The Age of Reason: −400 - +100

This is the second part of the Classical Age of Greek and Hellenist thought. It was the age when rational thought first came into its own. Knowledge was no longer just a compilation of detached practical results but developed into a system of interconnections. It was the age of Aristotle's Logic and Euclid's Geometry. The middle of this age is marked the culmination of the struggle between Rome and Carthage. Although politically Rome overcame Greece, the Romans adopted Greek ideas.

"According to convention, the Hellenistic Age began with the conquests of Alexander and ended with the death of Cleopatra. It therefore lasted for about three centuries - from about −330 to −30. During this period the Seleucids ruled in Syria, the Ptolemies in Egypt. It is often regarded as a period of stagnation, or even regression, between the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome. And this for an age that produced Archimedes, Theocritus and many major engineering works! There is, in fact, a strong case for prolonging the Hellenistic Age, for want of a better name, through the Roman Empire into Byzantime times and up to the advent of Islam. In the first centuries of our era great scientists such as Ptolemy, Pappos and Hero wrote in Greek in Alexandria, and there was also a thriving scientific tradition, with Syriac as its language, centred on Harran in northern Mesopotamia. Scholars from Harran were a seminal influence on the nascent science of Islam." [Donald Hill, A History of Engineering in Classical and Medieval Times (Croom Helm 1984; Routledge 1996), p.2]

Colour coding: red = mathematics, astronomy, physics orange = materials, chemistry, geology, engineering, architecture yellow = biology, medicine, exploration, hisory, anthropology, psychology green = visual art, printing blue = literature, poetry, music mauve = mythology, philosophy, metaphysics, theology grey = wars, politics, events (indented)


−400: Nok culture (@1 @2) (−1000 - +500 or −500 - +200) flourished in West Africa, now central Nigeria, at this period, characterised by small terracotta sculptures.

−390: Rome sacked by Gauls, but recovered to control central Italy.

−399: Socrates sentenced to death, for his subversive ideas, by drinking hemlock.

−387 The Academy (@1 @2) founded in an olive grove at Athens by Plato (c.−496 - c.−348) pupil of Socrates. Aristotle, Heraclides and Eudoxus studied there. The Academy taught continuously until the year +83 when it was closed by the Roman seige of Athens.

−387 - −312 Heraclides philosopher @1, postulated a rotating earth.

−384 - −322 Aristotle (@1 @2 @3 @4 @5 @6 @7), philosopher and scientist, his works (@1) include Physics, Metaphysics, Nichomachean Ethics, Politics, Poetics, De Anima. His groundbreaking work on Logic, known as the Organon (@2 @3), consists of six titles: Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, On Interpretation, Topics, Sophistical Refutations, and Categories.

c.−372 - −287 Theophrastus (@1}, pupil of Aristotle, principally a botanist, also wrote The Characters on human personality.

−372 - −289 Mencius (@1), Chinese philosopher, follower of Confucius.

−356 - −323 Alexander the Great. Taught by Aristotle −342 - −334. Invades Persia −344. Conquers Egypt, founds Alexandria −332.


−334 Aristotle founds the Lyceum (@1 @2) as a rival to Plato's Academy. It was continued by Theophrastus d.c.−287 and Strato d.c.−269.

c.−343 - −291 Menander (@1), dramatist, wrote 100 comedies but only fragments survive, text of Dyskolos discovered 1957.

−341 - −271 Epicurus (@1 @2 @3 @4 @5), atomist philosopher, works (@1, @2, @3) include Letter to Menoeceus, Principal Doctrines.

−334 - −262 Zeno of Citium (@1 @2 @3), founder of the stoic philosophy.

c.−329? - −269 Strato of Lampsacus, aka Straton (@1). His view that the universe is self-explanatory and self-sustaining, and thus in no need of the introduction of a god or other extra-natural explanatory factor was known as "Stratonician atheism".

c.−325 - −265 Euclid of Alexandria (@1 @2 @3), compiled all the Elements (@1 @2) of arithmetic and geometry known at his time into a systematic logical development. Other works: Catoptrics included the law of reflection.

c.−331 - −232 Cleanthes (@1 @2) stoic philosopher, wrote Hymn to Zeus (@1 @2).

