15000 BCE : Urbanization. Folks throughout the Fertile Crescent and Tigris-Euphrates Valley opt out of a crushing existence of hunting, gathering and banging rocks together on the wind-swept plains. Rather, they construct a rigidly hierarchical society in which 95-99% of the populace is tied to the land by caste, fealty and awe-struck fear of the supernatural. Woo hoo!

3200 BCE : Writing seems to develop concurrently and independently among the Sumerians, Elamites and Egyptians - moving from rigid cuneiform in the case of the Western nations, all the way through to hieroglyphic representation with the Egyptians (though there was some element of syllabic writing with the Egyptian's non-ceremonial scripts). Baked clay tablets and styli from river reeds are the tools of choice in the Near East. Hammurabi establishes a written law code.

2500 BCE : The baked clay thing also helps preserve the written record from that era, insofar as everyone and their dog is out burning down cities and temples in this era, when thankfully paper hadn't been invented yet. For places like the Temple Archive of Ebla in Syria, for example, around this time it seems the best thing you could do for the written tradition was to set fire to the temple it was attached to. That way all the tablets got fired, i.e. baked hard, the priests all ran away and forgot about the site, the sand swallowed the place. Old school preservation. Over 20,000 perfectly preserved stone tablets were discovered at the Ebla site in the late 1960s, most of the tablets being occupied with omens and donations (imagine that, in a temple!), though there is also clear evidence of scholastic research, indexing, classification and cross-referencing in the texts. Minoan civilization takes root on Crete.

2000 BCE : Along the Nile, papyrus comes into use, whereby strips of reed are laid in a crisscross weave pattern, soaked, battered, soaked again, mashed again, until it was all one pulpy mass - then it was laid out to dry. The Egyptians felt this was about as cool a technology as one was liable to find, and promptly ceased innovating to turn their attention to more pressing matters, like expending most of the energy and resources of their society preparing for the death of a single individual. Freedom, horrible Freedom!

1800 BCE : Early alphabetic characters appear in tokens and shards found at Ukarit.

1300 BCE : Israelites fleeing Egypt begin adapting certain elements of the abstract Egyptian writing system to their own use, namely a more efficient, stream-lined and portable writing technology - which soon develops in ancient Hebrew. The literacy rate throughout the Mediterranean world during the reign of King David, c. 1000 BCE, is estimated to be 1-2 % maximum.

900 BCE : Phoenician alphabet formalized. Language transcription and bilingual word-lists for cross-cultural translation are first put into use. Scholars pinpoint this era as the approximate date for the composition of The Iliad of Homer.

800 BCE : Greek alphabet begins to develop after contact with Phoenician texts (except the vowels, which the Greeks seemed to dream up on their own). Most of these scripts seem to filter through the Greek Islands of the Aegean Sea (known as the Cretan Linear Scripts) which become the forerunners to the alphabetic systems of Greek, Aramaic and Arabian.

721 BCE : Assyrians conquer Israelites and destroy the Temple of Jerusalem. Evidence of private tablet collections among priests and officials in Babylon ('cause there ain't nothing like curling up with a good clay tablet according to Assurbanipal, who amasses one of the first large libraries of the era). The Library of Ninevah is the first to codify the text of the Enuma Elish, otherwise known as the Epic of Gilgamesh . The City of Rome is founded.

580 BCE : The first copy of Homer's Iliad is put into written form at the behest of Pisistratus of Athens - who is presumably trying to get something official in writing to kick off any number of city ceremonies he's now called upon to preside over now that he's been made tyrant ('The Rise of Pisistratus' : Herodotus 1.56-68). Soon after, Pisistratus establishes the Tragedy Competition in Athens as part of the Festival of Dionyssus. He even goes so far as to put out a bounty for lost lines or sections of Homer's works (just like our XP system) so that he's sure the texts are authoritative (sadly, most of those texts were lifted by Xerxes and carted back to Persia as booty about a century later). However, it should be kept in mind oral tradition, memory and verbal communication were still far more prevalent forms of knowledge exchange in most peoples' lives.

581 BCE : The Kingdom of Judah falls to Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. Beginning of Babylonian Captivity.

530-500 BCE : Rise of the Persian Empire. Aeschylus born. Pythagoras dies.

450-399 BCE : A scroll market begins to flourish among the stalls of Athens commerce, according to Eupolis. A finishing school for letters is established for the affluent children of Athenian landowners. Socrates (who lived during this period) is later said by Plato to have complained in his Apologia that "anyone can buy Anaxagoras' works for a drachama." This was apparently a bad thing. Xenophon, meanwhile, writes in his Anabasis that an entire shipment of books meant for export is lost at sea. Also in this period the first large private libraries are noted. Poetic works are now in high demand and literacy in Greece is believed in this period to have risen to near 10%. See E. G. Turner's Athenian Books in the Fifth and Forth Centuries BC (London, 1977) or L. D. Reynold's Scribes and Scholars (Oxford, 1991).

