Ptolemy II Philadelphus Founds the Library of Alexandria

Ptolemy II Philadelphus Founds the Library of Alexandria

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250 B.C.E. The Septuagint and the Library of Alexandria

According to a legend preserved in the so-called Letter of Aristeas (no one knows who actually wrote it), the Septuagint translation of the Bible was commissioned by Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt so that he would have a copy of the Jewish lawbook for his famous library in Alexandria. To secure the cooperation of Eleazer, the Jewish high priest in Jerusalem, Ptolemy set free the many Jews who had been sold into slavery by Ptolemy’s father after his military campaign in Palestine in 312 B.C. In gratitude, Eleazer the high priest sent 72 elders from Jerusalem (six from each tribe) to Alexandria, where they were royally entertained and finally secluded on an island to undertake their work. In 72 days of joint labor they completed the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The translation was accepted and sanctified by the Jewish community, and any changes were officially forbidden. Ptolemy then sent the translators home with costly gifts.

Turning from legend to fact, the Septuagint is a Jewish translation of the third century B.C.E., made for diaspora Jews in Egypt whose language was Greek and who no longer understood Hebrew. It is the first known translation of the Bible. Later, the early Christian Church adopted the Septuagint as divinely inspired and this version became the basis of the Latin translation known as the Vulgate. The Septuagint contains a number of books which are not in the Hebrew Bible (or Masoretic text as it is called by scholars), but based on their inclusion in the Septuagint, these books were also included in the Latin Vulgate. That is why such books as Judith, II Maccabees, The Wisdom of Solomon and Ben Sira, are considered canonical by the Roman Catholic Church, it was denounced by contemporaneous Jews. Although originally a Jewish translation, the Septuagint has been preserved only in Christian sources.

The Letter of Aristeas tells us how the Septuagint came into being.

The Letter of Aristeas purports to be written in the Egyptian metropolis of Alexandria by a certain Aristeas to a certain Philocrates, whom he calls his “brother.” The subject is how the Pentateuch—in Hebrew, the Torah, the Five Books of Moses—happened to be translated from Hebrew into Greek. According to the letter, the intellectually curious Ptolemy II Philadelphus 285–247 B.C., who ruled his empire from Alexandria, wanted his librarian Demetrius to assemble a library containing a copy of every book in the world. When Demetrius had collected over 200,000 books, he so advised the king, adding that he hoped to increase the number soon to 500,000. Among the books still missing was “the lawbooks of the Jews [which] are worth translation and inclusion in your royal library”

The translators were distinguished and knowledgeable:

“Eleazar selected men of the highest merit and of excellent education due to the distinction of their parentage they had not only mastered the Jewish literature, but had made a serious study of that of the Greeks as well. They were therefore well qualified for the embassy, and brought it to fruition as occasion demanded they had a tremendous natural facility for the negotiations and questions arising from the Law, with the middle way as their commendable ideal they forsook any uncouth and uncultured attitude of mind in the same way they rose above conceit and contempt of other people, and instead engaged in discourse and listening to and answering each and every one, as is meet and right. They all observed these aims, and went further in wishing to excel each other in them they were, one and all, worthy of their leader and his outstanding qualities” (verses 121–122).

The work was apparently divided up, for we are told that the translators compared the results with one another: “They set to completing their several tasks, reaching agreement among themselves on each by comparing versions” (verse 302). when they could not reach agreement by consensus, the majority ruled we are told in the librarian Demetrius’s memorandum to the king (quoted in the letter) that 72 translators (six from each tribe) would be used and that the “text [would be] agreed [to] by the majority” (verse 32). In this way, Demetrius concluded, the “achievement of accuracy in the translation” would be assured, and “we may produce an outstanding version in a manner worthy both of the contents and of your purpose” (verse 32).

This procedure—individuals working on their own tasks and then comparing their work in order to produce a finished product—is in general exactly the way translation committees operate to this very day. Only the palatial surroundings and the uninterrupted work schedule separate the Alexandrian translators from their modern counterparts!

