An Overview Of Byzantine Science

Science is one of those subjects that has continually evolved, but it has also boasted some of its golden ages, as well as some transitional periods from ancient civilizations to classical to modern.

One of the legendary periods was during the Byzantine Empire.

The Byzantine Empire is known as the “Greek” Roman Empire, which lasted from the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D. until Constantinople (current-day Istanbul, Turkey) fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. The Byzantine Empire was considered part of the Roman Empire, but it was Greek-speaking, Latin-using, Christian-based and really did not involve any Romans (and not many Greeks, either; it had Middle Eastern/Arab heritage).

Considering its longevity and the timeframe in which it existed, the Byzantine Empire was valuable a a bridge in lending classical knowledge in various areas – science and medicine being two – from the Roman Empire and ancient Greece into the Muslim world and back to Italy (where the Roman Empire started) during the great Renaissance period.

Byzantine science was not so much known for great innovations during this time, but it was valuable in carrying forward much of the knowledge of the early days of the Empire and laying the groundwork for future innovators and inventors which carried forward some of the classical ideas and theories and put them into practical use. Much of Byzantine science had grounding in biblical and theological philosophy, especially as the Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion for most of its millennium of existence.

One of the most prominent examples of Byzantine science was seen with the Hagia Sophia, a great cathedral (now an Islamic mosque) which was a “modern” marvel of the early Byzantine era because of its design, shape and height which were innovative at the time (up to the 7th century A.D.). The cathedral, which still stands today, was designed by architects/mathematicians Isidore and Anthemius.  Much of Byzantine science and math, it was said, was used to explain the world (in other words, nature, or God’s creation).

Besides that majestic building of religious ceremony, Byzantine science had another noteworthy achievement that lasted hundreds of years and has continually been improved upon- what was known as “Greek fire.” Greek fire was a transformational innovation in military science, as it was a weapon used by the Empire’s military against various naval ships of enemy forces. It is an “incendiary device,” as we might call it today, which would bombard ships with fireballs that would not be extinguished by the water. It is considered an early form of napalm, which was so prominently used in the Vietman War more than 12 centuries later.

Byzantine science was also heavily influenced by Islamic science and was a vessel to transmit Islamic scientific text (including astronomy) into Europe to usher in the Renaissance.   There are several instances of Islamic work being cited in Byzantine texts, as well as the reference to ancient Greek ideas in Islamic texts which ended up in Byzantine scientific texts of the day.

When it comes to connecting a cultural generation n with another, the Byzantine Empire was one of the best sources as a bridge of knowledge from an ancient world into a more modern one.