HOME - Janux - D2L - Email Wikipedia course web page Vimeo course videos Course materials at iTunes U (optional) Twitter: #ouhoscurator
History of Science Roman - Pantheon

History of Science Online

- Course Info - Time tips - Semester at a glance - Weekly assignments at a glance - Timeline -

LibraryThing: Science in Ancient Mesopotamia Week 6: Roman Science

Topic 2: Later Roman science

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
3 Thursday
11:59 p.m.

Topic2 + Quiz
Background: Without a sense of context, history is anachronistic.
Primary sources: Without documentary evidence, history is speculation
The second of two topic assignments per week involving both background and primary sources.

90 min.

In this Later Roman science lesson, you will become acquainted with seven major figures:

  1. Martianus Capella
  2. Basil the Great
  3. John Philoponos
  4. Augustine
  5. Boethius
  6. Isidore of Seville
  7. Benedict

The study questions will help you assess your knowledge; print them out and complete them as you read.


  1. Watch the “From the vault: Later Roman science” video prompt for this assignment.

  2. Share your thoughts in the Discussion.

  3. Read the following pages, which include excerpts from Roman-era writers. The readings range from long to very short. Don't get bogged down: If you get lost, read for the gist; you don't have to memorize every word! They represent a sampling of Roman technology, astronomy, medicine, natural history, and natural philosophy. As with the readings in the Presocratics from an earlier week, you may find some of these readings to require discussion at your favorite coffee house. Each of these writings have occupied students for centuries but are only briefly touched upon here.
    1. Martianus Capella, The Marriage of Philology and Mercury (5th century)
    2. Basil the Great (ca. 330 - 379) and John Philoponos (6th century)
    3. Augustine (354-430)
    4. Boethius, On the Consolation of Philosophy (6th century)
    5. Benedict, Rule (6th century)
    6. Isidore of Seville, Etymologies (6th century)

  4. General background readings for this week come from your textbook, David Lindberg, Beginnings of Western Science. Read the second half of Chapter 7, "Roman and Early Medieval Science,” beginning about mid-way through with the account of Martianus Capella (just after Pliny and Macrobius).

  5. Quiz: Afterwards, take a Topic 2 quiz in the assignments area of Janux. The quiz will be composed of 12 of the true/false questions listed in the Study Guide. Topic 2 quizzes must be completed before Thursday night at 11:59 p.m.


TOPIC QUIZ: The statements are either True or False. When you take the quiz at Janux, you will see 12 of these statements, chosen at random, 2 points each.

    1. The African Martianus Capella knew the proofs of the Earth’s sphericity, cataloged the constellations, knew the periods of the planets, and could accurately describe the retrograde motion of the planets.
    2. The trivium consisted of the mathematical sciences.
    3. In the tradition of the seven liberal arts, astronomy and music were branches of geometry and arithmetic, respectively.
    4. So-called "Hexameral" literature consisted of incantations and spells published in works of natural magic.
    5. For monotheists such as Basil, the contingency of nature implied that natural laws are not necessary, but might have been different.
    6. Basil argued that water might exist beyond the sublunar regions.
    7. Basil regarded a spinning top as an example of violent rather than natural motion.
    8. John Philoponos refuted a mathematical formulation of Aristotelian physics by dropping objects of different weights from a tall tower.
    9. The theory of motion of John Philoponos provided a foundation for later theories of impetus and inertia.
    10. Basil's hospital was open only to land-owners and members of his monastic community.
    11. For Augustine, nature is radically contingent.
    12. Augustine's City of God defended a cyclical view of history.
    13. Augustine argued that nothing new has developed in the natural world since the Prime Mover created the world in six 24-hour days.
    14. Augustine argued that there was a first moment of time.
    15. After the death of Marcus Aurelius, scientific writing began to diminish due to plague, war, depopulation, loss of leisure, and a decline in general literacy and in bilingualism among the upper classes.
    16. In the Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius argued that great misfortunes in human life, like lower forms of life in nature, sometimes occur by chance rather than natural law.
    17. Before he was put to death by Theodoric the Ostrogoth in 524 AD, Boethius had determined to translate into Latin as much as he could of the Greek intellectual tradition.
    18. In the late Roman period, Christianity presented serious obstacles to the advancement of science from which science did not recover for a thousand years.
    19. According to Augustine, science was a pagan tradition that needed to be stamped out in order for the "City of God" to flourish.
    20. Lindberg argues that in the late Roman empire the church’s support of science was greater than that offered by other contemporary social institutions.
    21. The Rule of Benedict implied that monasteries should establish monastic schools, scriptoria for producing books, and libraries to maintain them.
    22. Benedict established the monastery at Monte Cassino in 529 AD, initiating a monastic movement that was devoted to the aims of destroying books and stamping out literacy.
    23. Isidore of Seville produced an encyclopedia of etymologies in which he probed the natural meanings of words.
    24. Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies, one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages, affirms that the Earth is flat.
    25. According to Isidore, the Antipodes were a species of human with one large leg that could shelter them from the Sun.
    26. Bede’s works on timekeeping and the calendar provided a foundation for the medieval science of computus, used to calculate the dates of Easter and other events in the liturgical year.


Do you have a great quote for this page? Let me know! (If used, a new quote is worth 1 point extra credit)

University of Oklahoma logo

HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
Brent Purkaple, TA

Report typos or broken links

Go to this course at

spellcheck.net | wordcounter.net

Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

Academic Calendar

College of Arts and Sciences Online



This course is currently undergoing major reconstruction to bring it into alignment with the new version of the course at Janux