10 Most Famous Ancient Greeks and their Achievements
The ancient Greek civilization consistently ranks very well whenever a list of greatest civilizations in world history is made. This is primarily as a result of the sheer impact they had on empires and cultures across the world. Those achievements chalked by the ancient Greek civilization were driven by some very renowned scholars, poets, scientists, philosophers and military generals.
In the article below, World History Edu present, in an ascending order of importance, the 10 most famous ancient Greeks and their achievements.
Known as Euclid of Alexandria, Euclid (born in mid-4th century BC) was a famous ancient Greek mathematician whose enormous contributions to geometry helped earn him the title “Founder of Geometry”. He is believed to have lived during the reign of Ptolemy I of Soter, the first Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt.
His critical discussions and theories in his very famous book titled Elements propelled him to legendary status for more than two millennia. Thus up until the early 20th century, Euclid’s Elements was regarded as the most famous textbook used in teaching geometry. Those theorems that he obtained through deductive reasoning are known as Euclidean geometry. Other famous surviving works of Euclid include Data, Catoptrics, and Optics.
Did you know: Europe’s esteemed European Space Agency (ESA) named its near-infrared space telescope the Euclid Spacecraft in honor of the brilliance of Euclid?
A member of the famous Seven Wise Men of Greece, Solon (c. 630 BCE – c. 560 BCE) was perhaps the most influential statesman of ancient Greece. Doubling as a poet and lawmaker, Solon is best remembered for his immense contribution in setting up democracy in ancient Athens.
Solon and his associates fought against an aristocratic system that had for decades not only curtailed the growth and economic fortunes of Athens but also impoverished the masses by sidelining them from the governance of the city. To the disgust of Solon, the majority of Athenian society was for generations denied any form of property rights. He is credited with developing a system of categorizing Athenian citizens into four groups on the basis of the land and assets owned. By so doing, groups like the plebeians gained some amount of political rights.
As a statesman, Solon pushed against the barbaric practice of using human beings as collateral for loans. Perhaps Solon’s greatest achievement came in the form of the tireless work he put into turning the tides against nepotism and ending the infamous Draconian laws (named after Athenian dictator statesman Draco) in Athenian society.
Ancient Greek inventor, mathematician and innovator Archimedes (c. 287 BCE – c. 212 BCE) famously came out with numerous theories in mathematics. He is famous for bellowing the word ‘Eureka’ after coming out with a groundbreaking mathematical principle while in his bathtub.
Other works of this Syracuse, Sicily-born scientist covered areas in levers, hydrostatics and the Archimedes Claw. His achievements in mathematics and other scientific disciplines continue to be praised for their originality and sheer impact.
Famed ancient Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates (c. 460 BCE – c. 370 BCE) is generally referred to as the “father of medicine” and most known for coming out with the Hippocratic Oath, a seminal document on the ethics that a medical worker ought to follow when carrying out his/her duties. Even to this day, it is not uncommon for medical students and graduates to take a modified version of this oath and other derivatives.
Hippocrates proved to his fellow Greeks that diseases and illnesses were not the result of witchcraft or sorcery or hubris against the gods. He encouraged the use of therapeutic methods to treat people plagued by diseases.
Around 400 BCE, the acclaimed physician is sometimes credited with penning down some bits of the medical works contained in the Hippocratic Corpus, a pamphlet that espoused the use of objective process to diagnose and treat ailment of the human body.
It comes as no surprise that Homer, the famed ancient Greek author and epicist, appears on the list of the greatest individuals of ancient Greece. Homer’s works, particularly the Iliad and the Odyssey, are considered by many as the two greatest epic poems to come from ancient Greece. Since they were released around the 8th or 9th century BCE, those two poems have had unparalleled influence on not just Western literature but the entirety of human literature as we know.
Those two Homeric poems tell of the heroics and exploits of mythical Greek heroes during the Trojan War. They narrate the stories of the Greek demigod Achilles and the Greek warrior Odysseus, the king of Ithaca as they wrestle with both human forces and the gods.
Coming in fifth on this list of most famous ancient Greeks is the mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras. A gifted thinker and innovator, Pythagoras of Samos (c. 570 BCE – c. 490 BCE) is believed to have profusely studied the works of ancient scholars and mathematicians of ancient Mesopotamia before coming out with or adapting some groundbreaking principles in geometry. He is most remembered for either developing or improving the Pythagoras Theorem, which states that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the two adjacent sides.
Debatable as it may over who invented the Pythagoras Theorem, with some claiming that it originated from the ancient Babylonians or the Egyptians, Pythagoras was undoubtedly one of the most outstanding mathematicians of the ancient times.
This mathematician and thinker noted that the secret to understanding the will of the divine lay firmly in blending mathematics and philosophy. His ideas, known as Pythagoreanism, were thought in the school that he founded. At its core, the Platonic thought relies on some of the theories and thinking style of Pythagoras.
A student of the great philosopher Socrates, Plato (c. 428-c. 348 BCE) wrote extensively in numerous disciplines to the extent that his name to some extent rivaled that of his teacher’s. This Greek philosopher is credited with putting down in writing the ideas and philosophies of Socrates, who by the way was said to be an illiterate.
Inspired by the teachings of Socrates, Plato renounced the possessions and comforts of his relatively well-to-do family in Athens and committed himself to a life of critical reasoning. He reasoned that only through the constant questioning of ideas and self-introspection could one attain complete fulfilment in life (i.e. Eudaimonia).
