Dates listed hereafter are Christian Era (CE) unless noted otherwise. Please consult “Burning Libraries (BC)” for a list of prior atrocities and a preamble to this sickening topic.
The Book of Mormon proclaims that Christ brought His teachings around the world. It is written therein that He traveled to what would become Latin America (?) where mighty Judeo-Christian empires originated from a boatload of Israelite refugees. These Christian civilizations are said to have flourished for centuries and then degenerated into prehistoric obscurity. A book of encoded golden pages, lost since, revealed this chronicle to the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Could it have forecast of our (the European New World’s) eventual colonization, fundamentalist betrayal of Christianity and self-destruction?
Others conclude that Jesus received Buddhist instruction during a youthful pilgrimage to Kashmir in India. Do you recall the twenty-plus year hiatus in His biblical biography? It has also been said that he traveled to Britain as a boy with his uncle to visit Cornish tin mines and was sent to study ancient scriptures in Egypt. He is also said to have lived to a ripe old age in Kashmir after his disciples spirited His comatose body beyond the grasp of itchy-fingered Roman executioners.
The giant library at Antioch burned down in 37 along with its home city. Before her defeat, native Queen Boadicea burned down Roman Londinium (London) in 50. Three fourths of Rome burned down in 64. Rome conquered Jerusalem in 63 and flattened it in 70. In 68, the Romans annihilated Qumran, the Jewish Essene community that watched over the Dead Sea Scrolls. It massacred the inhabitants of Caesurae Palestinae (a beautiful and very rich city with an artificial harbor), Jotapata and Massada (the Jews’ last stand fortress) by 73. Subsequent revolts targeted Jewish colonies in the great imperial cities (a stiff-necked bunch that kept to themselves and worshipped their unique God above the latest Emperor). This massacre cost the Roman Empire hundreds of thousands more lives and equivalent treasure. Rome conquered the island of Anglesey in 78, the last known refuge of the Druids.
Eighty CE saw the latest destruction of one of the greatest Buddhist centers, Anuradhapura in Ceylon. Founded in 437 BCE, it would be annihilated by Tamil invaders during the 8th century CE, this time forever.
During the first four hundred years of the Christian era, the city of Rome (and, by inference, every other great city worldwide) suffered about eleven major fires every decade, by great I mean one that involved public buildings and entire residential districts. This, from Johan Goudsblom’s Fire & Civilization, Allen Lane, London, 1992. Doubtless, crowded wooden cities solely lit by open flame were naked and vulnerable to fire—at least until the 19th century when Europeans introduced masonry construction and mechanized fire brigades. The City of Rome had organized firemen; but like some out of work rural inhabitants these days, they tended to start fires so they could get paid to put them out.
In the first two centuries CE, the Cushan invaded, settled and administered a Golden Age of Buddhism in Northern India under the title Guptas. The Gupta civilization burned out resisting White (Caucasian) Hun invaders during the 5th century. Its principal city, Taxila, had been founded around 3500 BCE and served as an Asian center of Buddhist scholarship until the Huns overran it, then wasted away for another two centuries before it was abandoned. Several dynastic orders contended for imperial control of Southern and Central Asia until devastating Muslim invasions rolled through from 1000 until 1400.
For example, the kingdom of Khotan, at the Chinese end of the Silk Road, was overrun by Muslim Karakhanids in 1006. “We came down on them like a flood, We went out among their cities, We tore down the idol-temples, We shat on the Buddha's head!” Mahmud al-Kashgari. As a result, Buddhist monks sealed up the nearby Library Cave of the Magao Grottoes or Caves of the Thousand Buddhas. This site contained tens of thousands of manuscripts, including several copies of the oldest known published work, the Diamond Sutra. Those contents were looted by the Austrian Aurel Stein, then a Frenchman called Pelliot, then Japanese, Russian and Chinese late-comers who scattered them to various capitals. Nowadays, the International Dunhuang Project is digitally consolidating all those collections. This from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mogao_Caves.
China’s capital, Ch’ang-an (population: one million), burned down in 24. Pan Ku and his sister, Pan Chao, compiled the Han Shu (History of the Han) circa 70. They began a long tradition of including a bibliography in dynastic histories. Unfortunately, three library catastrophes nullified further Han progress. Lo-yang, the Han capital, burned down circa 200. More books were lost when government functionaries fled back to Ch’ang-an. It burned down in turn in 208. Lao-tse, the founder of Taoism, was Court Archivist under the Chou c. 220. Nearly four hundred years of the Warring States Period (220-581) destroyed most Chinese book collections. In his Lang Huan Chi, Chang Hua (232-300) laments a vast imaginary library filled with precious ancient manuscripts long gone. By 279, the Western Tsin Dynasty’s catalog totaled 30,000 volumes.
The Chinese held the Huns out beyond their Great Wall fortifications (or paid them off) for six centuries. Those invaders finally broke through and pillaged the Chin capitals, Loyang and Ch’ang-an, in 312. Their destructive dominion lasted until 581. The Liang Dynasty built up a 140,000-volume collection. Unfortunately but predictably, that library burned down in 554. A giant Buddhist grotto library was built in Hopei during the Six Dynasties Period from 221 to 589. Over the next thousand years, this collection would accumulate many Confucian classics by incising them in raw stone on the cave’s walls. A similar facility was established next to the National Academy.
Circa 600, Niu Hung wrote a memorandum to the Sui Emperor about the destruction of preceding libraries. He suggested that imperial collections should be augmented by copying books from private collections. The Chia-tse palace accumulated 370,000 volumes by following this new policy. In 605, the Chinese emperor, Liu Fang, sacked Indrapura, the Cham capital. In 754, the population of China was about fifty-three million; it fell to seventeen million by 764.
Two key texts on Japanese history disappeared: the Kokki (National Record), during the Isshi (Itsushi) Incident in 645, and the Tennoki at some later date.
In 758, Arabs and Persians sacked the city of Canton. A British collector bought a copy of the Buddhist Diamond Sutra dating from 868, at Tun-huang in 1907. It is the oldest known printed book, which many Buddhist sects acknowledge as their supreme text.
In 907, building materials from the ruins of Ch'ang-an were rafted down-river to build the new capital, Kaifeng. The Chinese invented printing presses around the same time. Guttenberg’s imitation press wouldn’t startle Europe awake until 1454. In 978, the Chinese imperial library held 80,000 volumes. Universal civil service examinations petrified Mandarin dominion over China from 960 until the Communist overthrow of the last Manchurian Mandarins in the late 1940s and perhaps even today.
Actually, the loss of Chinese technological superiority can be laid at the hooves of the Mongol Horde and its ninety-year suppression of Chinese culture, followed by centuries of mixed rule that slavishly imitated the Mongols, if only in military tyranny and technological backwardness. Sorta like African tyrants, like Idi Amin, imitating the brutality of White colonial predecessors.
The Song Renaissance (circa 1200) was a font of peaceful creativity and the reverse of weapon capability. For the next seven centuries, various dynasties, both native Chinese and foreign-born, would suppress China’s creativity to make sure that no such vulnerability reoccurred. Paradoxically, as usual, the suppression of peace technology brought an equivalent standstill in new weapon development. In attempting to strengthen China militarily, those dynasties only succeeded in weakening it to the point of helplessness against better-armed foreigners. Having recently recovered from that cultural disaster, the re-emergent Han people will once again show off their stunning intellectual promise in the next few decades.
Internal chaos destroyed half the books in various imperial libraries by the end of Hsuan Tsung’s reign c. 1000. Under T’ang leadership, both private and monastic libraries flourished for a while. During the Northern Sung period, which lasted until 1126, the Chung-wen Hall was established in modern K’ai-feng. This library contained 6,705 works in 73,877 volumes. The Chin destroyed it when they took over.
For millennia, military expeditions were sent out from the Middle Kingdom to rake over foreign tribes, cities, libraries and monasteries along its expanding frontier. The Tibetans fought back; they occupied the Chinese capital Ch’ang-an in 763. They had been Chinese vassals before, would see their Drigung Temple burned to the ground by a Mongol-Chinese army in 1290, and would be re-annexed in 1720. Chinese occupiers torment the Tibetans and wreck their civilization as we speak.
Kublai Khan abandoned his Mongol capital, Karakorum, in favor of Peking. During the mid-1300s, vengeful Chinese destroyed Karakorum. The Mongols sacked and burned Pagan, capital of Burma (founded in 849) in 1287. The Shans would do so in 1299, permanently this time. During the 13th century, Mongol chieftains consolidated every library their Chinese slaves implored them to spare and shipped the lot to Peking. This collection expanded over the next seven centuries, as did others in China. Serious damage resulted from the mid-1640 Manchu takeover, when Nanking, Peking, Fukien and Canton changed hands several times.
There followed the horrific Taiping rebellion with its twenty million Chinese dead (the concurrent American Civil War killed 600,000 during the worst war Americans have ever experienced). Then two Opium Wars against the London/Boston Drug Cartel. Believe it or not, these drug gangsters were ruled by Queen Victoria and backed by the Drug Lord financiers of Stanford University and America’s trans-continental railroads. In pursuit of its brain-dead War on Drugs, the DEA should confiscate those structures and auction them off to support its habit.
During the Boxer rebellion, European, American and Japanese armies sacked the Imperial Residence in Peking’s Forbidden City. Thereafter, a couple of Sino-Japanese Wars reduced Chinese libraries by three quarters. Finally, Americans bankrolled the Nationalists during the Chinese Civil War. This inept policy culminated in their evacuation to Taiwan. Mao Tse Tung was a library assistant at one time.
Back to “Europe” around the year one. Another Roman Emperor celebrated his son’s destruction of Jerusalem by installing a public library in the Forum he had built circa 70. The Octavian library was destroyed in 80. Emperor Domitian (81-96) had several wrecked libraries rebuilt—one of his many desperate and ruinous reconstruction decrees. Seeking disappeared works, he dispatched emissaries to copy unique originals in Alexandria. The fortunes he spent rebuilding civilization went wanting for mercenary armies that proceeded to rip out, cut down and burn down all his efforts at reconstruction.
In 105, Rome destroyed the four-century-old Dacian Empire’s capital, Sarmizegetusa, in what is now Romania. Roman deserters manned the last bastions of Dacian resistance. In the same way, Irish deserters from the American Army defended Mexican positions to the bitter end when the U.S. invaded Mexico. Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers served the U.S. Army in Mexico as Gestapo agents.
