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Science and Technology’ Development in Ancient Civilizations Essay



For centuries, national economies and social changes have been driven by science and technology activities. Today, current economies have been transformed from economies based on natural resources to systems that are globally integrated based on knowledge and information. It is important to note that this could not have occurred without incorporation of scientific principles or most important, implementing innovative technology.

The activities of science and technology have accelerated national growths and have caused social change through various avenues, such as; communication, transport in terms of movement, and enhanced capacities to generate (Cooper 99)). This paper provides an overview in the development of science and technology in European civilization, thus, discussing the following: civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greek.

Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greek Civilizations

The foundation of Western civilization was laid by Mesopotamians and Egyptians. Both Mesopotamians and Egyptians developed cities and coped with challenges of organized states. They also pioneered writing to maintain records and establish literature (Perry 26). Egyptians were able to build magnificent and complex pyramids aimed at appeasing their gods. Their architecture also indicated their power and authority in the kingdom. The basic spheres of Egyptian life, that is, political, social, religious, and others tackle challenges that exist in humans (Perry 29).

These observations on Egyptian civilization assisted many in understanding the daunting challenges human beings experienced in terms of: the nature of human relationships; the nature of the universe; and the role of the divine forces in the universe (Perry 29)). Although later citizens of the Western civilizations would offer different views from those of Mesopotamians and Egyptians, it was they who first posed, gave solutions, and recorded them down. In essence, human memory starts with these two civilizations (Perry 28).

Mesopotamia Civilization

The accomplishments of Mesopotamian civilization played a great part in the development of science and technology in Western Civilization. The word Mesopotamia was extracted from Greek meaning the land between the rivers (Postgate 6). The first civilization began in Mesopotamia an area in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Sumerians were the first to develop an urban civilization in Mesopotamia. They colonized the marshlands of the lower Euphrates, which together with Tigris flows in the Gulf of Persia. The origin of Sumerians is obscure, although scholars speculate that they migrated from the east, perhaps northern India (Bottero 10).

Through imagination and constant toil, Sumerians transformed the swamps into fields’ barley and groves of date palms (Wildwood 21). Gradually, their hut settlements evolved into twelve independent city states, each consisting of a city and its surrounding countryside at around 3000 B.C. among these tremendous achievements of the Sumerians were a system of symbol writing, in which pictograms and signs for numbers were engraved with a reed stylus on clay tablets to represent ideas; elaborate brick houses, palaces, and temples; bronze tools and weapons; irrigation works; trade with other people; an early form of money; religious and political institutions; schools; religious and secular literature; varied art forms; codes of law; medicinal drugs; and lunar calendar (Postgate 20).

Although Sumerians spoke common language and shared same customs and gods, their city sates engaged in frequent rivalry principally over boundaries and water rights. The water rights meant the canals built upriver reduced the water available to the cities down river. Due to this warfare, Sumerians were weakened and exposed them to foreign domination. Sumerian cities were incorporated into various kingdoms and empires in succeeding centuries. Semitic tongue replaced Sumerian language as official language in these territories (Postgate 18). However, their cultural achievements endured. The Babylonians, Akkadians, and others adopted Sumerian religious, legal, literary and art forms. The Sumerian legacy served as the basis for a Mesopotamian civilization that maintains a distinct style of 3000 years (Bottero 40.

Government, Law and Economy

Central to Mesopotamian society, was kingship; bestowed on a man by gods. There was a tendency of Mesopotamian Kings to regard themselves as gods, that is, they were selected by gods as their representatives on earth. The kings ruled through gods who reported about conditions in their land; which was the god’s property and petitioned the gods for advice (Wildwood 6). All the laws were administered by the king, laws which came from gods (Wildwood 8). These laws provided Mesopotamia with a measure of security and orderliness.

