History of Biology

Ancient Times

Greek and Romans

Thales of Miletus

650 BC - 580 BC

1st philosopher/scientist (father of Natural Philosophy)


492 BC - 432 BC

materialist and causal view of nature
four-element model of nature: fire, air, water and earth
elements combine and dissociate because: love (attraction) & hate (repulsion).
Biology: think with our blood (elements mingle) & animals evolved from bizarre ancestors


460 BC - 360 BC

learned atomism from his teacher Leucippus
brain is organ of thought; heart is organ of courage; liver organ of sensuality.
performed dissections of many kinds of animals.
no divine beings. Impersonal necessity and natural law govern the world


460 BC - 361 BC

Hippocratic medicine enduring for its approach not its content
rejected religion and the supernatural in medicine
pragmatism & experience over theory
high ethical standards (do no harm)
Hippocratic method - observe all, study patient rather than disease, evaluate honestly & assist nature
4 humours - blood, yellow bile, black bile & phlegm
pathology = imbalance of humours


384 BC - 322 BC

"Father of Natural History"
Plato (teacher) impede progress of biology 2000+ years, until Darwin, through influence on Aristotle’s biology - Evolution
Plato theory of universals: there exist changeless, eternal, ideal forms (essentialist thinking)
teleology-explanation by purpose
scale of nature
natural groups


0 AD - 100 AD

De Medicina- follow Hippocrates surgeon should assist nature.

Pliny the Elder

23 AD - 79 AD

37-volume encyclopedia, Natural History

Galen Of Pergamon

130 AD - 200 AD

surgeon to the gladiatorial school
religious - believed in one God, but not Christian
teleological view of human body
ethics in medicine
4 temperaments (psychology) assoc. w/ 4 humours: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic
Therapies: more interventionist than Hippocrates
balance the humours with diet, bloodletting and purging, or
surgery, complex drug mixtures (especially theriac) [polypharmacy]

Roman Empire Broken up

September 4 476

Western Empire
Eastern Empire remains - Bisintine Empire

Islamic Science

Prophet Muhammed and Quran

570 - 632

welcomed education and inquiry into nature

Islamic Golden Age

750 - 1258

At the same time as the European Middle Ages, the Islamic middle ages was also taking place. While they were also monotheistic, they had a very different take on scientific achievement compared to christians at the time. The prophet states that one should seek knowledge, and so the pursuit of knowledge has diving purpose. Also, the Caliphs recognized that knowledge is power, and they employed many scholars to collect and come up with new scientific knowledge.

Construction of a paper-making plant in Baghdad



980 - 1037

greatest Islamic intellectual
physician, mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, physicist and poet (polymath)
medicine is a science
Canon of Medicine (14 volumes), incorporated Greek, Roman and Islamic medicine. adopted Aristotle’s concept of purpose in nature, and based anatomy on Galen

Ibn an-Nafis


questioned Galenic authority on the question of blood movement by proposing pulmonary circulation


European Middle Ages

476 - 1300

Economic uncertainty and political confusion followed the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476 AD. People did not have the resources for academic endeavours, as life was hard, and turned towards religion. Christianity in particular.

St. Hildegard of Bingen

1098 - 1179

nun, abbess and mystic who wrote down her religious visions
also healer, naturalist and musician

Frederick II of Hohenstaufen

1194 - 1250

Holy Roman Emperor, 1220-1250
did not share the religion, the assumptions or the approach of Scholastics (questioned ancients, trust own observations, atheist)
established the University of Naples in 1224 (University of Naples Federico II)
Salerno Medical College in 1231
separated duties of the physician from the pharmacist

Albertus Magnus

1200 - 1280

Doctor Universalis
literary scholar, alchemist, & teacher. re:biology -medieval naturalist.
made Aristotle’s conception of nature widely known in Europe.

Roger Bacon

1214 - 1292

into astrology, alchemy & magical properties of herbs and gems
also stress importance of cycle (observation-> hypothesis -> experiment)

St. Thomas Aquinas

1225 - 1274

Magnus’ pupil
the greatest of the scholastics

Black Death

1347 - 1351

impeded academic progress
25-50% of the population was wiped out



2700 BC - 2600 BC

architect, physician, polymath, might have written surgical texts.

first non-royal to have name recorded in history

Edwin Smith papyrus

1600 BC

contents might go back to 2700 BC and Imhotep
worlds oldest treatius
natural in approach
consists of case histories
some anatomical knowledge

Ebers Papyrus

1550 BC

combines drugs w/ magic & religion
broader ailments
700 drugs/formulas
less natural
therapeutic purposes


330 BC - 260 BC

physician, anatomist at Alexandria
dissection of human corpses
vivisection of animals


310 BC - 250 BC

physician, anatomist at Alexandria
dissection of human corpses
vivisection of animals


The Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon

200 BC

Illness the result of natural causes, not demons/supernatural phenomena.
Illness result from disruption of the flow of chi (qi), a vital energy, travels through body along meridians. (Vital energy universal, just different names)
Imbalances of yin and yang can lead to illness.
human body is a microcosm that reflects the world as a whole, the macrocosm.
macrocosm / microcosm correspondence, nature’s Five Phases (or Five Elements) – wood, fire, earth, metal, water – have correspondences to parts of the mind and body. Their relationships can be manipulated by the physician for the benefit of the patient.