Eumenes of Pergamum

Library of Pergamum

Library of Pergamum in Pergamum, Turkey, was one of the most important libraries in the ancient world.

The City of Pergamum

Founded in the Hellenistic Age, Pergamum or Pergamom was an important ancient Greek city, located in Anatolia. It is now the site of the modern Turkish town, Bergama. Ruled by the Attalid dynasty, the city rose to prominence as an administrative center under King Eumenes II of Pergamum, who formed an alliance with the Roman Empire, severing ties with the Greeks.

Under the rule of Eumenes II, Pergamum was a wealthy, developing city with a population of over 200,000 people. Culturally it was rivaled only by the cities of Alexandria and Antioch. Many important works of sculpture and architecture were produced at this time, including the Great Altar of Pergamum. Upon the death of Attalus III, son of Eumenes II, in 133 BC, Pergamum was bequeathed to the Roman Empire. After the fall of Rome, Pergamum became part of the Ottoman Empire.

Pergamum was also an important city in the New Testament and was mentioned by St. John as one of the Seven Churches of Revelation in the Book of Revelation. The ruins of Pergamum and its library are now major archaeological sites in Turkey.

The Library of Pergamum

Pergamum was home to a library said to house approximately 200,000 volumes, according to the writings of Plutarch. Built by Eumenes II and situated at the northern end of the Acropolis, it became one of the most important ancient libraries. Legend has it that Mark Antony later gave Cleopatra all of the 200,000 volumes at Pergamum for the Library at Alexandria as a wedding present, emptying the shelves and ending the dominance of the Library at Pergamum. No index or catalog of the holdings at Pergamum exists today, making it impossible to know the true size or scope of this collection.

Historical accounts claim that the library possessed a large main reading room, lined with many shelves. An empty space was left between the outer walls and the shelves to allow for air circulation. This was intended to prevent the library from becoming overly humid in the warm climate of Anatolia and can be seen as an early attempt at library preservation. Manuscripts were written on parchment, rolled, and then stored on these shelves. A statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, stood in the main reading room.


Pergamum is credited with being the home and namesake of parchment (charta pergamena). Prior to the creation of parchment, manuscripts were transcribed on papyrus, which was produced only in Alexandria. When the Ptolemies of Egypt refused to export any more papyrus to Pergamum, King Eumenes II commanded that an alternative source be found. This led to the production of parchment, which is made out of a thin sheet of sheep or goat skin. Parchment reduced the Roman Empire’s dependency on Egyptian papyrus and allowed for the increased dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe and Asia. The introduction of parchment also greatly expanded the holdings of the Library of Pergamum.


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