The famous code of Hammurabi was the principle collection of laws in ancient Mesopotamia. The code has provided invaluable insights into Mesopotamian society (Perkins 59). The laws were inscribed on a stone slab near the top of which Hammurabi was depicted, standing reverently before the throne of Shamash, the sun god and patron of justice. Hammurabi, just in typical Mesopotamian fashion, claimed that his code rested on the authority of the gods; a violation of it was a contravention of the divine order (Bottelo 16).

The social status was revealed by these codes. Men were held as head of families; although efforts were made to protect women and children from mistreatment and poverty. For instance, if a man divorced his wife because they could give him a son, he had to provide her with finances. There were severe punishments. For instance, the code prescribed death on housebreaking, kidnapping, assisting in the escape of slaves, receiving stolen goods; and hearing false witnesses. Class differences were expressed in the code (Wildwood 24).

Penalties varied in with the status of both accuser and the victim. For example, harming a noble received huge punishment than harming a commoner. Heavy penalties were imposed on government officials who engaged in extortion or bribery. The provisions of the code relating to business transactions indicate the significance of trade to Mesopotamian life. Mesopotamian economy was solely dependent on foreign and domestic trade. It had great opportunities for private enterprise. Even their temple priests besides their merchants engaged in trade since they possessed surplus produce collected as rents from farmers using temple land (Postgate 11).

Writing, Mathematics, and Astronomy and Medicine

Sumerians formed schools, which taught the sons of the upper class in the art of cunciform writing. There are many discovered tablets on which Sumerian students practiced their lessons. This testifies their years of their disciplined and demanding work demanding them to master the scribble art. All scribbles were virtually men; however, women scribes are also mentioned at times in Mesopotamian writings. Literacy in particular, was extended to noble women (Bottero 5).

To aid their students, teachers prepared textbooks of word lists and mathematical problems with solutions. Sumerians compiled probably the first dictionary when they translated Sumerian words to Akkadian language. Students who finished the course of study successfully were employed as archivists, secretaries or accountants by the temple, the law courts and the palace or merchants. The Sumerian system of cunciform writing spread to other parts of world (Wildwood 12).

Impressive advances in mathematics were also made by Mesopotamians. They devised multiplication and division tables, including cubes and cube roots. They were able to determine the area of right angles, triangles and rectangles, divided a circle into 360 degrees, and ha some understanding of the principles that centuries later would be developed into the Pythagorean theorem and quadratic equations (Postgate 13).

Egyptian Civilization

The Egyptian set towards the path of civilization in the fertile valley of the Nile during the early of Mesopotamia civilization. The Greek historian Herodotus termed Egypt as the gift of the Nile, for good reason (Bell 5). This is because without this mighty river, which flows more than four thousand miles from central Africa northward to the Mediterranean, virtually all of Egypt would be a desert. When the Nile broke its banks, as it did reliably and predictably, the floodwaters deposited a layer of fertile black earth, which, when cultivated, provided abundant food to support Egyptian civilization. The Egyptians learned how to control the river; a feat that needed cooperation effort and ingenuity, as well as engineering and administrative skills (Perry 19).

Religion was the essence of Egyptian civilization. The overall Egyptian practices in terms of art, literature, health and others were based on religious beliefs. The great Egyptian pyramids, which took decades to be constructed to finish and demanded labour of thousands of people, were pharaohs tombs. In addition, Egyptian health care system is laced with utterances which bode to magic. For instance, all ailments were associated to occur as a result of the gods.

The field of astronomy grew in Egypt as a result of Egyptians seeking exact time of doing religious rites and sacrifices. Literary examples of early Egyptian life are full of themes related to religion. Pharaohs were revered as royalty that acted as a bridge between Egyptian gods and its citizens. The justice system followed strict religion and justice was administered a revered creator god. Egyptians appealed to gods to provide them victory during times of war, provide abundant harvest, and protect them from sicknesses and misfortunes. They also established codes of ethics they thought were sanctioned by the gods they worship. In a number of treaties formulated by high officials, Egyptians were urged to speak the truth and to treat others fairly (Waddel 171).

