A website that endeavours to provide a register of those who are involved in the dissemination of ideas and information should also reflect the other side of the coin - those whose actions work against the spread of the written and printed word. Recent events in Paris have prompted me to rush together a chronological listing of events that extends over more than four millennia. I do not say "Je suis Charlie" - there are more worth-while publications that support freedom of speech and ideas without gratuitously giving offense. It is rather a way of showing the type of individuals and causes that are on what most consider the "dark side". They are indeed wide-ranging, from the geographical, political and religious points of view - and and some cases uncomfortably close to home.
The entries are not normally referenced, but many come from a trawl of the web, particularly the list of book burnings in Wikipedia, supplemented by others from my personal researches. I am sure they can be added to - I am actively updating this list, and any contributions, in the brief format adopted here, would be welcomed. They are formatted in the same manner as other records in this website, and I hope to find a way of incorporating them into the main geographical sequence.
Some further reading:
Censorship : a world encyclopedia, London : Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.
Green, Jonathon, The encyclopedia of censorship, New York : Facts on File , 1989.
Haight, Anne Lyon, Banned books, 387 B.C. to 1978 A.D., New York : Bowker , 1978.
Karolides, Nicholas J. 100 banned books : censorship histories of world literature, New York : Checkmark Books, 1999.
Partington, Gillian, ed. Book destruction from the medieval to the contemporary, edited by Gillian Partington, Adam Smyth, Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan
Polastron, Lucien Xavier, Books on fire : the destruction of libraries throughout history, Rochester : Inner Traditions , 2007. Translated by John E Graham.
Raven, James ed., Lost libraries: the destruction of great book collections since antiquity, New York : Palgrave Macmillan , 2004.
Wikipedia, List of book burning incidents, consulted 2015-01-10.
Zeisel, William, ed., Censorship: 500 years of conflict, New York : O.U.P , 1985.
Before Common Era.
Ebla. -2240. The Ebla tablets, an archive of about 20,000 cuneiform tablets were lost when the city was destroyed.
Mari. -1765. Zimri-Lim's royal palace, included a royal archive that contained 25000 tablets and was lost when the city was destroyed.
Alakh. -1200. Documents lost when city destroyed probably by the Sea People.
Ugarit. -1180. Documents, including royal correspondence, Ugaritic literature, mythological texts, letters, legal documents, international treaties, and a number of administrative lists were lost when the city was destroyed.
Nineveh. Royal Library. -612. The Assyrian capital Nineveh was destroyed by a coalition of Babylonians, Scythians and Medes. During the burning of the Royal Palace, a great fire ravaged the Library of Ashurbanipal where the scholar King Ashurbanipal had amassed a great number of texts and tablets from various countries. The library probably contained a considerable number of texts written on such media as leather scrolls, wax boards, and possibly papyri which, unlike the clay tablets, were destroyed.
Athens. -0450Protagoras's On the Gods, according to Diogenes Laertius, aroused anger, causing the Athenians to expel him from their city, where the authorities ordered all copies of the book to be collected and burned in the marketplace. This account is disputed.
Persepolis. Royal Library and Archives. -0330. Zoroastrian scriptures and Persian royal archives burned by Alexander the Great. Various accounts attribute it to an accident, a drunken revelry by Alexander's soldiers, or a deliberate act of revenge for the burning of the Acropolis of Athens by Persians centuries before. There was evidently no deliberate targeting of books and written material.
China. -0213. Following the advice of minister Li Si, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the burning of all philosophy books and history books from states other than Qin — beginning in 213 BCE. This was followed by the live burial of a large number of intellectuals who did not comply with the state dogma.
Xianyang. Epang Palace (or Xianyang Palace) and State Archives. -0206. Xiang Yu, rebelling against emperor Qin Er Shi, Qin Shi Huang's son, led his troops into Xianyang in 206 BC. He ordered the destruction of the Epang Palace (or Xianyang Palace) by fire.
Jerusalem. -0168. The Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV ordered Jewish 'Books of the Law' found in Jerusalem to be 'rent in pieces' and burned.
Alexandria. Royal Library of Alexandria. -0048. Partial or complete destruction of the Library of Alexandria by Julius Caesar's fire during his civil war in 48 BCE.
The first millennium.
Rome. 0025. Senator Aulus Cremutius Cordus was forced to commit suicide and his History was burned by the aediles, under the order of the senate. The book's praise of Brutus and Cassius, who had assassinated Julius Caesar, was considered an offence under the lex majestatis. A copy of the book was saved by Cordus' daughter Marcia, and it was published again under Caligula.
Judea. 0050. Flavius Josephus relates that a Roman soldier seized a Torah scroll and, with abusive and mocking language, burned it in public. This incident almost brought on a general Jewish revolt against Roman rule, but the Roman Procurator Cumanus appeased the Jewish populace by beheading the culprit.
Ephesus. 0060. According to the New Testament book of Acts, early converts to Christianity in Ephesus who had previously practiced sorcery burned their scrolls publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. (Acts 19:19).
Judea. 0132. Under the Emperor Hadrian, the teaching of the Jewish Scriptures was forbidden, as, in the wake of the Bar Kochva Rebellion, the Roman authorities regarded such teaching as seditious and tending towards revolt. Haninah ben Teradion, one of the Jewish Ten Martyrs executed for having defied that ban, is reported to have been burned at the stake together with the forbidden Torah scroll which he had been teaching. According to Jewish tradition, when the flame started to burn himself and the scroll he still managed to say to his pupils: "I see the scrolls burning but the letters fly up in the air" – a saying considered to symbolize the superiority of ideas to brute force.
Paphlagonia. 0160. The book Established beliefs of Epicurus was burned in a Paphlagonian marketplace by order of Alexander, supposed prophet of Glykon, the son of Asclepius.
Alexandria. Library of Alexandria. 0270. Partial or complete destruction of the Library of Alexandria in the attack of Aurelian in 270.
Roman Empire. 0302-03-31. The Diocletianic Persecution started on March 31, 302, with the Roman Emperor Diocletian, in a rescript from Alexandria, ordering that the leading Manichaeans be burnt alive along with their scriptures. This was the first time a Roman Imperial persecution ever called for the destruction of sacred literature.
Roman Empire. 0303-02-23. On February 23, 303, Diocletian ordered that the newly built Christian church at Nicomedia be razed, its scriptures burned, and its treasures seized. Later persecutions included the burning of both the Christians themselves and of their books. Zaragoza. 0304. As related in later Christian Hagiography, at that time the governor of Valencia offered the deacon who would become known as Saint Vincent of Saragossa to have his life spared in exchange for his consigning Scripture to the fire. Vincent refused and let himself be executed instead. In religious paintings he is often depicted holding the book whose preservation he preferred to his own life.
Nicaea. 0325. The books of Arius and his followers, after the first Council of Nicaea in 325, were burned for heresy by the Roman emperor Theodosius I who published a decree commanding that, "the doctrine of the Trinity should be embraced by those who would be called catholics; that all others should bear the infamous name of heretics".
Antioch. Library of Antioch. 0364. In 364, the Christian Emperor Jovian ordered the entire Library of Antioch to be burnt.It had been built up by the aid of his non-Christian predecessor, Emperor Julian.
Alexandria. 0367. Athanasius, in his role as bishop of Alexandria, ordered monks in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria to destroy all "unacceptable writings" in Egypt, the list of writings to be saved constituting the New Testament.
Avila. 0385. In 385, the theologian Priscillian of Ávila became the first Christian to be executed by fellow-Christians as a heretic. Some (though not all) of his writings were condemned as heretical and burned. For many centuries they were considered irreversibly lost, but surviving copies were discovered in the 19th century.
Roman Empire. 04--. Etrusca Disciplina, the Etruscan books of cult and divination, were collected and burned in the 5th century.
Roman Empire. 0435. The books of Nestorius, declared to be heresy, were burned under an edict of Theodosius II(435). The Greek originals of most writings were irrevocably destroyed, surviving mainly in Syriac translations.
Alexandria. Serapeum Library. 0392. The library was burned and looted at the decree of Theophilus of Alexandria, who was so ordered by Theodosius I.
Rome. 0405. In 405, according to Rutilius Namatianus, De Reditu 51–60, Stilicho ordered the destruction of the Sibylline Books. The reasons for this are unknown, and the story cannot be verified.
Ctesiphon, Khvârvarân. 0637. The Sassanid Empire's capital Ctesiphon was conquered by Arab armies under the military command of Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas in 637, during the caliphate of Umar. Though the general population was not harmed, the palaces were burned, leading to destruction of archives recording centuries of Sassanid history. According to an account written two centuries later in Tarikh al-Tabari by the Persian author Al-Tabari, the Arab Commander Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas wrote to Caliph Umar ibn al-Khatta-b asking what should be done with the books at Ctesiphon. Umar wrote back: "If the books contradict the Qur'an, they are blasphemous. On the other hand, if they are in agreement, they are not needed, as for us Qur'an is sufficient." Thus, the huge library was destroyed and the books, the product of the generations of Persian scientists and scholars were thrown into fire or the Euphrates. This is disputes by modern scholars.
