Alexandrian School

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The term Alexandrian School denotes an ongoing series of scientific endeavors from about 300 BC. . BC to 600 AD. Called, the center of the city of Alexandria was. This around 331 BC Founded in BC , the port city in Egypt was of great importance in Hellenistic times , and before the rise of Rome it was the largest metropolis in the ancient world. Until 30 BC she was BC Seat of the Ptolemaic dynasty and remained very important during the subsequent Roman rule.

The geographic location of Alexandria favored the merging of elements of Greek philosophy with Jewish , Christian and later Arabic teachings. The center of the Alexandrian School was the important library of Alexandria .



The basis of the Alexandrian School, which was never a proper institution, but a network of independent teachers, was the Museion , a great "temple of the Muses" in the Brucheion district, where the scholars, as retirees, conducted and taught their studies at state expense . That, advised by the Aristotle student Demetrios von Phaleron , by King Ptolomäus I Soter around 280 BC. Museion , founded in BC, went back to the Ptolemies , but new foundations were also assigned to it in Roman times.

Two libraries, also set up by the Ptolemies, served the common use of the scholars. The larger library was connected to the Museion, the smaller one was in the Serapeion in the Rakotis district. Both libraries soon surpassed all of the book collections known at the time in terms of their size and richness.

Famous librarians are: Zenodotos of Ephesus , Callimachus , Eratosthenes , Apollonios of Rhodes , Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus . You have made a name for yourself in science or art; four of them were honored in modern times by naming lunar craters.

Thanks to the libraries and generous sponsorship, Alexandria became the meeting place and educational center of the most famous scholars of the time under the first Ptolemies, and for several centuries it remained the main seat of all scientific activity despite some disruptions. In addition to philosophy, natural sciences and philology were also important focuses.

So, according to ancient tradition, the Ptolemies had from 250 BC To translate the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek by 72 theologians and translators, the Septuagint . This translation is considered the basic document of Hellenistic Judaism .

But some scholars put themselves against the dominance of the Hellenistic world of ideas - including the Pharisees in Israel and theologians from other cultures - especially after the religious prohibition of Antiochus IV.

The Alexandrian School experienced a serious turning point in its history in 145 BC. When Ptolemy VIII had many of the Greek scholars expelled from Alexandria in a political purge. A certain Kydas of the Lancers Corps was appointed head of the library. The Hellenistic-Alexandrian culture in the real sense was not to recover from this blow for a long time.

Roman time

According to some ancient sources, the Museion library went up in flames during the siege of Alexandria by Julius Caesar , but other sources indicate that empty papyrus rolls that were stored in the harbor at that time were burned.

Until at least the end of the 2nd century AD, the Alexandrian school was the first in the ancient world, and the most famous doctors, philosophers, theologians, astronomers, philologists, and mathematicians of the time received their education there. Only Athens was viewed similarly as an educational center.

The growing Christianity that emerged from Judaism had opened up to Hellenism through the influences of various philosophers . The gospel openness towards all non-Jewish peoples (see, among others, Apostle Paul / Gentile Christians ) also caused this, but Christianity also experienced temporary disturbances to the Gentile-Greek tradition. The beginning of the gradual decline of Alexandria dates back to the 3rd century, when Emperor Caracalla abolished the richly founded institute of the Museion to finance the Caracalla baths and withdrew the pensions of the scholars. Nevertheless, Alexandria remained an important place of education, from which the last great philosophical current of antiquity, Neoplatonism , began in the later 3rd century .

The Christian philologist and theologian Origen (184–254) from Alexandria rejected the Roman-Greek way of thinking in many ways, but actually used the exegesis methods of the school and developed the systematic comparison of texts for the Bible.

For a long time Christian theology and classical philosophy lived side by side, but in late antiquity the situation of the Alexandrian philosophers became precarious. There were Christian patriarchs who ascribed a pernicious influence to ancient classical scholarship. The most intolerant of them was probably Theophilus of Alexandria , who in 389 or 393 under Theodosius I had the Serapeion with its scientific treasures destroyed as a pagan temple. However, a new library was established from the rubble that was saved, which gradually drew scholars (especially doctors and law teachers) back to Alexandria . The murder of Hypatia , who was murdered by a Christian mob in 415 , then represented a setback for philosophy . Nevertheless, while Roman culture in Western Europe slowly succumbed to the invasions of the Teutons and other barbarians since around 400 , the fire of Greek science continued to smolder in the east. There were close contacts between the two most important philosophical centers of Eastern Rome , Athens and Alexandria.

Emperor Justinian closed the still openly pagan philosophical school of Athens in 529 (or 531), but Plato and especially Aristotle continued to be highly respected in the Christian schools of Alexandria; Christians like Boethius hung the Neo-Platonism on. The School of Alexandria - unlike the "Academy" in Athens, it was still not a real school, but a group of independently teaching philosophers - had adapted to the Christian environment much better than the school since Hypatia's death in Athens and therefore persisted into the early 7th century. The last known representative, the Christian Stephanos of Alexandria , was called to Constantinople by Emperor Herakleios shortly after 610 .

