Apr. 25, 2023


Suppose you could travel back in time to the third century BCE, and visit Alexandria, the capital city of the Greek kingdom of Egypt. Arguably it was the most enlightened, wealthy, and powerful of all the Greek states that flourished after the death of Alexander the Great.

Alexandria was famous for: its Mouseion, university- institute of advanced studies, and the Great Library which was the repository of all the collected wisdom and knowledge of the Greek and Mediterranean world. The Great Library was rather as if you had merged Cambridge, with Harvard, MIT, and the Library of Congress. Among its collections one could find the works of epic poets like Homer and Hesiod, tragic poets like Aeschylos, Sophocles, and Euripides, historians like Herodotos and Thucydides, as well as philosophers like Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and scientists like Demokritos, Hippokrates, Alkmaion of Croton, Aristarchos of Samos, Eratosthenes, Euclid, Archimedes, Hipparchos, Geminos, Ptolemaios and Galen.

However, if you were to travel forward in time to visit Alexandria 800 years later, in the fifth century of our era, you would find no trace of the Great Library of Alexandria, nor of its sister Mouseion-university. Both had been destroyed by Christian religious zealots. In 415 of our era, a mob of Christian monks told the world that Christianity had no need of the Greeks, nor of their philosophy, science, or literature. To drive home their point, they publicly murdered and tore limb from limb Hypatia, the mathematician and philosopher who headed a leading school of philosophy in Alexandria.

In the 6th century, Justinian, the Christian Emperor of the Eastern Roman empire (Medieval Greece), closed and suppressed the Platonic Academy in Athens, which had existed for more than 900 years. These attacks upon the culture of ancient Greece heralded an enveloping wave of darkness and ignorance for both East and West. This anti-intellectual, Christian fanaticism plunged Europe into the Dark Ages, for almost a thousand years.

These officially sanctioned attacks on Greek philosophy and science gave Christian monks a license to destroy and obliterate treasures of science, including some of the works of Archimedes, the mathematical and engineering genius of the 3rd century BCE. The monks literally scraped the ink from the parchment pages of Archimedes’ scientific texts and then re-filled the erased pages with the texts of religious hymns.

It happened.

Modern dramas with ancient Greek science

In 1998, an American paid $ 2 million for a 769-year-old Christian prayer book known as a palimpsest (a manuscript from which the original text had been scraped-off and which had then been used again). Christian prayer-texts were superimposed over the erased scripts of three works of Archimedes. The slim hope of revealing the lost thoughts of Archimedes was the sole reason why the philanthropist was willing to pay a vast sum of money for the ‘ghost’ of a vanished book.

In 2005, seven years after the Archimedes palimpsest surfaced in New York, an even greater drama was unfolding in the basement of the National Museum of Archaeology in Athens. A team of Greek, British and American scientists and engineers had been struggling to “decode” the secrets of an ancient Greek astronomical device: the “Antikythera Mechanism.” This ancient astronomical computer had been raised from the waters of the tiny Aegean island of Antikythera by sponge divers in 1900. However, in 1900, the technology which could probe the innermost workings of this eroded and encrusted lump of metal did not exist.

Meanwhile, Greek, and foreign scientists kept photographing and handling the fragile surviving fragments of the ancient device. This precipitated the break-up of the mechanism to some 82 fragments.

Front and back sides of the 7 largest and most important fragments of the Antikythera computer. Fragment A is the governing part of the device, enclosing 27 of the surviving 30 gears. Some of those gears are visible on the back side of Fragment A. The back side of Fragment B shows the spirals of the 235-month 19-year Metonic calendar. Courtesy Tom Malzbender and Hewlett Packard.

The early twentieth-century investigators of the Antikythera device also played a guessing game, calling it different names and proposing wrong explanations of its origins and functions. In general, they were reluctant to admit it was part of Hellenic culture. Derek de Solla Price, a British physicist and historian of science and professor at Yale, rejected those doubts and documented in his 1974 seminal report, Gears from the Greeks, that the Antikythera computer was “a singular artifact, the oldest existing relic of scientific technology.” It took another 30 years or so of technological advances before science was able to confirm and advance Price’s findings.