In the 2nd century, the most famous libraries in the West were Como and Tivoli in Italy, Tripoli in Lebanon and Timgad in Algeria. The Berbers destroyed this last city during the 7th century. Each of these cities was fought over, sacked and eventually reduced to a dusty backwater. In 130, the Romans erected Aelia Capitolina on the sixty-year-old ruins of Jerusalem. Rome sacked the Persian capital city, Seleucia, in 165. The Palatine library was destroyed circa 190. In 196, Septimus Severus captured rebellious Byzantium; he burned it down and enslaved its population, rebuilt it, (a common Roman practice) and renamed it Antoninia after his wife. In 197, the Gaelic commercial center of Lugdunum (Lyons) was sacked during another Roman civil war. Only recently has it recovered its famous prosperity. Rome sacked Ctesiphon, capital of rival Persia, in 198. It looted Syracuse once again in 216.
An earthquake toppled the Colossus of Rhodes – another Wonder of the World – in 224 BCE. Erected fifty years earlier, it stood 100 feet tall. It had been so superbly crafted, ships were said to make harbor between its outspread feet. This is asserted to be an impossible feat of engineering—what, another impossible feat of ancient engineering? The city of Rhodes was traumatized by the earthquake, both physically and spiritually. Surviving inhabitants refused Egyptian king Ptolemy III’s offer to finance the reconstruction of their famous statue of Helios, patron sun god.
Bishop Alexander established the Latin Library in Jerusalem. Around that time, Origen & Pamphilus created a large library in Caesarea, now a ruin. Heruli Goths sacked Philipolis in 250. Shapur I of Persia sacked Antioch twice in 256. Meanwhile, busy Goths burned down Ephesus in 262. Ephesus was the New York City of Asia at that time. Its temple of Diana (Artemis) was another Wonder of the World. It held the third largest library in the Western World after those of Alexandria and Pergamum. As noted earlier, it had already been burned down at least once. Those Goths went on to sack Chalcedon, Nice, Pruse, Apanda, Cius, Athens Corinth, Sparta, Argos, Nicomedia and many other cities from 265 to 277.
Alexandria endured fifteen years of civil war, famine and plague from 250 to 265. Another Roman Emperor suppressed a revolt there in 272 (with untold damage to the Library). He defeated the Goths and Alemanni and then sacked Palmyra in 273. The Franks destroyed Syracuse around 280. Another Roman Emperor suppressed another Alexandrine revolt and sacked the town in 295. The cities of Bursis and Coptos were sacked under his orders. In 298, he ordered all Christian texts burnt, churches destroyed and worship outlawed.
This massive purge probably cancelled the last opportunity to chronicle Christ’s life accurately.
The library at Antioch burned down once again in 363 along with the rest of the city. Sometime between 300 and 500, the city of Ubar, a major desert way station for the incense caravans of Arabia, collapsed into a sinkhole. Mohammed offers its destruction as a lesson to the unfaithful.
In 365 Egypt, Sicily, Dalmatia and Greece were struck by a tsunami that surged two miles inland after an oceanic earthquake. Fifty thousand people died in Alexandria alone. In 367, the Bishop there ordered Egyptians to burn all non-canonical religious writings. The Nag Hammadi heretical texts (rediscovered in 1945) survived this holocaust. A Roman Emperor commanded the mass incineration of all non-Christian books in 373, the year the Castilians burned down Lisbon. A Christian mob, led by the archbishop of Alexandria, destroyed its Serapeum (Temple of Serapis) in 391. That same year, a Byzantine Emperor ordered that every pagan temple be razed. In 401, the final version of Ephesus’ Temple of Artemis was destroyed by order of St. John Chrysostom.
Some historians attribute the next thousand years’ Dark Age to these alternating acts of Christian and Pagan fanaticism. You can’t stage a respectable Dark Age without burning all the books beforehand.
The Vandals sacked Rheims, Amiens, Arras and Tournai around 406. They sacked and nearly destroyed Marsala, a prosperous Sicilian city nearly 800 years old in 440. Visigoths stormed and sacked Rome in 410, a feat the Vandals reprised in 455.
A Chinese Army chased the Huns from their steppe homeland in 91, all the way across Asia into Europe. The Huns dealt similar destruction to every Kingdom they encountered from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean until around 450, except for Paris, Constantinople and Rome, the western and southern limits of Attila’s raids.
St. Cyril of Alexandria led his monks to mob, torture and kill Hypatia, a Neo-platonist philosopher renowned for her wisdom and beauty. The Persians sacked Miletus in 494 and Amida in 502. Another Christian zealot, the Emperor Justinian, closed the thousand-year-old University of Athens in 529, thus ending Neo-Platonism and its research in reincarnation. The Byzantines attempted and failed to conquer Persia, then failed to retake the Western Roman Empire from the barbarians. All they really managed to accomplish was to depopulate and ruin almost every city in North Africa, Italy, Armenia and Anatolia.
Nanjing was destroyed by fire in 589. That same year, the Benedictines founded the Monastery of Monte Casino. St. Benedict, their patron, loathed scholarship. Despite his bias, it became another great library after his death. Destroyed by the Lombards in 585, by Saracens in 884, by Normans in 1046 and by an earthquake in 1349, it would be leveled by American bombers during World War II (sic). The Franks sacked Tarragona, the Roman capital of Spain, during the 5th century CE.
Antioch was another great library city on Turkey’s southern shore. Catastrophic earthquakes (the one in 526 killed 250,000 inhabitants) alternated with a succession of military sacks (by Persians in 538 and 611, Arabs in 637, Seljuk Turks in 1085, Crusaders in 1098, Mamelukes of Egypt in 1268 and Ottoman Turks in 1516) to reduce this magnificent center of commerce and learning into a provincial backwater. The Library of Rome burned in 535; it was a total loss in 546.
Massive earthquakes and plagues wracked the world around 543; they halved the European population within fifty years. By 550, the crucifix had become a fashionable Christian ornament. It’s strange how nature-tormented Christians learned to wear this idolatrous and shadistic trinket. Circa 600, Pope Gregory I (The Great, as usual) burned down the library of Palatine Apollo. The Persians sacked Damascus in 614, Jerusalem in 615, then again in 619. Vyadhapura, Hindu Funan capital of the first Khmer kingdom, was taken over by the Chenla empire in the 7th century.
The list of towns Muslims captured with varying degrees of destruction includes but is not limited to Pella, Damascus, Homs and Emesa in 635; Palmyra, Petra and the six sophisticated desert cities of the Nabateans, wiped out in 636. The Muslims took Ctesiphon in 637. They rooted out Persia’s official state religion, Zoroastrianism. Imagine the book-burning parties they must have held! Ibn Khaldun, one of the world’s best historians, wrote:
“Umar wrote [to the local Muslim commander who had requested permission to distribute these books to his troops as booty]: ‘Throw them into the water. If what they contain is right guidance, God has given us better guidance. If it is error, God has protected us against it.’” The Muqadimmah: An Introduction to History, Franz Rosenthal, translator, Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press, 1967, p. 373.
Jerusalem fell in the wake of this destruction, then Tripoli and Antioch in 638, Aleppo in 639, Caesarea and Gaza in 640, Babylon in 641, Ascalon in 644, and Tripoli again in 645. Nanking in China was destroyed during a dynastic transition in the 690s.
In 642, Arab conquerors found 700,000 volumes in the city of Alexandria. “Enough kindling to heat Alexandria’s baths for six months.” Umar again – Mohammed’s first Successor and Caliph of the Faith – declared that all necessary knowledge could be found in the Koran and any knowledge outside the Koran must be pernicious.
Sound familiar? Fundamentalists cannot be told apart, regardless of their religion, date of birth or ethnicity. Their mothers may have loved them nonetheless…or perhaps not enough.
The list goes on. Cyrene and Tripoli, which the Muslims took in 643; rebellious Alexandria again in 645 (ending its manuscript exchange once-and-for-all); Cyprus in 649; Rhodes in 654; Kabul in 664, 708 and 1504; Bokhara in 674 and 710; Samarkhand (where Chinese craftsmen taught Muslims the art of paper-making) in 676 and 711; Carthage in 698; Gibraltar, Lisbon (burned) and Toledo in 711; Samarkhand again in 712; Khwarizm, Ferghana, Tashkent and Kashgar in 713; Multan in 715; Lisbon in 717; Narbonne in 719; Seville in 721 (where the Western Gothic King Isidor’s library was destroyed); Carcassonne and Nimes in 726; Bordeaux (burned down) in 732; Derbent in 733; Samarkhand, once and for all, in 737 or 738. The Franks took Narbonne back from the Muslims in 759. Palermo, Sicily fell to them in 831, independent Capua in 840, Bari in 841. It would prosper as a Muslim stronghold until 1062 when the Pisans sacked it, then 1072 when the Normans seized it and rebuilt it as their Sicilian capital.
The monastery at Lindisfarne was the missionary center of the Celtic Church. Vikings sacked it at the end of the 8th century – a forewarning of Viking raids into Britain that would escalate into multiple invasions and permanent occupation. Ravenna fell to the Lombards in 751. In 756, the British capital, Alcluith, was captured by the Picts.
The Haeinsa temple, established in 802 near the Korean city of Taegu, contains 80,000 printing blocks engraved with Buddhist scriptures dating from the 13th century.
The Javanese invaded Anam and Champa in 774. In 832, the Pyu capital, Sri Kshetra, was destroyed during a Thai raid led by Nanchao. Escaping northwards, its urban population was eventually taken captive by the Mon. Beneficiaries of trade between India and the rest of Southeast Asia, the Pyus were the most peaceful people in the region. They punished rare crimes with great leniency and held democratic elections for their leaders. Boys and girls went to Buddhist schools until they were twenty, establishing a custom of near-universal literacy in Burma ever since. They were so non-violent, they would not make silk because that involved killing silk worms.
In 807, Muslim raiders plundered Rhodes; in 840, they sacked Rome. Savage Kyrgyz Turks destroyed the Uighur capital city of Karablagasun during the same year. In later centuries, surviving Uighur exiles would serve the Mongols as mercenary scholars (a well-paid, perilous and seldom mentioned honor). These days, their descendants are the victims of Chinese colonial tyranny in China’s Far West.
In 871, ex-slaves destroyed Basra. Arab Muslims fought each other and the Turks to the death. At first, they did so as Northern and Southern Arabs, later as Shia and Sunni sectarians. Together, they sacked Muslim towns including Basra in 923, Kufa in 925 and Mecca in 929. I doubt that Mohammed would have approved.
The Patriarch of Constantinople, Photius (c. 820-891) compiled his Bibliotheca, an inventory of two hundred and eighty earlier texts. It is an invaluable reference for many lost works. Lost because the Iconoclasts, famous only for their vandalism, destroyed the Sun of Science foundation, whose twelve associate professors studied each house of the Zodiac. Their 36,500 books were destroyed, including an ancient manuscript of Homer, said to have been written on the intestines of a monstrous snake 120 feet long. This last per Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, chapter 53.
