Science is often thought of as a modern endeavor: something which did not really take off until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with modern research methods and equipment. However, there were many much earlier scientists, dating back to the days of ancient Greece and Rome. Many of them make important discoveries which are still relevant to us today. Many of them are often thought to have been discovered much later than they were.

It is a common misconception that most people believed the earth to be flat well into the Middle Ages, and that it was only exploration on the open seas which proved otherwise. In fact, the ancient Greeks knew that the world was round. By observing the planets, and the nature of the horizon, they realized that it could not be flat.

The Greeks made other vital astronomical discoveries, which are still used by today’s scientists. They were the first to realize that the earth orbited the sun, and not the other way around. They also estimated the size of the earth. Thales worked out the existence of the solstice, and the equinox, and understood their cause. He also understood what an eclipse was, and how to predict the coming of one.

Most people believe that the steam engine was an invention of early industrial England. In fact, the Greek scientist Heron worked out how to make a simple steam engine all the way back in the 1st century AD. However, it was not until 1698 when the first working steam engine was built, by Thomas Savery. Other technological advances included the Romans’ ability to build aqueducts and sewers, things that were not built again in Europe for many centuries.

Both the Greeks and Romans made significant progress in the field of medicine, both in preventing and treating disease. The Romans realized the connection between contaminated water, untreated sewage and disease: knowledge that was forgotten and not rediscovered until the seventeenth century. The Greeks made inroads into understanding of the body and its ailments, including knowing the difference between chronic and acute illnesses, and the nature of epidemic. Hippocrates, often seen as the father of modern medicine, worked out that diseases had causes, and did not simply arrive by random chance. He also knew how to carry out chest surgery, and his findings still influence modern medicine.

The Greeks were also the world’s first mathematicians. Some of their theories, such as Pythagoras’ theorem, are still well known today, and taught to every school child. Others are less well-known. For example, they used mathematics to establish basic principles of how music works. They worked out how octaves work: something that is at the core of music theory until this day.

The Greeks and Romans, along with counterparts in the Middle East and India, knew much more than many people believe. They made discoveries which formed the basis of much of our current knowledge, and will likely continue to do so as long as science exists.

Author Bio: Rachel is a freelance blogger with a background working on science parks and an interest in making science more accessible.