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Astronomy in Rome

Astronomy in Rome


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The Roman Empire, both in its pagan and Christian times, gave little or no impetus to the study of science.

Rome was a practical society that respected the technique, but considered science as unhelpful as painting and poetry. What Rome valued was economic, political and military power.

The astronomical knowledge during this period is what was already known in the Helena era, that is, some geocentric theories (Aristotle) and the existence of planets visible to the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, with special mention of our natural satellite, the Moon always known and considered as a God.

We cannot fail to mention the Roman philosopher Lucretius, from the 1st century B.C., and his famous work De Rerum Natura, in which we find a conception of the Universe very close to the modern one, in some ways, and strangely retrograde, in others.

According to Lucretius, matter was made up of imperishable atoms. These are eternally in motion, they unite and separate constantly, forming and undoing lands and suns, in an endless succession. Our world is only one among an infinite of coexisting worlds; the Earth was created by the casual union of innumerable atoms and its end is not far, when the atoms that form it disintegrate.

But Lucretius could not accept that the Earth was round. Actually, when Lucretius spoke of an infinite number of worlds he was referring to systems similar to what he believed was ours: a flat earth contained in a celestial sphere. But undoubtedly, despite his mistakes, the cosmic vision of Lucretius is still curiously prophetic.

It is believed that fanatical Christians destroyed the Library of Alexandria where the knowledge of humanity was concentrated until that moment, Plato's academy was closed, the Serapetum of Alexandria, center of knowledge, was destroyed and many of the wise men who were in their fields were killed.

Scholars fled from Alexandria and Rome to Byzantium and science had a new stage of development in the field of Islam.

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