Devine Kingship

Devine kingship presented the basic institution of Egyptian civilization. The needs of Egyptian environment perhaps assisted forge the idea of the pharaoh as a living god because a ruler with supernatural authority, and held in favour by the gods, could hold together the large kingdom and draft the mass labour needed to maintain the irrigation system. The pharaoh authority was enhanced by numerous priests and standing army.

Science and Mathematics

Similar to Mesopotamians, Egyptians made practical development in mathematics and science. They demonstrated magnificent skills in constructing pyramids. The pyramid of Khufu for instance, is still the largest stone building ever constructed. The Egyptians fashioned a system of mathematics that was effective including geometry for measurements that enabled them to solve relatively simple problems.

In Egypt, the control of floodwaters of Nile needed meticulous planning. It was therefore, important to know when the Nile would begin to overflow. Marking that the Nile flooded after the star Sirius emerged in the sky, Egyptians developed a calendar by which they could predict the time of flood. They fashioned a calendar of twelve months eventually. Each of these months had thirty days. To complete the solar year, they added a separate period of five days after the last month. Egyptian calendar based on the sun was more accurate than the Babylonian lunar calendar (Perry 20).

In the field of medicine, Egyptian physicians were more capable than their Mesopotamian colleagues. They were able to diagnose illnesses; they recognized that in hygiene encouraged contagion. Egyptians had knowledge of anatomy and performed operations; circumcision and perhaps removing of abscessed teeth. There is evidence that Egyptian doctors examined the body in a scientific way, although the progress of medicine was derailed by the belief that supernatural forces caused illnesses. In scroll, Smith surgical papyrus omitted all references to divine intervention in his advice for treating wounds and fractures. He described fractures n a way and recommended healing them with splints and casts. In another papyrus document, the writer identified various snakes, analyzed the effects of their bites, and listed treatments, including the use of specific drugs; and he did so with only minimum references magical incarnations (Bell 20).

Greek Civilization

Science and technology presents organized views of the universe developed with the rise of the Greek civilization, starting 600 BCE. The Greeks developed institutions such as museums, the Lyceum, and the Academy in resemblance to universities today. When the Academy and the Lyceum were closed in 529 CE, and the Museum was destroyed about same period, the Greek era in science was over, although Greek writings continued to have great influence for thousand years more (Stadler 36).

The earliest Greeks were seafarers and traders. As a result, they needed skills for navigation as important in predetermining their practice in science especially geometry. Prior to Greek civilization, scholars from Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilization had already learnt scientific results (Bell 12). However, these were mainly commonly observations and recipes for specific applications. For instance, although the Egyptian Imbotep may be termed as a scientist for his knowledge of medicine and architecture, the Greeks were the first to believe that humans could understand universe using reason alone rather than through mythology or religion (Stadler 35).

They looked for explanations for all natural phenomena. No personal gods were involved, only impersonal natural processes. These early searchers were referred to as philosophers rather than scientists. However, since few are known to have performed specific experiments. Greek philosophers were the first to seek for general principles beyond observation. Some of the Greek philosophers known to have performed experiments include; Pythagoras, Aristotle and Archimedes (Stadler 36).

Philosophy as a Precursor to Science

Greek science and mathematics starts with Ionian school of natural philosophy briefly after 600 BCE (Rosenberg 1). Thales of Miletus is regarded as founder of Ionian school. He studied in Egypt where he was exposed to new ideas. It is likely that he learned the craft of land surveying, from which he deduced geometry. He also studied astronomy in Mesopotamia, and it is believed that he predicted a solar eclipse (Stadler 36).

Thales started the search for a unifying principle and identified this essence as water. Anaximander is believed to have written the earliest scientific book. He formulates a theory of the origin and evolution of life. He believed that life originated in the sea from the moist element which was evaporated by the sun (Rosenberg 4).

