The Burning of the Great Library of Alexandria

Off the keyboard of RE

Discuss this article at the Frostbite Falls Insider Table inside the Diner

Recently Diner Phillip Farruggio put up an article Sins of the Empire here on the Diner expressing his dismay at the inexorable collapse of the Public Library system he grew up with, and came to love for the vast amount of information and knowledge it brought to him from his earliest years. Pretty much since Homo Sapiens began the Civilization Journey, the collection of Knoweldge into Libraries has been of inestimable value in making it possible for those Civilizations to continue onward. The fact that our Library system is now in terminal decay is probably as good a Canary in the Coal Mine as any to let the Collapse Watcher know that our Civilization also is now bound for the Dustbin of History.

The best known destruction of Knowledge gathered from Antiquity came with the Burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, which at its Peak of Knowledge Base probably contained near 1 Million Scrolls of inestimable length gathered throughout the Ancient World. From Wikipedia:

The Royal Library of Alexandria, or Ancient Library of Alexandria, in Alexandria, Egypt, was the largest and most significant library of the ancient world.[1] It flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the 3rd century BC until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC. The library was conceived and opened either during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (323–283 BC) or during the reign of his son Ptolemy II (283–246 BC).[2]

Plutarch (AD 46–120) wrote that during his visit to Alexandria in 48 BC Julius Caesar accidentally burned the library down when he set fire to his own ships to frustrate Achillas‘ attempt to limit his ability to communicate by sea.[3] After its destruction, scholars used a “daughter library” in a temple known as the Serapeum, located in another part of the city.

Intended both as a commemoration and an emulation of the original, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated in 2002 near the site of the old library.

In his seminal PBS Documentary and Book Cosmos, Carl Sagan expressed as his First Choice of places he would go visit if he had Mr. Peabody’s WAYBAC Machine would have been the Great Library at Alexandria before it got Torched.

In this segment of Cosmos, Carl points toward tantalizing evidence that Aristarchus of Samothrace developed a Heliocentric Theory of the Solar System long before Copernicus, just none of the Math involved in deducing this structure exists anymore. How did he come up with that theory? Far as we know, these Ancients had no Telescopes, nor did they have the Calculus either. How did they make their Observations, how did they do their Calculations to come up with these results?

Diner William Hunter Duncan speculated in Phillip’s thread that perhaps in this great destruction of Collected Knowledge, the evidence of still earlier Civilizations such as Atlantis may have been destroyed as well.

Watching that video from Carl Sagan, I’m reminded that I’m pretty well certain there was an advanced sea-faring culture existing before the great flood, before the so-called rise of agriculture. I believe there were maps in that library that detailed the geography of Antarctica, before it was covered by ice. I think it was a culture that mastered Science and Magic, and what little evidence existed of it, the worshippers of OMOG wiped away, in their mandate to wipe away all non-OMOG sanctioned knowledge. It is something of a bitter irony then, that we would know nothing of the Classical era of Greece and Rome if not for the OMOG inspired mendicants, the transcribers of books among the Men of God.

If the trajectory plays out like it appears it will, ten thousand years from now, people will know as little about us as we do about “Atlantis.”

Did the Great Library at Alexandria contain evidence of the Lost Civilization of Atlantis? Perhaps it did, but it is something we will never know. All we do know for sure is that a VAST amount of collected knowledge was lost in the destruction of this Library, and it took Millenia for some of it to be rediscovered or reinvented. Essentially with the loss of such vast amounts of collected knowledge, on an Intellectual level it marks the End of a Civilization.

It is worthwhile to note here that the primary dates involved in the destruction of this Great Library came RIGHT around the same time Jesus Christ hit the scene spreading His Gospel. Clearly at this Period in Human History, there was tremendous Dislocation going on, much as there is today. A part of that dislocation is the destruction of collected knowledge in Libraries, which can occur quite RAPIDLY. Although it appears that the TOTAL DESTRUCTION of the Alexandria Library did not occur in a single Burning, given the great changes underway during the rule of Julius Caesar, it is fair to surmise that a great portion of this destruction of knowledge took place in 48BC, quite near to the date of the birth of Jesus Christ:

Ancient and modern sources identify four possible occasions for the partial or complete destruction of the Library of Alexandria: Julius Caesar‘s fire in the Alexandrian War, in 48 BC; the attack of Aurelian in 270 – 275 AD; the decree of Coptic Pope Theophilus in AD 391; and the Muslim conquest in 642 AD or thereafter

The fact that the Destruction of the Greatest Library of the Ancient World was DESTROYED at precisely the same Era in History that The Greatest Story Ever Told began its Journey is either a Coincidence of Epic Proportions, or else the two phenomenon are related, and I would say the latter case would appear to be the more likely one.

