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The Myth of the Greeks -- Did they steal from Egypt?

  1. Mar 4, 2016 #1
    Do you buy the idea that The Greeks stole all the mathematics, scientific knowledge from the Egyptians (and the Babylonians)

    I heard from one of those afrocentric guys that "Ancient Egypt essentially created math and science while the Greeks stole from them

    is this accurate? is this even true?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 4, 2016 #2


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    Ideas are fluid and travel with the trade routes. Gifted scientists, mathematicians and inventors expand on them and set them free. So I'm sure the Greeks traded ideas with Egypt, Babylon and other civilizations. I wouldn't say steal though.

    Having said that, I can find no credible reference to point to yet.
  4. Mar 4, 2016 #3
    I would say that Babylonia/Sumer created geometry, the basis of mathematics. As to whether the Greeks "stole" it, I would imagine that records are skimpy.
  5. Mar 4, 2016 #4


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    Ancient civilizations before Greece used certain geometric concepts for practical pursuits like astronomical observations or for land surveying, but it was the Greeks who studied geometry in the abstract and created a system of proofs to extend geometry beyond its basic rudiments, starting with the early mathematician Thales. We have Euclid to thank for collecting and consolidating this information in his Elements.


  6. Mar 4, 2016 #5
    but didn't Archimedes and Euclid study in Egypt for a while?
  7. Mar 4, 2016 #6


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    Euclid is thought to have lived in Alexandria, a city which was founded in Egypt by Alexander the Great after he conquered that land. Alexandria was home to a great library, and this facility naturally attracted a great number of scholars from all over the ancient world to study the works collected there, including possibly Archimedes.

    But just because someone may have visited and studied in a particular place, it becomes a stretch to imagine that these same individuals have made off with the intellectual fruits of an ancient civilization or claimed these as their own works. Egypt is a land with a long history, and it was ancient even when the Ptolomies ruled there. At the time when Euclid and Archimedes were living, the great pyramids of Egypt were more than 2000 years old, and many other Egyptian monuments were of similar antiquity. Egypt had also seen its share of invaders and conquerors, and the Macedonian Greeks were only the latest of these to subdue this land, to be followed in about 250 years or so by the Romans.
  8. Mar 5, 2016 #7


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    Isn't it kind of unfair to say "Greeks" or "Egyptians" discovered or formulated mathematical concepts? I mean, it was only a few select members of an entire society that came up with it.
  9. Mar 5, 2016 #8
    Stealing ? Not a very apt description IMO. Seems to be very overly simplistic and lacking depth of argument.
    Why couldn't the guy just say the 'Greeks' came across some knowledge they found intriguing, and worthwhile for further study, and expanded upon it.
    Give credit to all parties involved.
  10. Mar 5, 2016 #9

    They understood the Pythagorean theorem some 1,000 years before Pythagoras himself was born and maintained detailed records of the heavens, including the passage of what is now known as Halley’s Comet, in their efforts to predict the future through observation of the stars and planets. But the newly decoded markings on a small clay tablet provide evidence that Babylon’s mathematical prowess went beyond what we imagined. In fact, early astronomers in Babylon (an ancient city located in what is now Iraq, south of Baghdad) circa 350 B.C. to 50 B.C. used sophisticated geometrical principles to track the path of the planet Jupiter, anticipating similar methods developed in medieval Europe by nearly 15 centuries.

    Such sophisticated math put the Babylonians ahead of their contemporaries in both ancient Greece and Egypt,
  11. Mar 5, 2016 #10

    No no, they knew of the Pythagorean theorem, but there is no evidence at all that they were able to prove it. This is where the Greek system differes from the Babylonean/Egyptian system. The Babylonians only focused on obtaining decent mathematical methods and approximation. They did not realize the need of proofs or careful derivations. So while they were pretty advanced in arithmetic, their mathematical skills were pretty much in its infancy. It was only the Greeks who realized the need for proof. There is not at all evidence that they stole this concept from any other civilization. So they probably were informed of Babylonean and Egyptian methods, but the Greeks alone developed careful proof systems. This is why the Greeks are credited with the birth of mathematics, and not anybody else.
  12. Mar 5, 2016 #11
    And I'm not sure they credited themselves with this, either. The credit comes from later observers.
  13. Mar 5, 2016 #12


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    If they did get some ideas from Egypt, it would be like saying that we stole our maths from the Greeks.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016
  14. Mar 5, 2016 #13
    This aphorism seems appropriate:

    "To steal from one person is plagiarism, to steal from many is research."
  15. Mar 5, 2016 #14
    I agree that Greeks were really the first ones to make mathematics a formal science with proofs etc.

    instead of just a highly useful pragmatic tool like ancient civilizations before them
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