science: Influence of the Alexandrian Schools

Influence of the Alexandrian Schools

The later Greek, or Hellenistic, culture was centered not in Greece itself but in Greek cities elsewhere, particularly Alexandria, Egypt, which was founded in 332 b.c. by Alexander the Great. The so-called first Alexandrian school included Euclid (fl. c.300 b.c.), who organized the axiomatic system of geometry that has served as the model for many other scientific presentations since then; Eratosthenes (3d cent. b.c.), who made a remarkably accurate estimate of the size of the earth; and Aristarchus (3d cent. b.c.), who showed that the sun is larger than the earth and suggested a heliocentric model for the solar system. Archimedes (287–212 b.c.) worked at Syracuse, Sicily, and made contributions to mathematics and mechanics that were surprisingly modern in spirit. The second Alexandrian school flourished in the first centuries of the Christian era, after Rome had become the leading power in the Mediterranean; it included Ptolemy (2d cent. a.d.), who presented the geocentric system of the universe that was to dominate astronomical thought for 1400 years, and his contemporary Heron, who contributed to geometry and pneumatics. Galen (2d cent. a.d.) studied at Pergamum and Alexandria and later practiced medicine and made important anatomical studies at Rome. The Romans assimilated the more practical scientific accomplishments of the Greeks but added relatively little of their own. With the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th cent., science ceased to develop in the West.

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