Without Mr. Peabody’s WAYBAC Machine it is impossible to know in absolute terms the level of Dislocation the Civilization ruled by Rome was undergoing in the Century from 50BC to 50AD, but the fact that you had this level of knowledge destruction AND the rise of a new Prophet at the same indicates to me that there was tremendous upheaval, of the sort we appear to be coming into now. The fact said Prophet “arrived” on the scene shortly after the Library Burning can be seen as indicative of how such Collapses play themselves out on the psycho-social level. When all you knew and held to be TRUE is destroyed, it opens the door for a new way of thinking and Charismatic Leaders of all sorts can arise in such times.

Is the destruction of the Great Lbrary at Alexandria the ONLY instance in Antiquity we have some knowledge of? No, another one was recorded as well in the first years of Writing, the Collapse of the Tower of Babel. In this one as Legend Goes, after the Tower Collapsed, the people dispersed, many different languages arose and nobody could communicate with each other anymore. Was the “Language” these stories were speaking of really Verbal or Written Words, or was it MATHEMATICS & MONEY?

In a thread I began way back in October of 2008 on Peak Oil, I discussed the ramifications of the destruction of that other Ancient Historical Information plant, the Tower of Babel:

Collapse of an Economic Tower of Babel

Postby ReverseEngineer » Wed Oct 15, 2008 2:17 am

Reviewing as I have been Ancient History for parallels with what we see going on today, one Ancient Civilization collapse I always had trouble understanding and believing now is coming more clear to me as a parable. That would be the Fall Of Babylon and the destruction of the Tower of Babel.

From Wikepedia:

According to the biblical account, Babel was a city that united humanity, all speaking a single language and migrating from the east; it was the home city of the great king Nimrod, and the first city to be built after the Great Flood. The people decided their city should have a tower so immense that it would have “its top in the heavens.” However, the Tower of Babel was not built for the worship and praise of God, but was dedicated to the glory of man, with a motive of making a ‘name’ for the builders “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.'” – Genesis 11:4. God seeing what the people were doing, gave each person a different language to confuse them and scattered the people throughout the earth.

Now first off in my old analysis, just how could a Tower falling down instantly render people unable to communicate with each other? This seems impossible if you take it at face value as describing verbal language, but what if you take it to mean a Reserve Currency to which all things are linked in their value?

What happens when the Dollar loses its meaning entirely? Then ALL the traders can’t talk to each other anymore, it about instantly renders it impossible to communicate in the world of trade.

The first obvious parallel here would be the Crashing Down of the World Trade Center in NYC, a “tower so immense it would have its top in the Heavens”. However, the more important tower that is crashing down is the intricately connected system of world markets. Its rapidly becoming apparent that traders cannot talk to each other in a common language, and so international trade is grinding to a halt. Now each country has “a different language to confuse them and scattered the people throughout the earth.” We are of course all scatterred, and each individual locale now has to come up with its own monetary language to begin trading internally again. The Confusion here is clearly apparent as well.

Some very interesting tidbits in this story that have some relevance to today’s Tower of Babel collapse:

The building of the Tower was meant to bid defiance not only to God, but also to Abraham, who exhorted the builders to reverence. The passage mentions that the builders spoke sharp words against God, not cited in the Bible, saying that once every 1,656 years, heaven tottered so that the water poured down upon the earth, therefore they would support it by columns that there might not be another deluge.

If you Google up the collapse of the Roman Empire, it actually occured in 352 AD (2008-1656=352) when the Empire fractured between Constantinius II and Magnentius.

Coincidence? Perhaps. However, that is one pretty big coincidence if you ask me. Interesting how the Geopolitics seem to replay themselves on the interval of every 1656 years.

