This was a difficult article for me to write. As a bibliophile, the very thought of burning books (accidentally or intentionally) produces a visceral reaction. Throughout history there have been numerous book burnings done intentionally in an effort to erase a conquered people's culture, history, language, and sense of national identity. As seekers of historical facts on this site, we are at a distinct disadvantage because so many original documents have been deliberately destroyed and most of what we are left with are the victors' version of events. The sheer volume of destroyed documentation makes our task even more daunting. Depressingly, the list of book burnings was so extensive that I had to pare it down for conciseness. This is by no means a comprehensive list but links are provided for further reference. As you will see, the holocaust continues into the present.
Xianyang Palace and State Archives Xianyang Qin China, 206 BC. Xiang Yu, rebelling against emperor Qin Er Shi, led his troops into Xianyang in 206 BC. He ordered the destruction of the Xianyang Palace by fire. (Qin Shi Huang had ordered the burning of books and burying of scholars earlier.) This was also done by Cambodia in the 20th century-destroying not only the written knowledge accumulated but also killing those who might be able to recreate it.
Library of Alexandria, Ancient Egypt - Disputed cause/perpetrator(s).
Library of the Serapeum, Alexandria Ancient Egypt in 392 Theophilus of Alexandria. The library was burned and looted at the perpetrator's decree, who was ordered to do so by Theodosius I.
Nalanda, India1193 Bakhtiyar Khilji Nalanda University complex (the most renowned repository of Buddhist knowledge in the world at the time) was sacked by Turkic Muslim invaders under the perpetrator; this event is seen as a milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India. The library of Nalanda, known as Dharma Gunj (Mountain of Truth) or Dharmagañja (Treasury of Truth), was the most renowned repository of Hindu and Buddhist knowledge in the world at the time. Its collection was said to comprise hundreds of thousand of volumes, so extensive that it burned for months when set aflame by Muslim invaders in 1193.
Madrassah Library Granada Crown of Castile 1499 Cardinal Cisneros The library was ransacked by troops of Cardinal Cisneros in late 1499, the books were taken to the Plaza Bib-Rambla, where they were burned.
Glasney College Penryn, Cornwall England1548 Royal officials The smashing and looting of the Cornish colleges at Glasney and Crantock brought an end to the formal scholarship which had helped to sustain the Cornish language and the Cornish cultural identity.
Maya codices of the Yucatán Maní, Mexico and Guatemala 1562-07-12 Diego de Landa Bishop De Landa, a Franciscan monk and conquistador during the Spanish conquest of Yucatán, wrote: "We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction." Only three extant codices are widely considered unquestionably authentic.
Raglan Library Raglan Castle Wales 1646 Parliamentary Army The Earl of Worcester's library was burnt during the English Civil War by forces under the command of Thomas Fairfax
Library of Congress Washington, D.C. United States 1814 Troops of the British Army. The library was destroyed during the War of 1812 when British forces set fire to the U.S. Capitol during the Burning of Washington. Immediately following the British withdrawal, former President Thomas Jefferson sold to the US Government his entire private library, 6,700 volumes, to replace the loss – from which the Library of Congress went on to expand to its enormous present size though a fire in 1851 destroyed around two-thirds of Jefferson's collection. The material destroyed in 1814 is the modern digital storage equivalent of 3.42 gigabytes and could easily be hosted on one single present-day smartphone, tablet, or SD card. (Wiki's downplaying of the amount of material lost is insulting as it is not only the number of books lost but the type of books and the age in which they were written)
University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama United States 1865-05-04 Troops of the Union Army. During the American Civil War, Union troops destroyed most buildings on the University of Alabama campus, including its library of approximately 7,000 volumes.
Royal library of the Kings of Burma, Mandalay Palace Burma 1885 – 1887 Troops of the British Army. The British looted the palace at the end of the 3rd Anglo-Burmese War (some of the artifacts which were taken away are still on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London) and burned down the royal library.
Library of the Catholic University of Leuven Leuven, Belgium 1914-08-25 German Occupation Troops. The Germans set the library on fire as part of the burning of the entire city in an attempt to use terror to quell Belgian resistance to occupation.
Public Records Office of Ireland Dublin, Ireland 1922 Disputed. Poss. deliberately by Anti-Treaty IRA or accidental ignition of their stored explo-sives due to shelling by Provisional Government forces.The Four Courts was occupied by the Anti-Treaty IRA at the start of the Irish Civil War. The building was bombarded by the Provisional Government forces under Michael Collins. At the culmination of the April 1922 fighting in and around the Four Courts in Dublin, as the Republican forces hitherto barricaded in the building were surrendering, the west wing was obliterated in a huge explosion, destroying the Irish Public Record Office located at the rear, with nearly one thousand years of irreplaceable archives being destroyed. Responsibility for the incident has never been established. Blame has been placed on either the national army which was shelling anti-Treaty forces or anti-Treaty forces who were believed to have purposely blown up the records in an act of defiance. (Not a library this time but a public records office. This isn't suspicious at all.)
Several religious libraries. Madrid, Spain 1931 Anarchists and anti-clericalists. In 1931, several groups of radical leftists and anarchists, with the complicit inaction of the Republican government, burned down several convents in Madrid. Most included important libraries. Among them, the Colegio de la Inmaculada y San Pedro Claver and the Instituto Católico de Artes e Industrias with a library of 20,000 volumes; including the archives of the paleographer García Villada, and 100,000 popular songs compiled by P. Antonio Martínez. Everything was lost.The Casa Profesa with a library of 80,000 volumes, considered the second best in Spain at the time, after the National Library; and the Instituto Católico de Artes e Industrias,
Institut für Sexualwissenschaft Berlin,Nazi Germany 1933-05-? Members of the Deutsche Studentenschaft. On 6 May 1933, the Deutsche Studentenschaft made an organised attack on the Institute of Sex Research. A few days later, the Institute's library and archives were publicly hauled out and burned in the streets of the Opernplatz.
Library of the Catholic University of Leuven. Leuven, Belgium 1940-05-? German Occupation Troops. Caught fire during German invasion of Louvain, Belgium. On 25 August 1914, the university library of Leuven was destroyed by the Germans. Among the 300,000 books destroyed were many irreplaceable books, and more than 1,000 incunabula (handwritten books before the invention of the printing press). After the war, a new library was built. During World War II, the new building was again set on fire and nearly a million books were lost, including Gothic and Renaissance manuscripts. At the time, this destruction aroused shock and dismay around the world. One of the notable losses was that of Rongorongo text E, which was one of only two dozen surviving examples of the as yet undeciphered rongorongo script of Easter Island. Rubbings and possibly 3-dimensional replicas were preserved in libraries and collections elsewhere. They are all that remain of the original. (I wonder what Easter Island had to say that we weren't meant to hear?)
Załuski Library. Warsaw, Poland 1944 Nazi German troops. The library was burned down during the Nazi suppression of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The burning of this library was part of the general setting on fire of a large part of the city of Warsaw.
National Library of Serbia. Belgrade, Yugoslavia 1941-04-06 Nazi German Luftwaffe. Destroyed during the World War II bombing of Belgrade.
Central University Library of Bucharest. Bucharest, Romania 1989-12-2? Romanian Land Forces. Burnt down during the Romanian Revolution.