The development of the notion of libraries in the ancient world with special reference to the Middle East, the Roman Republic and the Royal Alexandrian Library

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The Royal Alexandrian Library (RAL) is considered by modern scholarship to represent the epitome of the development of ancient librarianship. Its extensive holdings imply the application of modern organizational procedures such as collection development, information retrieval and promotion of use - terms identifiable as elements embodied in the conceptual framework of librarianship (for the purposes of this study the latter two concepts - information retrieval and promotion of use - are combined into the simplified general concept of "collection accessibility"). The RAL therefore constitutes a key development phase in the evolution of modern librarianship. However, scholars have disputed the origins of the RAL and Mouseion or university it was attached to. The socalled "Greek thesis" emphasizes the purely Greek origins of both the Mouseion and the RAL. Conversely, the "Ptolemaic thesis", while acknowledging the Greek origins of the Mouseion, argues that the RAL (as an independent institution distinguishable from the Mouseion proper) is derived from Middle Eastern institutions. This study traces the origins of the RAL from the textual collections of the early Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilizations, through the period of Greek and the subsequent Hellenistic cultural dominance - culminating in the legacy of Hellenistic librarianship as inherited by the Roman Republic, since the newly emerging Roman empire was to exert a deciding influence upon the historical development of the RAL. Within these civilizations and regions a brief overview is undertaken to gauge the extent of literacy and literary output prevalent in each as well as a general assessment of librarianship and library practices. The major and most noteworthy archival and book collections are then analysed according to the organizational procedures identified in the outlined conceptual framework of librarianship. For this purpose sufficient information has been obtained from archaeological evidence and primary and secondary sources to allow for the analysis of forty-three libraries throughout the ancient world. In this way predominantly Middle Eastern as well as Greek elements have been identified as contributing to the creation, organization and functioning of the RAL.

Bibliography: leaves 252-256.