A golden age captures the best and greatest virtues of human achievements. These accomplishments, however, must have the potential of uplifting humanity to a higher plane of living and be sufficiently moral for building civilization. Greece had two golden ages. Their legacies, especially in science, made Western civilization.

The first Hellenic golden age took place after the Greeks defeated the Persians in early fifth century BCE. During the fifty years between the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War, Athens in particular shone with a flourishing and confident Greek culture: democracy, building of the Parthenon, philosophy, science, classical architecture, theater, athletic games, and military strength.

The second golden age was the result of another Greek military victory over the Persians. This happened in the second half of the fourth century BC when Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and spread Hellenic culture throughout the world.

This is a summary of an article by vaggelos Vallianatos, a historian and environmental theorist. He worked on Capitol Hill and the US Environmental Protection Agency for several years. He is the author of hundreds of articles and 6 books. The author’s blog: https://vallianatos.blogspot.com. You can find the full article here.

Alexander and Aristotle
Alexander, 356 – 323 BC, was the son of King Philip II of Macedonia. Philip hired Aristotle to tutor his thirteen-year old son. For about seven years Aristotle taught Alexander Greek history, philosophy, politics, ethics, science and international relations, focusing on the Persian threat and the need for a united Greece to revenge the Persian invasion of Greece in the early fifth century BC. His message to Alexander was this: knowledge about the workings of the world matters, but so does knowing oneself.

In 336 BC, a soldier assassinated King Philip II. Immediately, the twenty-year old Alexander became a king and launched his invasion and conquest of Persia. With Aristotle in mind, Alexander founded Alexandria in Egypt, making clear to his generals Alexandria was to be the Greek Aristotelian capital of his empire. Alexander appointed one of his generals and close friends, Ptolemy, son of Lagos, 367 – 282 BC, to be the governor of Egypt. When Alexander died in 323 BC in Babylon, Ptolemy consolidated his power in Egypt. In 305 BC, he made himself king of Egypt and took the name Ptolemy I Soter (Savor). He started translating Alexander’s Aristotelian dream into reality.

Ptolemy was fortunate to have the assistance of Demetrios of Phaleron, a student of Aristotle who was also author of philosophical works. Demetrios convinced him to replicate Aristotle’s school in Athens in Alexandria, first of all, by building a Library and a Mouseion, Shrine of the Muses (university-institute for advanced studies). Ptolemy was also a student of Aristotle. He encouraged Demetrios to implement the Aristotelian proposal.

Ptolemy I died in 283 BC. His successor, Ptolemy II Philadelphos (of Brotherly Love), 308 – 246, continued his father’s tradition and lavished money and political support to the Mouseion and its staff, famous scientists, poets, and scholars recruited from all over the Greek world.

The Ptolemies also established a Library of about 500,000 volumes in the Broucheion section of the palace and a sister Library of probably 42,000 volumes in the temple of Zeus Serapis or Serapeion / Serapeum.

Alexandria surpassed Athens in scientific and technological achievements. It became the center of knowledge and civilization for Greece and the world.

Science and scholarship
The Greek kings of Alexander’s empire, especially the Ptolemies of Egypt, created the foundations for a rational commonwealth characterized by scientific exploration, state-funded research, the scholarly study of earlier Greek culture and the editing of Homer, Hesiod and the Greek classics. The scholars of Alexandria pioneered the techniques of scholarly research and painstaking study, which spread all over the civilized world. They continue to be the model for classical and scientific studies.

In late fourth century BC, Euclid codified Greek mathematics in his masterpiece, The Elements. Archimedes of Syracuse was such a great third century BC genius in mathematics and mechanics-engineering that, in a real sense, he set the foundations of modern science. Galileo and Newton relied on him.

In the second century BC, Hipparchos, the greatest Greek astronomer, set shop in Rhodes where he invented mathematical astronomy and left his fingertips on the Greek computer.

Antikythera Mechanism
This computer, which archaeologists of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens dubbed Antikythera Mechanism, is a marvel of heavens and Earth. For about half a century, scientists, Greek and foreign, were shocked with an ancient Greek astronomical machine that worked with gears, the first gears that made it from antiquity to modern times. So, not knowing what to make of it, they described it as astrolabe, also ancient Greek invention, but of limited astronomical capabilities. It could identify planets and stars and measure the altitude of a celestial body above the horizon. The Antikythera computer could accurately predict the eclipses of the Sun and the Moon as well as track the movements and position of the planets.

The Antikythera computer was a reliable religious, athletic, and agricultural calendar. It connected celestial phenomena to a calendar of the seasons, sowing and harvest, sacrifices to the gods, and the two and four-year cycles of religious and athletic celebrations in the Greek world. Because of its predictive function, it served astronomers, farmers, priests, and athletes. It revealed the secrets of the stars by exhibiting the order of the whole heavens: it predicted the will of the gods.

A Greek ecumene
Alexander’s successors spread Hellenic, not Hellenic-like or Hellenistic, civilization throughout Asia and the Middle East while uniting Greece for the first time.

Strabo, a Greek geographer whose life covered the violent transformation of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, 63 BC to 23 AD, visited Alexandria. He was impressed by its wide streets crossing each other at right angles and suitable for horses and carriages.

Greek education was the badge of civilization. Reading Homer, Plato, and Sophocles and enjoying the comedies of Menander was essential to being a citizen of the Alexandrian Age. Failure in this Greek education was the equivalent to being a barbarian.