Alexandria. Library of Alexandria. 0642. Partial or complete destruction of the Library of Alexandria: and the Muslim conquest of Egypt in (or after) 642.
Medina. 0650. Uthman ibn 'Affan, the third Caliph of Islam after Muhammad, who is credited with overseeing the collection of the verses of the Qur'an, ordered the destruction of any other remaining text containing verses of the Quran after the Quran has been fully collected, circa 650. This was done to ensure that the collected and authenticated Quranic copy that Uthman collected became the primary source for others to follow, thereby ensuring that Uthman's version of the Quran remained authentic. Although the Qur'an had mainly been propagated through oral transmission, it also had already been recorded in at least three codices, most importantly the codex of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud in Kufa, and the codex of Ubayy ibn Ka'b in Syria. Sometime between 650 and 656, a committee appointed by Uthman is believed to have produced a singular version in seven copies, and Uthman is said to have "sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered any other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt."
Córdoba. 0976. All books consisting of "ancient science" were destroyed in a surge of ultra-orthodoxy by Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir & religious scholars.
Bukhara. Royal Library of the Samanid Dynasty. 0999. The Royal Library of the Samanid Dynasty was burned at the turn of the 11th century during the Turkic invasion from the east. Avicenna was said to have tried to save the precious manuscripts from the fire as the flames engulfed the collection.
To the invention of printing.
Rayy. 1029. Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni burned the library and all books deemed as heretical.
Toledo. 1085. After the conquest of Toledo, Spain (1085) by the king of Castile, it was being disputed on whether Iberian Christians should follow the foreign Roman rite or the traditional Mozarabic rite. After other ordeals, it was submitted to the trial by fire: One book for each rite was thrown into a fire. The Toledan book was little damaged after the Roman one was consumed. Henry Jenner comments in the Catholic Encyclopedia: "No one who has seen a Mozarabic manuscript with its extraordinarily solid vellum, will adopt any hypothesis of Divine Interposition here.".
Soissons. 1121. The provincial synod held at Soissons, France, in 1121 condemned the teachings of the famous theologian Peter Abelard as heresy; he was forced to burn his own book before being locked inside the convent of St. Medard at Soissons.
Ghazna. 1151. Ghurid empire. City was sacked and burned for seven days. Libraries and palaces built by the Ghaznavids were destroyed by 'Ala ad-Din Husain.
Maldives. 1153. Following the conversion of the Maldives to Islam in 1153 (or by some accounts in 1193), the Buddhist religion – hitherto state religion for more than a thousand years – was suppressed. The copper-plate document known as Dhanbidhu Lomafanu gives information about events in the southern Haddhunmathi Atoll, which had been a major center of Buddhism – where monks were beheaded, and statues of Vairocana, the transcendent Buddha, were destroyed. At that time, also the wealth of Buddhist manuscripts written on screwpine leaves by Maldivian monks in their Buddhist monasteries was either burnt or otherwise so thoroughly eliminated that it has disappeared without leaving any trace.
Nishapur. 1154. City partially destroyed, libraries sacked and burned by Oghuz Turks.
Rome. 1155. The rebellious monk Arnold of Brescia – Abelard's pupil and colleague – refused to abjure his views after they were condemned at the Synod of Sens in 1141, and went on to lead the Commune of Rome in direct opposition to the Pope, until being executed in 1155. The Church ordered the burning of all his writings, which was carried out so thoroughly than none of them survives and it is unknown even what they were – except for what can be inferred from polemics against him. Nevertheless, though no written word of Arnold's has survived, his teachings on apostolic poverty continued potent after his death, among "Arnoldists" and more widely among Waldensians and the Spiritual Franciscans.
Nalanda. Dharma Gunj. 1193. The library of Nalanda, known as Dharma Gunj (Mountain of Truth) or Dharmagañja (Treasury of Truth), was the most renowned repository of Buddhist and Hindu knowledge in the world at the time. Its collection was said to comprise hundreds of thousands of volumes, so extensive that it burned for months when set aflame by Muslim invaders under Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193.
Langudecoc. 1203. During the 13th century, the Catholic Church waged a brutal campaign against the Cathars of Languedoc, culminating in the Albigensian Crusade. In 1203 St. Dominic visited Languedoc to attempt to convert the Cathars. Images portray the story of a disputation between Saint Dominic and the Cathars, in which the books of both were thrown on a fire and St Dominic's books were miraculously preserved from the flames. During the Crusade nearly every Cathar text that could be found was destroyed.
Constantinople. 1204. In 1204, the library became a target of the knights of the Fourth Crusade. The library itself was destroyed and its contents burned or sold. The great part of the library that was saved later became absorbed into the Ottoman Sultan's library after the Muslim forces of Mehmed II, Sultan of the Ottoman Turks, captured Constantinople at the end of the siege of 1453.
Montpellier. 1233. Maimonides' major philosophical and theological work, "Guide for the Perplexed", got highly mixed reactions from fellow-Jews of his and later times – some revering it and viewing it as a triumph, while others deemed many of its ideas heretical, banning it and on some occasions burning copies of it. One such burning took place at Montpellier, Southern France, in 1233..
Paris. 1242. The French crown burned all Talmud copies in Paris, about 12,000, after the book was "charged" and "found guilty" in the Paris trial sometimes called "the Paris debate". These burnings of Jewish books were initiated by Pope Gregory IX, who persuaded French King Louis IX to undertake it. This particular book burning was commemorated by the German Rabbi and poet Meir of Rothenburg in the elegy (kinna) called "Ask, O you who are burned in fire", which is recited to this day by Ashkenazi Jews on the fast of Tisha B'av.
Baghdad. House of Wisdom. 1258. The House of Wisdom was destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, along with all other libraries in Baghdad. It was said that the waters of the Tigris ran black for six months with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river. This is disputed by modern scholars, who point to the library's loss of importance after the capital moved to Samarra in the ninth century, to the fact that several of the other famous libraries allegedly destroyed at the same time were authoritatively reported to still exist over a hundred years later, and to the foundation of an important library in Persia using books collected by the Mongol King responsible for the city's capture.
Barcelona. 1263. The Disputation of Barcelona was held before King James I of Aragon between the monk Pablo Christiani (a convert from Judaism) and Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (also known as Nachmanides). At the end of disputation, king awarded Nachmanides a monetary prize and declared that never before had he heard "an unjust cause so nobly defended." Since the Dominicans nevertheless claimed the victory, Nahmanides felt compelled to publish the controversy. The Dominicans asserted that this account was blasphemies against Christianity. Nahmanides admitted that he had stated many things against Christianity, but he had written nothing which he had not used in his disputation in the presence of the King, who had granted him freedom of speech. The justice of his defense was recognized by the King and the commission, but to satisfy the Dominicans Nahmanides was exiled and his pamphlet was condemned to be burned.
England. 1401. The De heretico comburendo ("On the Burning of Heretics"), a law passed by the English Parliament under King Henry IV of England in 1401, was intended to stamp out "heresy" and in particular the Lollard movement, followers of John Wycliffe. The law stated that "...divers false and perverse people of a certain new sect ...make and write books, [and] do wickedly instruct and inform people". The law's purpose was to "utterly destroy" all "preachings, doctrines, and opinions of this wicked sect". Therefore, all persons in possession of "such books or writings of such wicked doctrine and opinions" were ordered to deliver all such books and writings to the diocesan authorities, within forty days of the law being enacted, so as to let them be burned and destroyed. Those failing to give up their heretical books would face the prospect of being arrested and having their bodies as well as their books burned.
Prag. 1410. In 1410 John Wycliffe's books were burnt by the archbishop of Prag Zbynek Zajíc z Házmburka in the court of his palace in Lesser Town of Prague to hinder the spread of Jan Hus's teaching.
Mexico. 1435? According to the Florentine Codex, the tlatoani (ruler) Itzcoatl (1427-1440) ordered the burning of all historical codices because it was "not wise that all the people should know the paintings". This allowed the Aztec state to develop a state-sanctioned history and mythos that venerated the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli.
Incunabula period and 16th century.
Cologne. 1479. The University of Cologne obtained a papal privilege which extended their censorship to printed books.
Frankfurt. 1485. The Archbishop of Mainz, Berthold von Henneberg, asked the town council of Frankfurt to examine carefully the printed books to be exhibited at the Lenten Fair and to collaborate with the ecclesiastical authorities in suppressing dangerous publications.
