Science in Ancient Greece

Thales of Miletus is regarded by many as the father of science; he was the first Greek philosopher to seek to explain the physical world in terms of natural rather than supernatural causes.

Science in Ancient Greece was based on logical thinking and mathematics. It was also based on technology and everyday life. The arts in Ancient Greece were sculptors and painters. The Greeks wanted to know more about the world, the heavens and themselves. People studied about the sky, sun, moon, and the planets. The Greeks found that the earth was round.

Eratosthenes of Alexandria, who died about 194 BC, wrote on astronomy and geography, but his work is known mainly from later summaries. He is credited with being the first person to measure the Earth's circumference.


Greek influence on agriculture was the establishment of the science of botany. Botany is the study of all aspects of plant life, including where plants live and how they grow. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived during the 300's BC, collected information about most of the plants known at that time in the world. He also studied other sciences and math.

His student Theophrastus classified and named these plants. Theophrastus often called the father of botany. Aristotle and Theophrastus developed an extremely important type of science that is studied all over the world. Botany is so important because all the food that animals and people eat comes from plants, whether it be directly or indirectly.

Earth Science

Earth science is the study of the earth and its origin and development. It deals with the physical makeup and structure of the Earth. The most extensive fields of Earth science, geology, has an ancient history.

Ancient Greek philosophers proposed many theories to account for the from and origin of the Earth. Eratosthenes, a scientist of ancient Greece, made the first accurate measurement of the Earth's diameter. The ancient Greek philosophers were amazed by volcanoes and earthquakes. They made many attempts to explain them, but most of these attempts to explain these phenomena sound very strange to most people today. For example, Aristotle, speculated that earthquakes resulted from winds within the Earth caused by the Earth's own heat and heat from the sun. Volcanoes, he thought, marked the points at which these winds finally escaped from inside the Earth into the atmosphere.

Earth science allows us to locate metal and mineral deposits. Earth scientists study fossils. This helps provide information about evolution and the development of the earth. Earth science helps in locating fossil fuels, such as oil. These fuels compose a major part of the world economy. The Greeks came up with the idea of earth science, and most importantly laid the foundation for the scientists who lived hundreds of years after their time.

Public Water Works

Public works were one of the greatest influences in Ancient Greece. They helped boost the economy, and acted as an art form, and they also led to a more sanitary life style. The system of planning the public works was invented by Hippodamus of Miletus, and was admired throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Cities were built according to this scheme and old towns were reconstructed to fit this system. The Greeks were proud of the establishment of the public works and spent a lot of money on it.

There were many ways to bring water into the city for people to use. Many great thinkers such as Archimedes, Hero, and Eupalinus discovered extraordinary ways to draw water more economically to the cities of Greece. Of all the many different inventions, there were three major inventions that made important contributions to the water supply of Greece.


Archimedes' Screw - Archimedes, one of the greatest thinkers of ancient Greece, developed this invention. It was used to lift water from a lower elevation to a higher elevation by means of a tube that is internally threaded. The threads on the inside collect water and as the tube rotates, the water is brought up and put into a storage tank. This massive device was run by human power. The person running the screw, usually a slave, held onto a rail at the top and used his own muscle power to propel the water upward.

Aqueducts and Bridging - The Greeks also used techniques such as aqueducts and bridging valleys. They used these devices because the Greeks thought that the water could only be moved if it was moving downward or on a straight path. So in order to keep the water flowing they built aqueducts through mountains and built bridges over valleys. In the sixth century a Greek engineer by the name of Eupalinus of Megara built the aqueduct of Samos. This tunnel measured more than 3000 ft. long and it was started on opposite ends hoping to meet in the middle. When the two met, the tunnels were only fifteen ft. off from each other. On the average, aqueducts were about fourteen feet deep and they were completely lined with stone. The aqueducts were either single route or they branched off into many branches that supplied different areas with water. There was also a form of manhole covers that allowed the workers to access the aqueduct more easily if work needed to be done.

