Post-classical history


Abelard, Peter (1079–1142): Outspoken logician and theologian who had a controversial career. Writer of Story of My Calamities and lover of Héloïse.

Adelard of Bath (c.1080–c.1160): Travelled to the Middle East in search of Arabic texts. Translator of Euclid’s Elements and author of Natural Questions.

Albert of Saxony (c.1316–1390): German pupil of John Buridan whose textbooks helped spread his master’s ideas. Showed a projectile following a curved path.

St Albert the Great (c.1200–1280): German natural philosopher and theologian who taught Thomas Aquinas. Called the ‘Universal Doctor’ and patron saint of natural science.

Alcuin of York (c.735–804): Minister and educational reformer under the Emperor Charlemagne.

Alderotti, Taddeo (c.1223–1295): Pioneer of learned medicine in Bologna.

Alhazen (Al-Haytham) (96–c.1039): Muslim philosopher whose work on light was unsurpassed during the Middle Ages.

Al-Khwarizmi (c.780–c.850): Muslim mathematician who wrote an essential guide to calculation and algebra.

Al-Tusi, Nasir al-Din (1201–1274): Persian astronomer whose calculations found their way into Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.

Amaury of Bène (d.c.1207): Heretic who taught at the university of Paris and whose followers, the Amalricians, were burnt at the stake in 1210.

St Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109): Saint and archbishop of Canterbury who combined faith and reason in his ontological argument that God exists.

Aquinas, St Thomas (1225–74): The ‘Angelic Doctor’ whose massive volumes of philosophy and theology made Greek philosophy safe for Christians.

Archimedes (287–212BC): Ancient Greek engineer and mathematician who discovered the law of buoyancy and much else besides. Killed during the sack of Syracuse by the Romans.

Aristotle (384–322BC): Greek philosopher who was a pupil of Plato and tutor to Alexander the Great. In the Middle Ages he was called simply ‘The Philosopher’.

St Augustine of Hippo (AD354–430): Father of the Church and Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. He wrote extremely influential books on theology including The City of God.

Averröes (Ibn Rushd) (1126–98): Philosopher from Muslim Spain whose detailed analysis of the work of Aristotle earned him the title of ‘The Commentator’.

Avicenna (Ibn Sina) (c.980–1037): Muslim doctor and philosopher whose writings, including the Canon of Medicine, were extremely influential in medieval Europe.

Bacon, Francis (1561–1626): Lord Chancellor to King James I of England who attempted to reform the science of his day.

Bacon, Roger (1214–92): English Franciscan who investigated light and wrote voluminous works on the reform of natural philosophy for the Pope.

Bartolomeu Dias (d.1500): Portuguese sea captain who was the first European to sail around the Cape of Good Hope.

Bellarmine, St Robert (1542–1621): Jesuit cardinal and theologian who oversaw the trial of Giordano Bruno and the condemnation of heliocentricism.

Berenger of Tours (c.1000–88); Theologian who was accused of heresy for doubting the doctrine of transubstantiation.

St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153): Radical monk and reformer of Christianity. Successfully accused Peter Abelard of heresy.

Bernardo Gui (c.1261–1331): Dominican inquisitor in Toulouse and first biographer of Thomas Aquinas.

Bessarion, John (1403–72): Byzantine émigré who became a Catholic cardinal and noted patron of Greek studies.

Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus (AD480–525): Roman aristocrat and philosopher. Wrote textbooks and the Consolation of Philosophy. Executed for treason by King Theodoric.

Bonatti, Guido (c.1210–c.1290): Astrologer condemned to hell by Dante.

Bradwardine, Thomas (c.1290–1349): Mathematician who studied at Merton College, Oxford and later became archbishop of Canterbury.

Brahe, Tycho (1546–1601): Scandinavian astronomer who carried out observations of unprecedented accuracy from the island of Hven, Denmark.

Bricot, Thomas (d.1516): Theologian at the university of Paris whose textbooks were very popular in the early sixteenth century.

