Hellenistic Monarchs
down to the Roman Empire

The Hellenistic Age suffers from some of the same disabilities, in the estimation of Classicists, as Late Antiquity, i.e. it doesn't measure up to the brilliance of the Golden Age of Greece and of late Republican and early Imperial Rome. However, the Hellenistic world, although mostly not bothering with characteristic Greek experiments like democracy, is where Greece actually became a cosmopolitan culture, a sort of pre-adaptation for the Roman world. Just saying that the Bible begins with the book of Genesis, Γένεσις, a Greek word, reflects the degree to which the older cultures of the Middle East came to express themselves in Greek. Several of the Hellenistic Kingdoms, mainly in Anatolia (Armenia, Pontus, Cappadocia, etc.), are domains of non-Greek peoples.

The Hellenistic Age lasts almost exactly 300 years, from the death of Alexander in 323 BC to that of Cleopatra in 30 BC. In the first fifty years, down to 281 BC, we witness a bewildering scrimmage of the Successors fighting over Alexander's Empire. After this shakes down to the Kingdoms of Ptolemaic Egypt, Seleucid Asia, and Antigonid Macedon we get a period of relative stability until the arrival of Rome. The Roman defeat of Macedon in 196 and of the Seleucids in 188 begins a period of steady decline. In short order Parthia has mostly overrun Iran (185), Judaea is independent (164), and Macedon is gone (146). All that is left is a bevy of small states and the absurd dynastic circuses of the Seleucids (until 63 BC) and the Ptolemies (until 30 BC), all this under the shadow of a hegemonic Rome.

Thus, in its last century, with Rome already occupying Macedon and Greece, the Hellenisitic Age had lost both its cultural heartland and its own internal dynamic. Parthia closed in from the East, as Rome inevitably tidied up from the West. The Parthian defeat of the Romans at Carrhae in 53 BC foretells the ultimate frontiers and balance of power in Western Asia, where a rough status quo would persist until the arrival of the Arabs, more than 600 years later.

Meanwhile, although the literature does not seem as brilliant as the Golden Age of Greece, mathematics, science, and technology develop rapidly. Archimedes very nearly develops calculus. Eratosthenes estimates the size of the Earth with an accuracy that will not be surpassed until Modern times. Hero of Alexandria builds a kind of steam engine. This remains little more than a toy, but the same cannot be said of the immense engines, often of war, that Hellenstic technology otherwise produces. It is all inherited by the Romans, perhaps symbolically with the killing of Archimedes at Syracuse by a Roman soldier in 212 (during the Second Punic War, 218-201).

The tables and narrative are mainly based on E.J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World [Cornell University Press, 1968, 1982], Peter Green, The Hellenistic Age, A Short History [The Modern Library, 2007], Michael Grant, From Alexander to Cleopatra, The Hellenistic World [Collier Books, 1982, 1990], John Boardman, Jasper Griffin, & Oswyn Murray, Greece and the Hellenistic World, The Oxford History of the Classical World [Oxford, 1988], F.E. Peters, The Harvest of Hellenism, A History of the Near East from Alexander the Great to the Triumph of Christianity [Allen & Unwin, 1970, 1972], C. Bradford Welles, Alexander and the Hellenistic World [A.M. Hakkert Ltd., Toronto, 1970], W.W. Tarn, Hellenistic Civilization [Meridian Books, 1961, 1966], E.M. Forster, Alexandria, A History and a Guide [1922, Anchor Books, 1961, Oxford, 1986], James Romm, Ghost on the Throne, The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire [Knopf, 2011], Robin Waterfield, Dividing the Spoils, the War for Alexander the Great's Empire [Oxford, 2011], and Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies. The genealogies now are supplied or corrected from the Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, Volume III, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser, Ergänzungsband [Andreas Thiele, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Second Edition, 2001], which has a section specifically of Hellenistic monarchs.

Of primary sources, it is remarkable that a lot of the information about this period comes from an epitome by Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople (858-867, 877-886). His Βιβλιοθήκη, Bibliotheca, contains a summary of A History of Events After Alexander by the Roman historian Arrian of Nicomedia (an early member of the Second Sophistic). Arrian, who wrote a surviving account of the campaigns of Alexander, the Anabasis Alexandri, continued the story in the book that was lost after the time of Photius. As often happens with ancient authors (whose spirit is continued in Photius), Photius may have written so extensive a summary because he was aware that there were not many manuscripts lying around of the original. By the many misadventures of the history of Constantinople, copies were either never made or were destroyed along with the existing manuscripts (possibilities with the Fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders in 1204, to the Turks in 1453, or in the occasional fire that breaks out even in modern libraries, e.g. the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986). We may be reminded that only a single copy of the Secret History by Procopius survived to make its way to the Vatican Library, while only a single Latin manuscript of the De rerum natura by Lucretius was ever found.

The maps are original, though largely based on those in The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, by Colon McEvedy [Penguin Books, 1967]. A reference is made to the maps of Tony Belmonte, which are used on the Rome and Romania page. Kingdoms listed under the Seleucids are those that broke away from the Asiatic part of Alexander's Empire that largely had been inherited by Seleucus, though a couple of them, like Armenia, were actually only under Seleucid control briefly.

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Hellenistic Monarchs


Alexander III the Great

King of
"XXXII" Dynasty, 332
Great King,
Victory at Granicus River, 334; Defeat of Darius III at Issus, 333; Siege of Tyre, 332; Occupation of Egypt, 332; Defeat of Darius III at Gaugamela, 331
Death of Darius III, 330
Alexander Claims Succession; Defeat of Porus at Hydaspes, 326; death, Partition of Babylon, 323

Philip III Arrhidaeus

Alexander IV323-c.310
Lamian War, 322;
First War of the Successors, 320-319; Partition of Triparadisus, 320

& Regent,

Second War of the Successors, 318-316; Partition of Persepolis, 315

King of
Third War of the Successors, 315-311
Sometimes Alexander the Great's brilliance as a general is questioned. Such criticism is usually focused on his conduct of battles. This is a little hard to understand, since Alexander's tactics were often brilliant. Sometimes he does seem personally a bit foolhardly. However, tactics are not the most important point. Simply getting a functioning army all the way from Macedonia to India, and back to Babylon, is the most extraordinary feat -- although there was considerable attrition and suffering in the process, especially coming back by sea and by desert. Winning every battle along the way, however problematic (to some) the tactics, certainly helps. The Emperor
Julian, a competent general, couldn't even invade Persian Mesopotamia without getting himself into an awkward situation, and then getting himself killed in a skirmish. Alexander's greatest achievement, apart from better luck than Julian, thus is not tactical at all, but operational, i.e. how the campaign is conducted, apart from battles, to implement the strategic goal. An army that is able to move, supply itself, and be prepared to fight is something that in retrospect we don't think much about -- unless the army is unable to do one of these things. Then the problem is obvious. Otherwise, these functions may be invisible to history. It is in operational terms that Alexander was able to do something that, over the same terrain, was not equaled until the Arab Conquest -- but even that was not accomplished by one general in a single campaign. Just what Alexander's strategic goal was, if not "Conquer the World," is a little vague. His most important strategic move may have been to secure Egypt in his rear before moving into Mesopotamia. Otherwise, if he had failed rather than succeeded, he might have been caught between two Persian forces.

But he didn't fail, and Persian power crumbled before him as it did behind him. His long trek through Central Asia might then seem foolish and Quixotic, but it followed the precedent of Cyrus the Great in securing the area for Persia in the first place, and involved the pursuit of Darius III (who was treacherously deposed and then murdered by his retainers). Unlike Cyrus, Alexander avoided dying on the campaign. Instead, he found a wife, Roxane, Ῥωξάνη (played memorably by Rosario Dawson in the otherwise forgettable Alexander [2004], by Oliver Stone) -- , Rušanak in Modern Persian -- daughter of Oxyartes, a King in Sogdiana, both of whom he had captured taking the "Sogdian Rock." And then he invaded India.

India was really terra incognita to the Greeks. They would now gain some familiarity with it, but Alexander's foray would be the first, and last, invasion of India from the West until the Arabs arrived in 644 -- although invasions from Central Asia would continue, as they had in the past (e.g. the Kushans).

Alexander was invited into India by Omphis, the King of Taxila, who wanted help against his enemy Porus, who ruled the land between the Jhelum and the Chenab. After some fighting to secure his rear, Alexander crossed the Indus, arriving at Taxila, and then advanced on the Jhelum, where Porus waited with a large army, contesting passage.

This was the first river of the modern Punjab. To the Greeks it was the Ὑδάσπης, Latinized as Hydaspes. The battle would be named for it. A perilous crossing on the flank, and a hard fought battle, left Porus in Alexander's power, to be granted his own kingdom back, as Alexander headed East. The next river was the Chenab, Ἀκεσίνης, or Acesines. Fighting along the way, next was the Ravi, the Ὑδραώτης, or Hydraotis. And finally Alexander arrived at the Beas, the Ὕφασις, or Hyphasis, a tributary of the Sutlej, Greek Σαράδρος, or Latin Hesidrus.

Alexander's crossing of the Jhelum was no mean feat, and we should reflect that the later failure of Perdiccas to cross the Nile against Ptolemy resulted in his murder, delivering a mortal blow to the continued unity of Alexander's Empire, and ultimately, fatefully precipitating the deaths of all the remaining members of Alexander's own family, including his children. Alexander perhaps cannot have known that Perdiccas would not match him in military ability, but the consequences would be devastating.

Alexander was ready to cross the Beas and go down to the Ganges for further conquests. This was territory that previously the Greeks had hardly even heard of, and Alexander may actually have thought that the Ocean, having circled around from Gibraltar, was nearby. But it was getting a little too far from home for most of the Army. The soldiers were mutinous. So Alexander, after some histrionics, turned back. A nice version of this, however, is told by the Jains. The Greeks were impressed with the "naked philosophers," the homeless ascetics, they encountered in India. The Jains preserve, barely, this tradition of ascetic nudity, and now say that Alexander decided to give up further conquests after being persuaded of their futility by Jain monks. Alexander, however, did not otherwise seem to suddenly turn towards asceticism, so the explanation from the Greek historians of unrest in the ranks seems more likely. The monks don't seem to have particularly encamped on the banks of the Beas.

Returning to the Jhelum, Alexander prepared to leave India by sailing down river. At the confluence of the Ravi, there was a short siege and sharp battle. Alexander went over the wall of a citadel alone, and for a while fought the Indian host by himself. Before long others came over the wall, and then opened a gate to the whole army, but meanwhile Alexander had been gravely wounded, with a lung pierced by an arrow. This was a serious wound -- if it had developed into a pneumothorax, the Greeks would not have known what to do about it -- but, after thought dead, Alexander recovered with some difficulty. Meanwhile, the army returned to Babylon, part by sea, and part over the difficult lands in the south-east of Iran. Everyone was throughly exhausted, and Alexander may have ended up not in the best of health.

The day of Alexander's death, 11 June 323, is preserved in cuneiform on a Babylonian tablet. It is 29 Aiyaru on the Babylonian calender. Although nothing was done to preserve his body for several days, it was in such good condition when the embalmers arrived that at first they thought he was still alive. This has led to some modern medical opinion that Alexander was in fact not dead, but in a coma. On the other hand, an incorruptible corpse is a mark of particular holiness in Christianity, Buddhism, etc. (including The X-Files). We don't really think of Alexander as saint-like or divine today; but his death was curiously at the same age as that believed for Jesus, 33 years, and he still is considered an actual prophet in ʾIslâm.

The Companions,
, Bodyguards

Alexander's friend & lover?; died, 324

general of Olympias, put to death by Cassander, 316
The Diadochi, "Successors,"
Companions, Partition of Babylon, 323

Regentgiven Alexander's ring, 323; assassinated by officers, including Seleucus & Peithon, 321/320

Macedon, Cilicia, Guardianrevolt against Perdiccas; killed by Eumenes, Battle of Cardia, 320

Cappadocia, Lieutenant of Perdiccas & Polyperchonbecomes successful general at Cardia, 320, but is betrayed to Antigonus and killed, 316; the Last Faithful Successor

killed in Thessaly, Lamian War, 322

Macedon, Regentrevolt against Perdiccas; Regent at Partition of Triparadisus, 320; natural death, 319

Lycia & Cariasubmits to Antigonus, rebels, disappears, 313

Nearchus of Crete
PamphyliaAlexander's Admiral; supports Heracles son of Barsine, mistress of Alexander; adheres to Antigonus; crosses over to Demetrius; present at Battle of Gaza, 312; fate unknown

Lydiaadheres to Antigonus, general of Antigonus, 321; fate unknown

Ciliciaremoved by Perdiccas, 321; captured by Antigonus, 320; recaptured, executed? by Antigonus, 316

Syriacaptured by Ptolemy, escaped, unknown fate c.320

Armeniapersonally killed by Eumenes, Battle of Cardia, 321

Mediakilled by Antigonus, 316

Mesopotamiaflees after fall of Perdiccas, fate unknown

Babyloniadied 321

Susianaadheres to Eumenes, commands Argyraspides, betrayed to Antigonus, burned alive, 316

Persisbetrays Eumenes, removed by Antigonus, 316

Camania (East of Persis)fate unknown

Bactriaunknown fate after 316, possibly conquered by Seleucus, 305

Sogdiana, Parthiakilled by Peithon, 318

Arachosia & Gedrosiaadheres to Eumenes, but crosses over to Antigonus, 316; receives exiled Argyraspides; hosts Megasthenes, Seleucus's envoy to Chandragupta, c.303

Peithon son of Agenor
India, 325-316moved by Antigonus to Babylon, 316-312; with Demetrius, killed, Battle of Gaza, 312

Lieutenant of Craterus, Regent, Peloponnesusdriven from Macedon by Cassander, joins Olympias in Epirus, 317; flees to Peloponnesus, 316; granted Peloponnesus by Cassander after killing Alexander's natural son Heracles, 309; seems to have endured there until death, c.303

The Diadochi, Companion Kings

Antigonus Monophthalmus
Phrygia, Lycia, Pamphylia, Asiakilled, Battle of Ipsus, 301

Ptolemy I Soter

natural death, 283/2

Thracekilled by Seleucus, Battle of Corupedium, 281

Seleucus I Nicator
Babylon, 320, driven out or escapes from Antigonus, 316; returned, 312/311, start of Seleucid Eraassassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus, 281
After Alexander's untimely death, his half-witted half-brother Philip III was made King, awaiting the birth of Alexander's postumous child by his Sogdian wife, Roxane. This child turned out to be a son, Alexander IV. Brother and son were thus the "Kings" in the custody of the Regents. Meanwhile, the Empire and government had been divided among Alexander the Great's Companion generals, who become the Diadochi, Διάδοχοι, "Successors" (singular Διάδοχος). Perdiccas, to whom Alexander, on his deathbed, had given his signet ring, soon was faced with a hostile alliance of Antipater, Ptolemy, Craterus, Antigonus, and Lysimachus.

In 322, Ptolemy stole the body of Alexander being transported in State to Macedon. It would lie in a tomb in Alexandria until disappearing from history, centuries later. In fact, Alexander himself had requested burial in Egypt. At least that is the word put out by Ptolemy. On the other hand, there had long been a prophecy that the Argead dynasty of Macedon would end if there were ever a king (like Alexander) who was not buried in the family cemetery at Aegae.

In the table at right, the final members of Alexander's Bodyguard are identified with a yellow star. The Guard traditionally had seven members, but Alexander added Peucetas as an eighth when he and Leonnatus shielded Alexander's body after the King was struck in the chest by an arrow. Alexander, as we have seen, had (foolishly) vaulted off a wall into the middle of the defenders of a city in India. The arrow punctured a lung, and Alexander almost died. The Bodyguards figure prominently among the Diadochi. The table shows the most significant of the Diadochi. This only includes the actual Companions of Alexander and thus does not extend into the second generation, e.g. figures like Cassander and Demetrius.

While Eumenes, who had previously been no more than a secretary, defeated the alliance at Cardia in 320, killing Craterus and Neoptolemus (the latter by his own hand), Perdiccas himself botched an invasion of Egypt and was assassinated. Eumenes was declared an outlaw but, despite losing the battle of Orcynia to Antigonus and retreating into the fortress of Nora (319), maintained himself until forming an alliance with the subsequent Regent, Polyperchon. As such, he was able to raise new forces and defeated Antigonus at the Coprates River near Susa, battled him to a draw at Paraetacene north of Persepolis (317), and defeated him at Gabiene (or Gabene) in 316.

However, at Gabiene Antigonus captured the opposing camp, and Eumenes was betrayed and delivered to Antigonus, and to his death, by his own men -- the veteran Ἀργυράσπιδες, Argyraspides or "Silver Shields" -- in exchange for their possessions, which included their families. Since Eumenes was Greek, his Macedonian troops did not feel much personal loyalty to him. Indeed, his nominal allies were constantly plotting against him and challenging his authority -- his ostensive ally at Gabiene, the Satrap of Persis, Peucestas, held back from the battle from an obvious understanding with Antigonus. Nevertheless, the Argyraspides also betrayed their Macedonian commander, Antigenes, whom Antigonus burned alive out of some twisted animus.

This is a sad comment on the spirit of Alexander's Successors, that only a Greek genuinely supported the Kings (i.e. Philip III and Alexander IV) and the loyal Regents. The fall of Eumenes was the end of any control of the Regency over the Empire. Eumenes stands as the Last Faithful Successor, undone by the self-interest of everyone else (especially Ptolemy and Antigonus), including the veterans of Alexander who betrayed him. Since Antigonus then reasonably did not trust the Argyraspides, their reward was to be dispersed among dangerous frontier posts. Verily, they had their reward. Antigonus also did not trust Peucestas with any independent authority, although he spared his life.

The successes of Eumenes, and his tragic end, seem to have received little attention in most treatments of Hellenistic history. I took a whole class in Hellenistic history at UCLA in 1968, and over the years acquired a number of books about the Hellenistic Age, and I knew little about Eumenes. I did not find his story treated in full, at least so as I would notice, until the recent Ghost on the Throne and Dividing the Spoils, cited above. These are superior books.

Since Eumenes was the Last Faithful Successor to Alexander, and his conflict with Antigonus, involving several great battles, is a matter of high drama and considerable military interest, this is not a matter of isolated significance. I find its neglect puzzling, both as history and simply as drama. At the same time, the fall of Eumenes is an ominous and portentous moment in the collapse of the unity of Alexander's Kingdom and the protection of his kin.

Philip III ended up murdered by Alexander's mother, Olympias, in league with Polyperchon, in 317. This set a very bad precedent for the treatment of the Royal family. Polyperchon was nominated Regent by the dying Antipater, who had been the Viceroy of Macedon and then Regent after Perdiccas was murdered.
Roxane and Alexander IV with Eumenes,
the Last Faithful Successor
Alessandro Varotari (1588-1649), il Padovanino
Antipater thus passed over his son, Cassander, in whom he must have detected disloyal ambitions -- Cassander is thus the Duryodhana of the Successors, like the unworthy son in the
Mahâbhârata, whose wickedness destroys his own royal line. Cassander would utterly destroy any legitimate succession to Alexander. He would not suffer for this personally, as did Duryodhana, but his line would fail to be established in Macedon.

We should reflect on the tragedy of the faithlessness of the "Friends" and Companions of Alexander. The King Alexander died with three wives and one former mistress. All were eventually murdered. He had two sons. Both were murdered. His brother, mother, and sister were all murdered. Indeed, the entire Argead dynasty of Macedon was exterminated. Unfortunately, some of these murders were done by those (like wife Roxane and mother Olympias) who later would be victims themselves. But the lineage was finished off through the actions or the complacency of those who had sworn oaths to respect the succession of Alexander IV.

Cassander drove Polyperchon from his position. He then murdered Olympias and would soon display his ambition to forget the Empire and simply become sovereign in Macedonia. Alexander IV and his mother Roxane were imprisoned, isolated, and then quietly murdered by Cassander -- so quietly that we don't really know when, but the guess is that it was around 310 or 309. Alexander IV's "official" reign, and the fiction of a unified empire, was maintained for a few more years, until Antigonus and Demetrius (306) and then Lysimachus, Seleucus, Ptolemy, and Cassander (305) had all proclaimed themselves Kings in their own right -- 305 is the point where the Canon of Kings ends the reign of Alexander IV. Alexander would have come of age in 305, so presumably, if he was not then King, or even still living, other arrangements were called for.

All the Successors, of course, had sworn Oaths to surrender their authority to Alexander at his majority; but the Loyalist cause had really died with Eumenes, as it would then be literally exterminated by Olympias and Cassander. Oddly enough, Cassander seems to have buried Philip III, his wife Eurydice (or Adea), Alexander, and Roxane in lavish tombs at Vergina. Philip's tomb was first unearthed in 1977 and was at first thought to be that of Philip II. What Cassander thought he was doing, after the faithlessness and treachery of his behavior, is puzzling. The "Star of Vergina," , is an artifact of the tombs. The modern Republic of Macedonia used it on its flag, but produced a modified version after protests by Greece.

The chronology of this period includes some uncertainties. Thus, the death of Perdiccas may be seen dated to 320 or 321. I have been revising things in line with Robin Waterfield's Dividing the Spoils, the War for Alexander the Great's Empire [Oxford, 2011], which uses 320; but some inconsistencies may be found. I have also been introducing Waterfield's system of dividing the fighting into six "War of the Successors," which go from the disputed Regency of Perdiccas to the death of Lysimachus, the last of the Bodyguards, in 281. I doubt that this is original with him, but I do not have other sources that use it. As Waterfield admits, the fighting covered by these divisions is nearly continuous, so it may be a reach to divide it at all; but there are definitely phases of the fighting, and some division is helpful.

In the First War, the focus is on Perdiccas and Eumenes. In the Second War, Eumenes still supports the loyalist Regent Polyperchon. The Second, Third, and Fourth Wars involve Antigonus disposing of Eumenes, emerging as the dominant Successor (nominally as the deputy of Polyperchon), and then being defeated by the combination of all the others, led by Lysimachus. The Fifth War contains and disposes of Demetrius, although the threat of the Antigonids nevertheless continued; and then the Sixth eliminated Lysimachus, who, with Macedon, Thrace, and Asia Minor in hand, was in a position to repeat the career of Antigonus. Seleucus stops that; and then, despite Seleucus' own assassination, the division of the lands is essentially finalized:  Ptolemaic Egypt, Seleucid Asia, and then, after another few sharp conflicts, Antigonid Macedon.

The following genealogy shows the marriages of Alexander and his generals to women with Persian, especially Royal Persian, connections. In fact, all the Persian women here are related to the Royal family except Roxane, who was the daughter of a local ruler in Bactria (Oxyartes, which sounds suspiciously like the brother of Darius III, but it is separately attested). Most of this does not fit on the larger genealogy below, even when that only includes Alexander's generals who became Kings. The marriages we see here mostly did not work out well. The marriage of Nearchus to the unknown daughter of Barsine may have endured, for all we know, since we don't know what happened to Nearchus after 312. Craterus was actively hostile to Alexander's plan of intermarrying his men with Persians, but then he was killed in battle in 320. Meanwhile, however, he had married a daughter of Antipater and put away his Persian wife, Amastris -- he actually arranged another marriage for her (to Dionysius of Heraclea Pontica), where she had three children. She later, briefly, married Lysimachus, who avenged her after she was, bizarrely, murdered by her own sons. We don't know how indifferent Ptolemy or Eumenes may have been to their wives, but Ptolemy never had any children with his, of whom we shortly hear nothing, and Eumenes did not live long, killed in 316. Compare with the full genealogy of the Achaemenides, which also contains some of this. Sisygambis is sometimes regarded as the sister, rather than the cousin, of her husband.

The following combined genealogy covers early Macedonia, Epirus, the Macedonian Great Kings and Regents, Magas of Cyrene, and later Macedonia. The genealogy of the Seleucids and Ptolemies is given separately below. The intermarriages here between the Diadochi are bewildering, and hard to link intuitively in just two dimensions. The Antigonids succeed to Macedon, but then only rule for four generations, a century, with the last of the line, Perseus, already a vassal of the Romans.

This genealogy has been largely assembled from the Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte, Volume III, Europäiche Kaiser-, Königs- und Fürstenhäuser, Ergänzungsband [Andreas Thiele, R. G. Fischer Verlag, Second Edition, 2001].

Alcetas I385-c.370
Neoptolemus Ic.370-c.358
Alexander Ic.358-331
Alcetas IIc.312-306
Neoptolemus II331-296

Pyrrhus I
King of Macedon, 288-283, 273-272
Drives Demetrius out of Macedonia, 288; War in Italy, 281-278; Defeat of Romans, Heraclea, 280, "Pyrrhic Victory"; War in Sicily, 278-275; killed at Argos by roof tile, 272
Alexander II
(, Alikasudara [note])
Pyrrhus II240-234
Monarchy overthrown, contested republic and confederation; Phoenice falls to Illyris, 230; Third Macedonian War, 171-168; mass plundering, murder, and slaving by Roman Army, half of population disappears, 167
An independent state early in the Hellenistic Age, Epirus was the home of Alexander's mother Olympias, to which she returned after repudiation by Philip II and other setbacks.

The Greeks regarded the Epirotes as barbarians. Many now think they were Greeks, and Epirus now gets included on dialect maps of Greek as part of the Northwestern Greek area. There does seem to have been a Greek population in the area, since they left epigraphic evidence.

However, this does not necessarily falsify the testimony of the Greeks themselves. A stratum of non-Greek population, probably the Illyrian ancestors of the Albanians, is reasonable and likely. Indeed, in the 19th century the population of Eprius was mostly Albanian, as we see below from a ethnic map of 1861, where Albanians are in yellow.

On the map there are large dark areas in Epirus. These represent speakers of a Vlach language, now called Arumanian, Aromanian, or Macedo-Romanian. The map makers missed an area of related Vlach speakers, the Megleno-Romanians, in Macedonia. We also see that Macedonian speakers extend down quite close to Thessalonica; and the pockets of red are Turkish speakers -- Kemal Atatürk was born in the city. The Macedonian speakers have been driven out of the territory of modern Greece; and the Turkish speakers were mostly deported to Turkey itself.

Albanians are pretty much gone from Eprius now, since the Greeks expelled most of them, who were Muslims, after World War I and World War II. Nevertheless, we know that some speakers of an Albanian dialect, Cham, survive in Eprius; and speakers of another dialect, Arvanitika, actually still live in Attica and the Peloponnesus. Since Greece denies that there are ethnic minorities in Greece, it is not clear how many Albanian or Arumanian speakers there are in Greece. Albanian speakers are generally assimilated to Greek, but activists who speak out for their language can be treated harshly, to the alarm of human rights organizations.

Thus, the revisionist idea that the Epirotes were Greek may actually be the result of modern Greek nationalism trying to extend its claims into the past. Suspicion is warranted.

The presence of some Greek population in Epirus perhaps would satisfy both the archaeology and the testimony of the ancient Greeks that the Epirotes weren't Greek. As in Anatolia and Macedonia, any non-Greek population, in becoming literate, would have directly learned Greek and become Hellenized.
Spartocus I438/7-433/2 BC
Seleucus & Satyrus I433/2-393/2
Satyrus I433/2-389/8
Leucon I & Gorgippos389/8-349/8
Spartocus II & Parisades I349/8-344/3
Parisades I344/3-311/0
Satyrus II & Prytanis311/10-310/9
Spartocus III304/3-284/3
Parisades II284/3-c.245
Spartocus IVc.245-240
Leucon II240-220
Spartocus V220-180
Parisades III180-150
Parisades IV150-125
Parisades V125-109
Mithridates VI
of Pontus
Roman Protection, 63
Dynamis8 BC-7/8 AD
Cotys I44/5-62?/67
Rescuporis I68/9-90
Sauromates I93/4-123/4
Cotys II123/4-132/3
T. Iulius Eupator153/4-173?
Sauromates II 173/4-210/11
Rescuporis II210/11-226/7
Cotys III227/8-233/4
Sauromates III229/30-231/2
Rescuporis III233/4
Sauromantes IV?
C. Iulius Teiranes275/6-278/9
Rescuporis IV318/9-c.335
Conquest by Goths, c.335

The most famous person from Epirus ever was probably Pyrrhus I, Πύῤῥος, whose adventures included the first major contact between the Greek world and Rome. Called in by Greek cities alarmed at Roman growth, Pyrrhus won some battles, but with such loss that his name has become a byeword for costly, i.e. "Pyrrhic," victory. After bouncing all over the map, and holding the throne of Macedon twice, Pyrrhus was finally killed when a woman in Argos threw a roof tile at him. His death is also said to have happened in a skirmish.

Pyrrhus's adventure in Sicily was followed shortly thereafter by the First Punic War, 264-241, by which Rome defeated Carthage, conquered Sicily, and became in consequence the Great Power of the Western Mediterranean.

Rome's First Illyrian War, 229-228, resulted in a Roman protectorate, the first Roman possession in the Balkan's, on the border of Epirus.

The Cimmerian Bosporus, in the Crimea, was a very long lived Greek and Hellenistic colonial kingdom that passed under Roman protection and survived all the way to conquest by the Goths. This span, over very different eras, all by itself makes the kingdom of great interest. Only Armenia and kingdoms in the Caucasus were more durable as Roman client states.

The list is given in E.J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World [Cornell Univesity Press, 1968-1982], pp. 132-133. The obscurity of this realm is evident in the circumstance that it is not shown on any of Tony Belmonte's maps. It is, however, followed in The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, and is shown from that source in the Animated History of Romania. The often dual dates reflect uncertainty over which Julian calendar year matches up with the Greek year, which starts in the Autumn, in question. The greatest obscurities in dates are in the third century, when the sources even for Roman history aren't all that great. The absorption of the kingdom by the Ostrogoths, who dominated the Ukraine at the time in the fourth century, is a portent for the trouble that the Empire proper was going to have with the Goths in the fifth century.

The future of the Crimea features three intriguing ethnic stories. First, speakers of Gothic survived at least into the 16th century, as reported by the Imperial Ambassador in Constantinople, Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522-1592), where he met informants from the Crimea. This still creates a sensation in historical linguistics, but Busbecq's information is thin and ambiguous. He was no philologist.

Second is the survival even until today of the Crimean Tartars, survivors of the Khanate of the Crimea. The Tartars were deported to Siberia by Stalin for supposedly collaborating with the Germans in World War II (well, they would have). Returned to their homes, they are now subject to the Russians again, after the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea in 2014. This violated international law and the treaty that Russia had signed with Britain and the United States guaranteeing the borders of the Ukraine. No provisions for enforcement were included in the treaty, and Britain and the U.S. have done little about it. Some political commentators forget the treaty and say that it's nobody else's business. I see no information on the fate of the Tartars, who cannot be happy.

Third is the intriguing possibility that the Crimea is the site of Nova Anglia, the "New England" where the Emperor Alexius Comnenus settled refugees from the Norman Conquest of England. The testimony is even that the English were charged with reconquering the place for Romania, which they did. There is some uncertainty about where Nova Anglia was, but Bettany Hughes cites evidence from the 13th century that the area was then called terra Saxorum, with English place names; and we have testimony from 1780 that some people in the area, who had converted to Islam but remembered having been Christians, were speaking a language that the observer thought sounded like Plattdeutsch, i.e. Low German. Comment about this now is generally that this must still have been Gothic, but then Old English, which the Saxons would have spoken, is rather more like Low German than like Gothic. We don't have even as much information as Busbecq had gathered. Since this population became lost among the Crimean Tartars, fellow Muslims, the clues have disappeared. The only hope of recovering the history may be DNA studies.

Antigonus Monophthalmos (Μονόφθαλμος, Monóphthalmos, "One Eyed"), an old general of Philip II, did not rule over Macedonia but would be the first of Alexander the Great's generals to proclaim himself a King in his own right. Having disposed of Eumenes, and after tossing Seleucus out of Babylon, Antigonus holds the lion's share of Alexander's empire, as we see in the map for 315. After a few years, during which Seleucus returns to Babylon, and Alexander IV is apparently killed, Antigonus proclaims himself, and his son Demetrius, Kings (306). Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, and Lysimachus soon followed suit (305).

In 311, Seleucus, backed by Ptolemy, launches a daring expedition back to Babylon and succeeds in detaching the Eastern lands of the empire from Antigonus. Two attempts were made to unseat Seleucus. Nicanor, the Satrap of Media installed by Antigonus, quickly marches against Babylon, with superior forces, but is then surprised in his camp and defeated. Invading Iran in turn, Seleucus defeats Nicanor and kills him in personal combat. With Seleucus away scooping up the East, in 310 Demetrius himself marches on Babylon, which was in the hands of a Seleucid lieutenant, Patrocles. Having fought his way into the city, Demetrius is called away in 309 to deal with Ptolemy. His lieutenant, Archelaus, is then driven away by the returning Seleucus, whose situation is now apparently secure.


Satrap of
Second War of the Successors, 318-316; Third War of the Successors, 315-311; Fourth War of the Successors, 307-301

Demetrius I
Fifth War of the Successors, 288-286

Antigonus II
Gonatas ("Bent-Knee"?)
By 301, a little more than twenty years after the death of Alexander, the fiction of a unified realm is gone, and we're not even sure when Alexander IV and Roxane were killed. Antigonus still holds the center. He is reasonably suspected of intending to reunite Alexander's empire under himself. The magnitude of the threat posed by Antigonus led all the others to combine against him.

His enemies (with the perhaps prudent exceptions of Cassander and Ptolemy) converge on Antigonus. Although the toughest old bird in the fight, perhaps feeling all of his eighty years, he is defeated and killed by Lysimachus and Seleucus at the climactic battle of Ipsus in 301 -- perhaps the largest battle of the era (ending the "Fourth War of the Successors"). This puts an end to his ambitions and his Kingdom. His son, Demetrius I Poliorcetes (Πολιορκητής, Poliorkêtés, "Sieger of Cities," though his greatest siege, of Rhodes, was a failure -- in whose celebration the Rhodians built the Colossus of Rhodes), survived the battle -- it is unclear whether, leaving the field in pursuit of the defeated allied cavalry, he simply never returned or was prevented from rejoining the fight by the elephants of Seleucus.

Nevertheless, Demetrius possessed a considerable fleet, had occupied a good part of Greece, and also continued to hold Cyprus, Sidon, and Tyre. Despite everyone'e impression and best wish, he continued to be a player and is simply cut loose to seek his own fortune. This includes the throne of Macedonia (294-288), where, however, his actions, attitudes, and ambitions failed to win him much in the way of love, loyalty, or support. His project to invade Asia foundered on desertion by the Macedonians and then deposition by Pyrrhus and Lysimachus. Despite other possessions falling away (Cyprus and the Phoenician cities), Demetrius invades Asia anyway, is led deep into the interior, and then, as Seleucus tempts the desertion of his men, is captured in 285 -- the effective end of his Kingship.

After this roller coaster ride of ambition and daring, Demetrius is treated well enough by Seleucus, but his health became the worse for drink, and he died in 283. He had left his son, Antigonus II Gonatas, behind in Greece; and so, just as in the previous generation, the son is left with a kind of starter set to rebuild the kingdom lost by the father. This is what he did. With a great defeat of the invading Celts, and despite being ejected by Pyrrhus (as he had done his father) for a year, Antigonus successfully installed his line in Macedonia (cf. the maps below). It continued until Roman conquest in 168.

Pinnes231-after c.216
Teuta Queen, Regent, 231-228
First Illyrian War with Rome, 229-228
Demetrius of PharosRegent, 228-219
Second Illyrian War, 219
ScerdilaidasRegent, c.216-?
King, d.c.207
Third Macedonian War, 171-167; defeat by Romans at Pydna, 168; Illyris divided into republics; Genthius dies in Roman captivity, ?; Third Illyrian War, 156-155
Illyris, later Illyria or Illyrium, was the home of an Indo-European speaking people of uncertain affinities, probably with some close relation to the Thracians, the Epiriots, and the original inhabitants of Macedon. Their language is not attested except in items like names or place names. This mainly leaves people in linguistics guessing. The First Illyrian War is really the first intervention of Rome across the Adriatic into the Balkans, which will, before too many years, result in the overthow of Macedon and the conquest of Greece. The Kingdom was not definitively ended until the Roman endgame with Macedon. Its future, however, would not be insignificant. It looks like the successful Roman Emperors of the 3rd Century, from
Claudius II Gothicus to Diocletian, were Illyrians. Afterwards, the Illyrians seem to disappear from history, until the Albanians suddenly appear, whose antecedents are a matter of speculation, but who may well be none other than the descendants of the Illyrians. It is hard to know what else they would be. As with the Thracians and Epiriots in the Hellenistic Age, Illyrian society was still tribal, and the monarchy was a fragile thing, with the achievements and personality of Agron fading in the minority of his son Pinnes, who never ruled in his own right and whose death is not even attested, as the tribal rival Scerdilaidas assumed all power.

There is a course on the Hellenstic Age issued by The Teaching Company ("The Great Courses"), "Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age" [2000], given by Jeremy McInerney, an Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Pennsylvania. McInerney is an engaging lecturer, but he seems to be impatient with narrative history, which is a serious drawback for the life of Alexander and the early years of the Successors. This results in an astonishing gap, and other problems, in his treatment.

After introducing Antigonus Monophthalmos, showing his central kingdom on two maps, and mentioning Demetrius, McInerney never does get around to describing what happened to either of them. This means that the Battle of Ipsus, one of the most dramatic events of the age, goes unmentioned. Nor do we ever hear anything of the conflict of Antigonus with Eumenes, who himself is never mentioned -- although I've seen a lot of Hellenistic history that leaves out Eumenes.

Even worse, indeed shockingly worse, we are never told how the Antigonids, either Demetrius or Antigonus Gonatas, come to the Throne of Macedon. Since this involves the subsequent history of Macedonia until the Roman Conquest, it is an incomprehensible oversight. When McInerney moves on to discuss Hellenistic sculpture, he lists the major successor Kingdoms he has considered -- but Macedonia, where the whole story began, is conspicuous by its absence. I don't know how he could have done this. Similarly, McInerney ignores Lysimachus until mentioning him in passing in relation to the establishment of Pergamum, showing his kingdom only on a map of Pergamum.

McInerney's impatience with narrative also results in some simple distortions. Thus, he describes Perdiccas as turning on Ptolemy, invading Egypt, and being assassinated as his army was about to cross the Nile. This ignores the provocations and disloyalty of Ptolemy, manifest in the theft of Alexander's body, and the fact that Perdiccas had already tried to cross the Nile and was repulsed. I know that the Wars of the Successors are confusing; but, really, if you are going to teach a course, you should be able to get them straight and not leave out major and formative events.

