Greece went through a period where it was enlightened in terms of science and art from the 300s BCE until the beginnings of the 1st century. Greece made discoveries during this time of economic and social revival that changed the world. Ptolemy made great advances in mathematics, creating the earliest trigonometric functions table known and creating the standard geometry book. Science, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics were the most important advances. Though some ideas didn’t become fully established until the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, in the 16th Century, they opened the door to a world that was previously unknown. It is not widely known that Hellenistic medical and scientific ideas are still used today. Even simple textbooks like geometry teach the same concepts today as they did centuries ago. Even simple things like a geometry book are still used today to teach people the same things they did hundreds of years ago.

Eratosthenes’ calculations of the earth’s circumference, and his first map, were among the most important discoveries of Hellenistic Science. The geographer used sundials placed around 100 meters apart to calculate that the earth’s circumference was close to 25,000 kilometers, or 200 miles less than the modern calculation. Martianus, for example, made other claims regarding the Earth. Eratosthenes was also involved in the first map. This map was more accurate than any other map at the time. It included latitudes and longitudes. The map he created gave his time a better understanding of the Earth and its geography. Posidonius’ calculations of the circumference of earth and modern geography were based on these two discoveries. Christopher Columbus and other explorers would never have considered venturing west in search of a route from the Atlantic Ocean to India if not for Eratosthenes’ calculations. Eratosthenes may have prevented the discovery of the “New World”, and hundreds of explorers would have never had the chance to find land in the west.

Archimedes was another Hellenistic scientist who changed the world. Archimedes invented the compound pulley and formulated the law of floating body, which he called the Archimedes Principle. Archimedes created the compound pulling system, a tubular water pump that rotates to draw water upwards. The compound pulley was used by farmers for thousands of years to move water uphill. One of his other inventions is the Archimedes Principle. He claimed that an object submerged completely or partially in liquid would lose the same weight as the liquid it is displaced from. The formula was revolutionary in the field of shipbuilding as it allowed for better stabilization of floating vessels. Archimedes’ discoveries had a direct effect on his world. Compound screws allowed farmers to transport more water higher than before. Archimedes’ principle allowed for increased ship stability as well as a way to weigh objects of irregular shape by measuring the displacement of water. Even how future submarines and ships will sink is described by the principle. Archimedes’ impact on science is still felt today, even though he did not know it at the time.

Herophilus was the first Hellenistic scientist to dissect a human body and to investigate the functions of brain parts and arteries. He was the first to begin dissecting human bodies after moving to Alexandria. Erasistratus his younger co-worker, also a scientist, helped him. Herophilus investigated the anatomy and inner workings in his dissections. Herophilus illustrated the brain in detail and also the arteries. In the brain’s case, he could distinguish the different parts of it and their functions. He distinguished between motor and sensory neurons in a discrete manner, showing his deep understanding of the nervous systems. Herophilus found that arteries only contain blood, and not air or blood and oxygen as Aristotle thought. Herophilus also discovered the function of arteries, which is to carry blood from heart to body. New theories about how the human body functions were created as a result of further examination. Herophilus disproved the four humors theory, on which the Church had been relying for centuries. His brain diagrams revealed new neuronal building blocks and new hypotheses. The discovery that arteries had a function laid the basis for William Harvey and other doctors of the 1500s. Although his achievements were little known at the time, they made a significant contribution to our understanding of human anatomy.

Erasistratus continued Herophilus’s rejection of the four humors. Erasistratus is a contemporary to Herophilus. In Alexandria, he investigated Herophilus’ works further and discovered his own discoveries. Erasistratus studied physiology, primarily the structure and function of parts of living organisms. Erasistratus’ studies allowed him to learn a lot about the valves in the heart, and how they function. Erasistratus used his physiological studies to explain digestion and respiration processes, as well as those of the vascular system, to differentiate between veins and arteries (Lindberg 121). Erasistratus was also of the opinion that arteries contain pneuma. He believed this stimulated tiny particles in the human bodies, transporting them throughout the body. The explanations of the time were very impressive. Some parts are still used today. Erasistratus opposed humoral theories of disease in a similar way to Herophilus. But he was more adamant. He opposed the use of bloodletting to cure disease (bleeding the four humors), a practice that had been used for centuries (Koletsis). In response, he received criticism from many. The extent of the claims was not understood at the time. But they did change the face and nature of anatomy, so much that scientists were unable to return to the humoral theories. These discoveries, together with Herophilus’, formed the basis for physiology, anatomy, and morphology. Galen used his careful dissections to further investigate the human body almost four centuries after Herophilus.