−325 Pytheas of Massalia (Marseilles) (@1 @2 @3 @4 @5) Greek geographer and explorer who sailed round Britain and the Baltic. His book On the Ocean is now only known from extracts in later writers.

−321(to −185) North Indian Mauryan empire ruled most of southern Asia, while the Pandyas ruled southern India.

−312 - −64: Seleucid empire.


−300: Rise of Rome begins. The Romans began expanding their territory through conquest and colonisation. By the reign of Emperor Augustus (late 1st century), Rome controlled all the lands surrounding the Mediterranean. By the reign of Emperor Trajan (early 2nd century), Rome controlled much of the land from England to Mesopotamia.

c.−300 - −260 Theocritus @1, Greek "bucolic" poet, from Sicily.

−287 - −212 Archimedes (@1 @2) mathematician and engineer, The Sandreckoner deals with very large numbers, On Spirals, On plane equilibria principle of the lever and centres of gravity, Quadrature of the parabola area by method of exhaustion, On the sphere and cylinder determines volumes and areas, On conoids and spheroids, On floating bodies Archimedes' principle of buoyancy, Measurement of a circle approximation to pi, The Method.

−282-272: Rome conquers the Greek south, in the Pyrrhic wars against Pyrrhus, King of Epirus.

c.−280 - c.−206 Chrysippus (@1 @2 @3), stoic philosopher, logician.

−271 Manetho (@1) Egyptian scribe writes Aegyptiaka, Chronicle of Egyptian history, which survives only in extracts and summaries.

c.−310 - c.−230 Aristarchus of Samos (@1 @2 @3 @4 @5 @6, wrote On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and Moon (@7, he also according to Archimedes proposed a sun-centred universe, though not in this book.

c.−284 - −204 Livius Andronicus, translated Homer into Latin verse.−276 - −194 Eratosthenes (@1) made a determination of the radius and circumference of the Earth.

−269 - −232 Ashoka (@1), Mauryan ruler of India, introduces Buddhism, but after period of conquest adopts policy of religious toleration. In the third century most of South Asia was united into the Maurya Empire by Chandragupta Maurya and flourished under Ashoka the Great. From the third century the Gupta dynasty oversaw the period referred to as ancient India's Golden Age. Empires in Southern India included those of the Chalukyas, the Cholas and the Vijayanagara Empire. Science, engineering, art, literature, astronomy, and philosophy flourished under the patronage of these kings.

First Punic war, Rome v Carthage: −264 - −241 Carthage loses Sicily.

c.−262 - c.−190 Apollonius of Perga (@1) mathematician studies conic sections, names the curves ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola.

256BC China: hair brush invented for calligraphy

−254 - −184 T Maccius Plautus, playwright.


−221: Construction of Great Wall of China begins. It now stretches over 6400 km, and was first erected to protect the north from nomadic invaders called Xiongnu. It has since been rebuilt and augmented several times.

−247 - −182 Hannibal, Carthaginian leader, crosses the Alps into Italy −218.

−239 - −169 Q Ennius, poet, fashioned Latin hexameter. Wrote tragedy and satire.

Second Punic War: −218 - −201 Hannibal crosses the Alps, defeats Rome at Trasimeno (−217) and Cannae (−216), but is held by the delaying tactics of Q Fabius Maximus ('Cunctator'), capture of Syracuse (−212), Hannibal forced to withdraw −203, defeated at Zama by Publius Cornelius Scipio (−263 - −184 'Africanus') −202.

−212 Archimedes killed by Roman soldier after battle of Syracuse.

−207 - +25 China: Han dynasty, development of lettering:
−202 - 50: Introduction of Buddhism in China.


d.c.−200 Cn Naevius, playwright.

−200 - −118 Polybius (@1). Greek historian of the gradual rise of Roman power from −220, with his own eye-witness account of the Sack of Carthage −146.

−200: SW USA inhabited by Anasazi people.

−190 - −120 Hipparchus (@1 @2), astronomer: −150 used parallax to determine the Moon is roughly 380,000 km away, −134 makes a detailed star map, using a 'magnitude' scale of luminosity, and discovers the precession of the equinoxes from knowledge of earlier observations of Babylonian astronomers.

b.−185 P. Terentius Afer ('Terence') playwright.

