Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pergamum Library

The library at Pergamum, a Greek city-state in Asia Minor, grew to be almost as large and like the one in Alexandria, was filed mainly with stolen and copied works by Greek and Roman scholars.

Attalus I (died 197 BC) may have started the famous library, but its foundation is usually credited to his successor, Eumenes II (died 158 BC).  Crates, the famous Stoic philosopher and literary critic may have been the first librarian.

The Pergamum library attracted scholars and philosophers throughout the Hellenic world. Because of its library, Pergamum was an important center of culture and learning.

The very existence of the Pergamum Library was an irritation to the Egyptian pharaohs, who apparently wanted to effect, at Alexandria, the same kind of monopoly over the collection and preservation of knowledge that they held over the material on which it was recorded.

Rivalry between the two libraries led to a bidding war for books. In hopes of preventing further acquisitions by the Pergamum library, the Egyptian rules forbade the export of any more papyrus to the area of the Middle East.

Far from depressing the book trade this prohibition stimulated experimentation with an alternate source of writing material. Dried sheepskin turned out to be an ideal medium for writing, more durable than papyrus and in abundant supply around Pergamum.

Pergamum soon became the manufacturing hub of ‘parchment’ a corruption of the city’s name.

The legend has said that Mark Antony gave Cleopatra the library’s 200,000 scrolls in 41 BC for the Library of Alexandria as a wedding present.  Mark Antony’s action was a staggering blow to Pergamum, which cost the city its intellectual promise and it’s pre-eminence as a leading center of learning in the ancient world.
Pergamum Library

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