In 846, a Muslim army from Cordoba sacked Leon; another sacked Rome and burnt St. Peters. In 878, Muslims conquered Syracuse. In 985, Muslims burned Barcelona and then Leon in 988. In 976 al-Mansur, the new regent for the child Caliph of Cordoba,
“… proceeded to the library of al-Hakam [his father, the ex-Caliph], caused all the writings therein contained to be brought forth in the presence of a number of theologians and ordered these latter to put on one side, with the exception of medical texts and treatises on arithmetic, all those books dealing with the sciences of the ancients: logic, astronomy and other sciences cultivated by the Greeks. When these had been separated from all the books relating to lexicography, grammar, poetry, history, medicine, jurisprudence, traditions, in short those sciences recognized by the Andalusians, Ibn Abi ‘Amir commanded that the works treating of the ancient sciences should be burned. Some were in fact committed to the flames; others were flung into the palace moats, or buried, or destroyed in some other manner. Ibn Abi ‘Amir acted in this fashion in order to ingratiate himself with the people of al-Andalus and to discredit in their eyes the principles followed by al-Hakam. Indeed, these sciences were ill regarded by the older generation and criticized by the leading men. The majority of those then engaged in the study of philosophy lost their ardor and kept secret what they knew of these sciences, only cultivating openly the branches permitted them, such as arithmetic, the rules governing the partition of inheritances, medicine and the like.” Arnold Toynbee, ed., Cities in History, McCraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1973, p. 177.
Around the year 999, the same year he murdered his brother, Mahmud of Ghazni destroyed the Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva at Somnath in Gujarat. Then he burned the famous library of the Fatimids in Bokhara. He may have advertised himself as a patron of the arts, but in reality he was just another two-bit religious crazy. He built the Celestial Bride Mosque in Ghazni.
Christian Barcelonans sacked Cordoba in 1010. Muslims raided Pisa in 1011: their last big raid into Italy. In 1013, Berber rebels seized and sacked Cordoba wracked by internal unrest. Al-Mansur’s palace and carefully censored library were destroyed. In 1071 Seljuk Turks took Jerusalem from the Fatimid Muslims, then they fought each other among its ruins.
Between 1014 and 1018, Byzantine emperor Basil II attacked Bulgaria. Victorious in battle, he had 15,000 prisoners blinded and then ordered this grim procession sent home: one man out of every hundred got to keep one eye to guide the others. The Bulgarian King threw himself from his own battlements when he beheld this sorry remnant of his army stumble home. That same year, the Poles took Kiev.
In 1019, a Liao army was driven from Koryo (Korea). King Anawratha (1044-1077) was the founder of the Myanmar (Burmese) empire. He “rescued” the Pegu half of the Mon kingdom from a Khmer raid and then took over the Thaton half, taking home to Pagan 30 sets of the Buddhist canon (Tripitaka), about 30,000 Mon monks and artisans and the captive king of Pegu. Though the Mons dominated Burmese culture for two centuries thereafter, it was a love-hate relationship based on military dominance on the one hand and cultural superiority on the other. Koryo built a wall from sea to sea in 1044.
Seljuk Turks captured Caesarea in 1067; in 1076 they sacked Jerusalem (thus sparking the Crusades). In the same year, Almoravid fanatics took the salt and gold trading center of Kumbi. They massacred its pagan majority and imposed Islam on the Kingdom of Ghana. Kumbi endured a succession of invaders and reformers until it collapsed in 1240; a Soso chief sacked it in 1203. Norman allies of Pope Gregory VII sacked Rome in 1084. By 1102 the Muslims had taken every town in Portugal, and all in Spain up to Valencia. The Christians besieged and retook Toledo in 1085. Portugal would not be entirely regained for Christianity until 1147; Spain, until 1340. After which the Christians would fight among themselves for another century; or longer? The Spanish Civil War of the 1930s ate up another million victims. In 1162, Frederick I Barbarossa (Redbeard) destroyed Milan.
The library of Banu Ammar, the greatest library in Syria, was scattered and destroyed during the sack of Tripoli by Genoese marines in 1109. This destruction was mirrored in many rich cities throughout the eastern Mediterranean -- including Jerusalem, Caesarea and the very rich island of Cyprus (sacked by Richard Lionheart) -- during the Crusades (1096 to 1291: eight major European expeditions and many minor ones during which a million Europeans and an uncounted number of native Muslims, Jews and Christians were killed).
In 1170, Seljuk Turks destroyed the Armenian library in Syunik with its 10,000 manuscripts. In 1171, the Kurdish Sunni Saladin (Salah-al-din Yousouf) annihilated the Shia Fatimid Caliphate in Cairo along with many of its libraries. He retook Jerusalem for Islam by 1187, as well as many other Crusader towns. Conquering Sicily and Italy in a series of complicated and bloody wars, the Normans took Bari, Tripoli, Mahadia, Malta and Corfu. They sacked Athens, Corinth and Thebes from 1146 to 1152.
The Muslim invasion of Hindu India induced massive mortality and destruction. Battles and follow-up massacres and book burnings occurred at Peshawar in 1008, Thaneswar in 1014, Kanauj in 1018, Lahore in 1186, Kathiawar in 1023, and Tarawari in 1191. In 1192, 120,000 Muslims demolished the Hindu temples at Ajmer. Delhi fell in 1193.
During this climax year of Hindu agony (what followed, merely a coup de grace delivered to a mortally wounded civilization), the University of Nalanda – in Bihar, NW India – was destroyed by a fanatical Muslim psychopath whose name is best left unmentioned. Six hundred years in the making, the campus had housed 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers (think of that student/teacher ratio!) Three buildings on the vast campus housed the library. The foremost, containing precious Buddhist texts, was nine stories high and gilded with precious stones so that it glittered like the sun. The library was said to have accommodated hundreds of thousands of books on every topic of interest. It took three months of smoky pall to burn. Restored as best they could by subsequent Buddhist lords, Nalanda was finally destroyed by Hindu Tirthaka mendicants. Indian Buddhism never recovered from this interfaith ten-count of cultish vandalism. http://mentalfloss.com/article/50038/11-book-burning-stories-will-break-your-heart
…Benares in 1194, Badaun and Kannauj in 1195, Kalinja in 1202, Magadha and Bengal from 1201 to 1203. In 1234, Chahadadeva captured Narwar from the Muslims. The Yadava capital, Devagiri, fell in 1294, Ramthanbor in 1301, Chitor in 1303, most of the Deccan by 1311, Kabul in 1504, Agra and Delhi in 1525 and Talikot in 1564. From the 13th to the 19th century, cruel Moslem rulers destroyed a hundred Hindu temples dedicated to Shiva in the pilgrimage city of Benares alone.
Usually, they erected mosques on the ruins—the way Christian evangelicals built churches over pagan ruins and Communists built community centers over Christian ruins—at gun- or sword-point. This has been a source of friction ever since, from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to most of the cities in Northern India. After all, what the Muslims got away with at sword-point a thousand years ago, they’re not about to permit anyone else to do to them today. And it never occurred to any of these fanatics – Muslim, atheist or otherwise – that inviting Allah into a building and ejecting Shiva from the same building, or inviting the Christian God and evicting the Gods of old, is the same as rejecting every version of God including one’s own.
God has shown more patience than I can envision, with silly humans nit-picking each other to death over their contradictory, restrictive, and yammering definitions of God’s infinite, immeasurable and limitless love.
The Kingdom of East Java was destroyed in 1017. Tangut, Khmer, Mon, Chola (who invaded Malayu in 1025) Viet, Burmese, Srivijaya, Annamese and Champa civilizations fought one another across every portion of the Asian mainland that Turks, Mongols and Muslims had not reached out to destroy. Equivalent massacres exploded on the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagos. Many islands contained one or more warring tribes and city-states. Like most societies, they ruined each other’s citadels and libraries at every opportunity.
Great Novgorod, the seat of the Russian state under the Viking Rurik, was established in 862. It repulsed attacks by Teutonic and Livonian Knights, by the Swedes and the Mongols. It was taken by Ivan III of Moscow and laid waste by Ivan IV. The Uzbeks took Meshed, holy Shiite city, in 1582. Moscow burnt down in 1570; there were 200,000 dead. Khiva was destroyed in 1603, Karakorum in 1688.
The Lombards, Marcomanni, Gepidae, Heruli, Vandals, Avars, Burgundi, Helvetii, Teutons, Alans, Franks, Saxons, Goths, Huns, Vikings, Magyars and Pechnegs formed a host of killer swarms. Thanks to them, no city, monastery or library in Eurasia and North Africa survived the decline of Roman power and the onset of Christianity. Just like nowadays with today’s tyrant wannabees both political and billionaire, civilization was on the verge of total annihilation at the hands of born-again Huns who have acquired just enough familiarity with true civilization to destroy it.
King Charlemagne could barely read and he couldn’t write. He took hostage almost every educated nobleman in Europe, and then had most of them killed to secure his Empire. He destroyed the independent commercial center of Fiume on the Adriatic. Circa 800, he and his mentor, Alcuin, had to recruit priestly volunteers from the four corners of the cramped Catholic world: (North Africa, Rome, Ireland and Byzantium) to teach noble-born orphans their forgotten ABC’s. His grandson, Charles the Bald, was a bibliophile. He created his own library and added to the one found in the Palace. Both libraries disappeared after his death. Abbey libraries were established at Tours, Cluny, Corvey and Fulda (the military chokepoint on the German Plain). Like most “great” libraries of this period, they boasted a few hundred volumes at most—all of them perished. Nearly all of London burned down in 798.
Meanwhile, mead-soaked Vikings were toasting each other from hollowed-out human skulls (from which the toast Sköll!). They burned down Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) and Cologne (Köln) around 800, sacked London, Cadiz and Pisa. They sacked the famous Monastery of Iona in 806, Clonmore in 836. The Danes took Dublin in 851. York, Canterbury with its Cathedral, London, Paris, Aix, Worms, Algerica and Toulouse, all these and their lesser satellites succumbed by 861. Looting their way from the White Sea southwards along Russian rivers, Varengian Norsemen sacked Constantinople in 865. After this display of military prowess, they signed on as its mercenary Guard.
After a precipitous Roman evacuation, the backwater that was England absorbed centuries of raids, massacres and invasions by Celts, renegade Gallo-Romans, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Irish, Jutes, Picts, Scots, Vikings and assorted barbarians. Alfred the Great of England staged a revival of Old English literature around 890.
In 978, the Holy Roman Emperor and Charlemagne’s heir apparent sacked Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen), Charlemagne’s coronation city. London burned down again in 982. Another Caliph destroyed Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 1009. Oghuz Turks sacked Tabriz in 1029. Benares, India, was plundered by a Punjabi (Muslim) army in 1034. In 1084 the Normans sacked Rome. Are you catching me repeating myself? Resurgent Christian crusaders massacred the populations of Antioch in 1098 and Jerusalem in 1099.