Florence. 1497. In 1497, followers of the Italian priest Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned books and objects which were deemed to be "immoral", some – but by no means all – of which might fit modern criteria of pornography or "lewd pictures", as well as pagan books, gaming tables, cosmetics, copies of Boccaccio's Decameron, and all the works of Ovid which could be found in Florence.
Granada. Madrassah Library. 1499 Hebrew Bibles and other Jewish books were burned at the behest of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1499 about 5000 Arabic manuscripts—all that could be found in the city—were consumed by flames in the Plaza de la Rambla in Granada, Spain, on the orders of Cardenal Ximénez de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo and head of the Spanish Inquisition, excepting only those on medicine, which are conserved in the library of El Escorial. Many of the poetic works were allegedly destroyed on account of their symbolized homoeroticism.
Buda. Corvina Library. 1526-09. Sultan Suleiman’s troops raided the library after their arrival in Buda in early September of 1526. Many items were taken back to Constantinople, many were stolen or sold on the open market.
Paris. 1521-04-15. The University of Paris condemned the writings of Martin Luther. On 13 June the Parlement issued an embargo on the printing or sale of writings on scripture that had not first been scrutinised by the doctors of the Faculty of Theology in Paris.
Paris. 1525-05. During May and June the Faculty of Theology in Paris condemned four of Erasmus' works. .
London. 1526-10. William Tyndale's English translation of the New Testament was burned in London by Cuthbert Tunstal, Bishop of London.
London. 1528. Henry VIII issued a list of banned books.
Exeter. 1532-01-10. An early riser on his way to mass saw a boy fixing a paper to a gate known as Little Stile at the north end of South Street. The boy proved to be one of the pupils of Thomas Bennet who ran a private school. Bennet was examined by the Bishop and defiantly maintained his Lutheran ideas. A writ commanding his execution arrived from London and he was burned at the stake at Livery Dole in the parish of Heavitree just outside the City on 10 January 1532.
Brussels. 1536. William Tyndale, the translator of the Bible, was held in the castle of Vilvoorde near Brussels, tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 and condemned to be burned to death. Tyndale "was strangled to death while tied at the stake, and then his dead body was burned". His final words were reported as "Lord! Open the King of England's eyes."
Paris. 1534-10-17. The affaire of the placards (affaire des placards) concerns offensive and seditious posters, affixed overnight in the streets of Paris, Tours and Orléans and even on the bed-chamber door of François I in the château at Amboise. Entitled Articles véritables sur les horribles, grands et importables abus de la messe papale, inventée directement contre la Sainte Cène de notre Seigneur, seul médiateur et seul Sauveur Jésus-Christthey were written by Antoine Marcourt, pastor of Neuchâtel, but from Picardy, a Calvinist. It was considered an affront to the King and provoked a radicalistion against the partisans of the Reformation, leading to several burnings at the stake.
England. 1536 - 1541. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England, many monastic libraries were destroyed. Worcester Abbey had 600 books at the time of the dissolution. Only six of them have survived intact to the present day. At the abbey of the Augustinian Friars at York, a library of 646 volumes was destroyed, leaving only three surviving books. Some books were destroyed for their precious bindings, others were sold off by the cartload, including irreplaceable early English works. It is believed that many of the earliest Anglo-Saxon manuscripts were lost at this time. John Bale wrote in 1549: "A great nombre of them whych purchased those supertycyous mansyons, resrved of those lybrarye bokes, some to serve theyr jakes [i.e., as toilet paper], some to scoure candelstyckes, and some to rubbe their bootes. Some they solde to the grossers and soapsellers [...]".
Paris. 1546-08-03. The Humanist printer Etienne Dolet was strangled and burnt to death in the Place Maubert, Paris.
Penryn.Glasney College. 1548. The smashing and looting of the Cornish colleges by royal officials at Glasney and Crantock brought an end to the formal scholarship which had helped to sustain the Cornish language and the Cornish cultural identity.
Sampford Courtenay, Devon. 1549. The Prayerbook Rebellion. In 1549 the medieval Latin service books were abolished and the Book of Common Prayer introduced. When on Whitsunday 1549 the incumbent of Sampford Courtenay on the edge of Dartmoor read the service from the new Book of Common Prayer the parishioners likened it to "a Christmas game" and compelled him to return to the old ritual. After a scuffle with the justices the protesters gathered supporters as they marched toward Crediton and besieged Exeter on 2 July, demanding the withdrawal of all English scriptures. Although there were many sympathisers within the walls the City barred its gates. Protector Somerset had sent Sir Peter and Sir Gawen Carew, two radical Protestants, to pacify the rebels but to little effect. The delay during the siege of Exeter allowed John Lord Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, one of the chief beneficiaries of the dissolution of the monasteries, to arrive with mercenary troops to defeat the rebels at Fenny Bridges in July and at Clyst Heath on 3 and 4 August. Exeter was relieved on 6 August and the final resistance squashed at Sampford Courtenay eleven days later. Sources: Hoskins (1954), p.233-4.
Geneva. 1553. In 1553, Servetus was burned as a heretic at the order of the city council of Geneva, dominated by Calvin – because a remark in his translation of Ptolemy's Geographia was considered an intolerable heresy. As he was placed on the stake, "around [Servetus'] waist were tied a large bundle of manuscript and a thick octavo printed book", his Christianismi Restitutio. In the same year the Catholic authorities at Vienne also burned Servetus in effigy together with whatever of his writings fell into their hands, in token of the fact that Catholics and Protestants – mutually hostile in this time – were united in regarding Servetus as a heretic and seeking to extirpate his works. At the time it was considered that they succeeded, but three copies were later found to have survived, from which all later editions were printed.
Rome. 1553-09-09. On Rosh Hashanah 5314 (9 September 1553), the Talmud and many other Jewish books were burnt in the Campo dei Fiori.
London. 1554. The Historie of Italie (1549), a scholarly and not particularly controversial book by William Thomas, was in 1554 suppressed and publicly burnt by order of Queen Mary I of England – after its author was executed on charges of treason. Enough copies survived for new editions to be published in 1561 and 1562, after Elizabeth I came to power.
Rome. Blado, Antonio. 1559. Printer. Blado printed the first edition of the Index librorum prohibitorum which was to serve until 1966 as the authoritative guide by which practising Roman Catholics had to regulate their reading. A wide range of books was prohibited, including the works of several cardinals and, as can be seen below, the writings of Martin Luther.
Yucatán. Maya codices of the Yucatán. 1562-07-12. Fray Diego de Landa, acting Bishop of Yucatán threw into the fires the sacred books of the Maya. The number of destroyed books is greatly disputed. De Landa himself admitted to 27, other sources claim "99 times as many". Only three Maya codices and a fragment of a fourth survive. Landa 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." Ironically, de Landa's Relación de las cosas de Yucatán is a major source for the Mayan language and culture.
Spain. 1567. The fifteenth-century expulsion of Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula had brought about the demise of Islamic libraries. Muslim books were burned wholesale by Catholic Spain. Of Western Europe's Islamic written heritage, little more than the Latin translations of Arabic books, housed at the religious and intellectual centers of Cordoba and Toledo, remained. In 1567, Philip II of Spain issued a royal decree forbidding Moriscos (Muslims who had converted to Christianity but still constituted a distinct community) from the use Arabic on all occasions, formal and informal, speaking and writing. Using Arabic in any sense of the word would be regarded as a crime. They were given three years to learn "Christian" language, after which they would have to get rid of all Arabic written material.
Venice. 1568. See: Grendler, Paul F. The destruction of Hebrew books in Venice, 1568, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 45, (1978), pp. 103-130.
Frankfurt am Main. 1579. The Frankfurt book fair was placed under the supervision of the imperial censorship commission, as Frankfurt was a free imperial city.
London. Denham, Henry. 1587. Printer. Exeter's first Chamberlain, John Hooker, fell foul of the censors when he edited Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles, the major source for Shakespeare's historical plays. The first edition had appeared in 1577 and Holinshed had died in about 1580. It was intended to reissue it "newlie augmented and continued with manifold matters of singular note and within memorie to the yeare 1586". Hooker worked with the antiquaries John Stowe, Abraham Fleming and Francis Thynne, Hooker working on most of the history of Ireland. The work appeared in three volumes in 1586 and 1587 but Elizabeth was displeased by certain passages and the Privy Council ordered them to be cancelled. The pages affected were: in volume 2 421-4, 433-6 and 433-50, in volume 3 1328-31 and, largest of all, 1419-38, the 120 pages here being replaced by a gathering of only four leaves with obvious gaps in page numbering. The excised passages were only republished in 1722.
Italy. 1585. In 1584 Pasquale Vassallo, a Maltese Dominican friar, wrote a collection of songs, of the kind known as "canczuni", in Italian and Maltese. The poems fell into the hands of other Dominican friars who denounced him for writing "obscene literature". At the order of the Inquisition in 1585 the poems were burned for this allegedly 'obscene' content.
