Scientific activities were carried on throughout the Middle Ages[1] in areas as diverse as astronomy, medicine, and mathematics. Whereas the ancient cultures of the world (i.e. those prior to the fall of Rome and the dawn of Islam) had developed many of the foundations of science, it was during the Middle Ages that the scientific method was born and science became a formal discipline separate from philosophy.[2][3][4] There were scientific discoveries throughout the world, as in the Islamic world, in the Mediterranean basin, China, and India, while from the 12th century onwards, the scientific development in Western Europe began to catch up again.

The Byzantine Empire, which was the most sophisticated Mediterranean culture at the start of the early Middle Ages, preserved the systems and theories of science, mathematics and medicine of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The works of Aristotle, Archimedes, Galen, Ptolemy, Euclid and others spread through the empire. Meanwhile, Western Europe had suffered a catastrophic loss of knowledge following the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The Islamic world soon became the center of scientific activity, making major advances in many fields, most notably the development of the scientific method by Muslim scientists such as Alhazen, Biruni, and Avicenna. Thanks to the Church scholars such as Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Buridan, the West adopted this spirit of scientific inquiry, which would later lead to Europe's taking the lead in science during the European Scientific Revolution using translations of medieval works.

Major accomplishments[edit | edit source]

Although there were numerous scientific accomplishments during the Middle Ages the following are notable discoveries which advanced the world of science.

Because of the decline of the Byzantine Empire and the medieval Muslim empires, much of the scientific progress of the medieval period slowed significantly during the late Middle Ages. Progress was finally re-ignited by the European Scientific Revolution, which followed its Renaissance period.

Islamic world[edit | edit source]

See also: Timeline of Muslim scientists and engineers, Islamic Golden Age, Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe, and List of Muslim scientists
File:Islamic MedText c1500.jpg

Sample of Islamic medical text

Overview[edit | edit source]

In the Middle East, Hellenistic philosophy was able to find some short-lived support by the newly created Islamic Caliphate (Islamic Empire). With the spread of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries, a period of Islamic scholarship lasted until the 15th century. In the Islamic World, the Middle Ages is known as the Islamic Golden Age, when Islamic civilization and Islamic scholarship flourished. This scholarship was aided by several factors. The use of a single language, Arabic, allowed communication without need of a translator. Translations of Hellenistic texts from Egypt and the Byzantine Empire, and Sanskrit texts from India, provided Islamic scholars a knowledge base to build upon.

In earlier Islamic versions of the scientific method, ethics played an important role. Islamic scholars used previous work in medicine, astronomy and mathematics as bedrock to develop new fields such as algebra,[38] chemistry,[39] clinical pharmacology,[40] experimental physics,[41] sociology,[42] and spherical trigonometry.[43]

Scientific method[edit | edit source]

Muslim scientists placed far greater emphasis on experiment than had the Greeks. This led to the scientific method being developed in the Muslim world,[44] where significant progress in methodology was made, beginning with the experiments (he calls them "demonstrations") of Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) on optics, in his Book of Optics circa 1021.[45][46] The most important development of the scientific method was the use of experiments to distinguish between competing scientific theories set within a generally empirical orientation, which began among Muslim scientists. Ibn al-Haytham is also regarded as the father of optics, especially for his empirical proof of the intromission theory of light. Some have also described Ibn al-Haytham as the "first scientist" for his development of the scientific method.[47]

Alchemy and chemistry[edit | edit source]

Muslim chemists and alchemists played an important role in the foundation of modern chemistry. Scholars such as Will Durant and Alexander von Humboldt regard Muslim chemists to be founders of chemistry,[39][48] particularly Jābir ibn Hayyān, who was a pioneer of chemistry,[49][50] for introducing an early experimental scientific method within the field, as well as the alembic, still, retort,[51] and the chemical processes of pure distillation, filtration, sublimation,[52] liquefaction, crystallisation, purification, oxidisation and evaporation.[51]

The study of traditional alchemy and the theory of the transmutation of metals were first refuted by al-Kindi,[53] followed by Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī,[54] Avicenna,[55] and Ibn Khaldun. In his Doubts about Galen, al-Razi was the first to prove both Aristotle's theory of classical elements and Galen's theory of humorism false using an experiment.[56] Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī described an early version of the concept of conservation of mass, noting that a body of matter is able to change, but is not able to disappear.[57]

Applied sciences[edit | edit source]

In the applied sciences, a significant number of inventions and technologies were produced by medieval Muslim scientists and engineers such as Abbas Ibn Firnas, Taqi al-Din, and particularly al-Jazari, who is considered a pioneer in modern engineering.[58] According to Fielding H. Garrison, the "Saracens themselves were the originators not only of algebra, chemistry, and geology, but of many of the so-called improvements or refinements of civilization, such as street lamps, window-panes, firework, stringed instruments, cultivated fruits, perfumes, spices, etc."[59]

During the Muslim Agricultural Revolution, Muslim scientists made significant advances in botany and laid the foundations of agricultural science. Muslim botanists and agriculturists demonstrated advanced agronomical, agrotechnical and economic knowledge in areas such as meteorology, climatology, hydrology, soil occupation, and the economy and management of agricultural enterprises. They also demosntrated agricultural knowledge in areas such as pedology, agricultural ecology, irrigation, preparation of soil, planting, spreading of manure, killing herbs, sowing, cutting trees, grafting, pruning vine, prophylaxis, phytotherapy, the care and improvement of cultures and plants, and the harvest and storage of crops.[60]

Astronomy and mathematics[edit | edit source]

See also: Maragheh observatory

In astronomy, Al-Battani improved the measurements of Hipparchus, preserved in the Arabic translation of Ptolemy's Hè Megalè Syntaxis (The great treatise), translated as Almagest. Al-Battani also improved the precision of the measurement of the precession of the Earth's axis. Key technologies such as the equitorium and universal latitude-independent astrolabe were developed by Arzachel.[32] Al-Biruni was the first to conduct elaborate experiments related to astronomical phenomena.[61][62] Ibn al-Shatir produced the first model of lunar motion which matched experimental observations, as well as the first solar model to eliminate epicycles in order to match observations.[63] This and other developments in planetary models by Al-Battani, Averroes, and Maragha astronomers such as Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (Tusi-couple) and Mo'ayyeduddin Urdi (Urdi lemma) are believed to have been used by the Renaissance astronomer Copernicus in his heliocentric model.[35] The Earth's rotation and heliocentrism were also discussed by several Muslim astronomers such as Biruni, Al-Sijzi and Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi,[64] while the first empirical observational evidence of the Earth's rotation was given by Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī and Ali al-Qushji, and al-Birjandi developed an early hypothesis on "circular inertia."[65] Natural philosophy was also separated from astronomy by Alhazen, Ibn al-Shatir,[66] and al-Qushji.[65]

In mathematics, Al-Khwarizmi gave his name to the concept of the algorithm, while the term algebra is derived from his publication Al-Jabr. He was the first to recognize algebra as a distinct field of mathematics.[38][67] What is now known as Arabic numerals originally came from India, but Muslim mathematicians made several refinements to the number system, such as the introduction of decimal point notation. Other achievements of medieval Muslim mathematicians included the development of spherical trigonometry,[43] the discovery of all the trigonometric functions besides sine, al-Kindi's introduction of cryptanalysis and frequency analysis,[68][69] al-Karaji's introduction of algebraic calculus[70] and proof by mathematical induction,[71] the development of analytic geometry and the earliest general formula for infinitesimal and integral calculus by Ibn al-Haytham,[72] the beginning of algebraic geometry by Omar Khayyam,[73][74] the first refutations of Euclidean geometry and the parallel postulate by Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī and the first attempt at a non-Euclidean geometry by Sadr al-Din,[75] and the development of symbolic algebra by Abū al-Hasan ibn Alī al-Qalasādī.[76]

