The Middle ages and science in Antiquity ?

Jan 2016
Hello everybody , I have another question for you and I was hoping you can help me out. :) Also i want to I apologize for my bad English in advance.

What was the status of science in antiquity and what is this contrast ( at least in nowadays popular culture) between the "Dark Ages" and science ?

From what I know(and im probably wrong so feel free to bash me for it) in antiquity math and astronomy was used mainly for navigation. Math and geometry alone for architectural or military purposes, but that was about it. Medical practices were still a mix of medicine and temple pagan practices , we have the pre-socratic philosophers which were focused on a more scientific approach to reality. Until philosophy changed its direction more towards ethics, politics , sociology and lets say the more humanitarian sciences. Is that correct ? From what I know rulers in antiquity financed scientific development almost exclusively for military purposes or to enhance their way of quality living. There was not much interest in the nature of the universe/ reality.
We can say that the Alexandrian library was an example of the status science had, but isn't the Alexandrian Library an exceptional event in antiquity? And isn't it more of an argument on the side of culture , not so much science. Since we don't know in what percentage the books in it were scientific and what regarded the arts , were religious or documents of some sort etc. ?

On the other hand there are the Middle ages which are famous for loosing the heritage of scientific thought. Thus I fail to understand - if the middle ages were so horrible, how could they possibly lead to the Renaissance ?

My question is regarding the popular speculation about the natural development of humanity if the middle ages never happened . This idea claims that humans would have been much more advanced technologically than we are at the moment . Do you agree with that ? From what I know , back then nobody financed science for such speculative developments to occur in later centuries , nor was science regarded as highly as it is now.

Please feel free to correct me on the things I got wrong . I'm very happy to learn from you people. Thanks !
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
In the case of the middle ages, there is a tremodous difference between the beginning of the middle ages in 500 AD and the end of the middle ages in 1500 AD, and what was true of the early Middle Ages was no longer true of the later Middle Ages.

There was a considerable decline in both technology and science in the early medieval period, but by the High Middle Ages, say 1300 AD, much of the science of the ancient world had been recovered in Europe, and had even gone beyond that if the ancient world. For example, not only were the medieval people aware of the directions property of magnets, something the ancient Greeks and Romans seemed unaware of, but the medieval Europeans were also aware of that magnets always have a north and south pole, something that even the Chinese showed l no explicit knowledge of. And the middle ages boasting e a number of inventions, such as reading glasses, the ancient world lacked.

But you are mostly right, that in the past science was mostly pursued as a hobby, except for a few fields such as astronomy. In the professional scientist, where the scientist was paid full time to study science, didn't really appear until the 19yh century. What the midfle ages had that the ancient world lacked were medieval universities. These medieval universities had paid professorship and teaching position that could support a scholar while they pursued their studies. While the ancient world might have had a few institutes of learning, like the Museum of Alexandria, medieval Europe had a number of universities, many still existing today, that had a fair amount of autonomy and self governance. If authorities stifled studies at one university, as happened at the University of Paris with regard to the study of Aristotle, scholars and students could and did travel to other universities to continue their studies on the topic.

But as I said, it really wasn't until the 19th century where scientist were really paid to do research per session, except for perhaps the field of astronomy. And it wasn't until the late 19th century that places like Edison's Menlo Park arose that were specifically created to come up with inventions.


Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
The Ancient Greeks preferred to gain knowledge through the exercise of reason such as deduction or induction rather than through observation or experimentation. The Romans taught little if any science in their schools. Roman education was almost entirely literary - reading, writing, and speaking, since Roman education was intended to prepare sons of the upper class for a life time of telling other people what to do. The Romans believed that every problem had already been solved. If you had a problem you didn't know how to solve, you could find the answer in a history book. It was the rare Roman who would have conducted a scientific experiment to discover new knowledge. Interesting that you bring up the Alexandrian Library. That was a repository of existing knowledge, not a source of new knowledge. Most scientific advances in the Ancient world were probably made by amateur scientists practicing their hobbies. Many technological advances were the result of happy accidents or very slow evolution from previous technology.

As you get into Medieval science there is a third source of knowledge - authority.
Empiricism - I know this is true because I have seen it with my own eyes.
Reason - I know this is true because I have deduced it.
Authoritative knowledge - I know this is true because someone in a position of authority told me so.

The Medieval Church asserted its claim to be the authority of all knowledge. This is how Galileo got into trouble. He based his claims upon empiricism. The Church disliked his challenge to their authority. Ultimately the scientific community came to reject authority and reasoning as a basis for scientific knowledge and insisted that all scientific knowledge be empirical.

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