Library of Alexandria
Library of Alexandria

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Library of Alexandria

Gregory Bar Hebraeus/Abu’l Faraj, Chronicum Syriacum

Pearse, R. (2010) ‘Bar Hebraeus, Abd al-Latif, and the desctruction of the library of Alexandria’, Thoughts on Antiquity, Patristics, Putting Things Online, Freeform of Speech, Information Access, and More [Online]. Available at (Accessed 9 June 2014).

In those days Yahya al-Nahwi, who was known as Grammaticus in our language, enjoyed fame among Arabs. He was a resident of Alexandria and a Jacobite Christian who ascribed to the Savari creed. In his last days he renounced the Christian faith, and all Christian scholars of Egypt gathered around him and advised him to recant, but he did not. When the scholars were disappointed they stripped him of all the offices that he held. He lived in that condition until Amr ibn al As (the Muslim commander of the army conquering Egypt) entered Egypt [in 641 A.D.].

One day Yahya went to see him. Amr came to know about his learning and scholarship and he paid him great respect. He began a discourse on philosophical issues which were unknown to Arabs. His speech made a deep impression on Amr and he became fond of him. As Amr was an intelligent, wise and thoughtful man, he made Yahya his companion, never parting his company.

One day Yahya said to Amr, “Whatever there is in Alexandria is in your control. As to things that are useful for you we have nothing to do with them, but as to those which you may not need, my request is that you favour us by putting them at our disposal, for we deserve them more than anyone else.” Amr asked him what they were. He said: “They are the books on wisdom and philosophy that are stored in the state library.”

Amr replied that he could not decide the matter himself but had to seek the Caliph’s instructions in this regard. Accordingly, he informed the Caliph of the matter and asked for instructions. The Caliph wrote: “If those books are in agreement with the Quran, we have no need of them; and if these are opposed to the Quran, destroy them.”

After receiving the reply Amr began dismantling the library. At his orders, the books were distributed among the public baths of Alexandria. Thus in a period of six months all the books were burnt and destroyed. Believe it, and do not be amazed.

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