Venice burned down in 1106. Crusaders destroyed Tripoli’s thousand-year-old library during a siege in 1109. They sacked Christian Byzantium and destroyed its libraries in 1204. Pisa sacked Amalfi, Italy in 1135 and 1137. In 1151, the Persians burned Chazni. In 1177, the Chams sacked Angkor Wat. Zimbabwe, capital of a mining empire intermittently rich since the 3rd century CE, was abandoned for unknown reasons during the 11th century. In 1184, the great Abbey at Glastonbury, site of one of the oldest Christian churches in Europe, (do you recall my mention of Jesus visiting Britain?) burned down along with all its sacred scriptures.
Byzantium (“as old as the hills and the stones”) had been founded in 657 BCE. Constantinople and its libraries were set up on its footprint in 330. The first Hagia Sophia (Church of Divine Wisdom) burned down in 360; the second in 532. Around 475 a fire destroyed 120,000 volumes. This collection grew back to 600,000 volumes. In 551 the last Latin library in Constantinople was destroyed. Thereafter, collected works were written solely in Greek. A tidal wave drowned Beirut during the same year; it would it take another ten centuries to recover.
Constantinople boasted a half million inhabitants, free bread and circuses, educational stipends for the talented, and rudimentary medical care for the poor. Savage rioting between Blue (reactionary) and Green (radical) parties, however, accelerated the Empire’s decline. Actually, these mutual benefit societies (along with the Red and White) opposed each other on every social issue including religion and politics. They championed different players during Hippodrome chariot races—another instance of sports enthusiasm run amok. This zero-sum patronage system – doling out minimal benefits after enormous military taxes had been extracted – set its members tooth and nail against each other. Finally, the Imperial Guard waded into one of their worst riots and massacred the Greens—the Blues were the Empress’ favorites. These ridiculous squabbles (reminiscent of the factional squabbling between interchangeable American Democrats and Republicans) caused a military disaster during the battle of Manzikert in 1071, during which the Seljuk Turks massacred the Byzantine army. This disaster befell the army even though it was at the height of its military power and was costing its civilian population a fortune to maintain. It happened largely because the two top commanders were Green and Blue political fanatics and wouldn’t support each other during the battle.
In 1204 Frankish and Venetian Crusaders sacked Christian Orthodox Constantinople and its libraries. In 1212 London burned down. In 1236 the Holy Roman Emperor burned down Vicenza (Venice). French king Louis IX had the Talmud burned in Paris. In 1453 the Turks finally took Constantinople, with grievous loss to life and property. Shiploads of books were evacuated to Venice and elsewhere, and from thence into oblivion. Later, the Turks destroyed Trebizond on the Black Sea: the last refuge of the “Eastern Roman” emperors.
1453 was the same year the Vatican established its Library. The Catholic Pope hadn’t lifted a finger to save Greek Orthodox Constantinople from the Muslims. The Vatican Library was famous for blacklisting unique manuscripts of Europe’s greatest works, on a Papal Index Librorum Prohibitorium (index of forbidden books, commonly called The Index). Papal suppression of rare knowledge stifled intellectual discourse for centuries—almost as effectively as does our media-glut of commercial white noise today.
During the European Dark Ages, brilliant Muslim scholars guarded Koranic commentaries as well as some Greek and Roman thought. Abū ‘Alī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham (Arabic: أبو علي الحسن بن الحسن بن الهيثم, Latinized: Alhacen or (deprecated) Alhazen (965 – 1039), wrote two hundred books, at least ninety-six of them scientific texts, of which about fifty have survived in whole or in part. He is one of the originators of modern science.
Yet around 1100, a pious Muslim scholar concluded that ancient Greek texts led to “loss of belief in the origin of the world and in the Creator.” In 1150, the latest Caliph set alight the enormous philosophical library of Baghdad (a relatively recent city, established in 762), saving onrushing Mongols the trouble. Actually, when the Mongols took Baghdad with a near-total massacre of its inhabitants, the Tigris river flowing through it was said to have run red with blood from the bodies thrown into it, then black with ink from books treated in like manner.
Some of these tidbits were taken from L. Sprague de Camp’s The Ancient Engineers, Dorset Press, 1963. A handful of enlightened Christians and Jews preserved the Old and New Testaments, as well as a few Talmudic and monastic commentaries. Any other beliefs were snuffed out without mercy: Persia’s Zoroastrian religion/bureaucracy, the Hellenized Buddhism of the Cushan, any mention of the then widely-held belief in reincarnation, and numerous peaceful offshoots of Manichean religion.
Fundamentalist Taliban mobsters are putting the finishing touches to this task today. They’ve wrecked the last of countless Buddhist statues that once lined the Silk Road. Across Europe, the Mediterranean Basin and South Asia, thousands of beautiful statues were shattered or had their facial features gouged out―more or less half by Christian iconoclasts and half by Muslim fanatics. This vandalism had nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus or Mohammed, neither would they have approved. Such righteous wreckage makes the religion that justifies it look bad to civilized outsiders, makes its adherents look like snot-nosed, ignorant vandals on a rampage. One would expect fewer conversions that way. Jesus and Mohammed were steadfast advocates for gathering as many converts as possible through peacemaking, compassion and noble generosity.
Constantinople was nearly spared a Turkish pillage by the Mongols who conquered the largest contiguous empire in history. Calling themselves the Chin dynasty, Juchen Mongols destroyed the Sung capital, Kaifeng, twice in 1126 and 1127. Nanking, the Southern Sung capital, fell to them in 1127. Nomad Mongols despised cities; they tended to level them on the run. Major cities sacrificed to the Mongols include, but are not limited to: Peking and the Chinese cities north of the Yellow River, in 1215; Susa in 1218 (dating back to 5000 BCE; leveled prior by the Assyrian King Assurbanipal in 647 BCE and again in 638 CE when Muslim armies conquered Persia), Khojend, Otrar, Bokhara (which surrendered without a fight, but was destroyed anyway), and Samarkand in 1220; Zenjan, Ghazni, Gurganj, Nishapur, Merv, Balkh, Thalequan, Bamian, Ghulghuleh in 1221; Herat, Astrakhan and Sudak in 1222; Ninghsia in 1227; Tbilisi, Erivan and Baku between 1231 and 1236; many south central Chinese cities including Pien Liang (Kaifeng) in 1234; Moscow and Kaluga in 1237; Kiev in 1240; Cracow, Pest and Lahore in 1241; Nanchao, China in 1253; the major cities of Koryo, 1253-57; Hanoi in 1257; Baghdad in 1258 (see above).
A Khwarezmian army fled the Mongols in good order; it managed to sack Jerusalem in 1244. Mongols took Hanoi in 1257; they destroyed Maiyafarign; Alamut (where the great Persian historian and Mongol bureaucrat, ‘Ala ad-Din Juviani, persuaded the Mongol tyrant Hulägu to spare the precious Library of the Assassins (Isma’ilis); Baghdad in 1258; Cracow, Sandomir, Bythom and Sidon in 1259; Aleppo and Nablus in 1260; Mosul in 1262 (at the time, Mosul was world-famous for its beautiful paintings – typical patterns for mosque decoration, since – for its brilliant enamel and metalwork, and for the fabric muslin); Urgench, Khiva and Bukhara in 1273; Hangchow in 1276; Chaochow and Canton in 1278 and 1279 (exterminating heroic Sung resistance in China); Bhamo in 1283; Hanoi in 1285; Pagan and Hanoi, for the last time in 1287.
Shortly thereafter, the indomitable Annamese ejected the Mongols. Any hobby historian could have forewarned French, Japanese and American invaders of their eventual defeat by Vietnamese Nationalists, if only they’d bothered to listen. The Soviet invaders of Afghanistan, likewise. The only people who beat Alexander the Gross in a fair fight were Afghan Gypsies. The only people who stopped the Mongols on a battlefield were Egyptian Mamelukes and the Vietnamese, plus Indonesian and Japanese islanders. Of course, this victory wasn’t always good news. In 1291, the Mamelukes destroyed Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Haifa.
It was said that a comely virgin balancing a pitcher of gold on her head could walk the length of the Silk Road without fear of molestation – except, probably, by Mongol watchmen. For the first time in history, Marco Polo and his party could cross the length of Asia under one passport. Humans purchased this hyper-security with untold suffering and destruction. How badly do we want to feel secure? This Highway to Hell became the transmission route of the Black Death.
The National Geographic Society published a beautiful, oversized book called Peoples and Places of the Past: The National Geographic Illustrated Cultural Atlas of the Ancient World, 1983. One of that society’s countless informative, inexpensive and highly entertaining historical texts; not to mention the cheapest high-qualify magazine in circulation, many issues of which contain beautifully drawn maps and posters and world class photography. Bless them. This book’s three-foot by two-foot, full-folio title page contained a giant picture and the following caption on the next page:
“Afghan [camel] riders pick their way past the ruined citadel now known as Shar-e-Gholgola, the “city of screams.” Once the seat of empire and a lush, prosperous metropolis, the city fell before Mongol invaders in the 13th century.”
Why do my daydreams torment me with similar images of a “planet of screams”: this desolate Earth? Can’t we achieve something preferable?
In 1081, Hiei monks burned down the monastery at Miidera. In 1113, 20,000 armed monks attacked Enryajuji. In 1165, Hiei monks burned the Hosso fortress in Kyoto. In 1193, Zen was prohibited in Japan. The Japanese stopped two Mongol invasions on the landing beach, with a lot of help from kamikaze (Divine Wind) typhoons. Thereafter, the Japanese fought civil wars among themselves for centuries. Internally pacified and stripped of firearms by force, they launched the first of a vicious series of futile invasions of Korea. The Japanese drew inspiration for their Neo-Confucian religion, from books ransacked from Korea’s libraries. In 1275, a major library was founded in Kanazawa (part of Yokohama), with the intention of collecting every book ever written in Chinese and Japanese. Though diminished, it still exists.
The Mongols invaded Java by sea and burned its capital, Kediri or Daha, in 1293. Shortly thereafter, the Javanese expelled the Mongols. The Mamelukes destroyed Sis, Adana, Tarsus and Lajazzo in 1275. Alexandria was flooded once again in 1303 by a monstrous tidal ware.
The Egyptians destroyed Tripoli in 1289; the Muslims, Arbela in 1310. There followed the Mongol destruction of the Genoese Crimean colony of Kafa in 1308 (where the Black Plague was released into Europe through primitive form of germ warfare, transmitted by naval evacuees, and dispersed thereafter by commercial shipping); Kalinin in 1335; Herat in 1341; Kashgar in 1380; Herat again in 1381; Moscow in 1382; Fars in 1386; Karakorum in 1388; Smyrna and Baghdad again in 1393; Astrakhan and Serai in 1395; Delhi and Meerut in 1399; Aleppo and Damascus in 1400; Baghdad once again in 1401; Angora and Smyrna in 1402. Once the Mongol war machine got going, nothing but the death of its supreme commander and subsequent clan feuds could turn away its whirlwind of destruction.