The collapse of the Mesopotamian Civilization is SYMBOLIZED by the Collapse of the Tower of Babel, much as the Collapse of the Roman Republic and it’s transformation to Empire is symbolized by the Burning of the Great Library of Alexandria. Informational or Economic, essentially they represent the same things, CENTRALIZED SYSTEMS of Knowledge which essentially were no longer WORKING. Lots of collected information, but its COMPLEXITY for the given time period was too much for that Civilization to support anymore. It takes vast ENERGY to support Complexity, that is basic Thermodynamics and on a social level well documented by Joseph Tainter as well.

In the original discussion on this topic in the Collapse of an Economic Tower of Babel Thread on the Peak Oil Forum, we discussed how this played out on an Economic Level for Rome, as besides destroying their Cultural and Intellectual heritage, they also debased and destroyed their Monetary System as well:

Ayame wrote:Yes indeed. In the ‘Collapse of Complex Socities’ there is a detailed analysis of the collapse of the roman empire and the end was not pretty. When the empire first began expanding the roman citizen started out with not having to pay any taxes because of all the booty they were pillaging from conquered nations. However, at the end roman citizens were forced to sell their children in order to pay their taxes. The government was bankrupt through monetary debasement. Most romans openly welcomed the invading barbarians because of the liberation they would bring from the overwhelming taxes of the empire.

Assuming you take this model as applicable to what we see today, it brings up the question of the way the actual mechanics of currency debasement will function insofar as our military and social structures are concerned.

Mixing base metals with Silver in Roman coinage would be the equivalent of Ben firing up the digital printing press in our own civilzation. So at some point here if the analogy holds true, the currency won’t be sufficient to pay the army. My question to the members here would be just how long they think the military will hold up in unified form as the currency debasement works its way through the various levels of the economy?

In Roman times, I think this took quite some time to happen, certainly at least decades, possibly to a few hundred years depending on when you want to pin down the actual Fall of the Empire. However, the Romans did not have computers, the internet or the instantaneous transmission of digital wealth either.

How long before a Solider’s Paycheck in today’s Empire is no longer sufficient to feed the soldier’s family, and then no longer sufficient to feed the soldier himself? Clearly Iceland is going down VERY rapidly, I don’t think the Juggernaut that is the US goes down that fast, but neither do I think the system holds up decades or longer.
How long does it take for the military to cease to function as a unified force?

Reverse Engineer

I think you can see here how these two phenomenon, that of Information Destruction and that of Monetary System Collapse both work together in Synergy as a Civilization approaches its Collapse Phase, and BOTH indicators are apparent here and now, both in the progressive currency debasement being undertaken by the Central Banks in order to perpetuate a failing system, as well as the inexorable destruction of the Public Library system Phlllip Farrugio wrote about here on the Diner.

In many respects, you can make analogies between the Tower of Babel Collapse and the Collapse of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. This represented the physical destruction of an edifice constructed specifically for the purpose of Centralizing and Directing World Trade, and in the aftermath of that destruction there has been progressive and inexorable unwinding of the Monetary System it was built to represent. However, the collapse of those Towers did not result in an Instantaneous Monetary System Collapse, this is Ongoing. Likely also true is that when the Original Tower of Babel collapsed, it took years if not Generations for all of its effects to reverberate through that Civilization.

Pops wrote:Sorry for crapping on your thread RE, now I owe you an actual reply.
I’ll take the military question, since the US outspends the rest of the world combined on it’s military and since the most basic function of a government is to protect the borders I think it will be a very long time before the military will cease to function.Not to say we will always be the predominate force, Portugal, Spain, Briton all had their time at the top and eventually overreached. We may be approaching or at our peak as well, as we run out of land to plunder – just as they did.
My guess our military will take either of two courses as the budget shrinks; either less technology (more boots and less bandwidth) or more (fewer boots and more UAVs and joysticks) depending on the mood of the public and the tactics of whoever the enemy.Who knows, soldiers may someday again be expected to cook their own food and clean their own latrines.

Apology accepted, no hard feelings.

Agreed, the US by far outspends the rest of the world on the military infrastructure, and I would certainly postulate at the moment has by far the best military out there in training and equipment. Same could be said of Rome of course.
Also, I would consider it likely that as the economy spins downward and we get further problems related to the society basically coming apart at the seams that still more of the scarce resources will be thrown at the military to try to keep it together.