Brunelleschi, Filippo (1377–1446): Architect and artist who designed the dome of Florence’s cathedral and pioneered the use of perspective in paintings.

Bruno, Giordano (1548–1600): Neo-pagan and enthusiast for the Hermetic corpus. Burnt at the stake in Rome by the Inquisition.

Buridan, John (c.1300–c.1358): Rector and philosopher at the university of Paris who developed impetus theory and speculated on the rotation of the earth.

Calvin, John (1509–64): French religious reformer who founded the Reformed branch of Protestantism from his base in Geneva.

Campanella, Tommaso (1568–1639): Magician and occult philosopher employed by Pope Urban VIII to protect him from malign stars.

Cardan, Jerome (1501–76): Italian doctor, mathematician, astrologer and inventor.

Cecco D’Ascoli (c.1269–1327): Astrologer and teacher at the university of Bologna, twice condemned by the Inquisition and burnt at the stake in Florence.

Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1343–1400): English poet who wrote a scientific treatise on the use of the astrolabe as well as the Canterbury Tales.

Cicero, Marcus Tullius (106–43BC): Roman politician and orator whose Latin style was esteemed by humanists.

Clavius, Christopher (c.1538–1612): Jesuit astronomer who taught in Rome and supported the old cosmology of Ptolemy.

Copernicus, Nicolaus (1473–1543): Polish canon who remodelled the universe with the sun instead of the earth at its centre.

Cosimo de Medici (1389–64): Oligarch who ruled Florence and was patron of Marsilio Ficino’s translations from Greek to Latin.

Cosimo I de Medici (1590–1621): Grand Duke of Tuscany and patron of Galileo.

Cremonini, Cesare (1550–1631): Aristotelian philosopher and colleague of Galileo at the university of Padua.

Cromwell, Thomas (c.1485–1540): Adviser to King Henry VIII who masterminded the replacement of the medieval syllabus with its humanist equivalent at the English universities.

D’Ailly, Pierre (1350–1420): A graduate of the University of Paris who was made a cardinal in 1411. A noted writer of geography who helped inspire Columbus.

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321): Florentine poet whose Divine Comedy featured many of the personalities of his time assigned to places in heaven or hell.

Dee, John (1527–1609): English astrologer and magician who unsuccessfully tried to reform astrology into a mathematical discipline.

Domingo de Soto (1494–1560): Spanish Dominican friar whose textbook on Aristotle’s Physics was the first accurate statement of the law of free fall.

Duns Scotus, John (c.1265–1308): Franciscan who taught theology at Oxford and Paris and whose difficult philosophy carried forward the work of Thomas Aquinas.

Erasmus, Desiderius (c.1469–1536): Dutch humanist whose satires attacked medieval learning and who published a New Testament in its original Greek.

Euclid of Alexandria (c.325–c.265BC): Master of Greek geometry whose book, the Elements, dominated the subject for over 2,000 years.

Fallopio, Gabriele (1523–62): Anatomist and student of Vesalius who first identified the fallopian tubes.

Ficino, Marsilio (1433–99): Humanist and Greek scholar who translated the dialogues of Plato and the Hermetic corpus into Latin.

Fludd, Robert (1574–1637): Astrologer and alchemist from Kent who debated with Johann Kepler over the proper place of mathematics in science.

Frederick II (1194–1250): Holy Roman Emperor who patronised science and wrote a treatise on birds. Popularly called the ‘Wonder of the World’.

Galen of Pergamon (c.AD131–c.201): Greek doctor who served the emperors of Rome. His many books formed the foundation of medieval Arabic and Christian medicine.

Galilei, Galileo (1564–1642): Florentine mathematician and natural philosopher who made numerous important discoveries.

Geoffrey of Rots (fl.1086): The Norman lord of Otham in Kent.

Gerbert of Aurillac (Sylvester II) (c.940–1003): Scholar and administrator who became Pope. Introduced Arabic numerals to Christian Europe.