Earth sciences[edit | edit source]

Muslim scientists made a number of contributions to the Earth sciences. Alkindus was the first to introduce experimentation into the Earth sciences.[77] About 900, Al-Battani improved the precision of the measurement of the precession of the Earth's axis, thus continuing a millennium's legacy of measurements in his own land (Babylonia and Chaldea- the area now known as Iraq). Biruni is considered a pioneer of geodesy for his important contributions to the field.[78][79] Avicenna hypothesized on two causes of mountains in The Book of Healing. In cartography, the Piri Reis map drawn by the Ottoman cartographer Piri Reis in 1513, was one of the earliest world maps to include the Americas, and perhaps the first to include Antarctica. His map of the world was considered the most accurate in the 16th century.

The earliest known treatises dealing with environmentalism and environmental science, especially pollution, were Arabic treatises written by al-Kindi, al-Razi, Ibn Al-Jazzar, al-Tamimi, al-Masihi, Avicenna, Ali ibn Ridwan, Abd-el-latif, and Ibn al-Nafis. Their works covered a number of subjects related to pollution such as air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, municipal solid waste mishandling, and environmental impact assessments of certain localities.[80]

Medicine[edit | edit source]

See also: Ophthalmology in medieval Islam and Bimaristan

Muslim physicians made a number of significant contributions to medicine. They set up the earliest dedicated hospitals in the modern sense of the word,[81] including the first psychiatric hospitals[82] and the first medical schools which issued diplomas to students qualified to become doctors of medicine.[83]

Al-Kindi wrote the De Gradibus, in which he first demonstrated the application of quantification and mathematics to medicine and pharmacology, such as a mathematical scale to quantify the strength of drugs and the determination in advance of the most critical days of a patient's illness.[84] Abu al-Qasim (Abulcasis) helped lay the foudations for modern surgery,[85] with his Kitab al-Tasrif, in which he invented numerous surgical instruments.[86] Avicenna helped lay the foundations for modern medicine,[87] with The Canon of Medicine, which was responsible for introducing systematic experimentation and quantification in physiology,[88] and the introduction of experimental medicine,[89] clinical trials,[90] randomized controlled trials,[91][92] efficacy tests,[93][94] and clinical pharmacology.[40] Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) was the earliest known experimental surgeon.[95] Ibn al-Nafis laid the foundations for circulatory physiology,[96] as he was the first to describe the pulmonary circulation[97] and the capillary[98] and coronary circulations.[99][100]

Physics[edit | edit source]

Experimental physics had its roots in the work of the 11th-century Muslim polymath and physicist, Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen),[12] who is considered the "father of modern optics"[101] and one of the most important physicists of the Middle Ages,[81] for having developed the earliest experimental scientific method in his Book of Optics.[2] Alhazen was the first thinker to combine all three fields of optics (theories of philosophical or physical optics, physiological theories of the eye, and geometrical optics) into an integrated science of optics.[20] This was, however, not just a work of synthesis, as he made original contributions to the field. While had proposed the linear propagation of light, Alhazen proved it with empirical experiments. He then went further, proposing a unified theory of light that proved vision occurs due to light entering the eye rather than the other way around. His Book of Optics has been ranked alongside Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica as one of the most influential books in the history of physics[102] for initiating a revolution in optics[103] and visual perception.[104]

Another important medieval Muslim physicist and polymath who contributed towards experimental physics was Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, who developed the earliest experimental method for mechanics in the 11th century. Al-Biruni and Al-Khazini also unified statics and dynamics into the science of mechanics, and combined hydrostatics with dynamics to create the field of hydrodynamics.[13] The concept of inertia was theorized in the 11th century by the Islamic scholar Avicenna,[14] who also theorized the idea of momentum.[15] In the 12th century, Avempace developed the concept of a reaction force,[16] and Abu’l Barakat developed the concept that force applied continuously produces acceleration.[17] Galileo Galilei's mathematical treatment of acceleration and his concept of inertia[105] was influenced by the works of Avicenna,[106] Avempace and Jean Buridan.[107]

Other sciences[edit | edit source]

Muslim polymaths and scientists made advances in a number of other sciences. Some of the most famous among them include Jābir ibn Hayyān (polymath, pioneer of chemistry), al-Farabi (polymath), Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi or Abulcasis (pioneer in surgery),[85] Ibn al-Haytham (polymath, father of optics, pioneer of scientific method, pioneer in psychophysics and experimental psychology,[108] and the first experimental scientist), Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (polymath, father of Indology[109] and geodesy, and the "first anthropologist"),[78] Avicenna (polymath, pioneer of medicine[87] and momentum concept),[110] Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī (polymath), and Ibn Khaldun (forerunner of social sciences[111] such as demography,[79] cultural history,[112] historiography,[113] the philosophy of history, and sociology).[42]

India[edit | edit source]

Alchemy and metallurgy[edit | edit source]

By the beginning of the Middle Ages, the wootz, crucible and stainless steels were invented in India. The spinning wheel used for spinning thread or yarn from fibrous material such as wool or cotton was invented in the early Middle Ages. By the end of the Middle Ages, iron rockets were developed in the kingdom of Mysore in South India.

Astronomy[edit | edit source]

See also: Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics

The mathematician and astronomer Aryabhata in 499 propounded a heliocentric solar system of gravitation where he presented astronomical and mathematical theories in which the Earth was taken to be spinning on its axis and the periods of the planets were given as elliptical orbits with respect to the sun. He also believed that the moon and planets shine by reflected sunlight and that the orbits of the planets are ellipses. He carried out accurate calculations of astronomical constants based on this system, such as the periods of the planets, the circumference of the earth, the solar eclipse and lunar eclipse, the time taken for a single rotation of the Earth on its axis, the length of earth's revolution around the sun, and the longitudes of planets.

In the 7th century, Brahmagupta briefly described the law of gravitation, and recognized gravity as a force of attraction.

The Siddhanta Shiromani was a mathematical astronomy text written by Bhaskara in the 12th century. The 12 chapters of the first part cover topics such as: mean longitudes of the planets; true longitudes of the planets; the three problems of diurnal rotation; syzygies; lunar eclipses; solar eclipses; latitudes of the planets; risings and settings; the moon's crescent; conjunctions of the planets with each other; conjunctions of the planets with the fixed stars; and the patas of the sun and moon. The second part contains thirteen chapters on the sphere. It covers topics such as: praise of study of the sphere; nature of the sphere; cosmography and geography; planetary mean motion; eccentric epicyclic model of the planets; the armillary sphere; spherical trigonometry; ellipse calculations; first visibilities of the planets; calculating the lunar crescent; astronomical instruments; the seasons; and problems of astronomical calculations.

Mathematics[edit | edit source]

Aryabhata introduced a number of trigonometric functions (including sine, versine, cosine and inverse sine), trigonometric tables, and techniques and algorithms of algebra. Arabic translations of his texts were available in the Islamic world by the 8th-10th century.

