Byzantine Astronomy from A.D. 1300

Byzantine Astronomy from A.D. 1300

By Emmanuel A. Paschos

Paper given at the Ringberg Euroconference on New Trends in Neutrino Physics, Tegernsee, Germany, 24 – 29 May 1998

Abstract: A Byzantine article from the 13th century contains advanced astronomical ideas and pre-Copernican diagrams. The models are geocentric but contain improvements on the trajectories of the Moon and Mercury. This talk presents several models and compares them briefly with the Astronomy of Ptolemy, Arabic Astronomies of that time and the heliocentric system.

Introduction: It is an important historical fact that Byzantium preserved the traditions and scientific knowledge of the ancient world. The Byzantines considered the traditions of ancient Greece and Rome to be their own heritage and preserved them for many centuries. Numerous studies have been written on the fields of literature, art, philopsophy, law, etc., but there are fewer studies on the scientific developments during the Byzantine period.

Among the valuable material delivered to us are scientific writings from ancient Greece. Historians of science state that “the majority of manuscripts on which our knowledge of Greek science is based are Byzantine codices, written between 500 and 1500 years after the lifetime of their authors”. Thus “while the Greek scientific heritage was [to a large extent] lost in Western Europe between the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century and the translation movement of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries”, it remained intact in the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in manuscripts attributed to the ancient authors and at the same time it was modified in the articles and commentaries of Byzantine scholars. In contrast to Western Europeans “the Arabs had virtually full access to that [Greek] heritage from the eighth century onward. This occured because of a momentous translation effort whereby the great works of Greece and other cultures were translated in Arabic”. Later on (12th and 13th centuries) the classical knowledge was transmitted to Western Europe through Byzantine and Arabic sources and Irish monks who travelled across Europe founding monasteries and scriptoria.

Click here to read this article from the US Department of Energy

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