Spain. 1585. The 12-volume work known as the Florentine Codex, result of a decades-long meticulous research conducted by the Fransciscan Bernardino de Sahagún in Mexico, is among the most important sources on Aztec culture and society as they were before the Spanish conquest, and on the Nahuatl language. However, upon Sahagún's return to Europe in 1585, his original manuscripts – including the records of conversations and interviews with indigenous sources in Tlatelolco, Texcoco, and Tenochtitlan, and likely to have included much primary material which did not get into the final codex – were confiscated by the Spanish authorities, disappeared irrevocably, and are assumed to have been destroyed. The Florentine Codex itself was for centuries afterwards only known in heavily censored versions.
Rome. 1616. In 1610, Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger), promoting the heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus. In 1616 the Inquisition declared heliocentrism to be formally heretical. Heliocentric books were banned including those of Copernicus, and Galileo was ordered to refrain from holding, teaching or defending heliocentric ideas.
England. 1614. Sir Walter Raleigh’s book The history of the world was banned by King James I of England for “being too saucy in censuring princes.”
Germany. 1624. Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible was burned in Catholic-dominated parts of Germany in 1624, by order of the Pope – part of the exacerbation of Catholic-Protestant relations due to the Thirty Years' War, then in its early stages.
Amsterdam. 1624. The 1624 book An Examination of the Traditions of the Pharisees, written by the dissident Jewish intellectual Uriel da Costa, was burned in public by joint action of the Amsterdam Jewish Community and the city's Protestant-dominated City Council. The book, which questioned the fundamental idea of the immortality of the soul, was considered heretical from the Jewish and the Christian points of view alike.
Rome. 1624. The theologian and scientist Marco Antonio de Dominis came in 1624 into conflict with the Inquisition in Rome and was declared "a relapsed heretic". He died in prison, but this did not end his trial. On December 21, 1624 his body was burned together with his works.
England. 1640 -1660. Sixty identified printed books, pamphlets and broadsheets and three newsbooks were ordered to be burned during the English Civil War and Comonwealth.
Offwell, Devon. 1640 -1660. Many ministers had their homes ransacked during the Civil War and Commonwealth. Thomas Jones of Offwell was plundered at least five times. On the fifth occasion "when the Earl of Essex's army came into the West, a party of it came and plundered the house, carrying away almost all that was left, and took away the residue of the linen, save what they wore; his study of books, which were of great value (for the minister of the next parish told my informer, that he thought that no private minister in the county had a better) they brake into, several books they carried away, some they defiled, and many they tore in pieces, and scatter'd the leaves; many of which were seen torn, and scatter'd along the roads, and in the fields, for near a mile together; many of his choicest books he hid in a chamber-privy, on the top of which a plank was nailed down; yet the soldiers found it out, and open'd it; many of the books they carry'd away, more they brake [...]". Sources: (Walker 1714, p.280).
London. 1644. AreopagiticaJohn Milton's essay on the freedom of the press, was banned in England for political reasons.
Raglan Castle. Raglan Library. 1646. The Earl of Worcester's library was burnt during the English Civil War by Parliamentary Army under the command of Thomas Fairfax.
Springfield. 1651. The first book burning incident in the Thirteen Colonies occurred in Boston in 1651 when William Pynchon, founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, published The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, which criticised the Puritans, who were then in power in Massachusetts. The book became the first banned book in North America, and subsequently all known copies were publicly burned. Pynchon left for England prior to a scheduled appearance in court, and never returned.
Boston. 1656. The authorities at Boston imprisoned the Quaker women preachers Ann Austin and Mary Fisher, who had arrived on a ship from Barbados. Among other things they were charged with "bringing with them and spreading here sundry books, wherein are contained most corrupt, heretical, and blasphemous doctrines contrary to the truth of the gospel here professed amongst us" as the colonial gazette put it. The books in question, about a hundred, were publicly burned in Boston's Market Square.
Exeter. Exeter Cathedral Library. 1657. Library. The cloisters were sold and demolished to make way for a serge market, taking with it the library room of 1412. According to tradition books were hawked around the Close, but the bulk of the library was saved by the intervention of the Exeter physician Dr Robert Vilvaine.
Oxford. 1683. Several books including Thomas Hobbes Leviathan were burnt in Oxford University.
Exeter. Bishop, Philip. 1716. Printer. Philip Bishop was arrested for printing the Jacobite ballad Nero secundus. He died in prison while awaiting trial.
Exeter. 1718-11. The Exeter newspaper printers Philip Bishop, Joseph Bliss and Andrew Brice were summoned in November 1718 for publishing an account of the proceedings of the House of Commons, an action which was held to infringe Parliamentary privilege.
Italy. 1720. During the 1720s rabbis in Italy and Germany ordered the burning of the kabbalist writings of the then young Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. The Messianic messages which Luzzatto claimed to have gotten from a being called "The Maggid" were considered heretical and potentially highly disruptive of the Jewish communities' daily life, and Luzzatto was ordered to cease disseminating them. Though Luzzatto in later life got considerable renown among Jews and his later books were highly esteemed, most of the early writings were considered irrevocably lost until some of them turned up in 1958 in a manuscript preserved in the Library of Oxford.
Exeter. Farley, Samuel. 1728. Printer. Samuel Farley, the Exeter printer, was imprisoned in Exeter gaol and heavily ironed for his involvement in the "Persian Letter" affair and was indicted for treason at the Exeter assizes. The case was dropped and an order was made for Farley's release but he had died in prison two months previously.
Salzburg. 1731. Count Leopold Anton von Firmian – Archbishop of Salzburg as well as its temporal ruler – embarked on a savage persecution of the Lutherans living in the rural regions of Salzburg. As well expelling tens of thousands of Protestant Salzburgers, the Archbishop ordered the wholesale seizure and burning of all Protestant books and Bibles.
Paris. 1734. Voltaire's works were burnt several times in pre-revolutionary France. His Lettres philosophiques, published in Rouen in 1734, describing British attitudes toward government, literature, and religion clearly implied that the British constitutional monarchy was better than the French absolute one – which led to the book being burned.
Paris. 1746. Arrest de la cour du parlement, qui condamne deux livres intitulez : l'un, Histoire naturelle de l’âme ; ’autre, Pensées philosophiques, à être lacerez & brûlez par l’exécuteur de la haute justice. Two works by French philosophes are banished: Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751) author of L'histoire naturelle de l'âme, was a physician and philosopher, one of the first materialistes of the "âge des lumières". Pensées philosophiques is one of the earliest works of Denis Diderot.
Exeter. Farley, Mark. 1754. Printer. The Exeter printer Mark Farley was sentenced to one year's imprisonment in Exeter for printing a seditious song on he anniversary of the Pretender's birthday.
Paris. 1762-06-09. Arrest de la cour du parlement, qui condamne un imprimé ayant pour titre : Emile, ou de l'éducation ; par J. J. Rousseau, imprimé à la Haye . M. DCC. LXII. à être lacéré & brûlé par l'exécuteur de la haute-justice. An edict forbidding Emile, an important work by Rousseau.
Paris. 1768. An "economic pamphlet", L'Homme aux quarante écus, was ordered to be burnt by Parliament, and a bookseller who had sold a copy was pilloried. It is said that one of the magistrates on the case exclaimed, "Is it only his books we shall burn?"
China. 1773 - 1782. The emperor Qianlong undertook an ambitious program: the Siku Quanshu (Four Treasuries), the largest compilation of books in Chinese history. The editorial board included 361 scholars, with Ji Yun and Lu Xixiong as chief editors. They began compilation in 1773 and completed it in 1782. The editors collected and annotated over 10,000 manuscripts from the imperial collections and other libraries, destroyed some 3,000 titles, or works, that were considered to be anti-Manchu, and selected 3,461 titles, or works, for inclusion into the Siku Quanshu. They were bound in 36,381 volumes with more than 79,000 chapters, comprising about 2.3 million pages, and approximately 800 million Chinese characters. (possibly in human history in general). The number of individual copies confiscated and destroyed has been estimated at 150,000.
Mainz. 1787. An attempt by the Catholic authorities at Mainz to introduce vernacular hymn books encountered strong resistance from conservative Catholics, who refused to abandon the old Latin books and who seized and burned copies of the new German language books.
Devon. 1792 - 1793. Tom Paine was burned in effigy along with The rights of man across Devon late in 1792 and early in 1793. The Exeter flying post refers to such events in Chagford, Newton St Cyres and Okehampton on 20 December 1792 and at Rewe, Netherexe and Huxham on 14 February 1793. On 17 January 1793 it was reported that Tom Paine was taken from Exeter gaol in a cart and hanged in effigy at Heavitree.
