Mathematics, Science, and Medicine in the Papyri

Alexander Jones

in The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199843695
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

 Mathematics, Science, and Medicine in the Papyri

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  • Classical Studies
  • Greek and Roman Papyrology
  • Historical Archaeology


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The sciences that are significantly attested among the papyri are mathematics, medicine, astronomy, and astrology. Medicine and astrology were professions with numerous practitioners who possessed collections of reference texts and whose activity involved producing written documents. Astronomy had a central role in weather prediction, calendrics, and, above all, astrology. Mathematics had its uses in calculation and mensuration, and applied and theoretical mathematics were often components of technical and liberal education, respectively. These were all subjects that were cultivated for external ends at least as much as for pure intellectual satisfaction. The most obvious difference between the evidence of the medieval textual tradition, which was heavily influenced by the intellectual elite of the later Roman and Byzantine periods, and that of the papyri is that much of the papyrological record has a direct bearing on practice and applications.

Keywords: ancient sciences; papyri; medicine; astronomy; astrology; technical education; liberal education

Article.  9442 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Greek and Roman Papyrology ; Historical Archaeology

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