Anaxagoras of Clazomenae

Born: 499 BC in Clazomenae (30 km west of Izmir), Lydia (now Turkey)
Died: 428 BC in Lampsacus, Mysia (now Turkey)
Anaxagoras of Clazomenae was described by Proclus, the last major Greek philosopher, who lived around 450 AD as (see for example [4]):-

After [Pythagoras] Anaxagoras of Clazomenae dealt with many questions in geometry...

Anaxagoras was an Ionian, born in the neighbourhood of Smyrna in what today is Turkey. We know few details of his early life, but certainly he lived the first part of his life in Ionia where he learnt about the new studies that were taking place there in philosophy and the new found enthusiasm for a scientific study of the world. He came from a rich family but he gave up his wealth. As Heath writes in [4]:-

He neglected his possessions, which were considerable, in order to devote himself to science.

Although Ionia had produced philosophers such as Pythagoras, up to the time of Anaxagoras this new study of knowledge had not spread to Athens. Anaxagoras is famed as the first to introduce philosophy to the Athenians when he moved there in about 480 BC. During Anaxagoras's stay in Athens, Pericles rose to power. Pericles, who was about five years younger than Anaxagoras, was a military and political leader who was successful in both developing democracy and building an empire which made Athens the political and cultural centre of Greece. Anaxagoras and Pericles became friends but this friendship had its drawbacks since Pericles' political opponents also set themselves against Anaxagoras.

In about 450 BC Anaxagoras was imprisoned for claiming that the Sun was not a god and that the Moon reflected the Sun's light. This seems to have been instigated by opponents of Pericles. Russell in [6] writes:-

The citizens of Athens ... passed a law permitting impeachment of those who did not practice religion and taught theories about 'the things on high'. Under this law they persecuted Anaxagoras, who was accused of teaching that the sun was a red-hot stone and the moon was earth.

We should examine this teaching of Anaxagoras about the sun more closely for, although it was used as a reason to put him in prison, it is a most remarkable teaching. It was based on his doctrine of "nous" which is translated as "mind" or "reason". Initially "all things were together" and matter was some homogeneous mixture. The nous set up a vortex in this mixture. The rotation [4]:-

... began in the centre and then gradually spread, taking in wider and wider circles. The first effect was to separate two great masses, one consisting of the rare, hot, dry, called the "aether", the other of the opposite categories and called "air". The aether took the outer, the air the inner place. From the air were next separated clouds, water, earth and stones. The dense, the moist, the dark and cold, and all the heaviest things, collected in the centre as a result of the circular motion, and it was from these elements when consolidated that the earth was formed; but after this, in consequence of the violence of the whirling motion, the surrounding fiery aether tore stones away from the earth and kindled them into stars.

There are remarkable insights in this description. The idea of differentiation of matter which plays a large role in modern theories of creation of the solar system is present. Anaxagoras also shows an understanding of centrifugal force which again shows the major scientific insights that he possessed.

Anaxagoras proposed that the moon shines by reflected light from the "red-hot stone" which was the sun, the first such recorded claim. Showing great genius he was also then able to take the next step and become the first to explain correctly the reason for eclipses of the sun and moon. His explanation of eclipses of the sun is completely correct but he did spoil his explanation of eclipses of the moon by proposing that in addition to being caused by the shadow of the earth, there were other dark bodies between the earth and the moon which also caused eclipses of the moon. It is a little unclear why he felt it necessary to postulate the existence of these bodies but it does not detract from this major breakthrough in mathematical astronomy. There is also other evidence to suggest that Anaxagoras had applied geometry to the study of astronomy.

As to the structure of matter, Anaxagoras postulated an infinite number of elements, or basic building blocks. He claimed:-

... there is a portion of every thing, i.e. of every elemental stuff, in every thing...[but] each is and was most manifestly those things of which there is most in it.

However, it was the power of nous, or mind, that not only created the world but also was the driving force in its day to day processes. For example [2]:-

The growth of living things, according to Anaxagoras, depends on the power of mind within the organisms that enables them to extract nourishment from surrounding substances.

