Representing and Calculating the Medieval Cosmos: An Introduction to the Byzantine Tradition

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


The purpose of the workshop is to introduce the principal Byzantine scientific approaches towards the study of the natural world and to situate them within the broader disciplinary frameworks of Byzantine intellectual history and history of medieval science. Employing a tripartite structure, the workshop will include two lecture units followed by a practical exercise. The first unit will introduce the participants to the concept of the ‘scientific’ in Byzantium, the sciences included in the educational curriculum at large, as well as their teaching, learning and practice. We shall focus on the mathematical sciences of the so-called quadrivium but also discuss epistemic fields outside of this framework, such as geography and medicine.
The second lecture unit aims to place the Byzantine evidence within the context of the wider medieval world. To this end, it will introduce the concepts of cosmology and cosmography, as well as the distinction between the two, and then discuss a range of diagrammatic representations preserved in medieval manuscripts whose purpose was to help see, imagine, understand and remember the nature and structure of the universe. While focusing on a selection of cosmological and astronomical codices (11th–15th centuries) and the static diagrams they preserve, this unit will also discuss the inclusion of devices inducing movement such as dynamic diagrams, paper instruments and volvelles. Finally, we will interrogate the hypothesis that astronomical diagrams and instruments are devices that enable and reinforce worldviews and views of the world and the importance of their study for the history of science.
The final workshop unit will be dedicated to discussion and a practical exercise of using one of the best-known astronomical instruments, the astrolabe. Attendees will receive a personal copy of a paper astrolabe to use during the exercise. Alternatively, they could use the e-version of the tool provided by the Astrolabe Simulator ( This ‘learning through doing’ component will provide the participants with a practical knowledge of using a medieval instrument to perform basic astronomical calculations. It will also demonstrate the importance of multidisciplinarity and experimentation for the study of the history of science in the medieval and early modern period. Before attending the session, please have a look at this TED talk by Tom Wujec which introduces you to the basics of the medieval astrolabe ( It is an accessible introduction to the instrument and its principles which will help us during the practical exercise at the end of this session.
Period21 Jan 2022
Held atDoctoral Programme in Pre-Modern History, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Byzantium
  • History of Science
  • History of Technology
  • Astrolabe
  • Diagram
  • medieval science