Friday, June 02, 2006

Alexandria's ancient university

Here's something I missed.

Back in 2004, a Polish-Egyptian joint archaeological campaign dug up what Grzegory Majderek, quoted in the NY Times archive called ''the first material evidence of the existence of academic life in Alexandria.''

Alexandria was one of the greatest cities of the Graeco-Roman world, and the site of a early and prominent "Museum," or temple of all the Muses, divine sponsors of the arts and sciences; associated with the Museum was the great Library for whose destruction so many have been blamed for. The early Ptolemaic (Macedonian) monarchs of Egypt were great patrons of scholarship and Alexandria continued as an intellectual center long after the Romans took over.

As this article in Egypt's Al-Ahram points out, the location of the Library is still a mystery, but something really exciting has recently emerged: a complex of small auditoriums suitable for lectures, associated with a larger theatre/lecture hall that would hold as many people as the all the smaller ones together. The whole complex is interpreted as an academic institution with substantial facilities for lectures and student oratorical presentations.

One of the most interesting things is that this "University of Alexandria" was in this flourishing state after the banning of pagan worship by Christian emperors -- the complex is dated to the fifth through seventh centuries. The seventh-century Persian invasion damaged the baths in the neighborhood and some of the buildings were incorporated in an early cemetary after the Arab conquest.

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