335 BCE : Celts invade Roman territory for the first time, are repelled, and so cross to Ireland to settle.

335 BCE : Aristotle founds Academy at Athens. Alexander the Great starts wreaking havoc throughout the Mediterranean world, invading Egypt and eventually extending the Greek colonies as far present-day Afghanistan.

323 BCE : Alexander dies abroad. Aristotle is executed at home. The Greek Empire is divided among Alexander's generals: 1. Ptolemy (who inherits Egypt), 2. Selencus (who later siezes Babylon), and 3. Antigonus (who founds Antioch), Antipater and Eumenes).

295 BCE : Demetrius Phalereus, philosopher and ruler of Athens, is driven into exile by the powerful son of Antigonus. Demetrius flees to Alexandria, becoming a valuable advisor to Ptolemy, who has just begun to consolidate power in Egypt. Ptolemy is of course a former Greek General and considers himself a refined Athenian at heart. Therefore, the two opt to begin the construction of a Library and Museum in Alexandria.

285 BCE : Ptolemy I 'Soter' (Savior) moves his son, Ptolemy II 'Philadephus' in line for the throne. Ptolemy I dies soon after (283 BCE) and his son builds the Lighthouse of Alexandria on the harbor island of Pharos as a memorial. Demetrius (who was a pupil of Aristotle) lends all his powers to the new young king, and the two quickly set to the task of finishing the Great Library. At first they begin to collect only materials on statesmanship and other nations, but Ptolemy II soon decrees his desire to have a copy of every book in the known world. The standardization and translation of texts begins en masse. Punctuation and accentuation begin to develop. Zenodotus writes his Life of Homer , now lost.

274-270 BCE : War between the Syrians and Egyptians. During Ptolemy II's reign, he dispatches agents to retrieve the collected manuscripts and teachings of Aristotle, which had been entrusted to Theophrastus (d.284 BCE), then were willed to Neleus (who had been expected to become the head of Aristotle's School in Athens, only to be rebuked at the last moment). Political pressure on the outspoken Neleus forced him into exile and by the time Ptolemy's agents arrived, he'd grown deeply cynical about all political motives. He sold them Aristotle's 'library' and was paid handsomely, but it was only years after the exchange that scholars in Alexandria discovered these were just books that had been owned by Aristotle, not written by him. All the manuscripts, lessons, dialogues and poems instead were passed onto to Neleus' sons, who later buried and forgot them. See L. Canfora's The Vanished Library (London, 1987).

264-241 BCE : Rome vs. Carthage : Punic Wars begin.

246-221 BCE : Democratic Revival in Athens and Sparta. Ptolemy III Euergentes orders the confiscation of books off any ships docked in the harbor of Alexandria. The books are then copied, the duplicates returned to the vessels, and the originals passed on to the Museion. The king also took the sneaky tack by 'borrowing' the Athenian archives' copies of Sophocles and Euripides. He then forfeited the 15 talents of silver which Alexandria had offered as a deposit and returned copies to Athens. For notes on this entire period, see http://www.houseofptolemy.org.

196 BCE : Establishment of library at Pergamum, or Pergamon, by Attalus. The library also boasts a vast botanical garden and zoological collection, while still focusing primarily on the fields of Homer, geometry and art. Crates of Mallos becomes the chief scholar there and begins actively trying to lure writers and researchers away from Alexandria. For a time, this competition heats to the point where Aristophanes is jailed by Ptolemy IV for attempting to 'defect'. Book culture soon comes into vogue in among the Romans (c.168 BCE) as generals like Aemilius Paullus and Lucius Cornelius Sulla begin to return from conquests abroad with vast bounties of books. This trend proceeds at such pace that Seneca writes "...what is the use of having countless books whose titles their owners can scarcely read." (De Tranquillitate Animi, or On the Tranquility of Mind 9. 4-7) See Lerner's The Story of Libraries (NY: Continuum, 1999) p.32.

190 BCE : Parchment skin begins to be used in areas with plentiful livestock. Egypt begins to restrict its export of papyrus in hope of controlling the medium. The Septuagint is translated in Alexandria from Hebrew into Greek. The Roman armies defeat Antiochus at Maguesia. In Alexandria, Aristarchus completes his editions of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, dividing each into 24 parts, the basis of the traditional text.

67 BCE : Cicero and Varro push for public libraries to be built in Rome. Syria and Macedonia are now both Roman provinces.

48-47 BCE : The Alexandrian War brings Julius Caesar to Egypt. According to Livy and Dion Cassius, 40, 000 scrolls are accidentally destroyed on the docks of the harbor of Alexandria when Caesar orders his troops to fire the Egyptians' ships after they try to trap his own boats. However, historians mostly conclude these scrolls could have had little connection to the Museion collection if they were sitting in warehouses, so they were most likely commercial records or books for export, not part of the Library of Alexandria.