Having skipped over and/or distorted such events, McInerney then devotes two whole lectures to essentially defending the Greeks against possible charges of anti-Semitism, the sort of anachronistic, irrelevant, and silly exercise that can easily obsess the modern, politically correct academic. It adds nothing to an account of Hellenistic history. As noted elsewhere, the issue would be more relevant to Manethô's treatment of the Jews. But then Manethô was not a Greek. McInerney's whole exercise is absurd and a waste of the time he should have used to talk about the Antigonids.

Odrysian Kings
Tires I480-460
Seuthes I424-415
Amadokos I415-391
Seuthes II405-384
Kotys I384-359
Kersouleptes I359-341
Seuthes III341-c.306
Macedonian control, 341
ZopyrionGovenor, c.331-

of Thrace,
Fourth War of the Successors, 307-301, defeats & kills Antigonus I at Ipsus, 301; King of Macedon, 288; Sixth War of the Successors, 282-281; killed by Seleucus I, battle of Corupedium, 281

Ptolemy Ceraunus
assassinates Seleucus I, 281; Invasion of Gauls, Ceraunus killed, 279
Thrace continues, c.280 BC-46 AD
Thrace experiences a very short lived notoriety as a Great Power. Lysimachus is a major player among the Diadochi and receives Thrace as his share of the spoils. However, nearly his entire reign was troubled by the power of the native Thracians, who had only been subdued by Philip II as recently as 341. The Thracian King, Seuthes III, ruling from his own capital, appropriately called Seuthopolis, although formally a vassal of Macedon, was nevertheless constantly prepared to revolt, as he did at least three times against Lysimachus. Although Lysimachus was repeatedly the victor, this expended his resources, tied him down, and produced settlements that were never dominant enough to reduce Seuthes to a condition where he could not revolt again. Only the death of Seuthes (c.306) seems to have given Lysimachus enough freedom of action to become a real participant in the larger conflict of the Successors.

Thus, Lysimachus is in on the overthrow of Antigonus Monophthalmos (301), where he demonstrates the military abilities that otherwise were of little lasting value in Thrace; but then Seleucus turns against him. Lysimachus is killed in the victory of Seleucus at Corupedium (281).
Contemporaneous Kings
Thirisadesin Strimos, 359-356
Amadokos IIin Maroneia and Chersonese, 359-351
Ketriporisin Strimos, 356-?
Tires IIin Maroneia and Chersonese, 351-342
Seleucus, however, is assassinated by his guest, Ptolemy Ceraunus, shortly after the victory. Ceraunus is variously said to have struck as Seleucus was stepping out the boat in Europe, or while the two of them were out riding together. With the distruption of the deaths of Lysimachus and Seleucus, and the contemporaneous appearance of the first
Celtic invaders, the Greek dominion seems to be swept away, and the Thracians quickly begin to reorganize themselves.

Never as strong as under Seuthes III, the new Thrace is, if anything, more obscure than the old and now generally remains outside the control of the Hellenistic Kingdoms. It disappears off many of the historical maps for the period, as we would expect if it was never organized enough to project its sovereignty, diplomatically or militarily, or participate in events. In retrospect, it does not seem to have ever been appropriate as a base for one of the major Successors. Lysimachus got a bad deal. Lapsing back into their marginal place on the boundary of civilization, the Thracians were only finally reduced to vassalage by Rome.


Antipater I
Lamian War, 322; First War of the Successors, 320-319

Second War of the Successors, 318-316

Third War of the Successors, 315-311; Fourth War of the Successors, 307-301

Philip IV
dies, like his father,
of tuberculosis, 296

Alexander V
killed by Demetrius, 294
Antipater II296/5-294,

Demetrius I Poliorcetes
Fifth War of the Successors, 288-286; expelled by Lysimachus, & Pyrrhus, 288; surrendered to Seleucus, 285

Pyrrhus I of Eprius

Sixth War of the Successors, 282-281; killed by Seleucus I, battle of Corupedium, 281

Ptolemy Ceraunus
assassinates Seleucus I, 281; Invasion of Gauls, Ceraunus killed, 279; Interregnum, 279-277

Antigonus II Gonatas
(, Antikini [note])
Antigonid, 285-239
Defeats Celts, occupies Macedonia, 277; Chremonidean War, 267-262; capture of Athens, 262
Demetrius II Aetolicus
(, "Aetolian")
Antigonus III Doson
(, "(empty) giver")
Philip V221-179
First Macedonian War (of Rome), 214-205; Second Macedonian War, 200-196; defeated by Rome at Cynoscephalae, 197

179-168, d.165
Third Macedonian War, 171-167; defeated by Romans at Pydna, 168; Roman rule, 167-150; Perseus starves himself to death in Roman captivity, 165
Philip VI Andriscus
Fourth Macedonian War, 149-146; Corinth destroyed by Romans, 146; Rome annexes Greece
& Macedonia, 146
With the removal of "the Kings," Philip III and Alexander IV, to Macedon (321), that Kingdom, replacing Alexander's Babylon, becomes the de jure capital, again, of the Macedonian Empire. However, the Kings are merely figureheads and pawns in the power struggles now developing. With both Kings murdered in turn (317, c.310), Cassander is left maintaining the fiction of Alexander's authority. It lasted rather longer than we might have expected. Antigonus Monophthalmos declares himself and his son Demetrius "Poliorcetes" Kings in 306. Then all the Diadochi, Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus, followed suit in 305. This reduced Macedon itself to the position of no more than first among equals, if that. It soon becomes the most contested of the successor Kingdoms. Demetrius displaces the sons of Cassander (294) and then is ejected by Lysimachus and Pyrrhus (288). They share Macedon until Lysimachus ejects Pyrrhus (283). Then Lysimachus is killed by Seleucus, who is killed by Ptolemy Ceraunus (281). Ptolemy is killed by invading
Celts (279), which puts the Kingdom pretty much up for grabs. It is duly grabbed by Antigonus II Gonatas, son of Demetrius, who defeats the Celts (277). Things are about ready to settle down. Antigonus is briefly ejected by Pyrrhus again (273-272), but then returns to establish his dynasty for the rest of the independent history of Macedonia.

Antigonus did an excellent job of founding a durable kingdom. His grandfather would have been proud of him, perhaps not the least because he also lived to be over eighty. And he ruled Macedonia itself close to forty years. He was tough, resourceful, and resilient. His strategy in Greece involved the key strategic locations that his father Demetrius had managed to acquire and preserve, and that for a while then were almost the only possessions of the Antigonids. These places were the Piraeus, the port of Athens (and often including a garrison in Athens itself), Corinth, Chalcis, and Demetrias. Chalchis was situated at the narrowest point in the passage between the island of Euboea and the mainland. Demetrias, founded and named after his father Demetrius, was at the head of the Pagasaean gulf in Thessaly. It became a seat of the monarchy, thanks to its strategic location.

Indeed, Corinth, Chalcis, and Demetrias came to be called the "Fetters of Greece," Πέδαι Ἑλληνικαί, at least by the time of Philip V [Polybius, The Histories, Volume V, Book XVIII, 11:5, W.R. Patton, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard, 1926, 2006, p.106-107]; and their possession was consistent with the policy of Antigonus, not to conquer Greece, but to prevent the formation of powers that might unify the country and challenge Macedonia. He himself lost Corinth, perhaps the most strategic location of all, to the Achaean League in 243, but the city was then returned to Antigonus Doson in 223 to secure his support. It remained in Macedonian hands until after the defeat by the Romans at Cynoscephalae in 197, when the Romans "freed" the city in 193, but then, of course, garrisoned the Acrocorinth -- as they did Chalcis and Demetrias. Rome thus inherited the "Fetters" and their function. The possession of such strategic locations is reminiscent of 19th century Britain holding bases such as Gibraltar, Malta, and Singapore. We also might be reminded of the Arab garrison cities in the early days of ʾIslâm.

Antigonus founded a durable kingdom, but the dynasty was destined to last only three more generations, pretty much through no fault of its own. Macedonia became the first of the Hellenistic successor kingdoms to feel the wrath of Rome. This started with the Second Punic War, 218-201, when Hannibal's invasion and victories in Italy (like Cannae, 216) made it look like Rome might actually be defeated by Carthage. To Philip V, a Macedonian alliance with Carthage then seemed reasonable. When fortune turned against Carthage, a peace was patched up (205), but Roman revenge could be expected after the final and decisive defeat of Carthage (202). Unlike the Hellenistic monarchs, the Roman Republic did not forgive or forget what it regarded as betrayals. When revenge came (197), Macedon permanently lost its position in Greece and any real freedom of action. The final reduction of Macedonia coincided with the Third Punic War, 149-146, when Carthage itself was conquered and destroyed. Both Africa and Macedonia became Roman provinces.

As the Hellensitic Kingdoms are forming, the city of Rome has occupied most of Central Italy. The Second Samnite War (327-304) secured Roman domination. The next real contest would be with the Greek cities in the south. The Greeks derived aid from Pyrrhus of Epirus (281-278), but this was unavailing. Tarentum surrendered in 272, leaving the Romans in complete control of Southern Italy. By 270, the Roman Republic is all but coextensive with Italy. Only the Po Valley, still Celtic (and even called "Cisalpine Gaul"), is unoccupied.

After the fall of Lysimachus, the assassination of Seleucus, and the establishment of Antigonus Gonatas in Macedonia, the successor Kingdoms have shaken down to just three. This gives the form of things for a while, still pretty early in the Hellenstic Period, just fifty years after the death of Alexander. That a generation and more has passed is now conspicuous. Alexander's own Bodyguards and generals are gone. Antiochus' name is even today preserved in the name of the city of Antioch, Ἀντιόχεια, though its modern name, Antakya, is in a language, Turkish, that would have been no more familiar to the Hellenistic Greeks than Navajo.

Fifty years later things don't seem all that different, but big changes are in the offing. The Romans have defeated Carthage in the First Punic War (264-241) and secured Sicily, after a long and difficult campaign. Roman victory, however, was mainly effected by the defeat of the Carthaginian navy. Carthaginian forces on Sicily thus could be isolated. Rome became the dominant naval power in the Western Mediterranean, and Carthage would never be able to seriously challenge this. In a way, this is bewildering. The Phoenicians had lived on the sea for centuries, and the Romans had barely shaken the mud off their sandals. Some of the worse Roman naval defeats in the war were the result of the weather, for which the Romans had no sailor's sense. But the Romans defeated the Thalassocracy of Carthage and kept it defeated. Once the war was won, the Romans continued to press their advantage, occupying Sardinia and Corsica (237) and gaining a toehold in Illyrium and Epirus (228).

The Second Punic War is soon to break out. This will radically alter the balance of power, making Rome dominant in the West and inflicting a defeat on Macedon. Worse will soon follow. Meanwhile, Bactria is the first part of the Kingdom of Seleucus to become alienated and independent, though under its Greek (shortly to become Buddhist) Kings, it is still a fully Hellenistic successor Kingdom. Antiochus III has come to the throne, but he has not yet engaged in the campaigns that will earn him the epithet "the Great." Nor has he encountered the misfortune, the Romans, that will turn his achievements, like those of the Macedonian Antigonids, to nought.

While the Diadochi are the high profile players in Hellenistic history, Greece itself continued to consist of city states. Some, although occasionally subject to foreign, mainly Macedonian, control, largely preserved their independence and long continued as autonomous players. Athens and Sparta are conspicuous in this category. Leagues of cities were already familiar from Greek history, but to the extent that they represented real power, they usually reflected the dominance of one member. The League of Delos thus became the instrument of Athens. The League of Corinth was created by Philip II of Macedon to control Greece, while maintaining the fiction that the Greek cities were independent. As the Hellenistic Age developed, however, we have the new phenomenon of leagues which become politically and military important in their own right without being dominated by a particular member, much less some other power. These were the Aetolian League, mainly in the mountains north of the Gulf of Corinth, and the Achaean League, beginning along the north coast of the Peloponnesus. Neither league began near what had hitherto been centers of Greek power, and the Aetolians were in an area that had barely passed from tribal to urban organization -- though their acquisition of Delphi around 300 (or in 290) gave them one of the symbolic centers of Greek religion and identity. In the course of events, the Aetolians achieved temporary control over Boeotia and Thessaly. The Achaeans eventually annexed Sparta but then displeased Rome with its treatment. They each developed something like a federal structure, with a League Assembly and the annual election of a president or general (strategos) to lead the whole. The Achaean League especially was well led by Aratus, who was president every other year (he could not succeed himself) from 245 to 213, and was followed by Philopoemen of Megalopolis from 208 until his death in 182. The Aetolians made the mistake of allying with Antiochus III against Rome, and the Romans reduced them to a vassal status in 189. The Achaeans also eventually fell afoul of Rome, and in 146 the Romans sacked Corinth and dissolved the League. Among the hostages that Rome demanded from Achaea in 167 was the historian Polybius, who ended up observing a great deal of Roman history, like the Third Punic War (149-146). Both leagues were the only Greek precedent for the kind of federal structure of government that was attempted in the United States Constitution. The name of the Achaean League lived on in subsequent history. The name of the Roman province that included the Peloponnesus, Athens, and Boeotia was "Achaea"; and when the Crusaders divided up Romania after the Fourth Crusade, the Peloponnesus became the Principality of Achaea.

Καὶ κραναᾶς Βαβυλῶνος ἐπίδρομον ἅρμασι τεῖχος
      καὶ τὸν ἐπ᾽ Ἀλφειῷ Ζᾶνα κατηυγασάμην,
κάπων τ᾽ αἱώρημα, καὶ Ἠελίοιο κολοσσόν,
      καὶ μέγαν αἰπεινᾶν πυραμίδων κάματον,
μνᾶμά τε Μαυσωλοῖο πελώριον· ἀλλ᾽ ὅτ᾽ ἐσεῖδον
      Ἀρτέμιδος νεφέων ἄχρι θέοντα δόμον,
κεῖνα μὲν ἠμαύρωτο δεκηνιδε νόσφιν Ὀλύμπου
      Ἅλιος οὐδέν πω τοῖον ἐπηυγάστο.

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge harbour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, "Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand."

Antipater of Sidon, Ἀντίπατρος ὁ Σιδώνιος, Book IX, "The Declamatory and Descriptive Epigrams," 58, The Greek Anthology, Volume III, Book 9, Translated by W.R. Paton, The Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1917, pp.30-31.

1. The PyramidsEgyptian
2. The Hanging Gardens of BabylonNeo-
3. The Statue of Zeus at OlympiaGreek
4. The Mausoleum at HalicarnassusCarian
5. The Temple of Artemis at EphesusGreek
6. The Colossus of RhodesGreek
7. The Pharos Lighthouse of AlexandriaHellenistic
The idea of the Seven Wonders of the World is the essence of Hellenism. A wide ranging and cosmopolitan culture embraces the great works of the past and the present, though mainly of the present. Only the
Pyramids antedate the times of the Greeks. The philosopher Thales was already teaching when the Hanging Gardens were built by Nebuchadnezzar. Only one Wonder, however, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, dates from the actual Golden Age of Greece in the 5th century. The Temple of Artemis, at least the one familiar in the Hellenistic Age (an earlier templed dated from the 6th century), and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus were products of the 4th century; and King Mausolus (d. 353) was not even a Greek, but a Carian, one of the pre-Greek peoples of western Anatolia.

Seleucus I Nicator ("Conqueror")
Satrap of Babylonia, 320-316, 311-305
King, 305-281
First War of the Successors, 320-319; Second War of the Successors, 318-316; Third War of the Successors, 315-311; Seleucid Era Begins, 312/311; Fourth War of the Successors, 307-301; Seleucus concedes India to Chandragupta Maurya, c.303; Fifth War of the Successors, 288-286; Sixth War of the Successors, 282-281; defeats and kills Lysimachus, killed by Ptolemy Ceraunus, 281

Antiochus I Soter ("Savior")
First Syrian War, 274-271
Antiochus II Theos (, "god"), (, Antiyoka [note])261-247
Second Syrian War, 260-253; Parthia independent, 248 Arsacid (Parthian) Era Begins, 248/247
Seleucus II Callinicus Pogo
(, "beautiful conquest"; , "bearded")
Third Syrian War, 246-241; Bactria independent, 239
Seleucus III Ceraunus
(, "Thunderbolt")
Antiochus III the Great
( )
Fourth Syrian War, 219-217; campaign to India, 212-205; Parthia regained, 209; siege of Bactria, 208-206; Fifth Syrian War, Palestine won from Ptolemies, 203-200; peace with Ptolemy V, who marries Cleopatra I, 195; Syrian War with Rome, 192-188; defeat at Thermopylae, 191; naval defeat off Myonessus, 190; defeated by Scipio Africanus at Magnesia, 189; Treaty of Apamea, loss of Asia Minor, 188
Seleucus IV Philopator
(, "Father Loving")
Parthians expand into eastern Iran, 185
Antiochus IV Epiphanes
(, "Manifest")
Sixth Syrian War, Egyptian expedition, 170-168; Jewish Revolt, 167; Maccabees occupy Jerusalem, 164
Antiochus V Eupator
(, "good father")
Demetrius I Soter162-150
[Alexander Balas]159-147
Demetrius II Nicator146-140
Maccabees uncontested in Judaea, 142 Parthians take Media, 141
Antiochus VI Ephiphanes Dionysus ()145-142
Antiochus VII Euergetes
(, "Do-Gooder/Benefactor")
Parthians take Persia, 139;
Antiochus killed by Parthians, 129
Demetrius II Nicator (restored)129-126

Cleopatra Thea ("goddess")
Parthians take Babylonia, 126,
Seleucids left with nothing but Syria
Cleopatra Thea (continued) & Antiochus VIII Philometor
(, "Mother Loving") Grypus (, "hook-nosed")
Seleucus V126-125
Antiochus VIII Philometer Grypus (continued)121-96
Antiochus IX Philopator Cyzicenus (, "of Cyzicus")116-95
Seleucus VI Epiphanes Nicator96-95
Antiochus X Eusebes
(, "pious") Philopator
Antiochus XI Epiphanes Philadelphus (, "Sister Loving")95

Philip I Epiphanes Philadelphus
Demetrius III Philopator Soter Eucaerus (, "timely"; perhaps ironic for "untimely")95-88
Antiochus XII Dionysus87-84
[Tigranes II of Armenia]83-69
Antiochus XIII Asiaticus69-64
Philip II Philoromaeus
(, "loving Rome")
Pompey annexes Syria to Rome, 63 BC

The last two Wonders were then actual products of the Hellenistic Age, in the 3th century. The Colossus of Rhodes was constructed by a surviving Greek city state, to celebrate its delivery from the siege of Demetrius Poliorcetes in 305; but then the Pharos Lighthouse was one of the supreme symbols of Hellenistic Monarchy, built by Ptolemy I and II in the first and greatest city of Alexander, marking its location, day and light, on the edge of the otherwise flat and undistinguished Delta of Egypt.

The Colossus of Rhodes, ὁ Κολοσσὸς Ῥόδιος, did not survive long as constructed. It fell in an earthquake in 226 BC. It's reconstruction was prevented by an inauspicious oracle. The ruin, however, was a tourist attraction until the island was seized by the future Caliph Muʿâwiya in 654 AD. According to Theophanes Confessor, Muʿâwiya sold the bronze statue, 1370 years after its construction, for scrap to a Jewish merchant.

The weakness of the statue, 108 feet tall, was apparently in the ankles, which supported the whole weight of cast bronze. These snapped in the earthquake. If the statue had straddled the entrance of the harbor, as has been imagined, the structure never would have stood at all. By contast, the Statue of Liberty, where the statue alone is 151 feet tall, the legs are concealed by robes, and within is actually an iron superstruture, designed by no less than Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923), who went on to build his eponymous tower in Paris. The visible statue is thin plates of copper attached to the superstructure. Something about the Statue of Liberty, however, may commemorate the Colossus, namely the seven rays on the crown, which are part of the iconography, not of the goddess Liberty, but of the sun god Helios. As on the Colossus.

The Pharos Lighthouse, ὁ Φάρος τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας, lasted much longer, ultimately collapsing during earthquakes itself, in 1303 & 1323 AD, under the Mamlûks. The durability and visibility of the Lighthouse may explain why it was only added to the list of Wonders during the Middle Ages. We do not see it in the list by Antipater of Sidon above. After the collapse, reconstructed as a still surviving fort (the Fort of Qaitbay, , 1477), the massive masonry blocks of the Lighthouse can even now be inspected. Within the fort a mosque seems to echo the elements of the structure of the Lighthouse, with square, circular, and octogonal shapes.

The Crusaders built a fort out of the Mausoleum also, and it is hard to know how much damage it may already have endured. The Temple of Artemis suffered more than one act of destruction. The pre-Hellenistic temple was set on fire by an aronist in 356. The Goths damaged the rebuilt temple in 268 AD, during their raids of the Third Century. It is unclear whether this completely destroyed the temple or not. As the area of Ephesus silted up, the site was buried. When excavated after its discovery in 1869, the "Englishman's Pit" subsequently filled up with water. It then looked like a small abandoned lake with a few stones and columns visible above water. Much of the stone may have been taken for other projects, including the Church of Sancta Sophia in Constantinople.

The Statue of Zeus from Olympia was relocated to Constantiople at its building, along with masses of other Classical statuary of whose existence we still seem to be learning, and kept at the Lauseion Palace. When the Palace burned in 475, the statue was lost, along with others, such as the famous Aphrodite of Cnidus. But there are other reports that the statue of Zeus had not been moved to Constantinople at all, leaving its fate uncertain.

Most uncertain of all is the fate of the Hanging Gardens. Archaeologists have been entirely unable to identify a possible site for the Gardens in the excavations of Babylon. Because of this, some now doubt whether the Gardens even existed, at least in the form commonly described (on terraces, etc.). It is hard to know what to make of this, since Babylon was a place familiar to many Greeks, already from the Golden Age, but then to thousands of them in the time of Alexander. In any case, Babylon was slowly abandoned under the Seleucids, and the Emperor Trajan only found ruins when he visited the site in 117 AD.

Σέλευκος, Seleucus, although at one point a refugee with Ptolemy I, returned across the desert to Babylon in 311 to ultimately appropriate the lion's share of Alexander's empire. This dramatic event, counted as Seleucus' first regal year, was continued as the Seleucid Era, the first continuous count of time in world chronology, soon to inspire the similar Arsacid Era of Parthia. The beginning of the Seleucid Era is given as 312/311 because the Babylonian New Year was in the Spring but the Seleucid year for the Greeks was reckoned from the previous Fall (September or October). There is also the residual uncertainty about Hellenistic dating. E.J. Bickerman, for instance, positively asserted that Seleucus reconquered Babylon "in August of 312" [Chronology of the Ancient World, Cornell University Press, 1968, 1980, 1982, p.71], while a more recent treatment by Robin Waterfield says, "In the spring of 311 he [i.e. Seleucus] was given a thousand men by Ptolemy and set out from Palestine to Babylonia" [Dividing the Spoils, Oxford, 2011, p.123]. While we may have more confidence in up-to-date scholarship, sometimes older analyses are later vindicated.

As recounted above, Seleucus had to fend off two major efforts against him to recover Babylon for Antigonus Monophthalmos. With Babylon secure, he was able to take control of the vast Iranian hinterland, the geographical bulk of Alexander's Empire. However, Seleucus leaves India to the growing power of the Mauryas, and was compensated with war elephants that he then began to breed himself. Having defeated and killed Antigonus (301) and Lysimachus (281), Seleucus was about to add Thrace to his kingdom when, stepping out of the boat in Europe, he was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus, whom he had taken in as a refugee from his father, Ptolemy I. Ceraunus is also said to have killed Seleucus while they were hunting together near Lysmacheia, which had been Lysimachus' capital on the Gallipoli peninsula. Ceraunus claimed the throne of Thrace and Macedon, while the rest of Seleucus' domain passed to his half-Iranian son Antiochus.

The capital of the kingdom, Seleucia, founded on the Tigris, began to replace Babylon as the metropolitan city of the region, but it did not achieve the historical significance and permanence of Alexandria in Egypt. Instead, it was ultimately replaced by the neighboring new capitals of the Parthians, Ctesiphon, and of the Abbasid Caliphs, Baghdâd. A more permanent city of historical importance and fame would be Antioch in Syria (now in Turkey).

While Seleucid authority was never fully established over several kingdoms in Anatolia, like Armenia and Pontus, more distant areas, like Parthia and Bactria, began to drift away. Antiochus III stopped this process and began to reverse it, marching to India and wresting Palestine from the Ptolemies, but then had the misfortune to become the first Seleucid to clash with Rome. His defeat in 190 began a steep decline for the kingdom. By 125, the Seleucids would be confined to Syria. Their last 60 years would be consumed with pointless dynastic conflict and fragmentation, and 14 years of Armenian occupation. Then Rome would pick up the pieces. Pompey "settles the East" in 63 BC with the annexation of the remaining Seleucid lands and the reduction of other local states, like Judaea, to Roman clients.

With the Seleucids, as with the Ptolemies, we have a genealogy that gets more complicated as time goes on. This happens as brothers and cousins begin to contend for the Throne, but also as intermarriage, particularly with the Ptolemies, becomes increasingly more confusing. A name so famous in Egypt, Cleopatra, actually derives from a Seleucid marriage, Cleopatra a daughter of Antiochus III. Three of her grandchildren marry back into the Seleucids. Cleopatra Thea marries three Seleucids (although there seems to be some question about the parentage of Alexander Balas) and has children by all of them who eventually become Kings. Cleopatra V Selene marries her brother, Ptolemy IX, and then two Seleucids, the son (Antiochus VIII, following her sister) and grandson (Antiochus X) of her own cousin (Cleopatra Thea). The dynasty ends with the five sons of Antiochus VIII and their cousin fighting among themselves as the Kingdom crumbles. Two members of the next generation wrap things up, after Tigranes II of Armenia took over (83-69), until the Romans pick up the pieces in 63. The last King, Philip II, bears the interesting epithet of Φιλοῥώμαιος, "Philorhomaeus," "Roman Lover."

Hamilcar Barca, the Carthaginian commander in Sicily during the First Punic War, prepared for the future by moving to Spain and enlarging Carthaginian possessions there. He even founded a "New Carthage," the Latin version of whose name, Carthago Nova, still exists, as Cartagena (in both the Old World and the New). "Carthage" was Καρχηδών in Greek and Carthago in Latin. Polybius, who had occasion to refer to Cartagena many times, actually just calls it ἡ Καινὴ πόλις, the "New" city, probably not realizing that, in Phoenician, Carthage itself was already the "new city."

The Second Punic War (218-201) is then initiated by Hamilcar's son, Hannibal. With Carthaginian control of the sea lost, but a successful new domain in Spain, Hannibal decided to beat the Romans at their own game, not only to defeat them on land but to actually invade Italy and do it there. Crossing the Alps with his war elephants, Hannibal created one of the most dramatic and memorable campaigns in world history. In three years, Hannibal inflicted three crushing defeats on the Romans, at the Trebia River in 218, at Lake Trasimene in 217, and finally at Cannae in 216.

Cannae, where Hannibal executed a double envelopment of four Roman Legions, surrounding and annihilating them, established a military ideal, a Holy Grail for tactics, for all subsequent military history. Envelopment of one or both flanks of the enemy would always be a key to victory. The Duke of Marlborough typically could effect a breakthrough leading to envelopment, with Oudenarde the most like Cannae, although only part of the French Army was involved. Robert E. Lee, or the incompetence of subordinates, defeated the attempts of Ulysses S. Grant at envelopments in 1864, until that was achieved at Five Forks in 1865, soon leading to Lee's surrender. The Schliefen Plan in World War I was to "brush the Channel" and envelope the French with the German Right. This failed, as the German Right was not as strong as intended, and the French rushed out troops, in taxicabs, to reinforce their Left. In 1940, however, the Germans punched through the Allied middle with tanks and enveloped the Left from behind, pinning it against the Channel, to surrender or be evacuated -- at Dunkirk. That move was more like Marlborough than like Hannibal.

On the map at right we see a subsequent battle at Cannae, in 1018, when Romania, the Mediaeval Roman Empire, defeated an attack and rebellion by the Lombards of Benevento. This was at the height of Roman power in the South of Italy. However, that power would vanish by the end of the century because of the advent of a new and unanticipated enemy, the Normans, who started as Roman mercenaries but then began their own rebellion.

After the original Cannae, the Romans tried to avoid battle in Italy. This was the explicit strategy of Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, called Cunctator, "Delayer." Not all were happy with such a strategy, but it had begun to look like a Roman army could not face Hannibal in battle without being destroyed. In this way, Hannibal, with no resources to besiege Rome or other cities, lost the initiative. Meanwhile, a Roman army reduced Spain, defeating Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal. Then, the victor of Spain, Scipio Africanus, invaded Africa in 204. Hannibal finally left Italy to defend Carthage itself, and then was defeated at Zama in 202, as the Numidian cavalry, always essential to Carthaginian armies, foolishly deserted to the Romans. Hannibal fled as far as Bithynia, where he took poison in 183 rather than be surrendered to the Romans. Carthage was reduced to a rump state in Tunisia.

Roman historians tried to explain Hannibal, in one sense, with a story that Hamilcar had made the young Hannibal swear an oath of emnity against Rome. We might ask now, when did the Romans swear their oath of emnity against Carthage? Neither Hamilcar nor Hannibal ever needed any such oath. Roman aggression was evident from the outset. Where Hamilcar was fighting in Sicily, Phoenicians had lived for centuries, while Rome had no people or legitimate interests in the island. It was simply a Roman invasion, and all the subsequent actions of the Republic were of the same sort. The Barcas needed no oaths, because Roman intentions were obvious. Conquest. Well, they got their conquest, but it was a near run thing. If Carthage had actually had a tithe of the resources that Rome had at that point, Hannibal would have smashed Rome like a bug. And I think they knew it.

In those terms, the nobility and genius of Hannibal Barca shine out even from the pages of hostile Roman historians. He was morally superior to his enemies, and they richly deserved the damage, the shock, and the fright that he inflicted upon them. This was a great man; yet also as a general his courage, his audacity, his strategic and tactical brilliance may even be without equal in world history. The very image of his elephants crossing the Alps is something iconic and incomparable, while this passage was no mean feat in its own right. While Caesar grieved over the murder of Pompey, Aurelian left Zenobia to comfortable retirement in Rome, and the British wined and dined Cetshwayo, the defeated King of the Zulus, in London, the Romans of Hannibal's day, simply out of spite wanted to murder him, and ignobly hounded him to the ends of the earth.

The British themselves were not always without spite, as in the treatment of the last Moghul Emperor and the execution of his sons. Much of the shame of that is that the elderly Bahâdur Shâh II was not really an independent agent, was not responsible for the outrages of the Great Mutiny, and was in fact still the nominal sovereign of the British in India! On the other hand, Hannibal, with full responsibility, can be blamed for no atrocities. He was fighting for the very life of Carthage, whose terms the Romans blatantly affirmed by later exterminating the entire population of the city. They obviously hated the Carthaginians with a relentless passion, when Carthage had never done them any harm except in self-defense. Demolishing the city and sowing the land with salt, the Romans wanted Carthage erased from history. Fortunately, it was the Roman historians themselves who prevented that from happening, and the city later was actually rebuilt. As with the Trojans in the Iliad, anyone reading Polybius or Livy is bound to admire the conquered more than conquerors. Yet no Trojan stands out with anything like the sublime patriotism and genius of Hannibal. Achilles chased Hector around Troy, and then dragged his body around the city in the same way; but no Roman enemy got any such satisfaction from Hannibal. Scipio at last could defeat him, but Hannibal got clean away.

Macedon made the mistake, when Hannibal looked like a winner, of joining Carthage against Rome. Although bailing out when the tide turned, Philip V nevertheless became the target of Roman vengeance once Carthage had been dealt with. The Second Macedonian War (200-196) has now permanently reduced the Macedonian domain. Carthage for the moment suvives, but only until the Third Punic War (149-146), when it is annihilated. Meanwhile, Antiochus III, the Great, has marched to India and defeated the Ptolemies, driving them out of Asia. These great successes will shortly be undone by the first Seleucid clash with Rome, the Syrian War (192-188). In the aftermath of the Second Punic War, we thus have a unification of the Mediterranean basin, where the power of Rome begins to stretch from one end of the Sea to the other.


Mithridates of Cius
Mithridates I302/1-266/5
Mithridates IIc.255-c.220
Mithridates IIIc.220-c.185
Pharnaces Ic.185-c.170
Mithridates IV
Philopator Philadelphus
Mithridates V Euergetesc.150-121/0
Mithridates VI
First Mithridatic War,
defeat by Rome, 88-85;
Second Mithridatic War, 83-82;
Third Mithridatic War, 74-63;
Pompey's Settlement of the East, 63
Pharnaces II of the
VIII of Cappadocia, 101-96 BC
Polemon I37-8 BC
Bosporus, 14-8 BC
Pythodoris (or Pythodorida) 8 BC-19/23/38 AD
Artaxias(19 AD-27)
Polemon II38-64
Roman Province
The small states of
Armenia, Pontus, Bithynia, Pergamum, Cappadocia, Galatia, Commagene, and Caria testify to the ethnic complexity of Asia Minor.
Celtic Chiefs in THRACE
Celtic Thracian Kingdom of TILIS, 279-c.200
Twelve Tetrarchies,
To Pergamum, 183-166
Twelve Tetrarchies,
To Pontus, 89-86
Twelve Tetrarchies,
Annexed to Rome, 25 BC

Galatians were actually Celts from central Europe. They seem to have arrived south of the Danube by 280, disrupting the Thracian and Macedonian Kingdoms. They founded an ephemeral and poorly attested state in Thrace itself and then invaded Greece in 279, killing Ptolemy Ceraunus. This threw Macedon into chaos, which was not relieved until Antigonus Gonatas defeated the invaders in Greece in 277 and assumed the Macedonian Throne.

Meanwhile a group crossed the Bosporus and established themselves in Anatolia, creating the durable and memorable domain of Galatia. At first led by tribal chiefs, they were long organized in local "tetrarchies," only becoming a kingdom after the arrival of the Roman Pompey in 63 BC. Their capital, Angora (or Ancyra), has given us the modern name of varieties of cat, goat, and rabbit, two of which are used for their hair. The modern city, Ankara, is now the capital of Turkey. The idea of Celts in the middle of modern Turkey now seems so strange that it sounds like a Monty Python skit.

Of the lists given here, only the rulers of Pergamum would actually have been Greeks. We can see non-Greek influences in the names of the multiple "Mithridates" of Pontus and Commagene. This name means the "gift," dates, of the Iranian god Mithra (Sanskrit Mitra). This is a Persian name whose modern form is Mehrdâd, of whose meaning many modern Iranians may be unaware. The cult of Mithra becomes one of the popular Roman mystery religions, Mithraism. The Galatians and the ancient peoples of Anatolia, however, except for the Armenians, gradually disappeared from history. This was at first under Greek influence, as literate people came to write only in Greek. Indeed, when the Emperor Nicephorus I colonized people from Anatolia into Greece itself, it leaves us wondering how many modern Greeks are actually descendants of Cappadocians, Galatians, etc. Eventually, however, the Turkish conquest erased whatever may have remained of all of them in their homeland.


holds Pergamum for Lysimachus, deserts to Seleucus, 282; defense against Celts, 278-276

Eumenes I
ally of Ptolemy II in defeat of Antiochus I, Sardis, 262

Attalus I Soter
Defeat of Celtic Gauls or Galatians, c.238; Ally of Rome, First Macedonian War, 214-205; Second Macedonian War, 200-196
Eumenes II Soter197-160
Syrian War, 192-188; defeated Antiochus III with Scipio Africanus at Magnesia, 189; Treaty of Apamea, gains much of Asia Minor, 188
Attalus II Philadelphus160-139
Attalus III Philometor139-133
kingdom willed to Rome
Nicomedes Ic.280-c.250/42
Prusias Ic.230/27-c.182
Hannibal dies in exile, 183
Prusias IIc.182-149
Nicomedes II Epiphanes149-c.127
Nicomedes III Euergetesc.127-c.94
Nicomedes IV Philopatorc.94-74 BC
Roman Province
Ariaramnes I (Ariamnes)362-350
Ariarathes ISatrap
Eumenes the Diadochus323-316
Ariarathes II301-280
Ariaramnes II280-c.250
Ariarathes III255/1-220
Ariarathes IV Eusebes220-c.162
Ariarathes V
Eusebes Philopater
Ariarathes VI
Epiphanes Philopater
Ariarathes VII Philometorc.111-c.100
Ariarathes VIII Eusebes Philopater
of Pontus
Ariobarzanes I Philoromaeus
(, "loving Rome")
Ariobarzanes II Philopator62-c.54
Ariobarzanes III
Eusebes Philoromaeus
Ariarathes IX42-36
Archelaus36 BC-17 AD
Cappadocia becomes Roman Province
Pergamum (Pergamon) became one of the star territories of the Middle Hellensitic Age. Part of this was clever political opportunism in dealing with the Diadochi, part was a resolute defense against the Celts, part was a massive investment in cultural activities, and, finally, part was a prudent alliance with Rome, which led to the extraordinary act of Attalus III willing the Kingdom to Rome in 133. The cultural activities included massive building projects at Pergamum, as well as the patronage of other building projects in Greece proper. The Great Altar of Zeus, built by Eumenes II, was one of the most brilliant constructions of the age, and is now remarkable in having been removed in its entirety by German archaeologists to Berlin, where it mercifully survived the bombing of World War II. Only the foundations remain on site.

Of equivalent cultural importance was the library that was created in the city. Not as famous as the Alexandrian Library, the Pergamum Library nevertheless had considerable influence in its day, not the least of which was the development of parchment (Latin pergamenum, French parchemin) as a medium for writing and books. The story is that Ptolemy V suspended exports of papyrus in 190. This was done either because Ptolemy was jealous of the Library at Pergamum, or because the increased demand for papyrus was resulting in overharvesting (implying that the papyrus grew wild), which alarmed the government. Or, alternatively, the increased demand for papyrus may simply have driven prices up to the point that alternative media became attractive. While animal skins had early been used for writing, the Attalids (Eumenes II again) now invested in better preparation techniques. As it happened, parchment, although more expensive than later paper, would prove to be more durable than either papyrus or paper. Thus, many Mediaeval manuscipts prepared on parchment, like those of the Archbishop Arethas of Caesarea, survive, while contemporary books on paper have not. Pergamum therefore unintentionally provided for the survival of Mediaeval, and through it Ancient, learning.