Aristotle both found much to praise in Anaxagoras's theory of nous. Both Plato and Aristotle, however, were critical of the fact that the driving force of the nous as proposed by Anaxagoras was not ethical. They wanted nous to always act in the best interests of the world. In fact the nous of Anaxagoras does provide a mechanical explanation of the world after the non-mechanical start when the vortex is produced. It is worth noting that Newton's mechanical universe would have more in common with Anaxagoras's views than the continuing ethical intelligence proposed by Plato and Aristotle.

We can obtain some clues to the mathematics that Anaxagoras studied but, unfortunately, very little remains in the records to allow us to know of definite results which he may have proved. While in prison he tried to solve the problem of squaring the circle, that is constructing with ruler and compasses a square with area equal to that of a given circle. This is the first record of this problem being studied and this problem, and other similar problems, were to play a major role in the development of Greek mathematics.

One other intriguing piece of information comes from the writing of Vitruvius, a Roman architect, engineer, and author who lived in the first century BC. He records information about the painting of stage scenes for the plays which were performed in Athens and says that Anaxagoras wrote a treatise on how to paint scenes so that some objects appeared to be in the foreground while other appeared in the background. This fascinating comment must mean that Anaxagoras wrote a treatise on perspective, but sadly no such work survives.

Anaxagoras was saved from prison by Pericles but had to leave Athens. He returned to Ionia where he founded a school at Lampsacus. This Greek city on the Asiatic shore of the Hellespont was the place for the worship of Priapus, a god of procreation and fertility. Anaxagoras died there and the anniversary of his death became a holiday for schoolchildren.

The best that we can hope to learn of Anaxagoras's personality is from the story that when once asked what as the point of being born he replied [4]:-

The investigation of sun. moon, and heaven.

Even if this story is fictitious, it is likely to be based on the way that Anaxagoras lived his life and so tells us something of the personality of this remarkable scientist who gave a description of the creation of the solar system that took 2000 years to improve upon.


Born: about 520 BC in Shalatula (near Attock), now Pakistan
Died: about 460 BC in India
Panini was born in Shalatula, a town near to Attock on the Indus river in present day Pakistan. The dates given for Panini are pure guesses. Experts give dates in the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th century BC and there is also no agreement among historians about the extent of the work which he undertook. What is in little doubt is that, given the period in which he worked, he is one of the most innovative people in the whole development of knowledge. We will say a little more below about how historians have gone about trying to pinpoint the date when Panini lived.

Panini was a Sanskrit grammarian who gave a comprehensive and scientific theory of phonetics, phonology, and morphology. Sanskrit was the classical literary language of the Indian Hindus and Panini is considered the founder of the language and literature. It is interesting to note that the word "Sanskrit" means "complete" or "perfect" and it was thought of as the divine language, or language of the gods.

A treatise called Astadhyayi (or Astaka ) is Panini's major work. It consists of eight chapters, each subdivided into quarter chapters. In this work Panini distinguishes between the language of sacred texts and the usual language of communication. Panini gives formal production rules and definitions to describe Sanskrit grammar. Starting with about 1700 basic elements like nouns, verbs, vowels, consonants he put them into classes. The construction of sentences, compound nouns etc. is explained as ordered rules operating on underlying structures in a manner similar to modern theory. In many ways Panini's constructions are similar to the way that a mathematical function is defined today. Joseph writes in [2]:-

[Sanskrit's] potential for scientific use was greatly enhanced as a result of the thorough systemisation of its grammar by Panini. ... On the basis of just under 4000 sutras [rules expressed as aphorisms], he built virtually the whole structure of the Sanskrit language, whose general 'shape' hardly changed for the next two thousand years. ... An indirect consequence of Panini's efforts to increase the linguistic facility of Sanskrit soon became apparent in the character of scientific and mathematical literature. This may be brought out by comparing the grammar of Sanskrit with the geometry of Euclid - a particularly apposite comparison since, whereas mathematics grew out of philosophy in ancient Greece, it was ... partly an outcome of linguistic developments in India.

Joseph goes on to make a convincing argument for the algebraic nature of Indian mathematics arising as a consequence of the structure of the Sanskrit language. In particular he suggests that algebraic reasoning, the Indian way of representing numbers by words, and ultimately the development of modern number systems in India, are linked through the structure of language.