Brahmagupta lucidly explained the use of zero as both a placeholder and a decimal digit, along with the Hindu-Arabic numerals now used universally throughout the world. Arabic translations of his texts (around 770) introduced this number system to the Islamic world, where it was adapted as Arabic numerals. Islamic scholars carried knowledge of this number system to Europe by the 10th century and it has now displaced all older number systems throughout the world.

From the 12th century, Bhaskara, Madhava, and various Kerala school mathematicians first conceived of mathematical analysis, differential calculus, concepts of integral calculus, infinite series, power series, Taylor series, trigonometric series, floating point numbers, and many other concepts foundational to the overall development of calculus and analysis.

Medicine[edit | edit source]

Traditional Indian medicine, known as Ayurveda, was mainly formulated in ancient times, but there were a number of additions made during the Middle Ages. Alongside the ancient physicians Sushruta and Charaka, the medieval physician Vagbhata, who lived in the 7th century, is considered one of the three classic writers of Ayurveda. In the 8th century, Madhav wrote the Nidāna, a 79-chapter book which lists diseases along with their causes, symptoms, and complications. He also included a special chapter on smallpox (masūrikā) and described the method of inoculation to protect against smallpox.[114]

Physics[edit | edit source]

Prior to the Middle Ages, Indian philosophers in ancient India developed atomic theories, which included formulating ideas about the atom in a systematic manner and propounding ideas about the atomic constitution of the material world. The principle of relativity was also available in an early embryonic form in the Indian philosophical concept of "sapekshavad". The literal translation of this Sanskrit word is "theory of relativity" (not to be confused with Einstein's theory of relativity). These concepts were further developed during the Middle Ages.

China[edit | edit source]

File:Sea island survey.jpg

A 1726 illustration of The Sea Island Mathematical Manual, written by Liu Hui in the 3rd century.

Theory and hypothesis[edit | edit source]

As Toby E. Huff notes, pre-modern Chinese science developed precariously without solid scientific theory, and lacked consistent systemic treatment in comparison to contemporaneous European works such as the Concordance and Discordant Canons by Gratian of Bologna (fl. 12th century).[115] This drawback to Chinese science was lamented even by the mathematician Yang Hui (1238–1298), who criticized earlier mathematicians such as Li Chunfeng (602–670) who were content with using methods without working out their theoretical origins or principle, stating:

The men of old changed the name of their methods from problem to problem, so that as no specific explanation was given, there is no way of telling their theoretical origin or basis.[116]

Despite this, Chinese thinkers of the Middle Ages proposed some hypotheses which are in accordance with modern principles of science. Yang Hui provided theoretical proof for the proposition that the complements of the parallelograms which are about the diameter of any given parallelogram are equal to one another.[116] Sun Sikong (1015–1076) proposed the idea that rainbows were the result of the contact between sunlight and moisture in the air, while Shen Kuo (1031–1095) expanded upon this with description of atmospheric refraction.[117][118][119] Shen believed that rays of sunlight refracted before reaching the surface of the earth, hence the appearance of the observed sun from earth did not match its exact location.[119] Coinciding with the astronomical work of his colleague Wei Pu, Shen and Wei realized that the old calculation technique for the mean sun was inaccurate compared to the apparent sun, since the latter was ahead of it in the accelerated phase of motion, and behind it in the retarded phase.[120] Shen supported and expanded upon beliefs earlier proposed by Han Dynasty (202 BCE–202 CE) scholars such as Jing Fang (78–37 BCE) and Zhang Heng (78–139 CE) that lunar eclipse occurs when the earth obstructs the sunlight traveling towards the moon, a solar eclipse is the moon's obstruction of sunlight reaching earth, the moon is spherical like a ball and not flat like a disc, and moonlight is merely sunlight reflected from the moon's surface.[121] Shen also explained that the observance of a full moon occurred when the sun's light was slanting at a certain degree and that crescent phases of the moon proved that the moon was spherical, using a metaphor of observing different angles of a silver ball with white powder thrown onto one side.[122][123] It should be noted that, although the Chinese accepted the idea of spherical-shaped heavenly bodies, the concept of a spherical earth (as opposed to a flat earth) was not accepted in Chinese thought until the works of Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) and Chinese astronomer Xu Guangqi (1562–1633) in the early 17th century.[124]

Medicine and Pharmacology[edit | edit source]

There were noted advances in traditional Chinese medicine during the Middle Ages. Emperor Gaozong (r. 649–683) of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) commissioned the scholarly compilation of a materia medica in 657 that documented 833 medicinal substances taken from stones, minerals, metals, plants, herbs, animals, vegetables, fruits, and cereal crops.[125] In his Bencao Tujing ('Illustrated Pharmacopoeia'), the scholar-official Su Song (1020–1101) not only systematically categorized herbs and minerals according to their pharmaceutical uses, but he also took an interest in zoology.[126][127][128][129] For example, Su made systematic descriptions of animal species and the environmental regions they could be found, such as the freshwater crab Eriocher sinensis found in the Huai River running through Anhui, in waterways near the capital city, as well as reservoirs and marshes of Hebei.[130]

Horology and clockworks[edit | edit source]

Although the Bencao Tujing was an important pharmaceutical work of the age, Su Song is perhaps better known for his work in horology. His book Xinyi Xiangfayao (新儀象法要; lit. 'Essentials of a New Method for Mechanizing the Rotation of an Armillary Sphere and a Celestial Globe') documented the intricate mechanics of his astronomical clock tower in Kaifeng. This included the use of an escapement mechanism and world's first known chain drive to power the rotating armillary sphere crowning the top as well as the 133 clock jack figurines positioned on a rotating wheel that sounded the hours by banging drums, clashing gongs, striking bells, and holding plaques with special announcements appearing from open-and-close shutter windows.[131][132][133][134] While it had been Zhang Heng who applied the first motive power to the armillary sphere via hydraulics in 125 CE,[135][136] it was Yi Xing (683–727) in 725 CE who first applied an escapement mechanism to a water-powered celestial globe and stiking clock.[137] The early Song Dynasty horologist Zhang Sixun (fl. late 10th century) employed liquid mercury in his astronomical clock because there were complaints that water would freeze too easily in the clepsydra tanks during winter.[138]

Archaeology[edit | edit source]

During the early half of the Song Dynasty (960–1279), the study of archaeology developed out of the antiquarian interests of the educated gentry and their desire to revive the use of ancient vessels in state rituals and ceremonies.[139] This and the belief that ancient vessels were products of 'sages' and not common people was criticized by Shen Kuo, who took an interdisciplinary approach to archaeology, incorporating his archaeological findings into studies on metallurgy, optics, astronomy, geometry, and ancient music measures.[139] His contemporary Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072) compiled an analytical catalogue of ancient rubbings on stone and bronze, which Patricia B. Ebrey says pioneered ideas in early epigraphy and archaeology.[140] In accordance with the beliefs of the later Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886), some Song gentry—such as Zhao Mingcheng (1081–1129)—supported the primacy of contemporaneous archaeological finds of ancient inscriptions over historical works written after the fact, which they contested to be unreliable in regards to the former evidence.[141] Hong Mai (1123–1202) used ancient Han Dynasty era vessels to debunk what he found to be fallacious descriptions of Han vessels in the Bogutu archaeological catalogue compiled during the latter half of Huizong's reign (1100–1125).[141]

Geology and climatology[edit | edit source]

