Thales of Miletus

Thales of Miletus

Ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician from Miletus (Asia Minor).
Country: Greece

  1. Biography of Thales of Miletus
  2. Early Life and Education
  3. Political and Diplomatic Endeavors
  4. Death and Legacy
  5. Scientific Contributions

Biography of Thales of Miletus

Thales of Miletus was an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician from Miletus, Asia Minor. He was a representative of the Ionian natural philosophy and the founder of the Miletian (Ionian) school, which marks the beginning of European science. Traditionally, he is considered the founder of Greek philosophy and science, as he always topped the list of the "Seven Sages" who laid the foundations of Greek culture and civilization. Thales' name became synonymous with wisdom in the 5th century BCE. He was referred to as the "Father of Philosophy" and its "originator" since ancient times.

Early Life and Education

Thales was born into a noble family and received a good education in his hometown. However, his Miletian origin is disputed, as some sources suggest that his family had Phoenician roots and he was an immigrant in Miletus. This is indicated by Herodotus, the oldest source of information about Thales' life and work. It is reported that Thales was a merchant and traveled extensively. He spent some time in Egypt, in the cities of Thebes and Memphis, where he studied under the priests, investigated the causes of floods, and demonstrated a method for measuring the height of pyramids. It is believed that he brought geometry from Egypt and introduced it to the Greeks. His activities attracted followers and students, who formed the Miletian (Ionian) school, with Anaximander and Anaximenes being the most famous among them.

Political and Diplomatic Endeavors

Legend portrays Thales not only as a philosopher and scientist but also as a "shrewd diplomat and wise politician." Thales attempted to unite the cities of Ionia into a defensive alliance against the Achaemenid Empire. It is reported that Thales was a close friend of the tyrant of Miletus, Thrasybulus. He was also affiliated with the Temple of Apollo at Didyma, the patron of maritime colonization. Some sources claim that Thales lived in solitude and avoided involvement in state affairs, while others assert that he was married and had a son named Cybistus. There are conflicting accounts of his personal life.

Death and Legacy

There are several versions regarding the timeline of Thales' life. The most consistent tradition states that he was born between the 35th and 39th Olympiads and died in the 58th Olympiad, at the age of 78 or 76, around 624 to 548 BCE. Some sources suggest that Thales was already known in the 7th Olympiad (752-749 BCE). Overall, Thales' lifespan is estimated to be between 76 and 95 years. It is reported that Thales died while observing gymnastic competitions, possibly due to heat or a stampede. One precise date associated with his life is 585 BCE when a solar eclipse occurred in Miletus, which he predicted. According to modern calculations, the eclipse occurred on May 28, 585 BCE, during the war between Lydia and Media. Information about Thales' life is scarce, contradictory, and often anecdotal in nature.

Scientific Contributions

The prediction of the solar eclipse in 585 BCE is perhaps the only undisputed fact about Thales' scientific activities, which brought him recognition and fame. As a military engineer in the service of the Lydian king Croesus, Thales diverted the flow of the River Halys to facilitate the passage of troops. Near the city of Miletus, he designed a dam and a drainage canal and personally oversaw their construction. This structure significantly reduced the water level in the river and facilitated the crossing of troops. Thales also demonstrated his business acumen by monopolizing the trade of olive oil. However, this fact in his biography is episodic and likely has a didactic purpose.

Thales advocated for the unity of the Ionian city-states (similar to a confederation centered on Chios Island) to counter the threat from Lydia and later the Achaemenid Empire. It seems that Thales considered the Persian threat to be a greater evil than Lydia, as the mentioned incident with the construction of the dam occurred during the war between Croesus (the king of Lydia) and the Persians. At the same time, Thales opposed the alliance of Miletus with Croesus, which saved the city after the victory of Cyrus (the king of Persia).