In history, why were European populations so advanced, if compared to other populations, such as native Americans?

What's the reason why Europeans were so good in technology and science? Why did Europeans use money instead barter?

Also, was Greece the birthplace of this "technology and culture"?

  • 2
    Excuse me? For large periods of history Europe has been culturally and scientifically very underdeveloped. Culture developed in Mesopotamia; was transfered to Greece and the Roman Empire distributed it around Europe. Similarly arabs brought scientific knowledge from the East to the European Middle Ages... If you mean "Europe after the scientific revolution", then the answer is, of course, the scientific revolution. You really should work on the premises of your question.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 13:05
  • 1
    There are four questions here, some of which have already been asked on this site, and some of which need further qualifications (as SJuan76 points out).
    – two sheds
    Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 13:33
  • Greece the birthplace of technology??
    – Drux
    Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 14:47
  • 1
    Don't have time to search, but I'm pretty sure this has been asked before.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 18:47
  • @SJuan76: Not entirely true, as you're assuming a single linear thread of cultural development, when it's more like a bush. Northern Europe had an advanced culture (or cultures) before the Greeks & Romans, as evidenced by Stonehenge, Skara Brae, and many other sites. The Greeks & Romans had technologies that were later lost, like engineering or the Antikythera mechanism.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 19:20

1 Answer 1


First of all this was not always the case in history. In the period approximately 400-1500, European populations were not more technologically advanced than some populations in Asia. And even before that, most of Europe, except a narrow strip near the Mediterranean was in quite primitive state with respect to science and technology. And the main place where science developed in Antiquity was Alexandria (in modern Egypt).

Science and technology begin to develop intensively in the Western Europe in XVI century, and it is difficult to name one reason for this, but perhaps one of the main reasons is capitalism, and in general, the social environment which made this development possible.

For example, paper, movable print and possibly firearms were invented in China, earlier than in Europe, but invention of paper and print did not trigger a revolution in China of the kind that happened in Europe. Mass production of printed books did not start there. And firearms as soon as they penetrated, or were invented in Europe, very quickly reached higher degree of perfection there. Another example is the invention of steam turbine in the Hellenistic Alexandria. They invented it, but what use did they make of it? These are just three examples, that proper social conditions are crucial for development of science and technology.

Of course, one can ask why these social and economic situation developed in Europe and not elsewhere, but to this there is probably no short answer. One has to analyse the whole history of Europe and other parts of the world to see why it happened in Europe.

It is not true that "Europeans used money while other people used barter". Money was quite common in many places.

On the last question. It is true that Greece was the birthplace of science. But not the only birthplace. Astronomy, for example started in Babylonia. This is not true about technology. All sorts of technology where invented in many places, certainly Greece in not "the birthplace of technology".

In the Hellenistic states (NOT in Greece itself, but on the territories of modern Egypt, Turkey and other parts of Mediterranean) science reached very high degree of development and started to influence technology. But this was a relatively short period, about 200 years, approximately from the time of Macedonian conquest to the conquest of these states by the Roman empire. The Romans were not interested in science, and mostly employed the Greek engineers for technology. Even the severe shortage of the engineers in the empire did not cause any form of engineering education. The crucial thing is that scientists and engineers has very low social status in the Roman empire. Few centuries after that, the development of science in Europe stopped completely, and there was a strong regress in technology.

The Hellenistic science partially survived in the East (Persia, Muslim countries, Byzantia, even in India). Then in XVI century, all this had to be reborn in Europe.

EDIT. I anticipated that my claim that "science was born in ancient Greece" will raise objections. So let me explain. It is a common misunderstanding that "Greeks did not do real science because they did not make experiments". First of all, not every science requires experiments (astronomy, geography requires only observations. And certainly Greeks and Babylonians did and recorded observations). Second, Hellenistic scientists DID do experiments. And not only Archimedes. They created several parts of physics which was closely connected with engineering, namely statics, including hydrostatics, pneumatics, geometric optics, geodesy. Ptolemy described his experiments measuring refraction, for example. Hero of Alexandria constructed automatons and steam engines. Ctezibius constructed water clocks and water organ, etc. A lot of science went to construction of artillery, and not only Archimedes was doing that.

EDIT2. It is common to call Euclid, Hipparchus, Ptolemy and Diophantus "Greeks". They indeed wrote in Greek, and their names sound Greek, but they did not work in Europe. Concerning their "ethnic origin" we have no information at all.

  • It's also not really true that Greece was the birthplace of science. Few of the Greeks (Archimedes is perhaps an exception) really did science, they just came up with various philosophical theories about the world, which they tried to justify with pure reason. Science requires experiment to test those theories.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 28, 2015 at 19:26
  • Re your edit: I wouldn't consider geography a science, any more than history. Astronomy does have a few scientists, like Eratosthenes, but it seems to have been more astrology than science. Likewise there are outliers in other areas of science & engineering. But if this was a birth of science, it died in infancy. What remained was the at best misguided philosophy, such as Aristotle & Plato.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 5:23
  • @jamesqf: Hellenistic Astronomy had much more than Erathosphenes (Hipparchus and Ptolemy are the founders of astronomy, and their contribution was immense). I strongly disagree with your assessment of "what remained": Euclid, Apollonius, Archimedes and Diophantus are the main writers "that remined". Their work (and of many others less known) layed the foundation of mathematical sciences as we know them now. This was much more important contribution than Plato and Aristotle.
    – Alex
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 13:23
  • @jamesqf: "died in infancy" is true to some extent. It existed some 500 years. I only count Hellenistic and Roman period 3BC-2AD. About as long as our modern science. If our science dies now, will you say that it "died in infancy"?
    – Alex
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 13:27
  • @jamesqf: Finally on geography. Of course, it is up to you to define the meaning of the terms that you use. But why astronomy is a science and geography is not ?? Is geodesy a science on your opinion?
    – Alex
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 13:30

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