“Handsomely provided” with “all that they would require,” the Jewish elders maintained a rapid pace: “The outcome was such that in 72 days the business of translation was completed”

The author’s purpose was really to establish and defend the authority of this Greek translation of the Pentateuch. That purpose lies implicit in much of the letter. It comes to the fore, near the end, in the description of the public reading and ratification of the translation:

“Demetrius assembled the company of the Jews in the place where the task of the translation had been finished, and read it to all, in the presence of the translators, who received a great ovation from the crowded audience for being responsible for great blessings.… As the books were read, the priests stood up, with the elders from among the translators and from the representatives of the ‘Community,’ and with the leaders of the people, and said, ‘Since this version has been made rightly and reverently, and in every respect accurately, it is good that this should remain exactly so, and there should be no revision.’ There was general approval of what they said, and they commanded that a curse should be laid, as was their custom, on anyone who should alter the version by any addition or change to any part of the written text, or any deletion either. This was a good step taken, to ensure that the words were preserved completely and permanently in perpetuity”

Relations with India

Ptolemy is recorded by Pliny the Elder as having sent an ambassador named Dionysius to the Mauryan court at Pataliputra in India, probably to Emperor Ashoka:

"But [India] has been treated of by several other Greek writers who resided at the courts of Indian kings, such, for instance, as Megasthenes, and by Dionysius, who was sent thither by Philadelphus, expressly for the purpose: all of whom have enlarged upon the power and vast resources of these nations." Pliny the Elder, "The Natural History", Chap. 21 Ώ]

He is also mentionned in the Edicts of Ashoka as a recipient of the Buddhist proselytism of Ashoka, although no Western historical record of this event remain:

"The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (5,400-9,600 km) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamaparni (Sri Lanka)." (Edicts of Ashoka, 13th Rock Edict, S. Dhammika).

The Library of Alexandria and How It Was Destroyed

While incredibly famous, the Great Library of Alexandria wasn’t the first of its kind. Older libraries have been built during the sixth and seventh centuries BC by the Greeks and the Sumerians, and the Assyrians among other nations. Even King Nebuchadnezzar II is known for the library he commanded to build in ancient Babylon. Many of those ancient libraries were accessible to nobles and scholars, but Peisistratos, the son of Hippocrates is known for building a public library in Greece in the sixth century BCE.

Facts and Fiction

The Library of Alexandria has some facts and some fiction tied to its name — mainly the way it was destroyed. We are here to help you separate the truth from the myth. Built (in part, at least) by Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the library was an ambitious project designed to curate all human knowledge in one place. Many think that this impressive enterprise was destroyed by Julius Caesar, who burned it to the ground. However, it is not entirely true. What did happen is that Caesar’s soldiers tried to hold off Ptolemy XIV, Cleopatra’s brother, from taking over the city. They did that by setting fire to their own ships so Ptolemy’s ships can’t enter Alexandria. The thing is, that the fire spread inland and burned a nearby warehouse where some of the library scrolls were kept. That being said, the fire didn’t reach the actual library. The building itself had a much slower, sadder deterioration. When the Romans took over Alexandria, the city lost its high-and-mighty status, and the scholars that used to frequent the library gradually left it. Most of the scrolls were then moved to other establishments. The walls that used to hold all of this knowledge were eventually ruined by the Roman Emperor Aurelian, who destroyed it in 297 CE when the city was under siege.


The Septuagint was the Old Testament written in Greek. It also included 20 books of the Apocrypha. Many so called scholars have been trying to discredit the date of the writing of the Septuagint for many years. Bible critics are always trying to discredit the different versions of the Bible. However, when the Septuagint was compared to the Dead Sea Scrolls, they were found to be almost identical. Bible critics would love to disapprove the validity of the Septuagint so they could justify removing the 20 books of the Apocrypha which contain the correct history of the tribes of Israel!!

Septuagint was written during the reign of Ptolemy II in about 250 B.C. The origin states that seventy or seventy-two Jewish scholars were asked by the Greek King of Egypt Ptolemy II Philadelphus to translate the Torah from Biblical Hebrew into Greek, to be included in the Library of Alexandria.

The letter of Aristeas, addressed from Aristeas to his brother Philocrates, deals primarily with the reason for creating the Greek translation. The letter is often mentioned by Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews (c. 93 AD), Aristobolus writing in a passage preserved by Eusebius, and by Philo of Alexandria. The letter’s author alleges to be a courtier of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (reigned 281-246 BCE). A version of the legend is found in the Tractate Megillah of the Babylonian Talmud.

King Ptolemy once gathered 72 Elders. He placed them in 72 chambers, each of them in a separate one, without revealing to them why they were summoned. He entered each one’s room and said: “Write for me the Torah of Moshe, your teacher.” God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did.

Philo of Alexandria, who relied extensively on the Septuagint, says that the number of scholars was chosen by selecting six scholars from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Philo lived during the time of the Messiah 20 BCE – 50 CE. A 2012 issue of Free Inquiry magazine argued that this legend was a fabrication. However, Philo documented the use of the Septuagint which proofs that the Septuagint was written and in use at the time of Philo.

Referencing the Septuagint in Ency. Wikipedia

2 comments on &ldquo Septuagint &rdquo

Linda , What are the names of the Apocrypha 20 books in the Septuagint. How many Books did Enoch write and can we purchase these today. .Thanks, Martin.