Around 1405, the Turk/Mongol butcher Tamerlane unleashed more chaos across Central Asia than anyone could imagine. Also known as Timur the Lame, he was a devout Muslim and a brilliant psychopath. With ecumenical gusto, he massacred adherents of every creed. His annihilation of Delhi cost over 80,000 lives; the city would take a century to recover. Hundreds of thousands of victims were butchered under Timur’s personal supervision. Meanwhile, he recruited the best artisans he could find to guild his magnificent capital, Samarkand. He spared Mosul from siege and rebuilt its pontoon bridge across the Tigris.
His city-kill credits include Balkh in 1370, Urgench in 1379, Abdizhan in 1375, Isfarian in 1381, Zaranj in 1383, Asterabad in 1384, Kars and Tiflis in 1386, Van and Ispahan (70,000 dead) in 1387, Tiflis in 1400, Baghdad (with 90,000 dead) in 1401. His rivals destroyed Moscow, Vladimir, Yriiel, Mozhaisk in 1382; and Tabriz in 1386. Tamerlane destroyed Azov in 1395; Astrakhan and Sarai in 1396; Multan and Talamba in 1398; Delhi and Miraj in 1399; Aleppo, Moma, Homs and Baalbek in 1400; Damascus in 1401; the Ottoman capital of Bursa, Smyrna (Izmir) and Sardis in 1402. Tamerlane died in Otrar on January 19, 1405; the secret location of his tomb was secured by executing all its excavators. His death cut short his plan to annihilate Chinese civilization once and for all, and turn its rotting carcass into the pivot point for his conquest of the world.
Fourth Crusade fanatics sacked Zara in 1202 and Thessalonica in 1204. These so-called crusaders destroyed every city and massacred everyone they encountered: Christian and otherwise, armed and otherwise, resisting and otherwise. Then they were massacred like a pack of rabid dogs by the first real army the Muslims sent against them.
In the 1200s, the Almohad Berbers – raging Muslim fundamentalists from Morocco – re-re-invaded Spain. Their Almoravid predecessors had already wrested Spain from Visigoth hegemons in 711. Resurgent Spanish Christians took advantage of this inter-Muslim strife to snuff out the most advanced society of the Middle Ages: the Islamic colonies of al-Andalus (Andalusia). Grenada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain, fell to the Christians in 1492. The Pope authorized the Spanish Inquisition in 1238. Cardinal Jimenez, the Grand Inquisitor who succeeded blood-spattered Torquemada, had 24,000 books burned in Grenada. From then on, Spanish conquerors would do their worst to snuff out each new civilization they encountered.
In Central America, the Bishop of Yucatan, Diego de Landa patiently studied the literature of the Maya. Their records dated back to August 12, 3113 BCE. They had predicted that this world cycle would end on the winter solstice of December 21, 2012. If something significant ended on that date, no-one noticed – unless this ending proves to take place in slow motion.
After all, life is like a Russian comedy: “Everybody dies.”
Bishop De Landa patiently had natives teach him High Mayan. Eventually, he earned the grudging respect of the region’s elders, shamans and priests. They reverently brought him their last surviving texts for safekeeping. Once he believed he had captured the entire collection, he had everything burned. He substituted his own Relación de las Cosas de Yucatán.
Of thousands of Maya texts, only a few survive today. Those survivors include the Dresden Codex, the Paris Codex (including the Popol Vuh and the Rabinal Achi), the Madrid Codex and a handful more. The Aztecs, their vassals and enemies (including the inhabitants of the 2000-year-old Zapotek city of Monte Alban) suffered a similar fate. So did the feuding Incas and their vassals in the Andes. So did every Native nation in South and Central America. None survived except as miserable remnants. Many were completely exterminated.
Northern Europeans dealt equivalent Christian mercy to North American Natives. They killed at least as many of them as the Nazis did the Jews. Holocaust indeed, in the Land of the Free.
Let’s set aside for a moment the grim British project of handing out smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans they didn’t care for. The Canadian Government managed to dispossess its fewer but proportionately more menacing Native Canadians almost peacefully—unlike the genocidal bully/victim relationship perfected in the U.S.
They adopted two expedients: 1) they guaranteed native title in perpetuity to small tracts of land centered on each tribe’s most sacred ground, instead of shuffling crushed survivors onto more and more remote badland reservations; and 2) the Royal Canadian Mounted Police administered justice more or less equitably between the natives and settlers. In contrast, the U.S. hired glory-hound militarists, larcenous political appointees and bigot Christian fanatics to abuse Native Americans at gunpoint.
Only a few Native American nations were peaceable by nature. Oral traditions, archeological remnants and pictorial records tell their own story of intertribal warfare and sometimes total extermination, both tribal and urban, in Meso-America. Population pressures largely drove them. The great urban civilizations of South and Central America succeeded each other in ascending order of bloody militarism and human sacrifice. Only the Six Nations of the Iroquois (the fiercest warriors in America) are on record as having established an internally peaceful Confederacy. They tended to kick non-confederate butt, until the Whites arrived with their diseases, firepower and overwhelming numbers. A few Native American nations on the Pacific coast were inherently peaceful. Perhaps predictably, their red and white neighbors mistreated them with equal enthusiasm. Apparently, Guarani natives greeted the Spanish colonizers of Paraguay in peace (virtually none of them are left). What other native peoples were pacifistic at heart and suffered annihilation by or forced assimilation into more warlike tribes or alien civilization, no surviving records document.
By 400 CE, some unknown combination of disasters destroyed the nearly two-thousand-year-old Olmec civilization. Meso-American urban society is traceable from 1500 BCE to about 600 BCE at Chavin de Huantar in Northern Highlands of Peru. A city-site existed at San Loranzo, Tenochtitlan (ca. 1150-900 BCE); as well as its probable political successor, La Venta (c. 800-400 BCE). Both urban civilizations seem to have destroyed themselves inexplicably.
Monte Alban was a mountaintop city that housed some 24,000 people. It went into decline in the 7th century. The city of Teotihuacán was the largest city in the New World: population 200,000, founded c. 300 CE. It destroyed itself with deliberately set fires between 700 and 750. More and more warriors appear in its final century’s art. Copan was the proud capital of the Maya. Its ceremonial centers date back to c. 2000 BCE. It snuffed out between 830 and 930, along with its satellite cities. The Maya were inspired by the Toltec capital of Tula or Tollan (35,000 inhabitants). It lost its ceremonial center to fire between 1150 and 1200. By 1300, the starving inhabitants of Tiahauanaco abandoned their Andean plateau. They’d inscribed it with giant mounded-pebble glyphs visible only from the air. The neighboring Huari Empire collapsed around the same time, c. 1000 CE.
Giant metropolises were abandoned, which once housed 100,000 people or more. Speculation about these disasters includes abrupt climate change (super-El Niños), irrigation-disrupting earthquakes, crop depletion, civil war, invasion, disease—even rabid vampire bat infestations and mass evacuation by extraterrestrials.
In North America, one could have found advanced urban centers like Casas Grandes; the Hohokam, Chaco, Mogollon and Anasazi (Pueblo Bonito) cultures of the American Southwest; Mound People towns like the Hopewell complexes near the Great Lakes; and equivalent Mississippian towns like Cahokia near St. Louis. One or more of them may have traded with more southerly nations listed above. They also disintegrated for a variety of mysterious reasons by 1300.
Ani was the capital of an ancient Armenian state. An earthquake would destroy it during the 14th century. The same fate befell the Pharos of Alexandria, a lighthouse one hundred feet square at its base and two hundred feet tall, completed in 280 BCE. Apart from the Pyramids, it was the last survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Classical World. Wrecked by earthquakes in 956 and 1303, it was finished off in 1323. Its remnants of scrap bronze were loaded onto camels and caravanned off into oblivion.
Berlin burned in 1405. Palembang, Sumatra was destroyed in 1407. Harfleur fell to the English in 1415, punctuating the 116-year “Hundred Years War” between France and England (1337-1453). In 1419, the Lesser Town of Prague was destroyed during recurrent Hussite rebellions. Amsterdam burned in 1421 and again in 1453. Altenburg, Germany was burned by the Hussites in 1430. These heavily armed, wagon-borne heretics formed one of the first modern armies; nearly half of its combatants bore firearms and many of its private soldiers were literate. Utraquist and Taborite (Hussite) sectarians ravaged Central Europe until 1452 when Prague fell once again and local nobles exterminated them.
The three main halls of Peking’s Forbidden City were destroyed by fire in 1421. Successive conflicts between Turkic and Mongol descendants (fanatical Muslim and Buddhist converts, respectively) destroyed Nishni Novgorod and Gorodites in 1408; Urgench in 1431; the Uzbeck capital Olugh-beg and Samarkand (whose famous porcelain tower was smashed) c. 1450; Sairam and Tashkent in 1451; Sarai, the capital of the Golden Horde in 1502; Aksu, Jusha and Bai in 1514.
The Chams (Champa) raided the region of Angkor in 1177. It was the intensively urban seat of Khmer power. The Cambodians counter-invaded in 1190. The Thais defeated the Khmers at Sukothai in 1238. They captured Ankhor Wat in 1353 and Angkor Thom in 1431. Those cities were finally abandoned just before 1450. In 1431, Tuaregs took and sacked Timbuktu, the 200 year-old capital of the Mali Empire. In 1439, the Ottoman Turks took Semendia, the Serbian capital; in 1448 they took Herat. Spain took Naples in 1442. Circa 1450, the Annamese (Vietnamese) took, lost and retook the Champa capital, Vijaya. The Tatars took Moscow in 1451. Thai Ayuthians took the Chiengmai capital (founded by the Thai King Mangrai after 1239) in 1452.
In 1453, the French retook Bordeaux. This ended the Hundred Years War and set loose thousands of routiers (rootiay, “roadies,” demobilized soldiers) to ravage the French countryside and torment its peasantry for decades to come, as they had in a more organized manner during the war. Immediately thereafter, the English fought the civil War of the Roses until 1485. Thereafter, the French fought out their Fronde (Sling) civil war.
Affluent Trebizond surrendered to Ottoman Turks in 1461; it never recovered from their abuse. Timbuktu was sacked by the Songhai in 1468. After decades of civil war, the Japanese Monastery at Honganji was destroyed in 1465. Civil war ravaged Kyoto from 1467 until 1477. Otranto, Italy, fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1481. In 1482, the English took Edinburgh. Dresden burned in 1491.