Panini should be thought of as the forerunner of the modern formal language theory used to specify computer languages. The Backus Normal Form was discovered independently by John Backus in 1959, but Panini's notation is equivalent in its power to that of Backus and has many similar properties. It is remarkable to think that concepts which are fundamental to today's theoretical computer science should have their origin with an Indian genius around 2500 years ago.

At the beginning of this article we mentioned that certain concepts had been attributed to Panini by certain historians which others dispute. One such theory was put forward by B Indraji in 1876. He claimed that the Brahmi numerals developed out of using letters or syllables as numerals. Then he put the finishing touches to the theory by suggesting that Panini in the eighth century BC (earlier than most historians place Panini) was the first to come up with the idea of using letters of the alphabet to represent numbers.

There are a number of pieces of evidence to support Indraji's theory that the Brahmi numerals developed from letters or syllables. However it is not totally convincing since, to quote one example, the symbols for 1, 2 and 3 clearly do not come from letters but from one, two and three lines respectively. Even if one accepts the link between the numerals and the letters, making Panini the originator of this idea would seem to have no more behind it than knowing that Panini was one of the most innovative geniuses that world has known so it is not unreasonable to believe that he might have made this step too.

There are other works which are closely associated with the Astadhyayi which some historians attribute to Panini, others attribute to authors before Panini, others attribute to authors after Panini. This is an area where there are many theories but few, if any, hard facts.

We also promised to return to a discussion of Panini's dates. There has been no lack of work on this topic so the fact that there are theories which span several hundreds of years is not the result of lack of effort, rather an indication of the difficulty of the topic. The usual way to date such texts would be to examine which authors are referred to and which authors refer to the work. One can use this technique and see who Panini mentions.

There are ten scholars mentioned by Panini and we must assume from the context that these ten have all contributed to the study of Sanskrit grammar. This in itself, of course, indicates that Panini was not a solitary genius but, like Newton, had "stood on the shoulders of giants". Panini must have lived later than these ten but this is absolutely no help in providing dates since we have absolutely no knowledge of when any of these ten lived.

What other internal evidence is there to use? Well of course Panini uses many phrases to illustrate his grammar any these have been examined meticulously to see if anything is contained there to indicate a date. To give an example of what we mean: if we were to pick up a text which contained as an example "I take the train to work every day" we would know that it had to have been written after railways became common. Let us illustrate with two actual examples from the Astadhyayi which have been the subject of much study. The first is an attempt to see whether there is evidence of Greek influence. Would it be possible to find evidence which would mean that the text had to have been written after the conquests of Alexander the Great? There is a little evidence of Greek influence, but there was Greek influence on this north east part of the Indian subcontinent before the time of Alexander. Nothing conclusive has been identified.

Another angle is to examine a reference Panini makes to nuns. Some argue that these must be Buddhist nuns and therefore the work must have been written after Buddha. A nice argument but there is a counter argument which says that there were Jaina nuns before the time of Buddha and Panini's reference could equally well be to them. Again the evidence is inconclusive.

There are references by others to Panini. However it would appear that the Panini to whom most refer is a poet and although some argue that these are the same person, most historians agree that the linguist and the poet are two different people. Again this is inconclusive evidence.

Let us end with an evaluation of Panini's contribution by Cardona in [1]:-

Panini's grammar has been evaluated from various points of view. After all these different evaluations, I think that the grammar merits asserting ... that it is one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence.

Pythagoras of Samos

Born: about 569 BC in Samos, Ionia
Died: about 475 BC
Pythagoras of Samos is often described as the first pure mathematician. He is an extremely important figure in the development of mathematics yet we know relatively little about his mathematical achievements. Unlike many later Greek mathematicians, where at least we have some of the books which they wrote, we have nothing of Pythagoras's writings. The society which he led, half religious and half scientific, followed a code of secrecy which certainly means that today Pythagoras is a mysterious figure.

