Rome Through the
Middle Ages
Beginning in the Roman Era,
circa 30 BCE – 475 AD
 Celestial
Problems to be solved
– Daily motion of fixed stars
– Motion of the planets against the stars
 Aristotle:
– All celestial motion is constant
– All celestial motion is circular
Ptolemy’s Problems, circa
100AD
 Changes
in planetary brightness
 How stars can move so fast and not
fall apart
 Which is closer to Earth, Venus or
Mercury
 Can these phenomena be put into a
coherent system?


Ptolemy’s
epicycles,
deferents, and
equants were an
attempt to solve
these problems
But to account for
retrograde
motion, Ptolemy
had to have nonconstant motion,
violating
Aristotle’s physics
Ptolemy’s Estimates of the
Distances from the Sun* to the
Planets in Earth radii
Mercury
Venus
100
600
Earth
Mars
Jupiter
1,200
5,000
11,500
Saturn
Stars
17,000
20,000
*Adapted to represent a Sun-centered universe
These problems were not resolved
for almost 1500 years
 Not
many Roman astronomers
 Most work done up until 1500 was:
– more accurate mapping of the sky with
instruments
– preserving and translating the
knowledge of the Greeks, difficult
because much was lost during the Dark
Ages
Remember:
 The
Museum at Alexandria contained
over 400,000 scrolls
– Center of learning for hundreds of years
– Burned by zealots in 415 AD
– Librarian and Philosopher Hypatia killed
by zealots for heresy
The Preservers

Boethius (480-524)
– Roman of noble birth (but after the fall of the
Western Empire)
– preserved knowledge of logic and mathematics
– translated Aristotle's Logic; Pythagoras; Euclid

Cassiodorus (488-575)
– Roman statesman and scholar
– wrote commentaries on liberal arts
(Quadrivium)
– supported making copies of secular works
The Irish

The only European
region to accept
Christianity peacefully
– St. Patrick



No violent martyrdom
available: Green
martyrdom (hermitage)
Gregarious Irish failed at
being hermits, so
became industrious
scribes
Agnostic about what
they scribed
– Found the continental
self-censorship of pagan
Greek, Roman, and
Hebrew texts silly
Skellig Michael
Monastary Schools
 Acolytes
came from all over Europe to
study and copy with the Irish
– Became experts in ancient languages
without prejudice
– “Irish miniscule” became the accepted font
for European scribes
 Modern
books are portrait style because Irish
sheepskin came in that shape (2 facing pages)
– Bede himself noted the industriousness of
the Irish in his journal
Bede (BEE-dee) (673-735
 English
monk, Jarrow, England
– By the 7th century only monks were literate
– Complied 5 volume history of England from
Caesar to 8th C.
– made methodical study of tides and
published tables
– 250 book collection—biggest in England
– influenced by Pliny's Natural History
– In his Divisions of Time he combined the
Greek *Metonic calendar with the Roman
leap year to accurately predict Easter many
years in advance.
*the 6940 day cycle when the solar and
lunar cycles sync up
Charlemagne (Charles the Great)




Grandson of Charles the
Hammer Martel who had
protected France from the
Moors
Crowned Holy Roman
Emperor in 800AD
Empire* included France, the
Netherlands, Germany,
Poland, Austria, and most of
Italy
Died 814, the year Viking
berserkers invaded Europe
and destroyed a lot of the
progress towards literacy
*Modern names


Charlemagne’s schools
served a similar purpose to
monastery schools, but were
directed to include
instruction in secular as well
as sacred subjects -reading, writing, speaking,
mathematics, natural
philosophy
These schools were unable
to meet the growing needs
of an increasingly secular
society
– Especially after the Vikings
arrived

Some failed, but others like
Paris began to assume the
modern form of a university
The Rediscoverers
 Dissemination
of Greek Knowledge
– The Bactrians:
 For
centuries after the dissolution of
Alexander's empire, Greek culture continued
to influence the people of Bactria. Cities like
Bactra and Merv were crossroads on the Silk
Road that helped introduce new
commodities and technologies from the
East, such as paper and paper-making circa
750 AD.
 Traders traveling the Silk road would return
ancient knowledge to the West
The Nestorians
Leaders in the early Christian Church*
gathered in what they called "ecumenical
councils“, meetings at which bishops from
all of Christendom could consider, discuss
and hopefully come to concurrence on
disputed or unclear points of scripture and
church doctrine.
 At the third council, held in Ephesus in
431 AD, delegates condemned the bishop
of Constantinople, Nestorius (381-451), as
a heretic for questioning Mary's status as
Mother of God…

