Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Loot, Plunder, and a New Public Library

Libraries, like most educational institutions, often have to engage in fund raising to raise money to either continue operations or to enhance services. This development work may take many forms. However, how about the raid and plunder approach?

Bobinski (1994) wrote that the first recorded instance of library philanthropy goes back to Roman history. It can be traced to 39 B.C. In that year, Gaius Asinius Pollio built the first known public library in history by the Forum in Rome. The bequest was entirely funded by Pollio's defeat and plunder of the Parthini in Illyria!

I can not be certain that this is the first true public library. I am not convinced that this was the first library primarily funded by war, loot, and plunder either. After all, Wikipedia notes another form of questionable library collection development from about the same time, "Mark Antony was supposed to have given Cleopatra over 200,000 scrolls for the Library of Alexandria as a wedding gift. These scrolls were taken from the great Library of Pergamum, decimating its collection." Anthony was probably not the first to help build a library in this manner.

I guess I can not judge Gaius Asinius Pollio too harshly. There are thousands of examples of looting, conquest, and plunder in the ancient world. How much of this ill gained treasure went into funding libraries? Very little I guess so I will give Gaius Asinius Pollio some credit for library philanthropy.


Bobinski, G.S. (1994). Library philanthropy. In W.A Wiegand and D.G. Davis (Eds.), Encyclopedia of library history. New York: Garland Publishing.

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