ancient alexandria

Hypatia by Scott Burdick, 2009

From the artist:

Hypatia was one of the most famous intellectuals of her day - philosopher, mathematician, inventor. People from all across the Roman Empire traveled to Alexandria to study with her…

With Hypatia’s death, began the age of Christian Theocracy and the repression of free thought and scientific inquiry. With Hypatia’s death, the Dark Ages officially began.

The painting is meant to be a play on the traditional religious paintings, except, in this case, the martyr is looking up to the light of rational truth while being dragged down toward the darkness of superstition and ignorance.

An Overstuffed Eater’s Plea

Anthologia Palatina 11.9 = Leonidas of Alexandria (1st cent. CE)

Do not again set before me,
When I have done with dinner
And can no longer persuade my belly,
Udders and thin pork-slices.
For rain that’s out of season
Does farm-workers no good
When the harvest has been reaped;
Nor does the West Wind
Avail sailors at all
When they’re already safe in harbor!

Μὴ πάλι μοι μετὰ δόρπον, ὅτ’ οὐκέτι γαστέρα πείθω,
    οὔθατα καὶ χοίρων ἄντα τίθει τεμάχη·
οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐργοπόνοισι μετὰ στάχυν ὄμβρος ἄκαιρος
    χρήσιμος, οὐ ναύταις ἐν λιμένι ζέφυρος. 

Still Life with Dressed Game, Meat, and Fruit, Alexandre-François Desportes, 1734

The Lighthouse of Alexandria, sometimes called the Pharos of Alexandria, was built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom between 280 and 247 BC. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, for many centuries it was one of the tallest man-made structures in the world at about 120-137 meters. Badly damaged by 3 earthquakes between AD 956 and 1323, it became an abandoned ruin. It was the 3rd-longest surviving ancient wonder (after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the Great Pyramid of Giza) until 1480, when the last of its remnant stones were used to build the Citadel of Qaitbay on site. In 1994, French archaeologists discovered remains of the lighthouse on the floor of Alexandria’s Eastern Harbor. The Ministry of State of Antiquities in Egypt planned in 2015 to turn submerged ruins into an underwater museum.


The seven wonders of the ancient world by Te Hu
Hanging gardens of Babylon (Iraq)

Great pyramid of Giza (Egypt)
The lighthouse of Alexandria (Egypt)

Colossus of Rhodes (Greece)
Statue of Zeus at Olympia (Greece)

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Turkey)
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (Turkey)

Painting from the Wardian tomb, depicting a saqia (sakkiyeh) or water wheel driven by two oxen. Reputedly developed by scientists at the famous Library of Alexandria, the device utilized gears to convert the circular motion of the animals into rotation of the vertically positioned water wheel. Roman Period, probably mid 2nd century AD. Now at the Graeco-Roman Museum, Alexandria.

Alexandria (اسكندرية‎‎, Ⲁⲗⲉⲝⲁⲛⲇⲣⲓⲁ) is the 2nd-largest city in Egypt, extending 32 km along the Mediterranean. 80% of Egypt’s imports & exports go through here. Alexandria was the 2nd-most powerful city of the ancient world after Rome. Its Royal Library was once the largest in the world. It’s been established that the library was destroyed by fire on a number of occasions - fires were common and replacement of handwritten manuscripts was very difficult. The new Bibliotheca Alexandrina near the old site was inaugurated in 2002.


The tomb of Alexander the Great was at the very center of Alexandria, the city he founded in Egypt.  It was the most visited site in the ancient world for centuries and a pilgrimage spot for the Roman elite.  It was one of the most commonly described spots in the ancient world, yet in the 4th century, it completely disappeared.  Nobody knows where the tomb is now or where the former location of this famous landmark even was in the city as it exists now.

Ever notice how librarians seem to really be into cats?

That’s not a coincidence.

Have you ever heard of library cats? 

They’re domesticated cats that live in libraries worldwide.

It might seem like some strange new fad, but libraries and cats go way back – waaaaaaay back. 

These furry librarians were first hired around 3rd century BCE at the Ancient Library of Alexandria by a librarian named Petsis to perform an invaluable job: to protect the library’s collection from pests like mice and rats, which are still a bane on libraries everywhere to this day (no matter how clean a library might be).

Here’s a few examples of feline librarians around the globe:

Israel, at Gulbenkian Library; Jerusalem, Israel

Dewey Readmore Books, at Spencer Public Library; Spencer, Iowa, US

NEOS, at the Fairview Campus library of Grande Prairie Regional College;  Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada 

(his namesake is the name of the online catalogue program used by a consortium of public and academic libraries across Alberta; my university library during my undergrad used it, actually) 

Library Cat, at the University of Edinburgh Central Library; Edinburgh, Scotland

Kuzya, at the Novorossiysk Public Library; Novorossiysk, Russia

He’s required to wear a bow tie because as the Assistant Librarian he has to look dapper on the job. (No, really).

Marble portrait of Alexander The Great

Youthful image of the conqueror king

Hellenistic Greek, 2nd-1st century BC, Said to be from Alexandria, Egypt

Literary sources tell us, though perhaps not reliably, that Alexander (reigned 336-323 BC) chose only a few artists to produce his image, and famous names such as the sculptor Lysippos and the painter Apelles were associated with his portraiture. Though none of the famous images have been recovered, many sculptures in different materials, as well as portraits on gemstones and coins, survive. These were mostly produced long after Alexander’s death and while the portraits follow similar general characteristics, they also vary in style.

Alexander was always shown clean-shaven, which was an innovation: all previous portraits of Greek statesmen or rulers had beards. This royal fashion lasted for almost five hundred years and almost all of the Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors until Hadrian were portrayed beardless. Alexander was the first king to wear the all-important royal diadem, a band of cloth tied around the hair that was to become the symbol of Hellenistic kingship.

Earlier portraits of Alexander, in heroic style, look more mature than the portraits made after his death, such as this example. These show a more youthful, though perhaps more god-like character. He has longer hair, a more dynamic tilt of the head and an upward gaze, resembling his description in literary sources.

This head was acquired in Alexandria, the city founded by Alexander in 331 BC, and the location of his tomb. Alexandria was also the capital of the longest surviving Hellenistic dynasty, the Ptolemies. From the time of the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (‘Saviour’) (305-282 BC), Alexander was worshipped as a god and the forefather of the dynasty.

Source: British Museum

Crown suggests Queen Arsinoë II ruled ancient Egypt as female pharaoh
Date: November 29, 2010 Source: University of Gothenburg

Queen Arsinoë II in the Philae temple, Aswan, Egypt.

Researchers are largely agreed on Queen Arsinoë II’s importance from the day that she was deified. She was put on a level with the ancient goddesses Isis and Hathor, and was still respected and honoured 200 years after her death when her better-known descendant Cleopatra wore the same crown. But the reasons behind Arsinoë’s huge influence have been interpreted in many different ways.

Maria Nilsson has studied her historical importance by interpreting her personal crown and its ancient symbols.“My conclusion instead is that Arsinoë was a female pharaoh and high priestess who was equal to and ruled jointly with her brother and husband, and that she was deified during her actual lifetime,” says Nilsson. “It was this combination of religion and politics that was behind her long-lived influence.”

The thesis is clearly structured around the crown and includes its wider context in the reliefs. Nilsson paints an all-round picture of the queen, how she dressed, the gods she was depicted with, the titles she was given, and so on.

Source: University of Gothenburg. “Crown suggests Queen Arsinoë II ruled ancient Egypt as female pharaoh.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 November 2010. <>.