Author: Ruth Tipton, Project Archaeologist
It’s World Book Day and what better way to celebrate than to talk about an entire library! And not just any library-the earliest known library found in Germany to date.
Back in 2017, archaeologists excavating near Antoniter church (a Protestant church in the centre of Cologne, Germany) uncovered the walls of a Roman era structure, beneath the church’s foundations. Finding the remains of Roman structures is not an uncommon occurrence in Cologne; the city was founded by the Romans back in 50 AD (back then the city was called ‘Colonia’). What was unusual about these walls was that they contained a series of niches measuring approximately 31 by 20 inches.
These niches were initially thought to contain statues.
However, according to Dr Dirk Schmitz (a researcher and archaeologist from the Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne) “the niches were too small to bear statues inside”. After a bit more ‘digging’, Schmitz and his team noticed that these niches were similar to those found in Roman era libraries, such as the 113 AD Celsus library at Ephesus, Turkey. From these comparisons, the team determined that the niches were all that remained of cupboards or case. These would have been used to house the library’s huge estimated collection of 20,000 scrolls.
According to Marcus Trier, director of the Cologne Bodensekmalpflege (Cologne’s office of historic preservation), the library is estimated to have measured approximately 66 by 30 feet and stood at two stories tall. The library’s central location within the city has led Schmitz to believe that the building would have been open to the general public, rather than for the benefit of a single private citizen or official. A likely later addition to the building was an annex which housed a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and warfare.
Perhaps most tantalising of all is the prospect of more Roman libraries being found in the future. As Schmitz states, “If we had just found the foundations, we wouldn’t have known it was a library. It was because it had walls, with the niches, that we could tell”. Who knows how many libraries like this have been lost to the sands of time? We certainly hope this is just the first of many more to be found.
- Ancient Archaeology (2021). Ancient Roman Library Discovered Beneath German City. Retrieved from: https://ancient-archeology.com/ancient-roman-library-discovered-beneath-german-city/ – Featured Image
- BBC News. (2018). ‘Oldest library in Germany’ unearthed by Cologne archaeologist. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-45029960
- Eidson, D. (2013). The Celsus Library at Ephesus: Spatial Rhetoric, Literacy, and Hegemony in the Eastern Roman Empire. Advances in the History of Rhetoric, 16 (2), pp 189-217.
- (2018). Overhead shot of Roman library at Cologne. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-45029960
- Hi-flyFoto/Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne. (2018). Detail of library walls. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jul/31/spectacular-ancient-public-library-discovered-in-germany#img-1
- Kirk K. (2011). Library of Celsus-Ephesus. Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mmm-yoso/49637815031/in/photolist-2iCjM46-2iCjM2T-2jYSXqs-2d3oWkw-wuRhN8-2bBxCQG-2eRyHyC-nRL9bQ-9Uhi61-8Q3fVy-pQpEoR-pyyWHq-pR21si-pR6fzL-pyyX1u-pR6fgu-28Wmjgj-23BPPYf-2i94wpK-efLA3m-8bTupW-65ZKhR-6Nxnh-dqXXR8-AbxoAX-9Dr747-2aTYnVp-8u8FFE-5NeHoG-AdeBi4-2cdd5CS-Abxu9a-cdpCZ9-bW3hkk-PK1nN-bW3kvX-cdpBAo-2bbFhfh-yE69KT-88opxX-6CzZRM-5dQAkx-2jACKP5-6CE9aS-3You3x-i3FNE-7z3qo4-4nVzmu-8gNacQ-ymQJ6v
- Traverso, V. M. (2018). Archaeologists discover Roman library beneath church in Germany. Retrieved from: https://aleteia.org/2018/08/08/archaeologists-discover-roman-library-beneath-church-in-germany/
- BBC article, Title Image https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-45029960