumference of the earth within a few hundred kilometers of accuracy.
 Serapeum of Alexandria,
Present-day ruins of the Serapeum of Alexandria, where the Library of Alexandria moved part of its collection after it ran out of storage space in the main building.

There are three main reasons by which the library of Alexandria decline happened.

From the middle of the second century BC onward, the Ptolemaic rule in Egypt grew less stable than it had been previously hence losing control over the operation pf library.

The scholars who had studied at the Library of Alexandria and their students continued to conduct research and write treatises, but most of them no longer did so in association with the Library.

The Library, or part of its collection, was accidentally burned by Julius Caesar during his civil war in 48 BC, but it is unclear how much was actually destroyed. Due to this action, many scholars made the distance from the library and started their research or teachings in other regions.

The Library of Aristotle (Athens) 

Library of Aristotle

The library of Aristotle is the library which was named after his founder Aristotle who was a great philosopher and inventor of his time. He established a school and library in 334 B.C in the Lyceum which helped him to produce many of his hundreds of books on papyrus scrolls.

During a 1996 excavation to clear space for Athens’ new Museum of Modern Art, the remains of Aristotle’s Lyceum were uncovered.

When functional this library had more than 10000 papyrus which included both Theophrastus and Aristotle’s work as well as student research, philosophical historical texts, and histories of philosophy.

When Sulla attacked Athens, the books were shipped to Rome. Throughout their travels, one-fifth of Aristotle’s works were lost and thus are not a part of the modern Aristotelian collection. Still, what did remain of Aristotle’s works and the rest of the library were arranged, edited, translated, and widely distributed, providing much of the modern knowledge of ancient Western philosophy.


That is absolutely true that libraries perform an important role in society. Knowledge is something which value human being knows from the beginning. That’s the reason social libraries are always promoted everywhere in every culture. It’s a deep desire of every individual that his gained knowledge must transfer to the next generation.

Want to know more about Clay tablets? Read end to end about clay tablets.

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2 thoughts on “Why It is Worth to Know About These Ancient Libraries?”

  1. Priyanka Baruah

    Such a beautiful article. Great to know about the ancient educational libraries and its civilization

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