Celsus Library

Definition

by Mark Cartwright
published on 20 June 2012

The Celsus Library of Ephesus, named after the city’s former Roman governor and constructed in the 2nd century CE, was a repository of over 12,000 scrolls and one of the most impressive buildings in the Roman Empire.

Commissioned in 114 CE by Tiberius Julius Acquila, the library was built to commemorate his father Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, who had been, from 105 to 107 CE, the Roman proconsul of Ephesus, the then capital of Rome’s Asian province. Celsus had also been consul in Rome in 92 CE, where he was responsible for all public buildings. The library was probably completed in 117 CE. Celsus himself was entombed under the library in a lead coffin encased in a decorated marble sarcophagus.

The library stands at the corner of Curetes street and the Marble road at the very heart of the city, just to the left of the agora, near its monumental arched entrance. The library is a typical example of the architectural style prevalent in the period under Emperor Hadrian (76-138 CE).  Resting on a nine-stepped podium 21m in length, the impressive surviving facade is richly decorated with relief carvings and has two stories - each with three pairs of columns capped with Corinthian capitals. The library had three entrance doorways flanked by four statues set back in niches. These figures with inscribed bases represented four qualities associated with the late governor: wisdom (sophia), intelligence (ennoia), knowledge (episteme) and virtue (arete).  

The interior of the library measured 16.72m by 10.92m and was paved with decorated marble. The walls were lined with niches for storage of the scrolls. Running around the interior wall at second-story level, was a railed balcony giving access to higher level niches. In order to reduce humidity and create a more stable interior temperature (which would have damaged the precious texts within the library), empty niches were constructed inside the walls. The interior also contained a large alcove which contained a statue, probably of Celsus.

In 262 CE the library was destroyed by fire during a Gothic invasion. However, the facade survived and repairs were made to the library in the 4th century CE and a fountain added in front.

Written by , published on under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms.

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