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Posts Tagged ‘hellenistic

The effects of slavery on science

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Another interesting notion from Peter Green’s The Hellenistic Age (Ch. 4):

Slaves were thus regarded as at once essential and a permanent threat.  The solution, a simple one, was to keep them fully occupied […].  All power was to be muscle-power.  The effect on Hellenistic science was striking.  It has often been pointed out that ancient inventors were familiar with steam power (indeed, produced a model) and could make effective pistons yet never combined their knowledge to build a steam-engine.  Water-driven mills were known but not used.  The same applied to the compound pulley, which enormously reduced the energy needed to shift a given mass.  The reason should now be clear.  Any device that left the servile labor force with spare energy was seen as a direct stimulus to revolution.


Written by uncudh

May 7, 2009 at 1:51 am

Pure v. applied mathematics

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A curious remark from Peter Green’s The Hellenistic Age:

Euclid and Archimedes regarded the application of theory to practical or, worse, profitable ends with withering contempt and would have nothing to do with it: it took the Roman siege of Syracuse in 212 to make Archimedes turn his mind to the problem of defense artillery.

Written by uncudh

May 4, 2009 at 11:57 pm

The Seleucid Empire

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Donal O’Shea has recently written an excellent book on The Poincare Conjecture, intended for a popular audience.  On p. 14 he writes, “After Alexander’s death, his empire fell apart.  The largest share fell to his general, Ptolemy Soter I, who chose as his capital Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile.”  This is not entirely true.  By far the largest portion of Alexander’s empire eventually came under the control of Seleucus I Nicator, first ruler of the Seleucid Empire—not Ptolemy I Soter.  The death of Alexander was followed by a lengthy and chaotic series of wars among the several generals seeking control of as much of Alexander’s empire as they could get their hands on.  These conflicts are known as the Wars of the Diadochi (the Successors).  Early on, Ptolemy gained control of Egypt, and thus became the first ruler of the so-called Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt.  (This would turn out to be the longest lasting of the Alexandrine successor states.)  However, Seleucus was able to establish himself as ruler of the majority of the Alexander’s Asian possessions.  At its peak, the Seleucid Empire consisted of virtually the entirety of the old Achaemenid Persian empire, with the exception of Egypt and a large portion of Anatolia.  However, the Seleucid Empire very quickly began to disintegrate.  After a war with the great Indian king Chandragupta Maurya, Seleucus I Nicator was compelled to cede large territories in the east to the Mauryan, in exchange for a large number of elephants.  (These elephants eventually proved to be very helpful to Seleucus in his later warfare.)  The next major loss was the secession of Bactria.  The governor of Bactria declared independency, thus forming the so-called Greco-Iranian kingdom of Bactria, which survived for more than a century.  Eventually the Parthians formed an independent state, and would go on to establish themselves as a very powerful and long-lasting empire.  The Seleucid Empire would eventually collapse after a long series of losses to the Romans and Parthians coupled with rebellions within the empire.

Written by uncudh

May 2, 2009 at 8:39 pm

I am An-ti-‘u-ku-us

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The following is an inscription, originally in Akkadian, from the reign of Antiochus I Soter, second king of the Seleucid Empire (see Nicholas Ostler, Empires of the Word).  The incongruity of a Greek ruler describing himself in such a way (not to mention in Akkadian!)  is remarkable.

I am An-ti-‘u-ku-us [Antiochus], the great king, the legitimate king, the king of the world, king of E [Babylon], king of all countries, the caretaker of the temples Esagila and Ezida, the first born of Si-lu-uk-ku [Seleucus], Ma-ak-ka-du-na-a-a [Macedonian], king of Babylon.

Written by uncudh

January 25, 2009 at 1:24 am

Posted in history

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