31 BCE : Julius Caesar has been dead five years. The battle of Actium leaves Octavian the supreme ruler of Rome, her first Emperor. Egypt has become a Roman province. The first public libraries begin to be built in Rome under Augustus (Octavian) and overseen by Gaius Asinius Pollio, a friend of Vergil and Horace. The first library is raised next to the Forum and includes a massive collection of Greek and Latin scrolls. Soon the Portico of Octavia and Temple of Apollo on the Palantine are under construction (the former still stands, the latter destroyed by fire in 192 AD). Pliny founds another library in Comum.

27 BCE : All of Greece is annexed under the power of the Roman Senate. Caecilius Eprita establishes a public school for grammar and the literature of Vergil, Cicero, Horace and Lucan.

67 CE : Nero fiddles while Rome burns. He also frees Greece from Roman rule soon after.

100-140 CE : Papyrus has spread throughout the Mediterranean, from the Nile to Syria and Babylon. Around this time, paper is being invented in China (though it's going to take another six centuries to reach the Near East, and won't hit Europe until about the 12th century). Aulus Gelius' Attic Nights, a 20 vol. compendium of learning and history, is written around this time (most of the work survives, though the 8th and sections of the 12th vol. have not come down to us). Gelius writes of an extensive antiquarian book trade in Rome at this time.

150-230 CE: The codex book now begins to displace the scroll in many places. This period also marks the apex of the power of the Roman Empire as it extends from Syria to Egypt to Spain to Scotland. The fineries of rhetoric and oration become the cornerstones of Roman education. Septimius Severus grants Alexandria its own Senate, though the city (and most of Egypt) soon falls under the control of Queen Zenobia. In 270, Aurelian sacks the city and supresses her revolt.

300 CE : Codex vellum books (as opposed to papyrus scrolls) are now beginning to present a major problem for librarians as each must decide whether or not to convert their collections over to the new, more 'robust' and portable platform. The work involved in recopying the scrolls into codices means that only some materials make the costly transition. As a result, thousands of different titles we know to have existed at one point do not survive today in either manuscript or transmitted (recopied, abridged or translated) form. At the same time, as the Empire begins to contract from its borders, many educated men and women begin to gravitate towards the retreat from urban or military life offered by monasticism, which as a movement begins to spread throughout the Roman World from Syria and Egypt.

312 CE : Diocletian legislates freedom of worship for Christians, while at the same time Saint Gregory of Nazianzus writes extensively on the prejudice of Christian writers against the great pagan poets. The process of canonization and a set curriculum is now reinforced strictly throughout the Empire (or what remains of the Empire at this point).

364 CE : Saint Basil writes his treatise For the Young on How They Might Derive Profit from Hellenic Literature after newly converted Emperor Justian bans the study of pagan authors. Contemporary writers in this period indicate there may have been as many as 28 public libraries operating in Rome at this time. However, Jovian is said to have ordered a library in Antioch (assembled in Julian's honor) destroyed during the same period. See C.A. Forbes in Transactions of the American Philological Association : 67, 1936, p. 114-125, or W. Speyer's B├╝chervemichtung und Zenser des Geistes bei Heiden, Juden und Christen (Suttgart, 1981).

c. 380 CE : Saint Augustine of Hippo writes The City of God. The Vatican becomes the center of the Roman Catholic faith as it slowly absorbs the dress, mannerisms and infrastructure of the decaying Roman Empire. The Ambrosian Iliad and the Vatican Vergil, some of the earliest examples of manuscript illumination, are written during this period in Rome or Southern Italy. Finally, the first version of the Vulgate Bible is compiled by Saint Jerome. Theophilus of Alexandria and his Christian community riot in the streets, destroying the Serapeum and other pagan sites.

410 CE : The Sack Of Rome by Alaric the Goth. Split of the Roman Empire into East and West. The process of Christianizing the influx of Germanic tribes is already well underway as the Roman noble classes withdraw from civic life almost entirely to live in their rural villas around Italy. Roman schools in Antioch, Beirut and Gaza are closed as the effective borders of the Empire begin to recede and even Britain is abandoned by the Roman Legions. Hypatia is lynched by a Christian mob on the steps of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Augustine publishes his Confessions.

432 CE : Saint Patrick, an Irish peasant taken as a slave boy to England by Roman legionnaires (and there known as Patricus) returns to Ireland a literate and Christian priest. Death of Saint Augustine.

493 CE : Theodoric the Ostrogoth brings to peace to Italy by making peace between the Romans and Gothic tribes. Private collections and senatorial libraries now make up by far the largest collections of books in the realm as all public institutions, including libraries, continue to drastically decline. Interest in higher education as a component of public life also begins to wane. The Iconoclast Controversy begins to spread through the Eastern Empire, forbidding all graven images and leading to the exile of many scholars.

529 CE : Emperor Justinian closes the Academy of Athens. The Dark Ages officially begin.
Classical Sources :
Aristea : Letters, 9- 10, 187-294; Epiphanius, De mensurius et ponderibus; Galen, XVII. I; Pliny, Naturalis historica, XXX, 4; Seneca, Suasoriae, I, 10; Dion Cassius, LXXVII, 7: Photius, Bibliotheca, 265 : p461b, 31; John of Lydia, De Mensibus, I, 28.

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