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Article

Shelley Wachsmann

During the Bronze Age, ships and seafaring capabilities transformed the Mediterranean and Red Seas from insurmountable barriers to highways over which cultures communicated for a variety of reasons. Watercraft were essential to the development of maritime cultures in the Bronze Age. Our knowledge of these vessels derives primarily from contemporaneous iconography, but also from remains of the actual vessels and from texts. Each culture developed ships and boats that best suited their individual needs based on the availability of materials and local traditions.Ships and boats played a pivotal role in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, both on inland waterways and at sea. Virtually everything made or used by humans travelled in some way by watercraft, which allowed cultures to interact over vast distances through exploration, trade, warfare, piracy, and migration. Acquiring copper and tin was of primary importance, and in the late 2nd millennium bce the shape of some ingots, termed “oxhide ingots,” was particularly suited for ship transportation. Militarily, ships could be used as mobile fighting platforms during battles, but more commonly they served for coastal raiding and as naval transports for men and supplies. It is impossible to understand the Mediterranean Bronze Age world without taking into consideration the influence of .

Article

Robert Schon

During the Bronze Age, people living in the Aegean region began adopting standardized measures. Aegean metrology took numerous forms and included measurements of weight, volume, length, area, and time. Some metrological units are depicted on Linear B (and some earlier Linear A) texts of the Late Bronze Age. In a few cases, archaeological remains, such as weights and scales, provide further insights into Aegean Bronze Age metrology.Ancient weights have been identified in numerous ways, some more reliable than others. A few weights appear in proportional sets or are marked with their unit designation, making their identification straightforward. In other cases, archaeologists rely on context or reasonable deduction (e.g., “What else could they be?”). Certain spool-shaped stones found in Early Bronze Age (c. 2500bce) contexts, most notably at Tiryns, may be weights.1 If so, these would be the earliest confirmed balance weights in the Aegean. Eleven haematite and two similarly hard stone weights were discovered by Valmin in various strata at Malthi, a Bronze Age site in .

Article

Corinna Rossi

Ancient Egyptian pyramids were funerary monuments. Besides the three world-famous pyramids at Giza, Egypt contains the remains of over eighty other large royal pyramids that were built during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, and of hundreds of smaller pyramids that adorned the New Kingdom tombs of private individuals; large groups of small royal pyramids were later built in Nubia, modern Sudan. Symbols of the connection between earth and sky, pyramids were built along the Nile for nearly three thousand years, displaying a range of shapes, dimensions, and construction techniques.

Our knowledge of these monuments is extensive yet uneven: a linear evolution of shape and layout appears to proceed alongside the periodic appearance of unique elements; the few extant mathematical sources from ancient Egypt provide information on how the slope of these monuments was measured and calculated, but not on how it was chosen; the precision of the orientation of the sides towards the four cardinal points indicates a stellar alignment, but the identification of the stars involved in the process is still doubtful; the archaeological evidence suggests that ramps where used in the construction, but their structure and shape can only be guessed. Therefore, the main challenge in the ongoing study of pyramids is that of combining various sources and reckoning with the simultaneous presence of recurring elements and unique circumstances.

Article

Miko Flohr

The Greek, Hellenistic and Roman worlds were characterized by a culture of knowledge that fostered and celebrated innovation and invention. Greeks and Romans not only embraced technological practices developed elsewhere in earlier periods, maximizing their use, but also saw the diffusion of a broad range of inventions and innovations in agriculture, manufacturing, construction, transport, and communication. These innovations not only had a tangible impact on everyday material culture, but also supported the increasingly complex social, economic and political networks that came to characterize the ancient Mediterranean.

Graeco-Roman antiquity was a pre-industrial and agrarian society. It had limited means to circulate knowledge, and there were structural constraints on the emergence and diffusion of innovations compared to the early modern and modern world. At the same time, the Graeco-Roman world grew into an increasingly vast and complex conglomerate of social, political, and economic networks that facilitated (and fostered) innovation more than ever before, which resulted in significant change in technological practice and a well-developed consumer culture in which invention and knowledge could be appreciated and celebrated.

Article

Hans-W. Fischer-Elfer

First attested indirectly in the 3rd millennium bce, then in the early 2nd millennium in terms of medical handbooks, and then in the early Roman Period (2nd century ce), Egyptian medicine displays a broad range of topics and treatments. Its textual corpus can be divided into veterinarians and gynaecological and general diagnoses and prescriptions pertaining to men and women alike. By drawing on analogies from the natural world, healing procedures were expected to transfer properties, for example, from the realm of minerals, plants, and animals, to the patient and restore his or her former healthy condition.

Specialization, starting with dentistry, ophthalmology, pharmacology and veterinary medicine attest to a high degree of professional education and practice in the 3rd millennium. Any generalizing term for the art of medicine is unknown; names of individuals involved in it are known to us from either autobiographical inscriptions or documentary texts from everyday life. In many cases, magical incantations and rituals went along with the “medical” treatments. Medicine and magic cannot be separated from each other in ancient Egypt.

