1,800-Year-Old Library, Germany’s Oldest, Discovered in Cologne’s Ancient Roman Ruins

1,800-Year-Old Library, Germany’s Oldest, Discovered in Cologne’s Ancient Roman Ruins

Germany’s oldest library is the 2nd century AD Roman library unearthed in Cologne. Photo: Roman – Germanic Museum of Cologne

The building of what is believed to be a 1,800-year-old Ancient Roman library, and the oldest library to have ever been founded in Germany, has been discovered in Cologne.

The ruins of what is now thought to have been a Roman library founded in the 2nd century AD in Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, the Roman predecessor of Germany’s Cologne, were actually discovered a year ago.

The discovery was made during construction work for a new Protestant church community center, DW reports.

The German archaeologists immediately identified the unearthed massive ancient wall as being of Roman origin but at first believed that the ruins were part of a public assembly room.

Subsequently, however, they have been surprised by “unusual, niche-like divisions” they found in the Roman wall, says Marcus Trier, Director of the Roman – Germanic Museum in Cologne.

“At first we thought they were the remains of a space for public gatherings [but the walls had] unusual, cavernous structures," he explains, as quoted by BBC News.

The archaeological team from the city’s Roman – Germanic Museum (Roemisch – Germanisches Museum) have compared the unearthed structure to other ancient buildings, including the Roman city of Ephesus in present-day Turkey which had a monumental library.

As a result, they have concluded that the remains in Cologne belonged to a library built in the 2nd century in the then-Roman city.

The original Roman library building in Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (CCAA) was probably two stories tall, 20 meters (65 feet) long and 9 meters (30 feet) wide, with an expansion added later.

According to Trier, 2nd century AD scholars and researchers visiting the library in Cologne would have enjoyed a great choice of “certainly several thousand scrolls to borrow.”

The building likely housed up to 20,000 scrolls, parchment and papyrus rolls, according to Dr. Dirk Schmitz, a researcher on the expedition, who described the find as “truly spectacular”.

“It took us some time to match up the parallels – we could see the niches were too small to bear statues inside,” says Schmitz from the Roman – Germanic Museum of Cologne.

“They are very particular to libraries – you can see the same ones in the library at Ephesus,” he adds.

The remains of the Ancient Roman library from the 2nd century AD are to be integrated into the new church building, with part of the wall being made accessible to visitors.

Other parts of the excavation will be preserved to give access to future generations of archaeologists.

The 1,800-year-old Roman library in Cologne may have contained up to 20,000 parchment and papyrus rolls. Photo: Roman – Germanic Museum of Cologne

The city of Cologne in Western Germany boasts a rich heritage of Roman history. The urban settlement Ara Ubiorum was established there by a Roman general in 38 BC.

Subsequently, the military outpost grew and was given colony status by Roman Emperor Claudius (r. 41 – 54 AD) several decades later.

Claudius renamed it Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (shortened to CCAA), after his wife Agrippina the Younger who was born there.

The other Roman structures preserved in Germany’s Cologne include fortress walls, gates, and aqueducts above ground as well as mosaics and sewer canals underground.

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