In addition to his studies in meteorology, astronomy, and archaeology mentioned above, Shen Kuo also made hypotheses in regards to geology and climatology in his Dream Pool Essays of 1088, specifically his claims regarding geomorphology and climate change. Shen believed that land was reshaped over time due to perpetual erosion, uplift, and deposition of silt, and cited his observance of horizontal strata of fossils embedded in a cliffside at Taihang as evidence that the area was once the location of an ancient seashore that had shifted hundreds of miles east over an enormous span of time.[142][143][144] Shen also wrote that since petrified bamboos were found underground in a dry northern climate zone where they had never been known to grow, climates naturally shifted geographically over time.[144][145]

Magnetism, mathematics, and metallurgy[edit | edit source]

Shen Kuo's written work of 1088 also contains the first written description of the magnetic needle compass, the first description in China of experiments with camera obscura, the invention of movable type printing by the artisan Bi Sheng (990–1051), a method of repeated forging of cast iron under a cold blast similar to the modern Bessemer process, and the mathematical basis for spherical trigonometry that would later be mastered by the astronomer and engineer Guo Shoujing (1231–1316).[146][147][148][149][150][151][152] While using a sighting tube of improved width to correct the position of the polestar (which had shifted over the centuries), Shen discovered the concept of true north and magnetic declination towards the North Magnetic Pole, a concept which would aid navigators in the years to come.[153][154]

Qin Jiushao (c. 1202–1261) was the first to introduce the zero symbol into Chinese mathematics.[155] Before this innovation, blank spaces were used instead of zeros in the system of counting rods.[156] Pascal's triangle was first illustrated in China by Yang Hui in his book Xiangjie Jiuzhang Suanfa (详解九章算法), although it was described earlier around 1100 by Jia Xian.[157] Although the Introduction to Computational Studies (算学启蒙) written by Zhu Shijie (fl. 13th century) in 1299 contained nothing new in Chinese algebra, it had a great impact on the development of Japanese mathematics.[158]

In addition to the method similar to the Bessemer process mentioned above, there were other notable advancements in Chinese metallurgy during the Middle Ages. During the 11th century, the growth of the iron industry caused vast deforestation due to the use of charcoal in the smelting process.[159][160] To remedy the problem of deforestation, the Song Chinese discovered how to produce coke from bituminous coal as a substitute for charcoal.[159][160] Although hydraulic-powered bellows for heating the blast furnace had been written of since Du Shi's (d. 38) invention of the 1st century CE, the first known drawn and printed illustration of it in operation is found in a book written in 1313 by Wang Zhen (fl. 1290–1333).[161]

Alchemy and Daoism[edit | edit source]

In their pursuit for an elixir of life and desire to create gold from various mixtures of materials, Daoists became heavily associated with alchemy.[162] Joseph Needham labeled their pursuits as proto-scientific rather than merely pseudoscience.[162] Fairbank and Goldman write that the futile experiments of Chinese alchemists did lead to the discovery of new metal alloys, porcelain types, and dyes.[162] However, Nathan Sivin discounts such a close connection between Daoism and alchemy, which some sinologists have asserted, stating that alchemy was more prevalent in the secular sphere and practiced by laymen.[163]

Experimentation with various materials and ingredients in China during the middle period led to the discovery of many ointments, creams, and other mixtures with practical uses. In a 9th-century Arab work Kitāb al-Khawāss al Kabīr, there are numerous products listed that were native to China, including waterproof and dust-repelling cream or varnish for clothes and weapons, a Chinese lacquer, varnish, or cream that protected leather items, a completely fire-proof cement for glass and porcelain, recipes for Chinese and Indian ink, a waterproof cream for the silk garments of underwater divers, and a cream specifically used for polishing mirrors.[164]

Gunpowder warfare[edit | edit source]

The significant change that distinguished Medieval warfare to early Modern warfare was the use of gunpowder weaponry in battle. A 10th century silken banner from Dunhuang portrays the first artistic depiction of a fire lance, a prototype of the gun.[165] The Wujing Zongyao military manuscript of 1044 listed the first known written formulas for gunpowder, meant for light-weight bombs lobbed from catapults or thrown down from defenders behind city walls.[166] By the 13th century, the iron-cased bomb shell, hand cannon, land mine, and rocket were developed.[167][168] As evidenced by the Huolongjing of Jiao Yu and Liu Ji, by the 14th century the Chinese had developed the heavy cannon, hollow and gunpowder-packed exploding cannonballs, the two-stage rocket with a booster rocket, the naval mine and wheellock mechanism to ignite trains of fuses.[169][170]

Byzantine Empire[edit | edit source]

Byzantine science played an important role in the transmission of classical knowledge to the Islamic world and to Renaissance Italy, and also in the transmission of medieval Arabic knowledge to Renaissance Italy.[171] Its rich historiographical tradition preserved ancient knowledge upon which splendid art, architecture, literature and technological achievements were built.

Mathematics[edit | edit source]

Byzantine scientists preserved and continued the legacy of the ancient Hellenistic mathematicians and put mathematics in practice. In early Byzantium (5th to 7th century), the architects and mathematicians Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles used complex mathematical formulas to construct the great “Agia Sophia” temple, a magnificent technological breakthrough for its time and for centuries afterwards due to its striking geometry, bold design and height. In late Byzantium (9th to 12th century), mathematicians like Michael Psellos considered mathematics as a way to interpret the world.

Islamic interactions[edit | edit source]

The Byzantine Empire initially provided the medieval Islamic world with Ancient Greek texts on astronomy and mathematics for translation into Arabic as the Empire was the leading center of scientific scholarship in the region in the early Middle Ages. Later as the Muslim world became the center of scientific knowledge, Byzantine scientists such as Gregory Choniades translated Arabic texts on Islamic astronomy, mathematics and science into Medieval Greek, including the works of Ja'far ibn Muhammad Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhi, Ibn Yunus, al-Khazini (a Muslim scientist of Byzantine Greek descent),[172] Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī[173] and Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī among others. There were also some Byzantine scientists who used Arabic transliterations to describe certain scientific concepts instead of the equivalent Ancient Greek terms (such as the use of the Arabic talei instead of the Ancient Greek hososcopus). Byzantine science thus played an important role in not only transmitting ancient Greek knowledge to Western Europe and the Islamic world, but in also transmitting Islamic knowledge to Western Europe, such as the transmission of the Tusi-couple, which later appeared in the work of Nicolaus Copernicus.[171] Byzantine scientists also became acquainted with Sassanid and Indian astronomy through citations in some Arabic works.[172]

Western Europe[edit | edit source]

File:God the Geometer.jpg

Science, and particularly geometry and astronomy, was linked directly to the divine for most medieval scholars. Since God created the universe after geometric and harmonic principles, to seek these principles was therefore to seek and worship God.

As Roman imperial authority effectively ended in the West during the 5th century, Western Europe entered the Middle Ages with great difficulties that affected the continent's intellectual production dramatically. Most classical scientific treatises of classical antiquity written in Greek were unavailable, leaving only simplified summaries and compilations. Notwithstanding, with the beginning of the Renaissance of the 12th century, interest in natural investigation was renewed. Science developed in this golden period of Scholastic philosophy focused on logic and advocated empiricism, perceiving nature as a coherent system of laws that could be explained in the light of reason. With this view the medieval men of science went in search of explanations for the phenomena of the universe and achieved important advances in areas such as scientific methodology and physics, among many others. These advances, however, were suddenly interrupted by the Black Plague and are virtually unknown to the lay public of today, partly because most theories advanced in medieval science are today obsolete, and partly because of the stereotype of Middle Ages as supposedly "Dark Ages".