We do have details of Pythagoras's life from early biographies which use important original sources yet are written by authors who attribute divine powers to him, and whose aim was to present him as a god-like figure. What we present below is an attempt to collect together the most reliable sources to reconstruct an account of Pythagoras's life. There is fairly good agreement on the main events of his life but most of the dates are disputed with different scholars giving dates which differ by 20 years. Some historians treat all this information as merely legends but, even if the reader treats it in this way, being such an early record it is of historical importance.

Pythagoras's father was Mnesarchus , while his mother was Pythais  and she was a native of Samos. Mnesarchus was a merchant who came from Tyre, and there is a story that he brought corn to Samos at a time of famine and was granted citizenship of Samos as a mark of gratitude. As a child Pythagoras spent his early years in Samos but travelled widely with his father. There are accounts of Mnesarchus returning to Tyre with Pythagoras and that he was taught there by the Chaldaeans and the learned men of Syria. It seems that he also visited Italy with his father.

Little is known of Pythagoras's childhood. All accounts of his physical appearance are likely to be fictitious except the description of a striking birthmark which Pythagoras had on his thigh. It is probable that he had two brothers although some sources say that he had three. Certainly he was well educated, learning to play the lyre, learning poetry and to recite Homer. There were, among his teachers, three philosophers who were to influence Pythagoras while he was a young man. One of the most important was Pherekydes who many describe as the teacher of Pythagoras.

The other two philosophers who were to influence Pythagoras, and to introduce him to mathematical ideas, were Thales and his pupil Anaximander who both lived on Miletus. In [8] it is said that Pythagoras visited Thales in Miletus when he was between 18 and 20 years old. By this time Thales was an old man and, although he created a strong impression on Pythagoras, he probably did not teach him a great deal. However he did contribute to Pythagoras's interest in mathematics and astronomy, and advised him to travel to Egypt to learn more of these subjects. Thales's pupil, Anaximander, lectured on Miletus and Pythagoras attended these lectures. Anaximander certainly was interested in geometry and cosmology and many of his ideas would influence Pythagoras's own views.

In about 535 BC Pythagoras went to Egypt. This happened a few years after the tyrant Polycrates seized control of the city of Samos. There is some evidence to suggest that Pythagoras and Polycrates were friendly at first and it is claimed that Pythagoras went to Egypt with a letter of introduction written by Polycrates. In fact Polycrates had an alliance with Egypt and there were therefore strong links between Samos and Egypt at this time. The accounts of Pythagoras's time in Egypt suggest that he visited many of the temples and took part in many discussions with the priests. According to Porphyry Pythagoras was refused admission to all the temples except the one at Diospolis where he was accepted into the priesthood after completing the rites necessary for admission.

It is not difficult to relate many of Pythagoras's beliefs, ones he would later impose on the society that he set up in Italy, to the customs that he came across in Egypt. For example the secrecy of the Egyptian priests, their refusal to eat beans, their refusal to wear even cloths made from animal skins, and their striving for purity were all customs that Pythagoras would later adopt. Porphyry in  and  says that Pythagoras learnt geometry from the Egyptians but it is likely that he was already acquainted with geometry, certainly after teachings from Thales and Anaximander.

In 525 BC Cambyses II, the king of Persia, invaded Egypt. Polycrates abandoned his alliance with Egypt and sent 40 ships to join the Persian fleet against the Egyptians. After Cambyses had won the Battle of Pelusium in the Nile Delta and had captured Heliopolis and Memphis, Egyptian resistance collapsed. Pythagoras was taken prisoner and taken to Babylon. Iamblichus writes that Pythagoras

... was transported by the followers of Cambyses as a prisoner of war. Whilst he was there he gladly associated with the Magoi ... and was instructed in their sacred rites and learnt about a very mystical worship of the gods. He also reached the acme of perfection in arithmetic and music and the other mathematical sciences taught by the Babylonians...

In about 520 BC Pythagoras left Babylon and returned to Samos. Polycrates had been killed in about 522 BC and Cambyses died in the summer of 522 BC, either by committing suicide or as the result of an accident. The deaths of these rulers may have been a factor in Pythagoras's return to Samos but it is nowhere explained how Pythagoras obtained his freedom. Darius of Persia had taken control of Samos after Polycrates' death and he would have controlled the island on Pythagoras's return. This conflicts with the accounts of Porphyry and Diogenes Laertius who state that Polycrates was still in control of Samos when Pythagoras returned there.

