Libraries of Constantinople Circa 790AD

Ok. Since my last post was a flop, I will be more specific about a question:

What libraries existed in Constantinople circa 790AD? (If someone knows but is off by a century or two I'll survive! :wink:)

I'm figuring many of the classics known to modern Historians in Arts & Academe, as well as the list of books on the website.

What other kind of books would they have contained? Roman Empire History? Byzantium History? Treatises on Greek/Roman Mythology?

How did one get access to them? Any further information would be extremely helpful. Since my players are going there next gaming session, it suddenly occured to me what they might try and do... Even if it immediately, perhaps later. :wink:

The libraries of the Emperor and of the Patriarch did collect over the centuries the Byzantine heritage: expect to find most of the theological, scientific, philosophical and literary books available in the Eastern Empire there with some contacts, bribery and searching. Trying to access them 790, characters might be exposed to all kind of palace intrigues: between Empress Irene and her son, between Iconodules and Iconoclasts, between Armenian and European guards, the Patriarch and the Zelotes, and so forth.

Add to this the splendid libraries of monasteries, nobles and scholars, and you can empathize with the tears in the eyes of a 1220 Jerbiton remembering the pre-crusade Constantinople.


There was a huge tradition of scholarship in the East.

For example, there was a kind of university, the Pandidakterion (Πανδιδακτήριον), created in 425 by the emperor Theodosius II. The Pandidakterion included schools of medicine, philosophy and law.
Even if the pressure of the Arabs' conquests probably lowered the financing of higher education in the 7th and 8th century, there was still some going on and there was a reform in 863.
At the time various economic schools, colleges, polytechnics, libraries and fine arts academies were also open in the city.
There was probably lots of different libraries with different specialties because of this.
The most important one was probably the Imperial Library (founded around 350) which at one point might have had up to 120,000 volumes but a number of fires and accident means that by 790 there will be far less.

For the books that were in libraries, the most important collection would be of Greek texts of literature, with their comments and grammars, followed closely by books of religious nature.
As the emperors were Romans when the Imperial Library was built, they insisted on Roman literature also.
The goal in founding the Library was to preserve fragile papyri by transcribing them on parchment, but not everything could be done, so some were just folded in parchment in an attempt to preserve them.

Another interesting source of information on books that were available at that time are the encyclopedias. There were a number of them made, using the information available at that time.
It gives you a good idea of the knowledge still preserved when they were written, The best known is a the Suda, a massive 10th century Byzantine Greek historical encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, derived from the scholia to critical editions of canonical works and from compilations by yet earlier authors. There is an online version of it: and you can find lots of interesting tidbits there.