Diodotus I Soter
Diodotus IIKing,
Euthydemus I Theos235-200
Besieged by Antiochus III, independence recognized, 208-206
Demetrius I200-185
Euthydemus II200-190
Antimachus I Theos190-180
Demetrius II Antiketos180-165
Eucratides I171-155

Menander Soter Dicaeus (, Milinda)
Yüeh-chih occupy Bactria, 130
Heliocles I155-140
Eucratides II140-?
Antimachus II130-125
Strato I Epiphanes
Soter Dikaeus
Heliocles II120-115
Zoilus, Dioysius,
& Apollophanes
Hermaeus Soter,
last Greek king
75-55, or 40-1 AD

Little is known of the history of Greek Bactria. About fourty kings can be identified from their coins, but many of the dates are conjectural. Names and dates for all the here are from E.J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World [Cornell U. Press, 1982], and Michael Grant, From Alexander to Cleopatra, The Hellenistic World [Collier Books, 1990].

Menander Soter Dikaeus (, Milinda in Pali) is an important figure in the history of Buddhism, as the king in the Milindapanha, "Questions of Milinda," where he asks the sage Nagasena about Buddhism. As Greek Bactria absorbed Buddhist influence, Buddhism reflected Greek artistic influences, and perhaps more.

About the time of Menander's death (130 BC), the Yüeh-chih pushed into Bactria -- subsequently to move into India as the Kushans. Then the Sakas under Maues (97-58 BC) invaded India and broke up the remaining Greek kingdom in the Indus Valley, with one part of it remaining in the Kabul Valley, another on the Left Bank on the Indus. See the map below for 74 BC.

At the beginning of March, 2001, the rulers of Afghanistan, the barbarous zealots of the Ṭâlibân ("students"), decided to destroy all the "idols" in the country, which meant the entire collection of Buddhist art in the Kabul museum, and the two great cliff carved Buddhas in Bamian province, 175 and 120 feet tall. Although there was an international outcry against this, including from other Islâmic countries as radical as Irân, and offers from museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art simply to take in all Buddhist art objects, no one doubted that the Ṭâlibân were wicked and stupid enough to go through with their despicable vandalism. And, indeed, they went through with it, blowing the Bamian Buddhas to pieces. Where is the Râj when we need it? Now, of course, the Ṭâlibân have been overthrown with American help, in the aftermath of the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. There has been some talk about restoring the Bamian Buddhas, but I still have heard no word about the fate of the Kabul museum collection.

Sames Ic.290-c.260
Arsames Ic.260-c.228
Samus II Theosebes Dicaeusc.130-c.100
Mithridates I Callinicusc.100-c.70
Antiochus I Theos Dicaeus Epiphanes Philoromaeus, "loving Rome," Φιλορώμαιος, Philhellen, Φιλέλληνc.70-c.35
Mithridates IIc.31
[Antiochus II]d.29
Mithridates IIIc.20 BC
Antiochus IIId.17 AD
Roman Province, 17 AD
Antiochus IV38 AD-72
Commagene, Κομμαγηνή, is an obscure, small, and politically insignificant state that floated up out of the wreckage of the Seleucid Kingdom. It became independent under the Seleucid Antiochus IV. Its new King, Ptolemaeus, claimed to be the son of Orontes IV of

It might have continued in obscurity, as it did for the historians, if not for the work of one unusual ruler, who looms larger now for it than he apparently ever did in his own lifetime. This was Antiochus I, who took a 7000 foot mountaintop in the Taurus mountains, Mt. Nemrut (Turkish Nemrut Dağı), and turned it into a sort of tomb, temple, and monument to himself and his kingdom.

Ranks of seated gods on both the East and West sides of the mountain look a bit like the statues of Easter Island, while the conical hats of many of them make them look like the "Coneheads" of the old Saturday Night Live. The inscriptions are in Greek, but the costume of the figures alternates between Greek and Persian. That seems to be the idea. The gods are identified by Greek names but also with what may be presumed to be Persian equivalents. Thus, Antiochus claims both Greek and Persian heritage. At the same time, of course, we see him called Φιλορώμαιος, "friend of Rome," or "Rome loving." After all, it is during his reign that the Roman general Pompey shows up to annex Syria and "settle the East" (63 BC).
Lydamis I 
Artemisia I
the Valiant
mid 5th cent.
Psyndalismid 5th cent.-
late 5th cent.
Lydamis IIlate 5th cent.
Satrap of
of Mylasa

Artemisia II353-350
Ada 343-341
To Macedon, 334-305
Ada (restored)334-320s
Olympichusin Mylasa
Asander the
To Antigonus, 305-295

It all seems to be quite a monumental effort for a Kingdom of what must have had very limited resources; and in size and ambition it certainly must rival the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Its obscurity is certainly due to the isolation of the site. Centuries must have passed during which outsiders had little clue that it was there. It may have attracted some attention. All the statues have been decapitated. But this may just be the result of weathering and earthquakes. One statue retained its head until the 1960's, when the neck finally crumbled. Since the mountain experiences snow and freezes, the statues undergo damage from ice crystals breaking the stone.

Thus, the bid for historical immortality by Antiochus fell a bit short, but in our day it is catching up. Nothing is left of the Mausoleum but some rubble and its name; but today we can drive up and look on the faces of Antiochus and his gods. It is more accessible and more famous than ever. And it doesn't look quite like other monuments of the era. With no other information, we might almost wonder if it was a work of the Hittites, and much older than it is. One wonders what Antiochus would have thought of this outcome. Not quite what he had in mind, but it might have been gratifying in its own way.

Wikipedia gives "Friend of Rome" as φιλορωμαῖος, but I base φιλορώμαιος on the Unabridged Liddell & Scott Greek Lexicon [Oxford, 1843, 1996, p.1939]. although they give φιλορωμαῖος as found in some sources..

Caria, although very close to the Doric Greek areas near Rhodes, was nevertheless not a Greek kingdom. It's principal claim to fame comes from two rulers, Mausolus and his sister Artemisia II (who, being named after the goddess Artemis, may show Greek influence, or indicate the likelihood that Artemis was not originally a Greek goddess). Although this kind of brother-sister marriage would be typical of the Hellenistic Period, thought to be inspired by Egypt, and Mausolus is usually thought of as a Hellenistic monarch, he was in fact ruling under the Persians and even his sister, who survived him, died before Alexander arrived.

Nevertheless, at his capital of Halicarnassus, he began a great tomb, finished by his sister, which became one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Μαυσωλεῖον, Mausoleum, then gives its name to any great stone burial building. The original survived well into the Middle Ages, before donating its stone to (Crusader) fortresses.

An earlier Artemisia, "the Valiant," had her own claim to fame. Commanding Carian ships for the Persians at the Battle of Salamis in 480, she saw the way the battle was going and determined to escape. Geting away involved ramming and sinking another Carian ship. Xerxes, watching the battle, thought that Artemisia had sunk a Greek ship and commented that, "My men have become women, and my women men." I am not aware of Xerxes' reaction when he discovered the truth. It doesn't seem to have affected the tenure of the dynasty.

The rulers of Caria were never Kings. They were recognized by the Persians as "Dynasts," and sometimes as Satraps, and by some of their subject Greek cities as "tyrants," i.e. monarchs who were not traditional Kings. Mausolus' relative freedom of action never grew into independence. Caria became subject to Macedon as it had been to Persia.

Less than fifty years after the last map (178 years since the death of Alexander), the Hellenistic World looks much different. At the middle of the Second Century BC, Rome is now the dominant power, not only stretching from the Atlantic to Thrace, but the arbiter of power further East. The Seleucids are out of Asia Minor, except for Cilicia, and Pergamum, a Roman client, has expanded from a city state into a major kingdom. Parthia has now broken away (248) and occupied eastern Iran (185), to begin a history of several centuries (until 227 AD) as a Great Power, the only thing like an equal on the borders of Rome. Judaea is also independent. The occupation of Jerusalem by the Maccabees (164), when the lamps of the Temple were relit and burned miraculously without additional oil, led to a Jewish holiday, Hanukkah. Nevertheless, Demetrius II still has a substantial Kingdom. This will not last, as the Parthians take Media (141), Persia (139), and Babylonia (126). In short, Seleucid power is on the verge of collapsing, and the rest of the dynasty will consist of local family conflicts in Syria. Meanwhile, Menander of Bactria has converted to Buddhism and will be featured in the Milindapanha, "Questions of Milinda," perhaps the most durable and influential consequence of the Greek Kingdom of Bactria.

Ptolemy I Soter I ("Savior")Satrap of Egypt,
First War of the Successors, 320-319;
Second War of the Successors, 318-316;
Third War of the Successors, 315-311;
Fourth War of the Successors, 307-301;
Fifth War of the Successors, 288-286
Ptolemy II Philadelphus
(, "Sister
Loving"), (, Turamaya [note])
Sixth War of the Successors, 282-281;
First Syrian War, 274-271;
Chremonidean War, 267-262;
Second Syrian War, 260-253
Ptolemy III Euergetes I
(, "Do-Gooder/Benefactor")
Third Syrian War, 246-241;
Decree of Canopus, attempts to
institute intercalation, 238
Ptolemy IV Philopator
"Father Loving")
Fourth Syrian War, 219-217;
Revolt & Independence of
Upper Egypt, 206-186
Ptolemy V Epiphanes
(, "Manifest")
Fifth Syrian War, Palestine
lost to Seleucids, 203-200; Decree of
Memphis (2), the Rosetta Stone, 196

Cleopatra I
Ptolemy VI Philometor
(, "Mother Loving")
Sixth Syrian War, 170-168
Ptolemy VII Neos
(, "New, Young") Philopator
Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II170, 145-116
Cleopatra III &
Ptolemy IX Soter II
Cleopatra III &
Ptolemy X Alexander I
Ptolemy X Alexander I
& Cleopatra Berenice
Ptolemy IX Soter II
Roman Protection, 80 BC
Cleopatra Berenice &
Ptolemy XI Alexander II
Ptolemy XII Neos
Dionysus ()
Auletes (,
Berenice IV58-55
Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysus (restored)55-51
Cleopatra VII Thea
(, "goddess") Philopator,
Ptolemy XIII Dionysus
51-47, drowned
Ptolemy XIV Philopator
47-44, poisoned
Ptolemy XV Caesarion
51-30, suicide44-30, executed
Roman Conquest, 30 BC
Ptolemy I might strike one as the cleverest and most prudent of the Diadochi. Egypt was a well defined and rich land, long familiar with a Greek presence, and it became the most prosperous and durable of the Hellenistic Kingdoms.

Soon Ptolemy might well make a claim to priority among his peers by virtue of possessing the mummified body of Alexander himself (stolen on its trip back to Macedonia) and ruling from the city of Alexandria, Ἀλεξάνδρεια, the first such city founded by Alexander, which became the greatest Hellenistic city, and the Second City of the Roman Empire (at first, second after Rome; later, second after Constantinople) until the Arab Conquest. In far off in India, where "Greek" was Yavana, , Yavanapura, , seems to have been the name of Alexandria itself [note].

The site of Alexandria had been familiar to Greek sailors for centuries, and it had an Egyptian name, , rendered into Greek as Ῥακῶτις. The island of Pharos, Φάρος, just off the coast, is even mentioned in the Odyssey, the home of immortal Proteus and his daughter Eidothea, where Menelaus is detained for twenty days on his way home from Troy, although the island is described as a day's voyage from the coast, when it is in fact within sight of it [IV:355, Homer, The Odyssey, Volume II, translated by A.T. Murray, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard, 1919, 1995, p.145].

Pharos would be giving its name to the Pharos Lighthouse, built at the East end of the island -- one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Alexandria would also be distinguished by the Museum, Μουσεῖον, i.e. the place of the Muses (more a university than a museum), with its great Library, something later called a βιβλιοθήκη, Latin bibliotheca -- or librarium -- so that, for instance, in French bibliothèque is a library but librairie is a bookshop.

The Great Library was founded with the advice of the philosopher Demetrius of Phaleron, who lately had been the Macedonian governor of Athens (from 317 to 307, until the city was taken by Demetrius Poliorcetes). The Library was intended to have every book in the world in it, but with the provision that this be in Greek translation. Reportedly, ships were searched for books, which, if the Library did not already have them, were seized, copied, and then returned (hopefully before the ship had left).

Although the precise location of the Library is unknown, it is believed to have been in the Bruchion District, adjacent to the Museum and the Royal Palace. Subsequently, under Ptolemy II, another library is believed to have been created at the Serapeum, the temple to the invented Ptolemaic god Serapis.

The Mediaeval Roman scholar John Tzetzes (d.c.1180) reports that the main Library contained "400,000 composite books and 90,000 single books," while the "external" section -- the Serapeum? -- contained 42,800 papyrus rolls [N.G. Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium, Duckworth, 1983, 1996, p.195]. It is not clear where Tzetzes got his information, but he had access of sources from the Hellenistic Age that are lost to us, including the actual catalogue of the Library made by the poet Callimachus (d.240 BC), the Pinakes.

In Jewish tradition, related by Josephus, a friend of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Aristeas, wrote to Jerusalem, under Ptolemaic rule at the time, to ask the High Priest Elazar for permission to translate the Torah (the Pentateuch) from Hebrew into Greek. Elazar agreed, and selected 72 translators who then produced the Septuagint. While the "Letter of Aristeas" is sometimes said to be a Hasmonean, or later, forgery, Simeon ben Gamaliel, president of the Sanhedrin in the 1st century AD, ruled (according to the Palestinian Talmud) that the Torah could be written in Greek as well as Hebrew [cf. Alfred J. Kolatch, This is the Torah, Jonathan David Publishers, Middle Village, New York, 1988, pp.46-49]. Since the Library would have wanted the Bible in Greek, especially with a large Jewish community in Alexandria, and the Bible certainly was translated thereabouts at the time, this lends some weight to the "Letter of Aristeas," or some equivalent.

While the Library is sometimes said to have been burned by the Arabs in 641 AD, it is likely that the original had already been destroyed. When that would have happened is an obscure and controversial matter. Both Plutarch and Ammianus Marcellinus positively assert that the Library burned in the course of the fighting between Caesar (hold up in the Palace with Cleopatra) and (her brother) Ptolemy XIII, when Caesar set fire to hostile ships, and the fire spread into the city.

However, other writers, like Dio Cassius, provide details that appear to go back to a lost treatment by Livy, that the fire was confined to the harbor area, where it chanced that some scrolls were burned. While it is not clear whether these scrolls were actual books, or simply blank papyrus stock, it does mean that the libraries escaped harm. This seems consistent with a subsequent visit of Strabo (d.c.24 AD) to the apparently undamaged Library. Luciano Canfora argues in this vein [The Vanished Library, A Wonder of the Ancient World, 1987, translated by Martin Ryle, University of California, 1990], also citing Orosius (c.418 AD).

However, Orosius understands that books were burned, and gives a figure of 400,000, which sounds like the magnitude reported for the whole Library [Orosius, Seven Books of History against the Pagans, translated with an introduction and notes by A.T. Fear, Liverpool University Press, 2010, p.296]. A.T. Fear agrees with Canfora that Livy, the source for Dio, Orosius, and others, had only given a figure of 40,000 (& Confora argues that his is also the number in alternative manuscripts of Orosius) and allows that the burned books or scrolls may indeed have been in harbor warehouses [p.297, note 226]. It is a shame that what were really the contemporary sources for these events have been lost.

The testimony of Plutarch and Ammianus, however, is an indication that by their time, the Library was gone. This is puzzling in the case of Plutarch, who died after 120 AD, since the likely occasions for the destruction of the Library are all subsequent to this. The best candidate may be the earliest. The Emperor Aurelian retrieved the East from Zenobia in 272 AD. Egypt was part of Zenobia's acquisitions, but the records place all of the fighting in Syria and Palmyra. On the other hand, Ammianus says that "under the rule of Aurelian, the quarrels of the citizens [of Alexandria] turned to deadly strife; and then her walls were destroyed and she lost the greater part of the district called Bruchion, which had long been the abode of distinguished men" [Ammianus Marcellinus II, translated by J.C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard, 1940, 1986, pp.303-305, boldface added]. So Aurelian, in reoccupying Egypt from Zenobia, had to deal with some kind of riot or revolt in Alexandria, in the course of which most of the Bruchion was destroyed, perhaps taking the Library with it -- although Ammianus does not actually say so (perhaps because he already thinks that the Library burned in the days of Caesar). Yet this is the most specific information from antiquity about destruction in the appropriate quarter of Alexandria.

Ths next possibility for damage to the Library is when Alexandria was burned and/or looted as the Emperor Diocletian put down the revolt of Achilleus in 298 AD. We don't have very good information about this, but it sounds like the city, under siege for eight months, suffered widespread damage. Politically, this looks like a more serious event, and a more protracted war, than in the reign of Aurelian. Yet its results are more a matter of inference.

Robin Waterfield apparently does not consider the events under Aurelian or Diocletian as decisive. He does not cite any specific evidence, but he thinks that the tsunami of 365 AD, reported (again) by Ammianus, may have "devastated" the Library [Dividing the Spoils, the War for Alexander the Great's Empire, Oxford, 2011, p.137 & p. 239, note 14]. I have not seen such a suggestion elsewhere, but we do know what a wall of water can do to buildings and books; and Alexandria was certainly vulernable and badly hit. This is a tempting possibility, but the theory is entirely speculative.

Meanwhile, we know that the Serapeum was destroyed in 391/392 AD, as the Emperor Theodosius closed pagan temples. There is no specific reference to the destruction of its library, so, for all we know, the library may already have been destoyed (in line with earlier events), or the books may have been dispersed.

If the destruction of the Great Library was ultimately the doing of the Arabs, we do have a story about it. In his Taʾrîkh al-Ḥukamaʾ, ʿAlî ibn al-Qifṭî (c.1172-1248) relates a dialogue between ʿAmr ibn al-ʿÂṣ, the conqueror of Egypt, and John Philoponus. John asked what was to be done with the books of the Library, and ʿAmr wrote an inquiry to the Caliph ʿUmar. The Caliph replied that if the books therein duplicated the Qurʾân, then they were unnecessary, and if they did not, or contradicted it, they were superfluous or pernicious. Either way they should be destroyed. ʿAmr ordered that the books be used to fire the public baths, which were thus fed for six months.

This story, however, is only attested in much later sources. ʾAl-Qifṭî writes in the 13th century, six hundred years after the events. An earlier version of the story, and perhaps its source, is related by Eutychius (877-940), the Melkite Patriarch of Alexandria (933-940). But Eutychius is still three hundred years after the event, and he may also be suspected of some bias and hostility in the matter. Just as significant is the internal incoherence of the story. John Philoponus was well known in Islamic philosophy, as Yaḥyâ an-Naḥwî, , "John the Grammarian." He had, however, died around 570, decades before the Islamic Conquest of Eqypt, with his works subject to comment by the younger Simplicius, who died around 560. So the exchange between John and ʿAmr cannot have happened, which casts doubt on the whole business. Willing to believe worse of Christians (who destroyed the Serapeum) than of Muslims, Gibbon dismissed the account. All things considered, the misadventures of earlier Roman history would seem the more likely explanation for the loss of the Great Library.

All the mystery, confusion, and speculation about the fate of the Library can have curious effects. In a book about irrational numbers, the mathematician Julian Havil refers to "the staged destruction of the academic riches of Alexandria:"

...the Romans (seemingly in 48 B.C.E.) razed the great Library of Alexandria with its estimated 500,000 manuscripts, the Christians (in 392 C.E.) pillaged Alexandria's Temple of Serapis with its possible 300,000 manuscripts, and finally the Muslims burnt thousands more of its book (in about 640 C.E.). [The Irrationals, A Story of the Numbers You Can't Count On, Princeton University Press, 2012, pp.11-12]

So Havil has come away with the impression that the Library was destroyed all over again on more than one occasion. One wonders what he has been reading, especially as the numbers he gives are larger than are featured in the primary sources -- approaching a million books, depending what "thousands more" means for the Arabs. And the accidental fire in the day of Caesar is now converted into a deliberate act, that he "razed the great Library." I don't know why Caesar could possibly have wanted to destroy the Library. Perhaps he has been confused with the Caliph Omar. Well, why not. Perhaps every reference to the loss of books, or damage to the city, was true. That's one way to look at it.

An equal or greater mystery than the fate of the Library is that of the tomb of Alexander the Great, the Sema or Soma, Σῶμα, which contained the mummified body of Alexander, after it had been transported from Babylon and stolen by Ptolemy I. With attested visits from Julius Caesar to Caracalla, references to the tomb continue into the Middle Ages, as with the great traveler Masʿûdî (896-956), with uncertainty increasing about whether the original tomb is being shown, or something else has become misidentified as the tomb. Subsequently, references simply disappear, and we are left with no hint of what happened to it.

One thing that was later being shown as the "tomb" of Alexander turned out to be the sarcophagus of Nectanebo II, which now is in the British Museum. How this could have happened is discussed at the link.

Various efforts have been made to locate any evidence of its foundations under modern Alexandria, but the results seem negative or inconclusive. There is also now the story, or speculation, that the tomb was actually at the Siwa Oasis, which Alexander had visited in his own lifetime, to consult the Oracle of Amun. However, I am aware of no reference in ancient history to the tomb being there, while references to persons like Julius Caesar visiting the tomb do not involve accounts of the demanding journey that would have been necessary to reach the oasis. So I expect that, if any evidence of the tomb survives, it lies buried under today's Alexandria.

Perhaps the strangest claim about the great Library of Alexandria derives from "Afro-Centric" claims about Egypt, specifically that the Library held the ancient wisdom of Egypt and that Greek philosophers, like Aristotle, "stole" Greek philosophy from it. There is so much about such an idea that is preposterous, yet in the 1990's I saw sober academics from Princeton University calmly asserting that Aristotle had "stolen" his philosophy in that way -- not anyone, actually, who knew anything about Aristotle or Egypt -- and, certainly, anyone denying the claim might worry about being accused of racism. While, in response to such things, it was typically noted that Aristotle had died before the Library was even built, the problems with the claim go far deeper than that. Not just the Library, but the entire city of Alexandria did not exist in Aristotle's lifetime. This was because Alexandria was not an Egyptian city at all, but a Greek one, founded by Alexander the Great. Which is why it is named after him. Still -- , ʾAl-ʾIskandarîya.

In the era of the Ptolemies it would never be an Egyptian city, even as no Ptolemaic monarch ever learned Egyptian, except, it seems, for the last one, Cleopatra VII. Since Alexandria was a Greek city, its Library was a Greek library. If the Library had held the wisdom of the Egyptians, then one would expect its books to be in Egyptian. Which means that Aristotle would have been unable to read them. Indeed, while one expects that there were many Greeks who would have learned to speak Egyptian, there is no record of any Greek or Roman writer who had learned Egyptian, said so, and wrote knowledgeably about it. The Greeks expected foreigners, βάρβαροι, to learn Greek. And later writers who wrote, for instance, about hieroglyphics, like Plutarch, obviously didn't really know anything about them and said absurd things that confused scholars until the 19th century.

At the same time, even Greeks who must have learned some Egyptian did not thereby necessarily learn to read hieroglyphics, which were associated by all with the Egyptian priesthood, whose motivation to teach such things to foreigners was miniscule or non-existent. It is possible that some Greeks might have learned to read or write the cursive script of Demotic; but, again, we have no information from anyone who would have done so, or would have known anything about it. Finally, there were going to be Egyptians who wrote about Egypt in Greek, beginning with Manethô. Someone like Manethô, who clearly had access to Egyptian sources, such as King Lists, was at pains to present Egypt in the best possible light and to promote its greatness and importance. And he liked the idea that some Greek philosophers, like Thales or Pythagoras, had come to Egypt; but somehow it escaped him that Aristotle had taken all of his thought out of a Library that had not yet existed, and didn't have books in the Egyptian language anyway. So this whole business is a modern fantasy of ethnic and, truly, racist mythologizing.

Besides the translation of the Bible, another consequence of the presence of the Jewish community at Alexandria may have been the growing use, even by pre-Christian pagans, of the seven day week. This was, to be sure, not directly associated with Judaism, but with a version of the week produced in Alexandria in terms of the seven planets. The "planetary" week is preserved in most of the languages of Francia, even while there is nothing of the sort in modern Greek, Hebrew, or Arabic. Few languages, perhaps only Welsh and English, retain all the planetary names, with Jewish and Christian terms, usually for Saturday and/or Sunday, intruding elsewhere. "Sunday," indeed, retains the strongest pagan association as, even for Constantine, it commemorated the veneration of Sôl Invictus, the state god of the Tetrarchy.

Φιλάδελφος, "Philadelphus," "brotherly (or sibling) love," was a name assumed by Ptolemy II because he had married his sister, Arsinoë (Ἀρσινόη, also Φιλάδελφος -- compounds are declined in the Second Declension [-ος] even when feminine). This was in immitation of Egyptian mythology and became a Ptolemaic practice.

Later, when Κλεοπάτρα, Cleopatra (VII, picture below right, bas relief from Deir el Bahri) met Julius Caesar in 48 BC, she was already married, at 16, to her brother and co-ruler, Ptolemy XIII. She also happened to be at war with him! Caesar helped defeat her brother, who died in the process. Formally marrying a younger brother, Ptolemy XIV, Cleopatra actually lived with Caesar, and went back to Rome with him in 46. After Caesar was assassinated in 44, she returned to Egypt, killed her brother, and formally associated her son by Caesar, Caesarion, with her as Ptolemy XV. The conquest of Egypt by Octavian/Augustus, resulted in Cleopatra and her new Roman protector, Anthony, committing suicide, and Caesarion being killed by Octavian.

In the clever HBO series Rome (2005-2007), Caesarion is actually the natural son of a Roman solider, not Caesar, a soldier who is himself charged with killing the boy, but who, of course, saves him instead. The series ends with the two of them walking off together. The portrayal of Cleopatra in the series, by actress Lyndsey Marshal, I think is one of the best in memory. At 27, Marshal was older than the young Cleopatra, but then about as much younger than the older Cleopatra, who died at 39.

At the beginning of the table above, and at left, we see the names "Ptolemy" and "Cleopatra" as they were written in hieroglyphics. Since Egyptian didn't write vowels, and didn't have the letter "l," certain glyphs have been adapted to write the vowels and "l" in these Greek names. The Egyptian values of the glyphs are shown in red, and the alternate Greek values in blue. The name "Ptolemy" on the Rosetta Stone, which was identified by the royal cartouche wrapped around it, was the beginning of the decipherment of hieroglyphics -- although the evident use of vowels confused matters for a little while. Even here, however, not all the vowels are well indicated. "Ptolemy" leaves out an "e" and ends by poorly representing the group "aio" in Greek. The name "Cleopatra" (Cleopatra I was a Seleucid princess who married Ptolemy V) ends with the consonant "t," which in Egyptian indicates the feminine gender ending and is only pronounced as the vowel "a." At the very end is the determinative of an egg, which evidently is used to reinforce the feminine gender ending.

In the strange political project of turning all Egyptians into Nubians, or even Nigerians, the Ptolemies pose a special challenge, since they weren't Egyptians at all but are nevertheless roped into the business because Cleopatra is too famous an Egyptian not to actually have been an Egyptian. The easiest procedure is simply to ignore the history altogether, which one sees in claims that Aristotle stole all the knowledge of Egypt from the Library at Alexandria -- overlooking little problems like that the Library, or even the City, didn't even exist yet, or that the books in the Library were all in Greek -- or that Cleopatra has unaccountably ended up with a Greek name ("Father's Fame") -- the name of Alexander the Great's sister, which was only introduced into Egypt with the marriage of Ptolemy V to Cleopatra I, a daughter of Antiochus III. Once the history is actually acknowledged, a fall-back position is possible:  The name of Cleopatra's grandmother, the third wife of Ptolemy IX, is unknown. To those in the right frame of mind (i.e. "critical race theory" paranoia), this is clear evidence that this woman was Egyptian, or Black, or both -- with her identity concealed by racist historians, past and present. Well, OK. A black grandmother would make Cleopatra black by the laws of South Carolina. That no Ptolemies before Cleopatra herself even spoke Egyptian may, however, tell against their marrying one, of whatever complexion.

The Ptolemaic chronology and genealogy here is mainly from C. Bradford Welles, Alexander and the Hellenistic World [A.A. Hakkert Ltd., Toronto, 1970] and E.J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World [Cornell U. Press, 1982]. It all can be very confusing. Some older treatments of the Ptolemies leave out Ptolemy XI and reduce the numbers of the higher Ptolemies (XII, XIII, XIV & XV) by one (to XI, XII, XIII & XIV), or insert an extra Ptolemy IX (a dead son of Ptolemy VIII), turn Ptolemy X into Ptolemy XII (keeping Ptolemy XI the same), and increase the numbers of the higher Ptolemies by one (to XIII, XIV, XV & XVI) [cf. E.M. Forster, Alexandria, Doubleday, 1961, Oxford University Press, 1986, pp.14-15 -- Forster also has exchanged numbers between Ptolemy VII and Ptolemy VIII]. The latter numbering is indicated in red next to the standard numbering. Cleopatra VI is sometimes counted as Cleopatra V because Cleopatra V and Cleopatra IV have sometimes been regarded as the same person. It is rarely noted that Cleopatra (VII) and Marc Anthony had a daughter, Cleopatra Selene, who married Juba II, King of Numidia. They had a son, Ptolemy, who reigned until about 40 AD. The HBO series Rome, which ran for two seasons, featured the conceit that the father of Caesarion was actually a Roman soldier, bedded by Cleopatra as insurance that Caesar would believe she had conceived by him. As luck would have it, this soldier was the one later charged with killing the boy. The series ended with, as we might imagine, him saving the child, his own son, instead of killing him.

In the time of the Ptolemies, between 117 and 109 BC, Eudoxus of Cyzicus, Εὔδοξος ὁ Κυζικηνός (not to be confused with Eudoxus of Cnidos), is supposed to have learned how to use the monsoons to sail all the way from Egypt to India and back. We are told by Posidonius, Ποσειδώνιος (c.135-c.51 BC), that a shipwrecked sailor from India had been brought to Ptolemy VIII with information on how to sail to India. Eudoxus was assigned the task and accomplished the voyage. Arab sailors had certainly already been doing this, and knew about using the monsoon, but they may have kept their knowledge secret, the way the Phoenicians did. After establishing the route to India in two voyages, which included a side trip down the African coast, where Eudoxus is said to have recognized the wreckage of a Phoenician ship, he is supposed to have attempted sailing around Africa on the Atlantic side. The Phoenicians had already explored the West coast of Africa, and may have circumnavigated the continent, but they kept their knowledge secret (except for a notice in Herodotus, which he heard from the Egyptians), and Eudoxus abandoned his attempt.

We find considerable lore about Indian Ocean sailing in the stories of Sindbad the Sailor in the One Thousand and One Nights. In more historical terms, the establishment of the trade route to India leads to the Roman colonies that we later find there, and to the extraordinary story of a Roman embassy in 166 AD that went by sea and by way of India to the Court of the Later Han Dynasty. That this is attested by no Roman historians and seems to have led to no regular contact or mutual arrangements is disappointing. Regular contact between Constantinople and the T'ang Dynasty would be established in 643 AD by overland routes.

Index of Egyptian History

In the End Game of the Hellenistic Period, local powers surge into brief glory with the collapse of the Seleucids. An Armenian Kingdom will not again touch the Mediterranean until Lesser Armenia in the 12th century. Pontus briefly turns the Black Sea into a Pontic lake. In 88 Mithridates VI invaded Asia Minor and massacred Romans (First Mithridatic War, 88-85). In 87 he was in Greece, but then he was defeated by Sulla in 86 and withdrew from his conquests in 85. When he occupied Bithynia in 74, this provoked a massive conflict (the Third Mithridatic War, 74-63). Defeats by Pompey and an internal revolt led to Mithridates' suicide (63). The map thus shows the situation just before this final crisis. Pompey's settlement of the East in 63 extends direct Roman control all around the Eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, the Greek presence in Bactria is crumbling. The Sakas and Kushans have arrived off the steppe and will dominate India and Central Asia for some time. The Parthians are solidly established, applying pressure in both Syria and India. Of the Kingdoms of the Diadochi, only Egypt remains. In 59 BC, Ptolemy XII secures Roman protection with a bribe to the Triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. He is overthrown by his daughter Bernice in 58 but is then restored in 55 by the Roman governor of Syria, Gabinius, with a promise of 10,000 talents of silver (perhaps $900 million dollars). Caesar arrived in Egypt in 48 to deal with Ptolemy's daughter Cleopatra, as recounted above.

The Kingdom of the Nabataeans
Harithath (Aretas) I169 BC-144
Maliku (Malichus) I144-110
Harithath (Aretas) II110-95
ʿUbaidah (Obodas) I95-87
ʾar-Rabil (Rabbel) I87
Harithath III (Aretas Philhellen, )87-62
Roman Client, 63 BC
ʿUbaidah (Obodas) II62-c.50
Maliku (Malichus) IIc.50-28
ʿUbaidah (Obodas) III28-9
Harithath IV (Aretas Philopatris)9 BC-c.40 AD
Maliku (Malichus) IIIc.40-c.70
ʾar-Rabil II (Rabbel Soter)c.71-106
Maliku (Malichus) IV106
Roman Province
The Kingdom of the Nabataeans, Greek Ναβαταίοι, Nabataíoi (singular Ναβαταίος, Nabataíos), and Arabic , ʾan-Nabaṭ, or , ʾal-ʾAnbâṭ (singular , Nabaṭî -- see
discussion of the grammar of words like these), is in the area the Romans called Arabia Petraea, "rocky" Arabia, in contrast to Arabia Felix, "happy" or "fortunate" Arabia and Arabia Deserta, "desert" Arabia. Arabia Felix was no less than the distant center of its own civilization in Yemen. "Arabia Petraea" gives or derives its name from the capital of the Nabataeans, the remarkable city of Πέτρα, Petra, "rock" in Greek, which is still today one of the major tourist attractions of Jordon and has figured as a location in many movies, such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The familiar images of Petra are the facades of tombs, temples, and perhaps some public buildings. The Nabataeans were too wise to build their actual dwellings on or the near the floor of canyons and defiles that were subject to unpredictable but devastating flash floods. Not much remains of their clifftop homes.

Travelers approach Petra through the , Siq, the narrow passage that leads dramatically into the city, which has already been shown here in the two images at left, with the first one featuring a fellow traveler, on a donkey, just ahead. Washed out by the sunlight is the building in the next three photographs. Since the Siq is itself a conduit for flash floods, the canyon, its sites, and its tourists are now protected by a dam at the entrance.

Here we see the imposing façade of what is called the "Treasury," although its real function is unknown. There are few images more familiar, or more beautiful, in the catalogue of ancient ruins. Visiting the site in 1970, everyone in my group was puzzled by what we were seeing. The façades on the cliffs, and the chambers cut behind them, did not look like dwellings; and indeed they are tombs. But few candiates for dwellings were in evidence. Some of the façades were large enough, and the spaces behind them as well, that they did have the look of public buildings. The "Treasury," however, the most majestic of these, had the disadvantage of being directly in the path, virtually the target, of any flood waters coming out of the Siq. It is hard to imagine that there was not occasionally some considerably damage, since flood waters typically carry debris.

The rocks themselves of Arabia Petraea are spectacular multicolored sandstones -- as in the dramatic tomb at left. There are few places that look quite like this, but Americans have something similar in the areas of Utah and Arizona around the Colorado River. The cliffs and passages sculpted by centuries of flash floods will also look familiar to Americans, especially from the canyons and defiles leading down into the lake in Glen Canyon.

The Nabataeans apparently were never under the rule of any of the Greek kingdoms and made an excellent living as the middle men on trade routes down all the way to Yemen. Eventually, the Kingdom was annexed as a Roman province. Note that the name Maliku is familiar as the Arabic word for "king," .

The images at right and left are, first of all, the theater carved out of the cliff. Where this was done can be seen in the following image, taken from down the wâdî, , where it opens out broadly enough that we find the remains of a Roman period cityscape. The theater was apparently cut into cliffs that already contained the sort of tombs familiar from elswhere, and this is evident, and can be discerned in the photograph, by the remains of the interior rooms that can still be seen above the theater.

Worship at Petra was conspicuously devoted to three familiar pre-Islamic goddesses of Arabia, ʾAl-ʿUzza, , ʾAllât, , and Manâh, . These figured at Mecca as the three "daughters of ʾAllâh," a notion rebuked in the Qurʾân, where God has neither daughters nor a Son.

We also have curious indications at Petra of royal brother-sister marriages and coregencies. This looks like the case with Maliku III and Shakilat, and their successors. They are portrayed on coins often the style of Ptolemaic brother-sister coregencies, which may betray the influence, although the Ptolemies were long gone by the time we find the indications here. Documents and inscriptions appear to demonstrate that women had full property rights in the Nabataean kingdom, which may be a function of the men being away on caravans for much of the year, with the women then needed to mind the business. The reminds us that Muhammad married into the trading business of his first wife, Khadîja, and that the Qurʾân preserves property and (some) inheritance rights for women. This may not have been an innovation.

While Petra is familiar from tourism and movies, there is a similar site further south that has hitherto remained obscure. This is ʾAl-ʿUlâ, , which is 340 miles south of Petra in Saʿudi Arabia. There are something like 100 Petra-like tombs cut into the rock at ʾAl-ʿUlâ. The city, benefiting from an abundant oasis, began in the 6th century BC, under its own rulers, an important station on the caravan route down to Yemen. The Babylonians were briefly present after 552 BC. The area became a possession of the Nabataeans around 100 BC.
Osrhoene or Edessa,
modern Urfa
Aryu132 BC-127
ʿAbdu bar Mazʿur127-120
Fardhasht bar Gebaʿu120-115
Bakru I115-112
Bakru II bar Bakru112-92
Maʿnu I94
Abgar I Piqa94-68
Abgar II bar Abgar68-53
Maʿnu II Aloho52-34
Faquri (Paqor)34-29
Abgar III29-26
Abgar IV Sumaqa26-23
Maʿnu III Saflul23-4
Abgar V Ukkama bar Maʿnu4 BC-7 AD,
Maʿnu IV bar Maʿnu7-13
Maʿnu V bar Abgar50-57
Maʿnu VI bar Abgar57-71
Roman Client, 63 AD
Abgar VI71-91
vacant, 91-109
Abgar VII bar Ezad109-116
vacant, 116-118
Yalud (Yalur)118-122
Frantsafat (Parthamaspat of Armenia)118-123
Maʿnu VII bar Ezad123-139
Maʿnu VIII bar Maʿnu139-163, 165-167 (165-177)
Waʾel bar Sahru163-165
Abgar VIII the Great167-214 (177-212)
Abgar IX Severus bar Abgar214-216 (212-214)
Maʿnu IX bar Abgar216-242 (214-240)
Abgar X Farhat bar Maʿnu242-244 (240-242)
Roman Province, 244
When the Romans annexed Petra in 106 AD, ʾAl-ʿUlâ went with it. As Roman frontier defense devolved on Arab allies like the
Ghassanids, we might wonder if ʾAl-ʿUlâ devolved in the same way. Then, of course, ʾIslâm arrived; and whatever the fate of the inland caravan route for trade, ʾAl-ʿUlâ suddenly found new importance on the annual Pilgrimage route to Mecca.