Yes you can purchase them. They are also on-line so you can read them. No Enoch was never canonized. I will see if I can find you a list. thanks

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An enormous amount of knowledge and effort went to waste when the Library of Alexandria was destroyed

The Royal Library of Alexandria in Egypt was one of the largest and most important centers of learning and discovery in the ancient world. Its holdings were valuable resources to the Pharaoh and allowed him to show off the wealth of Egypt to foreign powers. The library was created by Demetrius of Phaleron, a former Athenian politician and adviser to King Ptolemy I, and Soter, a Macedonian nobleman and one of the successor kings of Alexander the Great.

Dedicated to the Muses, the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne who were protectors of the arts, it thrived under the sponsorship of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Constructed in 280 BC, it not only managed an extensive collection of books and scrolls, but it also included lecture halls, classrooms, banquet halls, and extensive gardens. It was surrounded by Greek columns that still stand today, and featured a covered walkway and rooms for group dining. The thirteen lecture halls had a capacity of about 380 people each. One chamber contained shelves of papyrus scrolls with an inscription above the shelves reading, “The place of the cure of the soul.”

The Great Library of Alexandria, O. Von Corven, 19th century

The library was just one part of the Musaeum of Alexandria and was primarily assigned to learning and research. Additionally, the Musaeum accommodated the study of astronomy, anatomy, and zoology, and even had a zoo of exotic animals. The classical philosophers who studied and experimented at the Musaeum included prominent intellectuals such as Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy, Aedesia, Pappus, and Aristarchus of Samos.

There’s been little opportunity to determine the collection’s size with confidence. Papyrus scrolls constituted much of the collection and books started to be popular only after around the 4th century. Just a few chapters could take up several scrolls and the material reproduced into books was part of the editorial work. It is believed King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (309–246 B.C.) set as a goal for the library that 500,000 scrolls would be copied. At its pinnacle, the library held, according to estimates, as many as 400,000 scrolls – a collection that required immense storage space.

The library acquired some of its collection by the painstaking copying of original scrolls. Unfortunately, copying eventually leads to errors and the libraries insisted upon caring for the originals. According to Galen of Pergamon, a prominent Greek physician, surgeon, and philosopher in the Roman Empire, books found on incoming ships were taken to the library and listed as “books of the ships.” After official scribes had copied them, the originals were kept in the library, and the copies were given back to the owners. Verified copies made for scholars, royalty, and wealthy patrons provided income for the library. In turn, the library attracted international scholars with travel, lodging, and stipends for their families.

This Latin inscription regarding Tiberius Claudius Balbilus of Rome (d. c. AD 79) mentions the “ALEXANDRINA BYBLIOTHECE” (line eight).

Galen wrote that Ptolemy III once asked the Athenians for permission to borrow some original scripts, most notably those of Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus. The Athenians asked for a deposit of the large sum of fifteen talents (1,000 pounds) of a precious metal. Ptolemy III paid the deposit, but he kept the original scripts and gave the Athenians copies.

The editors at the Library of Alexandria were known for their work on Homeric texts. Many famous editors held the title of head librarian, including Zenodotus, Apollonius of Rhodes, Eratosthenes, Aristophanes of Byzantium, and Aristarchus of Samothrace. Needing to protect the scrolls and improve the patronage, Athenian scholars began looking for a more secure place for the library in the early 2nd century BC. In 145 BC Ptolemy VIII removed all foreign scholars from Alexandria.

Around 48 BC, Julius Caesar is said to have seized the city and set fire to enemy ships in the harbor. The fire spread and destroyed the buildings closest to the harbor, including the library. The library remained viable to a degree until its contents were completely lost when Emperor Aurelian (270–275 AD) captured the city. During the battle, the area of the city in which the main library was located was ruined.

5th-century scroll which illustrates the destruction of the Serapeum by Theophilus

Pagan worship was outlawed by an edict of Emperor Theodosius I in 391 AD, and Patriarch Theophilus closed the temples of Alexandria. Socrates describes how all pagan temples in Alexandria were destroyed, including the Serapeum, which at one time housed a part of the Great Library.

After the library had been destroyed, scholars used a “daughter library” in the Serapeum temple in another part of the city. According to Socrates, Pope Theophilus of the Orthodox Christian church destroyed the Serapeum in 391 AD, but it is unknown if it contained any of the significant documents from the main library.