Article

Andrew M. Riggsby

There is a large body of evidence for Roman use of weights and measures. In theory, they would have been able to measure a variety of quantities with great precision, given the variety of different-sized units at their disposal and an elaborate system of fractional subdivisions of those units. Moreover, those measurements could have been accurate with respect to a shared system because of publicly available exemplary standards, a theoretical connection between the definitions of the most important measurements, and the existence of state officials who could enforce the standards. As a result, Romans could, in principle, have conveyed very specific metrological information across a great deal of space and time. In practice, measurement was considerably less predictable and less precise. Actual measurement did not necessarily avail itself of the full resources of the theoretical system, and sometimes did not appeal to any general system. Moreover, overtly competing systems coexisted with the “official” ones at all times. Finally, it is not clear how coherent that official system was, nor were the actual systems of enforcement particularly robust. As a result, measurement was often imprecise and/or tightly localized (which probably generated weak expectations of being able to replicate measurement across different contexts).

Article

Laurence Totelin

The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of around sixty medical texts, the majority of which were written in the fifth and fourth century BCE. While they are attributed to the physician Hippocrates of Cos, their authenticity has been debated since antiquity.The Hippocratic texts are varied in style and in content, and sometimes present contradictory views. As a result, it is difficult to give a strict definition of what constitutes Hippocratic medicine. Broadly, it is a techne, in which dietetics and prognostication play important roles, and in which diseases are considered to have natural causes.The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of approximately sixty medical texts, all in the Ionic Greek dialect, attributed to Hippocrates of Cos, the famous physician mentioned by Plato (Phdr. 270c) and Aristotle (Pol. 1326a15). Since antiquity, it has been recognized that Hippocrates could not have authored all those texts, which vary vastly in style and sometimes present contradictory views. Most Hippocratic treatises can be dated to the .

Article

Sophia Connell

Women were involved in both practical and theoretical aspects of scientific endeavour in the ancient world. Although the evidence is scant, it is clear that women innovated techniques in textile manufacture, metallurgy, and medical sciences. The most extensive engagement of women in science was in medicine, including obstetrics, gynaecology, pharmacology, and dermatology. The evidence for this often comes from male medical writers. Women were also involved in the manufacture of gold alloys, which interested later alchemists. Maria of Alexandria innovated equipment and techniques while also theorizing about chemical change. Many of the works ascribed to women in antiquity were not written by women. However, they do indicate what sorts of sciences were taken to be the province of women.

Scientific achievements are not the result of individual genius. Science has been a collective endeavour, involving the whole structure of society. The ancient world is no exception to this. Indeed, what is known about the desire for knowledge and control of the physical world indicates that the ways in which Greeks and Romans pursued it were various and diverse, and included the thoughts and activities of many women.

Article

John Steele

The term “Babylonian astronomy” is used to refer to a diverse range of practices undertaken by people in ancient Babylonia and Assyria including what in modern English would be referred to as astronomy, astrology and celestial divination, and cosmology. The earliest astronomical or astrological texts preserved from Babylonia and Assyria date to the early 2nd millennium bce, although some basic astronomical knowledge such as the identification of a regular cycle of the moon, the identification of the planets as a distinct type of celestial object from the stars, and the grouping of stars into constellations dates back much earlier, perhaps even before the development of writing in the 4th millennium bce. Astronomical and astrological texts were still being written around 2,000 years later during the 1st century ce. These texts are some of the latest known texts written in cuneiform. Babylonian astronomy encompassed a range of practices, including the cataloguing of stars and constellations, the regular observation of celestial phenomena, the development and use of methods of predicting those same phenomena, and the interpretation of observed and computed astronomical data through various forms of astrology.

Article

Rebecca Futo Kennedy and Katherine Blouin

Natural environments such as the air currents, temperatures, waters, and topography were thought to shape humans, animals, and plants. For humans, the impact was physical, behavioural, and cultural. For animals, the impacts were mostly physical (e.g., oxen in Scythia have no horns because of the cold). This is typically referred to as environmental or climatic determinism. Early explicit examples of this idea include the HippocraticAirs, Waters, Places and occasional comments in Herodotus, but arguments for such a relationship between identity and environment as early as Homer’s Odyssey and Hesiod have been made.1 There is a long-standing tradition beginning with Homer and extending through the Roman imperial period of humans, animals, and their hybrids being associated with geographic distance from an imagined centre, dwelling in designated climate bands, or being earth-born or autochthonous (gēgenēs, autochthōn) that may reflect early forms of environmental determinism. The ideas continue to circulate in much the same form as found in the Hippocratic Airs in Roman authors such as Vitruvius, Manilius, Pliny the Elder, and Vegetius.