The problem I see besides currency debasement is an absolute numbers problem. We have X number of Professional soldiers, a good part of that crew currently deployed in what have to be considered losing theatres of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very high price to project out that much military force that far.

As TPTB perceive more and more local problems, they seek to ignore Posse Comitas and deploy soldiers here on the home turf, but unless they conscript up and train in a mighty big hurry, they are short numbers even to resolve potential rioting in a city like Atlanta, much less handle multiple problems in multiple cities.

Any newby soldiers they do conscript up and hand Rifles to are not the professionally Brainwashed soldiers they might need to fire willy nilly on a crowd of protesters. About guaranteed these units are not well logistically supplied also, if what happenned to the National Guard units around Houston after Ike hit is any indicator.

With tax receipts falling like a stone, with the Federal Government now placed in the position of not only bailing out private banks but also STATES that don’t have money for their budgets, for just how long can Ben just print up fiat money to pay for more soldiers to keep order here?

I fail to see how even the best trained and best equipped military to ever walk the face of the earth holds together once the results of the currency debasement really take hold. How long does that process TAKE?

Best case scenario, I think MAYBE 2-3 years? Just a guess though. I’m wondering if anyone could try an analysis of the military economics relative to the projected tax receipts and the effects of non-stop printing of fiat money? You would have to have access to more numbers than I know where to find on the net, if they are available at all. However some here seem to have a real fine ability to dig up these sort of numbers.

Reverse Engineer

BOY WAS I WRONG! LOL. At least on the Timeline level anyhow, the general prognosis remains correct. This thread went down on Peak Oil in 2008 at the HEIGHT of the Crash at that time, in fact the very month that Hank the Skank Paulson was pitching DOOM at CONgress if they didn’t let him fire off the BAZOOKA. 4 years later, Da Military is still getting Paid with Da Dollars by Da Goobermint, and said Dollars are STILL buying Oil!

Can we now look at the progress here to make some better estimations on Timelines? Is there a relationship between the Information Destruction and Monetary Collapse that can help us?

The Burning of the Great Library at Alexandria was essentially an OVERNIGHT event, at least the portion that was burned by Julius Caesar anyhow. This apparently just preceeded the arrival of Jesus Christ on the scene, which would likely occur when the Civilization had reached its greatest stress point. This is just interpreting the arrival of Christ as a Social Phenomena rather than a Trancendental one of the arrival of the Son of God on Earth.

Does the gradual defunding and Closure of our Paper Book Public Libraries signify an overnight event? No, this is just a gradual deterioration of the system, and could go on for a long time. The Main Branch of the NYC Public Library system remains Open, and so does the Library of Congress and so do the Stacks at Low Library on the Campus of Columbia University, my Alma Mater. So you still do have these vast repositories of Knowledge bound up on Paper that remain in existence, and at least so far nobody has set the Torch to them.

However, are these Paper Book Libraries REALLY where the Store of Information is held that keeps this Civilization running now? No, they are not. The place where most of this stuff is stored now is in Virtual Space, in Digital form on Computers and Hard Drives all over the world, all connected up into a Network we know as the INTERNET, or the World Wide Web.

Unlike the Books now sprinkled around in many Libraries in many places which cannot be destroyed all at once in a Fire like in the Alexandria Library Fire, the Internet can go down as fast or even faster than that Library did. In fact it can crash at the Speed of Light, or very close to it.

The vast quantity of knowledge now searchable with the Google Search engine all essentially DISAPPEARS as soon as Google goes offline, or just limits what you can search down, which in fact they already do. The vast video library now available on You Tube (where I pulled the Cosmos and Tainter videos from) becomes unavailable as soon as Bandwidth gets limited, which it will in the not too distant future because the costs both in monetary terms and energy terms for providing so much bandwidth to so many people are unaffordable, and of course have been financed up on irredeemable debt.

Bad as the loss of any of that is as far as free access to the Information running this Civilization goes though, it doesn’t have the rapid destructive effect that will occur when (not if) the Super Computers running the Trading Bourses all over the world like the NYSE and the Hang Sei and Nikkei lose their ability to communicate trades all over the Globe instantaneously. If there is any Definable Moment at which you could say our Civilization will Collapse, it is the MOMENT the Internet Goes Dark for Financial trading.

