Libraries in pre-Islamic era.

By Professor Dr. Saadat Saeed Urdu Department

Ankara university Turkey


 It is generally said that libraries came into existence after the invention of paper and printing machine. This is not true. Before attaining these modern methods of preserving knowledge at the dawn of human culture near the banks of rivers Nile, Dajla, Farat and Indus in the ancient periods, man used to record his views and visions on animal skin, palm leaves, bones, tablets of clay, pots, and pieces of pots etc. For our convenience we can call such a place, a library where these records were kept.

Raees Samdani in one of his Urdu books entitled " Ehd- e - Qadeem Kay Kutab Khane" (Libraries in old period) writes:  From the tombs of Egyptian kings in the valley of Niles such rolls of leather kept in the clay jars have been discovered on which histories of families, interesting travelogues and humour stories were written. These documents are still preserved in the British Museum. It could easily be presumed that man even at that time had begun to preserve his cultural assets. The first and oldest library is said to have been founded by the old Egyptian king Azfandyas. This fact has not been proved and demands further research. Library of Ashore Bani Paul is considered to be the first and oldest library in the world. The clay tablets dug out from the palace of King Ashor Bani Paul carrying some inscriptions in the Mekhi script stand proof thereof. These tablets have been preserved in the British Museum. Raees further states that geologists in 1850 discovered 22,000 clay tablets written in or before 626 BC. These tablets were dug out from the Asore Bani Paul's Palace who was the king of Babylon. The length of these tablets as told by research scholars is 11" to 13". Paul's library is considered to be the second oldest library in the world. Ashore Bani Paul and Sargan the second founded and arranged it. The material in it was in order. The history of library classification also begins from this library. Its librarian is said to be the first classifier in the world. The material in this library was divided into two separate sections. In one section the material about earth sciences was kept and the other was based on human sciences such as state law, dictionaries, historical incidents and epic poetry. The clay tablets are considered to be the books of this library. Writing on these clay tablets began in 2400 B.C. The librarian of this library was called man of the written tablets. Giving the detail of libraries in ancient Greece the writer points out that soon after Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations Greeks began their struggle to become the great nation of the world. Because of the sheer that besides language the art of writing had become popular in this period. We locate a great number of libraries in the world. Ancient Greece was the land of great scholars. Many Muslim philosophers and theologians translated their books. S. M. Afnan writes in the first chapter of his book Philosophical Terminology in Arabic and Persian, that when Arabic philosophical writings first appeared the language had already undergone considerable development. Classical Arabic had been different from the spoken tongue since the earliest days. Among its oldest specimens are Jahilliyah poetry composed in a literary dialect understood but not spoken by the respective tribes. Although the authenticity of these poems has been challenged on the basis that they "could never have been written before the appearance of Qur'an, it may be assumed that a good part is genuine. The expressions are naturally of a concrete and local character depicting nomadic life. There is a marked lack of abstract terms except for such notions as love, honour, bravery, generosity and the like. Yet the vocabulary already betrays the presence of foreign words. This was the result of infiltration and due to contact with neighbouring peoples. North of them were the Armenians. It has been observed "almost all the concepts related to civilization are expressed in Arabic by Armenian words." In Yemen, Persian garrisons had been stationed for long. At about the same time words of Greek origin started to percolate into Arabic, though to a decidedly lesser extent. The trilingual inscriptions of Syriac, Greek and Aramaic at Zabad and bilingual of Greek and Arabic at Harran are proof of the languages prevalent in the region. The local dialect of Palmyra was intermixed with Greek. Public acts were set up in both Aramaic and Greek. The Nabateans who were Arabic in speech and Aramaic in writing presumably spoke Greek as well. And later at the court of the Ghassanids Arabic and Greek speaking merchants using the trade routes that passed through the kingdom associated freely. Arab sources frequently refer to the cultural influences which reached them through Hirah. Notwithstanding these channels the general opinion is that the Greek words absorbed in Arabic in the early days were mostly by way of Aramaic and Syriac."

We cannot deny the fact that the history of ancient Greece is the history of knowledge. It produced a great number of philosophers, poets, scholars, theologians, doctors, scientists and politicians. Research scholars traced several libraries belonging to the B.C era here. They claim that it was Greece where the sections of classification and evaluation of books were founded. Aristotle and Plato categorized knowledge. It is said that their classification of knowledge is considered to be the initial classification in the world.

Pisistratus, an Athenian son of Hippocrates is said to have been the first person in Greece who collected a library in Athens to which he "generously allowed public access." Samdani says "till 403 BC many libraries were founded in Athens. Aristotle was the first person who founded a public library in Greece. Before his period the libraries used to be the personal assets of the kings and priests.

Aristotle himself had a big collection of books which he had purchased from one of his pupils. Research scholars declare it to be the first university library.

This library had many rare and commonly unavailable manuscripts.

The famous library and museum of Alexandria came into existence by the order of Ptolemy Soter.