Moscow. Library of Count Aleksei Musin-Pushkin. 1812. The great Moscow fire of 1812 (during the Napoleonic occupation) included destruction of the entire library of Count Aleksei Musin-Pushkin - statesman, historian and art collector. Among the irreplaceable old books destroyed was the only known manuscript of the Medieval Tale of Igor's Campaign.
Goa. Inquisition. 1812. The Goa Inquisition was suppressed, after hundreds of years in which it had been enacting various kinds of religious persecution in the Portuguese colony of Goa, India. Most of the Goa Inquisition's records were destroyed, making it is impossible to know the exact number of the Inquisition's victims.
Washington. Library of Congress. 1814-08-24During the Burning of Washington, British and Canadian troops set fire to the Capitol building, thereby destroying some 3,000 volumes in the initial collection of the Library of Congress which was established fourteen years earlier. Ironically, most of these books had been ordered from London before the outbreak of the War of 1812. Immediately following the British withdrawal, former President Thomas Jefferson sold to the US Government his entire private library, 6700 volumes, to replace the loss – from which the Library of Congress went on to expand to its enormous present size. The material destroyed is the modern digital storage equivalent of 3.42gb and could easily be hosted on one single present day smart phone, tablet, or sd card.
Wartburg. 1817-10-17. About 450 students, members of the newly founded German Burschenschaften ("fraternities"), came together at Wartburg Castle to celebrate the German victory over Napoleon two years before, condemn conservatism and call for German unity. The Code Napoléon as well as the writings of German conservatives were ceremoniously burned 'in effigy': instead of the costly volumes, scraps of parchment with the titles of the books were placed on the bonfire. Among these was August von Kotzebue's History of the German Empires. Karl Ludwig Sand, one of the students participating in this gathering, would assassinate Kotzebue two years later.
London. Carlile, Richard. 1819-10-12. Publisher. One of the most famous radical publishers, Richard Carlile was born in Ashburton in 1790. He was one of the reporters at the Peterloo massacre on 16 August 1819. On 12 October 1819 he was fined and imprisoned for republishing Thomas Paine's The age of reason, and in all he spent nine years in prison for his publications.
Exeter. Tucker, James. 1819-08. Bookseller. Trading at the Black Dwarf in South Street, Tucker was charged with "vending blasphemous and seditious documents". Tucker admitted that he had sold one hundred pamphlets and claimed he could have sold many more. He was committed to gaol for selling the Political register and his sister was made to burn his stock in the market.
Exeter. Flindell, Thomas. 1821-03-19. Printer. Thomas Flindell used intemperate language on the subject of Queen Caroline and wrote in the Western luminary of 11 July 1820: "Shall a woman who is as notoriously devoted to Bacchus as to Venus - shall such a woman as would, if found on our pavement, be committed to bridewell and whipped, be held up in the light of suffering innocence?" On 19 March 1821 he was found guilty of a libel on the Queen and sentenced to eight months imprisonment in Exeter gaol.
Paris. 1842. Officials at the school for the blind in Paris, France, were ordered by its new director, Armand Dufau, to burn books written in the new braille code. After every braille book at the institute that could be found was burned, supporters of the code's inventor, Louis Braille, rebelled against Dufau by continuing to use the code, and braille was eventually restored at the school.
Philadelphia. Library of St. Augustine Academy. 1844-05-08. The Irish St. Augustine Church, Philadelphia was burned down by anti-Irish Nativist rioters. The fire also destroyed the nearby St. Augustine Academy, with many of the rare books in its library – though in this case the arsonists did not specifically target the books, but rather sought to destroy indiscriminately everything belonging to Irish Catholic immigrants.
China. 1850 - 1864. The Siku Quanshu of Qianlong (see under 1773) was produced only in seven hand-written copies. The copies kept in Zhenjiang and Yangzhou were destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion.
Beijing. Summer Palace. 1860. During the Second Opium War, the British High Commissioner to China, Lord Elgin, ordered the destruction of The Old Summer Palace in Beijing, which was then carried out by French and British troops. The palace complex had been built up by succeeding Chinese dynasties for nearly a thousand years, and many unique works of art were destroyed or looted by the soldiers. Also unique copies of Chinese literary works and compilations, stored there, were burned, including most of the copy of the Siku Quanshu of Qianlongkept at Beijing's Old Summer Palace.
Tuscaloosa, Alabama. University of Alabama. 1865-05-04. During the American Civil War, Union troops destroyed most buildings on the University of Alabama campus, including its library of approximately 7,000 volumes.
Paris. 1868. The French police, under Napoleon the Third, seized the extensive papers and Europe-wide correspondence of the Parisian Pacifist and Social Reformer Edmond Potonie. The papers, which might have been of considerable value to historians, have disappeared irrevocably and are assumed to have been destroyed.
Strasbourg. Bibliotheque municipale. 1870-08-24. In the Siege of Strasbourg during the Franco-Prussian War, Strasbourg was heavily and indiscriminately bombarded by the Prussian army. On 24 and 26 August 1870, the Museum of Fine Arts was destroyed by fire, as was the Municipal Library housed in the Gothic former Dominican Church, with its unique collection of medieval manuscripts (most famously the Hortus deliciarum), rare Renaissance books, archeological finds and historical artifacts. Ironically, many of the destroyed books and artifacts formed part of the German historical and cultural heritage, dating to periods long before Strasbourg became a French city.
Paris. Louvre. 1871-05-28. During the suppression of the Paris Commune, 12 men under the orders of a Communard, Dardelle, set various public buildings in Paris on fire. The library and other portions of the Louvre were also set on fire and entirely destroyed. The museum itself was only miraculously saved.
New York. 1873. Anthony Comstock founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1873 and over the years burned 15 tons of books, 284,000 pounds of plate, and almost 4 million pictures.
Mandalay Palace. Royal library of the Kings of Burma. 1885 – 1887. The British looted the palace at the end of the 3rd Anglo-Burmese War and burned down the royal library.
Concord, Massachusetts. 1885. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was excluded from the library of Concord, Massachusetts.
Moscow. 1901. The Russian Council of Ministers banned a five-volume work on the socio-economic conditions of Jews in the Russian Empire, the result of a decade-long comprehensive statistical research commissioned by Ivan Bloch. (It was entitled "Comparison of the material and moral levels in the Western Great-Russian and Polish Regions"). The research's conclusions – that Jewish economic activity was beneficial to the Empire – refuted antisemitic demagoguery and were disliked by the government, which ordered all copies to be seized and burned. Only a few survived.
Trieste. 1909-02-13. In the tense period following the Bosnian crisis of 1908–09, the Austrian authorities in Trieste cracked down on the Italian Irredentists in the city, who were seeking to end Austrian rule there and annex Trieste to Italy. A very large quantity of Italian-language books and periodicals whose contents were deemed "subversive" were confiscated and consigned to destruction. The authorities had the condemned material meticulously weighted, it was found to measure no less than 4.7 metric tons. Thereupon, on 13 February 1909, the books and periodicals were officially burned at the Servola blast furnaces.
Leuven. Library of the Catholic University of Leuven. 1914-08-25. In the early stage of the First World War, the university library of Leuven, Belgium was destroyed by the German army, using petrol and incendiary pastilles, as part of brutal retaliations for the extensive activity of "francs-tireurs" against the occupying German forces. Among the 300,000 books destroyed were many irreplaceable books, including Gothic and Renaissance manuscripts. 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.
Delvin. In 1918 The Valley of the Squinting Windows, by Brinsley MacNamara, was burned in Delvin, Ireland. MacNamara never returned to the area, his father James MacNamara was boycotted and subsequently emigrated, and a court case was even sought. The book criticised the village's inhabitants for being overly concerned with their image towards neighbours, and although it called the town "Garradrimna," geographical details made it clear that Delvin was meant.
Berlin. 1920. In June 1920 the left-wing German cartoonist George Grosz produced a lithographic collection in three editions entitled Gott mit uns. A satire on German society and the counterrevolution, the collection was swiftly banned. Grosz was charged with insulting the army, which resulted in a court order to have the collection destroyed. The artist also had to pay a 300 German Mark fine.
Soviet Union. 1922-06-06 The aunthorities established Glavit, an agency to censor printed works, including newspapers, books, advertisements, and even product labels, purportedly to safeguard top secret information from foreign entities.
Dublin. Public Records Office of Ireland. 1922. 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.
Tennessee. 1925. On the origin of species, by the English naturalist Charles Darwin, was published in 1859. From 1925 to 1967, the book was banned in the state of Tennessee. The work was also banned in Yugoslavia in 1935 and in Greece in 1937.
Soviet Union. 1929. The adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was banned in the Soviet Union because of occultism.
Germany. 1933-05-10. In Berlin some 25,000 books were burned on 10 May, and student groups in 34 towns throughout Germany also carried out their own book burnings on that day and in the following weeks. Erich Kästner wrote an ironic account (published only after the fall of Nazism) of having witnessed the burning of his own books on that occasion. Radio broadcasts of the burnings were played in Berlin and elsewhere, and 40,000 turned up to hear Joseph Goebbels make a speech about the acts.
