In the history of mankind, there is one single, great source seen as the combined work of human knowledge.  The most complete records on math, science, literature, and history all contained in one central location. No, not Wikipedia – we’re talking about the legendary Library of Alexandria.

Demetrius of Phaleron, a Greek writer/philosopher, and student of Aristotle, originally founded the Library in the 3rd Century BCE. Far from just a collection of books, the Library of Alexandria was meant to house the world’s collected knowledge, and serve as a place of discussion, debate, and discovery. Much like modern day computers, the Library contained all of the most precious data to society. Meeting halls and studies were included, in addition to hundreds of thousands of documents from every corner of the civilized world. Ships visiting the port at Alexandria were even required to lend their books to the Library, so that their scribes could copy them for future study.

Sometime between the 1st century BCE and the 7th century CE the library was burned in a series of massive fires, resulting in the near total loss of the archive’s contents. Instead of being remembered for the innumerable tomes and scrolls stored in the Library, the legacy has become more about its destruction; a destruction which remains a topic hotly debated by historians to this day.

However it happened, one of the greatest troves of human knowledge was irrecoverably lost to time, and had an untold impact on the advancement of human society.  We’ll probably never know exactly how much information was irrevocably lost, but if they’d had an off-site backup, scrolls stored safely on the other side of the empire, perhaps the world would look very different today.

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Sources:

  1. Wikipedia, Library of Alexandria
  2. Straight Dope, What happened to the great Library of Alexandria?