Ionian philosophers and their followers introduced earliest form of scientific method, which was based on reasoning and observation with little experimentation. They established differing theories about the causes of natural phenomena and the nature of matter. The atomics such as Democritus and Leucippus believed reality to be embodied in matter, while the Pythagoreans viewed the universe as form and number.

Plato became central to Greek science as he was influenced by Pythagorean and Aristotle. Plato’s academy promoted pure form of mathematics (Taylor 89). Aristotle, whose school was Lyceum, became the most scholars in Greek Antiquity. He introduced the inductive method, aversion of the scientific method that still plays a role in scientific thinking today. Significant advances in science and technology include; astronomy, biology, medicine, and communication (Rosenberg 4).


The Greeks developed a multitude of cosmological models, although they were less accurate observers of celestial events than the Babylonians. For instance, Thales assumed that earth to be floating in water, while Anaximander believed earth to be a disk suspended freely in space. The Pythagoreans believed that is a sphere in space. Eudoxus of Cnidus on the other hand, proposed that stars are attached to a larger sphere that rotates around earth. The Greek and Hellenistic philosophy came to generally accept the idea of the universe as nesting spheres came to be accepted generally in Greek and Hellenistic philosophy, with earth at the centre of the universe (Stadler 34).

Hellenistic astronomers such as Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, and Ptolemy calculated correctly the size of earth and the distance of the moon. Astronomy was dominated by an explanation of planetary motion established by Hipparchus and refined by Ptolemy until it was replaced by the system of Copernicus, Keppler and Newton.


Classification of living organisms on grand scale was first undertaken by Aristotle, covering the range from the most imperfect to, that is, plants to the most perfect, that is, man; as he viewed the hierarchy. Animals were classified by Aristotle as vertebrates and invertebrates. This classification continues to function today. Aristotle’s anatomy was often good, but in some instances far wrong. For instance, he believed that the heart is the centre of intelligence.

He observed and described the development of embryos, becoming the founder of comparative embryology. Contributions of both the mother and father are equally important. This was an important discovery by Aristotle at the time. Lyceum and Theophrastus succeeded Aristotle in advancing biology and classification especially with regard to plants (Stadler 28).


Among the Greek philosophers interested in medicine were; Democritus, Anaxagoras, and Philolaus. Philosopher Hippocrates and his followers became the most renowned for a more scientific approach to medicine and for their explanation of health and disease by balance of humours (Rosenberg 4). The theory remained static for many centuries and hampered the understanding the role of pathogens. When the Greek medical teaching spread Galan merged as the best common physician, his theories dominated medicine for 1300 years. Misconceptions were abounding the anatomy for some time. It was easy to observe that the larger veins and arteries are tubes that can carry some sort of fluid through the body. Therefore, it was assumed that the nerves are also fluid carrying tubes (Perry 20).


Systems for dispatching signals quickly over long distances that were developed during this period may have been significant for the armies and empires. However, Antiquity’s greatest advance in communication was the establishment of the library at Alexandria. At Alexandria, nearly all the knowledge collected to that day was stored. The library was however destroyed during the war due to the rise in Christianity which depicted much of the contents of the library as heretical. This may have set civilization back by several centuries (Rosenberg 2).

The essence of Western civilization was impacted much by the Greeks cultural and political practices. The initial Greek civilization occurred around 1600 B.C. the city states had become the main focus of Greek life by the 8th century B.C. loyalty to the city states created a community that was close knit but also split Greece into a host of independent states. The Greeks accomplishments informed the core of Western culture (Taylor 89). The strong Western literature adopted Greek poetry and drama (Stadler 38). Western art is littered with harmony, proportion, and beauties which were key attributes practiced by the Greeks.

