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Constantinople (Turkey)...The Imperial Library

Date of Origin: (337-361 AD)

Date of Destruction: As is widely known, the greatest destroyer of ancient libraries is not time but rather fire. Over the centuries, several fires in the library of Constantinople destroyed much of the collection. The Library was burnt in the year 473 and about 120,000 volumes were lost. However the attempts of Themistios and Constantius were not fruitless, as some works were saved and recopied and circulated through other texts. Consequently, our knowledge of Classical Greek literature is greater than would be the case if not for their efforts.

In 1204, the library became a target of the knights of the Fourth Crusade. The library itself was destroyed and its contents burned or sold. The great part of the library that was saved later became absorbed into the Ottoman Sultan's library after the Muslim forces of Mehmed II captured Constantinople, Sultan of the Ottoman Turks, at the end of the siege of 1453.

Size: est. 100,000 volumes
source: Wikipedia--accessed24sep10

Most of the text and literature of Ancient Greece was written on papyrus and as the material making up the text began to deteriorate there was a movement to transfer the text to parchment. Around the 4th century, Constantine the Great began the movement to transfer text (specifically Holy Scripture) from papyrus to parchment. Constantine's heir to the throne Constantius II continued this movement. It was his work that culminated in the first Imperial Library of Constantinople. The library is estimated to have contained some 100,000 volumes of ancient text. The movement was headed by one Themistios, who commanded a group of calligraphers and librarians.

Contents of the library

A great deal of time and attention was dedicated by those working on the transition of the ancient papyrus text to parchment, to what warranted being actually preserved. Older works like Homer and the Hellenistic history were given priority over Latin works for example.

Also not prioritized were older works that were no longer spoken[clarification needed] like the works of the Attic period for example. Works like Sophocles and other authors, whose works focused on grammar and text were chosen over least used or contemporary works. Due to this form of selective preservation, many works, which were known to Themistios and that he mentions like the triad of Stoic philosophers are now lost. Some fragments of these lost works have been found at Herculaneum for example.

For papyrus texts that were not translatable, the group attempted to preserve them from decay by encasing them in parchment.
source: Wikipedia--accessed24sep10
"Among the lost treasures of Constantinople was "the only authentic copy" of the proceedings of the Council of Nice, held in 325 A.D. to deal with the Arian heresy."
source: The Story of Books--accessed24sep10
"Last but not least, the survival and the contribution of the Greek classics to the development of the Byzantine mind can be inferred from the fact that there were many libraries stocked with volumes of the classical heritage. For example, the Imperial Library of Constantinople in 475 possessed 120,000 volumes, including the famous parchment, 120 feet long, upοn which were inscribed Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. The library was destroyed by fire but it was rebuilt in the sixth century.

"Ιn the eighth century, the library of the Oikoumenikon Didaskaleion, which was destroyed in the fire of 726, included "many and good books" of both Christian theology and Greek classics.(21) But the Byzantine Empire had other state, church monastic, and private libraries which were stocked with numerous manuscripts of the works of classical authors. Many of them were destroyed and many more found their way to Western European capitals following the catastrophic Fourth Crusade, and after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. Libraries preserved the Greek literary tradition which contributed to the growth of the Byzantine mind. Ιn the words of Socrates, the fourth century ecclesiastical historian:

"Greek literature certainly was never recognized either by Christ or his Apostles as divinely inspired, nor οn the other hand was it wholly rejected as pernicious. And this they did, Ι conceive, not inconsiderately. For there were many philosophers among the Greeks who were not far from the knowledge of God... for these reasons they have become useful to all lovers of real piety."
source: myriobiblos--accessed24sep10
"The fourth century was a critical time for the classical literature of Greece and Rome. Written on papyrus, manuscripts were gradually crumbling away and threatened to sink into oblivion unless transferred to parchment. Constantine the Great had begun that process by having the books of Holy Scripture copied, and his son the Emperor Constantius II undertook to continue the effort. The result of his initiative was the first imperial library of Constantinople, which contained more than 100,000 volumes. The leader of the project was Themistios, who commanded a considerable team of calligraphers and librarians."
source: Library of Constantinople--accessed24sep10
From Papyrus to Parchment