Insofar as the VALUE of all this information is concerned, generally speaking most people believe that More Knowledge is Better. My fellow Diner Admin and Author Surly wrote the following in the Coming Attractions to this article I posted in the Frosbite Falls Daily Rant here on the Diner:

IMO, this was one of the greatest tragedies in the history of humanity. The fire probably set the course of human development back 1000 years, at least.
God only knows what was lost.-Surly

Indeed this is true, the destruction of all that knowledge likely DID “set us back” a Millenia. If it is true that Aristarchus had a well established theory of a Heliocentric Solar System, Copernicus, Galileo et all did not establish that again for in fact 1500 years later or so.

However, had we NOT been so “set back”, if the Mathemeticians of that era had come upon the Calculus, if the Scientists of that era had come upon the principles of Thermodynamics etc, the Industrial Revolution might have arrived in 100AD, not 1750AD. The world might have already been an Industrial Sewer by 400AD, not 2012AD. In fact the Greeks DID have a form of “Steam Engine”, a metal globe filled with water and ports on it to allow the steam to escape, which made the Globe Spin. It was invented by Heron of, yes, Alexandria, who lived between 10AD and 70AD. PRECISELY the time of Christ, PRECISELY the time the Civilization got stopped in its tracks from developing further along these lines.

The Greeks, Egyptians and Romans just never applied this Steam Engine to do real Work, it was just a Toy. In the descent into the Dark Ages, this stuff was Lost and not Found again until the late 1600s. From Wiki:

The first practical steam-powered “engine” was a water pump, developed in 1698 by Thomas Savery. It used a vacuum to raise water from below, then used steam pressure to raise it higher. Small engines were effective though larger models were problematic. They proved only to have a limited lift height and were prone to boiler explosions. It received some use in mines and pumping stations.[8]

The first commercially successful engine was the atmospheric engine, invented by Thomas Newcomen around 1712.[9] It made use of technologies discovered by Savery and Papin. Newcomen’s engine was relatively inefficient, and in most cases was used for pumping water. It worked by creating a partial vacuum by condensing steam in a cylinder. It was employed for draining mine workings at depths hitherto impossible, and also for providing a reusable water supply for driving waterwheels at factories sited away from a suitable “head”. Water that had passed over the wheel was pumped back up into a storage reservoir above the wheel.

File:Watt steam pumping engine.JPG

The really BIG JUMP though with Steam Power came with James Watt, who built a steam engine practical for application to Factory Work around 1770 or so. The rest of the Sad History of Industrialization proceeds from there of course, and took around 250 or so years to get us to the point we are today, in vast Overshoot of the Population and a seriously Depleted and Poisoned Environment unlikely to be able to support the current 7B Homo Sapiens walking the Earth right now much longer. Not to mention a whole lot of other Higher Organisms currently taking the Trip to the Great Beyond right along with us, like the Coral in the Great Barrier Reef of Oz, now 50% destroyed in just the last 27 years.

Had the Great Library at Alexandria NOT been destroyed; had the Scientists like Aristarchus and Heron been able to continue their work and research, in principle there is no reason why exactly the same Trajectory Industrialization followed from 1750 to today would not have occurred 2000 years ago. In which case in all likelihood most of us alive right now would never have been Born at all, and if we were Born we would be living in the same kind of Post-Apocalyptic SEWER that our surviving Grandchildren will likely inherit in the next Century or two.

Given this sequence of events, can you really say it is TRUE that “More Knowledge is Better” or that all our Libraries and all this Knowledge really served us all that well, or was very good for the Planet we live on?

Insofar as the Knowledge we have accumulated here over the Millenia currently stored as Digibits on the Internet, how much of that Knowledge is really WORTH saving? Do we really want to preserve the Knowledge of how to Fission Uranium and create Atomic Bombs? Do we really want to preserve knowledge of how to Genetically Modify food, and create Hybrid Crops that do not Breed True? Has being so SMART really been very good for us or this Planet?

I do not wish to see the Internet Go Dark anymore than Phillip Farruggio wishes to see his Local Branch of the NYC Public Library closed. I too value the Knowledge I have access to, and value the time I spent in more traditional Libraries as well as my time spent Googling the vast store of knowledge here on the internet. Given where all this Knowledge has led our Civilization though, I am not so sure that it’s preservation and retention is something we should be striving for.



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