History : Aug-Sep 2015
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 25 diversion of resources that bode ill for scholar- ship. Hit by crisis after crisis, the library strug- gled to retain relevance. In 272 the Roman Emperor Aurelian arrived in Alexandria and ravaged the city in his campaign to reassert Roman authority in the east. Just a few years later a revolt in Egypt saw rebel forces in Alexandria under attack from the Roman le- gions of Emperor Diocletian, further damaging the palace complex and, probably, its precious collections. Then in the fourth century things went from bad to worse for the library: Christianity was proclaimed the official religion of the Roman Empire. This had dangerous implications for an institu- tion whose shelves were packed with the collected knowledge of classical pagan- ism, exactly the sort of works that deeply offended some Christian movements. It was also around this time that Egyp- tian Christians such as Saint Anthony founded monastic communities where the scholarly monks devoted themselves GONZALOAZUMENDI exclusively to prayer and study of the scriptures. The result was that the Ptolemaic library was of little interest to the followers of the new reli- gion or were actively reviled by them. The laws against paganism enacted by Emperor Theo- dosius (347-395) were used by more extreme Christians to legitimize attacks against pagan temples and institutions. The Serapeum Li- brary, founded by Ptolemy Euergetes and of- ten confused with the Library of Alexandria, was destroyed in the year 391, during an anti- pagan pogrom instigated by the patriarch Theophilus. In 415 the philosopher and scientist Hypatia of Alexandria, one of the earliest female mathematicians and perhaps the last representative of the Al- exandrine philosophy, died at the hands of a mob of Christian monks stirred up by Theophilus’s successor, Cyril. The valu- able library seemed to vanish with her, for around this time the Iberian theologian Orosius claimed that when he visited the city he did not find a single manuscript in the temple, only empty shelves. It was a GONZALOAZUMENDI ROMAN ODEUM IN ALEXANDRIA The odeum of Kom el-Dikka is one of the few surviving testimonies to Roman Alexandria. This small theater for oratory and music was sited in the city’s academic district. ERICH LESSING/ALBUM BRIDGEMAN/ACI BLAMING CAESAR 19th-century miniature of Julius Caesar, who supported his lover Cleopatra in a dynastic war. During hostilities, a fire destroyed part of the library collection that Caesar had intended to send to Rome.