A huge second century Roman library has been discovered during construction work in the city of Cologne, the earliest library ever found in Germany. Researchers believe that the library may have once held up to 20,000 scrolls.
First discovered in 2017 in the area surrounding Cologne’s famous cathedral, a team from the Roman-Germanic Museum of Cologne uncovered the former walls of the two-story complex, measuring 66 feet by 30 feet, originally with a 30 foot high ceiling. Originally assumed to be a community hall, archeologists now believe the building to have housed up to a spectacular 20,000 parchment scrolls, putting the Cologne Library in the same bracket as the Library of Celsus despite its smaller size.
Speaking to The Guardian and The Art Newspaper, Dr Dirk Schmitz of the Romano-Germanic Museum of Cologne says that the discovery marks the earliest ever library discovered in Germany:
“It dates from the middle of the second century and is at a minimum the earliest library in Germany, and perhaps in the north-west Roman provinces… Perhaps there are a lot of Roman towns that have libraries, but they haven’t been excavated. 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… There are niches along the inside of the walls which have remained intact, they were almost certainly used to store the scrolls.
The discovery of the library would be the first in the Roman Empire’s northwestern territories.
The first evidence of urban settlement in the Cologne region dates back to 38 BC with the founding of Oppidum Ubiorum by the Ubii tribe and in 50 AD the Romans founded Colonia on the Rhine, becoming the provincial capital of Germania Inferior in 85 AD. The city became one of the most important centres of trade and production in the north Roman Empire before its occupation by the Ripuarian Franks in 462. Cologne is today rich in Roman heritage with considerable discoveries having been made, including the 2007 find of a 1900 year old Roman boat and original Roman sewers still preserved underneath the city.
Dr. Schmitz says that the builders had chosen the perfect spot in the old city for the construction:
“It is in the middle of Cologne, in the marketplace, or forum: the public space in the city centre. It is built of very strong materials, and such buildings, because they are so huge, were public.”
The remains of the library will be incorporated into the new construction, a church community centre, and will be open both to visitors and archeologists in the future.
Michael East is a writer with a wide variety of eclectic tastes including politics, history, archaeology, professional wrestling and British science-fiction. A former Students' Union President and newspaper editor, he has studied at a variety of institutions and graduated in both history and politics.
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