Manuscript Destruction

Manuscripts Lost Since the Reformation Era

It is common to hear modern textual criticis justify their craft by making this claim: “We have so many more manuscripts today than those in the Reformation era!” That cannot be proven and it is, in fact, quite unlikely. The following chart documents the destruction of millions of books and manuscripts since that time.

Name of Library City Country Date of
or Cause
Reason and/or Account of Destruction
Madrassah Library Granada Crown of Castile 1499 Cardinal Cisneros The library was attacked by troops of the perpetrator in late 1499, the
books were taken to the Plaza Bib-Rambla, where they were burned in public.
Bibliotheca Corviniana Ofen Ottoman Empire 1526 Troops of the Ottoman Empire Library was destroyed by
Glasney College Penryn, Cornwall England 1548 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.
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.
Guildhall Library London England 1666 Great Fire of London The Great Fire of London destroyed 436 acres of central London. The fire badly damaged the
Guildhall and burnt down the library which held many manuscripts and the original working
papers for the King James Bible.
University of Copenhagen Library Copenhagen Denmark 1728-10-01 Fire The collections of the University Library go back to 1482, three years after the foundation of the
University of Copenhagen in 1479. Almost all of the c.35,000 books and manuscripts in the University Library were
consumed by flames during the fire of Copenhagen
Royal Library of Portugal Ribeira Palace Lisbon 1755-11-01 Natural disaster Great Lisbon earthquake
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.
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.
Birmingham Central Library Birmingham England 1879-01-11 Fire A fire broke out behind a wooden partition serving as a temporary wall during building operations.
The fire caused extensive damage, with only 1,000 volumes saved from a stock of 50,000.
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.
Library of Berlin University Berlin Germany 1940-44 WWII 20,000 volumes lost
The Hessische Landesbibliothek Hessische Germany 1940-44 WWII 760,000 volumes lost, including 2,217 incunabula and 4,500 manuscripts
National Library of Germany Frankfurt Germany 1940-44 WWII 2,000,000 volumes and manuscripts lost
Municipal and State Library of Dortmund Dortmund Germany 1940-44 WWII 250,000 volumes lost
Sächsische Landesbibliothek Sächsische Germany 1940-44 WWII 300,000 volumes lost
Library of Bremen Bremen Germany 1940-44 WWII 150,000 volumes losts
University and State Library of Hamburg Hamburg Germany 1940-44 WWII 600,000 volumes lost
Library of the Catholic University of Leuven Leuven Belgium 1940-05-01 German Occupation Troops Caught fire during German
invasion of Louvain, Belgium.
National Library of Serbia Belgrade Yugoslavia 1941-04-06 Nazi German Luftwaffe Destroyed during the World
War II bombing of Belgrade.
Methodius National Library Sofia Bulgaria 1943-1944 Allied air forces Allied bombing
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.
Lebanese National Library Beirut Lebanon 1975 Lebanese Civil War The 1975 war fighting began
in Beirut’s downtown where the National Library was located. During the war
years, the library suffered significant damage. According to some sources,
1200 of most precious manuscripts disappeared, and no memory is left of the
Library’s organization and operational procedures of that time.
Jaffna Public Library Jaffna Sri Lanka 1981-05-01 Plainclothes police
officers and others
In May 1981 a mob composed
of thugs and plainclothes police officers went on a rampage in minority
Tamil-dominated northern Jaffna, and burned down the Jaffna Public Library.
At least 95,000 volumes – the second largest library collection in South Asia
– were destroyed.
Central University Library of Bucharest Bucharest Romania 1989-12-2? Romanian Land Forces Burnt down during the
Romanian Revolution.
Oriental Institute in Sarajevo Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-05-17 Bosnian Serb Army Destroyed by the shellfire
during the Siege of Sarajevo.
National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-08-25 Bosnian Serb Army The library was completely
destroyed during the Siege of Sarajevo.
Abkhazian Institute of History, Language and Literature & National Library of Abkhazia Sukhumi Abkhazia 1992-10-01 Georgian Armed Forces Destroyed during the War in
Pol-i-Khomri Public
Pol-i-Khomri Afghanistan 1998 Taliban militia It held 55,000 books and
old manuscripts.
Iraq National Library and Archive,
Al-Awqaf Library,
Central Library of the University of Baghdad,
Library of Bayt al-Hikma,
Central Library of the University of Mosul
and other libraries
Baghdad Iraq 2003-04-01 Unknown members of the
Bagdad population
Several libraries looted,
set on fire, damaged and destroyed in various degrees during the 2003 Iraq
Egyptian Scientific Institute Cairo Egypt 2011-12-01 A first estimate says that
only 30,000 volumes have been saved of a total of 200,000.
Ahmed Baba Institute (Timbuktu library) Timbuktu Mali 2013-01-28 Islamists militia The library was burned
down, it contained over 20,000 manuscripts with only a fraction of them
having been scanned as of January 2013.
Saeh Library Tripoli Lebanon 2014-01-03 Unknown The Christian library was
burned down, it contained over 80,000 manuscripts and books.
National Archives of Bosnia and Herzegovina Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzego 2014-02-07 Seven Bosnian rioters
suspected of having started the fire; two (Salem Hatibović and Nihad
Trnka) were arrested.
During the 2014 unrest in
Bosnia and Herzegovina large amounts of historical documents were destroyed
when sections of the Archives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, housed in the
presidential building, were set on fire. Among the lost archival material
were documents and gifts from the Ottoman period, original documents from the
1878-1918 Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as
documentations of the interwar period, the 1941-1945 rule of the Independent
State of Croatia, papers from the following years, and about 15000 files from
the 1996-2003 Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the
repositories that were burnt, about 60 percent of the material was lost,
according to estimates by Šaban Zahirović, the head of the Archives.
Mosul University libraries and private Libraries Mosul Iraq 2014-12-01 Ongoing ISIS Book Burning Book burning.
Libraries in Anbar Province Anbar Province Iraq 2014-12-01 Ongoing ISIS Book Burning Book burning.
Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences Moscow Russia 2015-01-29 Unknown. Fire spread to 2000sqm in
third Floor. Roof caved in. Additional water damage. Ambient temperature too
high for self-freezing of damaged Works. Library contains 14 million books,
including rare texts in ancient Slavic languages, documents from the League
of Nations, UNESCO, and parliamentary reports from countries including the US
dating back as far as 1789.
Mosul public library Mosul Iraq 2015-02-01 ISIS Book Burning 8,000 rare old books and manuscripts. Manuscripts from the eighteenth century,
Syriac books printed in Iraq’s first printing house in the nineteenth century,
books from the Ottoman


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