In the part of the European periphery constituted by the post-Byzantine Greek world, the history of modern scientific instruments begins at the end of the 18th century. Since then, Greek scholars had almost no contact with experiment and observation. The only known scientific instruments of the Ottoman period were a few astrolabes, as those made by Chrysanthos Notaras at the end of the 17th century, based on a technology almost unchanged since the 13th century.
At the end of the 18th century, scientific instruments were considered as a vehicle of the new experimental philosophy which begun to be widely taught in the Greek colleges of the Ottoman Empire and of the Greek Diaspora. At that epoch and due to the generosity of sponsors (mainly Greek merchants), these colleges began to be furnished in instruments for the teaching of experimental physics and of chemistry. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Greek colleges of Jannina, Bucharest, Jassy, Smyrne, Chio, Milies, Kydonies, Constantinople and Odessa had organized laboratories where experimental physics were taught. A few of these instruments have survived until today, to testimony a real cultural revolution.
At the foundation of the Greek state, educational institutions were created which followed the image of those of west Europe: primary and secondary schools, a military school, a university, a technical school. Later an observatory will also be created. Education and science became then a State affair and the acquisition of scientific instruments too.
At the middle of the 19th century, laboratories of experimental physics and of chemistry begun to be organized in the University of Athens. At that period, was also introduced a lesson of experimental physics in the secondary education and instruments were ordered from abroad to be sent to the secondary schools. The first Greek secondary schools as those of Nauplion, Plaka, Syros, have conserved till today some of these first educational scientific instruments.
Due to the generosity of sponsors but also of the State, by the end of the 19th century Greece had imported an important number of scientific instruments. The Observatory of Athens founded and furnished by Baron George Sinas acquired a quiet important scientific apparatus, which for the most part has been preserved till today. The laboratories of physics and chemistry of the University of Athens had also well organized laboratories; most of the instruments of these laboratories have also been preserved. As for the secondary schools, at the beginning of the 20th century they were well furnished for the teaching of experimental physics; in that case, only a few of these instruments have been preserved, but at the scale of the country their total number is quite important.
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, we have also other sources of scientific instruments in Greece. The reorganization of the Polytechnic school towards a German-style technical university created new needs for instruments and the emergence of a national industry and mining leaded to the creation of new laboratories.
The origin of the instruments of the collections mentioned above varies. At those times, very few were constructed in Greece; until the end of the 19th century most of them were imported from France, and later mainly from Germany and Switzerland.
Till recently, only instruments dated before the Greek national revolution (1821-1828) were considered by the State as national heritage, and so were carefully preserved and exposed in Museums (e.g. this of Milies). Gradually, the interest have expanded to the first instruments of the Observatory of Athens and of the Athens’ university, but the main corpus of the instruments of the 19th and of the beginning of the 20th century has been neglected. Only some personal initiatives have contributed to the preservation of a number of these instruments.
To contribute to the preservation and show off the scientific instruments located in Greece, the History of Science Programme of the National Hellenic Research Foundation (and from 2007 related also to the National Observatory of Athens) has created the Hellenic Archives of Scientific Instruments. These archives concern the scientific instruments of the Greek collections of the post-Byzantine period, until the 1970ies.
For each instrument, we are making up a "card" comporting the following information:
Date of construction
Origin and localisation, code of origin
Please note that we are also trying to constitute "cards" for the instruments which have not been preserved, and for which we have some information and eventually pictures.
The main information of the Archives is now on this website (in English and Greek and some information in French).
The project has already organized three exhibitions of scientific instruments of the Greek collections of the 19th - beginnings of 20th century. The first took place at the National Hellenic Research Foundation in June 1997 (150 instruments from various collections have been presented, and an illustrated catalog has been edited; this event was the first of this kind to be organized in Greece). The second took place at the same venue (2005, a catalog has been edited) and the third at the main hall of the buliding of the General Secretariat of Research and Technology (2005). All three events were organised with the collaboration of the National Observatory of Athens.