The library at Alexandria was such a hot commodity, with nearly 750,000 scrolls at the height of its popularity, Julius Caesar couldn't keep his hands off, allegedly taking thousands of scrolls home with him [Source: Krasner-Khait].
In the library's time, about 300 B.C., books were rare, and having a collection the size of Alexandria's would have meant possessing all the written knowledge of the world. It's no wonder Demetrius, a student of Aristotle, dreamed up such a library.
Ptolemy I acted on Demetrius' idea. Ptolemy inherited Egypt when Alexander the Great died and wanted to understand all the citizens under his rule from Alexander's conquests. He acquired scrolls from around the world and had scribes translate them into Greek. Common subjects were medicine, geometry, astronomy, maps and mechanics [source: Brundige].
Three stories suggest how the library was destroyed, all incorporating fire, none proven conclusively:
- Julius Caesar allegedly burned down part of the library in 48 B.C. Alexander set fire to an enemy's ships, and the flames spread into town, consuming the library.
- Theophilus converted part of the library to a church in the year 391, and in the conversion, scrolls were destroyed. Many historians don't think the library lasted this long.
- In 640, Caliph Omar, an Islamic leader, stated the scrolls either contradicted the Koran (and so should be burned) or they repeated what the Koran said (and so were redundant and should be burned). Then he burned them.
Though it's uncertain exactly what happened to the library in Alexandria, there's no mystery how a historic American ballpark was demolished in 1985.