Evolution of Greek Science : Golden Age of Ancient Science

Golden age of Greek science

The real evolution of science started once survival was not a daily task of worrying, and by the time we were at the top of the food chain. Obviously, in caves, mathematics was not developed cause mathematics would not have an immediate impact on our survival, nor it would have been our greed. So no tribe leader nor ancient chieftains going to invest resources on something useless when food was hard to find.

It is not the same with all branches of Greek science; for example, history got developed well before mathematics even got identified. No one took time to solve typical mathematical problems like trigonometry which they were facing every day they did not know that those were mathematical problems, but they took the time to write about events in time happening around them.

Adaptation of Greek Science

Solar clock Evolution of Greek science
Ancient Solar clock

The three civilizations where science and mathematics had developed early and had great practical uses were Egypt, Babylonia, Greek. Greeks were the last to join, but they developed theorems from ideas and mathematical tools which were in use in Babylonia, Egypt.

water clock evolution of greek science
Ancient Water clock

The Babylonians were the first to develop and use mathematics as a tool. Even before 1700 BC, they knew elements of geometry. They followed the sexagesimal system of numbering, and they had made significant progress in calculating time using solar, water clocks.

The practice of dividing a circle into 360 degrees came from them. The Babylonians had developed arithmetical methods of solving problems. Astronomy was a vital part of the Babylonian culture as they worshipped planetary gods like greeks.

They also had extensive knowledge of planets, and they had observed motions of venus as back as 7th-century BC. They calculated the days for a solar year and lunar year. Unlike the greeks the Babylonians they did not know much of cosmology they did not try to reason about heaven. Babylonians followed a lunar-based calendar.

Greek Science and Development of Mathematics

Once the fear of death went out of our lives, science started developing in all branches. Once life became more than just survival, that is when we started thinking about nature and started using things around us for our advantage, we also started thinking about the principles that govern them. Those principles led us to the development of greek science and mathematics.

Astronomy as a branch of Science

The development of mathematics was due to the advancement in astronomy, and they predicted eclipses, movement of the moon, sun, Jupiter. An astronomer named Seleucus of Seleucia had proposed the heliocentric theory unlike in Greece in Babylonia they never expected circular orbits in nature. Seleucus proved the heliocentric theory using the variance in tides in the ocean and the trigonometry that Babylonians knew, but there is no text of the proof, but historians have written about it.

Transfer of Science to Greeks

The Babylonians had invented almost all of the early astronomical inventions about planets and calendars. Their era came to an end after Alexander the Great invaded Babylonia. All this knowledge got transferred to Greece, where it got further developed. The invention of the Metonic cycle by the greeks is controversial as they could have used the Babylonian data of lunar years.

Babylonian Lunar calendar Greek science
Babylonian Lunar calendar

Babylonians collected most of the knowledge in mathematics and astronomy, and later it was converted into a more useful form by the greeks. It is a sad truth that in modern society, Babylonians never got identified for their work.

Hipparchus told that he arranged the planetary observations in a more useful way. He also predicted the movement of the sun and moon for the next 600 years which he probably converted the lunar time in Babylonian into the solar calendar.

The first scientist is accepted to be Thales of Miletus. He might have learned a lot from the Babylonians and Egyptians as his origin is not clear. Later he established mathematics in greek science and converted mathematics from Babylonia where it got used only as a tool to a part of science itself. The Babylonians also knew about Pythagoras theorem, which got discovered at the same time.

The Egyptians are famous for their massive pyramids, and the preservation of corpse in the form of mummies has puzzled historians till now. Unlike Babylonia, which was under constant change of rulers and wars, Egypt was comparatively peaceful, and they had the fertile lands of the Nile. So the environment was very healthy for the growth of science.

evolution of greek science and agricultureThe Egyptians are one of the first known civilizations to create a writing language. Also, the progress of Egyptians in the field of medicine is the best among any ancient civilization they had specialized doctors to treat body parts. They had extensive knowledge about trigonometry and measuring distances and moving massive rocks for vast distances.

Agriculture was the primary source of food income, and their irrigation technique was exceptional that Thales of Miletus ( yes again ) studied in Egypt implemented them in Greece. They were the first civilisation to make advancement in engineering and exploited those techniques to construct gigantic structures. The Egyptians had pervasive knowledge of astronomy and followed the solar calendar. They worshipped the sun and knew about the sun so well that they could pinpoint the position of the sun after 1000 years.


Science and infrastructure

King Ramesses constructed Abu Simbel which is a temple designed in such a way that precisely on 21 Feb and 21 Oct the sun shines directly on statues of Ramesses and the god Amun the amount of precision they had is unbelievable. Even in the 21st century, we cannot match their precision. This tells a lot about role of greek science in Infrastructure. By observing the amount of precision they had, it is evident that mathematics played a significant part in their society. They knew the Pythagoras theorem before the greeks without which constructing The Great Pyramids is impossible.

