Alexandria was originally an Egyptian city called Rhacotis. Sometime around 334 BCE, Alexander renamed the city to Alexandria, which was from the start intended to be a center of commerce. More than that, it was intended to be a center of learning. Located on Egypt's Northern coast, it became the seat of power in Egypt under the rule of the Ptolemies and the center of learning in the Hellenistic Mediterranean region. It later remained the centre of learning under the Roman Empire, where it was second only to Rome in size and prosperity.
Technically set up and dedicated to the service of the Muses, it was actually a college of educated men engaged in research and the recording of knowledge. Additionally it was also involved in the process of teaching others and may very well have been a predecessor to the concept of a University.
Over time, the Museum enabled Alexandria to overtake Athens as the Center of Learning in the Greek-speaking Hellenistic world, a position it was able to hold for centuries, up until the fall of the Roman Empire.
Alexandria attracted scholars from across the Mediterranean region, primarily Egyptians and Greeks, as well as Anatolians, Babylonians, Indians, Jews, Libyans, Persians, Phoenicians, Romans, Sicilians, and Syrians. Most of these scholars working in Alexandria wrote in the Greek language, which was at the time the language of intellectual scholarship around the Eastern Mediterranean region.
During this time, a number of names stand out:
- Euclid - Greco-Egyptian geometer, developed a geometry still studied in secondary schools worldwide.
- Archimedes - Sicilian Greek mathematician and engineer, made advances in mathematics and statics.
- Eratosthenes - Greco-Libyan, estimated diameter of Earth, coming close to actual value.
- Hipparchus - Anatolian Greek astronomer, first systematic Greek attempt to catalogue & map the stars.
- Heron - Phoenician-Egyptian engineer who devised earliest known steam-powered mechanical device.
- Menelaus of Alexandria - Egyptian mathematician and astronomer known for Menelaus' theorem.
- Ptolemy - Southern Egyptian, developed geocentric Ptolemaic model, dominated medieval astronomy.
- Plotinus - Hellenized Egyptian philosopher, founded the Neoplatonism school of Hellenistic philosophy.
- Diophantus - Babylonian-Jewish mathematician, studied Babylonian algebra & indeterminate equations.
- Cleopatra the Alchemist - Egyptian female alchemist, regarded as a foundational figure in alchemy.
- Pappus of Alexandria - Egyptian considered one of the last great Hellenistic mathematicians.
- Theon of Alexandria - Hellenized Egyptian scholar, mathematician, and father of Hypatia.
- Hypatia - Greco-Egyptian female mathematician, Neoplatonist philosopher, astronomer, and martyr.
- John Philoponus - Egyptian Christian whose critiques of Aristotelian dynamics led to theory of impetus.
If Alexandria was a center of Science and Knowledge, it was also a center of religious development. Its very civic structure reflected it, with the city being divided into three quarters: Greek, Jewish, and Egyptian. It was a place where religions met, mixed and to a certain degree fused. In a process called theocrasia, many of the competing faiths often came to be seen as being different aspects of the same gods. Only Judaism and Mithraism, being monotheistic, were resistant to the fusion process. Later, an early form of Christianity known as Arianism would arise here as well.
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