Berlin. Institut für Sexualwissenschaft. 1933-05-10. On 6 May 1933, the Deutsche Studentenschaft made an organised attack on the Institute of Sex Research. On May 10, 1933 on the Opernplatz in Berlin, S.A. and Nazi youth groups burned works of Jewish authors, and other works considered "un-German", at the library of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin.
Berlin. Humboldt University Library. 1933-05-10. Thousands of books were burned, including works by Albert Einstein, Vicki Baum, Bertolt Brecht, Heinrich Heine, Helen Keller, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Erich Maria Remarque, Frank Wedekind, Ernest Hemingway and H.G. Wells.
Warsaw, Indiana. Warsaw Public Library. 1935. Trustees of Warsaw, Indiana ordered the burning of all the library's works by local author Theodore Dreiser.
Greece. 1936 - 1941. Ioannis Metaxas, who held dictatorial power in Greece between 1936 and 1941, conducted an intensive campaign against what he considered Anti-Greek literature and viewed as dangerous to the national interest. Targeted under this definition and put to the fire were not only the writings of dissident Greek writers, but even works by such authors as Goethe, Shaw, and Freud.
Quebec. 1937. The Quebec government passed An act respecting communistic propaganda, popularly known as the Padlock Act. The statute empowered the attorney general to close, for up to one year, any building that was used to disseminate communism or bolshevism. In addition, the act empowered the attorney general to confiscate and destroy any publication propagating communism or bolshevism.
China. 1937 – 1945. During World War II, Japanese military forces destroyed or partly destroyed numerous Chinese libraries, including libraries at the National University of Tsing Hua, Peking (lost 200,000 of 350,000 books), the University Nan-k'ai, T'ien-chin (totally destroyed, 224,000 books lost), Institute of Technology of He-pei, T'ien-chin (completely destroyed), Medical College of He-pei, Pao-ting (completely destroyed), Agricultural College of He-pei, Pao-ting (completely destroyed), University Ta Hsia, Shanghai (completely destroyed), University Kuang Hua, Shanghai (completely destroyed), National University of Hunan (completely destroyed).
Barcelona. 1939. Shortly after the surrendering of Barcelona, Franco's troops burned the entire library of Pompeu Fabra, the main author of the normative reform of contemporary Catalan language, while shouting "¡Abajo la inteligencia!" (Down with intelligentsia!).
Warsaw. 1939 - 1945. Much of Warsaw, Poland was destroyed during World War II by the Nazis: an approximated 85% of buildings, including 16,000,000 volumes. 10% of the buildings were destroyed in the Invasion of Poland that ignited the war in 1939, 15% in the reorganization of Warsaw and the first Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 25% in the second and far more famous Uprising, and the last 35% due to systematic German actions after the Uprising was defeated. 14 libraries, not including the libraries in the University of Warsaw and the Warsaw Institute of Technology that were also razed, were completely burned to the ground. German Verbrennungskommandos (Burning detachments) were responsible for much of the targeted attacks on libraries and other centers of knowledge and learning.
China. 1939 - 1945. During World War II, Japanese military forces destroyed or partly destroyed numerous Chinese libraries, including libraries at the National University of Tsing Hua, Peking (lost 200,000 of 350,000 books), the University Nan-k'ai, T'ien-chin (totally destroyed, 224,000 books lost), Institute of Technology of He-pei, T'ien-chin (completely destroyed), Medical College of He-pei, Pao-ting (completely destroyed), Agricultural College of He-pei, Pao-ting (completely destroyed), University Ta Hsia, Shanghai (completely destroyed), University Kuang Hua, Shanghai (completely destroyed), National University of Hunan (completely destroyed). In addition other libraries had some or all of their collection removed to Japan, including the University of Nanking, Royal Asiatic Society in Shanghai, University of Shanghai, and Soochow University.
Leuven. Library of the Catholic University of Leuven. 1940-05. During Nazi Germany's offensive in Europe in World War II, the university library of Leuven, Belgium was destroyed by the German army and 900,000 books burned. This was after 300,000 others had burned when the library was attacked in World War One.
Belgrade. 1941-04-06. Bomber planes under orders by Nazi Germany specifically targeted the National Library of Serbia in Belgrade. All the collections were destroyed, totaling 500,000 books, 1,424 Cyrillic manuscripts and charters, 1,500 maps and prints, 4,000 journals, 1,800 newspaper titles, and Serbian historical correspondence.
London. 1939 - 1945. The area around Paternoster Row, the heart of British publishing was destroyed by bombing during World War II with an estimated loss of 20,000,000 volumes.
Plymouth. 1941-03-20. This and other air raids on Plymouth destroyed the Public Library as well as the Athenaeum Library (founded 1812) and the Proprietary Library (founded 1810). Newspaper offices were also destroyed.
London. British Museum. 1941-05-10. In September 1940 during the Blitz in London, a plane commanded by Nazi Germany dropped a bomb on the British Museum. It is not believed that it was intended to hit the Museum in particular, but 124 volumes were destroyed and 304 other volumes were damaged past repair. From May 10–11, 1941, the Museum's book collections (now the British Library) were bombed again, this time burning more than 150,000 books.
Germany. 1942 - 1945. The firebombing of German cities during World War II caused extensive destruction of German libraries, including the Library of the Technical University of Aachen (50,000 volumes), the Berlin Staatsbibliothek (2 million volumes), the Berlin University Library (20,000 volumes), the Bonn University Library (25% of its holdings), the Bremen Staatsbibliothek (150,000 volumes), the Hessische Landesbibliothek in Darmstadt (760,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in Darmstadt (two thirds of its collection), the Stadt- und Landesbibliothek in Dortmund (250,000 of 320,000 volumes), the Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden (300,000 volumes), the Stadtbibliothek in Dresden (200,000 volumes), the Essen Stadtbücherei (130,000 volumes), the Frankfurt Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek (550,000 volumes, 440,000 doctoral dissertations, 750,000 patents), the Giessen University Library (nine tenths of its collection), the Greifswald University Library (17,000 volumes), the Hamburg Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek (600,000 volumes), the Hamburg Commerz-Bibliothek (174,000 of 188,000 volumes), the Hannover Stadtbibliothek (125,000 volumes), the Badische Landesbibliothek in Karlsruhe (360,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in Karlsruhe (63,000 volumes), the Kassel Landesbibliothek (350,000 of 400,000 volumes), the Murhardsche Bibliothek in Kassel (100,000 volumes), the Kiel University Library (250,000 volumes), the Leipzig Stadtbibliothek (175,000 of 181,000 volumes), the Magdeburg Stadtbibliothek (140,000 of 180,000 volumes), the Marburg University Library (50,000 volumes), the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich (500,000 volumes), the Munich University Library (350,000 volumes), the Munich Stadtbibliothek (80,000 volumes), the Munich Benedictine Library (120,000 volumes), the Münster University Library (360,000 volumes), the Nürnberg Stadtbibliothek (100,000 volumes), the Württembergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart (580,000 volumes), the Library of the Technical University in Stuttgart (50,000 volumes), the Würzburg University Library (200,000 volumes and 230,000 doctoral dissertations). The above is only a shortlist of the most notable losses; in all it is estimated that a third of all German books were destroyed.
Exeter. 1942-05-03. On the night of 3-4 May 1942 during Exeter's most destructive air raid the Public Library in Castle Street was hit by incendiary bombs and gutted. The fire reached the outer door of the muniment room and destroyed it, but, although the lock on the inner door was fused, the massive teak door withstood the blaze and the collection of manuscripts inside was unharmed. Some manuscripts prepared for evacuation were lost as was every printed book in the building, a total of 93,000 volumes. Fortunately the bulk of the local studies section had been evacuated. The publishing firms of Besley and Wheaton were also destroyed.
Paris. 1943. Jean Genet underwent one of the many prison terms in his life during 1943. The prison authorities provided to prisoners sheets of rough brown paper, from which they were supposed to make bags. Instead, Genet used the paper to write a largely autobiographical book which would eventually be named Notre Dame des Fleurs (Our Lady of the Flowers). As later recounted by Jean-Paul Sartre in his forward to the book, a prison guard discovered that the prisoner Genet had been making this unauthorized use of the paper, confiscated the manuscript and burned it. Undaunted, Genet wrote it all over again. The second version survived and Genet took it with him when leaving the prison. It was this book which eventually established Genet's literary credentials and enabled him to leave the world of crime and become an internationally known author.
