Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library

Here’s an excellent reminder of the level of knowledge and education that existed some 2000 years ago. Hadrian’s Library, built in 132 AD, was a repository for rolls of papyrus – the equivalent of books then – and state archives.

It boasted reading rooms inside for those who visited, as well as lecture halls that hosted lively philosophical discussions, attesting to the ongoing progress of Ancient Greece well into the 2ndcentury AD. There may have been as much as 16,800 books or scrolls stored in the library’s niches.

Built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, this was the largest library in the city and was impressive by any standards. The historic travel writer Pausinias described it as “the building with 100 columns of Phrygian marble, with halls with painted ceilings, alabaster walls, and niches with statues, in which books were kept”.

Sadly in 267 AD an invading East Germanic tribe, the Heruli, destroyed much of the library as part of the fortifying walls of the city. It was rebuilt between 407 and 412 AD and reclaimed its glory for a time, but with the demise of the Roman civilization and Greek philosophy, coupled with the systematic destruction of all that was not Christian, the building withered away. One early Christian church and then another arose in its place.

Nonetheless, enough traces remain of the once outstanding building with its interior courtyard, which once had 100 columns, a pond, mosaic floors, gardens, and statues of Athena and Hadrian. An inscription on the ruins still points to the opening hours of the library, ‘from the first hour till the sixth’.

Contact us: nature (at)