The last remnants of the Greek educational organization perished during the conquest and destruction of Alexandria by the Arabs under the general ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀs at the time of the caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab .

Arab time

Although a lot of ancient knowledge was lost through the triumph of Islam , the world owes the Arabs to the fact that Greek science was “given back” to Europe after the turmoil of the Great Migration . A typical example of this is the multi-volume main work of ancient astronomy, the Megala Syntaxis by Claudius Ptolemy . After being translated into Arabic, it returned to the medieval world as Almagest (al magest, the great ) .

Nevertheless, Arabic science replaced the Greek - or a synthesis of the two. The Arabs were masters in this and in technical questions such as the development of measuring instruments (for example nocturnal clock, astrolabe , predecessor of theodolite , etc.). The caliph al-Mutawakkil 'alā' llāh founded an academy in Alexandria around the middle of the 9th century . With the overthrow of Arab rule in Egypt, this university went out again.


Important currents of ancient philosophy that were represented in Alexandria are:

The Ptolemaic rulers in Alexandria tried to equip their library not only with Greek works, but with the texts of all peoples and cultures. It is said that Ptolemy I wrote a letter to all the kings and rulers of the earth and asked them to send him the works of any authors: "Poets and prose writers, rhetors and sophists, doctors and fortune-tellers, historians and everyone else too" (Clauss 2003, p. 97). From Ptolemy III. it is known that he even gave the order to search all incoming ships, to confiscate the books found in the process so that they could be copied, and finally to give the owners a copy instead of the original (Clauss 2003, p. 97).

Philosophers (alphabetical)

Early period

Later period



The Jews, too, of whom about a million lived in Egypt at the time of Augustus, had made friends with Greek custom, language and learning in Alexandria at an early stage. This is where the well-known Greek translation of the Old Testament by the "Seventy", the Septuagint (see above), was created; this is where Hellenistic Judaism was formed , which tried to bring Greek philosophy into agreement with the holy books of Judaism through allegorical interpretation. The most important teacher of this school was Philo of Alexandria.


Christianity developed in a similar way in Alexandria. It had to and wanted to be all the more concerned with the philosophy cultivated there, as it found its way into highly educated circles with the increasing spread of religion in the poorer classes.

In this way, through the philosophical development of the ideas lying in the historical foundations of Christianity, a Christian science arose, which had a significant influence on the church and is known under the name of Alexandrian theology . Its center was the catechist school of Alexandria, whose director was Pantaenus as the first from 180 AD , and later the celebrities Titus Flavius ​​Clemens and the aforementioned Origen. The allegorical method of this school of exegesis goes back to him. The school flourished in the third century and not only gave popular instruction to the new converts, but also gave higher education to future bishops and teachers of the Church.

With Pantanus (died 202) the Christian worldview seems to be mixed with the Greek philosophical one, while with his pupil Clemens one can speak more of Christian, with his pupil Origen even of ecclesiastical Gnosis . In addition to the men already mentioned, Dionysius of Alexandria , Gregorios of Neucaesarea (called the “miracle worker”) and Pamphilus of Caesarea belong to this Alexandrian school . The three Cappadocians Basilius of Caesarea , his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa and his friend Gregory of Nazianzen also belong to the Alexandrian school.

Combining the love of exegetical research with bold speculation, the Alexandrian school sought the focus of the Christian faith on the one hand in speculative determinations and in the metaphysics of the doctrine of God and Logos , on the other hand always emphasizing the moral freedom of man and preserving a genuinely Greek inheritance. Origen and his successors were therefore for over a century as models for the scientifically sterile West.

Only gradually did this diverge from the line indicated in this way, and to the same extent the older Alexandrian School in the Orient was partly pushed back by the younger Orthodox school represented by Athanasius of Alexandria and Cyril of Alexandria , and partly by the so-called Antiochene School . The latter was superior to her in terms of strictly scientific procedures and, with her exploration of the simple meaning of the biblical scriptures, formed a counterpoint to the allegorical interpretation of the school in Alexandria. The christological disputes of the first centuries AD were in some respects disputes between the schools and patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch .

Theologians (alphabetical)


More detailed information on representatives of Alexandrian surgery (from 300 BC to the 1st century AD) and their practice have only come down to us through Aulus Cornelius Celsus .

Physicians and medical writers born from the Alexandria School:


  • Manfred Clauss : Alexandria. Fate of an ancient cosmopolitan city. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-608-94329-3 .
  • Markus Vinzent: " Oxbridge " in the late late antiquity, or: A comparison of the schools of Athens and Alexandria . In: Zeitschrift für antikes Christianentum 4, 2000, pp. 49–82.
  • Edward Watts: City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria. University of California Press, Berkeley 2006, ISBN 978-0-520-24421-4 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Markwart Michler : Alexandrian surgery. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte . De Gruyter, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , pp. 32-38; here: p. 33.
  2. Markwart Michler: The Alexandrian Surgeons. A collection and evaluation of your certificates. Wiesbaden 1968.
  3. Markwart Michler : Alexandrian surgery. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte . De Gruyter, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , pp. 32-38; here: p. 32 f.