Ancient Greek contribution to science and technology

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Ionia and early Greek science

For thousands of years human were oppressed as some of us still are by the notion that the universe is a puppet who string are pulled by capricious gods and goddesses, whose ways are inscrutable, 2500 year ago there was a glorious awakening in lonia, a cluster of Greek colonies in the eastern Aegean sea. Free inquiry prevailed here, which was at the cross roads of civilizations, great cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia met and cross fertilize here in a vigorous manner. There was a confrontation of prejudices, languages and gods. Each culture claimed its god as the most powerful. They began to think that there might be principles, forces, and laws of nature, through which the world could be understood. Thus Ionia became the place where science was born.

Thales of Miletus

He was the first Ionian scientist. He had traveled in Egypt and was conversant with the knowledge of Babylon. By his astronomical calculations he rightly predicted a solar eclipse. He rightly measured the height of a pyramid by comparing the length of its shadow with that cast by a stick of known height. He formulated many geometrical theorems which Euclid codified centuries later. He was the creator of geometry as a science. A student of history of science will see a clear continuity in the intellectual tradition from Thales of Euclid to Isaac Newton.

          Thales was a statesman of great wisdom, a successful businessman who established a monopoly in olive oil and a great astronomer. He is the father of western philosophy. His attainments so varied and deep, won him a place among the famed seven sages of Greece. Our knowledge of his philosophic and scientific speculations is scanty. We have no direct quotations from him, Aristotle frequently quotes him and says that Thales believed write to be the stuff of which all things are made.

Anaximander of Miletus

He was a friend and colleague of Thales. He examined the moving shadow cast by a vertical stick and determined accurately the length of the year. He was the first person in Greece to make a sundial, a world map and a celestial globe that showed the patterns of constellations.

          He proposed the spontaneous origin of life in mud. The first animals were fish covered with spines. Some descendants of these fished eventually abandoned the water and moved to dry land where they evolved into other animals by the transmutation of one form in to another. Thus he was nearer to the modern view of science than any other thinker of ancient times.


He was a Greek philosopher and mathematician, born in Samos. He was instructed in the teachings of the early Ionian philosophers. He traveled, widely and was initiated into the doctrines of the Egyptian priests. Being very much disgusted with the tyranny of Polycrates he left Samos and settled in Groton, a Greek colony in southern Italy. Here he founded in 530 BC the moral and religious movement known as the Pythagorean School, the Pythagoreans led a pious life and followed obedience and silence, abstinence from food, simplicity in dress and the habit of frequent self examination. They followed certain mysteries and believed in the immortality and transmigration of souls.

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          They made commendable studies in numbers and enriched arithmetic. Number represented for them the ultimate principle of all proportion, order, and harmony in the universe. Through such studies they established a scientific foundation for mathematics.

          In geometry their great discovery was the Pythagorean Theorem. Their astronomy marked an important advance in ancient scientific thought, because they were the first to consider the earth as a globe revolving with the other planets. They thought that the heavenly bodies are arranged in a harmonics way and they move according to a numerical scheme. This led them to think that the movement of the spheres gives rise to a musical sound – the “harmony of the spheres”
          The doctrines of Pythagoras strongly influenced Plato. The philosophy of Pythagoras is known only through the works of his disciples.

Hippocrates of cos (father of medicine)

Among almost all the primitive tribe’s illness was attributed to attacks by spirits and ghosts or to their actual entry into the body of the sufferer. Illness was thought to be a punishment for sin. So this disease was fought by exercise or propitiating sprit and demons. The priests were doctors. Imhetep was the Egyptian god of healing and Aesculapius was the ancient Greek god of healing. Temples were erected to these gods by grateful worshipers.

          For the first time practical medicine was separated from religion and philosophy by Hippocrates 420 BC. He laid a scientific basis for medicine by declaring that diseases were not due to the interference of gods but due to the natural causes. In this writing he ignored all the gods and held that disease was a natural phenomenon governed by natural laws.

Hippocrates of cos (father of medicine)

          The actual place and time of birth of Hippocrates are not known. Tradition dates his birth at 460 BC. He is mentioned in Plato’s dialogues and in the writings of Aristotle, who venerated him as the great physician.

     The basic principle established by Hippocrates was ‘precise observation’. He rejected speculation and guesses and emphasized the ‘exact knowledge obtained from observation’. However, while attempting to discover the true causes of disease, he believed that the attempting to discover the true causes of disease, he believed that the four elements earth, air, fire and water were represented in the body by four body fluids or “humors” blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. In a healthy person these four existed in a harmonious proportion. When this harmony is disturbed disease is caused. So cure meant restoring this harmony. These fanciful notions remained the accepted doctrine till the mid nineteenth century.

          The therapeutic means at his disposal were few and weak. But he taught that more valuable than drugs were diet and exercise. Sedentary persons are advised to walk. He also recommended moderation in eating, drinking, exercising and sleeping. From the clinical standpoint, the most famous of all his writing are his records of actual cases. Some forty two of them have survived.

Hippocrates knew little of anatomy except of the bones. His knowledge of the internal organs, arteries, veins and nerves was practically very weak, because among the Greeks dissection of the human body was forbidden by the prejudice of religion and custom.

          Hippocrates was meticulous in his direction to physicians including such details as the scrupulous cleanliness of the operating room, instruments, and the hands of the physician. He must be a man of honor, in good health, sympathetic and friendly, properly dressed, careful to avoid notoriety, and a philosopher in outlook. Out of these high standards for the physician came the celebrated ‘Hippocratic oath’.

          Though he had written only four or five treatises, nearly 80 others by nineteen different later authors are attributed to him. His main achievement was the introduction of a scientific point of view and scientific medical literature and clinical archives. Thus rebelling against myths and superstitions prevalent among the physicians of his day, he laid a solid foundation for the study and for the practice of the healing arts.

Greek technology

Around 540 B C. on the island of Samos, there came to power tyrant named Polycrates. He was an international pirate too. Yet, he was a generous patron of the arts, sciences and engineering. He made war on his neighbors and oppressed his own people. Hearing invasion from neighbors and oppressed his own people. Hearing invasions from neighbors, be surrounded his capital city with a massive wall, about six kilometers long, whose remains stand to this day. To carry water from a distant spring he ordered to build a great tunnel through a mountain. Two cutting were dug from either end which met almost perfectly in the middle. The tunnel, one kilometer long, took about fifteen years to complete. It is a proof of the civil engineering skill of the Ionians. It was built in part by slaves in chains, captured by the pirate ships of Polycrates.

Ancient Greek contribution to science and technology Ancient Greek contribution to science and technology Reviewed by knowledge people creators on June 06, 2019 Rating: 5
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