The Age of Greece: −400 - 0

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 by 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, history, anthropology, psychology green = visual art, printing blue = literature, poetry, music mauve = mythology, philosophy, metaphysics, theology grey = wars, politics, events (indented)


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

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

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

−390 - −337 [dates as given in TMB] Eudoxus of Cnidus mathematician. See entry for −408.

−387 The Academy 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. W M

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

−384 - −322 Aristotle, philosopher and scientist, his works include Physics, Metaphysics, Nichomachean Ethics, Politics, Poetics, De Anima. His groundbreaking work on Logic, known as the Organon, consists of six titles: Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, On Interpretation, Topics, Sophistical Refutations, and Categories. He favoured Earth-centred astronomy. @ @ @ W M @ @

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

−372 - −289 Mencius, Chinese philosopher, follower of Confucius.

c.−370 - c.−300 Callippus. Continued the work of Meton (see −432). The 'Callipic cycle' being of 76 years, with one less solar day. W.

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia the seventh and least well known of the ancient 'wonders' was completed in −356 by Libon of Elis, and included a statue of Zeus by Phidias, who had also made a 40 ft statue of Athena for the Parthenon at Athens. W

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

The Maussoleum at Halicarnassus, built as the tomb of Maussolas who died in −353 is another of the "seven wonders" of the ancient world. W


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

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

−341 - −271 Epicurus, atomist philosopher, works include Letter to Menoeceus, Principal Doctrines. @ @ W @ @, @, @)

−334 - −262 Zeno of Citium, founder of the stoic philosophy. W @

c.−329? - −269 Strato of Lampsacus, aka Straton. 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, compiled all the Elements of arithmetic and geometry known at his time into a systematic logical development. Other works: Catoptrics included the law of reflection. The geometry of Euclid conceived of straight lines that could be extended indefinitely, within a boundless three-dimensional space. M W @ M)

c.−331 - −232 Cleanthes stoic philosopher, wrote Hymn to Zeus. W

−325 Pytheas of Massalia (Marseilles) 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. W @ @ @

−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, Greek 'bucolic' poet, from Sicily. W

The Colossus of Rhodes was a 30 metre high statue of the Titan Helios erected between −292 and −280 by the local sculptor Chares of Lindos. It was destroyed by an earthquake in −226, though the ruins were displayed until the Arab invasion of 654. W @ @

The Pharos of Alexandria was a lighthouse commissioned by Ptolemy I in −290 and built by Sostrates of Knidos. It was damaged by earthquakes and finally fell in 1326. @

−287 - −212 Archimedes 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. M

Practical knowledge may be guided by scientific understanding or simply developed out of practical necessity, trial and error. "The modern idea that the engineer is essentially an applied scientist simply does not hold water." [D. Hill p.5] "In general, the classical and medieval engineers did not have a quantified, scientific basis for their designs. An exception to this statement is the case of the five simple machines - lever, wheel, pulley, wedge and screw. Mathematical analysis of these machines had begun to take shape among the Greeks in the fourth century BC. Their results were by no means wholly theoretical." [D. Hill pp5-6] "The Romans were pre-eminent in the fields of organisation, administration, public works and domestic comfort. Their standards were not equalled in these respects until the nineteenth century." [D. Hill, p.1]

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

c.−280 - c.−206 Chrysippus, stoic philosopher, logician. W @ @)

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

c.−310 - c.−230 Aristarchus of Samos, wrote On the Sizes and Distances of the Sun and Moon, he also according to Archimedes proposed a sun-centred universe, though not in this book. M W @

c.−284 - −204 Livius Andronicus, translated Homer into Latin verse.−276 - −194 Eratosthenes mathematician, known for his 'sieve' for prime numbers, made a determination of the radius and circumference of the Earth. M

−269 - −232 Ashoka 'the Great', Mauryan ruler of India, introduced Buddhism, but after a period of conquest adopted a 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. 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 mathematician studies conic sections, names the curves ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola. M

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 (nicknamed '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.

−202 to −186 Suan shu shu [Book on Numbers and Computation] written in ink on strips of bamboo, discovered in 1983 in a Han dynasty tomb, and including 69 mathematical problems. W


d.c.−200 Cn Naevius, playwright.

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

−200: SW USA inhabited by Anasazi people.

−190 - −120 Hipparchus, 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. M @)

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

Cato raised the call for Carthage to be destroyed.

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


Third Punic War −149 - −146: See Cato, Polybius, Scipio above.

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

c.−125 Anonymous: The Antikythera Mechanism, 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. It takes account of the Metonic and Callippic cycles. "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." @ W

−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 author of the epic poem De Rerum Natura 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.

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

−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. W @ @


−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.