As Saʿudi Arabia liberalizes and opens up to non-Muslim foreigners, at least in relation to its previous hermetic and unfriendly status, the government decided that a tourism industry could be built around ʾAl-ʿUlâ, which is comfortably distant from the sacred sites of Mecca and Medina, which are closed to non-Muslims, and from the unaesthetic oil fields to the East. This is well under way, but a more significant feature of it is that the government also decided that archaeology would help tourism. Thus, foreign archaeologists have become welcome in the area; and ʾAl-ʿUlâ has begun to get the kind of attention that Petra has already had for more than a century.

Some discoveries are already eye-opening. From both excavations and petroglyphs, it turns out that human settlement in the area goes back to at least 5000 BC. At the time, there was still rain and a pastoral culture, not only out to the West in the Sahara, but in the northern desert across Arabia. We see many of the same kinds of petroglyphs, documenting pastoral culture, in the Sahara itself. Some of those where shown in the interesting movie, The Englilsh Patient [1996]. This now seems very bizarre, although perhaps not as bizarre as the small crocodiles that still live in the pools of some Saharan oases. The Saudis must figure that tourists will be eager to see the petroglyphs as well as the Nabatean ruins at ʾAl-ʿUlâ.

Edessa, Ἔδεσσα, the modern Urfa in Turkey, found its way from Seleucid rule, to Armenian, and then to Parthian. Then, after a ten year war, 53-63 AD, the Roman border was pushed across the upper Euphrates and Edessa became a Roman client. It survived in that fashion until the troubles of the 3rd century, when it finally became the Roman province of Osrhoene. It would become an important city from Late Roman times through the Middle Ages, a Center of the Syrian Orthodox faith, establishing the dialect of Classical Syriac, and then a Crusader State, the first -- after which it lapses into obscurity. Today in Turkey, the previously large Christian population of Urfa has mostly emigrated; and we have pressure on remaining Christian institutions, as with efforts to seize the nearby Mor Gabriel Monastery.

Emesa or Homs,
under Roman suzerainty
Sampsigeramus I69-43
vacant, 29-20
Imblichus II20-11
Sampsigeramus II11 BC-42 AD
Aziz (Asisus)42-54
Julius Sohemus54-73
Julius Alexiolate 1st century
Julius Sampsigeramus III (Shamashgeram)c.79
Julius Bassianus2nd century
father of Julia Domna and Julia Maesa of the Severans
Varius Avitus Bassianus ElagabalusRoman Emperor,
Sulpicius Uranius Antoninusthird century
To Palmyra, 261-271; Rome, 271
Emesa, Ἔμεσα, the modern Homs, (Ḥimṣ), is a city in central Syria over which the last shreds of Seleucid authority were maintained. As it began to achieve autonomy in 69 BC, it would only be six years before Pompey arrived to reduce the region to Roman vassalage. Emesa did have its peculiarities. The Kings were Priests of a Phoenician sun god, and after 73 AD they had no other function. Perhaps this is why the dates are so poorly attested. They were of no political significance.

This obscurity was abruptly and dramatically reversed when a daughter of King Julius Bassianus, Julia Domna, married Septimius Severus (187), who would become Roman Emperor in 193 AD. It was the Bassiani women who then dominated the "Severan" dynasty of Rome. This reached its unlikely and tragicomic culmination with the Emperor Elagabalus (or Heliogabalus), who himself assumed the Priest-Kingship of Emesa. The Emperor's behavior, both personal and ritual, was scandalous to the Romans, whose elite opinion had always despised "eastern" cults anyway. Elagabalus and his mother were then murdered, to be succeeded, however, by his more conventional cousin, Alexander, and his mother. Nevertheless, for all its peculiarities, this was the last period of stability before the free-for-all of Emperors into which the Third Century plunged.

We must also reflect on the extraordinary circumstance by which the antics of Elagabalus not only contravened traditional Roman hostility to Eastern religious cults, with their questionable practices and morality, but that the entire Severan dynasty has no ethnic ties to Rome, Latium, or Italy whatsoever. Septimius Severus himself was of North African Punic, i.e. Phoenician, origin, naturalized as a Roman citizen but, reportedly, never free of his "African" accent. I have decided to call him "the Revenge of Hannibal." Then he marries a Syrian woman, who drags along her sister, nieces, and grandchildren with her. So the entire Severan house is non-Jewish Semites -- even as the son of Septimius, Caracalla, granted Roman citizenship to all free subjects of Rome (212). Some modern historians seem to find all this disturbing. Rome, to them, is no longer Rome. I have even wondered if we could call such concerns anti-Semitism. Were these "Romans" still really Romans? Well, to the Romans they were. It never occurs to subsequent Roman historians to express alarm that the old, ethnic Romans have dissolved into the larger population. Well, after a few centuries, something like that was likely to happen.

The lists for the Nabataeans, Edessa, and Emesa are all from Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies. I have seen the rulers in no books of Hellenistic or Roman history.

Odrysian Kings
Kersivaulosc.260Kotys IIc.260
Tires IVc.250Adeosc.235
Rascouporis Ic.213Seuthes IV213-175
To Macedon, 208-183
To Pergamon,183-180
Tires Vc.183-148
Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies are also the sources the Kings of Thrace listed here. I have also not seen them in books of Greek, Hellenistic, or Roman history.

After the fall of Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy Ceraunus, and with Celtic tribes pouring across the land, Thrace lapsed into anarchy. Nevertheless, the native Odrysian dynasty began to reorganize.
Kingdom of Odrissae
Kotys III180-168
To Rome, 168-150
Tires VIc.149
To Rome, 140-73
Amodokos IVc.90-c.80
Kingdom of Astean
Kotys Ic.100-c. 87
Sadalas Ic.87-c.80
Kotys IIc.80-45
Sadalas II44-42
To Sapes, 42-31
Sadalas IIIc.31
Kotys III31-18
Kotys IV11
To Rome, 11 BC

It was never going to be all that organized. Multiple poorly attested Kings confuse the picture and make for a very problematic chronology. After a while, further fragmentation occurs; and we get the development of more than one Kingdom, or we might even say "tribes." Very little attention gets paid to this in Hellenistic histories, and Thrace seems to just disappear off the maps after the end of the Kingdom of Lysimachus. Under Roman suzerainty, however, the Kingdoms become somewhat better known. Like most of the Kingdoms of Asia Minor, the Thracians are eventually absorded into the Roman state.

Just who the Thracians were is a matter of uncertainty and controversy. Their language, which is very poorly attested, is believed to be Indo-European; but its affinities are tenuous. The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History [Colin McEvedy, 2002] shows Thracian clearly linked only to the Phrygians,
Kingdom of Sapes
Kotys Ic.55-48
Kotys IIc. 42-31
Roimitalkes I31-13
Kotys III (VIII)southeast, 13 BC-18 AD
Raskouporis IIInorthwest, 13 BC-18 AD
Roimitalkes II18-37
Roimitalkes III18-46
To Rome, 46 AD
Dacians, and Armenians. Later states, such as Cappadocia, Bithynia, and Pontus are shown as linguistically related, but these were all probably speaking descendants or dialects of Phrygian. Moreover, Philip Baldi [An Introduction to the Indo-European Languages, Southern Illinois University Press, 1983] says:  "Although many comparativists have listed Armenian as a member of the Thraco-Phrygian group, this highly speculative classification is not well substantiated by the Thraco-Phrygian data" [p.79]. Thracian is so poorly attested, even in comparison to Phrygian, that many sources in historical linguistics do not even mention the existence of a Thraco-Phrygian group (e.g. Robert S.P. Beekes, Comparative Indo-European Linguistics, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam, Philadelphia, 1995, pp.22-23). The lack of evidence about these languages does not necessarily mean that the people were illiterate. Literacy came to mean reading and writing Greek, and much of the evidence for the languages themselves is preserved in Greek glosses or inscriptions or epigraphs in the Greek alphabet.

In the final map, below, we see the results of the reign of Augustus, who brought the Hellenistic Period to its end. Various remnant vassal kingdoms are subject to Rome. Some, like Armenia, will persist all through Roman history. Parthia is at its apogee, with perhaps loosely controlled (and poorly understood) Parthian satraps, the Suren, now exercising control in India. Meanwhile the Chinese, at the end of the Former Han Dynasty, have arrived in the Tarim Basin.

The Olympic and the Other Panhellenic Games

Hellenistic Philosophy, 322 BC to 235 AD

History Continued, The Parthian Arsacids, 248 BC-227 AD

History Continued, Rome and Romania, 27 BC-1453 AD

Greek History Index

Hellenistic Index

History of Philosophy

Philosophy of History

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Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Hellenistic Monarchs down to the Roman Empire, Note 1;
Note on Aśoka

The names in parentheses above are those of Hellenistic Kings from inscriptions of Aśoka, (c.274/269-232; Pali, Asoka), who had unified India and then embraced Buddhism. Across India, Aśoka erected pillars, with inscriptions, and carved other inscriptions on rock faces -- all detailing his achievements, intentions, and sentiments. The Hellenistic Kings are mentioned in §13 of what are called the "Major Rock Edicts," which are long inscriptions on rock faces that display similar texts, often in different languages. In 1958 an inscription was found in Kandahar, Afghanistan, that was actually in Greek (because of the previous domain of the Greek Kings of Bactria). Unfortunately, given the chance to see the names of the Kings in their original language, §13 of the Major Rock Edict text was not included. Otherwise we get some variations in the spelling, as in Yuramara for Turamaya, i.e. "Ptolemy," or Maka for Maga, i.e. "Magas" [cf. A Comprehensive Study of the Aokan Inscription, Volume, I, by Keisho Tsukamoto, Noritake Kaigen, & Kojika Hroaki, Purika, Tokyo, 2010, pp.461-466].

After deciding that his conquests in India had involved cruelty and wrong, Aśoka decided to spread "conquest" through the teaching of Buddhism, the dharma, -- pronounced dhamma, , in the Pali language much used in early Buddhism. In §13 he says that this "conquest" has been won against the Greek King, , Yonaraja (, Yavanarâja in Sanskrit), Antiochus (II), and beyond him four others, Ptolemy (II), Antigonus (II), Magas (, Maga, of Cyene), and Alexander (II of Epirus). Exactly how this "conquest" had been effected is a little mysterious. Missionaries were probably involved, as with other cases of the spread of Buddhism, or Aśoka may have written letters -- as the Prophet Muhammad would later do to the Roman Emperor and the Shah of Persia.

However he did it, Aśoka's information seems to date from around the year 247, the year in which both Antiochus II and Ptolemy II died. While the Seleucid, Ptolemaic, and Antigonid Kings are what we might expect to be known in India, we see two minor kings, of Cyene and Epirus. The priority of Antiochus is not surprising, given Indian trade that would have gone up the Persian Gulf and found the Seleucid Kingdom at its end -- and also on the borders of India -- but the other Kings, major and minor, may reflect information by way of Egypt, where traders from India and perhaps even Buddhist missionaries were probably present. Otherwise it is hard to know how the fame of Magas of Cyrene would have spread to the notice of the Emperor of India.

No Greek historian mentions letters from Aśoka or Buddhist missionaries, whose presence, such as it was, vanishes without a trace -- although the halo of Christian iconography, and even Christian monasticism, is sometimes thought to have come from India. The reference to the Hellenistic Kings in Aśoka's inscriptions, however, makes the reign of Aśoka the earliest benchmark for chronology in Indian history.

While Aśoka's inscriptions are in many languages, and the form of the words is often from Pali, but I have rendered the names in the Devanagari syllabary because of its familiarity and current use for Hindi.

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Hellenistic Monarchs down to the Roman Empire, Note 2;
Note on Alexandria, Habitation Names

While we tend to refer to people as from certain towns, such as "Heraclitus of Ephesus," using the name of the town, the Greeks used dedicated adjectives or nouns for those derived from or living in the towns, i.e. Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφεσίος, "Heraclitus the Ephesian," with an adjective derived from Ἔφεσος, "Ephesus," or Ξενοφάνης ὁ Κολοφώνιος, "Xenophanes the Colophonian," from Κολοφών, "Colophon." The poet Simonides of Ceos, Σιμωνίδης ὁ Κεῖος, is from Κέως. Much like Ceos is the island of Cos, Κῶς, whose inhabitant is a Κῷος.

These forms, "toponyms" or "habitation names," are varied and unpredictable; and we would have much the same problem in trying to use English equivalents. For several of these in the Apology, see here, or for more Presocratic philosophers, here.

With Alexandria, a male "Alexandrian" is an Ἀλεξανδρεύς, Alexandreús. This declines the same way as βασιλεύς, basileús, "king." The genitive of it is Ἀλεξανδρέως, Alexandréôs, "of an Alexandrian." The nominative plural, "Alexandrians," is Ἀλεξανδρεῖς, Alexandreîs. We also get the alternative form, an adjective, Ἀλεξανδρῖνος, Alexandrînos.

That is all well and good, but there are also women Alexandrians; and we need feminine forms for the habitation names. This is easy with Ἀλεξανδρῖνος, where the feminine will be Ἀλεξανδρίνη. With Ἀλεξανδρεύς we have a challenge. There is, as it happens, a feminine form for βασιλεύς, which is βασίλεια, "queen." Unfortuntately, the corresponding form for the expected feminine "Alexandrian" already exists. It is Ἀλεξάνδρεια, which is the name of the city itself. So what can be done? Or do we just resort to Ἀλεξανδρίνη?

Even the unabridged Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon [Oxford, 1843, 1940, 1996] is no help. In the main text it gives Alexander's name, Ἀλέξανδρος, simply as an adjective meaning no more than "defending men" [p.62]. In the "Supplement" of 1996, we get no more than the adjectives Ἀλεξανδρῖνος and Ἀλεξάνδρειος, with the former defined as "of Alexandrian workmanship" and the latter as "of Alexander." Even Ἀλεξάνδρεια is itself given, not as the name of the city, but as a neuter plural (τά) meaning "festival in honour of Alexander" [p.17]. There is also the problem with these that, as compound adjectives, they do not take first declension endings for the feminine. This would mean that Ἀλεξανδρίνη is not even an allowed form and that we could use Ἀλεξανδρεύς for both men and women -- we don't need to worry about finding a feminine form. But the grammatical principles are violated in the name of Alexandria itself, which is clearly a first declension singular, not a neuter plural. And there are other names that violate the principle, like the Muse Καλλιόπη. This can motivate us to find a first declension habitation name.

As it happens, this was already an issue over inflections with "queen." What looks a lot like βασίλεια, "queen," is βασιλεία, which means "royalty." This is part of the famous saying by the Empress Theodora:

ἐμὲ γάρ τις καὶ παλαιὸς ἀρέσκει λόγος, ὡς καλὸν ἐντάφιον ἡ βασιλεία ἐστί.
For me, I approve an ancient saying, that "Royalty makes a fine shroud."

"Queen," βασίλεια, and "royalty," βασιλεία, differ only in accent. One reason for the difference, however, is that "queen" ends with a short vowel, βασίλειᾰ, while "royalty" ends with a long one βασιλείᾱ (as glossed by Liddell & Scott). An accent cannot be more than one syllable ahead of a long vowel.

Unfortunately, we cannot quite take advantage of that with Ἀλεξάνδρεια, where we see that the final vowel must already be short. Just as, if we get confused by "queen" and "royalty," we can always resort to alternative words for "queen," which include βασίλισσα and βασιλίς, perhaps we may be back again to Ἀλεξανδρίνη (or the, strictly correct, second declension form).

In fact, I have not seen an attested feminine version of Ἀλεξανδρεύς. They may be out there, but I have not come across one yet, in print or on line. Perhaps it is the grammatical scruple -- although, as we have seen, there are scholars who ignore this issue when they shouldn't.

I am intrigued by a possibility, however. There are adjectives of the form like "sweet," which in the (nominative, singular) masculine is ἡδύς, in the feminine is ἡδεῖα, and in the neuter ἡδύ. In citation, adjectives are generally listed in the sequence "masculine, feminine, neuter"; but I have given the feminine first in the table, first because that is what I am concerned with here, second because the masculine and neuter generally share three cases, which are more succinctly displayed this way. In the neuter, nominative, accusative, and vocative are always the same. For discussion of case structure in general, and not just in Indo-European languages, see here.

If we follow the paradigm of ἡδύς, then the feminine of Ἀλεξανδρεύς would be Ἀλεξανδρεῖα. Here, with an allowed circumflex accent, we can distinguish a female "Alexandrian" from "Alexandria," in much the same way that "queen" and "royalty" are distinguished, and in line with attested forms like ἡδεῖα. I like it. Even if I have never seen it anywhere. But I'm going to use it. And I'm going to use it for Hypatia:  Ὑπατία ἡ Ἀλεξανδρεῖα.

Return to Hypatia

Feudal Hierarchy

κατ᾽ εἰκόνα Θεοῦ ἐποίησεν αὐτόν, ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς.
Ad imaginem Dei creavit illum; masculum et feminam creavit eos.
In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis, 1:27; color added.

ἔτι δὲ τὸ ἄρρεν πρὸς τὸ θῆλυ φύσει τὸ μὲν κρεῖττον τὸ δὲ χεῖρον,
τὸ μὲν ἄρχον τὸ δ᾽ ἀρχόμενον.

Again, the male against the female is by nature stronger and the latter inferior, the former ruler and the latter ruled.

Aristotle, Politics, I.2.12, translated by H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1932, 1998, pp.20-21; ἄρρην, Attic for ἄρσην, "male"; translation modified; color added.

Γραμματικοῦ θυγάτηρ ἔτεκεν φιλότητι μιγεῖσα
    παιδίον ἀρσενικόν, θηλυκόν, οὐδέτερον.

A grammarian's daughter, having known love,
gave birth to a masculine, feminine, and neuter child.

Palladas of Alexandria, The Greek Anthology, Volume III, Book IX, Epigram 489, translated by W.R. Paton, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard Univesity Press, 1917, p.273; translation modified; color added.

Male & Female in Greek

Another adjective that declines like ἡδύς, ἡδεῖα, ἡδύ is θῆλυς, θήλεια, θῆλυ, which is the Greek word for "female" (cf. θηλή, "teat, nipple"). What is curious about this is that it may seem paradoxical for the word "female" to occur in masculine, feminine, and neuter genders. In fact we see it in the neuter in the two Greek texts above, first the
Septuagint of Genesis 1:27, where God "created them male and female," ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς, and second in one of Aristotle's comments about sex differences in the Politics.

In Genesis, "male" and "female" are both in the accusative, but we do not see the expected feminine θήλειαν here. Now, Liddell & Scott say that θῆλυς can be used as both masculine and feminine, but the form that we see in Genesis, θῆλυ, is only the accusative of the neuter θῆλυ (rather than masculine/feminine accusative θῆλυν). We don't see this anomaly in Latin, where the Vulgate has masculum et feminam creavit eos, where the words for "masculine" and "feminine" are familiar and are in the familiar accusative masculine and feminine genders.

As it happens, the word for "male" at Genesis 1:27 also seems anomalous. The adjective for "male" is ἄρσην, for masculine and feminine, and ἄρσεν in the neuter (genitive ἄρσενος). One does not find the paradigm for this in the thorough tables of Chase and Phillips [Harvard, 1941, 1961]. Instead, just to find a mention of ἄρσην (or its alternative ἄρρην), we must dive into Herbert Smyth's Greek Grammar [Harvard, 1920, 1966], where we find it, without a full paradigm in §291 [p.77]. A full paradigm can be found at Wiktionary (a tribute to the remarkable resources on the Internet). As this occurs in the text, ἄρσεν looks just as neuter as θῆλυ, probably for the same reason.

Now, gender in languages does not always follow what is called "natural gender." In German, Mädel and Mädchen, both meaning "girl," are also both of the neuter gender. We also get this kind of thing in Greek, where τέκνον;, "child," is neuter. However, Liddell & Scott cite something a little different, in the expression τὸ θῆλυ γένος, "the female kind," where the noun, γένος, "kind," is itself neuter. This can then just be abbreviated to τὸ θῆλυ. This may explain what we see in the Genesis example. It is certainly what we see in the statement by Aristotle, where τὸ ἄρρεν is clearly both neuter and nominative, while τὸ θῆλυ is neuter and accusative (because it is the object of the preposition πρός). Since nominative and accusative forms are always identical in the neuter, the grammar of "male" and "female" here looks the same.

Κρεῖττον, "stronger," is a word whose forms we keep seeing. Most importantly we see it in Plato's Republic, where there is analysis and links in a footnote.

Return to Ptolemies

Note on Gender in Arabic

Critique of Feminism

Gender Stereotypes and Sexual Archetypes

Philosophy of Science, Linguistics

Hellenistic Philosophy

322 BC to 235 AD

Hellenistic Philosophy overlaps the Hellenistic Period (from Alexander the Great, d.323, to Cleopatra, d.30 BC) and the Early Roman Empire (30 BC to the death of Alexander Severus, 235 AD). Afterwards, we get into the very different climate, philosophically, religiously, and politically, of Late Antiquity. Here, Plato's school at the Academy and Aristotle's school (the Peripatetics) at the Lyceum continued, joined by several other schools, including the Cynics and Hedonists, but especially the Stoics and Epicureans. Other schools, such as the Skeptics, the work of Egyptian, Babylonian, and Jewish writers, and most especially the achievements of Hellenistic science, cannot be overlooked. Indeed, these last categories may have had as much significance for the future, if sometimes more, than the mainstream schools of Hellenistic philosophy.

The Big Four Hellenistic Schools of Athens

the Academy



the Lyceum



the Garden


the Hedonists

the Stoa


Zeno of Citium
the Cynics

A characteristic of Hellenistic philosophy emerges when we note the future of its terminology. "Platonism" and "Aristotelian" still mean certain philosophical doctrines and traditions, but the Hellenistic schools have left words used for personalities, attitudes, and habits that are evident in daily life and among people who may have no interest in or knowledge of philosophy. Thus, words like "stoic, stoical, epicure, epicurean, apathy, apathetic, skeptic, skeptical, hedonism, hedonist, cynic, and cynical" are used for just anyone. This would probably be gratifying to Hellenistic philosophers, whose attitude generally was, like Socrates, to engage with people at ground level, although they might be unhappy that the meanings of some of these have drifted in contrary ways.

The Hellenistic Age suffers from some of the same disabilities, in the estimation of Classicists, as Late Antiquity, i.e. it doesn't measure up, according to the consensus, to the brilliance of the Golden Age of Greece and of late Republican and early Imperial Rome. To some historians of philosophy, the Hellenistic Age, with its Roman extension, suffers from other sins.

Thus, we might notice that historian Will Durant (1885-1981), in his classic The Story of Philosophy [1926, 1927, 1933, 1954, 1955, 1961], has written chapters that jump directly from Aristotle to Francis Bacon. The operative principle is clearly that of the primacy of science, even though both Aristotle and Bacon contributed almost nothing to the actual progress of modern science, tipping us off that Durant's understanding of the history, and even the nature, of science is defective.

Since modern science blossomed under the influence of mathematics, beginning with a Galileo who was defensive and apologetic about applying mathematics to physics, Durant's relative neglect of philosophers who primarily valued mathematics, like Plato, Neoplatonists, including the actual mathematician Proclus, and, again, the actual mathematicians Descartes and Leibniz, is telling. But there is more. Durant does give a brief treatment of Hellenistic philosophy at the beginning of the chapter on Bacon, and he says things like this:

This subtle influsion of an Asiatic soul into the wearied body of the master Greek [Alexander?] was followed rapidly by the pouring of Oriental cults and faiths into Greece along those very lines of communication which the young conqueror had opened up; and broken dykes let in the ocean of Eastern thought upon the lowlands of the still adolescent European mind. The mystic and superstitious faiths which had taken root among the poorer people of Hellas were reinforced and spread about; and the Oriental spirit of apathy and resignation found a ready soil in decadent and despondent Greece. The introduction of the Stoic philosophy into Athens by the Phoenician merchant Zeno (about 310 B.C.) was but one of a multitude of Oriental infiltrations. [Pocket Books, 2006, p.124]

This goes on and gets worse, to the warranted embarrassment of all. A preoccupation with the decadence of the "Orient," with its origin among the Greeks themselves, faced with the Persians, is something that infects a great deal of modern scholarship, for instance as we have seen with James Frazer and William Smith.

But Durant fails to notice that the "Oriental" mystery cults, like those of Isis, Magna Mater, and Mithras, followed the paradigm, not of anything "Eastern," but of the native Greek Eleusinian Mysteries. And, of course, what Durant (and Frazer) really has in mind with the "Oriental spirit of apathy and resignation" is Judaism and, as Nietzsche would say, its cat's paw in Christianity. Durant seems to have been sensible enough not to voice too much of that too openly (Smith simply despised Orthodox Christianity, apparently without even realizing how much of Europe subscribes to that confession).

But, again, Durant fails to note that Christianity, in most of the ways he would object to it, is the fruit of these kinds of Mystery religions that began, indeed, with Greek religion, long before anyone would think of Greece as a "wearied body," whose "poorer people" suffered from a "decadent and despondent" culture. Thus, Durant will not consider how the "Phoenician merchant Zeno," whose coincidence of Semitism and occupation may not be accidental, owed most of his philosophy to the inspiration, not just of the Cynics, who remind us of Taoism ("Oriental" enough? -- although China may be too far for one of Durant's "infiltrations"), but of their common source in the thought and example of Socrates. Zeno even engaged in his practice, like Socrates, in the Agora.

But Zeno, as a merchant (like those Jews), unlike Socrates, was already there in the market. The hostility of elite opinion for trade, let alone money, I have already examined elsewhere. Also, Durant, like many, has entirely missed the influence of Epicureanism on 17th and 18th Century philosophy and politics (despite an entire chapter on Voltaire), whose expressions could hardly be called forms of "apathy and resignation," but whose Deism, matching the Epicurean view of the apathy of the gods, effected a nice compromise between actually adhering to Christianity and openly rejecting it -- something obvious in people like Voltaire, Franklin, and Jefferson, let alone Kant.

But it gets worse. Durant has a kind of flow chart diagram of the history of Western philosophy [ibid., pp.130-131], which, after exactly five Hellentistic (2) and Roman (3) Stoic and Epicurean philosophers (skipping Pyrrho or any other Skeptics) otherwise contains exactly one philosopher from the Middle Ages, namely Thomas Aquinas. The yawning gap of history there only ends with Bruno (1549-1600) and Bacon (1561-1626) -- although Roger Bacon (c.1214-c.1294), as a scientist, got honorable mention in the text.

This breathtaking jump, ignoring Neoplatonism and absolutely all of Mediaeval philosophy in ʾIslâm, Judaism, and, except for Aquinas, Christianity, certainly follows from Durant's scientism, his absolute dismissal of the value of religion, his contempt for faith, and his probable ignorance of what actually happened in Mediaeval philosophy, or even in Mediaeval science. Not a chance for John Philoponus here. Indeed, Aquinas only gets mentioned because of his use of Aristotle, whom Durant, as noted, inappropriately exalts (with qualifications), as his exemplar of pre-modern science.

This is all painful and outrageous, although many of its sins continue in our contemporary academic philosophy. At least recent academic philosophers feel the need to be aware of Mediaeval philosophy in ʾIslâm and Judaism, although their motivation may be more political than otherwise, and their actual respect for religion may be no greater than Durant's -- which only comes out in nakedly hostile treatments of Christianity, which has no political protection. See Infantile Atheism.

Recognition of philosophy in ʾIslâm is often of the symbolic and "vitue signaling" kind. Thus, the Gothic Chapel of Princeton University contains an all but hidden stained glass window showing the philosopher and physician ʾar-Râzî (or Rhazes, 865-925). However, he is only identified with his name in Arabic, which perhaps only a limited number of visitors to the chapel will be able to read. Nor is ʾar-Râzî generally respected in ʾIslâm as a proper representative of the religion, belonging to the group of Hellenizing philosophers condemned as heretics and apostates by ʾal-Ghazâlî. His presence is thus problematic from any direction.

But a proper awareness of the kind of "gap" evident in Durant's history is exemplified in a positive way by the edifying project of Peter Adamson, who has turned podcasts on the history of philosophy into a series of books giving "A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps." Thus, his Philosophy in the Hellenistic & Roman Worlds [Oxford, 2015], gives us a thorough grounding from the proper Hellenistic Schools up to the Neoplatonists and even to Philoponus and others, including other actual Christians, in the remarkable Age of Justinian. Adamson himself, with an odyssey from Notre Dame, to King's College, London, to the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität in Munich, is a specialist in Late Antique and Islamic philosophy -- areas of interest, importance, and study we would hardly know exist from reading Will Durant.

The Cynics

Diogenes, 1882, John William Waterhouse (1849–1917), Art Gallery of New South Wales
Although Antisthenes of Athens (c.450-360) was later credited with founding the Cynic school, Diogenes of Sinope, Διογένης ὁ Σινωπεύς (c.400-323), was the real founder, responsible for both the name and the popularity of the school. "Cynic" comes from the Greek word for "dog," κύον, kyôn, and was actually a nickname for Diogenes, since people thought that is how he lived. Diogenes, indeed, had nothing but contempt for conventional morality, mores, and manners. He lived much of his life in a large jar and carried on in such a way that a principle of the school became that one should do in public what other people would be ashamed to do in private. Since that seems to have included masturbation, there are limits to the practicality of this in the modern world.

The two most famous stories about Diogenes are (1) that he would walk around Athens, hold a lamp up to people's faces, and say that he was looking for an honest man, and (2) that when Alexander the Great paid him a visit (outside his jar) and offered to grant any wish he might have, Diogenes merely requested that Alexander stand aside so as not to block the sunlight. I would love to see the kind of dialogue that might ensue between a modern judge and a Diogenes arrested for public lewdness (or, for that matter, between a modern judge and a , Digambara, Jain monk arrested for public nudity). Less famous is the recommendation of Diogenes that education might improve if their teachers, rather than the students, were beaten when students did poorly.

The Cynic Crates of Thebes, Κράτης ὁ Θηβαῖος, who also taught at Athens, was called the "Door-opener," θυρεπανοίκτης, because he used to barge uninvited into people's houses and rebuke them for their moral failings, or, alternatively, he was welcomed into homes because he would mildly resolve disputes there with good advice. He may have gone one better than Diogenes by having sex in public with his wife and fellow philosopher Hipparchia of Maroneia, Ἱππαρχία ἡ Μαρωνεῖτις, who herself wore male clothing and accompanied Crates to drinking parties. Parties were ordinarily separated by sex, and men's parties were only attended by women who were musicians, performers, or courtesans, as we see in Plato's Symposium. No Cynic could be expected to respect such conventions.

Today "cynicism" can mean, not just contempt for conventional beliefs and motives, but a nihilistic willingness to manipulate them for self-interested purposes. That is contrary to the strong, anarchistic, ascetic ethic of the Cynics themselves. The asocial and antinomian but resolute attitude of the Cynics seems the match in many ways that of the Taoists in Chinese philosophy, whose hermits and mendicants might be famous for odd behavior and mysterious, paradoxical pronouncements.

The Stoics

The Stoic school, chronologically late but soon unmatched in influence and reach, was founded by Zeno of Citium, Ζήνων ὁ Κιτιεύς (334/3-263), a man apparently of Phoenician descent from Cyprus. The "Stoa" was named after the kind of open building with a porch, a στοά, found in the Athenian marketplace -- in fact a particular stoa, the Ποικίλη Στοά, Poikilê Stoa or "Painted Stoa," where Zeno taught and the school became established. After coming to Athens as the result of being shipwrecked on a trading voyage from Cyprus (304), Zeno became a student of Crates, but eventually broke away out of humiliation at the kinds of things he was expected to do [note].

Zeno started his own school at the age of 42, but by some accounts he had not completely abandoned his mercantile dealings. Stoicism, which became the dominant Hellenistic school of philosophy, emphasized that happiness depends only on goodness (rather as Socrates had thought) and that all external conditions of life can and must be endured, ἀπάθεια, apátheia, "without suffering" (our word "apathy," which means more like "not caring" than being free of suffering) -- a version of the general goal of Hellenistic ethics, which was ἀταραξία, ataraxía, "tranquility, calmness," a state desired by all the schools. Apart from ethics, the Stoics devoted considerable creative attention to logic, but their metaphysical doctrines were mostly derived from the teachings of Heraclitus.

In Stoic logic, the most interesting issue may be the definition of "material implication." Thus, a statement like, "If P, then Q," an "implication" or a "conditional" (now symbolized P ⊃ Q), can be interpreted as involving a causal relation between the antecedent (P) and the consequent (Q), e.g. "If you cheat me, I'll call the cops," or "If I stub my toe, it will hurt." In ordinary language, this is often the sense that we intend, and that we get. However, the Stoics realized that this is not the minimal logical meaning of the relation. Thus, let's look at a statement from The Lord of the Rings:  "If they mean well, I'm a Hobbit." We realize that the speaker, a Man (in the town of Bree), is not a Hobbit, and the reference of the antecedent, to the Ringwraith Riders, has nothing to do with the identity of the speaker or the Hobbits. There is no causal relation between the antecedent and the consequent; and in fact the point of the whole statement is to assert that "they" do not mean well.

Material Implication
The Stoics provided the explanation for this, that a conditional is only false if the antecedent is true and the consequent false. We see this definition illustrated in the table at right, a "truth table" introduced in modern Symbolic Logic. This minimal or "truth functional" meaning is then called "material implication." Thus, since the Man of Bree is not a Hobbit, the consequent of his statement is false. For him to be speaking the truth, the only possible combination of truth values is in the fourth line of the table, where the implication is true, the consequent in false, and the antecedent is false also -- the assertion intended by the Man.

Philosophers sometimes complain that "truth functional" definitions do not fit the meaning of all connectives in ordinary language. For instance, Wittgenstein seems to say that they do, despite words like "because," which does imply a causal as well as a truth functional connection. For conditionals, however, despite meanings that often are not entirely truth functional, there is no doubt, as in our example, that sometimes that is all that they are. The Innkeeper of Bree was speaking the truth, but he did so with two propositions that were false.

Causality is not the only connection that may often be implied in a conditional sentence. Thus, if a conditional has a basic truth-functional form, it may occur with only that meaning (as in our example), or it may involve other kinds of connection. Although with no conception of truth-functional meanings, Schopenhauer explored alternative meanings for conditionals in his doctoral disserations, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. As the antecedent (the "if" clause) is the sufficient condition of the consequent (the "then" clause) in a conditional, Schopenhauer describes four different "roots" that function as sufficient conditions.

One of these is cause and effect. We see another in a sentence like, "If all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, then Socrates is mortal." Here the relation between antecedent and consequent is that of logical implication, which is by logical necessity. Causal connections may also be by necessity, if they involve the nomological necessity of laws of nature, e.g. "If I drop this weight, then it will fall" (unless, of course, I am in free fall or some other anomalous situation). Real exceptions to that kind of necessity only occur in miracles. With the other two "roots," Schopenhauer identifies one as space and time, whose function in conditionals is less clear, and motive in actions of the will. Since Schopenhauer is a determinist, his idea of motive and will shares the deterministic characteristics of causality. However, it is in will that we might otherwise see the functioning of freedom and purpose. How this might work must be left to other studies.

The Stoics also got interested in paradoxes, which have also become of concern in modern logic. The most famous Hellenistic paradox was the "Liar," which I discuss elsewhere.

Stoicism continued the Cynic doctrine of the cosmopolis or "world state" as an ethical ideal. The word "cosmopolis" itself does not seem to have been used until the 19th century, but Diogenes himself is supposed to have said that he was a κοσμοπολίτης, kosmopolítês, "world citizen," introducing the elements of the term [Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Volume II, Books VI-X, translated by R.D. Hicks, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard, 1925, 2005, pp.64-65]. That ideal seemed realized later in the Roman Empire, when the word that became popular in Greek for the universal community of the Empire was οἰκουμένη, oikouménê, "inhabited [world]," from the verb οἰκέω, oikéô, "to settle" in the passive participle that we see here. From this we get the term "ecumenical," which is roughly equivalent to "universal" -- otherwise καθολικός, katholikós, "catholic", from κατά, katá, "according to," and ὅλος, hólos, "[the] whole."

Two curiously representative Roman Stoics were Epictetus (55 AD-135), a slave (later freed), and Marcus Aurelius, an Emperor (ruled 161-180). Epictetus had to deal with being tortured by his owner, while Marcus was tortured by the rarer burdens of ruling the Roman Empire. We have the reflections of Marcus in the form of his diary, written in Greek, The Meditations, but literally Εἰς Ἑαυτόν, "To Himself." Epictetus, in imitation of Socrates, wrote nothing, but his ideas were fortunately presevered in the Discourses and the Ἐγχειρίδιον, Encheiridion, transcribed by his student, the historian Arrian of Nicomedia.

The Hedonists & Epicureans

The school of Hedonism was reputedly founded by Aristippus of Cyrene, Ἀρίστιππος ὁ Κυρηναῖος (c.435-360) and developed by his obscure grandson of the same name. Aristippus spent some time with Socrates but concluded -- in answer to the Socratic question, "What is the good?" -- that the good was simply pleasure, ἡδονή (hêdonê). Today "hedonism" usually means pursuing pleasure as well as just believing that it is the good, and Aristippus seems to have advocated that kind of thing.

This was later modified by Epicurus of Samos, Ἐπίκουρος ὁ Σάμιος (341-270), who settled in Athens and taught from the garden of his house, where the school remained and from which it derived its name:  ὁ Κῆπος (Kêpos), "the Garden."

Epicurus remained a hedonist in the sense that he believed pleasure to be the good, but he thought that only pleasures which did not later produce pain should be sought. Excesses and disturbing affairs, like politics, were thus to be avoided. Even the gods were thought to live this kind of existence, paying no special attention to us. Epicurus derived his metaphysical doctrines from Democritus. The teaching of "atoms and the void" gave him less to worry about than other doctrines did. Conspicuously absent in Epicureanism is any ground for moral obligation, which will trouble "atoms and void" kinds of philosophy in the future. Epicurean mores have no more than prudential or Utilitarian force.

This was never as popular as Stoicism, but there were a few Roman Epicureans -- especially Lucretius (95-55 BC) and his poem De rerum natura ("On the Nature of Things"), which remains popular among quite a few people and arguably strongly influenced the Renaissance when the sole manuscript of it was discovered [note].