Siphon Principle - Hero, a Greek who lived after 150 B.C. was the first hydraulic engineer. He modernized the obtaining of water through a method known as the siphon principle. The siphon principle allows the pipes that carry the water to follow the terrain of the land and the aqueduct and bridging techniques were no longer used as often. For example, such a device was used for the citadel at Pergamon. The pipes that connected to the citadel had approximately 300 pounds of pressure per square inch and the pipes were most likely made of metal in order to withstand the pressure.

Priests chosen to pray to Apollo had to drink from a secret spring at Colophon before praying. This water was thought to shorten the lives of the priests. The spring has very deep meaning because it was supposed to have formed from the tears of a prophetess. She had wept over the destruction of Thebes, her native city. There is also a punishment in Hell that uses water. People that were unmarried or uninitiated during their lives had the same punishment. The task was to fetch water from either a well or a stream and fill a broken, leaky wine vase for eternity.

The slaves who had the responsibility of cleaning and repairing all of the public utilities. The more progressive cities had drains under the street that carried both fresh water and sewage. At times these slaves were used to watch over the fountains so that no one did their laundry or bathed in it. They also had to make sure that money thrown into the fountain for luck was not stolen by anyone.

Most of the public water-supply was used for public buildings, such as baths and street fountains. For example, in Alexandria, in Egypt, each house had a personal cistern for their own water for their own use. The slaves also had to clean these cisterns. These private owners of cisterns and users of water had to pay a water rate to the city. It is sort of like the first public utilities company.


Many important people contributed to Greek scientific thought and discoveries. Biology, a very vast and interesting topic, was studied by Hippocrates, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, Pliny, and Galen. These men were among the main researchers of Greek biology who contributed many ideas, theories, and discoveries to science. Some of their discoveries were observations, descriptions, and classifications of the various forms of plants and animal life. Other discussions in biology were natural selection and zoology.

All living things were the basic concern of biology. Greek biologists were interested in how living things began, how they developed, how they functioned, and where they were found. These sorts of questions that ran through the biologists' minds are exactly how they began to discover the basics of life. At such an early time, about 300 B.C., science was just beginning to enter the minds of the Greeks. Aristotle, a Greek biologist, made contributions of his own to science. However, around 300 B.C. there was much more to be discovered, which enabled other scientists to add knowledge to the discoveries of Aristotle, during and after his time.

Natural Selection is the manner in which species evolve to fit their environment - "survival of the fittest." Those individuals best suited to the local environment leave the most offspring, transmitting their genes in the process. This natural selection results in adaptation, the accumulation of the genetic variations that are favored by the environment.

Many Greek scientists thought about natural selection and the origin of life. Anaximander believed that marine life was the first life on Earth and that changes happened to animals when they moved to dry land. Empedocles had the idea of chance combinations of organs arising and dying out because of their lack of adaptation. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher who contributed many works in the sciences, believed that there is purpose in the workings of nature, and mistakes are also made. He thought that nature working so perfectly is a necessity.

Aristotle believed that nature is everything in the environment, like the sky rains, and the plants grow from the sun. Aristotle's theory fits very well with natural selection.

Natural selection makes it necessary for animals and nature fit perfectly - 'survival of the fittest'. If they didn't, then that specific organism would die out, weeding out the characteristics that were unfit for that environment.

That same organism's species might evolve over time and acquire adaptations suitable for the environment, so that newly evolved species can survive and flourish with offspring.

Lucretius, who lived about 50 AD in Rome, believed that evolution was based on chance combinations; heredity and sexual reproduction entered only after earth itself had developed. Then with the organism developing characteristics that might make for survival in the environment, the organisms that don't have favorable characteristics are incapable of survival and disappear. These ideas from Greek scientists are all theories, of course, but the fossil evidence suggests that species evolved over time.


Zoology is the study of animals, involves studying the different species of animals, the environment in which they live, and their organs. Aristotle was very persistent with his studies of the zoological sciences and made many contributions to how we study zoology today. He made observations on the anatomy of octopi, cuttlefish, crustaceans, and many other marine invertebrates that were remarkably accurate. These discoveries on the anatomy could have only been made by dissecting the animals. Through dissection, Greek zoologists studied the structures and functions of anatomies of various animals. Some structures that were studied were bones and membranes. However, to discover and learn about the diversity of animals, Greek zoologists had to narrow their areas of study by attempting to classify the organisms.