During the 15th century, the Aztec empire pulsed ever outward. Prior to 1325 CE, they had been a handful of sociopathic “chosen people” outcast by their victorious neighbors to two snake-infested islets in a swamp. By around 1430, they had destroyed their own chronicles to erase the bitter memory of their snake-eating past. By the time the Spaniards brought about their doom in 1518, they had become the most vicious imperialists in Mexico, lashing out more or less at random against their neighbors from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast of Mexico. Aztec women were said to have been the most beautiful…
The Moscovites took Tver in 1485. In 1492, Grenada fell to the Christians, ending the Muslim occupation of Spanish territory. The Swedes sacked Ivangorod in 1496. Milan, Naples and other Italian cities fell repeatedly to French-led Renaissance invaders hired from across over Europe and then sent packing riddled with syphilis.
Uzbeks took Herat, Khorasan and Transoxiana c. 1500. In 1505, the Portuguese sacked Kilwa and Mombassa: the two greatest trade emporia in East Africa. They took Hormuz in 1508. These events mark the beginning of Europe’s conquest of the world. During this period, every secondary node of world commerce would be sacked, burned and raked over (most several times), and almost every tribe and nation on Earth enslaved.
Anglo-Saxons love to condemn the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror during which about 40,000 French elites were executed by vengeful French proletarians in three years. For shame! How much more civilized we smug Anglo-Saxons are, compared to those rabid Frogs! Well, amphibians can’t catch rabies, but you get my point. They fail to mention the fact that it was a year didn’t pass since the 16th century when less than 15,000 native elites weren’t massacred by European imperialists (including hypocrite Brits and Americans and Russians, and, yes, the French too), somewhere around the globe. Americans keep harping on how much more “civilized” their Revolution was, compared to the one in France a few years later. Tell me, you flaming hypocrites, weren’t thousands of Loyalist American Tories killed in combat during the American Revolution, and many more forced overseas at gunpoint after the fighting stopped? Westerners committed just a systematic genocide against Native Americans as the Nazis, Russian and Chinese Communists did against their continental neighbors.
People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, no matter how ironclad their bigotry and ignorance.
Mombassa, capital of a vast African empire, burned down in 1508. In 1510, the Persians took Baku and Tabriz back from Tatars, and the Russians took Pskov. Don Affonce de Albuquerque sacked Goa for four days that same year, boasting he had all the mosques in town crammed with fleeing Muslim citizens and then set ablaze. A year later, this Portuguese entrepreneur sacked Malacca, the greatest seaport in South East Asia with 100,000 inhabitants.
Ottoman Turks defeated the Mamelukes during days of bloody fighting in the streets of Cairo, and then sacked it in 1517. Rhodes fell to the Turks in 1522. Rebellious peasants pillaged Mainz in 1525. In 1527, the Shans sacked Ava, the Northern Burmese capital. That same year, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sacked Rome, thus ending the Renaissance with a military flourish.
Spain sacked Tunis in 1535. In 1536, British King Henry VIII and his Prime Minister, Sir Thomas Cromwell, had 800 abbeys, friaries and nunneries ransacked and dissolved. The Abbey at Glastonbury – said to have once housed the Sacred Chalice – suffered a commercial sack from which it never recovered.
“The destruction of books was almost incredibly enormous. Bale describes the use of them by bookbinders and by grocers and merchants for the packing of their goods. Maskell calculates the loss of liturgical books alone to have approached the total of a quarter of a million. An eyewitness describes the leaves of Duns Scotus as blown about by the wind even in the courts of Oxford, and their use for sporting and other purposes. Libraries that had been collected through centuries, such as those of Christ Church and St. Albans, both classical and theological, vanished in a moment. It was not only the studious orders that gathered books; the friars, also, had libraries, though, as Leland relates of the Oxford Franciscans, they did not always know how to look after them. So late as 1535, a bequest was made by the bishop of St. Asaph of five marks to buy books for the Grey Friars of Oxford. Nor can it be doubted that vast numbers of books less directly theological must have perished.” Taken from “The Dissolution of the Religious Houses,” at http://www.bartleby.com/213/0301.html
The French army and Berber pirate allies sacked Nice in 1543. In 1544, the English re-sacked Edinburgh. Russians took Kazan in 1554 and Astrakhan in 1556. The Portuguese destroyed Rio de Janeiro in 1557. From 1562 to 1628, France indulged its worst bigots during the Huguenot Wars. The Protestant segment of the brightest luminaries in France was forced to seek refuge, dignity and bread for their family in foreign lands. France would compete with those expatriates for centuries to come. In this manner, France doomed itself to second-rate – if good Catholic – status. In 1565, Kannada (Hampi) was sacked and turned into the Indian version of Pompei. In 1569, Northern English Earls sacked Durham Cathedral.
The Russians sacked Novgorod in 1570. The Tatars sacked and burned Moscow in 1571 (200,000 dead). Antwerp fell to Spain in 1576 and again in 1585. Venice burned in 1577. After liberating themselves from the Spaniards and enjoying a brief Golden Age, most Flemish cities were sacked by foreign armies. An English fleet sacked Cadiz and Lisbon in 1587. Another Portuguese army sacked Mombassa in 1589. Moroccans destroyed Gao, the Songhai capital. They sacked Timbuktu in the early 1590s, destroyed Ahmed Baba’s library and the famous University of Sankore. The English sacked Cadiz again in 1596. From 1599 on, Protestant and Catholic leaders began burning each others’ libraries all over Germany, (10,000 forbidden Protestant books were set alight in Graz alone).
At Oxford University, the Bodleian library replaced the original that burned down in 1602. Khiva was destroyed in 1603. Cardinal Federigo Borromeo founded the Ambrosian Library in Milan in 1609, possibly from remnants of the great library of its defeated rival, Como. The Achenese sacked Johore in 1613. The Japanese government took Osaka Castle in 1615. During the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) at least ten million victims died—nearly every other German. Imagine what happened to the region’s libraries. Dutch adventurers burned down Jakarta in 1619 and enslaved the Banda islanders to extract more spice. Prague was looted repeatedly; the Austrians sacked it in 1620. Heidelberg was sacked in 1621. In 1630, Ottomans destroyed Hamadan, the ancient capital of Media. The next year, Protestant Swedes took Frankfurt and Catholic Germans took Magdeburg, both by storm. Japanese government troops stormed Hara castle in 1637. In 1645, the Manchus sacked Yang-chou with “very heavy casualties.” They would take another forty years to subdue the Ming dynasty. Kandahar fell to the Persians in 1649. In 1654, the Russians took Smolensk. A year later, the Swedes took Warsaw, lost it to the Poles and then retook it. That same year, the Russians retook Kiev.
The magnificent city of Edo (now Tokyo) numbered 107,000 inhabitants in 1657, the year it burned down. The Siamese took Chiengmai in 1662. The next year, the Moguls took Assam. In 1664 and again in 1670, King Sivaji took Surat. Its twice-wrought destruction became the pivot points of his life—how sad. By 1665, 100,000 Londoners had died of plague. The city burned down the next year. The Moguls took Chitagong in 1666. Tsaritsyn and Astrakhan fell to Cossacks in 1670. The Russians retook Astrakhan in 1671.
The Library of the Escorial of Madrid burned down in 1671, taking with it most of the official documentation of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, since the Spanish Crown had forbidden this information to be disseminated beyond its domain. In 1673, the French took Maastricht. Karakorum was destroyed in 1688 and Athens was gutted. The Turks used the Parthenon as a powder magazine, which Venetian artillery promptly blew up. Five months later, the Venetians “won” the battle of Athens. By then, plague had emptied the city and it would remain a ghost town for three years. Then the Turks retook it.
During the endgame of World War II (sic), the British Army sited a gun battery on the Parthenon despite Churchill’s promise not to do so. From this high ground, they shelled the working class districts of Athens. Thus did Churchill and a succession of Anglo-Saxon hypocrites restore Greek fascists to rule Greece at gunpoint for the next forty years. Much the same way undermanned Allied victors rearmed Japanese troops after Japan’s surrender, so they could garrison and police most of South East Asia against native Nationalists.
Many “retired” Nazis became government and corporate functionaries in post-war Europe. Bushido-boys rapidly regained corporate dominion over Japan. Before and during the war, the BundesBank bankrolled the Nazis—you can guess how. These days, it is the financial powerhouse of Europe. The American OSS absorbed 1500 ex-Gestapo operatives when it became the CIA—in addition to the ex-Nazi rocket scientists it brought home. Japanese masters at genocide, who’d vivisected and infected countless Chinese civilians and Allied prisoners with plague, anthrax and other epidemic diseases, were pardoned in exchange for their laboratory notes. They called their victims “Logs.” Who knows how many more demons incarnate became prized NATO functionaries? Needless to say, Russian Stalinists were just as accommodating to these imps from Hell.
In 1693, a French army sacked Heidelberg and ravaged the rest of Germany with violence comparable to the massacres of the Thirty Years War (no wonder the Germans came roaring back later on, demanding payback). Three years later, the Russians took Azov. The Omani took Mombassa in 1698, the same year Whitehall Palace burned down. In 1703, the Swedes took Warsaw again. Algerians took Oran in 1709. French troops sacked Rio de Janeiro in 1711. In 1716, fanatical Lamaist Dzugar Mongols took and sacked the Lamaist holy center at Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. In 1720, the Chinese took Turfan and Urumchi. Copenhagen burned down in 1728. Constantinople suffered great fires in 1729, 1756 and 1782. The Persians sacked Delhi in 1736. They took Balkh, Ghazni and Kabul in 1738. They destroyed Delhi and the entire Mogul Empire in 1739. They took Bukhara and Khiva in 1740. In 1751, the Mons took Ara, the capital of Burma. Six years later, the Burmese took Pegu, the Mon capital. Moscow burned down in 1752. The Bambaras took Timbuktu, Djenne and Bamako in 1755. Russians took Azov in 1783. As part of the British conquest of India, Lord Cornwallis burned down the Indian city of Bangalore. This is how he “redeemed” his military reputation “sullied” by his defeat at Yorktown.
Has this tale of wanton destruction made your eyes cross yet? Have things gotten a little blurry?
Almost every European, Turkish and Persian town was besieged, plundered and/or burned during this period—ostensibly over the best way to worship God. Lisbon – the capital of a prosperous maritime empire two hundred years old – was annihilated, one crisp Sunday morning in 1755, by a massive earthquake, tidal wave and firestorm. Voltaire noted this sample of God’s affection in his novel, Candide.
The founder of the Afghan Durani dynasty sacked Delhi in 1756 and again in 1760. That same year, the Russians burned Berlin. In 1765, Harvard College burned down along with its library, destroying over 90% of its books. Princeton’s Nassau Hall Library burned in 1802. The Burmese sacked Ayutha in 1767. In 1775, the Tuaregs took Timbuktu. In 1799, the French took Naples, once again by storm. In the late 1700s, fanatical Wahhabi tribesmen invaded Tarim, an Arab city graced with 365 mosques and a great many libraries. Between their assault and an infestation of white worms, every book housed there was lost.