A Greek Epicurean of the Roman age was Philodemus of Gadara, Φιλόδημος ὁ Γαδαρεύς. Philodemus was a student of Zeno of Sidon, Ζήνων ὁ Σιδώνιος (not our Stoic Zeno, of course, although apparently a fellow Phoenician), at Athens. Nothing survives of Zeno's writings, except as transmitted through Philodemus; and writings of Philodemus curiously survive, and continue to arrive, for a unique reason. Philodemus relocated to Rome and acquired a Roman patron, Lucius Calpurnius Piso, the father of Calpurnia, wife of Julius Caesar. Piso kept a villa at Herculaneum, which was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesivius in 79 AD -- long after the deaths of both Philodemus (d.40/35 BC) and Piso (d.c.43 BC). In turn, Piso had kept a library there, which was heavy with books by Philodemus -- in fact, it may have been in whole or part the library of Philodemus himself.

As Piso's villa was buried by volcanic ash, the scrolls of the library were baked and carbonized. Discovered in 1752, the site quickly became known as the Villa de Papyri. Although many scrolls were destroyed by attempts to unroll and read them, enough were deciphered that texts began to be published in 1824, including many by Philodemus. With hundreds of papyri in stock, and others even still waiting to be excavated, this is an ongoing effort, now continued with the aid of electronic imaging, which now no longer even always requires the perilous operation of unrolling the scrolls. So, hold the presses, it looks like more works of Roman Epicureanism will be coming.

Philodemus was not an unfamiliar figure in Greek literature, even in the Middle Ages. Admired as a poet, he is much featured in The Greek Anthology, one of whose epigrams I have quoted for its description of breasts, and another for its list of other attractive parts of a woman's body.

The Pyrrhonist & Academic Skeptics

While the great emphasis of Hellenistic thought was on ethics, a critical attitude towards questions about knowledge was maintained by the Skeptics, who concluded that knowledge is impossible. There were two main types:  Pyrrho of Elis, Πύῤῥων ὁ Ἠλεῖος (365-275 BC), held that because knowledge is impossible, we should practice suspension -- ἐποχή, epochê -- of judgment in all matters. Hence the name "Pyrrhonian" skepticism. The term Epoché was recently made famous by Edmund Husserl, who suspended judgment on metaphysical questions of existence in his Phenomenalism.

The Pyrrhonian "suspension of judgment" was later modified by skeptics who dominated Plato's Academy for a while (the "Middle Academy"), like Carneades of Cyrene, Καρνεάδης ὁ Κυρηναῖος (d.129 BC). This "Academic" skepticism eventually held that although there may be no certain knowledge, there is spontaneous, reasonable belief, and this is necessary for practical judgments in life. Problems about knowledge did not again so disturb philosophy until Descartes and Hume. Indeed, Hume explicitly regarded his views as a form of Academic skepticism -- though this has not always been understood in modern philosophy, even among people who think they are faithful to Hume's Empiricist tradition.

Pyrrho represents a case of direct influence from Indian philosophy. He had traveled to India with his teacher Anaxarchus in the army of Alexander the Great, "with the result that he even associated with the Naked Philosophers in India and with the Magi" [Diogenes Laertius]. These "naked philosophers," Γυμνοσοφισταί, Gymnosophistaî (singular, Γυμνοσοφιστής, Gymnosophistês -- more like "naked sophists"), sound like they would have been Jain monks. Alexander himself is supposed to have spoken with these monks; and the Jains themselves still tell stories about it, that they convinced Alexander to give up further conquests. However, Alexander seems to have turned back from the Ganges because of mutiny, not because of renunciation; and, back in Babylon, he was planning the conquest of Arabia.

The most striking sign of possible Indian influence, however, is how Pyrrho expressed himself in the actual form of the Four-Fold Negation, one of the fundamental and most characteristic principles of Buddhism: "...but we should be unopinionated, uncommitted, and unwavering, saying concerning each individual thing that it no more is than is not, or it both is and is not, or it neither is nor is not" [Aristocles]. We do not see this ortherwise in Greek, or in any of the rest of Western, philosophy. The entire tradition of Hellenistic Skepticism, ultimately leading to Kant's Antinomies, may thus have Buddhist roots.

There has been little explicit awareness in Western philosophy of this connection until recently, when some authors have decided that Ludwig Wittgenstein best represents the attitude of Pyrrho and even of Buddhism. However, Pyrrho so consistently "suspended judgment" that we would not even know about him but for the works of people like his student Timon of Philius. Wittgenstein, on the other hand, although only having one actual publication in his lifetime, nevertheless wrote a great deal (published postumously) and, in the words of physicist Paul Dirac, "Never stopped talking." Since Wittgenstein's talking led to some famous public arguments, we might say that he was not in the tradition of ἀταραξία, "tranquility," sought by Pyrrho and all other Hellenistic philosophers. Indeed, witnessing one of Wittgenstein's "furious" performances, his cousin F.A. Hayek worried for his mental health.

Buddhism, of course, was a means of religious Salvation through the "doctrine and the discipline" taught by the Buddha. There is nothing of the sort in either Pyrrho or Wittgenstein; and although the Buddha rejected certain questions as "not tending to edification," which finds a bit of an echo in Wittgenstein, the Dharma otherwise did not involve any silence or suspension of judgment, but constant sermons and exhortation -- perhaps, indeed, like Wittgenstein. But not like Pyrrho.

Egyptian & Babylonian Scholars

An important aspect of Hellenistic thought was the degree to which Greek culture began to mix with that of the older civilizations in the Middle East. An important part of this were the books in Greek that were written in the 3rd century BC by the Egyptian priest Manethô of Sebennytus, Μανεθῶ (or Μανεθώς, or Μανεθῶν) ὁ Σεβεννύτης, on Egyptian history and by the Babylonian priests Berossus, Βήρωσσος, and Sudines, Σουδίνης, on astronomy. Manethô introduced the system, still used, of numbering the dynasties of ancient Egyptian kings; and Sudinês, translating older astronomical texts, including those of the named astronomer Kidinnu, provided invaluable astronomical data all the way back to the beginning of the reign of the Babylonian King Nabonassar (Nabûnâṣiru) in 747 BC [note]. The works of both Sudinês and Manethô continued up through the Roman period to be of great interest to historians and astronomers, but unfortunately complete texts of neither work survive. The astronomical data was later preserved by Claudius Ptolemy. From this and from surviving cuneiform records we know how the Babylonian calendar developed and was structured.

Judaism & Jewish Philosophy

Of a different order of importance was the fusing of Greek philosophical ideas with Judaism that was effected by the first Jewish philosopher writing in Greek, from whom a large corpus survives: Philo Judaeus, Φίλων ὁ Ἰουδαῖος -- or Philo of Alexandria, Φίλων ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς (c.25 BC-50 AD). Philo (a Greek name, Philôn) belonged to the prosperous and influential Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt, and represented the Jews on an embassy to the Emperor Caligula in 39-40 AD. Philo may not even have read Hebrew. He was forced to rely on the translation of the Bible into Greek that had been done at Alexandria.

In Jewish tradition, related by Josephus, a friend of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Aristeas, wrote to Jerusalem, under Ptolemaic rule at the time, to ask the High Priest Elazar for permission to translate the , Torah (the Pentateuch), from Hebrew into Greek. Elazar agreed, and selected 72 translators who then produced the Septuagint, κατὰ τοὺς Ἑβδομήκοντα, katà toùs Hebdomékonta, "according to the Seventy," often abbreviated as the "LXX" (which also, although perhaps not right away, included the historical books and the prophets of the Bible). There are different versions of how this worked. One is that all the translators worked separately on a complete translation; but when the different results were compared, they were identical.

While the "Letter of Aristeas" is sometimes said to be a Hasmonean, or later, forgery, Simeon ben Gamaliel, president of the Sanhedrin in the 1st century AD, ruled (according to the Palestinian Talmud) that the Torah could be written in Greek as well as Hebrew [cf. Alfred J. Kolatch, This is the Torah, Jonathan David Publishers, Middle Village, New York, 1988, pp.46-49]. Most noteworthy about this effort is that the translation certainly cannot have been done by Greeks, none of whom ever would have had the interest or the permission to learn Hebrew. The translation thus tells us what Alexandrian Jews thought that the Bible meant in Greek. Sometimes idioms from Hebrew carry over into the Greek, giving the language a unique flavor. This may be important when some modern translations of the Hebrew Bible feature peculiar and tortured locutions, with the justification that these better represent ancient Hebrew. But the Jews of Alexandria must be credited with being in a good position to know what their own language meant, in Greek. See the discussion of the use of knowing words, which we see at Genesis 2:9, in reference to the Tree of Life, as in the illustration here.

Familiar with the whole of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy, Philo sought to reconcile it, indeed to identify it, with the meaning and teachings of the Bible. Most notable was Philo's theory that God creates and governs the universe through his Word, the Λόγος, Lógos, which (picking up Heraclitus's Lógos with all its implications) was a combination of Plato's Forms, Jewish Angels, and the Word of the Law itself. This could be worked into the text of the Bible only by careful allegorical readings, which Philo provided in detail. Philo also claimed that Heraclitus and Plato had actually gotten their ideas from the Bible. In much of this, Philo initiates the tradition that leads to Neoplatonism, as well as to much of Mediaeval Jewish, Christian, and even Islamic philosophical, mystical, and allegorical readings of sacred texts.

Philo's theory is also strongly reminiscent of the first words of the Gospel of John [1:1-14]: "In the beginning was the word [λόγος], and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God; and all things were made through him.....And the word became flesh and dwelt among us..." The specifically Christian element in the Gospel is simply to identify the Λόγος with Jesus Christ, the other elements mostly already being there in Philo. Indeed, Philo had already even referred to the Lógos as the "son of God," a very astonishing statement to make. Thus, the Patriarch Photius believed that Philo had met Paul in Rome and converted to Christianity. This is unattested and unlikely, but Philo's works, like those of Josephus (whom Jewish tradition disliked, for having gone over to the Romans), ended being preserved among Greek, not Jewish, literature, at Constantinople.

The New Testament is itself, of course, a significant cross-cultural document written in Greek, recounting the deeds and teachings of a man who was speaking in Aramaic. The movie, The Passion of the Christ, seeking authenticity by having the Romans speak Latin and the Jews Aramaic, erred by not realizing that their common language was Greek. Thus, Pilate probably did not introduce Jesus by saying Ecce homo, "Behold the man" [John 19:5], in Latin, but ἴδε ὁ ἄνθρωπος (or ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος in a different recension of the text), "Behold the man," in Greek. The assembly of Jews probably would have understood no Latin, but many would have known Greek, as would Pilate. It is a shame that no information survives about the learning and sources of influence on the Evangelist John. Philo's influence seems unmistakable, but we can estimate it only through speculation.

Hellenistic Science

What we now think of as "science," still "natural philosophy" to the Greeks, produced some stunning achievements during the Hellenistic period. A fine treatment is G.E.R. Lloyd, Greek Science After Aristotle [W.W. Norton, 1973]. Lloyd's book is the first place I read or saw anything about the revolution in physics by John Philoponus, which often seems systematially ignored, if not suppressed, elsewhere. The better of recent books may be Steven Weinberg's, To Explain the World, The Discovery of Modern Science [HarperCollins, 2015]. But Weinberg also misses Philoponus, despite a book in his bibliography, A Source Book in Greek Science, edited by Morris R. Cohen and I.E. Drabkin [Harvard, 1948, 1975], with key texts of Philoponus. He must not have read it very carefully.


In pure mathematics, nothing would equal Euclid of Alexandria, Εὐκλείδης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς for many centuries. Reducing geometry to an axiomatic system in The Elements, although certainly drawing on work that went back to the Pythagoreans and that likely owed much to Plato's Academy, Euclid completed a project that would stand without significant modification until the 19th century. Also, although modern philosophers have exulted over the replacement of Euclid by Non-Euclidean geometry in Einstein's physics, modern cosmology has now, curiously, returned to belief that space is Euclidean. Apart from geometry, we also find other proofs in Euclid, for instance that there is no largest prime number. The significance of such work cannot be exaggerated.

Euclid himself is a bit of mystery. We do not know where he was from, and we only hear of him in Alexandria under Ptolemy I, where he told the King, who asked if there was an easier way to do this stuff, "There is no royal road to geometry." Of equal importance in pure mathemtics and beyond was Archimedes of Syracuse, Ἀρχιμήδης ὁ Συρακόσιος (287-212), who lived in the days of Hieron II of Syracuse, and was killed when the Romans took the city in the Second Punic War. Archimedes was probably the greatest mathematician of antiquity (often said to have nearly invented calculus because of methods for determining lengths of arcs and areas of curved figures) and used his powers of invention to create engines that helped withstand the Roman siege for three years -- as he had previously investigated the powers of levers and pullies, famously claiming that he could move the world with a lever if given a place to stand. Before the city fell, the Roman General Marcellus instructed his men to respect Archimedes, but the great man was killed, for various legendary reasons, when a Roman soldier found him.

Curiously, Archimedes has a place in the history of California. Hieron was suspicious that a crown he had ordered was not made with the pure gold he had provided, but that some of the gold had been replaced. The weight of the crown was what it was supposed to be, so Hieron ordered Archimedes to figure out a test that could be performed on the finished object. Any base metal used would have a different density than the gold, so if the volume of the crown could be determined, this would show whether it was pure gold. Unfortunately, the crown, if it was like Greek royal crowns, was a construction of gold leaves, whose density could not be determined from a direct measurement of the volume. The story is that Archimedes, relaxing in the bath, realized that the density of the crown could be determined, like Archimedes in his bath, by submerging it in water, which would displace an amount of water equal to its volume. Archimedes leaped out of the bath and ran down the street naked, shouting Eureka, εὕρηκα (actually heúrêka), "I have found [it]." "Eureka" is now the motto of the State of California, shown on the Great Seal of the State just above the goddess Athena (of all people).

Σχῆμα δ᾽ ἔχειν σφαιροειδὲς ἀναγκαῖον αὐτήν (τὴν γῆν).
Its (the Earth's) shape must be spherical.

Aristotle, On the Heavens (De Caelo), Book II, XIV, 297a9,
translated by W.K.C. Guthrie, Loeb Classical Library,
Harvard U. Press, 1939, 2006, pp.246-247 [

The Earth

Another stunning achievement of Hellenistic science was the determination of the circumference of the Earth by Eratosthenes of Cyrene, Ἐρατοσθένης ὁ Κυρηναῖος (b.c.280). After a stay in Athens, Eratosthenes moved to Alexandria, probably around 246, in the days of Ptolemy III. Once there Eratosthenes heard an interesting story. On the day of the Summer Solstice, when the sun is the highest in the sky, it was said to shine directly down a well at Syene (the modern Aswan), at the First Cataract on the Nile -- this is, of course, true, since Aswan is on the Tropic of Cancer. At Alexandria, as Eratosthenes determined, the sun on the same day cast a shadow of 7.5 degrees from the vertical. Eratosthenes realized that this meant that Alexandria was 7.5 degrees of arc across the Earth's surface from Syene -- or exactly 2% of the circumference of the Earth (on a Great Circle). He understood the distance from Alexandria to Syene to be 5000 stadia, στάδια (singular στάδιον, i.e. stadium), which made the circumference of the Earth to be 240,000 stadia.

Now, it is a matter of dispute what the length was of the stadium that Eratosthenes used. And, of course, it is unlikely that the distance to Syene would be exactly 5000 stadia, whichever one he used. Values of the stadium range from 148.8 meters to 186. If the one he used was 157.5 m, then that puts the circumference of the Earth at 39,690 kilometers, remakably close to the true value of 40,009 km. There would no better value for the size of the Earth until well into the Modern era. In fact, for centuries, geographers would have difficulty believing that the world was so large -- estimates for the extent of Europe and Asia (although actually too large themselves) encompassed far too little of the Earth. In the Middle Ages, the Arab astronomer al-Farghani obtained a value for the size of the Earth much smaller than that of Eratosthenes. The only reason that Columbus left on his voyage is that he believed ʾal-Farghani's value, which would have put Japan right were he landed in the Bahamas. The discovery of America therefore hinged on the hope that Eratosthenes had been wrong -- not the only example in the history of science when a mistaken idea led to positive results.

That the Earth was round had already been established, probably by the Pythagoreans -- Plato seems to assume it. Aristotle lists reasons for thinking so, (1) that the Earth always casts a circular shadow on the Moon during an eclipse, and (2) there are stars visible in Egypt and even near Cyprus that are not visible in the sky further north, while circumpolar stars that never set at northern latitudes do set further south [On the Heavens (De Caelo), Book II, XIV, 298a3-7, translated by W.K.C. Guthrie, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1939, 2006, p.253]. He doesn't mention the obvious observation (3) that ships disappear below the horizon when sailing away, and appear only as masts, "hull down," when sufficiently far away, going or coming. Many people may not have understood that this effect is due to the curvature of the Earth. Aristotle draws a conclusion that we might think became a challenge in the 15th century:

For this reason those who imagine that the region around the Pillars of Heracles [i.e. Gibraltar] joins on to the regions of India, and that in this way the sea is one, are not, it would seem, suggesting anything utterly incredible [ἄπιστα, literally "unbelievable"]. [ibid. 298a9-13]

In the Middle Ages, that the Earth was spherical would be questioned by some religious writers, such as the Latin professor and Christian apologist Lactantius (d.325), the Greek sailor, Cosmas Indicopleustes, Κοσμᾶς ὁ Ἰνδικοπλεύστης (c.550 AD), and the encyclopedist Isidore of Seville (d.636); but no one properly informed of the evidence would ever be in doubt. The Patriarch Photius, writing in the 9th century, said that Cosmas "may fairly be regarded as a fabulist rather than a trustworthy authority" and that his cosmological theories were "absurdities" [Bibliotheca -- The Library of Photius, Volume I, Chapter XXXVI, Macmillan Company, New York, 1920, p.32]. The risk that Columbus took was not that he would fall off the edge of the world, but that he would run out of food and water in the mid-ocean of the large world of Eratosthenes. The large world it was, and Columbus would never get to Japan, but he lucked out that there were unknown Continents in the way. It would have to wait until Will Adams before Japan was reached by sailing across the Pacific.

It is often said that Columbus did not "discover" America because all the Native Americans already knew they were there. Unfortunately, American Indians knew they were somewhere but they didn't know where they were in terms of actual geography. Columbus really did discover America because he added it to the sum of geographical knowledge that already existed in the Old World. He only sailed in the first place because of that knowledge, imperfect as it was. Indeed, he didn't really know what he had found, since he believed until his dying day that he had gotten to the East Indies. This error, however, was quickly corrected, the "Indies" of Columbus became the "West Indies," and before long the magnitude of the discovery was appreciated. Just like Columbus, Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe was expanding, after having proven what many already believed, that spiral nebulae were external galaxies. Until Copernicus and modern astronomy, everyone on Earth knew they were somewhere, but they only had wrong ideas about the structure of the universe. Anaximander, as we will see below, had a better idea of the universe than the Maya, for all their sophistication, ever did.


The Hellenistic Age was also a formative period in the history of astronomy. In retrospect, the greatest interest focuses on Aristarchus of Samos, Ἀρίσταρχος ὁ Σάμιος (active c.275), who, we are told, proposed that the Earth revolved around the Sun and also rotated on its axis, meaning that the stars do not move. The details of all this are now lost, and we don't even know if Aristarchus knew how to use his system to explain the retrograde motion of the outer planets. He did know, however, that if the Earth moves and the stars do not, there should be apparent motion, parallax, of the nearer stars as the Earth rounds the Sun. That no parallax is detectable would be an embarrassment to heliocentric theories from then on, and Aristarchus could explain it only on the hypothesis that the stars are too far away for any parallax to be visible. This seems like a very ad hoc explanation, and the fact that it turns out to be true adds nothing to its credibility at the time (or in the days of Copernicus). In fact, stellar parallax is measured in less than seconds of arc (1/60 of a minute of arc, which is 1/60 of a degree of arc), and instruments were not sensitive enough to detect this until about 1840. Most stars, let alone galaxies, are still too far away for their parallax to be detectable. Meanwhile, from the size of the shadow of the Earth on the Moon during lunar eclipses, Aristarchus estimated that the Moon was about a quarter the size of the Earth, which is correct. His attempts to estimate the distance to the Sun, and its size, were based on sound principles, but he underestimated both because of the imprecision of his instruments (such as they were).

Thus, popular presentations of the history of science have difficulty understanding that there was no evidence for heliocentrism in Aristarchus' day and that in fact the evidence was against him. Only one other astronomer is mentioned in the records as agreeing with his theory, Seleucus, Σέλευκος, of Seleucia (c.150), who may even have been a Babylonian. Otherwise the consensus of Ancient and Mediaeval astronomers was against it. The explanation for this commonly given now is that everyone held to geocentrism out of irrational, religious, or anthropocentric convictions. Indeed, the second Scholarch of the Stoa, Cleanthes, Κλεάνθης (d.c.230), suggested that Aristarchus be indicted for impiety for suggesting that the Earth moved. If this was the reasoning of all Greek astronomers, then we can turn the history of science into a little morality play in which the forces of ignorance and superstition are defeated by, well, us. Unfortunately, such treatments reveal more that the ignorance may be as much in us as in the Greeks, for the better Greek astronomers, such as Hipparchus, Ἵππαρχος, of Nicaea (c.150 BC), had reasons for geocentrism that are now rarely mentioned.


For, as it happens, it was not the astronomy that was decisive against (or for) Aristarchus -- apart from the problem with parallax -- but the physics. No one before Newton or Galileo had Newtonian or Galilean conceptions of motion. The Greeks believed that for something to move, it needed to be pushed. Otherwise, it comes to rest. Rest is the natural state of things. Also, lacking any modern conception of gravity, things fall to the Earth because that is where they belong; and they come to rest when they get there. Thus, if it feels as though something is at rest, it is. If the Earth were moving, or rotating -- a theory independently proposed by Heraclides of Pontus, Ἡρακλείδης ὁ Ποντικός, (d.310) -- we would feel that motion, and a rotating Earth would cause constant great winds in the air, with objects flying off the surface. So, since it feels like the Earth is at rest, and objects are at rest on its surface, it is not moving. By the same token, if the Heavens look like they are moving, they are, and to be moving, they must be pushed -- for which Aristotle provided "intelligences" for each planet and God for the whole.

A key discovery about motion was made by Strato of Lampsacus, Στράτων ὁ Λαμψακηνός (d.269), who served as a tutor to Ptolemy II and then returned to Athens to act as the third Scholarch of the Lyceum, after Theophrastus of Lesbos, Θεόφραστος ὁ Λέσβιος (d.286). Strato discovered that gravity accelerates motion:

Strato was a perceptive observer. He was able to conclude that falling bodies accelerate downward, by observing how drops of water falling from a roof become farther apart as they fall, a continuous stream of water breaking up into separate drops. This is because the drops that have fallen farthest have also been falling longest, and since they are accelerating this means that they are traveling faster than drops following them, which have been falling for a shorter time... Strato noted also that when a body falls a very short distance the impact on the ground is negligible, but if it falls from a great height it makes a powerful impact, showing that its speed increases as it falls. [Steven Weinberg, To Explain the World, The Discovery of Modern Science, HarperCollins, 2015, p.33]

This proves to be a discovery of great signifiance. The later proposal of Galileo would be that, with the difference between velocity (m/s) and acceleration (m/s2), things can move with a constant velocity, but with a feeling of rest, because of inertia, while it is only acceleration that is "felt" the way everyone previously thought all motion would be (later with the addendum of Einstein that accelerating motion in free fall will not be "felt" either). However obvious this seems to us now, it is a theory at once contrary to common sense, ordinary experience, and, indeed, any experience that even Galileo would have had. Before being launched into space, we simply do not see objects that continue in motion at a constant velocity.

Now, theories were not unknown to the Greeks that were contrary to common sense and about things that could not be observed. Anaximander of Miletus, Ἀναξίμανδρος ὁ Μιλήσιος (c.550 BC) was the first to suggest that the Earth was a finite body floating in space, which meant that there was "sky" under the Earth as well as over it, eliminating the need to explain where the Sun went at night. This was a stunning leap of imagination, something that I don't believe was achieved independently anywhere else, not even in India or China. It remained difficult for a few people to accept, as Lactantius even in the 4th century AD says that it is impossible for the sky to be under the Earth. This insight alone would be enough warrant Anaximander being called, as he sometimes is, "the first scientist."

But once we had such a conception of the Earth, it was possible to then see it as (1) round, and (2) moving like a planet. Both of these ideas are found with the Pythagoreans, although they did not think that the Earth moved around the Sun (they had their own "Central Fire," which could not be seen from our position on the planet). The difference, then, in the fates of the two concepts was that there was evidence for, and none against, a spherical Earth, while there was little evidence for, and serious objections against, a moving Earth. At the same time, Lactantius thought that the Earth could not be round because people living on the bottom of a spherical Earth would "fall off" into the sky. He knew about arguments against this, from Anaximander to Aristotle, but he just didn't believe them.

Also overlooked in the moralistic histories of science is the progress that would later be made in physics by John Philoponus (d.570). Meanwhile, Hellenistic astronomy had enough on its hands. Hipparchus discovered the Precession of Equinoxes, which means that over time the axis of the Earth rotates through a small circle in space. We know now that this happens because, as the Earth spins like top, other gravitational forces, as from the Moon and Sun, cause the top to wobble. This phenomenon can be inspected in the behavior of any common gyroscope. Not familiar with the physics of angular momentum, the Greeks did not know why the Earth precessed, but now their astronomy became precise enough to detect it. By the same token, Hipparchus and others obtained increasingly accurate measurements of the length of the synodic month and of the year. This led to Ptolemy III proposing (in 238) the addition of leap days to the Egyptian 365 day year. Resisted by the Egyptians, the reform was effected by Julius Caesar at Rome (advised by Sosigenes of Alexandria, Σωσιγένης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς) in 46 BC.

Other accurate measurements revealed the irregularities in the motion of the Sun, Moon, and planets. How to reproduce and predict these irregularities became the principal project of ancient astronomy. The first great theory was that of Eudoxus of Cnidos, Εὔδοξος ὁ Κνίδιος (408-355), who determined the motions of the planets with nests of concentric spheres, with one rotating upon another. This was elegant and clever but had difficulty with the irregularities that became increasingly apparent. Then, the mathematician Apollonius of Perge, Ἀπολλώνιος ὁ Περγαῖος (c.210), who pioneered the theory of conic sections, proposed that smaller orbits, "epicycles," were attached to the principal spheres, which themselves were "eccentric," i.e. offset from the center of the Earth.

This theory was taken up by Hipparchus and perfected by Claudius Ptolemy, Κλαύδιος Πτολεμαῖος (c.90–c.168 AD), whose greatest work, ἡ Μαθηματικὴ Σύνταξις, hê Mathematikè Sýntaxis, "the Mathematical Treatise," was appropriately known as the ἡ Μεγάλη Σύνταξις, hê Megálê Sýntaxis, "the Great Treatise." This is generally known as the Almagest, from the Arabic rendering, , ʾal-Majistî. This appears to be based on a Greek version as τὸ Μέγιστον, tò Mésgiston, "the Greatest," in the neuter, the gender we see in the Latin version, Almagestum. However, the Greek text was introduced into Western Europe as early as the 12th century. This manuscript migrated from Sicily, to Rome, and finally to Venice, which means that an Arabic translation may have been more generally available.

Ptolemy used the simple Egyptian 365 day year for dating, with an Era based on the Babylonian King Nabonassar, whom he dated with Babylonian historical and astronomical records in the Canon of Kings, still the basis of ancient chronology. This was the basis of astronomical dating until the introduction of Julian Day Numbers.

Since a great deal of this activity, and more, went on at Alexandria, where we also had the Great Library, it is hard not to see that place as intellectually one of the most productive in history. Where the work of the Hellenistic Schools of philosophy seems disappointing in the area of metaphysics, it is often not remembered just how brilliant the mathematics and science of the Age were, especially at Alexandria. It is thus fitting to commemorate the astronomer Carl Sagan (d.1996), who imagined visiting the Library in his video documentary Cosmos [1980]. It usually doesn't come in for quite that kind of attention in histories of philosophy.

Philosophy in Late Antiquity, 235 AD to c.600 AD

The Beginning of Modern Science

History of Philosophy

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Hellenistic Philosophy, 322 BC to 235 AD, Note 1

This was supposed to have included carrying a bowl of porridge or lentils through the marketplace in Athens. Why that would be improper or humiliating is unclear. Or it may just be that Crates then broke the bowl and spilled the contents on Zeno, taunting him that there was nothing morally wrong, or even bad, with being covered with spilled food.

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Hellenistic Philosophy, 322 BC to 235 AD, Note 2;
Modern Epicureanism

Cela est bien dit, répondit Candide, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.

Voltaire, Candide ou l'Optimisme [Éditions Larouse, 2007, p.118]

Epicurus gained a curious hold over thinkers in the 17th and 18th centuries. A recent book, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt [Norton, 2011], traces this back to the discovery by Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) in 1417 of the only surviving manuscript of De rerum natura. Greenblatt thinks that this inspired the entire "swerve" toward secular modernity, and he discerns its influence in Bruno, Machiavelli, and Montaigne (Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, 1533-1592). However, I do not recall any mention of Epicurus or Lucretius in Machiavelli. Montaigne does quote Lucretius and Epicurus, but no more often, I think, than Stoics like Cicero and Seneca, or other Classical authors. Both Bruno and the great Renaissance scientists seem more influenced by Neoplatonism and Mediaeval Physics than they were by the crude Atomism that Greenblatt mistakes for a predecessor to the Scientific Revolution. I expect that the discovery of Lucretius may indeed have been influential, but its effect was more after the manner of its own bleak and pessimistic moral and philosophical purport. Lucretius, after all, is said to have committed suicide.

Thus, Machiavelli and Montaigne may perhaps have been affected; but I don't think we see Epicurus come into his own until The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton [1621]. This is an early, great, and formidable example of the Epicureanism that would become popular in certain quarters of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment -- we even find it as the bedside reading of Jubal Harshaw, a character in Robert Heinlein's science fiction classic Stanger in a Strange Land [1961], a self-professed pessimist and agnostic. Burton presents himself as "Democritus Junior" -- which sounds less silly if we remember than junior is simply Latin for "the Younger." Democritus, of course, is not necessarily Epicurus, but, as noted, he does have an Epicurean connection. Burton's association of melancholy with Democritus, or Epicurus, creates a connection that will survive through the next century.

Indeed, the best example comes with Kant, in whose psychological typology the "melancholic" character is the one associated with rationality and the consciousness of moral duty -- "to refer all one's actions to this as to a universal ground." This is praise indeed from Kant. I don't think that Kant ever associates this with Epicurus, and perhaps it is an excessively oblique reference for me to note. We get other indirect references, such as the ending of Voltaire's Candide [ou l'Optimisme, 1759], which finishes with the famous conclusion, "we must cultivate our garden." The Garden, of course, evokes Epicurus. Since Candide is a satire of Leibnizian Optimism, we may also see its thrust as melancholic.

A long explicit tribute to Epicurus is provided by Hume, who devotes all of Section XL of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding [1748] to him, "Of a Particular Providence and of a Future State," which includes a speech that Hume has constructed for Epicurus to defend himself before the Athenians. This apologia for Epicurus Hume ascribes to an unnamed "friend," so as to distance himself from the sentiments expressed; but, after the manner of Hume, it is pretty obvious that these are his sentiments.

An explicit and now unguarded tribute to Epicurus comes from no less than Thomas Jefferson. In a letter of 31 October 1819 to William Short, Jefferson says:

As you say yourself, I too am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us. Epictetus indeed, has given us what was good of the Stoics; all beyond, of their dogmas, being hypocrisy and grimace. [The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Modern Library, 1944, 1993, p.633]

Jefferson considered Epicureanism and Unitarianism sufficient doctrines for the governance of life.

Epictetus and Epicurus give laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement of the duties and charities we owe to others. The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent Moralist, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from artificial systems [Jefferson's note], invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by Him, is a most desirable object, and one to which Priestly has successfully devoted his labors and learning. [ibid., p.634]

Jefferson's own note with examples of the "artificial" doctrines imputed to Christianity runs, "E.g. The immaculate conception of Jesus, His deification, the creation of the world by Him, His miraculous powers, His resurrection and visible ascension, His corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, etc." [ibid.] In other words, to Jefferson, Jesus does not Save and is not the only begotten Son of God. This is not Christianity in any recognizeable sense. It is not surprising, however, in a self-professed Epicurean. It is also something to keep in mind whenever Jefferson is presented as a properly Christian Founding Father. Jefferson's own bizarre redaction of the New Testament preserves only the words of Jesus and leaves out everything of the miraculous or anything that provided the basis of traditional Christian theology and practice -- although, if Jefferson is to preserve the words of Jesus himself, he must ignore where Jesus refers to his own miracles, as in the case of the Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13). Jefferson concludes his letter to Short with a summary of Epicurean metaphysics:

The Universe eternal.
Its parts, great and small, interchangeable.
Matter and Void alone.
Motion inherent in matter which is weighty and declining.
Eternal circulation of the elements of bodies.
Gods, an order of beings next superior to man, enjoying in their sphere, their own felicities; but not meddling with the concerns of the scale of beings below them. [ibid., p.635]

This may be the high water mark of the influence of Epicurus in 18th century thought. If Jefferson has translated the Epicurean deities into his own Unitarianism, then he is clearly a Deist, someone who does not believe that God inverteves, miraculously or otherwise, in human affairs or in the conduct of Nature. His reconstruction of the role of Jesus, as no more than a "Moralist," is certainly consistent with that.

If we ask whether there was ever a ruler who surrendered power in order to cultivate his garden, the answer is not only "yes," but in the form of a Roman Emperor who surprisingly did not become a model for political philosophy in the 17th or 18th century. The only Roman Emperor, and one of the few monarchs ever (until recently) to abdicate to a comfortable retirement was Diocletian. He took the precaution of building a fortified palace at Spalatum, the modern Split, in Dalmatia (near Salonae -- Solin -- with which it is sometimes confused). This not only secured his peace and comfort against the misadventures around him, but the place, with his tomb turned into a church, worked quite nicely as a formidable redoubt all through the Middle Ages. At the conference at Carnuntum in 308, called to straighten out the conflicts and confusions that had developed in the Tetrarchy, Diocletian was urged to return to the Throne and effect the needed pacification. His response would have delighted "Democritus Junior," or Candide, or Jefferson:

If you could show the cabbage that I planted with my own hands to your emperor, he definitely wouldn't dare suggest that I replace the peace and happiness of this place with the storms of a never-satisfied greed. [Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus, 39.6, boldface and color added]

As we see the defeated Richard III crying, "My kingdom for a horse," we find the contrast of Diocletian preferring a cabbage to the Roman Empire. This is extraordinary. And while Diocletian's statement figures in every treatment of that Emperor, it is rarely if ever cited for its more general significance, whether by Epicureans or others. Even modern historians, often hostile to Constantine and Christianity, cannot work up much enthusiasm for Diocletian, perhaps because he was too somber and sober in comparison to the Roman Emperors they really like, i.e. Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Commodus, Caracalla, or Elagabalus. At least we know that they are not Epicureans. But I see one possible reference to Diocletian. Montaigne said that he hoped to die while cultivating cabbages in his garden. The garden is our familiar evocation of Epicurus, but to specify this as cabbages, unless Montaigne had some coincidental preference for the vegetable, sounds like a recollection of the statement by the Emperor. Unfortunately, Montaigne did not have such an easy or symbolic death in 1592.

Epicurus and Diocletian were not the only fans of the garden and vegetables in world civilization. The Chinese poet Pan Yue advised, "to cultivate my garden and sell my vegetable crop is the policy of a humble man." Voltaire could not have put it better.

History of Philosophy

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Hellenistic Philosophy, 322 BC to 235 AD, Note 3

Manethô's history is now often considered the first anti-Semitic document, since the Jews are said to have been expelled from Egypt -- not fled or escaped -- because they were lepers and the Egyptians didn't want them. It is not hard to imagine, however, why the Egyptians or Manethô would prefer such a story, since the Biblical account of the Exodus condemns the Egyptians for oppression and cruelty and dismisses their gods as weak and insignificant, if not non-existent, next to the power of the LORD. The Bible thus might appear to Manethô as a document of "anti-Egyptianism" (perhaps the feeling again of Anwar Sadat when Menachem Begin told him, with grotesque anachronism, that the Jews had built the pyramids). Pagan hostility towards the Jews tended to take a similar form, that, as the ritual purity required by the Torah prevented easy association with non-Jews and as the exclusivistic Biblical prohibition of the recognition of foreign gods prevented the kind of reciprocity common among ancient religions (so that Herodotus, for instance, was comfortable speaking of the "Egyptian Zeus," or Plato with the identification of the Greek Athena with the Egyptian Neith), the Jews were seen as misanthropic, and a hostility was returned which was seen as originating from their religion in the first place -- a characerization repeated by Nietzsche as part of his own anti-Semitism ("Rome viewed Israel as a monstrosity; the Romans regarded the Jews as convicted of hatred against the whole of mankind" [The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956, pp.185-186]). Now, of course, that the exclusivism of Biblical Judaism has long been characteristic of both Christianity and ʾIslâm, so that each excludes the other with equal vigor, it is harder to understand the mentality behind more syncretistic approaches to religion, such as survive in Japan, where people can be said to be "Born Shintô, Marry Christian, and Die Buddhist." However, Greek philosophy, with its emphasis on coherence and logical system, can be said to have cooperated with Judaism in the development of exclusivist domination in the Mediterranean world. Jews could argue, as Philo did (see below), quite correctly, that their critique of paganism was no different from that of Xenophanes, Socrates, Plato, etc., for whom the ancient gods, in all their lusty immorality and conflicts, were an embarrassment.

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Hellenistic Philosophy, 322 BC to 235 AD, Note 4

In parallel with the assertion of the spherical nature of the Earth, Aristotle says in a similar way that the Heavens are spherical:  Σχῆμα δ᾽ ἀνάγκη σφαιροειδὲς ἔχειν τὸν οὐρανόν, "The shape of the heaven must be spherical" [Aristotle, On the Heavens (De Caelo), Book II, IV, 286b10, translated by W.K.C. Guthrie, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard U. Press, 1939, 2006, pp.154-155].

