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Engels (1880):

The foundations of the exact natural sciences were, therefore, first worked out by the Greeks of the Alexandrian period, and later on, in the Middle Ages, by the Arabs.

When was this "Alexandrian period"?


The linked Marxists.org page says in a footnote:

The Alexandrian period of the development of science comprises the period extending from the 3rd century B.C. to the 17th century A.D.

But I'm not sure if this is correct.

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    AFAIK Alexandrian period is actually the Hellenistic period. Not sure what the Marxists mean by it tho.
    – Tom Sol
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 7:39
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    Why question existing narrative? Question title doesn't match question content. What is wrong with Wikipedia's answer? why do you doubt that the provided answer is correct? What research have you done to confirm or deny your hypothesis? Is there a reason you're asking the community to perform this research?
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 13:33

2 Answers 2

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Approximately 300 BC to 30 BC, or up to 642 AD.

In the context of the sciences, the Alexandrian period refers to a phase associated with the Musaeum at Alexandria - a institution which included the famous Great Library. Founded supposedly circa 300 BC by Ptolemy I Soter and patronised by his dynasty until the Roman conquest, the Musaeum was a major centre for Hellenistic learning where the arts, philosophy and natural sciences flourished. These intellectual developments are collectively known as the Alexandrian school.

The period is commonly considered to have ended with the Roman annexation of Egypt in 30 BC. However the Mauseum continued to operate for a while (though gradually replaced by the Serapeum), and the city remained a centre of Graeco-Roman learning for centuries. Consequently, at an extreme, some writers puts the end of the Alexandrian period as late as the Muslim conquest.

The Marxist.org passage you cited comes from the works of Engels; I'm not sure why the dates he gave are off by a millennia, but perhaps he meant to say 7th century.

Further Reading: https://hekint.org/2017/01/22/philosophy-of-science-and-medicine-series-iv-alexandrian-period

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    What Engels means is the Alexandrian science was the pinnacle, only superseded at the end of medieval period 1453 (which is just "pitch dark" or the advent of modern natural science, epitomised with no more alchemy but chemistry mlwerke.de/me/me20/me20_456.htm Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 9:54
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    @LаngLаngС But 1453's not 17th century either.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 10:08
  • Sure, but the chemistry cut-off vaguely fits; and I am not saying that what 'he means 'or his footnoters /interpreters 'say' is 'good' in this respect. (Since he argues with basic modes of production there as well, this materialist view of 'Alexandrian mode of knowledge production lasts (wasn't surpassed) until capitalist mode of knowledge production' is an opinion not entirely wrong but to challenge easily. ;) Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 10:16
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    And btw in mlwerke.de/me/me19/me19_202.htm Engels himself seems to agree more with your depiction than with that footnote… Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 10:24
  • @LаngLаngС I had a similar thought, that "Alexandrian" was just being used as a synonym for pre-enlightenment, but the phrasing of "...and later on, in the Middle Ages..." makes that a pretty bad fit. I think the footnote is just wrong
    – llama
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 19:26
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The more common name of this period is Hellenism. It starts with the death of Alexander III of Macedon (323 BC) and ends with the battle at Actium (31 BC).

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