The collapse of the Mycenaean civilization

If we want to understand the history of science, then we need to see the Greeks more closely. The Greeks descended from the collapse of an ancient civilization known as Mycenaean. After the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization, the dark age was upon them for two centuries. The Mycenaeans left only stories and poems about gods that got passed to the Greeks, and that is the reason why their religion is a collection of fairy tales that partially reflects the values and theologies of Mycenaeans.

Lack of logical answers

cosmos universe evolution of greek scienceThere were no logical explanations to be found in their religious texts regarding the universe or humans. The lack of any logical answers from the ancient texts led to the development of philosophy and reasoning, Miletus tried explaining everything around him by classifying as solid, liquid, gas.

The philosophy and reasoning combined with the knowledge and data which the Egyptians and Mesopotamians possessed, ultimately led to all the greek scientific discoveries which got invented during the golden age of Greeks.

The whole development of greek science started in the 6th century when the greeks started reasoning about the universe. Thales argued that the world must have regularity in it so everything must be uniform outside earth. So the first view of the universe was an ordered structure, and they called Kosmos( in greek means order).

Early methodology

Anaximander greek mathematician
Anaximander, student of Thales.

There are a few peculiar characteristics the greeks showed at that time; one of them was the concept of contradiction. Thales was trying to find out a universal element by which it is possible to make everything. He chose water (he concluded by mere observation of things around him which is not very scientific) but what happened following his proposal played a very critical role in the development of science.

Anaximander, his student, opposed his theory by arguing that “water if it is anything, is essentially wet; nothing can be its contradiction”. This means water is wet, so if water was elemental in everything, then everything has to be wet, which means there should not be any dry items present in this world at all. What Anaximander did was he contradicted Thales’s theory even when he was his student.

Anaximander did oppose it because he found it wrong and was able to prove it. Hence Thales was proved wrong, and the characteristic expressed by Anaximander played a vital role in the advancement of  greek science.

Foundation Stones of Greek Science

contradiction methodology by greek science
A classic example of Contradiction methodology.

One of the primary methods of reasoning which the greeks followed is as follows “if all men are mortal; if Socrates is a man; then Socrates is a mortal”. This reasoning was one of the first methods of reasoning invented by the Greeks; it led to the discovery of many facts which now may seem very obvious. However, in those days of greek science they were a mystery.

There were a few problems in this type of reasoning like the first statement is assumed to be true without any scientific proofs and the output is always a yes/no, but if more than two types of output are available then this reasoning fails miserably. Another characteristic which greeks exhibited which led to the advancement of science is “development”. If it was not possible to use a theory everywhere, then it has to be modified, and greeks adopted new ways of reasoning by modifying the old one.

After Thales was proved wrong in one of his theories, all his theories were questioned and debated. Nevertheless, another essential characteristic of modern science “questioning and testing with known facts”. Thales was possibly seen as a legend from some other world by the Greekians as folk stories always surrounded their life, and Thales was reasoning about unseeable things.

Pythagoras theorem greek science mathematician
Greek Philosopher Pythagoras.

The mistake which was done by Thales and his student, pointing it out broke all the barriers on other men and led to an intellectual breakout in Greece and continued for a long time. After that, philosophers accepted that the four essential elements were earth, fire, water, air; which is the first scientific discovery that followed the modern scientific approach.

Ancient greek science got its roots from Egypt and Mesopotamia. The trade to Egypt through the Nile allowed the transfer of knowledge and people like Socrates, Pythagoras, Aristotle had visited Egypt. Alexander’s conquest allowed the Greeks to extract knowledge possessed by Mesopotamians. With the knowledge collected from both Egypt and Mesopotamia, they constructed theories.

The best example is Pythagoras theorem, Pythagoras traveled to Egypt, and the Egyptians already knew that if the sides of a triangle are in the ratio of 3:4:5 then it is a right-angled triangle. Pythagoras came back to Greece with this knowledge and extended it to any right-angled triangle and formed the Pythagoras theorem. Pythagoras theorem provided the bridge between the real-world and numbers.

End of Ancient Science

The era of ancient greek science came to an end after the death of Thales and Pythagoras. The next period which followed is called the “Hellenic” period, which spans from the death of Alexander the great and to the emergence of Rome. After Alexander’s death, his whole kingdom got ripped into several states ruled by his surviving commanders.

war effect on evolution of greek science
Effect of War on Greek science

There was continuous unrest in the region for at least 100 years, and a series of civil wars happened, and the throne of individual regions was shifting hands.

Formation of alliances, betrayals, backstabs was frequent due to the unrest. War and economic unrest are never good for the development of science. There were lots of barriers now in the way of science.

Scientific discoveries now took much time to spread to the entire region, and it disrupted the scientific approach of questioning and testing with facts.

Data collected at one place may potentially not reach any other state. Mutually helping theories could have been proposed but may not have come to the notice of either discoverer.

Now science was used in wars, and the state rulers now wanted ideas from philosophers and materials to be used to make swords and armor. Once the transition period was over, and the death of alexander settled then borders, long term alliances, trade routes got formed. Scientific development continued this time spearheaded by Aristotle and Archimedes based on the foundation provided by Thales and Pythagoras.

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