The Official String Theory Web Site:--> History --> Timeline (before 1800 / 1800-1899 / 1900 until today)

A timeline of mathematics and theoretical physics

-1500 Babylonians establish the metric of flat 2-dimensional space by observation, in their efforts to keep track of land for legal and economic purposes.
-518 Pythagoras, a Greek educated by mystics in Egypt and Babylon, founds community of men and women calling themselves mathematikoi, in southern Italy. They believe that reality is in essence mathematical. Pythagoras noted that vibrating lyre strings with harmonious notes have lengths that are proportional by a whole number. The Pythagorean theorem proves by reasoning what the Babylonians figured out by measurement 1000 years earlier.
-387 Plato, after traveling to Italy and learning about the Pythagoreans, founds his Academy in Athens, and continues to develop the idea that reality must be expressible in mathematical terms. But Athens at that time has developed a notoriously misogynist culture. Unlike his role model Pythagoras, whose school developed many women mathematikoi, Plato does not allow women to participate.
-300 Euclid of Alexandria, a gifted teacher, produces Elements, one of the top mathematics textbooks of recorded history, which organizes the existing Mediterranean understanding of geometry into a coherent logical framework.
-225 Ionian mathematician Apollonius writes Conics, and introduces the terms ellipse, parabola and hyperbola to describe conic sections.
-140 Nicaean mathematician and astronomer Hipparchus develops what will be known as trigonometry.
150 The Almagest by Alexandrian astronomer and mathematician Claudius Ptolemy asserts that the Sun and planets orbit around the Earth in perfect circles. Ptolemy's work is so influential that will become official church doctrine when the Christians later come to rule Europe.
415 As a glorious 2000 years of ancient Mediterranean mathematics and science comes to a close, Hypatia of Alexandria, a renowned teacher, mathematician, astronomer, and priestess of Isis, is kidnapped from a public religious procession and brutally murdered by a mob of angry Christian monks.
628 Hindu mathematician-astronomer Brahmagupta writes Brahma- sphuta- siddhanta (The Opening of the Universe). Hindu mathematicians develop numerals and start investigating number theory.
830 The spread of Islam leads to the spread of written Arabic language. As ancient Greek and Hindu works are translated into Arabic, a culture of mathematics and astronomy develops. The peak of this cultural flowering is represented by Arabic mathematician Al-Khworizmi, working at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, who develops what will be known as algebra in his work Hisab al-jabr w'al-muqabala.
1070 Iranian poet, mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyam begins his Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra, classifying cubic equations that could be solved by conic sections. Khayyam was such a brilliant poet that history has nearly forgotten that he was also a brilliant scientist and mathematician. The moving finger writes...
1120 Adelard of Bath translates works of Euclid and Al-Khworizmi into Latin and introduces them to European scholars.
1482 Euclid's Elements is published using the revolutionary new technology of the printing press, leading to a revolution in education and scholarship as information becomes more difficult for authorities to control.
1543 Copernicus publishes De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres) asserting that the Earth and planets revolve about the Sun. The Catholic Church has accorded an official holy status to Ptolemy's geocentric Universe. Copernicus avoids prosecution as a heretic by waiting until the end of his own life to publish his controversial claims.
1589 Pisa University mathematics instructor Galileo Galilei studies the motion of objects and begins a book De Motu (On Motion) which he never finishes.
1602 Galileo observes that the period of a swinging pendulum is independent of the amplitude of the swing.
1609 Johannes Kepler claims in the journal Astronomia Nova that the orbit of Mars is an ellipse with the Sun at one focus, and sweeps out equal areas in equal time. He will later generalize these into his famous Three Laws of Planetary Motion.
1609 Galileo makes his first telescope. His observations of the moon show that it looks like a very large lumpy rock, not a divinely smooth and perfect shining Platonic heavenly orb. This discovery has enormously distressing cultural reverberations for Western culture and religion.
1614 Scottish theologian John Napier, who does mathematics as a hobby, publishes his discovery of the logarithm in his work Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio.
1615 Kepler's mother, Frau Katharina Kepler, is accused of witchcraft by a local prostitute. European witch hunting was at its peak during Kepler's career, and witch hunting was supported by all levels of society, including secular officials and intellectuals in universities. Kepler spends the next several years making legal appeals and hiding his mother from legal authorities seeking to torture her into confessing to witchcraft. Examining an accused witch ad torturam was a standard court procedure during this era.
1620 Under court order, Kepler's mother is kidnapped in the middle of the night from her daughter's home and taken to prison. Kepler spends the next year appealing to the duke of Württemberg to prevent his imprisoned mother from being examined ad torturam.
1621 On September 28, Katharina Kepler is taken from her prison cell into the torture room, shown the instruments of torture and ordered to confess. She replies "Do with me what you want. Even if you were to pull one vein after another out of my body, I would have nothing to admit," and says the Lord's Prayer. She is taken back to prison. She is freed on October 4 upon order of the duke, who rules that her refusal to confess under threat of torture proves her innocence. He also orders her accusers to pay the cost of her trial and imprisonment.
1622 After having spent most of the last seven years under the legal threat of imminent torture, Katharina Kepler dies on April 13, still being threatened with violence from those who insist she is a witch.
1624 Pope Urban VIII promises Galileo that he is allowed write about Copernican heliocentrism if he treats it as an abstract proposition.
1628 Kepler uses Napier's logarithms to compute a set of astronomical tables, the Rudolphine Tables, whose accuracy is so impressive that it leads to the quiet acceptance of the heliocentric solar system by everyone in the shipping industry.
1629 Basque mathematician Pierre de Fermat, the founder of modern number theory, begins his brilliant career by reconstructing the work of Apollonius on conic sections . Fermat and Descartes pioneer the application of algebraic methods to solving problems in geometry.
1632 Galileo publishes Dialogue concerning the two greatest world systems, which argues convincingly for the Copernican view that the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun.
1633 The Inquisition calls Galieo to Rome to answer charges of heresy against the Catholic Church.
1637 Descartes publishes his revolutionary Discours de la méthode (Discourse on Method) containing three essays on the use of reason to search for the truth. In the third essay Descartes describes analytic geometry, and uses the letters (x,y,z) for the coordinate system that will later bear his name.
1642 Galileo dies at his villa in Florence, still under house arrest from charges of heresy.
1663 Cambridge mathematician Isaac Barrow delivers lectures on modern methods of computing tangents that inspire his student Isaac Newton towards developing calculus
1665 Newton's "miraculous years" in math and physics, when he discovers the derivative, which he sees as a ratio of velocities called fluxions, and the integral, which he sees as a fluent of the fluxions. Newton shows that the fluent and fluxion are inversely related, a result now called the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. Newton also develops his ideas on optics and gravitation. He tries to publish his work in 1671, but the publisher goes bankrupt.
1683 Jacob Bernoulli, who studied mathematics and astronomy against the wishes of his career-minded parents, teaches Newtonian mechanics at the University of Basel, and turns mathematical physics into a family business.
1684 Leibniz publishes the beginning of his work on differential and integral calculus. He discovers the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus in his own way. Leibniz originates most of the current calculus notation including the integral sign. He portrays an integral as a sum of infinitesimals, a concept rejected by Newton.
1687 Newton publishes Principia Mechanica after Edmund Halley convinces Newton to write up his alleged proof that an inverse square force law leads to elliptical orbits. Newton's Laws of Motion and Law of Gravitation lead to the development of theoretical physics itself. This event marks a permanent change in the relationship between human beings and the Universe.
1693 Newton has a nervous breakdown after his close companion Fatio De Duillier becomes ill and has to return to Switzerland.

