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Hypatia (c. 370-415) was a philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician, revered for her beauty and intellect, born in Alexandria, Egypt – then part of the Roman Empire – in the 4th century AD. Among the things she is remembered for today, Hypatia designed and taught about astrolabes, as evidenced by surviving letters written by her pupil, Synesius. Astrolabes were early scientific devices used for making astronomical measurements, including calculating time and the position of the planets. Murdered by a Christian mob, an act viewed by many as the beginning of Alexandria’s decline, Hypatia’s story inspired generations of humanists and freethinkers centuries after her death – serving to highlight the potential for brutality in early Christian rule (famously noted too by historian Edward Gibbon), as well as the remarkable learning of the ancient world. Such was her influence that both Richard Carlile and Charles Bradlaugh named their daughters Hypatia, as did many lesser known freethinkers of the 19th century.

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