Friday, August 17, 2007

Medieval science and Justinian I

In the last couple of weeks, I had an exchange with Richard Carrier on medieval technology. Sadly, I missed the best links on the Internet about the question. These come from the web site of Paul Gans of New York University and cover the horse collar controversy and the stirrup controversy. Reading them was a bit eerie. You see, Gans sees the great horse collar dispute as primarily a bun fight between classicists (Richard Carrier, in the red corner) and medievalists (me, in the blue corner). Gans himself concludes that the medievalists were mainly right but probably overstated the case when they said that Roman horse harnesses straggled the unfortunate creatures that had to wear them. Trouble is, Gans is a medievalist himself, so of course he decides against the classicists. Do also check out the rest of Gans’s medieval technology web page.

My new website,, intended to try and get my book God’s Philosopher’s: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science has had a good first week. It’s had over a thousand visitors and a hundred people have registered their interest in the book. As it didn’t appear on Google until yesterday and has a very low page rank, I’m quite pleased. Several of my essays from Bede’s Library are linked to Wikipedia so I thought, in my innocence, I could add some links to the essays now on the new site as well. Alas, I was accused of spamming and all the links were taken down. Luckily, most have now been re-instated but it is quite a time consuming process.

Finally, I hope to finish an article on one of the most notorious events in intellectual history – the closure of the Athens academy of Plato in 529AD by the Emperor Justinian. Except, he didn’t really. As we so many of these stories, it’s amazing to find the source for it is so unreliable. It is only attested in the history of Agathias, who was not born until ten years after the purported closure. Furthermore, the alleged decree that Justinian issued is not found in the voluminous records of Roman law dating from his reign. It turns out, Justinian may have shut off public funds for the pagans teaching in Athens (although not in Alexandria, oddly enough), but he never issued a decree closing down the pagan schools. I hope to get an article up in the next few days. Then I should finally sit down and write one on the history of human dissection, about which misinformation still abounds, as a correspondent pointed out to me this week.

Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.

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