*Eastern Empire: Western Empire in chaos
 …Nestorius
and his followers were
exiled to Persia and settled in
Edessa.
 Religious conflicts in Edessa
prompted the Nestorians to move
further east in 457.
– Academies modeled after the ancient
one in Alexandria were founded in
Antioch and Nisibis.
 When
Islam arrived in the 7th century
this Greek tradition would be
rediscovered
India


Alexander's empire had
extended to the Indus
River valley, itself a
thriving civilization,
and communication and
trade continued over
the centuries via land
and sea
Astronomical records
from Alexandria found
their way to
observatories like those
in Pataliputra (Patna
today) and Ujjain (ooJEN)
Really Nothing




Indian astronomers added their own
observations to those extant but replaced the
Babylonian sexigesimal system with a decimal
system that included a symbol for "nothing"
to help keep track of place values.
This symbol was called sunya, the Hindi word
meaning "the void."
When this was translated into Arabic, scholars
used the word sifr, meaning "empty."
Italians transliterated this word as zefirum,
zefiro, and zefro, which eventually became
zero.
Islam
 In
conquering the lands
from India to the Atlantic,
the Islamic empire fostered
a blooming of Greek
knowledge and thought
 Some of this rediscovered
academia found its way
west through trade or
conquest of the Iberian
Peninsula, Al Andalus
 When Toledo was
conquered by Christians in
1085 this ancient
knowledge found its way to
Europe
Islamic Contributors

Al-Khwarizmic. 800-847 Baghdad
– Mathematician; the word algorithm comes from his
name
– wrote a zij, a publication based on the Handy Tables of
Ptolemy

Alhazen 1000 Cairo
– Configuration of the World was a realization of the
Ptolemaic model later referenced by Georg Peurbach
– treatise on optics became widely circulated in Europe,
led in part to the invention of spectacles ~ 1300

Averroes 1126-1198 Cordova (Al Andalus)
– philosopher
– translated Aristotle , became known as The
Commentator
– compiled works of Galen
– predicted the existence of a new world beyond the
Atlantic Ocean
New Name for an Old Book


In the 9th C. the Arabs
find Ptolemy’s “h
Mathematics Syntaxia”,
The Mathematical
Compilation in
Constantanople
Renamed “al Majiasti”,
The Greatest
Compilation
– AKA The Almagest

By the 12th C it is
translated into Latin
for the King of Sicily
Some Words with Arabic Roots
alkali
saffron
nadir
elixir
zircon
jasmine
zenith
talc
alembic
coffee
zero
cipher
camphor
artichoke
azure
lute
sherbet
algorithm algebra
borax
Arabic Named Stars
Aldebaran
Mizar
Jabbah
Betelgeuse
Rigel
Sabik
Altair
Deneb
Rasalhagethi
Alnilam
Kochab
Eltanin
Zubenelgenubi Zosma
Markab
Islamic Observing



Observing the sky was
permitted as knowing the
time was necessary for the
five daily prayers
Despite the Koran’s
admonition that “No one
but God shall know the
future”, astrology
flourished both privately
and at court
Instruments to measure
the sky were at first
portable but later too big
to move around
– Bigger images to follow, but
you can see some here
Two Islamic Observatories

1120, Cairo
– Caliph’s vizier begins
construction of large
observatory

Murdered the following year
– Instruments completed by 1125
– New vizier killed for
communicating with Saturn

1571 Istanbul
– Built by Sultan for Astronomer
Taqi al-Din

Contemporaneous with Tycho’s
Hven observatory
– Failed to make good predictions
about war or health, so it was
destroyed in 1580
The *Ulugh Beg Sextant



13th C. Samarkand,
Central Asia
A 60° arc of stone with a
40 m radius, aimed at the
ecliptic
Observers could measure
star positions with a very
high precision, aided the
compilation of 1,012 stars
and the most important
catalog of the Middle Ages
*provincial governor
Still a problem…
Europeans
 The
Crusades
– A way to occupy idle knights and heal
the Great Schism
– 3 main attempts to wrest Jerusalem
from Islam, numerous lesser ones
 Monastery
schools’ goals:
– standardizing and preserving Christian
dogma
scriptoria
 inspired in part by the Irish