Alessandria. Synagogue Library. 1943-12-13. In Alessandria, Italy, a mob of supporters of the German-imposed Italian Social Republic attacked the synagogue of the city's small Jewish community, on Via Milano. Books and manuscripts were taken out of the synagogue and set on fire at Piazza Rattazzi. The burning of the Jewish books was a prelude to a mass arrest and deportation of the Jews themselves, most of whom perished in Auschwitz.
France. 1944. During the Second World War the French writer and anti-Nazi resistance fighter André Malraux worked on a long novel, La Lutte avec l'ange (The struggle against the angel), the manuscript of which was destroyed by the Gestapo upon his capture in 1944. The name was apparently inspired by the Jacob story in the Bible. A surviving opening part named Les Noyers de l'Altenburg (The walnut trees of Altenburg), was published after the war.
Warsaw. Polish Museum, Rapperswil. 1944. The extensive library of the Polish Museum, Rapperswil, founded in 1870 in Rapperswil, Switzerland, had been created when Poland was not a country and was thus moved to Warsaw in 1927. Through 1944, most of the library's 20,000 engravings, 92,000 books, and 27,000 manuscripts were burned.
Douai. Bibliothèque Municipale. 1944-08-11. The Bibliothèque Municipale of Douai, France, was burned in an Allied bombing of the city following the Normandy landings. The library had been founded by Louis XV in 1767 and included many rare and valuable books. Also destroyed in the fire were many of the former holdings of the University of Douai and the collections of the Jesuits of the College of Anchin, both of which had been transferred to the Municipal Library during the French Revolution.
Warsaw. Zaluski Library. 1944-10. Established in 1747 and thus the oldest public library in Poland and one of the oldest and most important libraries in Europe, the Zaluski Library was burned down during the Uprising in October 1944. Out of about 400,000 printed items, maps and manuscripts, only some 1800 manuscripts and 30,000 printed materials survived. Unlike earlier Nazi book burnings where specific books were deliberately targeted, the burning of this library was part of the general setting on fire of a large part of the city of Warsaw.
Norway. 1945. Following the liberation of Norway from Nazi occupation in 1945, angry crowds burned the books of Knut Hamsun in public in major Norwegian cities, due to Hamsun's having coolaborated with the Nazis.
Germany. 1946-05-13. The Allied Control Council issued a directive for the confiscation on all media that could supposedly contribute to Nazism or militarism. As a consequence a list was drawn up of over 30,000 titles, ranging from school textbooks to poetry, which were then banned. All copies of books on the list were to be confiscated and destroyed; the possession of a book on the list was made a punishable offence. All the millions of copies of these books were to be confiscated and destroyed. The representative of the Military Directorate admitted that the order was no different in intent or execution from Nazi book burnings.
Mahabad. 1946-12. Following the suppression of the pro-Soviet Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in north Iran in December 1946 and January 1947, members of the victorious Iranian Army burned all Kurdish-language books that they could find, as well as closing down the Kurdish printing press and banning the teaching of Kurdish.
United States. 1948. In 1948, children – overseen by priests, teachers, and parents – publicly burned several hundred comic books in both Spencer, West Virginia, and Binghamton, New York. Once these stories were picked up by the national press wire services, similar events followed in many other cities.
China. 1949. The books written by Shen Congwen (pseudonym of Shen Yuehuan) in the period 1922–1949 were banned and subsequently burned by booksellers in the People's Republic of China. His works were also banned in Taiwan.
Birobizhan. Shalom Aleichem Library. 1948. A great number of Yiddish books were removed from the Shalom Aleichem Library as part of Joseph Stalin's efforts to stamp out Jewish culture in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Soviet Union. 1950 Nineteen Eighty-Four, the 1949 novel by George Orwell was banned by the Soviet Union, as Stalin understood that it was a satire based on his leadership. It was not until 1990 that the Russia legalised the book and it was re-released after editing.
United States. 1953. Senator Joseph McCarthy recited before his subcommittee and the press a list of supposedly pro-communist authors whose works his aide Roy Cohn found in the State Department libraries in Europe. The Eisenhower State Department bowed to McCarthy and ordered its overseas librarians to remove from their shelves "material by any controversial persons, Communists, fellow travelers, etc." Some libraries burned the newly forbidden books. President Dwight D. Eisenhower initially agreed that the State Department should dispose of books advocating communism: "I see no reason for the federal government to be supporting something that advocated its own destruction. That seems to be the acme of silliness." However, at Dartmouth College in June 1953, Eisenhower urged Americans concerning libraries: "Don't join the book burners. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book...."
United States. 1954. Psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich was prosecuted, following an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of his use of orgone accumulators. Reich refused to defend himself, and a federal judge ordered all of his orgone energy equipment and publications to be seized and destroyed. In June 1956, federal agents burned many of the books at Reich's estate near Rangeley, Maine. Later that year, and in March 1960, an additional 6 tons of Reich's books, journals and papers were burned in a public incinerator in New York. Reich died of heart failure while in federal prison in November 1957.
Rio Grande do Sul. 1964. Following the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état, General Justino Alves Bastos, commander of the Third Army, ordered, in Rio Grande do Sul, the burning of all "subversive books". Among the books he branded as subversive was Stendhal's Le rouge et le noir (Scarlet and black).
China. 1966 - 1976. It is the Chinese tradition to record family members in a book, including every male born in the family, who they are married to, etc. Traditionally, only males' names are recorded in the books. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), many such books were forcibly destroyed, because they were considered by the Chinese Communist Party as among the Four Old Things to be eschewed. Also many copies of classical works of Chinese literature were destroyed, though these usually existed in many copies, some of which survived. Many copies of the Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian books were destroyed, thought to be promoting the "old" thinking.
United States. 1966. John Lennon, member of the popular music group The Beatles, sparked outrage from religious conservatives in the Southern 'Bible Belt' states when his quote 'The Beatles are more popular than Jesus' was taken out of context from an interview he had done in England five months previous to the Beatles' 1966 US Tour. Disc Jockeys, evangelists, and the Ku Klux Klan implored the local public to bring their Beatles records, books, magazines, posters and memorabilia to Beatles bonfire burning events.
Chile. 1973. After the victory of Augusto Pinochet's forces in the Chilean coup of 1973, bookburnings of Marxist and other works ensued. Journalist Carlos Rama reported in February 1974 that up to that point, destroyed works included: the handwritten Chilean Declaration of Independence by Bernardo O'Higgins, thousands of books of Editora Nacional Quimantú including the Complete Works of Che Guevara, thousands of books in the party headquarters of the Chilean Socialist Party and MAPU, personal copies of works by Marx, Lenin, and anti-fascist thinkers, and thousands of copies of newspapers and magazines favorable to Salvador Allende including Chile today.
Phnom Penh. National Library. 1975. The Khmer Rouge Burnt most of the books and all bibliographical records. Only 20% of materials survived.
Jaffna. Jaffna Public Library. 1981-05. A mob of thugs and plain-clothes police officers went on a rampage in minority Tamil-dominated northern Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and burned down the Jaffna Public Library. At least 95,000 volumes were destroyed, including a very rare collection of ancient palm leaf volumes.
Punjab. Sikh Reference Library. 1984-06-07. Before its destruction by Troops acting under Indira Gandhi's orders the library contained rare books and handwritten manuscripts on Sikh religion, history, and culture.
Tehran. 1989-02-14. Salman Rushdie's fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), was the centre of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries, including including a fatwa calling for his assassination issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989. In the United Kingdom, book burnings were staged in the cities of Bolton and Bradford. In addition, five UK bookstores selling the novel were the target of bombings, and two bookstores in Berkeley, California were firebombed.
Bucharest. Central University Library of Bucharest. 1989-12-2?. Burnt down during the Romanian Revolution.
Sarajevo. Oriental Institute. 1992-05-17. The Oriental Institute in Sarajevo was completely destroyed by Serbian shelling, with thousands of rare books and manuscripts inside.
Sarajevo. National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Viljecnica). 1992-08-25. Destroyed by Bosnian Serb Army shellfire during the Siege of Sarajevo after three days of bombing. Almost all the contents of the library were destroyed, including more than 1.5 million books that included 4,000 rare books, 700 manuscripts, and 100 years of Bosnian newspapers and journals. These numbers makes this event a single largest book burning in history of human kind. The library re-opened in 2014.
Berlin. 1995-05. In May 1995 Micha Ullman's underground “Bibliotek” memorial was inaugurated on Bebelplatz square in Berlin, where the Nazi book burnings began. The memorial consists of a window on the surface of the plaza, under which vacant bookshelves are lit and visible. A bronze plaque bears a quote by the German Romantic poet Heinrich Heine: "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" (Where they burn books, they will also, in the end, burn humans).
