What Did Physicists Mean in Ancient Greece?

When we think of ancient Greece, we often think of philosophers like Socrates and Plato. But did you know that the ancient Greeks also made significant contributions to the field of physics?

Physicists in ancient Greece were interested in understanding the natural world and explaining how it worked. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what physicists meant in ancient Greece.

What is Physics?

Before we dive into what physicists meant in ancient Greece, let’s first define what physics is. Physics is the study of matter, energy, and their interactions. Physicists seek to understand how the universe behaves by observing and experimenting with these fundamental aspects of nature.

Physicists in Ancient Greece

Physicists in ancient Greece were known as natural philosophers or physikoi. These individuals were interested in understanding the natural world and explaining how it worked. They sought to answer questions like:

  • What is matter made of?
  • How do objects move?
  • What causes changes in motion?

They used observation, experimentation, and reasoning to try to answer these questions.

The Four Elements

One of the most famous ideas from ancient Greek physics is the theory of the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. According to this theory, all matter was composed of combinations of these elements. For example, a rock was made up of earth elements while water was made up of water elements.

This theory was put forth by philosophers like Empedocles and Aristotle. While it may seem simplistic compared to our modern understanding of matter, it was an important step towards developing a scientific understanding of the natural world.

Aristotle’s Physics

Aristotle was one of the most influential natural philosophers in ancient Greece. He wrote extensively on topics like motion and causation.

According to Aristotle, objects moved because of their natural tendency to seek their proper place in the universe. For example, rocks fell towards the center of the Earth because that was their proper place.

Aristotle’s ideas about motion and causation were influential for centuries and had a significant impact on the development of science in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Archimedes’ Principle

Archimedes was an ancient Greek physicist who lived in Syracuse, Sicily. He is known for many contributions to physics and mathematics, including his famous principle of buoyancy.

According to Archimedes’ principle, an object displaces its own weight of fluid when it is placed in a fluid. This principle explains why objects float or sink in water.

Archimedes’ contributions to physics were significant and continue to be studied and applied today.


Physicists in ancient Greece may not have had all the answers about how the natural world worked, but their curiosity and dedication to understanding it laid the foundation for modern physics. Their ideas about matter, motion, and causation still have relevance today and continue to inspire scientists around the world.