Using microfocus X-ray computed tomography (X-ray CT) and polynomial texture mapping (PTM), belonging to British and American companies, scientists were shocked to discover an interior mechanism of meshed toothed gears, which pointed to a sophisticated and complex mathematical instrument. From the nearly invisible inscriptions engraved on the front and back plates of the bronze device, the experts estimated that the computer was probably manufactured in the 2nd century BCE. In other words, it was over 2,200 years old.

A picture containing text Description automatically generatedThe gears in the interior of the bronze Antikythera astronomical computer. Most of these surviving gears are inside Fragment A. Painting by the Greek artist Evi Sarantea. Courtesy Sarantea.

How can the sale of a Medieval Christian prayer book, (a palimpsest written over the works of Archimedes), possibly be linked to the x-ray investigation of the Antikythera device? In fact, they are parallel threads of the same narrative, which illuminate the fate of Greek science and civilization.

What happened to the advanced work of scientists like Archimedes during the Dark Ages?

Did the ancient Greeks really develop a sophisticated science and technology more than 2,000 years ago? Moreover, if they did achieve such levels of complexity, is the Antikythera Mechanism the product of those same advanced technologies?

Greek computer of genius

My research for writing my book on the Antikythera Mechanism, reveals that the ancient Greeks did indeed develop an advanced science and advanced metal fabrication technologies, which enabled them to build the Antikythera machine. This is extremely important because, to date some classical scholars and scientists have labored under the illusion that modern science is largely the product of post 15th century European thought. They forget that without the mathematical physics of Archimedes Galileo might have been a priest of barber but not a famous physicist. Moreover, they believe that the Greeks never developed technology, much less the advanced technologies needed to construct a mechanical computer and universe, such as the Antikythera Mechanism. In fact, some of the enemies of Hellenic civilization say the Antikythera Mechanism is a time machine, the handiwork of extraterrestrial astronauts.

This propaganda against the Greeks fits nicely with the hubris of scientists dismissing Greek achievements. They say, modern science has taken us to the moon. How can the ancient Greeks possibly be compared to us, they ask. The Greeks fought their wars with bows and arrows, did they not? We have ICBMs, satellite guided predator drones and nuclear weapons. Why should we care if the Greeks ever developed advanced technology?
Why the Greeks?

We are all Greeks.” These were the heartfelt words of the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1821: “Our laws, ouliterature, our religion, our arts, have their roots in Greece.[1] Shelley was one of many Philhellenes who fought alongside the Greeks during the War of Independence, in the heroic struggle to expel the Turkish occupiers of their homeland.

Jacob Burckhardt, the famous Swiss cultural historian, was grateful to the Greeks for laying the foundations of Western culture, enabling men to become civilized. He said in 1872 that the Europeans see the world through the eyes of the Greeks and to abandon them would be to accept their own decline.[2]

In 1948, the English poet W. H. Auden suggested that the people of the West owe their very existence to the Greeks. He said the Greeks taught us to think about thinking, that is, to ask questions. Without the Greeks, he said, “we would never have become fully conscious, which is to say that we would never have become, for better or worse, fully human.”[3]

In the late 1950s, E. J. Dijksterhuis, Dutch historian of mathematics and natural sciences, said that any inquiry on the origins of present-day knowledge inevitably leads us back to Hellas, especially in mathematics and natural sciences.[4]

And in 1999, the English scholar and historian, Charles Freeman, argued that the Greeks “provided the chromosomes of Western civilization.[5]

These scholars are right. The Greeks are us. Greek science made the Antikythera astronomical computer. The Greeks thought of science and technology existed mainly for the good of society as well as for understanding nature.

Computer of heavens and Earth

The Antikythera Mechanism was not merely a bauble for the elite to educate themselves about the heavens. It was the workhorse of an evolving technology which provided knowledge about the heavens, connecting the Greeks to Nature, their culture. and the gods.

The Antikythera computer illuminates the relevance of Greek thought and engineering to our own times. Our computer-based society is undoubtedly built on the marvels of high technology. However, if technology is not used for the ‘public good’ it can undermine society rather than being a benefit to it, as we see in the current misplaced excitement about Artificial Intelligence.