Ptolemy ordering the building of the Library of Alexandria

Ptolemy was born in 309 BC, the son of Ptolemy I Soter and Berenice I. He was made co-ruler with his father in 285 BC, maintaining a splendid court in Alexandria, and he became sole ruler when his father died in 282 BC. The succession was smooth and unchallenged, and he was crowned in an elaborate ceremony at the old capital of Memphis to reinforce his pharaonic legacy. He was known to be a particularly aggressive collector of books, paying Athens a massive surety to persuade them to loan him the original manuscripts of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, keeping the originals and sending back copies. These works were stored in the Library of Alexandria, which Ptolemy passionately patronized he oversaw the zenith of the material and literary splendor of Alexandria. He honored his father by creating a festival called the Ptolemaieia, modelled on the Olympic Games and held in Alexandria it helped to confirm alliances and reinforced the grandeur of the name of Ptolemy. Ptolemy shocked the Macedonian and Greek world by marrying his own sister, Arsinoe II, in an unprecedented incestuous marriage, earning him the moniker "Philadelphus" ("sibling-lover") they were compared to Zeus and his sister-wife Hera, or to the Egyptian siblings Isis and Osiris. Ptolemy was also renowned for his victories against the Seleucids, ensuring that Egypt was the undisputed naval master of the eastern Mediterranean. He died on 29 January 246 BC.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus

Ptolemy II Philadelphus (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος Φιλάδελφος, Ptolemaîos Phillphos, 309� BC) was the king of Ptolemaic Egypt from 283 to 246 BC. He was the son of the founder of the Ptolemaic kingdom Ptolemy I Soter and Berenice, and was educated by Philitas of Cos. He had two half-brothers, Ptolemy Keraunos and Meleager, who both became kings of Macedonia (in 281 BC and 279 BC respectively), and who both died in the Gallic invasion of 280-279 BC. Ptolemy was first married to Arsinoë I, daughter of Lysimachus, who was the mother of his legitimate children after her repudiation he married his full sister Arsinoë II, the widow of Lysimachus.

During Ptolemy's reign, the material and literary splendour of the Alexandrian court was at its height. He promoted the Museum and Library of Alexandria, and he erected a commemorative stele, the Great Mendes Stela.

Ptolemy II began his reign as co-regent with his father Ptolemy I from c. 285 BC to c. 283 BC, and maintained a splendid court in Alexandria.

Egypt was involved in several wars during his reign. Magas of Cyrene opened war on his half-brother (274 BC), and the Seleucid king Antiochus I Soter, desiring Coele-Syria with Judea, attacked soon after in the First Syrian War. Two or three years of war followed. Egypt's victories solidified the kingdom's position as the undisputed naval power of the eastern Mediterranean his fleet (112 ships) bore the most powerful naval siege units of the time, guaranteed the king access to the coastal cities of his empire. The Ptolemaic sphere of power extended over the Cyclades to Samothrace, and the harbours and coast towns of Cilicia Trachea, Pamphylia, Lycia and Caria.

In the 270 BCE Ptolemy hired 4,000 Gallic mercenaries (who in 279 BC under Bolgios killed his half-brother Ptolemy Keraunos). According to Pausanias, soon after arrival the Gauls plotted “to seize Egypt,” and so Ptolemy marooned them on a deserted island in the Nile River where “they perished at one another’s hands or by famine.”

The victory won by Antigonus II Gonatas, king of Macedonia, over the Egyptian fleet at Cos (between 258 BC and 256 BC) did not long interrupt Ptolemy's command of the Aegean Sea. In a Second Syrian War with the Seleucid kingdom, under Antiochus II Theos (after 260 BC), Ptolemy sustained losses on the seaboard of Asia Minor and agreed to a peace by which Antiochus married his daughter Berenice (c. 250 BC).

Ptolemy was of a delicate constitution. Elias Joseph Bickermann (Chronology of the Ancient World, 2nd ed. 1980) gives the date of his death as January 29.

Ptolemy's first wife, Arsinoë I, daughter of Lysimachus, was the mother of his legitimate children:

  • Ptolemy III Euergetes, his successor.
  • Lysimachus
  • Berenice Phernopherus, married Antiochus II Theos, king of Syria.

After her repudiation he married his full sister Arsinoë II, the widow of Lysimachus — an Egyptian custom—which brought him her Aegean possessions.

He also had several concubines. With a woman named Bilistiche he had an (illegitimate) son named Ptolemy Andromachou.

He had many mistresses, including Agathoclea (?), Aglais (?) daughter of Megacles, the cupbearer Cleino, Didyme, the Chian harp player Glauce, the flautist Mnesis, the actress Myrtion, the flautist Pothine and Stratonice, and his court, magnificent and dissolute, intellectual and artificial, has been compared with the Versailles of Louis XIV.

