Science in the Middle Ages

With the division of the Roman Empire…

The Western Roman Empire lost contact with much of its past. In the Middle EastGreek philosophy was able to find some support under the newly created Arab Empire. With the spread of Islamin the 7th and 8th centuries, a period of Muslim scholarship, known as the Islamic Golden Age, lasted until the 13th century. This scholarship was aided by several factors. The use of a single language, Arabic, allowed communication without need of a translator. Access to Greek texts from the Byzantine Empire, along with Indian sources of learning, provided Muslim scholars a knowledge base to build upon.

While the Byzantine Empire still held learning centers such as Constantinople, Western Europe’s knowledge was concentrated in monasteries until the development of medieval universities in the 12th and 13th centuries. The curriculum of monastic schools included the study of the few available ancient texts and of new works on practical subjects like medicine[53] and timekeeping.[54]

Islamic world

Muslim scientists placed far greater emphasis on experiment than had the Greeks.[55] This led to an early scientific method being developed in the Muslim world, where significant progress in methodology was made, beginning with the experiments of Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) on optics from c. 1000, in his Book of Optics.[56] The most important development of the scientific method was the use of experiments to distinguish between competing scientific theories set within a generally empirical orientation, which began among Muslim scientists. Ibn al-Haytham is also regarded as the father of optics, especially for his empirical proof of the intromission theory of light. Some have also described Ibn al-Haytham as the “first scientist” for his development of the modern scientific method.[57]


An intellectual revitalization of Europe started with the birth of medieval universities in the 12th century. The contact with the Islamic world in Spain and Sicily, and during the Reconquista and the Crusades, allowed Europeans access to scientific Greek and Arabic texts, including the works of AristotlePtolemyJābir ibn Hayyānal-KhwarizmiAlhazenAvicenna, and Averroes. European scholars had access to the translation programs of Raymond of Toledo, who sponsored the 12th century Toledo School of Translators from Arabic to Latin. Later translators like Michael Scotuswould learn Arabic in order to study these texts directly. The European universities aided materially in the translation and propagation of these texts and started a new infrastructure which was needed for scientific communities. In fact, European university put many works about the natural world and the study of nature at the center of its curriculum,[83] with the result that the “medieval university laid far greater emphasis on science than does its modern counterpart and descendent.”[84]