Pythagoras made a journey to Crete shortly after his return to Samos to study the system of laws there. Back in Samos he founded a school which was called the semicircle. Iamblichus  writes in the third century AD that:-

... he formed a school in the city [of Samos], the 'semicircle' of Pythagoras, which is known by that name even today, in which the Samians hold political meetings. They do this because they think one should discuss questions about goodness, justice and expediency in this place which was founded by the man who made all these subjects his business. Outside the city he made a cave the private site of his own philosophical teaching, spending most of the night and daytime there and doing research into the uses of mathematics...

Pythagoras left Samos and went to southern Italy in about 518 BC (some say much earlier). Iamblichus  gives some reasons for him leaving. First he comments on the Samian response to his teaching methods:-

... he tried to use his symbolic method of teaching which was similar in all respects to the lessons he had learnt in Egypt. The Samians were not very keen on this method and treated him in a rude and improper manner.

This was, according to Iamblichus, used in part as an excuse for Pythagoras to leave Samos:-

... Pythagoras was dragged into all sorts of diplomatic missions by his fellow citizens and forced to participate in public affairs. ... He knew that all the philosophers before him had ended their days on foreign soil so he decided to escape all political responsibility, alleging as his excuse, according to some sources, the contempt the Samians had for his teaching method.

Pythagoras founded a philosophical and religious school in Croton (now Crotone, on the east of the heel of southern Italy) that had many followers. Pythagoras was the head of the society with an inner circle of followers known as mathematikoi. The mathematikoi lived permanently with the Society, had no personal possessions and were vegetarians. They were taught by Pythagoras himself and obeyed strict rules. The beliefs that Pythagoras held were :-

(1) that at its deepest level, reality is mathematical in nature,
(2) that philosophy can be used for spiritual purification,
(3) that the soul can rise to union with the divine,
(4) that certain symbols have a mystical significance, and
(5) that all brothers of the order should observe strict loyalty and secrecy.

Both men and women were permitted to become members of the Society, in fact several later women Pythagoreans became famous philosophers. The outer circle of the Society were known as the akousmatics and they lived in their own houses, only coming to the Society during the day. They were allowed their own possessions and were not required to be vegetarians.

Of Pythagoras's actual work nothing is known. His school practised secrecy and communalism making it hard to distinguish between the work of Pythagoras and that of his followers. Certainly his school made outstanding contributions to mathematics, and it is possible to be fairly certain about some of Pythagoras's mathematical contributions. First we should be clear in what sense Pythagoras and the mathematikoi were studying mathematics. They were not acting as a mathematics research group does in a modern university or other institution. There were no 'open problems' for them to solve, and they were not in any sense interested in trying to formulate or solve mathematical problems.

Rather Pythagoras was interested in the principles of mathematics, the concept of number, the concept of a triangle or other mathematical figure and the abstract idea of a proof. As Brumbaugh writes in :-

It is hard for us today, familiar as we are with pure mathematical abstraction and with the mental act of generalisation, to appreciate the originality of this Pythagorean contribution.

In fact today we have become so mathematically sophisticated that we fail even to recognise 2 as an abstract quantity. There is a remarkable step from 2 ships + 2 ships = 4 ships, to the abstract result 2 + 2 = 4, which applies not only to ships but to pens, people, houses etc. There is another step to see that the abstract notion of 2 is itself a thing, in some sense every bit as real as a ship or a house.

Pythagoras believed that all relations could be reduced to number relations. As Aristotle wrote:-

The Pythagorean ... having been brought up in the study of mathematics, thought that things are numbers ... and that the whole cosmos is a scale and a number.

This generalisation stemmed from Pythagoras's observations in music, mathematics and astronomy. Pythagoras noticed that vibrating strings produce harmonious tones when the ratios of the lengths of the strings are whole numbers, and that these ratios could be extended to other instruments. In fact Pythagoras made remarkable contributions to the mathematical theory of music. He was a fine musician, playing the lyre, and he used music as a means to help those who were ill.