Hipparchus was a remarkable man who dedicated himself to mathematics and the stars. He compiled a catalogue of fixed stars in the sky, as well as the Precession of the Equinoxes. Hipparchus, a man of great intellect and dedication to mathematics and the heavens, compiled a catalog of fixed stars and created the Precession of the Equinoxes. Hipparchus compiled a list of over 850 fixed, non-moving stars. One example is the north star Polaris. In 129 BCE this was a significant achievement. But he also created the first star chart. He helped sailors to navigate by providing a way of determining the direction. Hipparchus developed the Precessions Equinoxes as a way to explain the rotation of our sky. He noted that his measurements of stars had been altered, indicating the earth’s movement, and not that of the stars. Hipparchus used this discovery to describe the movement of the Earth in new ways. He went on to calculate the time that constellations were to appear in certain locations. He also calculated the time of the solstices, equinoxes and other events (Lindberg 1998). These discoveries led other astronomers to discover other phenomena. Ptolemy made use of Hipparchus’ catalogues of stars and other discoveries to suggest an astronomy that revolved around circles. He also accurately predicted planetary positions. Unlike other scientists who were celebrated at the time, Hipparchus’ work wasn’t noticed by greek society until after the Scientific Revolution. Astronomers now recognize his contribution to the world and have been able to understand it.

Aristarchus, a Samos man, is also important, but not as much so as Hipparchus. Aristarchus was known as the Hellenistic Copernicus for his heliocentrism work and calculations about the size of universe. His suggestion of a system heliocentric in which the sun is fixed and the earth revolves around it was criticized (Lindberg, 95). Even though he felt he had the right theory, it was rejected by his peers because of its conflict with Aristotle’s theories, Jewish ideas and Christian beliefs. It took 1800 years before a scientist could prove the heliocentrism. Aristarchus had the original idea, even though Copernicus has been credited with the proof. Aristotle was also the first to grasp the true size of the Universe (Koletsis). In the past, people didn’t look beyond the sky, since they believed that beyond the Solar System was a land of angels and gods. Aristarchus questioned this belief when he observed that the stars were immobile. He then expanded the size the universe to a much greater extent than was previously accepted. The 16th-century Scientific Revolution proved this, too. Aristarchus may not have proved his own hypotheses, but both set the stage for modern space exploration. He was the person who first changed the perception of people about the relative size and position of earth and sun. It is impossible to ignore his work, which is a testament to his incredible mathematical and science abilities as well as his intelligence to create ideas that were superior to accepted ones.

The modern world is shaped by the contributions of each scientist in this document. Erasistratus and the heliocentrism idea are at the forefront of all astronomy research and circulatory studies. Scientists such as Archimedes or Eratosthenes made discoveries, while physicians Herophilus or Erasistratus conducted research. Astronomers Hipparchus or Aristarchus also observed the sky. These discoveries led to many discoveries that we still use today. Hellenistic medical and scientific discoveries are on par with the Scientific Revolution from the English Renaissance. The ideas that were developed over the next 2 000 years led to a new phase of scientific thought, which forever changed the face of the earth. Who knows when we would have understood the human body or the sun as the center of our universe if it wasn’t for the scientists. These concepts are so important that we wouldn’t even dream of going beyond the stars. They deserve to be appreciated more.


  • marcosnguyen

    Marcos Nguyen is a 29-year-old blogger and teacher from Houston, Texas. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, where he studied education and psychology. Marcos has been blogging since 2009, and he specializes in writing about education and parenting. He currently teaches middle school social studies and language arts.