−185 - −129 Scipio Aemilianus aka Scipio the younger (@1). Roman general who commanded at the final destruction of Carthage in −146, and led the senators opposed to the Gracchi reforms in −133.


Third Punic War −149 - −146: Cato raised the call for Carthage to be destroyed. Polybius, historian. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus (−184 - −129).

−133 - −121 Tribunes Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and Gaius Sempronius Gracchus attempted to allocate publc lands to displaced peasants, but are opposed by the ruling oligarchy and killed.

c.−125 Anonymous: The Antikythera Mechanism (@1 @2 @3 @4, recovered in 1902 from an ancient Greek shipwreck near the island of Antikythera, is a clockwork type mechanism, dated to −100 to −150, apparently including sufficient data to predict an eclipse, and possibly part of a more elaborate model of the planetary motions. "The mechanism is the oldest known complex scientific instrument. It has several accurate scales, and is essentially an analog computer made with gears. It is based on theories of astronomy and mathematics developed by Greek astronomers."

−106 - −43 Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman orator.

−102 - −44 Gaius Julius Caesar, general, dictator and historian.


d.−71 Spartacus, leader of slave revolt.

c.−99 - −55 Titus Lucretius Carus (@1) author of the epic poem De Rerum Natura (@1) On the Nature of Things expressing Epicurean atomist views.

−63 - 14 Octavian, adopted son of Julius Caesar, becomes first Roman Emperor under the name Augustus Caesar, −27.

Strabo −63 - c.24. (@1) Traveller in North Africa, Arabia, Middle East and Europe. Author of Geographica (@1).

−59 - 17 Titus Livius aka Livy, Roman historian, only volumes 1 - 10 and 21 - 45 of his 142-book history survive.


−43 - 17 Publius Ovidius Naso aka Ovid, poet, mythographer, author of Metamorphoses.

−30: Romans conquer Egypt.

−6 - 36: Jesus of Nazareth, religious teacher, the founding figure of Christianity, possibly mythical. Dionysius Exiguus in 525, proposed a reform of the calendar taking his estimated date for the birth of Jesus as the datum point. Later Christian research has placed the birth of Jesus as more probably −6, and many nonbelievers question whether he existed at all. (For further discussion of this see: @1 @2 @3).


−1 - +1 There was no "year 0": the datum "0" indicates the point in time marking the end of the year −1 and the beginning of the year +1.

1: Bantu people begin to migrate to East Africa.

d.c.64 Paul of Tarsus, Jewish Pharisee who persecuted Christians until he was converted by a vision on the road to Damascus, and became a missionary of Christianity to non-Jewish people, the 'gentiles'.

−4 - 65 Seneca the younger, Consolationes 49, stoic philosopher, statesman and satirist.

c.20 - 90 Pedianus Dioscorides @1, surgeon with the Roman army, gathered knowledge on medicinal plants in his De Materia Medica.

23 - 79 Gaius Plinius Secundus, aka Pliny the elder (@1). Author of encyclopaedic Naturalis Historia (@1).

37 - 68 Nero, Roman emperor (54). Priod when New Testament Gospels were written: Mark c.70, Matthew c.80, Luke 1st c. and Acts of Apostles, John later.

(1st century) Heron, aka Hero of Alexandria, mathematician and inventor, Metrica, Mechanics, and Pneumatics.

(1st century) Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, Roman architect and military engineer in service of Augustus De Architectura (before year 27).

c.46 - c.120 Plutarch, biographer, historian, encyclopedist.

c.55 - 135 Epictetus, freed slave, stoic philosopher.

70: Destruction of Jerusalem by Romans.

78 - 139 Zhang Heng @1 Chinese astronomer.

c.85 - 165 Claudius Ptolemy (@1 @2 @3). made astronomical observations 127-141, compiled and systematised the knowledge of his day: Harmonics on music, Optics on light, including angles of refraction for several media, Geographia (c.150) including map projections and a world map. Tetrabiblos on astrology. Planetary Hypothesis on cosmology, Syntaxis @1 or 'Almagest' on astronomy.


The relative peace that the empires brought encouraged international trade, most notably the massive trade routes in the Mediterranean that had been developed by the time of the Hellenistic Age, and the Silk Road, from China to Europe.