Almost every European and Mediterranean city suffered significant damage during the Napoleonic Wars. Wellington’s army, for example, sacked Bajadoz in 1811—imitating Napoleon and his marshals whose troops ransacked every city they took. In 1812, the Russians burned Moscow out from under Bonaparte’s Grande Armée. In 1811, the Montserrat Monastery Library burned down. In 1814, the British took Washington D.C. Seeking reprisal for an equivalent atrocity the Americans had perpetrated against the Canadian capital at Toronto, they burned down the White House and the Capitol Building. These structures housed the first Library of Congress, later replaced by Thomas Jefferson’s library. A tornado descended on the city; it killed and maimed more British soldiers than ineffectual American resistance had on that day.
In 1820, the Siamese were alarmed by vague rumors that the British were about to attack them, presumably with Laotian help. They invaded Laos and burned down every public structure in Vientiane, the Lao capital. They burned alive in giant bamboo cages every Lao prisoner they did not enslave.
Canton burned in 1822. Macau’s Archives were destroyed by fire in 1825 and 1885. In 1827, the Dahomey took Whydah. In 1828, the Russians carried off the fine library from Ardebil, the capital of Azerbaijan. New York City burned in 1845. Montreal’s Parliament buildings were destroyed by fire in 1849. So was Rangoon, Burma, in 1850. In 1851, the remaining two thirds of Jefferson’s book collection burned up along with most of the second Library of Congress; as did the city of San Francisco. Tokyo burned in 1857. Along with many other cities, Nanking was destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion. In 1864, its magnificent Porcelain Pagoda, Hong Xiquan’s palace and the Ming Palace nearby were smashed. Vicksburg, Tennessee; Jackson, Mississippi; Atlanta, Georgia; Laurence, Kansas; Columbia, South Carolina; Richmond, Virginia and other American towns suffered the same fate during the American Civil War (1860-65). Quebec City burned in 1866. During the South American War of the Triple Alliance (1865-70) the Brazilian Imperial Army sacked Asuncion, Paraguay, and took the National Library to Rio de Janeiro where its remnants were kept in secret. Beginning August 23, 1870, the Prussians decided to burn down Strasbourg with incendiary shells from their siege artillery, along with its picture gallery, its city library full of ancient treasures, its Huguenot Temple Neuf and most of the roof of its Cathedral. A German rehearsal for future outrages of this kind, intended to force surrender but only managing to cohere local resistance. A French Communard mob burned down the Tuilleries library in Paris in 1871, with its 250,000 books. The Great Chicago fire occurred the same year; Boston burned down a year later. In 1882, victorious Chile confiscated the National Library of Peru and transferred its contents from Lima to Santiago.
From the mid-1800s on, some excuse or other was found to flatten almost every city on Earth. For example, British troops burned down Benin, the capital of an empire at least six hundred years old. Its magnificent sculpted wood and cast bronze artwork did not recover until very recently.
Messina, Sicily was swallowed by a monstrous tidal wave in 1908. The entire 1890 U.S. Census burned up in 1920. A year later in Dublin, the medieval archives of Ireland were destroyed during the Easter Rebellion. In 1922, Young Turks burned down the city of Smyrna and sent the Greek minority scrambling back to Greece along with the Greek Army dispatched to annex them. This atrocity was a continuation of a super-efficient, futuristic, German-supervised campaign to exterminate every Turkish Armenian (at least a million of them from 1894 to 1915). Who knows how many Armenian Orthodox churches, seminaries and libraries went up in flames? Ataturk adopted two Armenian orphans.
Whenever human greed and cruelty were not up to the task, a natural catastrophe did the trick. For example, 140,000 people and uncounted documents perished when an earthquake and monstrous firestorm leveled Tokyo in 1923.
The University of Virginia Library burned down at the beginning of the 20th century. So did the Italian National Library at Turin, from an electrical fire in 1904. At least 100,000 items of the 320,000-book collection went up in flames, including many priceless manuscripts and its entire Oriental collection. On February 19, 1938, a fire at West Point destroyed its library and a vast number of American historical documents.
Major libraries and collections destroyed by warfare during the last century include but are not limited to: Peking, Port Arthur, Louvain, Noyon, Amiens, Ypres, Arras, Soissons, Salonika, Rheims, Cambrai, Belgrade, Smyrna, Kiev, Vilna, Minsk, Shanghai, Suchow, Nanking, Guernica, Madrid, Nanking, Warsaw, Cracow, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Coventry, London (where 60% of Britain’s World War I (sic) military records were destroyed during the Blitz), Valetta, Benghazi, Tripoli, Belgrade, Minsk, Vitebsk, Kiev, Viasma, Smolensk, Bryansk, Odessa, Uman, Kharkov, Sevastopol, Rostov, Stalingrad, Belgorod, Budapest, Ancona, Naples (where retreating Nazis burned 80,000 volumes of the Royal Society), Pisa, Milan, Caen, St. Nazaire, Brest, Metz, Arnhem, Hamburg, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Köln, Essen, Dresden, Heidelburg, (virtually every German, Japanese, Eastern European and Eastern Chinese city was leveled, as were many more across the rest of Europe), Mandalay, Rovaniemi, Tartu, Manila, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe, Osaka, Yokohama, Shuri, Rangoon, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Seoul, Pyongyang (founded in 1122 BCE; ravaged by the Japanese in 1592, 1894 and 1904; and by the Americans in 1951), Jerusalem, Port Said, Hanoi, Hue, Phnom Penh, Jolo, Belfast, Beirut, Amritsar, Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, Vukovar, Grozny, Kabul and Baghdad.
During the Greater Paroxysm, European fascists made a point of burning every Hebrew and Yiddish scripture, every Cyrillic text and icon they found in Russia, as well as every progressive text they could find anywhere in any language. The toll of destruction totaled hundreds of millions of books.
“The most extensive Soviet deportations, however, were carried out as Soviet troops liberated territory in 1943-44. The people affected were the minorities living on the north slope of the Caucasus and the west bank of the Volga, who maintained their own languages and religions, primarily Islam but also Buddhism, and who had been largely unaffected by the strongly Slav and Orthodox elements of Russian culture ... In total, about 1,200,000 were affected. During 1943-44, the Soviets deployed hundreds of thousands of troops to forcibly remove these people, and they were moved with few possessions, in cattle trucks with little or no food and water. Probably about 500,000 died in transit or subsequently in the Gulag. The Soviet authorities removed all references to these people, and all materials in their written languages were destroyed.” Clive Ponting, Armageddon, Random House, 1995, p. 223. Italics mine.
These predatory tactics are not unique to Soviet Russia. On the contrary, they are consistent with weapon managers in general. Euro-Americans treated Native Americans with equivalent tenderness. For example, they forbade Indian children to speak their mother tongue while they forced them to attend residential schools. Other empires treated their ethnic minorities just as shamelessly if not worse.
In the late 50s and early 60s the reference libraries and old film collections of the great five movie corporations in Hollywood: MGM, Paramount Pictures, RKO, Warner Bros., and 20th Century Fox; were broken up and sold off.
Chunking, China burned down in 1949; Tottori, Japan in 1952. Priceless text collections in Florence were ravaged by flooding in the 1960s. On June 7, 1962, the library of Algiers, along with its 60,000 volumes, was dynamited and burned down by French colonial bitter-enders of the OAS. Mandalay, Burma burned in 1981 and Lashio in 1988.
In the so-called 21st century of “modern” civilization, library collections are systematically neglected; they go up in flames by accident or malevolent intent. Librarians at the Czech National Library in Prague confessed to enormous damage from neglect and appealed for international aid. The entire collection of the ex-Soviet Union is in dire straits. The same confession applies to most Second and Third World collections. America’s Library of Congress is a sieve. The American University Library in Beirut was bombed. Bosnia’s National Library was especially targeted for Aggressor destruction. In 1966, Indonesia’s greatest living writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Pram), saw his library burnt to the ground by sneering militarists before they dragged him off to ten years in exile. How many more private libraries had to suffer the same fate at the hands of heavily armed moral infants? 80% of U.S. Army service records from 1912 to 1960 were lost in a 1973 fire at the St. Louis National Personnel Center.
The Library of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, that contained 97,000 volumes of largely Tamil Hindu culture, was destroyed by Buddhist, Sinahlese-dominated government forces in May-June 1981. The rebuilt and painstakingly restocked library was attacked again in 1983 and destroyed in 1985. The library in Hama, Syria was destroyed in 1982. In 1983, a fire destroyed the St. Michael’s House collection in Australia. The Los Angeles Public Library burned down in 1986. In the spring of 1988, a Shiite library in Teheran was wiped out by one of Saddam Hussein’s randomly aimed Scud missiles. Many irreplaceable, thousand-year-old texts were destroyed. A 1989 fire leveled the Russian Library of the Academy of Sciences on Vasilievski Island. The Chinese destroyed the major monastery of Gandem, outside Lhasa, in the 1960s. Inexcusably, they’ve wrecked almost every other Tibetan monastery since. A hundred-year flood and ensuing fire in 1995 gutted the archives of the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. On September 21, 1996, the library at Linkoeping, Sweden, was destroyed by fire. Takastan Monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery in Bhutan, suffered the same fate on April 19, 1998. On June 10, 1999 the Kashmir State Cultural Center burned down. California State University’s (CSU) Hayward Library fell in May of 2000. In Ambon, Mollucas Island in Indonesia, the Christian University Campus was set ablaze in June of 2000. The Iraqi library at Basra burned down during the American invasion in 2003; though its chief librarian, Alia Muhammad Baker, managed to save 70% of her collection with the help of heroic local townsfolk.
If I’ve left out some act of cultural vandalism or urban disaster of noteworthy viciousness, please write to me about it for inclusion in future versions of this chapter. If anyone ever bothered to write up humanity’s global self-lobotomy, that work was destroyed in turn.
Meanwhile, almost every book printed since the 1800s is quietly self-destructing. Its cheap, high-acid paper reacts to light, heat and moisture by crumbling to dust. These days, Fahrenheit 451 has dropped to room temperature. The wonderful world of chemistry has relieved Ray Bradbury’s fascistic, science fiction dystopians from the thankless task of burning every book. Ephemeral electronic media are even more vulnerable. Any massive breakdown of civilization will see most of them perish, including this work unless it gets paper published by some miracle.
In addition, recording media’s engineered obsolescence affords our literature repeated opportunities to disappear. Herculean efforts to transfer print media onto digital databases will only mitigate this devastation (mostly meaningless gigabits of accounting documents). In library after library, reluctant staffers have dumped truckloads of perfectly fine books and bibliographic materials into the nearest landfill. Meanwhile, their MBA-certified weapon managers have crowed about reaching their insignificant cost-cutting “goals.”