Galen, the Greek medical genius of the 2nd century of our era and the greatest physician after Hippocrates, put it bluntly. If wealth is put before virtue, he said, it spoils and corrupts science.[6] In marked contrast, the Antikythera device came into being to serve the public good. It brought the heavens nearer to Earth and into human understanding. It served as an accurate calendar of human events and a calendar of the celestial universe, a moving map of the constellations and a mirror of nature and the heavens.

We admire the ancient Greeks for their invention of Democracy. We celebrate their unsurpassed achievements in providing us with the foundations of: literature, epic poetry, theater, architecture, mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and the Olympic Games.

Greek foundations of modern science

It is the fact that the Greeks, laid the foundations of modern science, the ultimate touchstone of knowledge and power, that makes them so important to us. That is why the discovery of a vandalized book of Archimedes was big news and the decoding of a 2200-year-old Greek computer has been of extraordinary importance.

The Antikythera discovery was undoubtedly the key to unlocking a better understanding of ancient Greek science. This ancient computer gives us profound new insights into the science and philosophy of ancient Greece that has reshaped our conception of the origins of Western science. Moreover, on a purely human level, the story of the discovery of the computer, the researchers and scholars who unraveled its secrets is a compelling drama in its own right. Why did Modern Greek scientists wait a century and the initiative of foreign scientists before they embarked on the decoding of this ancient computer? Could it be that the state of Greece could not afford the research? Indebted Greece has been looted by foreigners, so it could not even think of the importance of the Antikythera computer. But the few Greek scientists that grasped the significance of the ancient device value it much more than their British and American colleagues.

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Laptop predictive computer

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An additional view of the interlocking toothed gears of the Antikythera computer. Modified by Alexander Nicaise of the Skeptical Inquirer. Courtesy Nicaise.

The complicated set of interlocking cogs and wheels of the Antikythera Mechanism were governed by a differential gear. Ιn itself this was a technological marvel of enormous importance. It could accurately predict the phases of the Moon. Throughout the twentieth century and for almost two decades of the twenty-first century, archaeologists, scientists, and historians of science struggled to unlock the true nature of this ancient computer. Finally after the new discoveries of Derek de Solla Price in 1974 and again those discoveries of 2005, the picture is clear.

The Antikythera device played the role of a mechanical universe. In fact, it was a predictive mechanical universe in itself, carrying out the predictive legacy of the Titan god Prometheus (forethought). It predicted eclipses of the Sun and the Moon. It computed the motions and positions of the planets. It provided an accurate calendar for farmers, who were concerned over when to sow and harvests. It enabled priests to make sacrifices to the gods at the correct season, that is, when the gods expected the offerings.

The Antikythera computer also tracked the Panhellenic religious and athletic festivals like the Olympics. It was powered by a simple manual crank. Yet, for all its simplicity, this portable (laptop) astronomical device was a product of an advanced science and technology. Its triumph was to unite the heavens and the Earth, to illuminate the workings of the Cosmos for human inspection and to provide practical knowledge that enriched the lives of its users.

A picture containing indoor, metal Description automatically generated

An early reproduction of the Antikythera Mechanism by Dionysios Kriaris. The front or Cosmos does not include the planets, but it shows a golden sphere of the Sun at the center and a smaller sphere depicting a phase of the Moon. This Cosmos is surrounded by two spherical zones, the outside representing the 365-day year calendar. The inside circle is the Zodiac of 12 constellations. Behind the Cosmos, we see the upper spiral of the 19-year Metonic calendar. The lower spiral is the 18-year predictive Saros dial. Courtesy Kriaris.

This sophisticated predictive machine embodied the scientific method and philosophy of Aristotle (fourth century BCE), the mathematics of Archimedes (third century BCE), the engineering of Ktesibios and Archimedes (third century BCE), and the mathematical astronomy of Hipparchos (second century BCE). It was Hellenic civilization in miniature.


1. The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (New York: The Modern Library, 1994) 501. 

2. Jacob Burckhardt, The Greeks and Greek Civilization, tr. Sheila Stern, ed. Oswyn Murray (New York: St. Martin Press, 1998) 12. 

3. W.H. Auden, Forewords and Afterwords, ed. Edward Mendelson (New York: Random House, 1973) 32. 

4. E. J. Dijksterhuis, “The Origins of Classical Mechanics from Aristotle to Newton” in Critical Problems in the History of Science, ed. Marshall Clagett (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969) 164. 

