A History of Science
Tome I
Tome II
Tome III Tome IV

Book 1, chapter X
Science of the roman period
We have seen that the third century B.C. was a time when Alexandrian science was at its height, but that the second century produced also in Hipparchus at least one investigator of the very first rank; though, to be sure, Hipparchus can be called an Alexandrian only by courtesy. In the ensuing generations the Greek capital at the mouth of the Nile continued to hold its place as the centre of scientific and philosophical thought. The kingdom of the Ptolemies still flourished with at least the outward appearances of its old-time glory, and a company of grammarians and commentators of no small merit could always be found in the service of the famous museum and library; but the whole aspect of world-history was rapidly changing. Greece, after her brief day of political supremacy, was sinking rapidly into desuetude, and the hard-headed Roman in the West was making himself master everywhere. While Hipparchus of Rhodes was in his prime, Corinth, the last stronghold of the main-land of Greece, had fallen before the prowess of the Roman, and the kingdom of the Ptolemies, though still nominally free, had begun to come within the sphere of Roman influence.

Just what share these political changes had in changing the aspect of Greek thought is a question regarding which difference of opinion might easily prevail; but there can be no question that, for one reason or another, the Alexandrian school as a creative centre went into a rapid decline at about the time of the Roman rise to world-power. There are some distinguished names, but, as a general rule, the spirit of the times is reminiscent rather than creative; the workers tend to collate the researches of their predecessors rather than to make new and original researches for themselves. Eratosthenes, the inventive world-measurer, was succeeded by Strabo, the industrious collator of facts; Aristarchus and Hipparchus, the originators of new astronomical methods, were succeeded by Ptolemy, the perfecter of their methods and the systematizer of their knowledge. Meanwhile, in the West, Rome never became a true culture-centre. The great genius of the Roman was political; the Augustan Age produced a few great historians and poets, but not a single great philosopher or creative devotee of science. Cicero, Lucian, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, give us at best a reflection of Greek philosophy. Pliny, the one world-famous name in the scientific annals of Rome, can lay claim to no higher credit than that of a marvellously industrious collector of facts - the compiler of an encyclopaedia which contains not one creative touch.

All in all, then, this epoch of Roman domination is one that need detain the historian of science but a brief moment. With the culmination of Greek effort in the so-called Hellenistic period we have seen ancient science at its climax. The Roman period is but a time of transition, marking, as it were, a plateau on the slope between those earlier heights and the deep, dark valleys of the Middle Ages. Yet we cannot quite disregard the efforts of such workers as those we have just named. Let us take a more specific glance at their accomplishments.




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© Serge Jodra, 2006. - Reproduction interdite.