Scholars & Scientists of the Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) Empire – a quick view – Part I

In this series of articles we shortly present names and lives of the most famous Scholars and Scientists of the Eastern Roman Empire.


AKROPOLITES, GEORGE. High official under Theodore II Laskaris and Michael VIII Palaiologos, teacher and writer. He conducted the negotiations at the Council of Lyons in 1274 that resulted in the union of the churches. A pupil of Nikephoros Blemmydes, he taught philosophy, particularly Aristotle, science and literature at a school of higher education founded by Michael VIII in Constantinople. He was also tutor to the heir to the throne, Theodore II Laskaris. His history, a major source for the period 1203–1261, opens with a description of the attack of the Fourth Crusade on Constantinople. Thereafter, it concentrates on the fortunes of the Empire of Nicaea, which he served as logothetes tou dromou and megas logothetes.

ALEXANDER OF TRALLES. Sixth-century physician and brother of the famous co-architect of Hagia Sophia, Anthemios of Tralles. His 12-volume encyclopedia of medicine depends on Galen, like the work of his contemporary Aetios of Amida. However, his knowledge of pharmacology is much more practical, even original, including remedies from the Far East that the author may have gotten from Kosmas Indikopleustes.

ANTHEMIOS OF TRALLES. Co-architect, with Isidore of Miletus, of Justinian I’s great church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Anthemios was also a theoretical and practical scientist who wrote treatises about unusual mechanical devices. He apparently built some of them, including curved reflectors he called burning-mirrors.

ARETHAS OF CAESAREA. Archbishop of Caesarea; important scholar, theologian, bibliophile, and literary figure of the early 10th century. Some of his more formal works are unoriginal, including his commentary on the Apocalypse, as well as many of his notes (“scholia”) in the margins of the manuscripts of ancient authors he collected. His notes in the margin of a manuscript containing the brief chronicle of the patriarch Nikephoros follow closely the Chronicle of Monemvasia, and figure prominently in modern arguments about the veracity of that chronicle. Other marginal notes, as well as his letters and pamphlets, are invaluable sources for contemporary affairs, including the tetragamy of Leo VI. His polemical writings include attacks on Leo Choirosphaktes and on Leo VI’s chief minister during the early part of his reign, Stylianos Zaoutzes.

ARGYROPOULOS, JOHN. Scholar of ancient Greek philosophy who taught at the University of Florence in the mid-15th century. Like Manuel Chrysoloras before him, he helped to initiate the Florentines to a systematic study of Greek philosophy. He was part of the Byzantine delegation at the Council of Ferrara-Florence in 1438–1439. He studied at the University of Padua and returned to Florence in 1456 to teach Aristotle and Plato. An excellent command of Latin, and of western philosophy, insured his success. His teaching of Plato, especially of Plato’s dialogue the Meno, fired the imagination of his pupils, among whom was Lorenzo de’ Medici. He died in Rome, where he spent the final years of his life translating and teaching.

ATTALEIATES, MICHAEL. Historian and jurist, and a younger contemporary of Michael Psellos, who wrote an eyewitness account of the period from 1034–1079. His description of the last Macedonian emperors, and of the period of troubles that preceded the reign of Alexios I Komnenos, is an invaluable companion to the Chronographia of Michael Psellos. To some extent it is also a corrective, since Attaleiates defends Romanos IV and Nikephoros III, both of whom he served under. His work is dedicated to Nikephoros III, whom he praises.

(Source: «Historical Dictionary of Byzantium», by John H. Rosser)


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