Both of these statements are grammatically curious in that the sentences lack finite verbs. The sentence about the heavens can be parsed this way:  Skhêma [shape, i.e. "scheme"] d' [and] anágke [necessity] sphairoeidès [spherical] ékhein [to have] tòn ouranón [the heaven]. This is a "nominal" sentence, which means it lacks a finite verb. The subject is actually "necessity," for which "it is" is understood. The rest of the sentence is an indirect statement, where the verb, "to have," is in the infinitive and both the subject, "the heaven," and predicate nominative, "spherical shape," are in the accusative. So a more literal translation would be "[It is] necessity [that] the heaven have [a] spherical shape."

Σχῆμα δ᾽ ἔχειν σφαιροειδὲς ἀναγκαῖον αὐτήν (τὴν γῆν). The statement about the Earth is grammatically similar. It transcribes as Skhêma [shape] d' [and] ékhein [to have] sphairoeidès [spherical] anagkaîon [necessary] autên [it] (tèn gên) (i.e. the Earth). The differences here are that the word order has been shuffled a bit, the noun "necessity" has been replaced by the adjective "necessary," and a pronoun for "the Earth" is used, since it is understood from the previous discussion that Aristotle is talking about the Earth. Since the sentences say exactly the same things, one about the Heavens, the other about the Earth, comparing their grammar and form is instructive for examples of Greek expression.

The Grammar of Theodora's Statement

The Grammar of Philoponus's Statement

The Grammar of Constantine VII's Statement

Return to Text

Philosophy in Late Antiquity

235 AD to c.600 AD

My awareness of the nature of philosophy in Late Antiquity began, in the Summer of 1967, from reading a History of Ancient Philosophy [1899, 1900, Dover, 1956] by Wilhelm Windelband (1848–1915), which contained the first treatment I had seen of the Neoplatonists. This was intriguing, but its importance was driven home when I took an Islamic Philosophy class, as I was already beginning to take Arabic, in the Fall of 1968, with Lenn Goodman at UCLA.

Goodman had just obtained his doctorate at Oxford with a dissertation on ʾIbn Tufayl (or Abubacer, c.1105-1185), and his book Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓân, "Alive, son of Awake" -- Philosophus Autodidactus in Latin. ʾIbn Tufayl wrote about a Robinson Crusoe-like character who deduces the mysteries of the unviverse, and the truth of ʾIslâm, for himself -- rather further than Descartes was able to go in the same sort of project. The background of Neoplatonism, described by Goodman, for Mediaeval Islamic and Jewish philosophy opened up a whole new dimension in the history of philosophy, which was barely noticed in my other philosophy classes. This led to spending a year in Lebanon at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and following Goodman out to the University of Hawai'i, where I earned my Master's degree in philosophy.

The World of Late Antiquity [1971], by Peter Brown, which I think I first read in Hawai'i, further unpacked this vista of history, even as Brown more or less created a new discipline in historiography and broke the long-standing silence, the real suppression, concerning the name "Romania" -- Ῥωμανία -- which was the proper name of the Roman Empire, largely unknown to Classicists and even, apparently, some Byzantinists. It was also in Hawai'i that I read Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider [1968], by Peter Gay (1923-2015), that clued me in on the truth of the Nazism of Martin Heidegger, a few years before this became more of an open scandal. But that is another story. [K.L. Ross]

The Crisis of the Third Century (235-284), when the Roman Empire almost collapsed, resulted in deep political and spiritual changes. The old schools of philosophy disappeared and were succeeded by Neoplatonism, founded by the deeply ascetic and mystical Egyptian (or Greek) Plotinus, Πλωτῖνος (205-270 AD). Plotinus revived the influence of Plato and Aristotle, whose teachings were combined in an original and surprising fashion.

Since in epistemology and metaphysics Plato and Aristotle in many ways were more sophisticated than the Hellenistic philosophers who followed them, Plotinus in effect picks up again the mainstream development of Western philosophy, preparing the way for Mediaeval thought. Indeed, the epistemology and metaphysics of Plotinus look like the most original system in Western philosophy in all the time between Aristotle and Descartes. Its influence is incalculable, forming as it did the starting point for all subsequent philosophy and inaugurating the tradition of mysticism that led to Christian, Jewish, and Islâmic mysticism (Sûfîsm) all through the Middle Ages. Various people today interested in the Zohar or Kabalah in Judaism are still living in the shadow of Plotinus. While the Islâmic tradition evolved a more purified devotion to Aristotle, Plotinus emerged again in the Renaissance. We can see how strong Neoplatonism was in Mediaeval Constantinople when we find the 11th century historian Michael Psellus talking about his education:

Starting from these authors [Plato and Aristotle] I completed a cycle, so to speak, by coming down to Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus. Then, continuing my voyage, I put in at the mighty harbour of the admirable Proclus... [Fourteen Byzantine Emperors, Penguin, 1966, p.174]

After this roster of Neoplatonic philosophers, one is not surprised to encounter a powerful mystical tradition at the center of Greek Othrodox monasticism, Mt. Athos.

In the system of Plotinus, although all the old gods of paganism were preserved, beyond them was the One, an impersonal Absolute combining the One of Parmenides and the Good of Plato. The One was the source of all Being. Matter and the body were essentially Not Being, and evil. In between were Plato's Forms, the gods, and souls. All of existence was understood as analogous to light radiating from the sun -- the phôtismós, φωτισμός, "Illumination" -- as in the simile of the Good as the sun in Plato's Republic -- though the image it evokes seems like nothing so much as the disk of the Aton shining on Akhenaton. This is the "Declension" of Being. The purpose of life was for the soul to return to union with the One, a process of mystical transport which, as noted, strongly influenced mystical traditions in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

The Declension of Being is passed on to Christian theology as the "Great Chain" of Being. This is a Neoplatonic metaphor based on a passage in the Iliad. Zeus orders all the gods not to help the Greeks or the Trojans and challenges them to defy him:

Make ye fast from heaven a chain of gold [σειρὴ χρυσείη], and lay ye hold thereof, all ye gods and all goddesses; yet could ye not drag to earth from out of heaven Zeus the counsellor most high, not though ye laboured sore. But whenso I were minded to draw of a ready heart, then with earth itself should I draw you and with sea withal; and the chain should I thereafter bind about a peak of Olympus and all those things should hang in space. [Homer, The Iliad, Book VIII:19-26, translated by A.T. Murray, Loeb Classical Library, Vol. I, 1924, 1988, pp.338-341, boldface added]

This metaphysics of gradations of Being is allowed by Aristotle, whose theory of form and matter, with form representing actuality, means that beings can consist of varying proportions of the two, with those of greater form and less matter higher up the scale. This contradicts the principle of Parmenides, that something either is or is not (ἔστιν ἢ οὐκ ἔστιν, éstin ê ouk éstin); yet it still provides a premise for an argument for the existence of God in Descartes.

In many ways the impersonal One of Plotinus can be compared to the Brahman of the Upanishads. The idea that evil ultimately corresponds to Nothingness and is a mere privation of Being is one of the simplest solutions to the Problem of Evil in Western philosophy, and was strongly attractive to St. Augustine, even after he left Neoplatonism for Christianity.

Plotinus's student and Boswell, Porphyry of Tyre, Πορφύριος ὁ Τύριος (233-c.300) -- , Furfûriyûs, in Arabic -- edited, published (as The Enneads), and popularized Plotinus's work. His introduction to Aristotle's logical works, the Isagoge, Εἰσαγωγή, "Introduction" (, in Arabic), became one of the most important texts of Mediaeval philosophy, attracting commentaries by Boethius and Peter Abelard.

Porphyry's method of dividing terms into logically exclusive divisions, which went back to Plato's "New Dialectic," became known as the "Porphyrian Tree," Arbor Porphyriana, and it turns up today as the "phrase structure tree" of generative grammar in Linguistics and in the "Cladistic Analysis" of evolutionary relationships in Paleontology and elsewhere. Porphyry's Against the Christians, Κατὰ Χριστιανῶν, Adversus Christianorum, began the long and futile rearguard action against the new religion on behalf of the old. Curiously, this book, along with the anti-Christian writings of the Emperor Julian the Apostate, were lovingly preserved by Christian copyists in the Middle Ages.

Plotinus's own teacher was a Christian, and Late Antiquity saw a revolution in religion. The Empire had been restored by Diocletian (284-305) but then began to be Christianized by Constantine I (306-337). Theodosius I (379-395) banned pagan worship and closed the temples; and Justinian I (527-565) banned pagan belief, prohibited pagans from teaching, and in 529 closed Plato's Academy, which had become the last refuge of Neoplatonism.

It is not clear exactly what had been going on with the Schools of philosophy in Athens for several centuries.
Dipylon (Δίπυλον) Gate, Athens, 1970
Many scholars now believe that all of the Hellenistic Schools had closed, including Plato's Academy, when Athens joined the war of
Mithridates VI against Rome, and Sulla sacked the city in 86 BC. The Scholarch of the Academy fled to Rome. Certainly there is no information about any succession of Scholarchs or any scholarly activity at the Academy until the 4th and 5th centuries. Nevertheless, when the Neoplatonists suddenly come to light in Athens, we are not told what had been going on before them or even if there was any residence or activity at the actual site of the Academy. We don't know if it even was remembered where the site was -- although today, walking north-west out of the (ancient) Dipylon Gate in modern Athens, it is relatively clear what area the Academy would have been in. There may actually be a monastery there, although a nearby park also has a claim.

Ὅταν βλέπω σε, προσκυνῶ, καὶ τοὺς λόγους,
τῆς παρθένου τὸν οἶκον ἀστρῷον βλέπων·
εἰς οὐρανὸν γάρ ἐστι σοῦ τὰ πράγματα,
Ὑπατία σεμνή, τῶν λόγων εὐμορφία,
ἄχραντον ἄστρον τῆς σοφῆς παιδεύσεως.

When I see you, I worship you and your words,
looking on the starry house of Virgo;
for your business is in heaven,
revered Hypatia, ornament of learning,
stainless star of wise teaching.

Palladas of Alexandria, Παλλαδᾶς ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς, The Greek Anthology, Volume III, Book IX, Epigram 400, translated by W.R. Paton, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard Univesity Press, 1917, p.223; translation modified; for παρθένου (nominative παρθένος) see here; for πράγματα (singular πρᾶγμα) see here; for σεμνή (masculine σεμνός) see here.

Hypatia of Alexandria

There are several striking incidents in the decline of Late Roman philosophy. One was the murder in Alexandria in 415 of the philosopher and mathematician Hypatia of Alexandria, Ὑπατία ἡ Ἀλεξανδρεῖα, one of the few well attested examples of a woman in ancient philosophy. Unfortunately, no works by Hypatia survive, and there are few clues about her teachings or accomplishments, apart from the respect in which many held her, and her shameful fate, which was to be horribly flayed alive, dismembered, and immolated by fanatical Christian monks, violent anchorites who apparently had come in from the desert [note].

While Hypatia is celebrated as a martyr and victim of Christianity by Edward Gibbon and modern feminists, and a feminist philosophy journal is named after her, she had, as a Neoplatonist, world denying sentiments that today would sound more religious and ascetic than otherwise:  She remained a virgin (some pagan!), and when one of her students professed love for her, she showed him a menstrual rag and said, "You are in love with this, young man, not with the Beautiful" [cf. Mary Lefkowitz, Women in Greek Myth, Johns Hopkins U Press, 1986, p. 131], which in Platonism or Neoplatonism would mean the Form of Beauty.

Hypatia is portrayed by actress Rachel Weisz in the movie Agora [2009], by Alejandro Amenábar. I have now seen this movie and am sorry to say that the story is neither accurate nor sensible. Amenábar had the bright idea that Hypatia anticipated the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo and even Kepler. There may be some kind of real connection there if the speculation is true that Hypatia edited a manuscript of Ptolemy's Almagest, although the idea of critical and edited editions of any work may be a modern conception and thus anachronistic -- a "manuscript tradition" involved copying a given manuscript, errors and all. And Hypatia is unlikely to have been a copyist, which was a professional specialty. Nevertheless, this notion may have suggested the subject to Amenábar. I don't know if I he really believes Hypatia's heliocentrism or if he simply uses Hypatia as a device to talk about something that has nothing to do with her. It is sad to see such a wasted effort, especially when it ignores genuine discoveries in the era such as those of John Philoponus. Nobody needs to make stuff up to honor Hypatia, or the magnify the crime of her killing, which now is used to attack religion.

What may be instructive about a fantasy like that of Amenábar is how it can draw our attention to the ways in which Hypatia could not have orginated Kepler's Laws of planetary motion. The tradition was not ready for it. As we will see below, the decisive arguments again heliocentrism were not in astronomy at all, but in physics. The Earth could not move unless it was pushed; and if it was pushed, we would feel, and notice, it. I don't think anyone has ever claimed that Hypatia was a physicist. It would take Philoponus, just a century after Hypatia, and then Galileo, a thousand years later, to advance Greek physics in the right direction. It is not just a film maker, but historians and philosophers of science, who remain ignorant of the status and import of ancient physics, let alone its advancement by Philoponus.

While Hypatia is remembered as a mathematician, there are a couple of serious reasons why she could not have anticipated Kepler. One is that, while the Greeks knew about conic sections, the full mathematics for them did not yet exist, for two reasons: (1) there was not yet algebra, which would not be properly formed until the days of philosophy and mathematics in ʾIslâm, where it got its name, and (2) there was no algebra of geometical forms until René Descartes introduced analytic geometry. Thus, Hypatia had no advanced mathematical tools to deal with conic sections, let alone the ellipses of planetary orbits. She could write no equations, let alone for conic sections.

The second reason why Hypatia could not have anticipated Kepler is that he was not doing pure mathematics. Kepler was trying to fit geometry to the planetary observations of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). Hypatia had no such data and so no clue about the precise varying speeds of planets in their orbits. While Tycho was still doing naked eye astronomy, with instruments not far beyond the technology of Hypatia's day, no one would actually do what he did, until him. As with physics, no one seems to claim that Hypatia was a meticulous naked eye astronomer who kept detailed records on the movements of the planets -- or at least on Mars, which was easy to observe and possesses a significantly elliptial orbit. That gave Kepler an advantage over Copernicus.

Counter-arguments are possible. Conic sections can be treated with geometry, as the Greeks had done, and even Kepler and Newton were still largely using geometrical methods. The algebraic treatment of calculus, which we use now, was the work of Leibniz, and Newton's geometry is forgotten. Thus, while Hypatia would have known that epicycles had been introduced to account for the irregularities in the motion of the Moon and the planets, and it turns out that Kepler's ellipses are the functional equivalent of those, ellipses alone, without Kepler's Second Law, are not enough to account for the motions reproduced by the epicycles. The mathematics of Kepler's Second Law is still not very straightforward, and it involves trigonometic functions whose understanding was actually maturing in India at the time and which became available in the West through, again, Islamic philosophy and mathematics. Thus, while Hypatia, if a supreme genius, could have anticipated Kepler and Newton with geometrical constructions alone, it is the necessary conceptions in trigonometry and calculus that were wanting. To just imagine that Hypatia came up with all of that on her own, at that place and time, without any evidence for it, is simply a fantasy.

Thus, Hypatia was unprepared in physics, in mathematics, and in observational astronomy to anticipate Galileo or Johannes Kepler. This may all also be worth noting because of the "History Buffs" video review of Agora by Nick Hodges, who seems to take the fantasy of Hypatia seriously and to think that the death of Hypatia precipitated the Dark Ages, without which she, or somebody soon, would have created a space program. This has generated comment on the Internet, both for its ahistoricity, and for the anti-Christian bias of the movie, and it is the sort of thing people might notice.

Hodges, of course, simply repeats the ignorance that has been fed to him, which obviously involves no awareness of the advances in physics within a century after Hypatia. However, Hodges also seems to think that the destruction of the library of the Serapeum, if the Serapeum still had a library at that time, meant the destruction of Classical literature. As we have seen with Christopher Hitchens, people who should know better seem unaware that Greek literature still exists, as it was preserved through the Middle Ages in Constantinople. While Hodges, in his review of Kingdom of Heaven, is well informed, unlike Robert Hughes, about the origin of the First Crusade, and the existence of Mediaeval Romania (i.e. "Byzantium"), both in that review and here his knowledge of the civilization of Constantinople seems limited and sometimes just completely forgotten. The manuscripts of Philoponus, themselves composed in Alexandria, did not need to be preserved at the Serapeum.

Again, forgefulness is not unusual, but it does give us an opportunity to see how distorted narratives about the history of science, the "Fall" of Rome, the Dark Ages, religion, and Classical literature are perpetuated. Hypatia herself has become a kind of unwitting lightning rod for all of this, not only victimized in her time by fanatical Christians, but victimized now by people with their own agendas, sometimes fanatical also, not to mention careless and incompetent in the history and philosophy of science, and just history as such [note].

Another incident at the end of ancient philosophy was the brief exile to Sassanid Persia of the last Scholarch of the Academy, Damascius, ὁ Δαμάσκιος (i.e., of Damascus), and his colleague Simplicius of Cilicia, Σιμπλίκιος ὁ Κίλιξ, to whom we owe many of our fragments of Parmenides. They figured that the Persian King would be more tolerant than Justinian, which he was; and the King actually negotiated an exit for them in a treaty with Justinian. They seem to have returned out of homesickness, and were unmolested. Some scholarly opinion is that Simplicius returned only as far as Harran (Carrhae) in Syria. That was essentially the end of ancient philosophy. However, some modern philosophers, like Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), are still discussing Damascius.

As with Hypatia, those searching for modern attitudes, and for science and rationality, among the opponents of the Christians, will be disappointed. Iamblichus of Chalkis, Ἰάμβλιχος ὁ Χαλκιδεύς (c.250-c.319), although a mathematician, became rather better known as a "theurge," θεουργός ("divine worker"), or "thaumaturge," θαυματουργός ("wonder worker"), i.e. he is reputed to have performed miracles. We see competition between the more and the less rational Neoplatonists for the patronage of the Emperor Julian. According to the historian Eunapius (d.414), Julian originally was a student of Eusebius of Myndus, Ἐυσέβιος ὁ Μυνδίος, who would end his lectures by saying:

These are the only true realities, whereas the impostures of witchcraft and magic that cheat the senses are the works of conjurors who are insane men led astray into the exercise of earthly and material powers. [Philostratus and Eunapius, The Lives of the Sophists, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard, 1921, p.433]

Julian discovered that Eusebius was referring to Maximus of Ephesus, Μάξιμος ὁ Ἐφεσίος (d.371). After witnessing some of Maximus' miracles, Julian fell entirely under his influence. The last pagan Emperor, Julian died with Maximus at his bedside. In a real sense, paganism and the old gods died with him.

The jarring combination of first rate mathematics, mysticism, and thaumaturgy continued with Proclus, Πρόκλος (d.485), known as ὁ Διάδοχος, the "Successor," who ironically had been born in Constantinople but flourished as Scholarch of the Academy in Athens. His birth would have made him ὁ Κωνσταντινουπολίτης, the "Constantinopolitan," but it is not clear that this habitation name was used much. "Byzantium" was still remembered, and a native of the City could still be ὁ Βυζάντιος, the "Byzantine," which was much easier to say. Unlike with modern historians, inhabitants of the Mediaeval Roman Empire were not "Byzantines," but Ῥωμαῖοι, "Romans."

Meanwhile, characteristically mediaeval Christian philosophy had been developing, for instance with St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), who himself had "converted" to Neoplatonism before becoming a Christian. Since Augustine wrote in Latin, he and some other late Western writers, like Boethius (480-525) and St. Isidore of Seville (c.560-636), exerted exclusive influence on Western Europe during the period when the texts of Greek writers were not directly accessible (c.750-c.1100). One of the few philosophers we find even writing during that period was John Scotus Erigena (or Eriugena, c.810-c.877). "Scotus" at the time meant "Irish," not "Scottish," and Erigena (which actually means "born in Ireland"), who seems to have known some Greek himself, is symbolic of the intellectual activity that for a time distinguished Ireland, which had never even been part of the Roman Empire, during the Dark Ages. Erigena, however, gained his fame after being called to the court of the Charles (II) the Bald, who was King of France (843-877) and crowned Emperor by the Pope (875). Erigena also illustrates the danger of original thought at the time: his works ended up condemned as heresy.

Christological Controversies

The degree to which Greek metaphysics and the tradition of philosophical disputation affected Christianity can be seen in the Christological controversies, the debates over the nature of Jesus, that stretched from the 2nd to the 7th centuries. The major doctrines condemned as heresies by the Ecumenical Councils -- accepted by both the Ecumenical (e.g. Greek) Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches -- along the way are:

πολλῷ γὰρ πάνυ μέτρῳ διαφέροντα ἀλλήλων δύο βάρη ἅμα ἀφεὶς
ἐκ τοῦ αὐτοῦ ὕψους ὄψει ὅτι οὐχ ἕπεται τῇ ἀναλογίᾳ τῶν βαρῶν
ἡ ἀναλογία τοῦ χρόνου τῶν κινήσεων, ἀλλὰ πάνυ ἐλαχίστη τις
ἡ διαφορὰ κατὰ τοὺς χρόνους γίνεται.

(1) For if you let fall from the same height two weights of which one is many times as heavy as the other, you will see that the ratio of the times required for the motion does not depend on the ratio of the weights, but that the difference in time is a very small one.

(2) For if you let fall at the same time from the same height two weights that differ greatly, you will see that the ratio of the times of the motions does not correspond to the ratio of the weights, but that the difference in the times is a very small one.

(3) For letting fall at the same time two weights from the same height, differing from each other in very great measure, the ratio of the time of the motions does not follow the ratio of the weights, but the difference of the times is the very smallest.

John Philoponus, Commentaria in Aristotelem graeca, XVI-XVII, Joannes Philoponus, In Physicorum libros tres priores/quinque posteriores commentaria, ed. Hieronymus Vitelli, Academia litterarum regiae borussicae, Berlin, 1887-1888, p.683 16 ff; (1) first translation, A Source Book in Greek Science, edited by Morris R. Cohen and I.E. Drabkin, Harvard, 1948, 1975, p.220; (2) second translation, Greek Science After Aristotle, by G.E.R. Lloyd, W.W. Norton, 1973, p.160; (3) third translation, see the analysis of the Greek text and this translation here.

Mediaeval Physics: The Scientific Revolution of John Philoponus

Although in general it may be comforting for some people to think that Christianity snuffed out the inquisitive instincts, scientific and otherwise, in Greek and Roman culture, a glaring exception to this occurs in Late Antiquity.

A contemporary of Simplicius and Damascius was the Christian John Philoponus (c.490-c.570), Ἰωάννης ὁ Φιλόπονος -- or John of Alexandria, ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς, John the Grammarian, , ὁ Γραμματικός, or , Yaḥyâ n-Naḥwî, "John the Grammarian" in Arabic. The epithet Φιλόπονος means "loving work." See the sort of absurd political dispute that arises these days over the use of the name "John."

While Simplicius and Damascius tend to be remembered as pagan martyrs to Christian intolerance and dogmatism, their thought was conservative, if not reactionary. Philoponus is the one who had all the original ideas. The silence about him in academic and popular history and philosophy of science now begins to look like the actual intolerance and dogmatism, and incompetence. An anti-religious fairy tale of Mediaeval ignorance is often more important than honest history.

Philoponus, indeed, produced a large body of work, including grammar and Monophysite and other heterodox theology, but especially commentaries on Aristotle, commentaries that were then commented upon in turn by Simplicius. While Philoponus was condemned as a theologian, his criticism of Aristotle and the novel ideas introduced in his commentary on Aristotle's Physics and related works were of considerable influence by way of Syriac and Arabic translations on the subsequent mainstream of Mediaeval thought.

Until recently, little of this was available in English translation; but now the "international Ancient Commentators on Aristotle project," founded in 1987 by Richard Sorabji, has produced at least 23 volumes of Philoponus [published by Cornell University Press in the US and Duckworth in Britain]. Despite the monumental and ongoing nature of this work, Philoponus and the new physics he inaugurated has had little effect on the popular presentations of the history of science, which continue to spin a tendentious fairy tale of Mediaeval ignorance and bigotry.

It is now easy to forget how different ancient and mediaeval physics were from the modern physics that began with Galileo. Most important was the principle enunciated by Aristotle that an object will not move unless it is pushed. Since we are now accustomed to the idea that a thrown projectile continues in motion because of its own momentum, Aristotle's assertion sounds bizarre. But it really only sounds bizarre because of the work of John Philoponus. Not just Aristotle, but all the Greeks, believed that the projectile continues in motion because it continues to be pushed by the air behind it. Originally, it was believed that the pushing air was the air displaced by the motion of the projectile, which came around behind it (ἀντιπερίστασις, antiperistasis). Aristotle didn't like the notion in that form, but he still agreed that the air was pushing and that a medium (like air, water, etc.) was necessary for motion. He was then a little vague on how the air did that. It would have to become in a sense self-moving, a capacity that Aristotle otherwise reserved for living things or things in "natural" motion, i.e. the heavy falling or the light rising.

But Philoponus rejected all this, asserting that motion could even take place in a void, a vacuum -- at a time when it generally was believed that a vacuum was impossible. As an experiment Philoponus suggested setting up an arrow or a stone and blowing air on it. Of course, without modern equipment, or gale force winds, neither the arrow nor the stone are likely to stir. Yet even the stone can simply be tossed through the air. Philoponus argued, quite correctly, that a medium resists motion, not facilitates it and is quite unnecessary for motion. In fact, Aristotle had accepted that a medium will retard motion in proportion to its density, but he used this to argue that zero density, i.e. a vacuum, would imply an infinite speed. This was an argument against the existence of a vacuum, but the argument was inconsistent with the basic principle that ballistic motion in a vaccum, with nothing to push the object, was impossible.

Philoponus held that a ballistic projectile continues in motion through the air because there was imparted to it an immaterial and impressed force (vis impressa), an impetus (Greek ῥοπή, rhopé), that perpetuates the motion. There has been some controversy about whether Philoponus, writing in Greek and not using the later Latin term impetus, really originated the theory, regarded by Thomas Kuhn as a scientific revolution in its own right. But it now appears that Philoponus is indeed its source, later to be taken up by philosophers in ʾIslâm, like Avicenna, and then passed on to Latin Europe [cf. Michael Wolff, "Philoponus and the Rise of Preclassical Dynamics," Philoponus and the rejection of Aristotelian science, edited by Richard Sorabji, Duckworth, 1987].

The immaterial force that maintains ballistic motion (although it is now called "momentum") seems so obvious that it is hard to imagine that for a thousand years Greek and Roman thought subscribed to nothing of the sort. The impetus theory, however, was still not Galileo's theory of inertia. Although Philoponus realized that a medium resists motion, he still believed that the projectile otherwise loses its momentum because the impetus runs out and is "exhausted." Thus, without actively being pushed, all things will slow down and stop, even in a vacuum. For the next thousand years, this is what would prevent the theory of Aristarchus, that the earth is a planet that rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun, from being taken seriously. If the earth were moving, this requires the renewal of its impetus, an action that could be observed (or felt) and would be detectable.

If Philoponus represents a significant advance over ancient mechanics, something else is positively breathtaking. He anticipated Galileo's legendary experiment of dropping cannon balls of different weights:

For if you let fall at the same time from the same height two weights [dúo bárê] that differ greatly, you will see that the ratio of the times [hê analogía toû chrónou] of the motions does not correspond to the ratio of the weights [i analogíai tôn barôn], but that the difference in the times is a very small one. [Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, quoted by G.E.R. Lloyd, Greek Science After Aristotle, W.W. Norton, 1973, p.160; Greek text in Commentaria in Aristotelem graeca, XVI-XVII, Joannes Philoponus, In Physicorum libros tres priores/quinque posteriores commentaria, ed. Hieronymus Vitelli, Academia litterarum regiae borussicae, Berlin, 1887-1888, p.683 16 ff -- see the analysis of the Greek text and this translation elsewhere]

Galileo thus did not originate the experiment that would refute Aristotle's view that falling objects gained speed in proportion to their weights. Philoponus had already done it. Indeed, Galileo was well read in Ancient and Mediaeval physics, and he had read Philoponus himself and quotes him. Thus, not only was Galileo repeating the experiment of Philoponus, but he may have been consciously repeating what he had read of Philoponus doing. Or what he had seen done; for, as it happens, Galileo was not the first to do this experiment in his own era. One of his own teachers, Girolamo Borro (1512-1592), had already repeated the experiment of Philoponus [Charles Schmitt, "Philoponus' Commentary on Aristotle's Physics in the Sixteenth Century," Philoponus and the rejection of Aristotelian science, Duckworth, 1987, p.222]. This makes it all the more galling that scientists and philosophers and historians of science almost always treat Galileo's experiment as original and deign to neither notice nor credit Philoponus (or Borro).

The quotation used by G.E.R. Lloyd somewhat misrepresents what Philoponus observed; for the passage that he quotes immediately continues thus:

And so, if the difference in the weights is not considerable, that is, if one is, let us say, double the other, there will be no difference, or else an imperceptible difference, in time, though the difference in weight is by no means negligible, with one body weighing twice as much as the other. [A Source Book in Greek Science, edited by Morris R. Cohen and I.E. Drabkin, Harvard, 1948, 1975, p.220, boldface added]

So, although Philoponus says that "the difference in the times is a very small one," this passage makes it sound like what he observed was no difference. Thus, the Sixth Century Christian did not get the same result as Galileo, but only because he was not prepared to make the same conceptual leap that Galileo did. This illuminates the nature of Galileo's achievement. It was not the experiment as such, but the imaginative interpretation of it, that made the difference -- no less than as we might expect from Karl Popper's understanding of the nature of science. What distinguished Galileo's work was the leap of imagination that conceived constant acceleration. Other men might have dropped weights all day, or for centuries, without having achieved that moment of insight.

That Philoponus fell short is then to be blamed, not on the reverence for authority by which we dismiss the curiosity or good faith of Mediaeval philosophers, but on the unpreparedness of the mind to leap further than he did, having already swept away much of the "junk of history" from Aristotle. Or we may consider, as he may have himself, the imperfections of his experimental equipment, such as it may have been. Indeed, having watched and dropped various weights myself, it is not self-evident that they are hitting the ground at exactly the same time (with differences in drag through the air in fact making for different rates, as we see it now).

A valuable contribution to this issue now comes from the historian of science Alberto Martínez. In the "Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa" chapter of Science Secrets, The Truth about Darwin's Finches, Einstein's Wife, and Other Myths [University of Pittsburgh, 2011], Martínez, although apparently unaware of Philoponus or Borro, has tracked down several references to contemporaries of Galileo who dropped weights, sometimes actually from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, who observed that the heavier weight fell faster, just as Aristotle had said. This was done by Giorgio Coresio in 1612, by Vincenzo Renieri in 1641, and Giovanni Riccioli in 1651 [p.10]. At the same time, Niccolò Cabeo and Giovanni Baliani had dropped weights, before Galileo, and observed them striking the ground simultaneously [ibid.]. Thus, dropping weights was in the air (as it were), and we may wish to infer that, like Borro, everyone got put on the task by reading Philoponus, who then somehow gets forgotten in the shuffle. But it is clear from these divergent results that simply observing the fall of weights does not result in self-evident or intuitively obvious truths.

The science of Philoponus, therefore, is extraordinarily critical and experimental, even hovering on the verge of a mathematical treatment of motion. Immediately prior to the passage quoted by G.E.R. Lloyd, Philoponus has said, "our view may be corroborated by actual observation more effectively than by any sort of verbal argument" [Cohen & Drabkin, p.220, bolface added]. But this should also remind us that the Aristotelian/Baconian conception of inductive science, that scientific knowledge is directly abstracted from experience, is fallacious. If that is what Philoponus was expecting from his experiment, this may be why his result was less illustrious than that of Galileo.

In legend, perhaps inspired by the other figures who actually did use the Tower, and as actually asserted by Vincenzo Viviani (1622-1703, though his book was not published until 1717), Galileo is supposed to have dropped his weights off the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I like to imagine Philoponus dropping weights off of the Pharos Lighthouse, which still stood in his day -- it was damaged by an earthquake in 797 and thrown down by one in 1303, in the days of the Mamlûks in Egypt. One good legend deserves another; and with so many treatments visually associating Galileo with the Tower, the great Lighthouse, itself symbolic of Classical Alexandria, is no less a visual symbol that deserves to be used for Philoponus.

As little progress as would be made for centuries in this area of physics, it is unfortunate that Philoponus generally receives so little credit for it. Indeed, Cohen & Drabkin remark in a footnote to these extraordinary passages, "It is not to be assumed that Philoponus originated his experiment any more than that Galileo did" [ibid., note 2]. Since in popular discourse and in all the common history of science I have ever seen, Galileo is presented as indeed the orginator of the experiment, which is used to expose the ignorance and bigotry of both Greeks and Christians, this is a curious remark to append to a text that so dramatically overthrows the popular impression. I almost get the sense that, having seen Galileo cut down a notch, the reaction of the editors is, "Well, Philoponus must not have been any better!" -- despite no evidence in the record that anyone before Philoponus had done this. The tone of the note is almost one of petulance or spite.

The History of Science without Philoponus

An example of how thoroughly Philoponus has been forgotten may be found in the 2011 book of the brilliant neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, The Tell-Tale Brain [W.W. Norton & Company]:

Once upon a time, it was so obvious that a four-pound rock would plummet earthward twice as fast as a two-pound rock, that no one ever bothered to test it. That is, until Galileo Galilei came along and took ten minutes to perform an elegantly simple experiment that yielded a counterintuitive result and changed the course of history. [pp.xviii-xix, boldface added]

No one, of course, except for John Philoponus, a thousand years before Galileo -- who, as we have seen, actually addressed, as it happens, the double weight of a four-pound rock in comparison to a two-pound rock. Since Ramachandran says that he had "voraciously" read about the history of science [p.xx], we must infer that the commonly available sources on the history of science are innocent of references to this key moment in the development of Mediaeval physics, which permanently altered the Greek theory of motion. Its loss in the narrative is certainly due to the kind of fairy tale of Mediaeval ignorance that I have previously considered in relation to Heliocentrism.

We find a more general condemnation of Ancient and Mediaeval science from Derek Bickerton, the great theorist of pidgin and creole languages in linguistics:

In the ancient world, indeed until the Renaissance, the empirical method didn't exist. You discovered things not by doing experiments but by sitting and thinking. It took centuries for people to begin to wonder, "If I actually did so-and-so, what would happen?" [Bastard Tongues, A Trailblazing Linguist Finds Clues to Our Common Humanity in the World's Lowliest Languages, Hill and Wang, New York, 2008, p.241]

As we have seen, Philoponus himself invokes observation over, as he literally says, "any demonstration through words" [from the Greek text, Vitelli, op.cit., p.683, lines 16-18]. He did not wait until the Renaissance to find out what would happen "if I actually did so-and-so"; but the philosophers and historians of science have apparently not been doing their job to get the word out. Ramachandran and Bickerton have inherited, like most people casually read in science, a false narrative that grotesquely distorts the progress and even the good faith of representatives of the Ancient and Mediaeval world. Even Alberto Martínez, for all his revealing discoveries, missed that the people he was considering had probably all read Philoponus. That's why they were dropping weights.

Perhaps, since the works of these individual scientists in 2008 and 2011, we can expect more from a treatment by an experienced production company of science documentaries, for instance on the PBS science series Nova. In one episode, called "The Great Math Mystery," originally aired October 15, 2015, we get an account of Aristotle and Galileo on "the law of falling bodies." In the following transcipt we hear from the narrator and from Jet Propulson Laboratory scientist Adam Steltzner:

NARRATOR: The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones. An idea that, on the surface, makes sense, even this surface: the Mars yard, where they test the rovers at J.P.L.

STELTZNER: So Aristotle reasoned that the rate at which things would fall was proportional to their weight, which seems reasonable.

NARRATOR: In fact, so reasonable, the view held for nearly 2,000 years, until challenged in the late 1500s by Italian mathematician, Galileo Galilei.

STELTZNER: Legend has it that Galileo dropped two different weight cannon balls from the leaning tower of Pisa. Well, we're not in Pisa, we don't have cannon balls, but we do have a bowling ball and a bouncy ball. Let's weigh them. First, we weigh the bowling ball. It weighs 15 pounds. And the bouncy ball, it weighs hardly anything. Let's drop them.

NARRATOR: According to Aristotle, the bowling ball should fall over 15 times faster than the bouncy ball.

STELTZNER: Well, they seem to fall at the same rate. This isn't that high though. Maybe we should drop them from higher. So, Ed is 20 feet in the air up there. Let's see if the balls fall at the same rate. Ready? Three, two, one, drop! Galileo was right. Aristotle, you lose.

Galileo was right; but, Nova, you lose. "The view" of Aristotle "held," NOT, "for nearly 2,000 years." It had already been refuted by John Philoponus, a person apparently unknown to the producers, researchers, and writers of Nova or, for that matter, to Adam Steltzner. All these people thus contribute to the "so reasonable" idea that no one in the Middle Ages could have imagined that the pure reasoning of Aristotle could have been wrong. So who is it in all this that is blinded by tradition and dogma? Not Philoponus. Not even Galileo and his contemporaries, who knew about Philoponus. It is the pious Moderns who are now blind and ignorant to the genuine history of science -- because philosophers and historians of science are not doing their job.

A new book continues the fairy tale. The Dream Universe, How Fundamental Physics Lost Its Way [Doubleday, 2020] is by David Lindley, who himself has a PhD in physics and was briefly an experimentalist, before he became a full time science writer. The substantive point of the book is that physics has been overwhelmed by mathematical theories, a great many of them, that so far cannot be experimentally tested, leaving physicists with nothing but the mathematical beauty of their theories to recommend them.

These observations are all for the best, but Lindley makes the mistake of investigating the history of science, where he comes out with nothing but ignorant stereotypes:

The fundamental duty of a university teacher in those days [i.e. Galileo's youth], it should be said, was not to awaken a spirit of intellectual inquiry or to push students into the search for new knowledge, but to instruct pupils in the certainties conveyed in ancient books. A philosophy teacher would deliver Aristotelian wisdom, with any modern commentary designed only to patch up a few flaws and to do so strictly in the spirit of the original...

