I got an email from my Grandmother this morning that included a scanned section of an old book on Byzantine Architecture. She’s been doing some scanning for my Mom, who is an art professor and teaches art history. The scanned section was describing the Basilica of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and how it was built by two mathematicians who did work in the line of Archimedes & Apollonius.
Hagia Sophia (Ἁγία Σοφία) is Greek for “Holy Wisdom”, and it was built between 532 and 537 CE. The chief builder was a Geometer named Anthemius of Tralles, who was an expert in Conic sections, he even wrote a book on them. These played a part in the interior of the building.^{1}
There was another Greek mathematician named Eutocius whose work consisted, in part, of commentaries on Archimedes and Apollonius. Because of Eutocius, we have Archimedes solution to the cubic through intersecting conics — which would have been lost otherwise to history, as we don’t have any other copies.
Eutocius dedicated his commentaries to Anthemius. Anthemius’ successor in the building of the Hagia Sophia was Isidore of Miletus.
It was this trio of Byzantine-era mathematicians, whose work converged in the building of the Hagia Sophia, that we (likely) owe the Greek versions of some the classic works of ancient mathematicians. These include: Book XV of Euclid’s Elements; most of Archimedes; and Apollonius’ Conics (the first 4 books of it).
Now go lift something heavy,
Nick Horton
- check out A History of Mathematics, by Carl B. Boyer. Includes a nice forward by Issac Asimov. ↩