Library of Pantainos

Portrait head of an imperial priest.

What Pantainos would have looked like dressed as an imperial priest

The donor of the Library of Pantainos, Titus Flavius Pantainos, has been identified with Pantainos of Gargettos, the man who served as the eponymous archon of Athens in 102 AD. He was obviously an Athenian citizen—Gargettos being a deme of Attica—and only citizens could serve in government posts, and only extremely wealthy ones could afford to serve.

Pantainos had two children, a son, Flavius Menander, and a daughter, Flavia Secundilla, and was of Greek descent, though he possessed Roman citizenship. The name “Pantainos” is a rare name. Nonetheless, two other men with the name “Pantainos” appear in the surviving Greek writings, one long before the library was built, and one who lived 75 years after the building was finished.

It is from the library's dedication, carved into the lintel across the main door, that we learn about Pantainos and his family:

To Athena Polias and to the Emperor Caesar Augustus Nerva
Traianus Germanicus and to the city of the Athenians, the
priest of the Muses who love wisdom, T. Flavius Pantainos, son
of Flavius Menander head of the school, dedicated the outer
colonnades, the cloister, the library with the books, and all the
furnishings of the building, from his own resources along with his
children Flavius Menander and Flavia Secundilla.

Athena Archegetis is Athena the Originator, i.e. the originator of Athens. Emperor Trajan is referred to as Trajan Germanicus, the name given to him by the Senate for his actions against the Germans. The name “Dacicus,” a name given to Trajan in 102 after he annexed Dacia to the empire, is missing. The library therefore had to be built around 100.

The lintel was found embedded in the Herulian Wall. This wall covers the east stoa of the library.

The first Pantainos appears in the writings of Hesychius. Hesychius wrote about the ostracism of Menon, the son of Menekleides. This incident took place 550 years before Titus Flavius, in the time of Perikles, the great statesman and general, the mastermind behind the Athenian empire. Hesychius describes a certain Thucydides: he mentions that he is “the son of Pantainos.”

Other than Titus Flavius, a Pantainos appears only once more in the written records, this time in Alexandria 75 years after the library’s founding. This Pantainos is mentioned in the writings of Eusebius and Clement, Christian theologians who were taught by this philosophical convert who came from the Catechetical School. The Catechetical School taught Stoic philosophy.

We know from the library’s dedicatory inscription that Pantainos was a “priest of the Muses,” and that he was a philosopher. His father was Flavius Menander, who taught philosophy. If Pantainos of Alexandria is a descendant of the founder of the library, then the type of philosophical school his father probably headed was Stoic.

Indeed, the Pantainos family could truly be described as “a family of philosophers.”

Library of Pantainos