Modern science in Greece was established as a rational technique of inquiry. Most political terms in western culture originated from the Greeks. The concept designs of rights and duties of the citizenry in the West followed practices in Athens. As Greek city states pursued their squabbles; they were conquered by a powerful kingdom called Macedonia. The Greek culture remained strong despite defeat by Macedonians. Non Greeks and Greeks established series of kingdoms which were named Hellenistic kingdoms. This period, referred to as Hellenistic era was vibrant as new cities arose and flourished (Hughes 180).

Accomplishments of Greeks in Mathematics

The Greeks had a mentality totally different from Egyptians and Babylonians. They revealed this in plans they had for application of mathematics. The application of arithmetic and algebra to computation of interest, taxes or commercial transactions and geometry to computation of volumes of granaries was as far from their minds as most distant stars (Heath 1). In many respects, the Greeks found mathematics valuable in many respects especially in the aid it rendered to study of nature; and of all phenomenon of nature, the heavenly bodies attracted them most. Astronomy was the key scientific interest for Greeks. However, they also studied, light, sound and body motions on earth (Taylor 89).

In probing nature, the Greeks sought no material gain and no power over nature. They merely wanted to satisfy their minds. Since they enjoyed reasoning and because nature availed the most imposing challenge to their understanding, the Greeks undertook the purely intellectual study of nature. In essence, the Greeks are the founders of science in the correct sense (Hughes 187). The conception of nature by Greeks was arbitrary and terrifying.

They believed that magic and rituals would propitiate mysterious and feared forces. This made them dare face nature without fear. The Greek endeavoured to prove that nature was rational and followed mathematical design. The Greek mind turned down traditional doctrines, dogma, superstitions, authority, and others (Hughes 188).

The Greeks were also interested in geometry. Pythagoras and other philosophers built up enormous logical structure embodied by Euclid in his elements. This geometry is still studied in high schools to date. Accomplishments in mathematics by Greeks had importance of supplying the first evidence of power of human reason to deduce new truth (Hughes 189).

Why Greek science become sterile after the 2nd century B.C

The immediate effect of Aristotle’s rejection of Platonist mathematics was one he certainly neither foresaw nor intended. It was to make a breach between philosophy and science. Mathematical science was still in the vigour of its first youth, whether Aristotle realized it or not (Livingstone 62). Mathematicians were stirred by the achievements of the last generation to attempt the solution of still higher problems. If the Lyceum turned away from them, they were prepared to carry on the academic tradition by themselves, and they succeeded for a time beyond all expectation (Livingstone 63).

The third century B.C. was the golden age of Greek mathematics, and it has been suggested that this was due to the emancipation of mathematics from philosophy. The great mathematicians of the third century were certainly carrying on the tradition of their predecessors who had been philosophers as well as mathematicians. It is plain fact is that Greek mathematicians became sterile in a comparatively short time, and that no further advance was made till the days of Descartes and Leibniz, with whom philosophy and mathematics once more went hand in hand (Livingstone 89).

The Technological Achievements of the Middle Ages

During the middle ages, scholastic philosophers advanced mathematical and physical thinking in numerous ways. However, the subjection of these thinkers to a strict theological framework and their unquestioning reliance on a few ancient authorities, especially Aristotle and Galen, limited where they can go. Medieval scientists preferred refined logical analysis to systemic observations of the natural world (Oesterhoff 64). Numerous changes and advances in the 15th and 16th centuries played a great role in assisting philosophers leave their old views and develop new ones (Spielvogel 484).

The middle ages (15th and 16th centuries) witnessed a proliferation of literature concentrating on machines and technology. All of these espoused the belief that innovation in techniques or methods was necessary. Relating technology to scientific revolution is not an easy task, for many technological experts did not did not believe in abstract or academic learning. Technological innovations of the middle ages and renaissance were accomplished outside the universities by individuals who emphasized practical rather than theoretical knowledge. Thus, the invention of new instruments and machines such as telescopes and microscopes made scientific discoveries possible (Spielvogel 485).