Changes in Attitude
Ancient wisdom
preserved in
monasteries
 As the Dark Ages*
(500-900 AD) gave
rise to the High
Middle Ages,
academic learning
flourished

*Petrarch in the 1330s said of those who had come before him "amidst
the errors there shone forth men of genius, no less keen were their
eyes, although they were surrounded by darkness and dense gloom”
Thomas Aquinas
 By
the 12th C much ‘new’
knowledge had found its
way to Europe, challenging
traditional and religious
teaching
 Aquinas successfully
merged Aristotle and
Christian doctrine, linking
the two until the time of
Newton
Universities


The schools set up by Charlemagne provided the
model for greater academic institutions
Added to the quadrivium:
–
–
–
–

Geometry
Arithmetic
Music
Astronomy
Was the trivium
– Grammar
– Rhetoric
– Logic



The Seven Liberal Arts
Oxford / Cambridge began as monasteries
Scholasticism: arguing conflict down to
agreement

Many universities were a product of the guild
system (High and Late Middle Ages)
– Paris: guild of masters
– Bologna: guild of students

Different Views of a Scholar’s Job
– Greatest happiness comes from contemplation of
knowledge already derived (accept what the teacher
says), OR
– “By doubting we come to inquiry; by inquiring we
perceive the truth” (challenge what the teacher says),
OR
– “You will find more in forests than in books. Woods and
stones will teach you more than any master” (find out
for yourself)

This last will grow into what we generally call The
Scientific Method
Medicine
 Derived
from
Galen,
Hellenistic
Greek
 Health/illness
connected to
Astrology
Technological Advances




Glass mirrors ~
1190
“Dry” compass ~
1250
Convex lenses /
Spectacles ~ 1280
Mechanical Clocks
– Prague Astronomical
Clock
– 1410, still works
today
– Mechanism essential
for 19th C. equatorial
drives
Roger Bacon
 1214-1294
Somerset,
England
 AKA Doctor Mirabilis
(wonderful teacher)
– Wrote several important
works on astronomy,
astrology, alchemy, and
the calendar
– One of the few who
advocated
experimentation
Sacrobosco




AKA John Halifax? John Holywood? – 1256,
Yorkshire, England
Educated at Oxford
Taught mathematics at University of Paris
First European to write about Ptolemy's
system (On the Sphere of the Worlds); first
edition flawed in that it doesn’t explain the
motions in the sky
Sphæra Mundi
Sphæra Mundi
One of the first astronomy books printed;
the principal elementary textbook on
astronomy for 400 years
 25 editions of Sphæra Mundi printed
between 1472-1500, and 40 more by
1650
 1508 edition: Prime Mover (as in S-P-A
philosophy)

Alphonsine Tables
Commissioned by King Alphonso X of
Toledo in 1252
 Used observations by Islamic astronomers
as well as new work by local scholars
 Georg Peurbach relied on these tables for
his new Theory of the Planets, printed in
1474

Georg Peurbach


1423-1461 Austria
*Began the task of translating the
Almagest directly from Greek into Latin
– Known as the Epitome of Ptolemy
– systematized and clarified Ptolemy's Almagest
– used by Christopher Columbus and Nicholas
Copernicus
– didn't improve the predictive power of
Ptolemy's system
– didn't resolve problems with calendar
– prompted Copernicus to conclude that
something was fundamentally wrong with
Ptolemy's system
*Finished by his student, Johannes Müller
Others

Johannes Gutenberg (c.1397-1468)
introduced movable type around 1450
–
–


Also prompted the development of optical
industry
Because paper was in short supply so they
printed small
Poeticon astronomicon (1488) popular, not
scholarly text
Pryncycples of Astronomye. Andrew Boord,
1542
–
–
A doctor
Book for doctors on when to apply certain medicines and
medications
The Medieval Universe
Divine Comedy 1306-1321
The Nuremberg Chronicle 1493
Instruments






Sextant
Astrolabe
Quadrant
Cross staff
Compendium
All pre-telescope era!
Sextant
Astrolabe
Quadrant
Cross staff
Compendium
finis
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Rome Through the Middle Ages