Pythagoras studied properties of numbers which would be familiar to mathematicians today, such as even and odd numbers, triangular numbers, perfect numbers etc. However to Pythagoras numbers had personalities which we hardly recognise as mathematics today :-

Each number had its own personality - masculine or feminine, perfect or incomplete, beautiful or ugly. This feeling modern mathematics has deliberately eliminated, but we still find overtones of it in fiction and poetry. Ten was the very best number: it contained in itself the first four integers - one, two, three, and four [1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10] - and these written in dot notation formed a perfect triangle.

Of course today we particularly remember Pythagoras for his famous geometry theorem. Although the theorem, now known as Pythagoras's theorem, was known to the Babylonians 1000 years earlier he may have been the first to prove it. Proclus, the last major Greek philosopher, who lived around 450 AD wrote:-

After [Thales, etc.] Pythagoras transformed the study of geometry into a liberal education, examining the principles of the science from the beginning and probing the theorems in an immaterial and intellectual manner: he it was who discovered the theory of irrational and the construction of the cosmic figures.

Again Proclus, writing of geometry, said:-

I emulate the Pythagoreans who even had a conventional phrase to express what I mean "a figure and a platform, not a figure and a sixpence", by which they implied that the geometry which is deserving of study is that which, at each new theorem, sets up a platform to ascend by, and lifts the soul on high instead of allowing it to go down among the sensible objects and so become subservient to the common needs of this mortal life.

Heath  gives a list of theorems attributed to Pythagoras, or rather more generally to the Pythagoreans.

(i) The sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. Also the Pythagoreans knew the generalisation which states that a polygon with n sides has sum of interior angles 2n - 4 right angles and sum of exterior angles equal to four right angles.

(ii) The theorem of Pythagoras - for a right angled triangle the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. We should note here that to Pythagoras the square on the hypotenuse would certainly not be thought of as a number multiplied by itself, but rather as a geometrical square constructed on the side. To say that the sum of two squares is equal to a third square meant that the two squares could be cut up and reassembled to form a square identical to the third square.

(iii) Constructing figures of a given area and geometrical algebra. For example they solved equations such as a (a - x) = x2 by geometrical means.

(iv) The discovery of irrationals. This is certainly attributed to the Pythagoreans but it does seem unlikely to have been due to Pythagoras himself. This went against Pythagoras's philosophy the all things are numbers, since by a number he meant the ratio of two whole numbers. However, because of his belief that all things are numbers it would be a natural task to try to prove that the hypotenuse of an isosceles right angled triangle had a length corresponding to a number.

(v) The five regular solids. It is thought that Pythagoras himself knew how to construct the first three but it is unlikely that he would have known how to construct the other two.

(vi) In astronomy Pythagoras taught that the Earth was a sphere at the centre of the Universe. He also recognised that the orbit of the Moon was inclined to the equator of the Earth and he was one of the first to realise that Venus as an evening star was the same planet as Venus as a morning star.

Primarily, however, Pythagoras was a philosopher. In addition to his beliefs about numbers, geometry and astronomy described above, he held :-

... the following philosophical and ethical teachings: ... the dependence of the dynamics of world structure on the interaction of contraries, or pairs of opposites; the viewing of the soul as a self-moving number experiencing a form of metempsychosis, or successive reincarnation in different species until its eventual purification (particularly through the intellectual life of the ethically rigorous Pythagoreans); and the understanding ...that all existing objects were fundamentally composed of form and not of material substance. Further Pythagorean doctrine ... identified the brain as the locus of the soul; and prescribed certain secret cultic practices.

In their practical ethics are also described:-

In their ethical practices, the Pythagorean were famous for their mutual friendship, unselfishness, and honesty.