Aristotelian physics held that heavier objects fall to the ground faster than light ones. Galileo, it is said, began to doubt this when it occurred to him that in a hailstorm, hailstones of all sizes, large and small, arrive en masse. That is hard to explain if the hailstones all descend from the same height [which, of course, they don't]. If any Aristotelian had thought about this, the response would have been dismissive. We know that heavier objcts fall faster. That is the truth of the great thinkers of old. Mere obsevation of some sporadic phenomenon on earth is neither here nor there. Who knows where hailstones come from anyway? [op.cit., pp.8-9]

From the evidence of this treatment, David Lindley not only doesn't know about John Philoponus -- he says "ancient philosophy prized reason and logic over everything else, including the evidence of the senses" [p.5], when, as we have seen, Philoponus directly contradicts this -- but he doesn't know much about the controversies of Galileo's own time. Lindley obviously isn't familiar with the recent work of Alberto Martínez [2011], who documents many people dropping weights to test Aristotle. And while Lindley says, "One story has it that, even as an undergraduate in Pisa, Galileo was apt to contract his teachers," we don't get the information that one of "his teachers," Girolamo Borro (1512-1592), himself performed the experiment of dropping weights. Did Galileo question this? Forget the hailstones -- which actually do fall from different altitudes, although no one in Galileo's time would have known anything about this.

I do wonder what Lindley has been reading. He tells us:

My accounts of Galileo and his contemporaries are taken mostly from the two biographies, both titled Galileo, by Heilbron and Drake, and I have pointed out some of their differences of interpretation. Gingerich's The Book Nobody Read has more on Galileo, as well as on Copernicus and Kepler and the rest. For the specifics of Greek thought as it related to science, I relied on Early Greek Science by G.E.R. Lloyd, while for general commentary on the philosophy of ancient times and the Renaissance era I made use of Russell's entertainingly opinionated History of Western Philosophy [p.205]

This isn't a lot to go on, and we can hardly say of Lindley what Ramachandran says of himself, that he had read "voraciously" about the history of science. He certainly didn't read another book by G.E.R. Lloyd, namely Greek Science After Aristotle, referenced above, although this was published shortly [1973] after Early Greek Science in 1970. If the books by Stillman Drake [1980] and John L. Heilbron [2010] fail to mention Philoponus, this tells us how incompetent and deficient the history of science has actually been. The Oxford University Press, or its reviewers, should have at least clued in Heilbron about the massive work of Richard Sorabji. I am also left wondering how competent is the work of Owen Gingerich [2005], when Lindley hasn't quite gotten right even Aristotelian physics.

Thus Lindley says:

The ancients were perplexed by motion. It seemed to come in two kinds. Up in the sky, the sun and moon, the planets and stars all followed their predictable courses with unvarying steadiness. The gods, it seemed, had set the heavens in motion, and everthing celestial would continue to move in the same way forever, with no further assistance. Heavenly motion was eternal. [p.4]

According to this, the "ancients" had discovered interia! The heavens continue moving "with no further assistance." Sorry, Galileo; Aristotle got there first. Perhaps Lindley has not understood what he has said, or read. I hope this isn't something he got from his sources. Since he has missed the fundamental principle of Greek physics, that nothing moves without being pushed, anywhere, I really hope that this isn't what Lloyd, Drake, Heilbron, or Gingerich have affirmed, since it is wrong. There is another such source in Lindley's bibliography, The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science, by Armand Leroi [2014]. Did Leroi also get this wrong? Bertrand Russell, of course, might have said anything [1946].

Lindley gets the right idea that motion in the heavens and on the earth is different. What distinguished heavenly motion, however, is that it is circular, not that it moves without assistance. In fact, the whole heavens must be constantly moved by God, which from Aristotle to St. Thomas became a standard argument for the existence of God. In turn, since the planets have their own anomalous motions, there must be intelligences, later angels, that move them, something noticed even by Rupert Sheldrake. For motion down on the earth, Lindley does have the right principle, "Motion only happens when something made it happen" [p.4].

Finally, we can see the muddle that results from ignorance about the history of science:

Over the years, Galileo had also come to question and ultimately reject another Aristotelian principle -- that motion in the terrestrial sphere, unlike motion in the heavens, demanded continual impetus to keep it going. [p.11]

Not only does Lindley continue the confusion that the heavens enjoy inertial motion, but he uses a term, "impetus," that belongs to the physics of John Philoponus and the Middle Ages, and constitutes an entirely different system of physics from that of Aristotle, as was even understood by Thomas Kuhn, who regarded it as representing a scientific revolution in its own right. To review, Greek physics required that objects moving through the air must be pushed by the air, while an "impetus" is immaterial and enabled objects to move, for a while, without being pushed. Now this is called "momentum," which will no longer dissipate on its own, as the impetus did.

So we see in David Lindley, as we saw on Nova, if not in Lindley's sources, that in 2020 ignorance continues to reign in the history of science, despite abundant materials available to correct it.

Another, unrelated confusion that occurs in Lindley's book involves Claudius Ptolemy:

He wrote in Greek, but his great work on astronomy survived the fall of Rome through its preservation in the hands of Arabic scholars and is known best by its Arabic name, Almagest. [p.15]

Here we have two problems. Lindley certainly has a conventional idea about the "fall of Rome," the sort of thing that overlooks the survival of half of the Roman Empire for another thousand years, a Graecophone Empire that preserved all of the Greek literature and philosophy that we now possess. Instead, Lindley repeats the idea that Greek philosophy was lost, destroyed by barbarians, Christians, Arabs, or something -- although the Arabs managed to translate Greek philosophy, after it presumably was already destroyed by barbarians, Christians, or by ʿAmr ibn al-ʿÂṣ, when he conquered Egypt in 640 and reportedly burned all the books of the Library of Alexandria.

This incoherent picture is something we've seen before, stated a bit more explicitly by Christopher Hitchens, someone perspicacious enough that he really should have known better:

It is not the fault of men like Peter Abelard if they had to work with bits and pieces of Aristotle, many of whose writings were lost when the Christian emperor Justinian closed the schools of philosophy, but were preserved in Arabic translation in Baghdad and then retransmitted to a benighted Christian Europe by way of Jewish and Muslim Andalusia. [god is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything, Hackette, 2007, p.68]

Of course, whatever Justinian did when he closed the Academy -- and it did not involve closing all "the schools of philosophy" -- he didn't destroy any books; and there are no works of Aristotle that only survive in Arabic translation -- translations that could not have been made, three hundred years later, if Justinian had destroyed the Greek texts.

I am willing to believe that Hitchens originated this nonsense on his own, but I suspect that David Lindley didn't, and that he picked it up somewhere, perhaps from Hitchens. Otherwise, I'd like to know who else is passing it around. Considering the nonsense that is circulated about Mediaeval ʾIslâm, the ignorant fiction could be widespread. Besides an apologetic for radical ʾIslâm, what lurks behind it may be the historic antipathy of jumped up Franks, like us, for noble Romania -- something I address with It Was Not Called "Byzantium", among other treatments.

The Grammar of Philoponus's Statement

Philosophy in ʾIslâm, c.800 AD to c.1300 AD

The Beginning of Modern Science

History of Philosophy

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Philosophy in Late Antiquity, 235 AD to c.600 AD, Note

For other women mentioned in ancient philosophy, there is a reference to a philosopher named "Theano" by Anna Comnena, daughter of the Roman Emperor Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118), in her biography of her father, the Alexiad. Speaking of her mother, the Empress Irene, Anna says:

Whenever she had to appear in public as empress at some important ceremony, she was overcome with modesty and a blush at once suffused her cheeks. The woman philosopher Theano once bared her elbow and someone playfully remarked, 'What a lovely elbow!' 'But not for public show,' she replied. [Penguin Books, 1979, p.375]

It is not clear how Anna is aware of this anecdote. The Penguin edition note says of Theano that "several books were ascribed to her in antiquity." These may well have survived to Anna's day, before the sacking of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade and the other disasters of the Roman decline -- after all, of the almost 300 works in the Bibiotheca by the Patriarch of Constantinople Photius (858-867, 877-886), about half are now lost. Or she might simply know of it from the Christrian Patristic Clement of Alexandria, Κλήμης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς (c.200 AD):

What shall I say? Did not Theano the Pythagorean make such progress in philosophy that when a man, staring at her, said, "Your arm is beautiful," she replied, "Yes, but it is not on public display." [Paidagogos 1.6; quoted by Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, Vintage Books, 1979, p.68]

This simply puts the problem back one step, since we would like to know how Clement knew about the matter.

Besides Hipparchia, mentioned above, and this student of Pythagoras, Theano, Θεανώ, there were other obscure earlier cases of women philosophers:  Two students of Plato, Axiothea of Phlius, Ἀξιοθέα ἡ Φλειασία, and Lasthenia of Mantinea, Λασθένεια ἡ Μαντινική, and a student of Epicurus, Leontion, Λεόντιον. Leontion may have been from Lampsacus, which would make her ἡ Λαμψακηνή. Leontion is said to have been a courtesan, ἑταῖρα. This now is often regarded as a slander, but there is also the circumstance that courtesans were the only essentially independent women in Athens, and that Epicurus welcomed anyone of any status, male or female, slave or free, into his Garden. So regarding the characterization as a "courtesan" as a slander may only be a modern, not an Epicurean, judgment. And this may not be the first time. Leontion was later criticized for having dared, as a woman, to criticise Theophrastus. Of course, Epicureans were bound to criticize Theophrastus, so what offended the critic was just that a woman, any woman, would dare to do this. Probably the mob of Christians who murdered and mutilated Hypatia were thinking much the same thing.

Other women in ancient philosophy, both in Late Antiquity, like Hypatia, were Sosipatra of Ephesus, Σωσιπάτρα ἡ Ἐφεσία, and Asklepigeneia of Athens, Ἀσκληπιγένεια ἡ Ἀθηναία.

Sosipatra, who is profiled in the Lives of Philosophers by Eunapius, married the Neoplatonist philosopher Eustathius of Cappadocia, Εὐστάθιος ὁ Καππαδόης, a student of Iamblichus. When he died, she moved to teach at Pergamum. Her son Antoninus, Ἀντωνῖνος, also became a Neoplatonic philosopher, moving to Canopus in Egypt, where he was a contemporary of Hypatia.

As we might expect from her associations, Sosipatra represented the thaumaturgical and magical side of Neoplatonism. She was a friend of the teacher of the Emperor Julian, Maximus of Ephesus, who is supposed to have lifted a love spell cast on her by a relative, Philometer. Sosipatra is credited with psychic and clairvoyant powers, including being able to send people to rescue Philometer, whom she had seen in a vision suffer an accident. Antoninus, however, despite making a prophecy that paganism would die out, drifted away from thaumaturgy.

Asklepigeneia was the daughter of the Neoplatonic philosopher Archiadas of Athens, Ἀρχιάδας ὁ Ἀθηναῖος, who was the grandson of Plutarch of Athens, Πλούταρχος ὁ Ἀθηναῖος (d.c.432), the founder of the Athenian Neoplatonic school and of the actual revived Platonic Academy. Asklepigeneia was then the mother of the philosopher Hegias, Ἡγίας. Hegias was a student of Proclus at the Academy, who left him a bequest when he died. No works of Asklepigeneia, Archiadas, or Hegias survive, and later biographical notices about them tend to emphasize, as with Sosipatra, their knowledge of the "mystic arts," supposedly learned from the "Chaldeans," whose civilization, by this time, had largely disappeared and been replaced by legend and fantasy. But we do begin to get the impression, whether they have attested works or not, that men and women Neoplatonists intermarried, and that the women were not just anonymous wives and mothers.

Hypatia's name, Ὑπατία, is of some interest for other issues here. It derives from a superlative adjective ὕπατος, "highest, uppermost," Latin summus, which derives from the noun ὕψος, "the height, top, summit, crown" -- used to mean, in aesthetics, the "sublime." Later, ὕπατος translates Latin consul, i.e. an elected Consul of the Roman Republic. In turn, ὑπατεία and ὑπατία can mean the "rank" or "office" of Consul -- although used as Hypatia's name, we can see it as the state of being "highest, uppermost."

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Philosophy in ʾIslâm

c.800 AD to c.1300 AD

Read Sin[d]bad and you will be sick of Aeneas.

Horace Walpole

There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.

Sherlock Holmes [Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, "A Case of Identity," 1891]

After the death of the Prophet Muḥammad in 632, Arab armies rapidly overran Syria and Palestine (638), Egypt (642), the entire Persian Empire (646), and later North Africa (696) and Spain (711). When the Caliphate was established at Baghdad (763), stability, prosperity, and Persian cultural influence led to a great intellectual revival. The Caliph al-Maʾmûn (813-833) became interested in philosophy and mathematics and founded the , Dâru l-Ḥikmah, or "House of Wisdom," as a center for translation and study. Greek philosophy, medicine, and mathematics were translated into Arabic. "Philosophy" in Arabic becomes falsafah, . A philosopher is a faylasûf, (pl. falâsifah, ). As we will see, falsafah comes to be condemned by some as heresy, even apostasy. It is not popular today with the Jihâdists, despite Western academic philosophers suddenly discovering it for the political purpose of "inclusion." The Mongols then destroyed the Dâru l-Ḥikmah when they took Baghdad in 1258. The books from the institute's library were reportedly dumped in the Tigris River, which ran black from the dissolved ink.

The Organon,
The Categories
Kitâbu l-Maqûlât
the Book of Words
On Interpretation
Kitâbu l-ʿIbârah
the Book of Interpretation
Prior Analytics

Kitâbu l-Qiyâs
the Book of Deduction
Posterior Analytics

Kitâbu l-Burhân
the Book of Proof
Kitâbu l-Jadal
the Book of Debate
On Sophistical

Kitâbu s-Safsaṭah
the Book of Sophistry
Kitâbu l-Khiṭâbah
the Book of Rhetoric
Kitâbu sh-Shiʿr
the Book of Poetry
At left are the titles in Arabic (and Greek) of the works grouped by Islamic philosophers in Aristotle's corpus on logic, the Organon. The last three titles are usually not included in the Organon today. This was the equivalent in Greek philosophy of both
logic and epistemology in Modern Philosophy. See the system of Aristotle's logic described elsewhere.

Nearly the entire corpus of Plato, (ʾAflâtûn), and Aristotle, (ʾArisṭûṭâlîs, or , ʾArisṭû), and of the physicians Hippocrates and Galen was translated by a single (Aramaic speaking) Nestorian Christian, , Ḥunayn ibn ʾIsḥâq, (or Johannitius in Latin, 808-876). Ḥunayn is sometimes called a "Christian Arab," which is wholly anachronistic and reflects the continuing confusion, and strange claims, over the linguistic and ethnic status of the Aramaic speaking Nestorians.

Although learning Greek (and Arabic) only as an adult, he could recite Homer from memory. Ḥunayn had followed the Nestorian Patriarch Timotheus I (Mar Timothee, 780-820/23), who earlier had translated Aristotle's Topica and other works. Since Greek philosophical works had already been translated into Syriac, the Aramaic language of the day, there was already a precedent and a tradition that made translation into the closely related Arabic easier. Ḥunayn's father, ʾIsḥâq, was a pharmacist, and Ḥunayn himself initially studied medicine under Yuhanna ibn Masawayh, the Christian physician of the Caliph al-Maʾmûn himself -- Yuhanna, exasperated with his own son's stupidity, proposed that he be vivisected for study, but the Caliph prohibited this. Ḥunayn ended up as the physician of the Caliph Mutawakkil, but his son ʾIsḥâq (d.910) was in turn a translator also.

There is a unique Arabic manuscript at Leiden, called the "Baghdad Physics," that is ʾIsḥâq ibn Ḥunayn's translation of Aristotle's Physics [Fritz Zimmermann, "Philoponus' Impetus theory in the Arabic Tradition," Philoponus and the rejection of Aristotelian science, edited by Richard Sorabji, Duckworth, 1987, pp.124-125]. The text of Aristotle is accompanied by a large amount of annotation, much of which consists of items of the commentary on the Physics of John Philoponus. Philoponus was known in Arabic as Yaḥyâ an-Naḥwî, , "John the Grammarian" -- although he is sometimes confused with another "John," the contemporary Jacobite Christian philosopher Yaḥyâ ibn ʿAdî (893-974). Later glosses on the text, from the Nestorian ʾAbû l-Faraj ibn al-Ṭayyib (d.1043), are not subject to such confusion. This edition of the Physics consequently became the means, not only for access to Aristotle in Arabic, but for access to Philoponus also, which promoted the impetus theory of motion in Islamic Philosophy -- by which it was subsequently carried to Europe, even before Philoponus was directly available to philosophy in the Latin tradition. Even the great scholar and traveler , ʾal-Bîrûnî (d.c.1050), who studied Sanskrit and described India, knew that sharp criticisms of Aristotle were put forward by Philoponus [note].

Much original work that was then done in Arabic in astronomy, mathematics, and medicine is still commemorated in words from Arabic like algebra, zenith, azimuth, or alcohol. The word algorithm, describing what a computer program does, is actually the name of , ʾal-Khuwârizmî (c.780-850), whose book, Hisâb al-Jabr wal-Muqabâlah, introduced algebra (the ʾal-jabr of the title) and also passed on from India the method of decimal counting with the number zero. What we call Arabic numerals are still called "Indian" (Hindî, ) numerals in Arabic. Most of the named stars in the sky still have Arabic names, e.g. Betelgeuse, from , Baytu-l-jawzâʾ, "House of the Twins [Gemini]," or Algol, ʾAl-Ghûl, , "the Ghoul."

Some mistakes were made, such as the revision of the size of the Earth by the astronomer ʾal-Farghânî (800/5-870), who, with most people actually, thought that the value of Eratosthenes was too large. What we might think of as an embarrassment for Arab science, however, encouraged Columbus to think that he could sail to Japan across the Atlantic. Another astronomer, ʾal-Battânî (Albatenius, b.c.858-929), introduced the trigonometric sine function, which he had also learned of from Indian mathematics. ʾAl-Bîrûnî again, similarly learned of the tangent function while in India. Real advances in optics were made by ʾIbn Sahl (c.940-1000) and ʾIbn al-Haytham (Alhazen, c.965-c.1040) -- who wrote a Book of Optics, Kitâb al-Manâẓir.

Philosophy revived through the adaptation of the Neoplatonism of Late Antiquity to ʾIslâm:  the One became God, and the lesser gods became angels. This helped spark the movement of Islamic mysticism, later called Sufism (from ṣûf, the woolen garment that some mystics wore). Traditionally, the first philosopher in ʾIslâm is considered to be , ʾal-Kindî (c.796-873), who also shares the distinction of being very nearly the only classical Islamic philosopher who was an Arab [note]:  Although all wrote in Arabic, the language of religion and scholarship, most were Persians, and one of the greatest, , ʾal-Fârâbî (c.873-950), Alpharabius, was Turkish. The greatest of the Islamic philosophers in this Greek tradition is usually considered to be , ʾIbn Sîna (980-1037), commonly referred to by his Latinized name Avicenna. Like most of these figures, Avicenna was a physician as well as a philosopher, and his work on medicine survived for centuries in Europe as a standard text.

Although the Islamic philosophers in the Greek tradition did very substantial work, some of the more original ideas are found in Islamic theology, called Kalâm, ("Talk"). The theologians (mutakallimûn, ) were not tied to Greek ideas and were concerned to achieve characteristically Islamic answers to traditional religious questions. Kalâm, to be sure, started with a Hellenizing and even Christianizing tendency in the form of the Muʿtazilite school, which defended human free will and regarded God in the Greek sense as reasonable, just, and good. Although this appealed even to the great Caliph al-Maʾmûn, it did not last long.

The Caliph ʾal-Mutawakkil (847-861) turned against such Christianizing doctrines. Islamic orthodoxy became the systematization of the omnipotence of God, which eliminated human free will [note] and produced novel doctrines like what has been called "Occasionalism":  the idea that every event in the world, including our own acts, and the world itself at every moment in time, is directly caused and created by the agency of God. What look like causes in the world are merely the "occasions" for the action of God. This derives its modern name from the version independently developed by a successor of Descartes, Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715). More significantly, Occasionalist doctrine was continued by Baruch Spinoza, the terms of whose thought often seem more Islâmic than Judaic.

Cited as a proof text for Occasionalism is the following verse from the Qurʾân, Sûra 8:17:

walam [and-not] taqtulûhum [you-kill-them]
walakinna [but] llâha [God] qatalahum [killed-them]
"You do not kill them, but God killed them."

wamâ [and-not] ramayta [you-shot] ʾidh [when] ramayta [you-shot]
walakinna [but] llâha [God] ramay [shot],
"You did not shoot, when you shot, but God shot." [

I have noted elsewhere how the sense that something else is performing one's actions can also be found in Taoism and Zen Buddhism. It is not clear, however, that in ʾIslâm one acquires the feeling of being merely a spectator to what one is doing. This would require a strong sense of mystical transport and union with God.

Yet the end of Islâmic theology is the systematization of the overwhelming presence of God, of one's insignifiance in comparison, and of the complete abandonment of one's own will in surrender -- , ʾIslâm -- to him. The simplest text in the Qurʾân for the unlimited Will of God is verse 3:40:

ʾAllâhu yafʿalu mâ yashâʾu,
"God does what he wishes" [note].

The definitive form of orthodoxy was established by , ʾal-ʾAshʿarî (873-935). The stereotype of ʾIslâm as fatalistic, that "it is written," and in denial of free will, is actually quite accurate for Asharite theology. In time this led, interestingly, to the greatest Islamic philosopher, , ʾal-Ghazâlî (or , ʾal-Ghazzâlî, 1059-1111). ʾAl-Ghazâlî was not really a theologian (mutakallim, ), but he wasn't strictly a "philosopher" (faylasûf, ) either, since the word in Arabic implied adherence to the Greek tradition.

ʾAl-Ghazâlî was critical of the theologians and, especially, the philosophers: In his famous Tahâfut al-Falâsifah (The Incoherence of the Philosophers) ʾal-Ghazâlî denounced most of Neoplatonic Greek philosophy as incompatible with ʾIslâm, since philosophers had taught, among other things, that the world was eternal and not created in time by God and that God (like Aristotle's God) only knew universals, not individuals. ʾAl-Ghazâlî considered much of this not just heresy but actual apostasy, which under Islamic law would have been punishable by death. Although in refuting the philosophers ʾal-Ghazâlî produced some of the most original philosophy of the Middle Ages, including a critique of causality that would not be picked up again until David Hume (1711-1776), this denunciation effectively ended the growth of philosophy in the Greek tradition in the central Islamic lands. Unlike Hume, however, ʾAl-Ghazâlî's critique of causality was in support of Occasionalism, as above, without an implication of a general Skepticism.

Allâhu nûru s-samâwâti wa-l-ʾarḍi maθalu nûrihi ka-miškâtin
fîhâ miṣbâḥun-i l-miṣbâḥu fî zujâjatin-i z-zujâjatu ka-ʾannahâ kawkabun
durriyyun yûqadu min šajaratin mubârakatin zaytûnatin
lâ šarqiyyatin wa-lâ γarbiyyatin,
yakâdu zaytu-hâ yuḍîʾu wa-law lam tamsas-hu nârun,
nûrun ʿalâ nûrin, yahdî llâhu li-nûri-hi man yashâʾu.

God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of his light is a niche wherein is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star, lit from a blessed olive tree, neither eastern nor western, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire, light upon light. God guides to his light whom he wishes.

ʾal-Qurʾân, Sûrah 24, Verse 35; the "Verse of Light"

Even while attacking philosophy, however, ʾal-Ghazâlî produced, at the same time, a definitive vindication of Sufism -- what is called , ʾaṣ-Ṣûfîyah, or , ʾat-Taṣawwuf. This Islamic mysticism is named after the , ṣûf, the rough, woolen garment that the mystics, as ascetics, were reputed to wear. A mystic was thus a , Ṣûfî (with an irregular or "broken" plural , Mutaṣawwifah).

We see other terminology. A mendicant Ṣûfî ascetic can be a qalandâr, , a term from Persian that becomes an epithet for some saints. We see the stories of three qalandârs early in the Thousand and One Nights. Darwîš, , is familiar as "dervish," who is an ascetic or a member of an ascetic order, with distinctive pratices to induce mystical states. "Whirling dervishes" spin and hyperventilate for this purpose -- seeing Divine Light not only evokes Qurʾân 24:35, above, but it also sounds like the mysticism we find on Mt. Athôs. For ascetics we also get the term faqîr, , which in Arabic just means "poor" or "pauper." Faqîr even gets applied to Hindu ascetics in India, and the reports of miracles or magic associated with them there may be the source of the word "faker" in English, first attested in 1775, whose derivation is otherwise uncertain.

All of these terms seem to be more familiar in Persian and Turkish and in India, and their tradition and practices tend to frowned upon, if not suppressed, by Islamic fundamentalists, who are also hostile to the cults of saints that may attend Ṣûfî traditions.

After ʾAl-Ghazâlî the mystical tradition continued to produce thinkers of strength and originality, like Suhrawardî (1153-1191), ʾIbn ʿArabî (1165-1240), and Jalâl ad-Dîn Rûmî (1207-1273). The Sufis, however, often ran the risk of offending the Orthodox Islamic sense of the transcendence, separateness, indeed Otherness, of God. Mystical transport and the "extinction," , fanâʾ, of self tended to imply union with God, which was fine as Neoplatonism, but threatening as ʾIslâm, which rebelled against any hint of a Christianizing "incarnation" (, ḥulûl) of God in some mere human. An early embarassment in this respect was the Sufi , ʾal-Ḥallâj, who was executed in 922 by the Caliph al-Muqtadir, for having said things like , ʾAnâ l-Ḥaqq, "I am the Truth" (one of the Ninety-Nine Names of God), and:

I am He whom I love, and He whom I love is I,
We are two spirits dwelling in one body.
If thou seest me, thou seest Him
And if thou seest Him, thou seest us both.
[Kitâb aṭ-Ṭawâsîn, L. Massignon, Paris, 1913]

While Ghazâlî defended ʾal-Ḥallâj, statements like these could not be accepted at face value. ʾAl-Ḥallâj must have become confused because of the sense of his own nothingness over and against God's unique existence. This kind of trouble continued, since Suhrawardî later was himself executed by the otherwise tolerant Saladin. Nevertheless, ʾIslâm was less threatened by mysticism than Christianity was, since there was no Church or Pope whose authority would be directly challenged by private visions of God.

Meanwhile, Islamic Spain (centered around the cities of Cordova and Seville [note]) had been flourishing. There the Greek tradition of Islamic philosophy prospered for a while longer, together with the greatest Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages, Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) [note] and Moses Nahmanides (1194-1270) -- though by the time Nahmanides was born, his part of Spain had been recovered by the Christian Reconquest.

Starting with their received Neoplatonism, Islamic philosophers had gradually been unraveling the teachings of Plato and Aristotle from each other. That process culminated in Spain with , ʾIbn Rushd, or Averroës (1126-1198). Averroës made a living as a physician (in part with the Court of the Almohads), as did many Muslim and Jewish philosophers (including Maimonides), but he was also an Islamic judge (a qâdî) and tried to protect philosophy by handing down a formal legal judgment (a fatwâ) against ʾal-Ghazâlî's condemnation. That didn't help, and the Almohads actually burned books of philosophy and medicine at Cordova in 1194; but his critique of Ghazâlî in the Tahâfut at-Tahâfut, The Incoherence of the Incoherence, secured the Aristotelian case, not in ʾIslâm, where there was no successor of the philosophical stature of Ghazâlî to ever answer Averroës, but in Europe. The heritage of Averroës and his principle influence then lies in the great commentaries he wrote on Aristotle's works. Aristotle became THE philosopher, and this impression was conveyed to a reviving Francia as Averroës, with Aristotle himself, Avicenna, Maimonides, and many others, were soon translated from Arabic into Latin.

The last philosopher of stature in Mediaeval ʾIslâm was not a metaphysician in the Neoplatonic or Aristotelian tradition, or an astronomer or mathematician, but a social and political philosopher, also of Spain (after the fall of the Almohads) and the Maghrib (North Africa). This was ʿAbd-ar-Raḥmân ʾAbû Zayd ibn Khaldûn, , (1332-1406), who, born in Tunis from a Spanish family, ultimately died in Damascus. He met both Peter the Cruel of Castile and Tamerlane.

While there was nothing new about Islamic historiography, ʾIbn Khaldûn went one step further, looking for explanations and causes of events, especially long term trends, like the rise and fall of dynasties. His analysis was presented in the Muqaddimah, the Introduction, which was in fact the Introduction to ʾIbn Khaldûn's larger historical work. This is often said to be the origin of sociology, but the focus was both broader, historically, and narrower, socially. In many respects ʾIbn Khaldûn's insights remain relevant in the modern era, such as his statement that "at the beginning of a dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments....at the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments," which, anticipating the Laffer Curve, was quoted by Ronald Reagan. ʾIbn Khaldûn also acutely observed that a dynasty thrives for only about four generations, something that applied to the Vanderbilts as much as to any Mediaeval monarchy. What ʾIbn Khaldûn did not anticipate, however, was that, despite the contemporary rise and success of the Ottomans, the Islamic World culturally had peaked and would within a couple of centuries begin to lose its geopolitical race with the West. When Muslims later began to wonder, "What went wrong?" [cf. Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, Harper Perennial, 2003], it is a shame that ʾIbn Khaldûn could not have had a go at it.

Meanwhile, in Romania, Greek philosophy was being preserved and read, particuarly Plato and the Neoplatonists. Not much original was done with this, and we might compare the situation in Constantinople with that in ʾIslâm after ʾal-Ghazâlî, right down to the displacement of interest into mysticism. However, the maintenance of Platonism was strong enough to produce profound effects, as we shall see, through its influence on the Renaissance. At the same time, Greek scholars were aware of the development of philosophy in ʾIslâm.

This had begun, of course, under ʾal-Maʾmûn, in whose reign there were interesting exchanges with Constantinople. These involved Leo the Mathematician (c.790->869), Λέων ὁ Μαθηματικός, who had been performing services for the Emperor Theophilus I (829-842), whose home town of Amoricum would be sacked by the Caliph ʾal-Muʿtaṣim (833-842) in 838. ʾAl-Maʾmûn supposedly interviewed a prisoner who turned out to be a student of Leo, who impressed him so much that the Caliph offered Leo a position in Baghdad. Leo refused; but ʾAl-Maʾmûn responded with some questions in mathematics, which Leo answered, leading to a new offer, sweetened with over two thousands pounds of gold, which Leo also declined.

Because of this exchange, Theophilus made Leo Metropolitan of Thessalonica. Since that was in 840, after the death of ʾAl-Maʾmûn, this means that either the correspondence with ʾal-Maʾmûn involves a bit of embellishment, or the final part of the exchange may have been with ʾal-Muʿtaṣim, perhaps after his invasion of 838. Since Leo was an Iconoclast, he lost his position at Thessalonica when the Icons were restored in 843. Nevertheless, Leo was rehabilitated and was then appointed to the Magnaura School in Constantinople around 855. Leo is reported to have created the automata of birds and lions that were later witnessed by Liutprand of Cremona at the Court of Constantine VII (913-959) in 949.

As philosophy developed in ʾIslâm after ʾal-Maʾmûn, some Greeks did not feel that a comparison was to their advantage. Thus, the historian and polymath Michael Psellus (1017/18-1078/96), who provides us a vivid account of his own reading of Plato and the Neoplatonists, describes the realization of his own student, John Italus, that the Saracens have usurped the Classical heritage of the Romans:

Having made it his purpose to praise the wisdom of the Hellenes he regrets, with good reason, that aliens and barbarians have inherited the wealth of this wisdom, which does not belong to them, whereas the legitimate heirs of philosophy should be the successors. Almost all Greece and its colonies in Ionia have been entirely cut out of the family property, the inheritance has passed to the Assyrians [Aramaic speakers, as in Modern usage, or simply Iraqis in Baghdad?], Medes [contemporary Persians?] and Egyptians. There has been such a reversal of roles that Hellenes are now barbarians and the barbarians Hellenes. Suppose a Hellene goes to Susa [long abandoned by the time of Psellus] or Ecbatana [i.e. Hamadan], the ancient palace of Darius, to talk to the inhabitants of Babylon [which will mean Baghdad in the time of Psellus]:  he will perhaps then learn for the first time that wisdom has directed their affairs. But if a pretentious barbarian visited us and talked to people in Hellas or any part of our continent, he would treat the majority of men not as asses but as of mulish stupidity... Some claim to be philosophers and a great many more are anxious to learn. But the teachers sit with smug faces and long beards, looking pale and grim, with a frown, shabbily dressed. They dig up Aristotle from the underworld, from the depths of Hades, and give the impression of passing judgment on everything that he covered in a cloud of obscurity... Our barbarian visitor is convinced that this is a childish game, gloats over our incompetence, and departs, with no addition to his knowledge but reduced to a state worse than ignorance. [N.G. Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium, Duckworth, London, 1983, pp.155-156]

The style of Psellus, typical for the time, was to use names from Classical literature of places and peoples. Hence, we get anachronistic references to "Medes" and "Susa," which are uninformative about contemporary realities. Most Islamic philosophers were in fact Persians, but since all Islamic philosophers wrote in Arabic, we might expect some acknowledgement of that. Since "Hellene" in Mediaeval usage meant a "pagan," and John's enthusiasm for Plato and Aristotle was so extreme, it may not be too surprising that his teachings ran afoul of the ecclesiastical authorites. He may have been in more danger from the aroused citizens of Constantinople than from the Church; but, with several of his teachings condemned for heresy, he was banished to a monastery. There does not seem to have been much burning of heretics in Romania, and John himself was often protected by supporters, not the least of which being Psellus. Nevertheless, we see again something of the dangers that heterodox thought might encounter in Christian Europe, even as in ʾIslâm itself the conformity of taqlîd, (following precedent), began to clamp down after ʾal-Ghazâlî.

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Islâmic Fascism and Satyagraha in Palestine

Philosophy in the Christian High Middle Ages, c.1100 AD to c.1400 AD

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Philosophy in ʾIslâm, c.800 AD to c.1300 AD, Note 1

The Philoponus annotations in the "Baghdad Physics" have now all been translated in PHILOPONUS On Aristotle's Physics 5-8, with SIMPLICIUS On Aristotle on the Void, translated by Paul Lettinck & J.O. Urmson [Cornell University Press, 1994]. This volume unfortunately does not also include the other passages from the surviving Greek text of this part of the commentary of Philoponus. In the preface, the editor of the series, Richard Sorabji, refers to part of the text that is only sourced to the 1887-1888 Berlin Philoponus edition, In Aristotelis physicorum octo libros commentaria, edited by H. Vitelli. This situation is revealing of the specialized nature of this scholarship and the degree to which all of the material is not readily available to the public in translation. The text to which Sorabji refers fortunately otherwise is available in A Source Book in Greek Science, edited by Morris R. Cohen and I.E. Drabkin [Harvard, 1948, 1975]. My own project of examining key passages in the Greek text of Philoponus may be found at "The Grammar of Philoponus's Statement."

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Philosophy in ʾIslâm, c.800 AD to c.1300 AD, Note 2

Some sense of the material and surprises waiting to be found in Middle Eastern libraries can be derived from the discovery only in 1987 of an unknown treatise by ʾal-Kindî in a collection in Istanbul. Astonishingly, the treatise is about cryptography and proves to be the first known discussion of how a substitution cipher, where the letters of the alphabet are scrambled or replaced with unknown symbols (as in the Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of the Dancing Men"), can be broken. Kindî correctly understood that letters could be identified, given a large enough sample, by their frequency of occurrence. (Cf. Simon Singh, The Code Book, The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptogrphy, Doubleday, 1999, p.17.)

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Philosophy in ʾIslâm, c.800 AD to c.1300 AD, Note 3

A revealing passage in the Qurʾân is Sûra 39, Verse 23:

Waman yuḍlili llâhu famâ lahu min hâdin.
And whom God leads astray, there is for him no right guide.

"Leads astray" is sometimes now translated "leaves to stray" or "allows to go astray," which doesn't make it sound like God is actually causing people to "stray"; but the form of the verb in Arabic is a causative, and God abridging the free will of people is not only consistent with the rest of the Qurʾân and with ʾAshʿarite theology but even with the story of God "hardening the heart of Pharaoh" in the Old Testament. This is recalled by St. Paul:  "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth" [Romans 9:18]. This leads to Christian doctrines of predestination, as in Calvinism. Belief in predestination is common in ʾIslâm, where the fatalistic notion that one's fate "is written" even turns up in a key sequence in the movie Lawrence of Arabia [1962].

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Philosophy in ʾIslâm, c.800 AD to c.1300 AD, Note 4

The verb ramay in Arabic can mean "throw" as well as "shoot" or "fire." There is a Tradition that the Prophet here has not done any shooting but that before battle began he threw some dirt or sand towards the enemy, either in defiance or perhaps to blind some of them. Commentaries on the Qurʾân tend to offer this interpretation and the translation may reflect it. However, Muhammad would have not thought he had killed the enemy by throwing dirt. So if we take the two parts of the verse together, it seems more reasonable that shooting rather than throwing was involved.

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Philosophy in ʾIslâm, c.800 AD to c.1300 AD, Note 5,
The word ʾAllâh, "the God," in Arabic,
with Cognates in Hebrew & Babylonian

While the Arabic word , "ʾAllâh" (or ʾAllâhu), is often said to be the "name" of God, it is not. It is the word in Arabic for "God," and is used as such by Christians and Jews, as well as Muslims. ʾAllâh is a contraction of , ʾal-ʾilâhu, "the god," where , ʾilâhun, is the simple word for "god" in Arabic. What's more, this is a word with a cognate in Hebrew, , ʾelôahh, which is the simple word for "god" in Hebrew. In the Bible, God is often called , ʾElôhîm, with a "mimation" ending.

Distinguishing "God" from "god" with a definite article, where there are no capital letters in Arabic, is a phenomenon also seen in Greek, where we get ὁ Θεός, ho Theós, "the God," for "God." We see this in the first sentence in the Greek text of the Bible:

Berêshîth bârâ ʾElôhîm ʾêth hashshâmayim veʾêth hâʾâretz.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν
En archê epoíêsen ho Theòs tòn ouranòn kaì tèn gên

In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram.
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

Genesis 1:1.

Before the 9th century AD, however, there was no difference between capital and lower case letters in Greek (or Latin) either. This circumstance has been a cause for confusion in translating older Greek texts. Socrates, for instance, often speaks of "the god," ὁ θεός, and there was a time when this was simply rendered as "God," implying that Socrates was a monotheist. The original Greek texts of Plato did not distinguish between upper and lower case letters. But Socrates, as far as we can tell, was not a monotheist. Saying "the god" in Greek just means "the god with whom we are dealing now." In the Apology, it becomes abundantly clear that "the god" is actually Apollo of Delphi, whom Socrates cites in explaining his mission of asking questions. Socrates never does name Apollo, which is characteristic of much ancient religion, including Judaism. You do not use the name, but refer only indirectly, to the deity with whom you are the most concerned.