Brachistochrone problem solved by Jacob and Johann Bernoulli, an early result in the calculus of variations.

1712 Thanks to a campaign waged by Newton, a commission appointed by Royal Society of London President Isaac Newton rules that Leibniz is guilty of plagiarism against Newton in the discovery of calculus. English mathematics and theoretical physics go into decline because those loyal to Newton are hesitant to adopt Leibniz' infinitesimal and his clean, intuitively appealing notation.
1736 Leonhard Euler begins the field of topology when he publishes his solution of the Konigsberg Bridge problem.
1738 Hydrodynamics by Daniel Bernoulli
1748 The multitalented Euler begins the fields of mathematical analysis and analytical mechanics with Introductio in analysin infinitorum. Euler introduces the formula eix = cos x + i sin x
1758 Joseph-Louis Lagrange finds the complete general solution to the Newtonian equations of motion for a vibrating string, which explains the harmonic relations observed by Pythagoras 22 centuries ago.
1770 Hyperbolic trigonometry -- cosh, sinh -- is developed.
1772 Henry Cavendish, a wealthy but paranoid recluse, discovers that the electrostatic force is described by an inverse square law similar to gravity, but doesn't tell anyone in the science community.
1788 Lagrange further develops the analytical mechanics of Euler when he publishes Mécanique Analytique, revealing Newtonian mechanics to be a rich field of exploration for mathematicians.
1789 Aristocrat Charles-Augustin de Coulomb, hiding from the French Revolution after the storming of the Bastille, shows that the electrostatic force between electric charges was very well described by an inverse square law, in full analogy with Newtonian gravity. This becomes known as Coulomb's Law, even though Henry Cavendish was the first one to demonstrate it.
1793 Lagrange is arrested during the Reign of Terror, but is rescued by Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, the founder of modern chemistry. Unfortunately, Lavoisier's career in chemistry is ended when he is taken to meet Madame Guillotine on May 8, 1794.
1799 Pierre-Simon Laplace publishes his work Traité du Mécanique Céleste (Treatise on Celestial Mechanics) using differential equations to solve problems in planetary motion and fluid flow.
next >>>

<< Previous

Next >>


Visit the extensive History of Mathematics site at the University of St. Andrews

Black Holes

Read the originals from

by Claudius Ptolemy

On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres
by Nicolaus Copernicus

Epitome of Copernican Astronomy & Harmonies of
the World

by Johannes Kepler

Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican
by Galileo Galilei

Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo: Including the
Starry Messenger

by Galileo Galilei

The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam

Visit the Galileo Project Homepage

Other books from

Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science,
Faith, and Love

by Dava Sobel

The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History
of Space from Dante to the Internet

by Margaret Wertheim

A World Without Women: The Christian Clerical
Culture of Western Science

by David F. Noble

For serious or the curious: The Mathematics of Fermat's Last Theorem

Read the originals from

A Discourse on Method
by Rene Descartes

The Principia
by Sir Isaac Newton

Opticks: Or a Treatise of the Reflections
Inflections and Colours of Light

by Sir Isaac Newton

Philosophical Texts
by Gottfried Wilheml Leibniz

Other books from

Euler: The Master of Us All
by William Dunham

Who Is Fourier?: A Mathematical Adventure
by Transnational College of LEX

Pierre-Simon Laplace, 1749-1827
by Charles Coulston Gillispie

The Death of Lavoisier

Timeline: –1500 to 1799 // 1800 to 1899 // 1900 to now // A brief history of string theory

home/ basics/ math/ experiment/ cosmology/ black holes/ people/ history/ theatre/ links/ blog/