The Lost Libraries:
* During the Hellenistic Period (323-31BC) there were several major libraries in the Mediterranean world, the greatest being the Library of Alexandria, established about 300BC – it was damaged in 48BC and probably destroyed in the reign of the Roman Emperor Aurelian (270-275AD).
* Alexandria’s closest rival was the library at Pergamum, a Greek city in what is now Turkey. The library at Pergamum was said to house over 200,000 works of history, literature, poetry and more. The precise fate of the contents of the library are unknown. One version has it that Mark Antony gave all of the works to Cleopatra for the Library of Alexandria as a wedding present. Another version suggests that Mark Antony sent the collection at Pergamum to Cleopatra as a reimbursement for the destruction of the Library of Alexandria by Julius Caesar. We will probably never know the exact fate of these works, but, suffice it to say, they have been lost.
* The Roman conquest of the kingdom of Macedon in 168 BC led to the seizure of its imperial library, which was taken to Rome.
* During the Roman Empire, major libraries were built in Rome, often with separate buildings to hold Latin and Greek works – a catalogue of Rome’s buildings from c. 350AD, 60 years before the city was burnt and looted by the Visigoths, lists 29 public libraries in the city, all now lost.
We have perhaps only some 10% of the major works of classical literature, according to Professor Robert Fowler with Bristol University, an expert on ancient literature. Most works in most genres have been lost.
A representative sample of these losses includes:
Aeschylus – only 7 of his 80 plays survive
Aristophanes – 11 out of 40 plays survive
Ennius – his epic poem Annales, is almost entirely lost
Euripides – 18 of his 90 plays survive
Livy – three-quarters of his History of Rome are lost
Sappho – most of her nine books of lyric poems are lost
Sophocles – only 7 entire plays survive of 120 he wrote