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The Beginnings of Libraries: 1200s BCE

Manuscript from Shanghai wikimedia commons PDLet's explore the beginnings of writing in China and the libraries of Syria.

It's difficult to pinpoint the beginnings of writing in particular locations because much of the evidence was destroyed. However early writing from ancient China exists from this time period. Chinese characters were brushed on bamboo or wooden strips as early as 1250 BCE and used until paper became common in the 4th century CE. The images on the right are dated from 300 BCE.

Because the papyrus paper used by the Egyptians was perishable, it's difficult to identify libraries that may have existed during this time period. For instance, Ramses II may have built a library during his reign from 1279 BCE to 1213 BCE, but no records exist.

The writings most commonly found for this time period are those recorded on clay tablets because of their durability.

Palace Library
Ugarit, Syria

An ancient port city on the Mediterranean, Ugarit was home to a number of small libraries including a palace library, temple library and two private libraries. Containing legal, economic, diplomatic, religious, and literary texts, the tablets were written in a number of different languages. The libraries were likely to exist around 1200 BCE near the end of the city's existence.

The image below shows the Ugarit alphabet created using cuneiform writing on a clay tablet.

22 Alphabet Wikimedia Commons PD

Mythological poem Baal death Wikimedia Commons PDThe most important tablets of this area and time period are the Baal Cycle. Written in the language of Ugaritic, the series of clay tablets contain stories about the Canaanite god Baal, also known as Hadad. The photo on the right shows a tablet of this series and contains a mythological poem about death.

Learn more about the Baal cycle at Wikipedia.



Casson, Lionel (2001). Libraries of the Ancient World. Yale University.


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