Kabul. Nasir-i Khusraw Foundation. 1998-08-12. The Foundation was established in 1987, by the collaborative efforts of several civil society and academic institutions, leading scholars and members of the Ismaili community. It included video and book publishing facilities, a museum, and a library. The library was a marvel in its extensive collection of fifty-five thousand books, available to all students and researchers, in the languages of Arabic, English, and Pashto. In addition, its Persian collection was unparalleled – including an extremely rare 12th-century manuscript of Firdawsi’s epic masterpiece The Book of Kings (Shahnama). The Ismaili collection of the library housed works from Hasan-i Sabbah and Nasir-i Khusraw, and the seals of the first Aga Khan. With the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the late 1980s and the strengthening of the Taliban forces, the library collection was relocated to the valley of Kayan. However, on August 12, 1998, the Taliban fighters ransacked the press, the museum, the video facilities and the library, destroying some books in the fire and throwing others in a nearby river. Not a single book was spared, including a thousand-year-old Quran.
Sukhumi, Abkhazia. Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature. 1992-10. Destroyed by Georgian Armed Forces during the War in Abkhazia. The Institute, named after Dmitry Gulia, which housed an important library and archive, was torched by the invaders; also targeted was the capital's public library. It seems to have been a deliberate attempt by the Georgian paramilitary soldiers to wipe out the region's historical record.
Puli Khumri. 1998. Library destroyed by Taliban militia. It held 55,000 books and old manuscripts.
Berkeley. 2001. UC Berkeley students burned copies of Daniel J. Flynn's book on Mumia Abu-Jamal after verbally shouting him down during his scheduled speech.
Cairo. 2001-01. The Egyptian Ministry of Culture ordered the burning of some 6,000 books of homoerotic poetry by the well-known 8th Century Persian-Arab poet Abu Nuwas, even though his writings are considered classics of Arab literature.
Cuba. 2003. "Independent Librarians" were put on trial in Cuba. In some cases their books were ordered to be destroyed by the court. For example, in the case of Julio Antoniao Guevara, the trial judge ordered: "As to the disposition of the photographic negatives, the audio cassette, medicines, books, magazines, pamphlets and the rest of the documents, they are to be destroyed by means of incineration because they lack usefulness." Among some of the many thousands of items burned or destroyed by the Cuban Department of Interior were books on the U.S. Constitution, Martin Luther King, journalism manuals, a book called Fidel's Secret Wars, and in one case, even a book by Jose Marti, the Cuban hero of independence beloved by most Cubans and often quoted by Castro.
Baghdad. Iraq National Library and Archive. 2003. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Iraq's national library was burned and destroyed. The national library housed rare volumes and documents from as far back as the 16th century, including entire royal court records and files from the period when Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire.
Baghdad. 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. 2003-04. Several libraries looted by unknown members of the Bagdad population set on fire, damaged and destroyed in various degrees during the 2003 Iraq War. The destroyed Islamic library of Baghdad included one of the oldest surviving copies of the Qur'an.
United States. 2006. There have been several incidents of Harry Potter books being burned, including those directed by churches at Alamogordo, New Mexico and Charleston, South Carolina in 2006.
Bayeux. Inauguration of the Mémorial des Reporters, jointly sponsored by Reporters Without Borders is a memorial which lists the names of over 2000 journalists killed in the line of duty around the world since 1944. See the Reporters without Borders website for an on-line database of names, places and dates. A new stela is unveiled each year.
Kansas City. Prospero's Books. 2007-05-27. Booksellers. Tom Wayne and W.E. Leathem, the proprietors of Prospero's Books, a used book store in Kansas City, Missouri, publicly burned a portion of their inventory to protest what they perceived as society's increasing indifference to the printed word. The protest was interrupted by the Kansas City Fire Department on the grounds that Wayne and Leathem had failed to obtain the required permits.
Or Yehuda. 2008-05. A number of New Testaments were burned in Or Yehuda, Israel. Conflicting accounts have the deputy mayor of Or Yehuda, Uzi Aharon (of Haredi party Shas), claiming to have organized the burnings or to have stopped them. He admitted involvement in collecting New Testaments and "Messianic propaganda" that had been distributed in the city. The burning apparently violated Israeli laws about destroying religious items.
Bagram. 2009 The US military burned Bibles in Pasto and Dari that were part of the Bagram Bible program, an unauthorized program to proselytize Christianity in Afghanistan.
Canton, North Carolina. Amazing Grace Baptist Church. 2009-10-31. The church in Canton, North Carolina, headed by Pastor Marc Grizzard, held a book burning on Halloween 2009. Being a King James Version exclusive church, it held all other translations of the Bible to be heretical, and also considered both the writings of Christian writers and preachers such as Billy Graham and T.D. Jakes and most musical genres to be heretical expressions.
Johannesburg. 2010-09-11. Mohammed Vawda publicized his intentions to burn a Bible in retaliation in Johannesburg in retaliation for the proposed action of Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, but was stopped by a South African judge after a Muslim group brought Vawda to court.
United States. 2010-09-11. Following the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York a number of incidents of the burning of the Qur'an were recorded: Fred Phelps burned a Qur'an with the American flag at the Westboro Baptist Church. Bob Old and another preacher burned a Qur'an in Nashville, Tennessee. A New Jersey transit worker burned a few pages of a Qur'an at the Ground Zero Mosque in Manhattan. Alex Stewart smoked a roll of pages from the Bible and the Qur'an in Brisbane. Burned Qur'ans were also found in Knoxville, Tennessee, East Lansing, Michigan, Springfield, Tennessee, and Chicago, Illinois.
Washington. 2010-10-20. On September 20, 2010 the Pentagon bought and burned 9,500 copies of Operation Dark Heart, nearly all the first run copies for supposedly containing classified information.
Gainesville. 2011-03-20. Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida had announced in July 2010 that he threatened to burn 200 copies of the Qur'an on September 11, 2010, then did not do so. However, after promising not to, he proceeded to burn a Qur'an in the sanctuary of the church March 20, 2011.
Colorado City. 2011-04-17. Books and other items designated for a new public library in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints polygamous community Colorado City, Arizona were removed from the facility where they had been stored and burned nearby.
Cairo. Institut d'Egypte. 2011-12-19. Protesters against the military government in Egypt, burnt the library in the Institute d'Egypt in Cairo. Images of men on TV were shown dancing around the fire. An early estimate stated that only 30,000 volumes have been saved of a total of 200,000. The cost of the material was estimated at tens of millions of dollars.
Bagram. 2012-02-22. Four copies of the Qur'an were burned at Bagram Airfield, being among 1,652 books assigned for destruction. The remaining books, which officials claimed were being used for communication among extremists, were saved and put into storage.
Timbuktu. Ahmed Baba Institute. 2013-01-27. Islamist rebels in Timbuktu reportedly burned two libraries containing thousands of the Timbuktu Manuscripts on 27–28 January 2013. Dating back as far as 1202 and written in such languages as Arabic, Songhai, Tamasheq, Bambara, Hebrew, and Turkish, the writings were almost wholly undigitised. Notable works included copies of the Tarikh al-Sudan and Heinrich Barth's letters of recommendation. The rebels are the Ansar Dine.
Canada. Library and Archives Canada. 2013. The major digitisation progamme has received criticism, with allegations that it aimed to reduce the nine libraries originally involved to seven and save $C443,000 annual cost under Government of Canada headed by prime minister Stephen Harper. It is alleged that only 5–6% of the material was digitized, and that scientific records and research created at a taxpayer cost of tens of millions of dollars was dumped, burned, and given away. Particularly noted are baseline data important to ecological research, and data from 19th century exploration.
San Jose. San Jose State University. 2013-05. Two San Jose State University professors, department chair Alison Bridger, Ph.D. and associate professor Craig Clements, Ph.D., were photographed holding a match to a book they disagreed with, The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism, by Steve Goreham.
A-LE_>Tripoli. Al-Saeh Library2014-01-03. The library was burned down by Islamic extremists. Some 78,000 books, many irreplaceable ancient Muslim and Christian texts and manuscripts, were unsalvageable.
Sarajevo. National Archives of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 2014-02-07. 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. Seven Bosnian rioters suspected of having started the fire; two were arrested.
Exeter. Westcountry Studies Library. 2014. Following central government funding cuts the Westcountry Studies Library in Exeter was closed and the collections transferred without dedicated personnel or bookfund from Devon Library Services to the South West Heritage Trust. The century-long role of the public library in preserving the community's written heritage was interrupted. This is just one example of the problems which faced public libraries in Britain in this period of austerity.
Paris. Charlie-Hebdo. 2015-01-07. Periodical. The offices were attacked by Islamic extremists and thirteen people killed including four cartoonists to "avenge the Prophet" following the publication of caricatures showing Muhammad.
Saudi Arabia. 2015-01-09. Blogger Raif Badawi, the co-founder of the Liberal Saudi Network in 2008 received the first fifty of 1,000 lashes. He was also sentenced to ten years in gaol. The network, an online forum that sought to encourage debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia was banned and closed. This page last updated 10 January 2015