Early Middle Ages (AD 476–1000)[edit | edit source]

See also: Medieval medicine and Medieval philosophy

The Western Roman Empire, although united by Latin as a common language, still harbored a great number of different cultures that were not completely assimilated by the Roman culture. Debilitated by migrations, barbarian invasions and the political disintegration of Rome in the 5th century, and isolated from the rest of the world by the spread of Islam in the 7th century, the European West became a tapestry of rural populations and semi-nomad peoples. The political instability and the downfall of urban life had a strong, negative impact on the cultural life of the continent. The Catholic Church, being the only institution to survive the process, maintained what was left of intellectual strength, especially through monasticism. Until the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Western Europe, except Spain, would lag far behind the scientific knowledge of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire and the Muslim empires.

In the classical Mediterranean world, Greek was the primary language of scholarship. Even under the Roman Empire, Latin texts were mainly compilations drawing on Greek texts, some pre-Roman, some contemporary; while advanced scientific research and teaching continued to be carried on in the Hellenistic side of the empire, in Greek. Late Roman attempts to translate Greek writings into Latin had limited success.[174]

As the knowledge of Greek declined during the transition to the Middle Ages, the Latin West found itself cut off from the Greek philosophical and scholarly tradition. Most scientific inquiry came to be based on information gleaned from sources which were often incomplete and posed serious problems of interpretation. Latin-speakers who wanted to learn about science only had access to books by such Roman writers as Calcidius, Macrobius, Martianus Capella, Boethius, Cassiodorus, and later Latin encyclopedists. Much had to be gleaned from non-scientific sources: Roman surveying manuals were read for what geometry was included.[175]

Deurbanization reduced the scope of education and by the sixth century teaching and learning moved to monastic and cathedral schools, with the center of education being the study of the Bible.[176] Education of the laity survived modestly in Italy, Spain, and the southern part of Gaul, where Roman influences were most long-lasting. In the seventh century, learning began to emerge in Ireland and the Celtic lands, where Latin was a foreign language and Latin texts were eagerly studied and taught.[177]


In the Early Middle Ages, cultural life was concentrated at monasteries

The leading scholars of the early centuries were clergymen for whom the study of nature was but a small part of their interest. They lived in an atmosphere which provided little institutional support for the disinterested study of natural phenomena and they concentrated their attention on religious topics. The study of nature was pursued more for practical reasons than as an abstract inquiry: the need to care for the sick led to the study of medicine and of ancient texts on drugs,[178] the need for monks to determine the proper time to pray led them to study the motion of the stars,[179] the need to compute the date of Easter led them to study and teach rudimentary mathematics and the motions of the Sun and Moon.[180] Modern readers may find it disconcerting that sometimes the same works discuss both the technical details of natural phenomena and their symbolic significance.[181]

Around 800, the first attempt at rebuilding Western culture occurred (see: Carolingian Renaissance). Charles the Great, having succeeded at uniting a great portion of Europe under his domain, and in order to further unify and strengthen the Frankish Empire, decided to carry out a reform in education. The English monk Alcuin of York elaborated a project of scholarly development aimed at resuscitating classical knowledge by establishing programs of study based upon the seven liberal arts: the trivium, or literary education (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic) and the quadrivium, or scientific education (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music). From the year 787 on, decrees began to circulate recommending, in the whole empire, the restoration of old schools and the founding of new ones. Institutionally, these new schools were either under the responsibility of a monastery, a cathedral or a noble court.

However, the 840s saw renewed disorder, with the breakup of the Frankish Empire and the beginning of a new cycle of barbarian raids. The significance of Charlemagne's educational measures would only be felt centuries later. The teaching of dialectic (a discipline that corresponds to today's logic) was responsible for the rebirth of the interest in speculative inquiry; from this interest would follow the rise of the Scholastic tradition of Christian philosophy. Moreover, in the 12th and 13th centuries, many of those schools founded under the auspices of Charles the Great, especially the cathedral schools, would become universities.

High Middle Ages (AD 1000–1300)[edit | edit source]


The translation of Greek and Arabic works allowed the full development of Christian philosophy and the method of scholasticism

See also: Renaissance of the 12th century, Latin translations of the 12th century, and Medieval technology

By the year 1000 AD, western Europe remained a scientific backwater compared to certain other civilizations, including those of Christian Byzantium, and the Islamic world. While Constantinople's population exceeded 300,000, Rome had a mere 35,000 and Paris only 20,000.[182][183] However, Christianization of the continent was making rapid progress and would eventually prove to be the long-term solution to the problem of barbarian raiding. Western Europe became more politically organized and would see a rapid increase in population during the next centuries, which brought about great social and political changes.

The cultural scenario started to change after the Reconquista and during the Crusades, as interaction with the Arabs brought Europeans into contact with ancient Greek/Hellenistic, Roman/Byzantine and Arabic/Islamic manuscripts. During the 800s and 900s, a mass of classical Greek/Hellenistic texts were translated by Muslim scholars into Arabic, followed by a flurry of commentaries and independent works by Islamic thinkers. Around 1050, further translation into Latin had begun in Northern Spain, and the recapture of Toledo and Sicily by the Christian kingdoms near the end of the century allowed the translation to begin in earnest by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Scholars came from around Europe to aid in translation.

Gerard of Cremona is a good example: an Italian who came to Spain to copy a single text, he stayed on to translate some seventy works.[184] His biography describes how he came to Toledo: "There, seeing the abundance of books in Arabic on every subject and regretting the poverty of the Latins in these things, he learned the Arabic language, in order to be able to translate." [185]

File:Map of Medieval Universities.jpg

Map of Medieval Universities. They started a new infrastructure which was needed for scientific communities.

This period also saw the birth of medieval universities, which aided materially in the translation, preservation and propagation of the texts of the ancients and became a new infrastructure for scientific communities. Some of these new universities were registered as an institution of international excellence by the Holy Roman Empire, receiving the title of Studium Generale. Most of the early Studia Generali were found in Italy, France, England, and Spain, and these were considered the most prestigious places of learning in Europe. This list quickly grew as new universities were founded throughout Europe. As early as the 13th century, scholars from a Studium Generale were encouraged to give lecture courses at other institutes across Europe and to share documents, and this led to the current academic culture seen in modern European universities.

The rediscovery of the works of Aristotle, alongside the works of medieval Islamic and Jewish philosophers (such as Avicenna, Averroes and Maimonides) allowed the full development of the new Christian philosophy and the method of scholasticism. By 1200 there were reasonably accurate Latin translations of the main works of Aristotle, Plato, Euclid, Ptolemy, Archimedes, Galen, that is, of all the intellectually crucial ancient authors except Thucydides, and many of the crucial medieval Arabic and Jewish texts, such as the main works of Jābir ibn Hayyān, Al-Khwarizmi, Alkindus, Rhazes, Alhazen, Avicenna, Avempace, Averroes and Maimonides. During the thirteenth century, the natural philosophy of these texts began to be extended by notable Scholastics such as Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, and Duns Scotus.

Scholastics believed in empiricism and supporting Roman Catholic doctrines through secular study, reason, and logic. The most famous was Thomas Aquinas (later declared a "Doctor of the Church"), who led the move away from the Platonic and Augustinian and towards Aristotelianism (although natural philosophy was not his main concern). Meanwhile, precursors of the modern scientific method can be seen already in Grosseteste's emphasis on mathematics as a way to understand nature and in the empirical approach admired by Roger Bacon.