5. Charles Freeman, The Greek Achievement (New York: Penguin Books, 2000) 434. 

6. Galen, The Best Doctor is also a Philosopher 57-61, in Selected Works, tr. P. N. Singer (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). 

* Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.


  1. It appears that the author is promoting the “absolute/conclusive” notion that “Christian zealots” destroyed the library of Alexandria.

    There are other theories out there as well, which the author of this article does not mention, and it’s best for Helleniscope’s readers to be aware of that:

    Hopefully the author is not part of the intellectual neo-paganist / atheist movement in Greece (like many intellectuals these days), because it would be quite unfortunate for Helleniscope to be blindly reposting neo-paganist anti-Christian propaganda without a fair effort to include an explanatory “footnote”.

    As a contrasting thought for Helleniscope’s readers,

    St. Basil, who lived in the 4th century A.D., (about 40-50 years PRIOR to the incident referenced above), and who studied at the pagan academy in Athens mentioned in this article, wrote a magnificent letter to the youth of his time, in which he clearly doesn’t promote or advocate any “book burning”…instead, he advised discernment, which is EXACTLY what we are dealing with in our modern day and age…


    “…To begin with the poets, since their writings are of all degrees of excellence, you should not study all of their poems without omitting a single word. When they recount the words and deeds of good men, you should both love and imitate them, earnestly emulating such conduct. But when they portray base conduct, you must flee from them and stop up your ears, as Odysseus is said to have fled past the song of the sirens,10 for familiarity with evil writings paves the way for evil deeds. Therefore the soul must be guarded with great care, lest through our love for letters it receive some contamination unawares, as men drink in poison with honey. We shall not praise the poets when they scoff and rail, when they represent fornicators and winebibbers, when they define blissfulness by groaning tables and wanton songs…”

    “… For just as bees know how to extract honey from flowers, which to men are agreeable only for their fragrance and color, even so here also those who look for something more than pleasure and enjoyment in such writers may derive profit for their souls. Now, then, altogether after the manner of bees must we use these writings, for the bees do not visit all the flowers without discrimination, nor indeed do they seek to carry away entire those upon which they light, but rather, having taken so much as is adapted to their needs, they let the rest go. So we, if wise, shall take from heathen books whatever befits us and is allied to the truth, and shall pass over the rest. And just as in culling roses we avoid the thorns, from such writings as these we will gather everything useful, and guard against the noxious.12 So, from the very beginning, we must examine each of their teachings, to harmonize it with our ultimate purpose, according to the Doric proverb, ‘testing each stone by the measuring-line.’ 13 |106 …”

    • Markos, all good and correct, but how are we going to repute the historical fact that Emperor Justinian (yes, the one who built Hagia Sophia!!) was the one who ordered turning the Parthenon into a Church and destroyed it internally? Not to mention the prosecution of pagans and other destructions by Emperor Theodosius?

      • It’s very easy to take one or two crumbs from the floor and claim that we know all of the ingredients that the entire pizza consisted of…especially 1700 years later.

        We have to ask the right question here, or we will end up going down the wrong path…The real question to answer is whether or not Christian Dogma included destruction and persecution…that’s the allusion hidden behind the accusations against Justinian/Theodosios, etc…Yet we totally ignore that Church Fathers like St. Basil do not seem to support this approach..

        However, to answer your current question, there are multiple parameters to examine…

        The first thing we can point out that the Parthenon was not actually “leveled to the ground”, until ~1621 when Western mercenaries pointed their canons at the building that the Ottomans had turned into an ammunition storage depot…we can argue for days about “destruction of the interior”, but the fact remains that the building was “repurposed”, not “leveled”…

        Other structures were in fact burned and destroyed (Theodosios, etc) However, there are even accounts of earthquakes destroying multiple pagan temples (after various saints prayed)…one such example was in Ephesos, but there are others, as well… another major earthquake resulting in “end of paganism” is acknowledged referenced in the scientific link (far below)…

        Yet, “burning and destruction” of pagan artifacts was NOT the advice of St. Basil, per the referenced “letter”…St. Basil was a Bishop of the Church…Justinian & Theodosios were not. Emperors or humans specifically didn’t cause the earthquakes that shattered statues in the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, or the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii either…

        The neo-paganist tactic of blaming “Christianity” as a whole for the eradication of paganism, for actions of Emperors [at the same time when the official Church Teachers were clearly not advocating those same “burning” and “persecutory” actions] can lead to misunderstandings….