Pythagoras's Society at Croton was not unaffected by political events despite his desire to stay out of politics. Pythagoras went to Delos in 513 BC to nurse his old teacher Pherekydes who was dying. He remained there for a few months until the death of his friend and teacher and then returned to Croton. In 510 BC Croton attacked and defeated its neighbour Sybaris and there is certainly some suggestions that Pythagoras became involved in the dispute. Then in around 508 BC the Pythagorean Society at Croton was attacked by Cylon, a noble from Croton itself. Pythagoras escaped to Metapontium and the most authors say he died there, some claiming that he committed suicide because of the attack on his Society. Iamblichus in quotes one version of events:-

Cylon, a Crotoniate and leading citizen by birth, fame and riches, but otherwise a difficult, violent, disturbing and tyrannically disposed man, eagerly desired to participate in the Pythagorean way of life. He approached Pythagoras, then an old man, but was rejected because of the character defects just described. When this happened Cylon and his friends vowed to make a strong attack on Pythagoras and his followers. Thus a powerfully aggressive zeal activated Cylon and his followers to persecute the Pythagoreans to the very last man. Because of this Pythagoras left for Metapontium and there is said to have ended his days.

This seems accepted by most but Iamblichus himself does not accept this version and argues that the attack by Cylon was a minor affair and that Pythagoras returned to Croton. Certainly the Pythagorean Society thrived for many years after this and spread from Croton to many other Italian cities. Gorman  argues that this is a strong reason to believe that Pythagoras returned to Croton and quotes other evidence such as the widely reported age of Pythagoras as around 100 at the time of his death and the fact that many sources say that Pythagoras taught Empedokles to claim that he must have lived well after 480 BC.

The evidence is unclear as to when and where the death of Pythagoras occurred. Certainly the Pythagorean Society expanded rapidly after 500 BC, became political in nature and also spilt into a number of factions. In 460 BC the Society :-

... was violently suppressed. Its meeting houses were everywhere sacked and burned; mention is made in particular of "the house of Milo" in Croton, where 50 or 60 Pythagoreans were surprised and slain. Those who survived took refuge at Thebes and other places.

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To write a biography of Apastamba is essentially impossible since nothing is known of him except that he was the author of a Sulbasutra which is certainly later than the Sulbasutra of Baudhayana. It would also be fair to say that Apastamba's Sulbasutra is the most interesting from a mathematical point of view. We do not know Apastamba's dates accurately enough to even guess at a life span for him, which is why we have given the same approximate birth year as death year.

Apastamba was neither a mathematician in the sense that we would understand it today, nor a scribe who simply copied manuscripts like Ahmes. He would certainly have been a man of very considerable learning but probably not interested in mathematics for its own sake, merely interested in using it for religious purposes. Undoubtedly he wrote the Sulbasutra to provide rules for religious rites and to improve and expand on the rules which had been given by his predecessors. Apastamba would have been a Vedic priest instructing the people in the ways of conducting the religious rites he describes.

The mathematics given in the Sulbasutras is there to enable the accurate construction of altars needed for sacrifices. It is clear from the writing that Apastamba, as well as being a priest and a teacher of religious practices, would have been a skilled craftsman. He must have been himself skilled in the practical use of the mathematics he described as a craftsman who himself constructed sacrificial altars of the highest quality.

The Sulbasutras are discussed in detail in the article Indian Sulbasutras. Below we give one or two details of Apastamba's Sulbasutra. This work is an expanded version of that of Baudhayana. Apastamba's work consisted of six chapters while the earlier work by Baudhayana contained only three.

The general linear equation was solved in the Apastamba's Sulbasutra. He also gives a remarkably accurate value for √2 namely

1 + 1/3 + 1/(34) - 1/(3434).

which gives an answer correct to five decimal places. A possible way that Apastamba might have reached this remarkable result is described in the article Indian Sulbasutras.

As well as the problem of squaring the circle, Apastamba considers the problem of dividing a segment into 7 equal parts. The article [3] looks in detail at a reconstruction of Apastamba's version of these two problems


Born: about 750 BC in India
Died: about 750 BC in India
Manava was the author of one of the Sulbasutras. The Manava Sulbasutra is not the oldest (the one by Baudhayana is older) nor is it one of the most important, there being at least three Sulbasutras which are considered more important. We do not know Manava's dates accurately enough to even guess at a life span for him, which is why we have given the same approximate birth year as death year. Historians disagree on 750 BC, and some would put this Sulbasutra later by one hundred or more years.