Papyrus was the writing material of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and papyrus rolls the brittle books of antiquity. Lucretius and other authors tell how the rolls crunch and go to pieces in use, and these accounts are confirmed by modern discoveries of papyri under the lava of Herculaneum and the sands of Egypt. Papyri had other deficiencies. One could write only on the inside of the roll, for the outside was too liable to damage when unrolled. A roll could not be too long, lest it become unmanageable. Most of the Greek and Latin rolls that are preserved are less than ten meters long. For that reason, a roll did not contain much text, and major works, such as Homer's Iliad, had to be divided among several rolls. It was, furthermore, difficult to look up a particular place in a papyrus roll. The text columns were unnumbered and you had to roll up until you found the place you were searching for Therefore, current authors were likely to cite from memory--and erroneously.

Parchment was occasionally used from the second century B.C. and it eventually became the material of the future, while papyrus gradually fell out of use. Parchment held sway, in turn, until it was replaced by Arabic paper. Here we have the three p's of cultural history: papyrus, parchment and paper. Now we seem to have a fourth: the PC.

Parchment was a tougher material than papyrus and could easily be bound into codices (i.e., our form of books). One could write on both sides of the parchment and one codex could contain the content of many papyrus books, say, the whole of the Iliad. A numbering system was introduced for the pages (or the chapters and verses) in the text, especially for the Holy Scripture where it was important to find the right quotation The fourth century was a critical time for the classical literature of Greece and Rome. Written on papyrus, it was gradually crumbling away and threatened to sink into oblivion unless transferred to parchment Constantine the Great had begun that process by having the books of Holy Scripture copied, and his son the Emperor Constantius II undertook to continue the effort. The result of his initiative was the first imperial library of Constantinople, which contained more than 100,000 volumes The leader of the project was Themistios who commanded a considerable team of calligraphers and librarians.

One of the main problems was, as it is today, to choose what to save, for it was impossible to save everything. First, Themistios and the emperor chose to save the old literature--Homer and other great authors of the golden age of Greece. Themistios seems to have been uninterested in Latin authors. He did not, and did not want to, understand Latin. He was an arrogant Greek who regarded all other people, including Romans, as simply barbarians. But the emperors were Romans and Latin speaking, so Constantius saw that the classical literature was also transferred to parchment.

Although the older literature was regarded as more valuable than contemporary work no one any longer spoke the Greek of the great Attic authors. So it was necessary to save commentaries and works of grammar as well as the texts of Sophocles, Plautus and other classical works From the record, we can see that Themistios knew many more classical authors than we have today. For instance, he mentions a triad of Stoic philosophers whose work is completely lost to us except for a few citations by other classical authors and some scraps among the carbonized remains at Herculaneum,

Themistios also had a remedy for the papyrus rolls that could not possibly be transcribed. He tried to delay the decay by putting the rolls into parchment coverings, rather like our attempt to encase brittle books in special envelopes or boxes.

The greatest enemy of ancient literature was, however, fires Several fires in the Constantinople library eventually destroyed much of the collection, but Themistios' efforts had not been wholly in vain, for visitors came to the library from the provinces to consult works and take away copies--and some of the copies were recopied. Without the efforts of Constantius and Themistios our knowledge of the classical literature would certainly have been even smaller.

Certainly some of the lost literature was deliberately and systematically destroyed. A quite unhistorical, but probably apt, story comes to us through the Norwegian humorist, Nils Kjaer. At the time of Caliph Omar's invasion of Egypt, the Arab officer on duty in the destruction of the library of Alexandria used two stamps with which he marked the books. One said: "Does not agree with the Koran--heretic, must be burned. The other said: Agrees with the Koran--superfluous, must be burned,"
source: Commission on Preservation and Access--accessed24sep10
Ephesus (Turkey)...Celsus Library
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