Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician, Astronomer, Philosopher

Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician, Astronomer, Philosopher

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions.” —Socrates Scholasticus


Hypatia is considered to be one of the last great thinkers of ancient Alexandria and one of the first women to study and teach mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. The daughter of the mathematician and philosopher Theon of Alexandria, she was raised in a city that had been a hub for learning for many centuries, founded by Alexander the Great. While her exact date of birth is unknown, records suggest sometime between 350 and 370 AD.

She lectured on mathematics and philosophy at the Platonist school at Alexandria. Specifically, Hypatia taught the philosophy of Neoplatonism, which encouraged logic and mathematical study. She eventually became the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria around 400 AD, primarily teaching philosophy, specifically the works of Plato and Aristotle.

Her contributions to astronomy and science include the charting of celestial bodies and, according to some sources, the invention of the hydrometer which was used to determine the relative density and gravity of liquids.

In 415 AD, Hypatia was attacked by a mob, and beaten to death with what are thought to be roofing tiles. Following her death, her students fled to Athens, where the study of mathematics flourished. The school she headed in Alexandria continued until Arabs armies under the leadership of Amr ibn al-As invaded and conquered Egypt around 642 AD.


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