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Inventions and Discoveries of Ancient Greek Scientists

Scientists credited with inventing and making these discoveries chronologically

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Here is a chronological list of the major ancient Greek scientists and the inventions or discoveries attributed to them, rightly or wrongly, especially in the areas of astronomy, geography, and mathematics. N.B.: Some of the scientists were contemporaries, so inventions of, for instance, Aristotle, might pre-date those of Eudoxus.

The earliest philosophers are little more than legend, but this is a list of inventions and discoveries attributed through the ages to these thinkers, not an examination of how factual such attributions may be. Our knowledge of the Pre-Socratic philosophers comes from fragments of their works included in the writing of others. The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts, by G.S. Kirk and J.E. Raven provides these fragments in English. Diogenes Laertius provides biographies of the Pre-Socratic philosophers: Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Loeb Classical Library. DK=Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, by H. Diels and W. Kranz, is the standard edition on the Pre-socratics.

References are at the end of the list.

Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c.276-194 B.C.)

Eratosthenes
PD Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Eratosthenes made a map of the world, described countries of Europe, Asia, and Libya, created the first parallel of latitude, and measured the circumference of the earth.

Hipparchus of Nicaea or Bithynia (c.190-c.120 B.C.)

Hipparchus produced a table of chords, an early trigonometric table, which leads some to call him the inventor of trigonometry. He cataloged 850 stars and accurately calculated when eclipses, both lunar and solar, would occur. Hipparchus is credited with inventing the astrolabe. He discovered the Precession of the Equinoxes and calculated its 25,771-year cycle.

Source: Hipparchus of Rhodes

Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria (c. A.D. 90-168)

Section From The School of Athens, by Raphael. Zoroaster holding a globe talking with Ptolemy.
Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Ptolemy founded the Ptolemaic System of geocentric astronomy that held for 1400 years. Ptolemy wrote the Almagest, a work on astronomy that provides us with information on the work of earlier Greek astronomers. He drew maps with latitude and longitude, and developed the science of optics. It is possible to overstate the influence of Ptolemy during much of next millennium because he wrote in Greek, while western scholars knew Latin ["Traditions in Early Medieval Latin Science," by William H. Stahl; Isis, 1959].

For more on Ptolemy, see:

  • "Ptolemy's Use of His Predecessors' Data," by Mark T. Riley; Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol. 125, (1995), pp. 221-250.
  • Ptolemy Biography

Galen of Pergamum (born c. A.D. 129)

Galen
Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Galen (Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus) discovered nerves of sensation and motion, and worked out a theory of medicine that doctors used for hundreds of years, based on Latin authors like Oribasius' inclusion of translations of Galen's Greek in their own treatises.

References

  • "The Ancient Greek Astronomers: A Record of Remarkable Ingenuity," by W. H. Stahl; The Classical Journal, (Oct., 1951), pp. 3-16.
  • "An Appraisal of Greek Science," by Israel E. Drabkin; The Classical Weekly, (Nov. 30, 1936), pp. 57-63.
  • "Chaldaean Astronomy of the Last Three Centuries B. C.," by George Sarton; Journal of the American Oriental Society, (Jul. - Sep., 1955), pp. 166-173.
  • "Eudoxus Meets Cayley," by Richard E. Chandler, Carl D. Meyer and Nicholas J. Rose; The American Mathematical Monthly, (Dec., 2003), pp. 912-927.
  • Greek geometry from Thales to Euclid, by George Johnston Allman (1889).
  • "New View of Early Greek Astronomy, by Bernard R. Goldstein and Alan C. Bowen; Isis, (Sep., 1983), pp. 330-340.

    Also note: "Hipparchus' Treatment of Early Greek Astronomy: The Case of Eudoxus and the Length of Daytime"; Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, (Jun., 1991), pp. 233-254.

  • A Short History or Natural Science and of the Progress of Discovery From the Time of the Greeks to the Present Day, by Arabella B. Buckley (1888).
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