Gilbert, William (1540–1603): London doctor whose book On the Magnet is celebrated as a seminal work of experimental science.

Grassi, Horatio (1583–1654): Jesuit astronomer who quarrelled with Galileo over comets.

Grosseteste, Robert (c.1170–1253): Bishop of Lincoln who wrote on natural philosophy and optics while at Oxford.

Hamilton, John (1511–71): Archbishop of St Andrews in Scotland whose lung condition improved under the ministrations of Jerome Cardan.

Harvey, William (1578–1657): English doctor who discovered the function of the heart and the circulation of the blood.

Héloïse (d.1164): Lover of Peter Abelard and abbess of the Paraclete.

Hermes Trismegistus: Mythical Egyptian sage who was reputed to live as a contemporary of Moses. His spurious works were revered by some in the sixteenth century.

Heytesbury, William (c.1313–73): Mathematician from Merton College, Oxford who first wrote down the mean speed theorem.

Ibn al-Shatir (d.1375): Syrian astronomer whose mathematical models found their way into the work of Copernicus.

Innocent III (1160–1216): Pope who launched the Albigensian crusade against the Cathars and increased the effectiveness of canon law.

St Jerome (c.AD340–420): Translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into colloquial Latin. This Vulgate translation was the official Bible of the Middle Ages.

John XXI (Peter of Spain) (c.1215–77): Pope who wrote textbooks on logic and medicine before his enthronement. Ordered the 1277 condemnations at the university of Paris.

John XXII (1249–1334): Pope who condemned William of Ockham and fraudulent alchemists.

Jordanus de Nemore (c.1225–60): Mathematician who studied the science of statics and solved the inclined plane problem.

Kilwardby, Robert (d.1279): Archbishop of Canterbury and categoriser of the sciences.

Lanfranc (c.1005–89): Master of Anselm at the Abbey of Bec in Normandy and his predecessor as archbishop of Canterbury.

Lombard, Peter (c.1095–c.1160): Theologian who taught in Paris and produced a synthesis of the sayings of the Christian fathers called the Sentences.

Maimonides, Moses (1135–1204): Jewish theologian who lived under Islamic rule. His Guide for the Perplexed attempted to reconcile natural philosophy with the Bible.

Melanchthon, Philipp (1497–1560): Martin Luther’s intellectual protégé best known as an educational reformer.

Mondino dei Luzzi (d.c.1326): Pioneer of human dissection who worked at the university of Bologna.

de Montaigne, Michael (1533–92): French writer whose Essays combine classical scholarship with scepticism and mordant wit.

More, St Thomas (1477–1535): English humanist executed by King Henry VIII for his support of the Catholic Queen Catherine of Aragon.

Nicholas of Autrecourt (c.1300–69): Paris theologian convicted of heresy in 1347 for his ideas on atoms and the Eucharist. Forced to leave the University.

Nicholas of Cusa (1400–64): Theologian and mathematician who became a cardinal in 1449. He speculated on a limitless universe and life on other planets.

Oresme, Nicole (c.1325–82): Student of Buridan and celebrated mathematician who developed the use of graphs to model physical problems. Became bishop of Lisieux in 1377.

Otto III (980–1002): Holy Roman Emperor in the Saxon dynasty and patron of Gerbert.

Paracelsus (Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim) (1493– 1541): Renegade doctor who attempted to reform medicine along occult and alchemical lines.

Patrizi, Francisco (1529–97): Platonic philosopher who believed in the rotation of the earth and extra-terrestrial vacuums.

Peckham, John (d.1292): Franciscan and archbishop of Canterbury who wrote a popular textbook on optical theory.

Peter the Pilgrim (Pierre de Maricourt) (fl.1269): Scholar who took part in the siege of Lucera in Italy and wrote a treatise on the properties of magnets.

Peter the Venerable (1092–1156): Abbot of the great monastery of Cluny who sheltered Peter Abelard in his old age.

Petrarch, Francesco (1304–74): Italian humanist who invented the concept of the Dark Ages.