Manava would have not have been a mathematician in the sense that we would understand it today. Nor was he a scribe who simply copied manuscripts like Ahmes. He would certainly have been a man of very considerable learning but probably not interested in mathematics for its own sake, merely interested in using it for religious purposes. Undoubtedly he wrote the Sulbasutra to provide rules for religious rites and it would appear an almost certainty that Manava himself would be a Vedic priest.

The mathematics given in the Sulbasutras is there to enable accurate construction of altars needed for sacrifices. It is clear from the writing that Manava, as well as being a priest, must have been a skilled craftsman.

Manava's Sulbasutra, like all the Sulbasutras, contained approximate constructions of circles from rectangles, and squares from circles, which can be thought of as giving approximate values of π. There appear therefore different values of π throughout the Sulbasutra, essentially every construction involving circles leads to a different such approximation. The paper  is concerned with an interpretation of verses 11.14 and 11.15 of Manava's work which give π = 25/8 = 3.125.


Born: about 800 BC in India
Died: about 800 BC in India
To write a biography of Baudhayana is essentially impossible since nothing is known of him except that he was the author of one of the earliest Sulbasutras. We do not know his dates accurately enough to even guess at a life span for him, which is why we have given the same approximate birth year as death year.

He was neither a mathematician in the sense that we would understand it today, nor a scribe who simply copied manuscripts like Ahmes. He would certainly have been a man of very considerable learning but probably not interested in mathematics for its own sake, merely interested in using it for religious purposes. Undoubtedly he wrote the Sulbasutra to provide rules for religious rites and it would appear an almost certainty that Baudhayana himself would be a Vedic priest.

The mathematics given in the Sulbasutras is there to enable the accurate construction of altars needed for sacrifices. It is clear from the writing that Baudhayana, as well as being a priest, must have been a skilled craftsman. He must have been himself skilled in the practical use of the mathematics he described as a craftsman who himself constructed sacrificial altars of the highest quality.

The Sulbasutras are discussed in detail in the article Indian Sulbasutras. Below we give one or two details of Baudhayana's Sulbasutra, which contained three chapters, which is the oldest which we possess and, it would be fair to say, one of the two most important.

The Sulbasutra of Baudhayana contains geometric solutions (but not algebraic ones) of a linear equation in a single unknown. Quadratic equations of the forms ax2 = c and ax2 + bx = c appear.

Several values of π occur in Baudhayana's Sulbasutra since when giving different constructions Baudhayana uses different approximations for constructing circular shapes. Constructions are given which are equivalent to taking π equal to 676/225 (where 676/225 = 3.004), 900/289 (where 900/289 = 3.114) and to 1156/361 (where 1156/361 = 3.202). None of these is particularly accurate but, in the context of constructing altars they would not lead to noticeable errors.

An interesting, and quite accurate, approximate value for √2 is given in Chapter 1 verse 61 of Baudhayana's Sulbasutra. The Sanskrit text gives in words what we would write in symbols as

√2 = 1 + 1/3 + 1/(34) - 1/(3434)= 577/408

which is, to nine places, 1.414215686. This gives √2 correct to five decimal places. This is surprising since, as we mentioned above, great mathematical accuracy did not seem necessary for the building work described. If the approximation was given as

√2 = 1 + 1/3 + 1/(34)

then the error is of the order of 0.002 which is still more accurate than any of the values of π. Why then did Baudhayana feel that he had to go for a better approximation?


Born: about 1680 BC in Egypt
Died: about 1620 BC in Egypt

Ahmes is the scribe who wrote the Rhind Papyrus (named after the Scottish Egyptologist Alexander Henry Rhind who went to Thebes for health reasons, became interested in excavating and purchased the papyrus in Egypt in 1858).

Ahmes claims not to be the author of the work, being, he claims, only a scribe. He says that the material comes from an earlier work of about 2000 BC.

The papyrus is our chief source of information on Egyptian mathematics. The Recto contains division of 2 by the odd numbers 3 to 101 in unit fractions and the numbers 1 to 9 by 10. The Verso has 87 problems on the four operations, solution of equations, progressions, volumes of granaries, the two-thirds rule etc.

The Rhind Papyrus, which came to the British Museum in 1863, is sometimes called the 'Ahmes papyrus' in honour of Ahmes. Nothing is known of Ahmes other than his own comments in the papyrus.
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