Anatolius of Alexandria

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Anatolius of Alexandria

(b. Alexandria; d Laodicea; fl. ca. a.d. 269

mathematics, philosophy.

The historian Eusebius, whose Ecclesiastical History provides what we know of Anatolius’ life, says, “For his learning, secular education and philosophy [he] had attained the first place among our most illustrious contemporaries.” Learned in arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and other sciences both intellectual and natural, Anatolius was also outstanding in rhetoric. The Alexandrians deemed him worthy of heading the Aristotelian school in that city.

Bishop Theotecnus of Caesarea consecrated Anatollus as his successor, and he held office for a while in Caesarea. About a.d. 280, however, as he passed through Laodicea on his way to Antioch, he was retained by the inhabitants as their bishop, the previous bishop, also called Eusebius, having died. He remained bishop of Laodicea until his death some years later.

Anatolius’ Christian and humanitarian character was much admired. During a siege of the Greek quarter of Alexandria by the Roman army, he attempted to make peace between the factions. He failed, but he succeeded in winning safe conduct from the besieged quarter for all noncombatants.

Anatolius put his knowledge of astronomy at the service of his religion in a treatise on the date of Easter Eusebius gives the title of the work as The Canons of Anatolius on the Pascha and quotes several paragraphs that display Anatolius’ grasp of astronomy in the discussion of the position of the sun and moon in the zodiac at the time of Easter. According to Eusebius, Anatolius did not write many books; but those that he did write were distinguished for eloquence and erudition, which is evident through his quotation of Philo, Josephus, and two of the seventy who translated the Old Testament into Greek during the third and second centuries b.c.

The only other work of Anatolius known to us by name is his Introduction to Arithmetic. In ten books, it seems to have been excerpted by the author of the curious writing entitled Theologoumena arithmetica. A Neoplatonic treatise, uncertainly attributed to lamblichus, it is a discussion of each of the first ten natural numbers. It mixes accounts of truly arithmetical properties with mystical fancies. Many parts of the discussion are headed “of Anatolius,” The character of its arithmetical lore may be illustrated by the following quotation from a part attributed to Anatolius “[Four] is called ’justice’ since its square is equal to the perimeter [i.e., 4 x 4 = 16 = 4 + 4 + 4 + 4]; of the numbers less than four the perimeter of the square is greater than the area, while of the greater the perimeter is less than the area.”

In contrast with the flights of fancy preserved in Theologoumena arithmetica, some paragraphs of a writing of Anatolius are found in manuscripts of Hero of Alexander in which Anatolius deals soberly and sensibly, and in Aristotelian terms, with questions about mathematics, its name, is philosophical importance, and some of its methods. The structure of Theologoumena arithmetica and its selection of material from Anatolius suggest that Anatolius’ Introduction to Arithmetic may have dealt with each of the first ten natural numbers. The Pythagoreanism or Neoplatonism manifested here was in the spirit of the times. Despite the number mysticism, however, Anatolius’ competence in mathematics is clear and justifies the esteem in which Eusebius says he was held in Alexandria.


No individual works of Anatolius’ are known to exist today. Some paragraphs of a work by him are found in Heronis Alexandrini geometricorum et stereometricorum reliquiae, F. Hultsch, ed. (Berlin, 1864), pp. 276–280. A seeming use of excerpts from Anatolius’ Introduction to Arithmetic is Theologoumena arithmetica, V. De Falco, ed. (Leipzig, 1922). Two sources of information on the life of Anatolius are Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, H. J. Lawlor, trans., II (Cambridge–London, 1942), 228–238; and Pauly–Wissowa, eds., Real–Enzyklopädie der Klassischen Alterturnswissenschaft, XII (Stuttgart, 1894–), col. 2073 f.

John S. Kieffer