Peurbach, George (1423–61): German astronomer who worked as the Imperial Astrologer in Vienna. Master and colleague of Regiomontanus.

Philoponus, John (c.AD490–570): A Neo-Platonic Christian philosopher who worked at the school of Alexandria. Criticised the thought of Aristotle.

Plato (429–347BC): Greek philosopher whose dialogues are masterpieces of prose as well as the founding documents of western thought.

Pletho, Gemistus (c.1355–1452): Neo-pagan thinker who attended the Council of Florence and influenced Cosimo de Medici.

Pliny the Elder (AD23–79): Roman naturalist whose encyclopaedia was popular throughout the Middle Ages. Killed during the eruption of Vesuvius that buried Pompeii.

Pomponazzi, Pietro (1462–1525): Aristotelian philosopher at the university of Padua who doubted it was possible to philosophically prove the immortality of the soul.

Ptolemy of Alexandria (fl.AD140–170): Greek astronomer whose books the Almagest and the Geography were the cream of ancient Greek mathematical science.

Ragimbold of Cologne and Radolf of Liege (fl. eleventh century): Correspondents who wrote to each other on geometrical problems and the astrolabe.

Record, Robert (1510–58): London doctor who wrote books in English on mathematics, medicine and astronomy.

Regiomontanus, Johann (Johann Müller) (1437–76): German astronomer who condensed and corrected the Almagest of Ptolemy. Student of Peurbach.

Richard of Wallingford (1292–1336): Astronomer and abbot of the monastery of St Albans. He invented new astronomical instruments and built a renowned clock.

Roscelin of Compiègne (c.1050–c.1125): Teacher whose writings on the Trinity were condemned as heretical.

Sacrobosco, John (d.c.1256): Englishman who taught at the university of Paris and wrote popular basic textbooks on astronomy and arithmetic.

Scaliger, Julius Caesar (1484–1558): Humanist who criticised the work of Jerome Cardan.

Servetus, Michael (1511–53): Unitarian theologian who was burnt at the stake on the orders of John Calvin. Discovered the purpose of the pulmonary artery.

Siger of Brabant (d.c.1282): Christian follower of Averröes who was accused of denying the immortality of the soul and the creation of the world.

Stevin, Simon (1548–1620): A Dutch engineer who experimentally verified that heavy and light objects fall at the same speed.

Swineshead, Richard (fl.1340–55): Mathematician from Merton College, Oxford who was called ‘The Calculator’ due to his impressive command of the subject.

Tagliacozzi, Gaspare (1545–99): Plastic surgeon who specialised in repairing noses.

Taisnier, Jean (1508–62): French priest and plagiarist who passed off medieval natural philosophy as his own work.

Tartaglia, Niccolò (c.1499–1557): Stuttering Italian mathematician who solved cubic equations, published the works of Archimedes and quarrelled with Jerome Cardan.

Trapezuntius (George of Trebizond) (1395–1486): Greek émigré and translator who produced the first Latin editions of many of the Greek classics.

Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini) (1568–1644): The Pope who, although he was initially supportive, ordered the trial of Galileo and was a patron of Campanella.

Velcurio, Johann (d.1534): Protestant professor whose textbooks excluded medieval learning from the sciences.

Vesalius, Andreas (1514–64): Anatomist from the Netherlands whose book On the Fabric of the Human Body tried to reform the work of Galen.

St Virgil of Salzburg (c.700–784): Irish missionary who became a bishop and was involved in a controversy over the antipodes.

William of Conches (1085–c.1154): Platonic philosopher who said the Bible should be interpreted non-literally.

William of Malmesbury (d.c.1143): English chronicler who wrote about Gerbert of Aurillac.

William of Ockham (or Occam) (c.1287–1347): Oxford Franciscan accused of heresy in Avignon who fled to serve the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany.

Witelo (fl.1250–75): Polish clergyman who wrote the largest of the medieval treatises on optics and inspired Kepler’s study of light.

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