Grosseteste was the founder of the famous Oxford franciscan school. He was the first scholastic to fully understand Aristotle's vision of the dual path of scientific reasoning. Concluding from particular observations into a universal law, and then back again: from universal laws to prediction of particulars. Grosseteste called this "resolution and composition". Further, Grosseteste said that both paths should be verified through experimentation in order to verify the principals. These ideas established a tradition that carried forward to Padua and Galileo Galilei in the 17th century.


Optical diagram showing light being refracted by a spherical glass container full of water. (from Roger Bacon or Robert Grosseteste)

Under the tuition of Grosseteste and inspired by the writings of Arab alchemists who had preserved and built upon Aristotle's portrait of induction, Bacon described a repeating cycle of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and the need for independent verification. He recorded the manner in which he conducted his experiments in precise detail so that others could reproduce and independently test his results - a cornerstone of the scientific method, and a continuation of the work of researchers like Al Battani.

Bacon and Grosseteste conducted investigations into optics, although much of it was similar to what was being done at the time by Arab scholars. Bacon did make a major contribution to the development of science in medieval Europe by writing to the Pope to encourage the study of natural science in university courses and compiling several volumes recording the state of scientific knowledge in many fields at the time. He described the possible construction of a telescope, but there is no strong evidence of his having made one.

Late Middle Ages (AD 1300–1500)[edit | edit source]

The first half of the 14th century saw the scientific work of great thinkers. The logic studies by William of Occam led him to postulate a specific formulation of the principle of parsimony, known today as Occam's Razor. This principle is one of the main heuristics used by modern science to select between two or more underdetermined theories.

As Western scholars became more aware (and more accepting) of controversial scientific treatises of the Byzantine and Islamic Empires these readings sparked new insights and speculation. The works of the early Byzantine Egyptian scholar John Philoponus and the Islamic Persian scholar Avicenna inspired Western scholars such as Jean Buridan to question the received wisdom of Aristotle's mechanics. Buridan adopted the theory of impetus, which was the first step towards the modern concept of inertia. Buridan anticipated Isaac Newton when he wrote:


Galileo's demonstration of the law of the space traversed in case of uniformly varied motion. It's the same demonstration that Oresme had made centuries earlier.

...after leaving the arm of the thrower, the projectile would be moved by an impetus given to it by the thrower and would continue to be moved as long as the impetus remained stronger than the resistance, and would be of infinite duration were it not diminished and corrupted by a contrary force resisting it or by something inclining it to a contrary motion

Thomas Bradwardine and his partners, the Oxford Calculators of Merton College, Oxford, distinguished kinematics from dynamics, emphasizing kinematics, and investigating instantaneous velocity. They formulated the mean speed theorem: a body moving with constant velocity travels distance and time equal to an accelerated body whose velocity is half the final speed of the accelerated body. They also demonstrated this theorem—essence of "The Law of Falling Bodies"—long before Galileo is credited with this.

In his turn, Nicole Oresme showed that the reasons proposed by the physics of Aristotle against the movement of the earth were not valid and adduced the argument of simplicity for the theory that the earth moves, and not the heavens. In the whole of his argument in favor of the Earth's motion Oresme is both more explicit and much clearer than that given two centuries later by Copernicus. He also assumed that color and light are of the same nature and mentioned the curvature of light through atmospheric refraction centuries before Hooke.

The historian of science Ronald Numbers notes that the modern scientific assumption of methodological naturalism can be also traced back to the work of these medieval thinkers:

By the late Middle Ages the search for natural causes had come to typify the work of Christian natural philosophers. Although characteristically leaving the door open for the possibility of direct divine intervention, they frequently expressed contempt for soft-minded contemporaries who invoked miracles rather than searching for natural explanations. The University of Paris cleric Jean Buridan (a. 1295-ca. 1358), described as "perhaps the most brilliant arts master of the Middle Ages," contrasted the philosopher’s search for "appropriate natural causes" with the common folk’s erroneous habit of attributing unusual astronomical phenomena to the supernatural. In the fourteenth century the natural philosopher Nicole Oresme (ca. 1320–82), who went on to become a Roman Catholic bishop, admonished that, in discussing various marvels of nature, "there is no reason to take recourse to the heavens, the last refuge of the weak, or demons, or to our glorious God as if He would produce these effects directly, more so than those effects whose causes we believe are well known to us." [186]

However, a series of events that would be known as the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages was under its way. When came the Black Death of 1348, it sealed a sudden end to the previous period of massive scientific change. The plague killed a third of the people in Europe, especially in the crowded conditions of the towns, where the heart of innovations lay. Recurrences of the plague and other disasters caused a continuing decline of population for a century.

Renaissance of the 15th century[edit | edit source]

File:Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour.jpg

Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man

The 15th century saw the beginning of the cultural movement of the Renaissance. The rediscovery of ancient Greek texts, both ancient and medieval, was accelerated as the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks and many Byzantine scholars sought refuge in the West, particularly Italy. Also, the invention of printing was to have great effect on European society: the facilitated dissemination of the printed word democratized learning and allowed a faster propagation of new ideas.

When the Renaissance moved to Northern Europe, that science would be advanced by figures such as Copernicus, Francis Bacon, and Descartes (though Descartes is often described as an early Enlightenment thinker, rather than a late Renaissance one).

Dark Ages[edit | edit source]

In the 19th century, the entire Middle Ages were called the "Dark Ages", expressing contempt for an anti-scientific, priest-ridden, superstitious time. However, a radical reevaluation occurred in the early 20th century, based on the wealth of information from the High and Late Middle Ages. When historians now use the term "Dark Ages" to refer to the Early Middle Ages, it is intended to express the idea that the period seems "dark" only because of the shortage of historical records compared with later times.

The stereotype of the entire Middle Ages as a "Dark Age" supposedly caused by the Christian Church for allegedly "placing the word of religious authorities over personal experience and rational activity" is called a caricature by the contemporary historians of science David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers,[187] who say "the late medieval scholar rarely experienced the coercive power of the church and would have regarded himself as free (particularly in the natural sciences) to follow reason and observation wherever they led. There was no warfare between science and the church".[188] Historian Edward Grant writes: "If revolutionary rational thoughts were expressed in the Age of Reason [the 18th century], they were only made possible because of the long medieval tradition that established the use of reason as one of the most important of human activities".[189]

For example, the claim that people of the Middle Ages widely believed that the Earth was flat was first propagated in the 19th century[190] and is still very common in popular culture. This claim is mistaken, as Lindberg and Numbers write: "there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [Earth's] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference."[190][191] Misconceptions such as: "the Church prohibited autopsies and dissections during the Middle Ages", "the rise of Christianity killed off ancient science", and "the medieval Christian church suppressed the growth of the natural sciences", are all reported by Numbers as examples of widely popular myths that still pass as historical truth, even though they are not supported by current historical research.[192]

Great names of science in medieval Europe[edit | edit source]

Anthemius of Tralles (ca. 474 – ca. 534), a professor of geometry and architecture, authored many influential works on mathematics and was one of the architects of the famed Hagia Sophia, the largest building in the world at its time. His works were among the most important source texts in the Arab world and Western Europe for centuries after.