Plato is credited with writing over three dozen works, many of them written in the form of dialogues. The most famous of those works are The Symposium, The Apology, The Meno, and the Republic. He adapted and advanced many of the philosophical teachings of Socrates, including those on reasoning, metaphysics, politics and governance. His allegorical cave story to this remains a huge component in philosophy classes around the world.
His greatest achievement came in his famed school known as the Academy. The school could boast of renowned philosophers, physicians, zoologists and a host of other scholars. For centuries, Plato, along with his tutor Socrates and his student Aristotle, has been considered one of the three key founders of Western philosophy.
Alexander the Great
Son of King Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great (c. 356 BCE – 323 BCE) was the greatest conqueror the world has ever known as he was responsible for stretching his empire from western Mediterranean all the way to some part of present-day India. A truly phenomenal military commander, Alexander the Great inherited the throne in his early 20s and needed less than a decade to accomplish those feats.
Around 334 BCE, Alexander bravely marched his army of about half a million soldiers into Persia and obliterated the fierce Persian forces. Such was the might and fame of his army that by the time he reached Egypt, the inhabitants there literally lined up the streets to welcome the great conqueror. The young king did not even have to lift his sword to conquer Egypt.
Had it not been for his untimely death in 323 BCE, he would most likely have conquered the entirety of the Indian sub-continent. The mighty conqueror and king of Macedonia is believed to have succumbed to what was most likely a heat stroke on the desert.
It has been stated that Alexander was not just a brilliant military commander, he was also knowledgeable in host of disciplines, including zoology, medicine, philosophy, ethics, and politics. Much of that was due to the tutelage he received from the famed Greek philosopher Aristotle.
At a young age, he famously became the only person in his father’s kingdom to successfully tame a very wild horse called Bucephalus.
The famous Greek polymath Aristotle (384 BCE -322 BCE) once described an uneducated person as one who lived in the perpetual confines of the land of the dead. Born to parents who were renowned scholars in their own right, Aristotle started his education right from an early age, learning disciplines such as philosophy, medicine, politics and ethics. Owing to his father’s close relationship with the ruler of Macedonia, Aristotle was recruited by Philip II of Macedon to tutor his son Alexander (later Alexander the Great). Historians believe that much of what Alexander the Great became in future had to do with the sound tutelage and guidance he received from Aristotle.
Wanting to apply himself further in scholarly work, Aristotle moved to the city-state of Athens and enrolled at Plato’s famed school for thinkers. He would spend a great number of years at the Plato’s Academy, learning from the great philosophers and mathematicians.
After a disagreement over who was to succeed Plato, Aristotle was again on the move. This time around he went ahead to found his own school, the Lyceum, which was based on similar structures and curricular as the one he had learned at Plato’s Academy. At the Lyceum, he was known for using the approach called “teaching by walking”, where he walked about while teaching and interacting with his students. It came as no surprise that his followers and students were called “the Wanderers” or “the Peripatetics”.
Owing to his enormous works in poetics, rhetoric and metaphysics, Aristotle remains to this day one of the greatest philosophers of all time.
Did you know: The French word for an upper-level secondary school, lycée, was derived from the name of Aristotle’s school, the Lyceum?
Born around 469 BCE, Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher most remembered for introducing a particular way of thinking to the ancient Greeks. His ideas were considered heretic for its time as it destabilized centuries’ old status quo.
Even though Socrates (469-399 BCE) did not or perhaps could not write down any of his philosophies, those philosophies of his in so many ways formed the very pillars that hold the entirety of Western philosophy and modern scientific approach. Much of what we know about Socrates, who was the son of stonecutter (i.e. a sculptor), comes from the writings of his students and followers, particularly from the writings of Plato and Xenophon, an Athenian-born philosopher and historian.
Constantly ridiculed and faced with the threat of imprisonment, Socrates remained absolutely brave and eloquent in his critique of ancient Greece’s traditional ways of living, thinking and believing in the supernatural. His ideas challenged the centuries-held beliefs that ancient Greeks had about the world and life in general. For these and many more others, he was charged by Athenian rulers for blasphemy and the invention of new gods.
According to Plato, his tutor Socrates was a truly gifted philosopher who could use smart rhetorical devices to disarm even the strongest of arguments. It has been long maintained that there is no bigger name than Socrates in Western philosophy as he revolutionized the way ancient Athenians and successive civilizations perceived the environment. It is for this reason why he ranks up there with colossal Asian philosophers like Confucius.
Tried by the city’s authorities for corrupting the youth and attacking the Greek gods, Socrates was sentenced to death in 399 BCE. Considering the fact that his era was known as the Golden Age of the Greeks, his death was perhaps the single most tragic loss to the society by then.
Prior to committing himself to a life of logical reasoning and the pursuit of truth, Socrates served briefly as a soldier in the city’s army. He also worked as a stonecutter perhaps in his father’s stone cutting workshop. A lover of philosophy, Socrates most likely could not write or read. This explains why he wrote no books.
A very humble man who always cared to know what others were thinking about the things around them, Socrates believed that real knowledge can be found when one comes to terms with the notion that one knows nothing. He believed that this humbling acknowledgement would then spur the individual to seek out knowledge using the Socratic Method, an objective and systematic questioning technique. This was perhaps his most significant achievement.
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