The actual name of God in Hebrew is the mysterious Τετραγράμματον (Tetragrammaton), , YHWH, or, with the vowels, . This, or God himself, may be called , Ha Shêm, "the Name." The actual Name was only spoken once a year, by the High Priest, in the Inner Sanctum of the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, its actual pronunciation was forgotten. Attempts to vocalize it now, as may commonly be found, are both speculative and, well, blasphemous (see Raiders of the Lost Ark [1981]).

is always read , ʾadônâi (or ʾadônoy) -- the "LORD" -- Κύριος in Greek and Dominus in Latin. The vowels in are the vowels of adônai (adjusted for the use, or non-use, of the gutteral letter , ʾaleph), although they have mistakenly been used by Christians to generate "Jehovah" as the supposed name of God. "Jehovah" corresponds to no real word in Hebrew. Since the vowels are not written for the actual Name, observant Jews may leave the vowel out of the word "G-d" in English, even though this would be no more than like leaving out the vowels of ʾElôhîm.

The use of the definite article with "God" in Greek does follow the pattern of using articles with proper names. English does not do this, except with the names of ships, buildings, and some other items. Other languages, like those of the Polynesian family, use definite articles with proper names extensively, sometimes with an dedicated article for such names. This may be the most familiar in the expression 'O Hawai'i, which is simply the name of Hawai'i with its article. In origin, however, the Hawaiian 'o comes from a particle for nominal sentences (Mâori ko). Otherwise the definite article in Hawaiian is ka or ke (and in Mâori, for proper names, a).

The Hebrew word ʾElôhîm has perplexed people for centuries. It looks like a plural, "gods," since -îm is the regular plural suffix in Hebrew. However, -îm is a very ancient suffix in Semitic languages, whose use and meaning have varied. This is called "mimation." In Arabic, the "m" has become an "n," so the device is called "nunation." In that language, the vowel before the "n" indicates grammatical case, with "u" for nominative, "a" for accusative, and "i" for genitive. If the vowel is short, the nunation is interpreted as expressing an indefinite quantity (e.g. ʾilâhun, "a god"), since there is no indefinite article in Arabic. With a long vowel, the nunation is used for regular plurals.

In Hebrew, and in Modern Arabic, mimation (or nunation) with short vowels has been lost (except for a few expressions in Arabic), along with the case system, so we simply have -îm to indicate plurals. In Babylonian, where there was a full system of mimation, it is used extensively; but it is unclear what it is always used for. In Old Babylonian it regularly marks nouns in the singular, but then its use tended to die out. The original system also had cases as in Arabic. This is like what we see in the name of the city of Babylon, , Bâb-Ilim, the "Gate of [the] God." Here , bâb, still means "door" or "gate," , in Arabic. Ilim, is from , il, "god," which is a variant that occurs even in Hebrew (ʾêl) and Arabic (ʾîl) without the final vowel and "h." Indeed, , ʾÊl actually occurs as a word for "God" in the Bible at Exodus 20:5, that God is , ʾÊl qannâ, a "jealous God" [note]. The mimation in Bab-Ilim may be a genitive, but it is evidently neither a plural nor an indefinite. The "god" in question is Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon. The mimation looks like it indicates little more than emphasis, or even definiteness [see further discussion of the name Babylon under the history of the City].

What we see in Hebrew with , ʾElôhîm, therefore may be from an earlier stage of the language where we have a situation something like in Babylonian. The mimation may just be used for emphasis or definiteness and has survived in the later language despite changes in grammar. There are many parallels from other languages, e.g. the expression pater familias in Latin, "father of the family," where the genitive of "family" in Classical Latin is familiae, not familias -- that is a fossil that looks like a genitive ending in Greek.

Although the origin, meaning, and appropriate use of , ʾAllâh, has been obvious to all for centuries, some Islamist radicals have now made the proprietary claim that it is a term only to be used for God in ʾIslâm. As we have unfortunately come to expect, death threats against Christians, just for saying "God" in Arabic, have followed. Indeed, as of 2013, a court in Malaysia has ruled that only Muslims can use Allâh. The complacency of "moderate" Muslims for this sort of thing does not reassure anyone else of their benign intentions or good faith -- or of their occasional reassurances that Judaism, Christianity, and ʾIslâm are all one faith under the skin.

Philosophy of Religion

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The word "Allâh" in Arabic, with Cognates in Hebrew & Babylonian, Note

The New Testament provides an interesting case on the contrast between ,ʾêl, and , ʾelôahh.

At Matthew 27:45(or 46 in the Byzantine text), Jesus is dying on the Cross and cries out, ἠλὶ ἠλί, λαμὰ σαβαχθανί;

Jesus, of course, spoke Aramaic, and this is a transcription of his actual words into the Greek alphabet, with the translation, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

We find the identical events and exclamation at Mark 15:33(or 34). But here Jesus is reported at saying, Ἐλωΐ, Ἐλωΐ, λαμὰ σαβαχθανί;

It means the same thing, and we can see the elements still familiar in Arabic, such as the -i suffix for the possessive pronoun "my," the -ni suffix for the accusative pronoun "me," and even the word lama, which looks like Arabic limâ or limâthâ for "why."

However, in one Gospel Jesus says êlí and in the other he says elôí. So in one we have ʾêl () for "God" and in the other ʾelôahh (). They mean the same thing; and the Evangelists are even so careful as to observe the different lengths of the "e" in the two words. We just might wonder which it was that Jesus actually said. This should be a problem for Biblical literalists, although I imagine they would just answer that Jesus must have said both, at different moments just before his death. Case closed. The Gospels of Luke and John do not have any version of this exclamation.

The appearance of this exclamation in Matthew and Mark would seem to bespeak the humanity of Jesus, and even that he could be subject to doubt at the crisis. It should comfort any Christian who has their own doubts. If the Son of God felt for a moment that he had been abandoned, what mere human could be free of such fears? And many Christians will endure trials that may seem like the Cross to them.

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Philosophy in ʾIslâm, c.800 AD to c.1300 AD, Note 6

The Arabic versions of the names of Cordova and Seville were , Qurṭubah, and , ʾIšbîliyah. The river that runs through them, the Guadalquivir, retains a Spanish version of its Arabic name: , Wâdî-l-kabîr, "Big Valley." There are many such names in Spain. Toledo, Latin Toletum, in Arabic was , Ṭulayṭulah. Toledo was the capital of Visigothic Spain, and thus its capture by León and Castile in 1085 was of great symbolic significance, beginning the Reconquista. However, the Emperor Charles V moved his capital to Madrid, above Toledo on a tributary of the Tagus.

Some names have even been transferred to Mexico, like Guadalajara, which in Arabic was , Wâdî-l-ḥijâra, "Valley of the Boulders." Guadalajara in Spain was actually the home of the Jewish mystic Moses ben Shem Tov, the author of the Zohar, the most famous work of Spanish Jewish mysticism.

A most famous site is the Alhambra, Arabic , ʾAlḥamrâʾ, "the Red," the marvelous fortress capitol of Granada, which surrendered to the Reconquista in the fateful year 1492.

Islamic Spain

Arabic Transcription Issues

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Philosophy in ʾIslâm, c.800 AD to c.1300 AD, Note 7

Although both were born in Spain, both Maimonides and ʾIbn ʿArabî spent the last part of their lives in Egypt and other central Islamic lands. In Cairo Maimonides was associated with the Ezra Synagogue, which was founded in 882 and still exists today, though most of the former Egyptian Jewish community has moved to Israel.

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Philosophy in the
Christian High Middle Ages

c.1100 AD to c.1400 AD

Western Europe, sunk in the poverty of the Dark Ages and knowing only the philosophers whose works or translations had been handed down in Latin, began to revive through the experience of the First Crusade (1096-1099) and Christian advances in Spain and Sicily. Shipping goods to and from the Crusaders, to and from Constantinople, and their own experience of the civilization of the Middle East, opened both trade and horizons. Things Western Europe had not much seen, like money and cities, began to revive. Through border areas where Christians, Greeks, Muslims, and Jews mixed with some freedom, as in Spain, Sicily, and Southern Italy, a whole world of Greek, Jewish, and Muslim knowledge began to intrude on the long insularity of Western Latin learning.

The fall of Toledo to Christian Castille in 1085 led in the next century to the establishment of an actual school of translation there, where many of the translations from Arabic into Latin were done by the Spanish Jew ʾIbn Dâwûd or Avendath. Something similar happened in Italy, where the Normans retrieved Sicily from ʾIslâm in 1091. Under them, and the German Emperors who followed them, like the thrice excommunicated "Wonder of the World" (Stupor Mundi) Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen (1212-1250), who spoke Arabic himself and scandalized Christendom by negotiating instead of fighting on the Fifth Crusade (1228-29), Sicily and its capital of Palermo briefly became centers of European civilization. There another Jew, Farragut of Girgenti, translated, among other things, the medical work of ʾar-Râzî (or Rhazes, 865-925), which became, like that of Avicenna, a standard text in Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe.

The Comneni Emperors of Romania solicited the Crusades and, initially, welcomed Italian traders like the Venetians in Constantinople. Their web of foreign marriages both attest to closer ties and increasing traffic, and not just of Crusaders, between Constantinople and the West. Even as Greek literature was being translated from Arabic into Latin, actual Greek manuscripts were beginning to make their way to the West. For instance, the Emperor Manuel (1143-1180) made a gift of a copy of Ptolemy's Almagest to King William I (1154-1166) of Naples and Sicily. Thus, even as we still use the Arabic name of the work, the Greek text itself became available already in the 12th century. It apparently was conveyed on a diplomatic mission by Henricus Aristippus (d.c.1162), who saw to the translation of the work, while he himself tried his hand at translating the Meno and Phaedo.

The manuscript of the Almagest was inherited by Charles of Anjou, who conquered Naples and Sicily from the Hohenstaufen, and who then donated his library to the Papacy in 1266. It subsequently ended up in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. This may have been the result of the Papal library being dispersed during the Babylonian Captivity (1309-1377) of the Papacy. A good indication of this is that the Vatican Library in the mid-fifteenth century contained only 340 volumes, two in Greek. The collection was obviously being reassembled, and it was only up to 1,160 books by 1455. Soon, of course, the library became immense, especially under the direction of Bartolomeo Platina, the librarian 1475-1481.

While interest in Greek and in doing translations may not be too surprising in the South of Italy, we also see the first signs of it further north. Thus, James of Venice (c.1130/70) and Burgundio of Pisa (c.1110-1193) traveled to Constantinople, acquired manuscripts, and began turning out translations. This is still 300 years before the Renaissance proper, when such activities went into high gear, with much greater interest, Greek refugees, and the aid of the printing press. People like Burgundio and their pioneering efforts thus tend to be forgotten, but the later work probably owes them a debt that is now hard to estimate.

After the conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Cruasde in 1204, the destruction and theft effected by the Crusaders was probably a greater loss to civilization than almost anything that had happened to Romania during the Dark Ages. Yet there are two sides to the story, which we see in the account of Michael Choniates (c.1140-1220), the last Orthodox Archbishop of Athens before the city was taken by the Crusaders in 1205. He was forced to abandon his library, which then seems to have mostly been destroyed. We know that he had copies of Aitia and Hekale by Callimachus, which otherwise now only survive in fragments. Thus, Michael said, "Sooner will asses understand the harmony of the lyre and dung-beetles enjoy perfume than the Latins appreciate the harmony and grace of prose" [N.G. Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium, Duckworth, 1983, 1996, p.205]. But some of the library seems to have been dispersed rather than destroyed, as a friend of Choniates wrote him about some books he had recovered. But the most interesting comment is a complaint from Choniates that the price of books has been rising because "booksellers were doing a great trade with Italians" [ibid.]. The Latins buying the books were probably not the same ones who had been destroying them, and we have already seen that Italians were beginning to acquire and translate Greek literature in the 12th century.

Indeed, we know something of the Latins who were buying books. The Dominican friar William of Moerbeke (c.1215-c.1286) traveled around Romania, acquiring manuscripts and translating them himself. In 1280 he became the Latin Archbishop of Corinth, which placed him in the middle of things. His buying and translating activities may have even been at the personal request of his fellow Dominican Thomas Aquinas. This was after the time of Choniates, but it does mean that the buying about which he was complained continued through the century. At the same time, we know that King Manfred (1250-1266) of Naples and Sicily was actually commissioning translations of Aristotle from Bartholomew of Messinia. The translations are supposed to have been sent to the University of Paris, where Aquinas might have inspected them himself. Otherwise, we think of Aquinas using translations of Aristotle that were made from Arabic editions.

Many of the Greek manuscripts acquired in the 12th and 13th centuries may have simply gone into libraries and then temporarily been forgotten. Thus, the Secret History (Anekdota) of Procopius is derived from a single manuscript that was discovered in the Vatican Library in 1623. The book cannot have been there since the time of Procopius, since the library didn't exist at that time and later Papal collections were dispersed before the Renaissance library, as we have seen, became permanently established. The manuscript thus had been brought in at some point, perhaps even as late as the 15h century, from Romania, where its existence is attested in the Suda, the great 10th century encyclopaedia. As with the Venetian manuscript of the Almagest, part of the work of the Renaissance therefore may simply have been to take advantage of the work that had begun even two centuries earlier. Indeed, it is not hard to imagine that the onset of the Little Ice Age (1315 in France) and the Black Death (1347 at Constantinople) made the 14th century unpropitious for leisurely scholarship.

The flood of learning from the Islamic East was a challenge to Latin Europe that was unwelcome but could not be long ignored. Some Christian scholars went so far as to become "Averroists" themselves. But a good range and variety of thought was already in full flood in the 12th century. St. Anselm (c.1033–1109), born at Aosta in Burgundy but best known as the Archbishop of Canterbury (1093-1109), originated what Kant called the "Ontological" argument for the existence of God, a version of which later turned up in Descartes and which remains a matter of curiosity and dispute in recent philosophy. The most personally intriguing and romantic career of the age was probably that of Peter Abelard (Petrus Abaelardus, 1079–1142). Abelard spent his career at various locations in France, including Paris. In the classic dispute about Universals between Nominalists and Realists, Abelard was already trying to find a compromise position, since called "Conceptualism." Although this Conceptualism was at the time no more than a variation on Nominalism, and would not be popular in its own right, it had the potential for a more Realistic and comprehensive formulation, as in Kant. With Abelard we also get the interesting Mediaeval phenomenon of stacked commentaries, as he wrote a commentary on the commentary of Boethius on the Isagoge of Porphyry, which was itself an introduction to Aristotle's logical corpus, the Organon. With Boethius' translation of the Organon itself into Latin, he had supplied much of the material available to Latin philosophy before the translations from Arabic and Greek became available.

In general culture, Abelard attracts the most attention for the irregularities in his personal life. His love affair with Héloïse violated his monastic vows, as the affair would have violated the proprieties of most ages. After producing a child, whimsically named "Astrolabe," Abelard and Héloïse secretly married; but without public acknowledgement of this, Héloïse's guardian, her uncle, ran out of patience and had Abelard seized and castrated. They both spent the rest of their lives in the monastic vocation that probably had never been suitable for either of them in the first place. Without secular universities or a lay professoriate, however, it is hard to know how Abelard could have pursued his intellectual career otherwise -- without, of course, moving to Constantinople, where secular learning had continued.

The challenge of disturbing ideas from outside the bounds of the Latin Church and the lands of Francia was fully met through the great synthesis produced by St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274). Coming from the South of Italy himself, even as Frederick II was patronizing unorthodox ideas and Islamic learning, St. Thomas took the doctrines of Aristotle refined by Islamic and Jewish philosophy and made them acceptable as Christian theology. This achievement, customarily called "Thomism," continues to ground Catholic theology, as in Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), and still appeals to modern secular Aristotelians, such as Mortimer Adler (1902-2001).

However, St. Thomas faced the difficulty, still a problem for modern Aristotelians but not always acknowledged by them, that Aristotle's metaphysics was in some ways, as it had been in ʾIslâm, incompatible with Christian doctrine. Aristotle's universe was eternal and his God had not created it in time. Neither ʾIslâm nor Christianity found this agreeable. Yet to make Aristotle God a Creator God involved a further difficulty. As pure actuality and an immaterial being, Aristotle's God is strickly speaking without potential or power (Greek dynamis -- which is found in matter). Theistic omnipotence is not a characteristic of Aristotle's God -- he is already doing everything he ever does and literally cannot do anything else. While St. Thomas might find some ground in Aristotle's metaphysics to quibble over the implications of this, it is quite obvious, for instance, from Aristotle's writings that his God works no miracles or in any other way abridges the regularity of the laws of nature -- something required by Christian and Islamic tradition and theology. Subsequent theistic rationalists, like Leibniz, would find it offensive that God, with his foreknowledge, would need to arbitrarily intervene in the course of nature. It is then one such as Leibniz, not St. Thomas, who reflects the principles and the spirit of Aristotle. The difficulties that plague St. Thomas in forcing a Greek God into Christian shoes are examined elsewhere.

St. Thomas also faced the difficulty that Aristotle did not believe in personal human immortality. There his solution was on firmer ground, since Aristotle himself had decided that God was not the only being of pure form (i.e. pure actuality). The Intelligences that moved the planets, corresponding to the Greek gods for Aristotle and to angels for Muslims and Christians, were rather arbitrarily made pure form also. So St. Thomas could very reasonably reflect that, if so for the Intelligences, why not also for the human soul? That it is an arbitrary modification of the system is a fault that owes to Aristotle, not to St. Thomas. Nevertheless, the problem of pure form, that it is without potential, arises again for the soul as pure form -- we expect the human soul, inside or outside the body, to retain the power of free will. That would not be a problem in Aristotle (where souls do not exist independnetly) as it necessarily becomes, but is overlooked or dismissed, by St. Thomas.

A cross current of thought to St. Thomas may be found later in the Englishman William of Ockham (1295-1349). St. Thomas believed, with Aristotle, that universal natures or essences (like Plato's Forms) are real and present in individual beings. This was called "Realism." William of Ockham, on the other hand, argued that only individual beings are real and that universals do not have objective existence. Universals are just names -- nomina in Latin. This position was therefore called "Nominalism." The dispute over universals was the Great Debate of mediaeval philosophy, and the contrast between St. Thomas and William of Ockham may presage the later contrasting traditions of Continental Rationalism and British Empiricism in modern philosophy. William of Ockham is now best known for "Ockham's Razor," or the principle of "economy" or "parsimony," that a simpler explanation for something is better, and more likely to be true, than a more complicated one.
Typical Faculties of a Mediaeval University, with modern academic colors & highest degree
Faculty of Philosophy, Ph.D., Philosophiae DoctorFaculty of Theology, Th.D., Theologiae Doctor
Arts, M.A., Magister ArtiumSciences, M.Sc., Magister Scientiarum
Faculty of Medicine, M.D., Medicinae DoctorFaculty of Law,
J.D., Juris Doctor

This period saw the building, not just of the new "Gothic" cathedrals -- although the Goths had all been dead for about 500 years -- but also of the universities of Europe. Students from anywhere only needed to know one language to go to any university: Latin. Often that is the only language students had in common; and they used to it to sing drinking songs or to rob travelers -- which students, perennially short of money, occasionally did. The highest graduate in physics, history, French literature, or any other "art" or "science" still becomes a Ph.D. -- philosophiae doctor (doctor="teacher"), just as all secular knowledge was "philosophy" -- although a "doctorate" was not a university degree in the Middle Ages. The best you could do was to become a magister, a "master," a degree that is now actually disappearing, as redundant.

The 13th Century also gives some hints of the later development of modern science. The Franciscan Roger Bacon (c.1214-c.1294) was interested enough in the workings of nature that he was suspected of heresy, magic, or of intercourse with the Devil. Someone might have thought of this alone from the formula he gives for gunpowder (sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate), the first in Europe, in 1242 (or between 1248 and 1261). However, his principle work with his results, the Opus Maius of 1267, had been requested by Pope Clement IV, for his own use, in 1266. It was about this time that it was discovered that hemispheres of glass could magnify images. These were soon reduced and rendered into spectacles, which for the first time in history could treat presbyopia, the inability of older eyes to focus properly. Since the pieces of glass looked a bit like the lentil bean, lens in Latin (lentilis is the adjective), the Latin word stuck to the glass. Bacon himself described wonders that could be accomplished with mirrors and lenses, but since none of the instruments he described survived or were otherwise used, it is not clear where speculation ends and things that he built himself begin. He writes as though he knows about telescopes and microscopes, but there is no evidence of such things until the 17th century.

Of equal portent was the somewhat earlier work of Leonardo Pisano (c.1175-1250), known by the nickname Fibonacci (from Filius Bonacci, "son of Bonaccus," the family of the Bonacci -- see the device of "filiation" in Roman names). As al-Khuwârizmî had introduced zero and decimal counting from India, Fibonacci brought it to Europe in his Liber Abaci of 1202. Fibonacci was personally familiar with al-Khuwârizmî thanks to a sojourn in the Pisan colony of Bugia (Bejaia) in Algeria, where he obtained instruction in mathematics from a Muslim teacher. Fibonacci is still remembered for the Fibonacci Numbers, discussed here in relation to the Golden Ratio. At least pure mathematics was not something to open one to charges of heresy. Indeed, far from being in danger, Fibonacci was already honored in his lifetime, and around 1225 he was personally introduced to the Emperor Frederick II himself.

The Renaissance, c.1400 AD to 1527 AD

History of Philosophy

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The Renaissance

c.1400 AD to 1527 AD

The "Rebirth" meant the return of a general knowledge of Greek and a revival of Classical learning, in great part because of Greek refugees from the Ottoman Turkish conquest of Romania, i.e. Greece and the Balkans, and then especially when Constantinople fell to them in 1453.

Thus, Manuel Chrysoloras arrived to teach Greek at the University of Florence in 1397; and Pope Nicholas V (1447-55) organized a group of scholars to translate all of Greek literature. At Venice, Aldus Manutius (Teobaldo Mannucci, d.1515), founded the Aldine Press and with help of a large staff of Greek expatriots created printed editions of much of Greek literature, often in the convenient octavo pocket editions that he popularized.

The refugees of course brought books with them. We also get phenomena such as the Fleming Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522-1592), who was the Imperial Ambassador to Constantinople, 1554-1562, and who returned to the West with 264 Greek manuscripts. Busbecq is otherwise memorable for the information he obtained about speakers of Gothic from the Crimea.

This emphasis on the Classics, although to good effect, had a negative side. The Renaissance is responsible for much original art, architecture, literature, science, and political thought but knowledge of much of classical learning, at least in philosophy, had returned in the 12th and 13th centuries already. This circumstance is often overlooked by historians, who sometimes do not even seem aware that Greek texts were already traveling to Western Europe in the 12th century. Indeed, some texts were then themselves forgotten, until "discovered" already in various libraries during the Renaissance. Just one copy of the Secret History of Procopius turned up in the Vatican Library. We don't know how or when it got there.

Some Greek works known from Arabic translations never would be found in Greek -- for instance, books V-VII of Apollonius of Perga's On Conics (which introduced the terms "ellipse," "parabola," and "hyperbola") only exist in Arabic. However, this sort of thing was rare, which is not appreciated by some writers. Instead, we now have the mythology that Justinian destroyed all Greek philosophy, which now only exists in Arabic translations -- which, of course, had not yet been made in Justinian's day. This folly occurs with Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), who should have known better, but now is thoughtlessly perpetuated by others. Yet it is not difficult to check that all the surviving works of Plato and Aristotle, at least, are available in Greek.

But to Renaissance scholars, all of mediaeval philosophy was tainted by the bad Latin it was written in, i.e. not the same Latin as that of Cicero. This is an attitude that appears to survive today, not only in the neglect of Mediaeval Latin by Classicists, but also in the lack of attention towards Mediaeval Greek literature, which itself was largely written in good Attic Greek. But this tradition is then sometimes condemned for its archaism, if notice is taken of it, but then ignored in any case. At the same time, Classicists express disdain for the Hellenistic koine, κοινή, or New Testament Greek, which presumably isn't archaic enough. Yet Classicists owe their entire discipline to "Byzantine" scholars.

A serious consequence of this is the lack of proper modern critical editions of many Mediaeval Greek works, for instance, that a 2012 edition the De Ceremoniis, by the Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959 AD), contains a new translation but no more than reproduces the Greek text from 1829 [Constantine Porphyrogennetos, The Book of Ceremonies, translated by Ann Moffatt and Maxeme Tall, with the Greek edition of the Corrpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae {Bonn, 1829}, Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, Byzantina Australiensia 18, Canberra, 2012].

Most terrible evils has Romania suffered from the Arabs even until now.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, quoting The Chronicle of Theophanes (c.815) [De Administrando Imperio, Dumbarton Oaks Texts, Greek text edited by Gy. Moravcsik, 1967, 2008, p.94, translation modified]

Thus, my Greek professor at UCLA in 1968 was unfamiliar with the works of the Porphyrogenitus and had difficulty believing that such a statement as we see at right could be genuine. The absurd, indeed reactionary, preoccupation with the pure and ancient languages, even while disparaging those who recently were actually writing in one of them, may reveal why not much original philosophy was written during the Renaissance.

What many people might think of as the great exception to that statement would be Giordano Bruno (1548–1600). Burno was burned at the stake in Rome for heresy and thus earned a special place in history as a martyr to reason and free thought. Just how original he was in his thought, however, is the question. He is mainly remembered now for his belief that there are an infinite number of worlds in an infinite universe, all inhabited by rational beings like ourselves. His inspiration for this idea, of course, was Copernicus, but he cannot be said to have added any evidence to the theory of heliocentrism or have otherwise advanced it in substantive ways (as Kepler, for instance, would do).

So Bruno was not a martyr to science, since he wasn't a scientist and made no real contribution to the advancement of science. His ideas were speculative, and his thought is a tribute to his imagination rather than to much in the way of helpful results. Beyond the astronomy, Bruno looks like a Neoplatonist and, in general, a securely Mediaeval thinker. That he was executed for unorthodox beliefs like reincarnation, magic, and pantheism is no tribute to the illiberal attitudes of the Church, but it also fails to distinguish Bruno from many other free thinkers condemned for heresy in the Middle Ages. It makes his martyrdom a retrospective on Mediaeval intolerance rather than a persecution of the coming Modern spirit. In 1616, when Galileo was brought before the same Inquisitor as Bruno, Cardinal Robert Bellarmino (1542–1621), to be informed that the Church now condemned the Copernican teaching, the matter would begin to develop much differently.

Noteworthy in the Renaissance, however, was the movement that came to be known as Humanism. This, in the first place, merely meant an appreciation for Classical learning. In the second place, however, it meant a revival of the concerns of Classical learning, meaning those which were humanistic in the Greek sense, and a turning away from what was seen as the obscurantism and irrelevant abstraction of Scholasticism.

We might think of Mediaeval Romania as holding a kind of resevoir of Platonism, whose breach by the Ottomans allowed it to spill out into Italy. There was actually a Platonic Academy founded after the Council of Florence (1438-1439), under the influence of George Gemistus Plethon (d.1452/4), by the 15th century Florentine ruler and patron of the arts Cosimo de' Medici (Cosimo the Elder, 1389-1464).

The Platonism of this academy was really a form of Neoplatonism, with a Platonic/Christian twist which emphasized love as the avenue through which the individual could return, in the Neoplatonic sense, to God. Indeed, the connection of Platonic love to Christian love, which had not been developed before, could well qualify as an element of original philosophy in the Renaissance. However, this was not an issue that would have a future in the subsequent development of Western Philosophy. Neoplatonism itself comes to be neglected, of not ignored, in the academic study of the history of philosophy -- see the comments above on the contemptuous treatment of both Hellenism and Late Antiquity by Will Durant.

At Venice in 1502, Adlus Manutius also founded a "New Academy," devoted entirely to Greek, with its business, rules, titles, etc. all conducted or rendered into Greek -- which was also the case in Manutius' own household. Indeed, the members, who would include Erasmus, even adopted Hellenized names.

One head of the Florentine Academy, Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), himself translated from Greek all of Plato and Plotinus, a telling combination. That the combination was not accidental we see in the Neoplatonism of Ficino's On Love and the Platonic Theology. This was of great cultural and historical significance, and was one of the last hurrahs for Neoplatonism, but, again, its originality as philosophy was rather a dead end. There has been no properly robust Christian modern philosophy to continue its tradition.

Nevertheless, there is the coincidence that the Platonic regard for mathematics soon turns up in Kepler and Galileo. It is then reasonable to think that this enabled them to break through Aristotelian conceptions of induction and found the new, modern mathematical physics.

The value of this influence is also something generally unappreciated and neglected, especially when we see philosophy of science continuing to focus on induction, following Francis Bacon (1561-1626), when that had wholly misconceived the new nature of Scientific Method. Although the logic of induction was exploded by David Hume (of which all subsequent philosophers are aware), and Scientific Method finally clarified by Karl Popper, the matter remains muddled; and many philosophers cling to induction and to Bacon out of a perplexing inertia and confusion.

Mistra and Athos

Many of the Greek scholars who influenced Renaissance Italy had come, not so much from Constantinople, as from Mistra. This was a complex of buildings in the hills above Sparta in the Peloponnesus (which in the Middle Ages was called the "Morea"). After being seized by the Crusaders, the area around Sparta, Laconia, was retrieved by the Palaeologi (from the Princes of Achaea) in 1261. By 1348 it became a kind of viceroyalty of the Empire, with the capital at Mistra, ruled by its own Despot, who were sons or brothers of the reigning Emperor -- thus, the last Emperor, Constantine XI, began as one of the Despots. The centerpiece of Mistra was thus the Palace of the Despots. Around it grew a political and monastic establishment, as the viceroyalty itself expanded to cover the entire Peloponnesus.

The intellectual life at Mistra in effect was the beginning of the Renaissance. Most representative was George Gemistus Plethon. At the Council of Ferrara and Florence (1438-1439), Plethon deeply impressed the Italians with his Platonism, which was so thoroughgoing that he urged the Palaeologi to establish something like Plato's Republic in the Morea and was himself hardly even much of a Christian -- or not one at all, since he advocating worship of the Olympian gods.

Since this was disturbingly heterodox, if not apostacy to paganism, the Despot Manuel II later confined him to Mistra. Nevertheless, he was held in such respect that he was otherwise not molested, and his works were not even condemned until after his death. In Italy, his advocacy of Plato over Aristotle sought to undo both the Neoplatonic fusion of the two and the later Mediaeval promotion of Aristotle, begun in Islâmic philosophy, over Plato. The Platonic, and not just Neoplatonic, vogue of the Renaissance was thus the conscious aim of Plethon. With the Turks advancing on Mistra in 1465, a local Venetian commander, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, delayed his retreat until Plethon's body could be exhumed. By 1466, it was reinterred in Italy, in the Tempio Malatestiano church in Rimini, where it remains.

Mistra, in ironic contrast to the ancient intellectual poverty of nearby Sparta, was thus perhaps the very real source of Renaissance Humanism -- and through the Platonic regard for mathematics, as noted, modern mathematical science -- the Platonic inspiration is especially obvious in Kepler. This did not go uncontradicted in the Greek world. The Platonists of Mistra had opposition from the Orthodox Mt. Hiei, the great complex of monastaries on the Holy Mountain, Mt. Athos.

The rationalism of the Humanists was opposed by the mysticism that was more characteristic at Athos. There had recently been a controversy over "Hesychasm" at Athos, a practice of mystical prayer by which the monks believed they could perceive "the light surrounding God himself" [cf. Warren Threadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford, 1997, p.764]. Accusations that this was heretical were rejected by a Council in 1341.

After the Turkish conquest, the last of the Humanists left for Italy and the influence of Athos was triumphant. Since the mysticism was very unworldly and had no political implications, it was probably safer from any hostile response by the Ottomans. Its influence, however, extends well into the 20th century.

That is because the theology of Athos spread far into the Orthodox world, including Russia -- where, of course, its lack of political dimension suited it equally to the regime of the Tsars. Just how this influence then worked in the long run we can see in the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881). Russia is conspicuous for having few philosophers but many philosophical novelists, stretching at least from Dostoevsky all the way to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (and Ayn Rand).

Dostoevsky was a very serious Christian, but no rationalist -- characteristics still evident in Solzhenitsyn (though not, of course, in the atheistic Rand). Today, this orientation tends to get classified as a theistic Existentialism -- something sometimes lost in treatments of Dostoevsky, whose Christianity sometimes seems to be forgotten.

Although a theistic Existentialism may be said to have begun with Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Dostoevsky has had equal or greater influence and certainly beats Kierkegaard in prescience. Thus, the character Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment (1866) plays out the story of Leopold and Loeb long before Nietzsche had expressed his theory of action "beyond good and evil." Unlike his more modern counterparts, however, Raskolnikov in the end is redeemed by the love and religion of a woman -- something that would have held no attractions for Nietzsche. Through the novel format, Dostoevsky provides thorough examinations of religion, psychology, nihilism, even utilitarianism -- a broad mix of issues fully as significant today as in his own time.

A single life visits some of the most important sites of Renaissance Humanism and Orthodox mysticism, all the way to Russia. This was the life of Michael Rivolis (c.1470-1556). Rivolis had been born in Epirus; but his parents had come from Constantinople, and because of their connections, he traveled to Florence in 1492 with the humanist John Lascaris. Rivolis became familiar with all the scholars and activities of Renaissance Florence, but his concerns began to turn towards more rigorous religious practice.

In 1502 he renounced the rationalism of secular learning and entered the Dominican monastery of San Marco in Florence. Breaking with humanism, he was not destined, like some other Greek scholars, for Catholicism. By 1505 he had moved on to the Vatopedi (Batopediou) Monastery on Mt. Athos. There he became the monk Maximus. And from there, in 1516, he was recommended for a mission to the Grand Duke Basil III of Moscow -- though the recommendation still noted his familiarity with "Hellenic," i.e. Classical, knowledge. In Russia, Maximus became Maxim Grek, "Maxim the Greek." Imprisoned for six years by Basil, whom he had criticized, and then kept under a kind of monastic house arrest for much of the rest of his life, Maxim postumously grew in stature for this treatment and for the resolute mind that provoked it. Living to old age in the days of Ivan the Terrible, Maxim helped implant the mystical, Hesychast tradition of Athos in Russia (also showing that it need not always be non-political).

The opposition of Mistra and Athos, although long concealed by the eclipse of Mediaeval Romania under the Ottoman Conquest, emerges again, with its origins obscured, in the 19th and 20th centuries. The influence of the Orthodox world, both through the Humanism of Mistra and the mysticism of Athos, tends to be overlooked in most treatments of the Renaissance, but that of Athos, being more indirect, by way of Russia, hardly gets noticed at all. As much recent intellectual opinion, however, has tended to irrationalism, Dostoevsky's Existentialism now seems more "modern" than what remains of liberal humanism. It is certainly not without opposition from the nihilism that Dostoevsky himself combated, but its human (indeed) depth holds the promise of greater durability.

The Reformation

Something rather like the tension that we see between Mistra and Athos occurs in Western Europe between the great Dutch Humanist Desiderius Erasmus (c.1466-1536) and the fount of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther (1483-1546). Since the two were, each in their own way, concerned with the reform of the Church, they actually corresponded for a while. They discovered, as we might expect, that they were not quite on the same wavelength.

The Humanistic rationalism of Erasmus -- who, having read the Phaedo, is supposed to have exclaimed, "Pray for us, Saint Socrates!" -- meant little or nothing to Luther, while Luther's own religious daimones, whether angels or demons, were from a realm of experience evidently and entirely invisible to Erasmus -- who said of Protestants, returning from hearing a sermon, that "the faces of all showed a curious wrath and ferocity."

This is an important point. We do not see in Luther anything like the mysticism of Athos. He therefore is an excellent illustration that religious piety can be neither rational nor properly mystical. The power of Luther's Hymn,
Martin Luther, 1529/1531
Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,
Ein gute Wehr und Waffen;
Er hilft uns frei aus aller Not,
Die uns jetzt hat betroffen.
Der alt’ böse Feind,
Mit Ernst er’s jetzt meint,
Gross’ Macht und viel List
Sein’ grausam’ Ruestung ist,
Auf Erd’ ist nicht seingleichen.
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
"A Mighty Fortress is Our God," still echoes down the centuries -- while we later see that this sort of thing, i.e. music, still held no appeal for the Humanistic, or perhaps Calvinistic, Kant -- yet the literaly iconoclasm of the Lutherians was already betraying an intense anaesthesia.

In 2018 we have a book about Erasmus and Luther:  Fatal Discord, Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind, by Michael Massing [Harper]. From the title alone, this treatment looks misconceived. The "Western Mind" needs to accommodate both Erasmus and Luther, both reason and faith. That is not a new idea but was already nicely expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas. Thus, any "fatal discord" or "fight" involves a confusion. Erasmus cannot be said to represent any kind of powerful religious intuition -- although I'm sure he would get along reasonably well with Unitarians or Quakers.

Of course, the contempt and hostility for religion (except ʾIslâm) among Western elite secular academics and intellectuals is palpable, and one might reasonably suspect that Mr. Massing wishes Erasmus had won the "fight." Massing is identified on his book as "a former executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review" and "a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books." His credentials and background, in journalism and political economy, thus do not hold out much hope that he has any sympathy, knowledge, or understanding of religion.

Protestantism now in general looks like a fairly tepid form of spiritualism, unless, of course, we bother to notice the Baptists, Pentacostals, Evangelicals, etc. whose religion tends to be either ignored or despised by secular culture. When not beneath notice, this kind of religion gets dismissed as the refuge of ignorant or bigoted rubes, victims of ministers who are manupulative and predatory hypocrites, people who should, in trendly opinion, know that their better interest and self-fulfillment would be found in (Marxist) political activism.

Sometimes, however, an icon of the bien pensants catches some of the infection of the unwashed, as with the Christian period of Bob Dylan (b.1941). In his music that began in 1979, we already had the scene of Abraham and Issac in "Highway 61 Revisited," where we find the paradox of a just God (?) ordering unjust obedience, the sacrifice of Issac, as examined in classic form by Kierkegaard and Rudolf Otto. Subsequently, Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman) seems to have drifted towards Jewish rather than Christian observance, which earns less contempt from elites but is no more comprehensible. Indeed, Jewish mysticism (the Kabala, etc.) enjoys a certain vogue, but this is typically unaccompanied by strict Orthodox practice, or any practice, of Judaism.

Thus, elite culture has lost any proper understanding of religion, even while the backlash from religious culture wastes its energy and destroys its credibility attacking Charles Darwin. This is an exercise in fultility for all concerned. That Erasmus is himself all but forgotten is a clue of the ongoing difficulty of Humanism in recognizing the realities of religion. That the most secular and politicized left seems to have discovered an ally in radical, fundamentalist ʾIslâm and terrorism holds a bitter irony of almost unbelievable incoherence. There is therefore a great cost to pay in the estrangement of Erasmus and Luther.

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