John Philoponus (ca. 490–ca. 570), also known as John the Grammarian, a Byzantine philosopher, launched a revolution in the understanding of physics by critiquing and correcting the earlier works of Aristotle. In the process he proposed important concepts such as a rudimentary notion of inertia and the invariant acceleration of falling objects. Although his works were repressed at various times in the Byzantine Empire, because of religious controversy, they would nevertheless become important to the understanding of physics throughout Europe and the Arab world.

Paul of Aegina (ca. 625–ca. 690), considered by some to be the greatest Byzantine surgeon, developed many novel surgical techniques and authored the medical encyclopedia Medical Compendium in Seven Books. The book on surgery in particular was the definitive treatise in Europe and the Islamic world for hundreds of years.

File:Nuremberg Chronicle Venerable Bede.jpg

The Venerable Bede

The Venerable Bede (ca. 672–735), monk of the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow who wrote a work On the Nature of Things, several books on the mathematical / astronomical subject of computus, the most influential entitled On the Reckoning of Time. He made original discoveries concerning the nature of the tides and his works on computus became required elements of the training of clergy, and thus greatly influenced early medieval knowledge of the natural world.

Abbas Ibn Firnas (810 – 887), a polymath and inventor in Muslim Spain, made contributions in a variety of fields and is most known for his contributions to glass-making and aviation. He developed novel ways of manufacturing and using glass. He broke his back at an unsuccessful attempt at flying a primitive hang glider in 875.

Pope Sylvester II (c. 946–1003), a scholar, teacher, mathematician, and later pope, introduced the abacus and armillary sphere from the Islamic world to Western Europe (after the abacus had been lost for centuries following the Greco-Roman era). He was also responsible in part for the spread of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system in Western Europe.

Maslamah al-Majriti (died 1008), a mathematician, astronomer, and chemist in Muslim Spain, made novel contributions in many areas, from new techniques for surveying to updating and improving the astronomical tables of al-Khwarizmi and inventing a process for producing mercury oxide.[193] He is most famous, though, for having helped transmit knowledge of mathematics and astronomy to Muslim Spain and Christian Western Europe.

Abulcasis (936-1013), a physician and scientist in Muslim Spain, is considered to be the father of modern surgery. He wrote numerous medical texts, developed many innovative surgical instruments, and developed a variety of new surgical techniques and practices. His texts were considered the definitive works on surgery in Europe until the Renaissance.

Constantine the African (c. 1020&–1087), a Christian native of Carthage, is best known for his translating of Greek, Roman and Islamic medical texts from Arabic into Latin while working at the Schola Medica Salernitana in Salerno, Italy. Among the works he translated were those of Hippocrates, Galen, Hunayn ibn Ishaq, Isaac Israeli ben Solomon, and 'Ali ibn al-'Abbas al-Majusi.

Arzachel (1028–1087), the foremost astronomer of the early second millennium, lived in Muslim Spain and greatly expanded the understanding and accuracy of planetary models and terrestrial measurements used for navigation. He developed key technologies including the equatorium and universal latitude-independent astrolabe.

Avempace (died 1138), a famous physicist from Muslim Spain who had an important influence on later physicists such as Galileo.[194] He was the first to theorize the concept of a reaction force for every force exerted.[16]


Robert Grosseteste

Avenzoar (1091–1161), from Muslim Spain, was the earliest known experimental surgeon,[95] for introducing an experimental method in surgery, as he was the first to employ animal testing in order to experiment with surgical procedures before applying them to human patients.[195] He also performed the earliest dissections and postmortem autopsies on both humans as well as animals.[196]

Robert Grosseteste (1168–1253), Bishop of Lincoln, was the central character of the English intellectual movement in the first half of the 13th century and is considered the founder of scientific thought in Oxford. He had a great interest in the natural world and wrote texts on the mathematical sciences of optics, astronomy and geometry. In his commentaries on Aristotle's scientific works, he affirmed that experiments should be used in order to verify a theory, testing its consequences. Roger Bacon was influenced by his work on optics and astronomy.[197]


St. Albert the Great

Albert the Great (1193–1280), Doctor Universalis, was one of the most prominent representatives of the philosophical tradition emerging from the Dominican Order. He is one of the thirty-three Saints of the Roman Catholic Church honored with the title of Doctor of the Church. He became famous for his vast knowledge and for his defence of the pacific coexistence between science and religion. Albert was an essential figure in introducing Greek and Islamic science into the medieval universities, although not without hesitation with regard to particular Aristotelian theses. In one of his most famous sayings he asserted: "Science does not consist in ratifying what others say, but of searching for the causes of phenomena." Thomas Aquinas was his most famous pupil.

Jordanus de Nemore (late 12th, early 13th century) was one of the major pure mathematicians of the Middle Ages. He wrote treatises on mechanics ("the science of weights"), on basic and advanced arithmetic, on algebra, on geometry, and on the mathematics of stereographic projection.


Roger Bacon

Roger Bacon (1214–94), Doctor Admirabilis, joined the Franciscan Order around 1240 where, influenced by Grosseteste, ibn Firnas and others, he dedicated himself to studies where he implemented the observation of nature and experimentation as the foundation of natural knowledge. Bacon was responsible for making the concept of "laws of nature" widespread, and contributed in such areas as mechanics, geography and, most of all, optics.

The optical research of Grosseteste and Bacon established optics as an area of study at the medieval university and formed the basis for a continuous tradition of research into optics that went all the way up to the beginning of the 17th century and the foundation of modern optics by Kepler.[198]

Ibn al-Baitar (died 1248), a botanist and pharmacist in Muslim Spain, researched over 1400 types of plants, foods, and drugs and compiled pharmaceutical and medical encyclopedias documenting his research. These were used in the Islamic world and Europe until the 19th century.

File:Saint Thomas Aquinas.jpg

St. Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas (1227–74), Doctor Angelicus, was an Italian theologian and friar in the Dominican Order. As his mentor Albert the Great, he is a Catholic Saint and Doctor of the Church. His interests were not only in philosophy; he was also interested in alchemy, having written an important treatise titled Aurora Consurgens. However, his greatest contribution to the scientific development of the period was having been mostly responsible for the incorporation of Aristotelianism into the Scholastic tradition, and in particular his Commentary on Aristotle's Physics was responsible for developing one of the most important innovations in the history of physics, first posited by his mentor Averroes for celestial bodies only, namely the notion of the inertial resistant mass of all bodies universally, subsequently further developed by Kepler and Newton in the 17th century. (See Pierre Duhem's analysis The 12th century birth of the notion of mass which advised modern mechanics. from his Systeme Du Monde at [199])


Duns Scotus

John Duns Scotus (1266–1308), Doctor Subtilis, was a member of the Franciscan Order, philosopher and theologian. Emerging from the academic environment of the University of Oxford. where the presence of Grosseteste and Bacon was still palpable, he had a different view on the relationship between reason and faith as that of Thomas Aquinas. For Duns Scotus, the truths of faith could not be comprehended through the use of reason. Philosophy, hence, should not be a servant to theology, but act independently. He was the mentor of one of the greatest names of philosophy in the Middle Ages: William of Ockham.

William of Ockham (1285–1350), Doctor Invincibilis, was an English Franciscan friar, philosopher, logician and theologian. Ockham defended the principle of parsimony, which could already be seen in the works of his mentor Duns Scotus. His principle later became known as Occam's Razor and states that if there are various equally valid explanations for a fact, then the simplest one should be chosen. This became a foundation of what would come to be known as the scientific method and one of the pillars of reductionism in science. Ockham probably died of the Black Plague. Jean Buridan and Nicole Oresme were his followers.

