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Ancient Libraries: 000s CE

paper making process wikimedia commonsLet's explore the foundations of paper making in China and the library of Edfu.

Although paper existed before this time, a standardized process was developed at the beginning of the Common Era (CE).

In 105 CE, the Chinese eunuch T'sai Lun (Cai Lun or Jingzhong) invented paper and the paper-making process still used in modern times.

Liu Xin (Liu Xiu) (ca. 50 BCE - 23 CE)

Lui Xin was a Chinese astronomer, mathematician, writer, historian, and editor. Among other achievements, he created a new astronomical system identifying accurate information about the length of the year and moon cycles. He also was the first to accurately calculate pi as 3.1457.

During the Xin Dynasty, Lui Xin compiled The Seven Epitomes. This project was a catalogue of all books housed in the Inner Court. Containing over six hundred annotated entries, the work was organized according to a seven category classification system.

Taixue or Imperial University Library

In the first few centuries of the Common Era, scribes copied bamboo books onto paper making cheap copies available. However not everyone thought the copies were correct.

During the reign of Cai Yong (132CE-192CE), government stone-carved versions of the Five Classics were created and placed along the roadside of the Taixue or Imperial University because some were concerned that the academics were changing the original texts. Of course, the version selected for the project was one sanctioned by the government to serve its purposes.

Wiki Comm CC A-SA Editor at LargeThe forty-six stones contained more than 200,000 characters. The stones were used to make copies "by stretching a moistened paper across the stone, brushing it into every character carved into the stele. After the paper was dry, ink was applied across it. This would leave blank the places where the paper had been pushed into the carved stone, producing a sheet of white writing on a black background" (Lerner, 1999, 41-42.)

The image on the right shows one of these stones.

Read Casson (2001, 48-60, 80-123).

Read more at History of Paper in Wikipedia.


Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Jiang, Shuyong (2007). Into the source and history of Chinese culture: knowledge classification in Ancient China. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(1), 1-20.

Temple of Edfu, wikimedia PDTemple of Edfu Archive or Library
Edfu, Egypt

Located on the Nile, the Temple of Edfu was built between 237 and 57 BCE during the Greco-Roman period. Like many temples of this time, a small room of the temple was devoted to books and rolls.

According to Hussein (1972),

"Two institutions could have served as depositories: the 'mansion of books' and the 'mansion of life'. 'Mansion of books' was the designation both for the archives where books were kept and an adminstrative office...

The 'mansion of life' was more than a library—it was a kind of university. Here books of all kinds were not only collected and classified, they were also written and handed down to the younger generation. It was the place where all branches of knowledge were cultivated and taught. The term 'mansion of life' also indicated that its prupose was primarily the custodianship of religious texts and the celebration of rites connected with the preservation of the king's life and that of Osiris."

Book Binding

Bookbinding was also developed during this time. Originating in India, religious texts were bound by sewing palm leaves with twine using a metal stylus. Buddhist monk traveling throughout what is now the Middle East and Asia sharing the craft of bookbinding.


Hussein, Muhammad Abmad (1972). Origins of the Book: Egypt's Contributions to the Development of the Book from Papyrus to Codex. Translated by Dorothy Jaechke and Douglas Sharp. New York Graphic Society.

Tsuen-Hsuin, Tsien (1952). A history of bibliographic classification in China. The Library Quarterly, 22, 307-324.

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