Ptolemy deified his parents and his sister-wife after their deaths.

The material and literary splendour of the Alexandrian court was at its height under Ptolemy II. Pomp and splendor flourished. He had exotic animals of far off lands sent to Alexandria, and staged a procession in Alexandria in honor of Dionysus led by 24 chariots drawn by elephants and a procession of lions, leopards, panthers, camels, antelopes, wild asses, ostriches, a bear, a giraffe and a rhinoceros. According to scholars, most of the animals were in pairs - as many as eight pairs of ostriches - and although the ordinary chariots were likely led by a single elephant, others which carried a 7-foot-tall (2.1 m) golden statue may have been led by four.[5] Although an enthusiast for Hellenic culture, he also adopted Egyptian religious concepts, which helped to bolster his image as a sovereign.

Callimachus, keeper of the library, Theocritus, and a host of lesser poets, glorified the Ptolemaic family. Ptolemy himself was eager to increase the library and to patronize scientific research.

The tradition preserved in the pseudepigraphical Letter of Aristeas which connects the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek with his patronage is probably overdrawn. However, Walter Kaiser says, "There can be little doubt that the Law was translated in Philadelphus's time since Greek quotations from Genesis and Exodus appear in Greek literature before 200 BC The language of the Septuagint is more like Egyptian Greek than it is like Jerusalemite Greek, according to some."

Relations with India

Ptolemy is recorded by Pliny the Elder as having sent an ambassador named Dionysius to the Mauryan court at Pataliputra in India, probably to Emperor Ashoka:

"But [India] has been treated of by several other Greek writers who resided at the courts of Indian kings, such, for instance, as Megasthenes, and by Dionysius, who was sent thither by Philadelphus, expressly for the purpose: all of whom have enlarged upon the power and vast resources of these nations." Pliny the Elder, "The Natural History", Chap. 21

He is also mentioned in the Edicts of Ashoka as a recipient of the Buddhist proselytism of Ashoka.

Final Destruction

The final destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria is not really known by historians and archaeologists. There are conflicting primary source accounts and there has been no recovered evidence. However, looking at the trends in history it is possible that the scholars and the works themselves were relocated following the collapse of the Ptolemy dynasty to more safer and religiously and intellectually tolerant regions of the world.

In fact, the idea of a massive and sudden destruction of millions of ancient works and a snuffing out of ancient wisdom may be a fantasy in and of itself. We have the surviving theories of many researchers who lived and worked in Alexandria which suggests many of the key concepts and ideas were disseminated throughout the world long before the destruction of the library.

However, by the time of the era of Christianity the practices of Paganism were outlawed and the study of certain subjects and materials was limited. The Roman Emperor engaged genocidal campaigns and destroyed and defaced monuments during this period which would have forced many of the scholars to flee. Other events that are attributed to the destruction of the Library are an attack by Aurelian in the 270s CE and later the decree of Coptic Pope Theophilus in 391 CE which saw the destruction of the Serapeum.

Burning of the Library of Alexandria (391 CE) - Hutchinsons History of the Nations (1910)

Lots of works were probably burned by the religious zealots and there are some theories that the Christians destroyed the library. Regardless by 6th century CE the Persians had conquered Egypt and brought with them the religion of Islam and the final destruction of the Library of Alexandria. It is widely believed that the Persians during this period destroyed the library during the sack of Alexandria.

Destruction of the Serapeum - Theophilus (5th Century)

Upon invasion by the Islamics, they ordered that any book that did not match their faith destroyed. Even if the book did match their faith they ordered it destroyed because it was unnecessary. According to ancient accounts the Arabic leaders ordered all of the great works of the Library of Alexandria burned. Regardless of the content, the Library did not survive this second round of religious purging and eventually the ruins most likely fell into the ocean during an earthquake since the library was constructed at the shoreline.

Overall we can interpret that the Library died a slow death, between the burning of Caesar, the warfare, the lack of funding eventually the works may have even been moved if they were at risk of getting destroyed. Whatever was left was eventually destroyed by the religious zealots and finished off for good by the Muslims.


Destruction of Library of Alexandria meant a huge loss of knowledge and significantly slowed down progress of humanity.

For example Librarians knew the Sun and not the Earth was center of our solar system. They knew Earth was round.

It took another thousand years and geniuses such as Galileo and courageous explorers such as Columbus and Magellan to discover the truth again.

Imagine at which stage of technological and scientific development our society would be right now!

To this very day destruction of Library of Alexandria symbolizes loss of knowledge due to political or religious reasons.

Watch the video: H νέα βιβλιοθήκη της Αλεξάνδρειας-The new Library - Alexandria-Egypt


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