Jean Buridan (1300–58) was a French philosopher and priest. Although he was one of the most famous and influent philosophers of the late Middle Ages, his work today is not renowned by people other than philosophers and historians. One of his most significant contributions to science was the development of the theory of Impetus, that explained the movement of projectiles and objects in free-fall. This theory gave way to the dynamics of Galileo Galilei and for Isaac Newton's famous principle of Inertia.


Nicole Oresme

Nicole Oresme (c. 1323–82) was an intellectual genius and perhaps the most original thinker of the 14th century. A theologian and bishop of Lisieux, he was one of the principal propagators of the modern sciences. Notwithstanding his strictly scientific contributions, Oresme strongly opposed astrology and speculated about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. He was the last great European intellectual to live before the Black Plague, an event that had a very negative impact in the intellectual life of the ending period of the Middle Ages.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Although the term "Middle Ages" in most strongly associated with European history, it is used here as a historical period for the entire world.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Gorini, Rosanna (October 2003). "Al-Haytham the man of experience. First steps in the science of vision" (PDF). Journal of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine 2 (4): 53–5. Retrieved on 2008-09-25. 
  3. Saliba, George: A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam, pg. 32, NYU Press, 1994, ISBN 0814780237
  4. Dallal, Ahmad (2001–2002), The Interplay of Science and Theology in the Fourteenth-century Kalam, From Medieval to Modern in the Islamic World, Sawyer Seminar at the University of Chicago,, retrieved on 2 February 2008 
  5. Glick, Thomas F.; Livesey, Steven John; Wallis, Faith: Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia, pg. 89–90, Routledge, 2005, ISBN 0415969301.
  6. Hackett, Jeremiah: Roger Bacon and the Sciences: Commemorative Essays, Brill Academic Publishers, 1997, ISBN 9004100156
  7. Parkinson, Claire: Breakthroughs. A chronology of great achievements in science and mathematics. Mansell 1985, ISBN 0-7201-1800-X, p4
  8. Boyer, Carl B.: "A History of Mathematics" John Wiley & Sons 1968 pp. 251–8
  9. Brezina, Corona: Al-Khwarizmi: The Inventor of Algebra, The Rosen Publishing Group, 2006, 112 pages, ISBN 1404205136
  10. Singh, Manpal: [Modern Teaching of Mathematics], pg. 385, Anmol Publications PVT . LTD., 2005, ISBN 812612105X
  11. Goonatilake, Susantha: Toward a Global Science: Mining Civilizational Knowledge, Indiana University Press, 1998, 314 pages, ISBN 0253211824
  12. 12.0 12.1 Thiele, Rüdiger (2005), "In Memoriam: Matthias Schramm", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy (Cambridge University Press) 15: 329–331, doi:10.1017/S0957423905000214 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Mariam Rozhanskaya and I. S. Levinova (1996), "Statics", in Roshdi Rashed, ed., Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, Vol. 2, pp. 614–642 [642], Routledge, London and New York
  14. 14.0 14.1 Aydin Sayili (1987), "Ibn Sīnā and Buridan on the Motion of the Projectile", Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 500 (1): 477–482 [477]:
    "Indeed, self-motion of the type conceived by Ibn Sina is almost the opposite of the Aristotelian conception of violent motion of the projectile type, and it is rather reminiscent of the principle of inertia, i.e., Newton's first law of motion."
  15. 15.0 15.1 Seyyed Hossein Nasr & Mehdi Amin Razavi (1996), The Islamic intellectual tradition in Persia, Routledge, p. 72, ISBN 0700703144 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Shlomo Pines (1964), "La dynamique d’Ibn Bajja", in Mélanges Alexandre Koyré, I, 442–468 [462, 468], Paris
    (cf. Abel B. Franco (October 2003), "Avempace, Projectile Motion, and Impetus Theory", Journal of the History of Ideas 64 (4): 521–546 [543])
  17. 17.0 17.1 Shlomo Pines (1970). "Abu'l-Barakāt al-Baghdādī , Hibat Allah". Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 26–28. ISBN 0684101149. 
    (cf. Abel B. Franco (October 2003). "Avempace, Projectile Motion, and Impetus Theory", Journal of the History of Ideas 64 (4), p. 521–546 [528].)
  18. Grant Edward: The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages CUP 1996, pp. 94–6, ISBN 0-521-56137-X
  19. Lindberg, David C. "Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler" University of Chicago Press 1976 pp. 1–16
  20. 20.0 20.1 Lindberg pp. 58–86
  21. A. C. Crombie "Grosseteste and Experimental Science", OUP, 1953 chapts. V. & VI.
  22. Lindberg pp. 107–116
  23. Lindberg pp. 116–121
  24. Lindberg pp. 185–190
  25. Buck, Albert Henry: The Growth of Medicine from the Earliest Times to about 1800, Yale university press, 1917, 582 pages
  26. Parkinson, Claire: Breakthroughs. A chronology of great achievements in science and mathematics. Mansell 1985, p. 8, ISBN 0-7201-1800-X
  27. Brock, William H.: "The Fontana History Of Chemistry", Fontana 1992 pp. 20–3
  28. Boyer, Carl B.: "A History of Mathematics" John Wiley & Sons 1968 pp. 176–194
  29. Kline, Morris: "Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times" OUP 1972 p. 189
  30. Boyer, Carl B.: "A History of Mathematics" John Wiley & Sons 1968 pp. 231–246
  31. Boyer, Carl B.: "A History of Mathematics" John Wiley & Sons 1968 pp. 261–7
  32. 32.0 32.1 Houtsma, M. Th.; Donzel, E. van: E. J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam, BRILL, 1993, ISBN 9004082654
  33. Deng, Gang: Maritime Sector, Institutions, and Sea Power of Premodern China, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999, 312 pages, ISBN 0313307121
  34. Parkinson, Claire: Breakthroughs. A chronology of great achievements in science and mathematics. Mansell 1985, p.9, ISBN 0-7201-1800-X
  35. 35.0 35.1 George Saliba (2007), Lecture at SOAS, London - Part 4/7 and Lecture at SOAS, London - Part 5/7
  36. Partington, James Riddick: A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder, JHU Press, 1998, 416 pages, ISBN 0801859549
  37. Needham, Joseph: Science and civilisation in China Volume 5 Part 1. Paper and printing, Cambridge University Press, 1974, ISBN 0521303583
  38. 38.0 38.1 Solomon Gandz (1936), The sources of al-Khwarizmi's algebra, Osiris I, p. 263–277: "In a sense, Khwarizmi is more entitled to be called "the father of algebra" than Diophantus because Khwarizmi is the first to teach algebra in an elementary form and for its own sake, Diophantus is primarily concerned with the theory of numbers."
  39. 39.0 39.1 Will Durant (1980). The Age of Faith (The Story of Civilization, Volume 4), p. 162–186. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671012002.
  40. 40.0 40.1 D. Craig Brater and Walter J. Daly (2000), "Clinical pharmacology in the Middle Ages: Principles that presage the 21st century", Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics 67 (5), p. 447–450 [448].
  41. Rüdiger Thiele (2005). "In Memoriam: Matthias Schramm", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 15, p. 329–331. Cambridge University Press.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Dr. S. W. Akhtar (1997). "The Islamic Concept of Knowledge", Al-Tawhid: A Quarterly Journal of Islamic Thought & Culture 12 (3).
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