Homepage Timeline Maps A-Z index Learning

A History of the Library - in Egypt

From 3000 BC to AD 1000 Egyptians used papyrus to make paper, and, from sheets of paper, rolls - the ancient forms of books. In ancient history and archaeology, groups of books are generally termed 'archives' - this contrasts with the precise modern usage of 'archive' to denote groups of writings that are no longer of direct practical use, but are nevertheless retained for reference in special storage. There is no evidence for the practice of storing such writings in ancient Egypt; instead, the groups of books may be compared with the modern 'library'. However, like other organic materials, papyrus paper rarely survives in bulk from ancient or even from medieval times; therefore our knowledge of ancient libraries, including that of Alexandria, remains extremely limited.

The contemporary Library of Alexandria has been brought into existence by the power of the myth of the ancient Library in that city. Its task may be to reconcile the different histories within these four traditions.


Copyright © 2003 University College London. All rights reserved.