Mathematics was very fundamental to the scientific achievements of the middle ages. The status of mathematical discipline was enhanced in the renaissance through the influence of Plato and resuscitation of ancient mathematicians. They had emphasized importance of math in describing the universe. Mathematics was necessary in understanding the nature of things. Mathematics was also applied in military science, navigation and geography (Spielvogel 483).

Influence of the Church and of Antiquity

Christian teachings and traditions of the early church laid the foundation that prepared Europe for scientific revolution. However, there were also other factors. For instance, the role played by the middle ages which transmitted to modern age the belief in a rational, orderly cosmos as well as scholastic tradition of carefully logical reasoning. Modern early scientists benefited immensely from the work of medieval scholars who transmitted the natural philosophy of the Greeks, and from achievements of 14th century scientists (Oesterhoff 64).

The decline of the Roman Empire saw emergence of Christianity across the Mediterranean world. The success of Christianity in Roman lands in the middle ages constituted a new phase in Western history. In ancient times, the locus of Roman civilization was the Mediterranean Sea. The pillar of medieval civilization shifted to the north, to regions of Europe that Roman civilization had barely penetrated (Westermann 156).

Common civilization evolved with Christianity at the centre during the early middle ages. Christianity acted as the integrating principle during this period, and the church was dominant institution. Medieval transmission of ancient science was characterized by a dominant attitude. In the middle Ages, the individual did not tech, rather it was the Church through the clergy. The corporate transmission of traditional wisdom was done through clerical science. Monastic teachers had the obligation to the service of God and centred on understanding of God’s word as recorded in sacred writings and interpreted by fathers (Westermann 157).


In sum, science and technology has resulted to the development of sophisticated instruments and procedures. Technology offered a stimulus for the development of science through: technical metaphors used in developing scientific theories; offering firsthand experience with technological objects, which encouraged the development of scientific thought and knowledge; and influencing experimental methods of science through the development of apparatus and instruments (Monsma 89).

Basically, science solely relied on technology through the centuries before emergence of new technology in the nineteenth century. Dependence of technological progress upon science has substantially risen during the course of industrialization (Monsma 90). The revolution of science in the 15th and 16th century emerged in the fields dominated by ideas of the Greeks; astronomy, mechanics and medicine (Spielvogel 484).

Works Cited

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Bottero, Jean, and Bahrani Zainab. Mesopotamia Writing, Reasoning and the Gods. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1995.

Cooper, Charles. Science and Technology and Development. New York: Cengage Learning, 1973.

Heath, Thomas. History of Greek Mathematics. New York: Dover Publications, 1981.

Hughes, Phillip. A History of the Church. London: Continuum International Publishing, 1949.

Livingstone, Roy. The Legacy of Greece. Athens: BiblioBazar, 2007.

Monsma, Stephens, and Calvin for Christian Leadership. Responsible Technology. New York: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1986.

Oesterhoff, Fredrick. Ideas have History. Washington DC: University of America, 2001.

Perkins, Mary. Christendom and European Identity. London: Rutledge, 2008.

Perry, Marvin, and Jacob Margaret, Myrna. Western Civilization. New York: Cengage Publishers.

Postgate, James. Early Mesopotamia. London: Rutledge, 1994.

Rosenberg, Alexander. Philosophy of Science. London: Routledge, 2005.

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization. New York: Cengage Learning, 2008.

Stadler, Friedriech. The Present Situation in the Philosophy of Science. New York: Springer Publishers, 2010.

Taylor, Thomas. Introduction to Philosophy and Writing of Plato. New York: BiblioBazaar, 2007.

Waddel, Levy. Egyptian Civilians. New York: Cengage Learning, 2010.

Westermann W. The Slave System of Greeks and Roman Antiquity. New York: Amer Philosophical Society, 1984.

Wildwood G. Ancient Mesopotamian Civilization. New York: Rosen Publishing, 2009.

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