In the future, the preservation of rare ideas – especially idiosyncratic and culturally specific ones that deviate from the mass media norm – will become a private, oral and website responsibility much more so than a public, paper-published one. Since dominant technocrats have refused to perform their obvious duty, many more bards, witches, griots and shamans will need to step up to these responsibilities.
ADDENDA: On a black Tuesday, April 15, 2003, Iraq’s National Library, its National Museum and Islamic Library were looted, ruined and burned by rioters and expert grave robbers. For the ten thousandth time, the world had to suffer a terrible lobotomy.
Tell me the truth. Is this really the 21st century in which I have to serve my time, or are Hulagu’s heirs still in charge? In fact, we Americans have confirmed that that we are just as bad news as the Taliban. They found nothing better to do that blow up two giant statues of Buddha in the valley of Bamian. The official in charge of that demolition just got elected to the new Afghan Parliament. May he choke on his authority garnered at gunpoint.
A hundred years from now, Saddam Hussein may be forgotten and Bush the Lesser, only recalled as the American yokel who oversaw the annihilation of Baghdad’s priceless collections. A thousand years from now, that may be the only thing for which this flash-in-a-pan American Empire is remembered. How far these mighty mental midgets will have fallen!
Only Texans and their greed-obsessed associates could secure the Oil Ministry yet leave unguarded the National Library, the Islamic Library and the Museum of Iraq. Their school-marms didn't learn them Mesopotamian archeology the way mine did, with deep reverence. Academic experts warned the U.S. Central Command repeatedly beforehand; it took no precautions. Clueless hicks…
As for the U.S. Marines, some butter-bar Platoon Leader should have grasped what his superiors – from the President on down – were too stupid, ignorant and lazy to realize. That kind of man-on-the-ground initiative is what good officers get paid for: to post a guard over unforeseen yet vital installations until further orders and arrest anyone who threatened those sacred collections. His superiors should have backed him reflexively.
He may have tried; who knows? History is the first love of a thoughtful soldier. No history buff would have permitted that outrage without protest. But he would have had to buck his request up the Chain of Command. During its ascent, it would have run past the stupidest link in the chain (perhaps the one at top one in the White House?). Did some overworked staff officer – trying to match a few score squads of warm bodies against square blocks of facilities left to guard – simplify his worthless career by bucking back a sharply worded response? “Negative. Do nothing.” Or was he just another hireling of rich collectors intent on stealing those artifacts, who made sure his congressional patrons’ lust would be satisfied?
In any case, if there is a difference between crushing firepower and victorious acumen, Americans have yet to learn it.
This must be a new low for the United States Marine Corps. Allowing the Baghdad collections to be destroyed on its watch was just as much a disgrace as First Bull Run and Beirut.
America must learn – no matter how slowly and painfully – what every dim-wit empire in history has had to relearn during its roller-coaster ride of slow growth, lightning conquest, sudden onset stagnation and on the spot annihilation—just before its prior victims strip it of everything it once cherished. Like an unintended homicide in the course of another crime; stupidity, shortsightedness and cultural ignorance never excuse the unintended consequences of our worst impulses. History doesn’t care how Texan, Republican, corporate and otherwise inept and self-serving our leaders may become, or how clueless we must have been to empower them, except to hasten our defeat.
America and Australia have the luxury of dominating their continent without a military rival worthy of the name, unlike most other nations that have to share a continent in war and peace with populous and pushy neighbors. Those two may cower on their own continent and remain as small-town, closed-minded and bigoted as they please. Americans may short-change their youth’s education (à la TV) until our college students can’t answer questions a twelve-year-old could overseas. Our mephitic fat cats may dispatch mercenaries out to comb the world and rip off its treasures, bolted down or buried or otherwise, with relative impunity.
However, once we venture forth into the Big Bad World, self-satisfied incompetence becomes our worst liability and brings on consequences much grimmer than mere public disgrace resulting from our collective bumpkinhood. Like the world-class disgraceful mob of modern Republican presidential contenders, each newcomer less worthy than his predecessors.
Americans, take heed! As during a spoiled brat’s temper tantrum, we’ve shattered a priceless vase in a china shop. We’ve already gotten badly scraped up once (recall 9/11). Next time, the damage is likely to be much worse. Everyone has suffered it, who’s preceded us down this Shining Path of fantasy WeaponWorld dominion.
Establishing PeaceWorld on our watch would be a much better deal for everyone involved—America’s interests, strengths and limitations foremost and those of the rest of the world not far behind.
On Monday, January 5, 2004 of this so-called civilized age, thousands of rare Sanskrit manuscripts, ancient books and palm leaf inscriptions were destroyed in a half hour when two hundred and fifty protesters ransacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. One of the worst losses was a clay tablet dating back to the Assyrian civilization of 600 BCE. The protesters, members of a group called the Sambhaji Brigade, threw stones at the Institute and broke its windows. Telephone lines were cut so the police could not respond. Police protection had been given to three historians, G. B. Mahendale, Shrikant Bahulkar and V. L. Manjul, in the light of a controversial book that contained allegedly objectionable observations by author and teacher James Laine, on the parentage of the Maratha warrior King Shivaji. In the process, he painted a new and more complex picture of Hindu-Muslim relations from the 17th century to the present. The controversy seemed to have been resolved when Mr. Laine apologized for his statements about Shivaji. The book's publisher, Oxford University Press, withdrew the book from the market. Police arrested seventy-two people for acts of vandalism, reports Newkerala.com.
Thus do fundamentalists disgrace their own creed.
“4/29/2005 -- The Central Library in Imphal, the capital of the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, suffered what historian Gangumei Kamei called “an incalculable loss.” A group pushing for the Mayek script to replace the state’s official Bengali one, set the facility ablaze, destroying as many as 145,000 books, including some of the oldest and rarest texts. Officials say the protestors were combined members of the regional United Forum for Safeguarding Manipuri Script and Language, and a separatist rebel group, the Kangleipak Communist Party. The BBC News quoted an attorney as describing the arson as a “Taliban-style” act. Officials say that for several months the groups have been demanding that the government adopt the Mayek script and drop the Bengali, used for the last three hundred years to write the Meitei language. Some local newspapers had begun publishing editions in both languages.” http://www.libraryjournal.com./article/CA527242?display=breakingNews
I wish I would never have to add another disgraceful incident to this long and sorry list. I suspect that I shall be bound to. At times this human species can truly sicken one. Oh well; as a favorite tee shirt of mine would say:
Not of this nation,
Not of this species,
Not of this planet.
An electrical fire, set off on September 2004, gutted the Anna Amalia Library in Weimar, Germany, the hometown of Goethe. Over 50,000 irreplaceable books were lost, even though a daisy chain of good people saved 6,000 tomes from the flames and another 22,000 were spared. The library has since been rebuilt with 60,000 titles, including thousands returned to it after painstaking restoration. The December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami flooded who knows how many archives within that region and drowned their guardians.
March 5, 2007: the Al-Mutanabi book market in Baghdad was car bombed and destroyed. It had been a world-famous center of reading and scholarship for centuries, even under the heavy hand of Saddam Hussein. Like the dynamiters of the Shia’s most holy Karbala and Najaf shrines, may the perpetrators repent of their deed before they expire and rot!
On March 3, 2009, the municipal archives of Köln (Cologne) collapsed, killing two people, ruining many medieval manuscripts and four hundred boxes of private papers and unpublished manuscripts by the author Heinrich Böll (1917-1985).
The World Trade towers contained several archives (some classified) and museums destroyed on 9/11/2001. The Pentagon was conducting an audit looking into billions of dollars of military contract funds “misplaced” during the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfield klepto-administration; all those records and researchers were conveniently annihilated.
On or just before the first weekend of 2012, during rioting between political protestors and the military, the Institute of Egypt was gutted during twelve hours of fire and then flooded by Cairo’s Fire Department. The next week, the remains of 192,000 books, journals and other writings were picked over by volunteers trying to salvage something from the wet ashes of that collapsed building. Among those destroyed was one of five copies in existence of the 24-volume Description de l’Égypte, hand-written during Napoleon’s scientific expedition, along with many irreplaceable texts on Egyptian culture and history. At best, the Egyptian military failed to protect the building from arsonists and failed to put the fire out quickly, when nearby buildings were either protected or their fires instantly extinguished. At worst, they set the fires themselves. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/19/cairo-institute-burned-during-clashes
Libyan Islamists destroyed a Sufi library in the Asmari Mosque as well as other shrines in Tripoli, Misrata and Zlitan in August 2012. In January, 2013, like-minded fanatics destroyed more mosques and shrines in Timbuktu, Mali. Thanks to the preservation efforts of heroic locals (Abdel Kaddel Haidara and many of the town’s leading families) with foreign support arranged by Stephanie Daikité, those religious thugs found “only” 4,000 manuscripts to destroy out of a scattered collection of 300,000 or more.
In the city of Sarajevo in February 2013, the Museum, the National and University Library (burned out in 1992 by Serbian Army hand-me-down artillery), the Art Gallery, the Historical Museum, the National Archive, the Museum of Literature, and the Library for the Blind are all in danger of closing permanently, thanks to ethnic nationalists (can you guess which ones?) who dominate the Bosnian government and disgrace themselves by refusing to assume their civic responsibility. In February 2014, the Sarajevo Archive just happened to burn down during an unemployment riot (can you guess burned down by whom?) provoked by ethnic nationalists’ schemes to privatize Bosnia’s few remaining public industries and sell off their components for profit.
A Berlusconni-era political appointee sold off thousands of priceless, 15th and 16th century manuscripts from the Biblioteca Girolamini, the oldest library in Italy. Caught red-handed in 2013, his sentence was commuted to house arrest in exchange for assistance in retrieving “up to eighty percent” of the books he, his gang and his typical reactionary, political patrons had looted.
In January 2014, two thirds of a nearly 80,000-title library of irreplaceable Muslim and Christian manuscripts and books were put to the torch in Tripoli, based on a spurious accusation invented by Libyan religious fanatics.
In January 2015, one million documents (15% of the collection) were destroyed by water when the Institute of Scientific Information on the Social Sciences (INION), Moscow’s equivalent of the American Library of Congress, burned until its roof collapsed as a result of an electrical short circuit. A “cultural Chernobyl,” per the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
On February 2015, DAESH fanatics took 2,000 texts from the Great Library of Mosul, Iraq, and destroyed them, extending their psychopathic policy of torturing, raping and murdering Muslim and non-Muslim peoples within their sphere of influence.
On August 19, 2017, the renaissance manuscript library of Roberto Bilotti was gutted in Cosenza, Italy. Three squatters died on the floor below.
And so it goes.