        Who are we going to blame for the pagan “madman” Herostratus burning the temple of Artemis around 350 BC? Were the Goths considered non-Christian Barbarians in 262 AD when they destroyed the same temple again?

        On a side note, here’s the interesting “scientific” Abstract I mentioned above that the neo-pagans don’t like mentioning…of course, the “scientists” refuse to acknowledge the belief that prayer can result in an act of God, but at the same time, scientifically speaking, you can’t blame Christianity for an earthquake that caused “the end of paganism”, can you?


        “…The 363 earthquake caused a large amount of damage throughout the Near East, but in the regions that became Palaestina Salutaris, this earthquake also played an important role in ending public pagan practices. Archaeology has shown that the 363 earthquake destroyed the known important pagan structures in Petra and surrounding areas, such as the Qasr al-Bint, the “Great” Temple, the Small Temple, the Temple of the Winged Lions, and temples at Khirbet et-Tannur and Khirbet edh-Dharih. Investigation at the temples at Khirbet et-Tannur and Khirbet edh-Dharih and at the Temple of the Winged Lions suggest that these sites were functioning as temples until the 363 earthquake. The archaeological evidence contrasts starkly with the triumphal narratives of Christianization, which describe the actions of holy men, the mass conversion of pagans, and the closing of their temples. Archaeological evidence of Christianity appears only in the century after the 363 earthquake, suggesting that Christians did not play a major role in the end of public paganism in the southern Transjordan; rather, the most important factor was the 363 earthquake and the destruction of the pagan temples…”

        • I will answer it in a much simpler way. Yes, Christian dogma and the teachings of St.Basil did not proclaim any prosecution of the “pagans,” and on the opposite, they encouraged knowledge of ancient Greek literature. But whenever organized religion becomes the symbol and the tool of an Empire, it is inevitable that the religious hierarchy will bend over backward to accommodate the “Emperor”. We see it in our days… Just take a look at some of our most recent posts… Not to mention the prosecution of the Jews by the Catholic Church…

    • Again, the (Roman) Empire had its own “state religion” and it prosecuted its opponents… Religion and State/Empire is not a good mix…

      • Nick, I find your responses to this article to be very ironic considering the nature of this blog is to promote Greek and American nationalism. Nationalism is just another religion used to support governmental social structures. Just take a stroll down the Washington Mall to see all of the American temples or reflect upon the painting of Washington and Founding Fathers on the dome of the Capitol Building (The Apotheosis of Washington). Seperation between religion and state does not exist. It is only a matter of which religion. Modernism is just another Christian heresy.

        Now, I don’t know all of the details of closing down Plato’s school or which of the 3-4 destructions of the Alexandrian library did it in. St. Anthanasios even gets tied to one of those stories. However, I think that it is prudent for all of us Americans to reflect upon our Puritican and Humanistic cultural heritage and how it continutes to influence our mores and thinking. I highly recommend reading Robin Philips “Rediscovering the Goodness of Creation: A Manual for Recovering Gnostics.” It has helped me.

  2. The nature of this blog is “Truth Through Knowledge” as our headline says and in that respect thank you for your well-explained ideas. Yes, we are among those who are against Globalism, in the sense of purging or melting national and cultural identities to form a supra-national structure run by wealthy oligarchs. Instead, we are for a revived cosmopolitanism on the basis of eternal Hellenic ideals. I will propose it soon. This “Cosmopolitanism” has respect for all nations and cooperation among nations is done peacefully on the basis of trade and cultural exchange. Institutions such as the Olympics and the Amfictyonic League (the United Nations of modern times) need to be rebaptized and re-formed on the basis of ancient ideals.
    To understand this view you have to consider that in the last 1,000 years, the West has moved from the Crusades to Colonialism to Imperialism, always imposing exploitation and hegemony on the rest of the world. Now this hegemonic structure is about to collapse.
    Respect for all others will be the basis for humanity’s future and for humanity’s unity.
    The role of religion throughout these last 1,000 years was supportive of the dominance and expansionism of the state. It will have to return to a more grounded level as a basic support of basic human instincts.


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