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Liba Taub


Current ideas about the aims and value of scientific work and knowledge may be part of our inherited legacy from Greco-Roman antiquity. While financial rewards were important in the past and are important today, when we look at individual ancient Greeks and Romans known for their scientific ideas and achievement, we see that a number of these were avowedly pursuing science for a gain which was very specific, but not financial. Motivations might include intellectual curiosity and a desire for personal improvement, including increased understanding, as well as an interest in gaining reputation and influencing posterity. In Greco-Roman antiquity there were various ways in which an individual’s scientific achievements could be celebrated, commemorated, honoured and memorialised; several are considered here.

Cheesemaking in the Scientific Revolution

A Seventeenth-Century Royal Society Report on Dairy Products and the History of European Knowledge

Paolo Savoia

Funding and Directing Research or Rewarding Scientific Achievements?

Two Centuries of Prizes at the Academy of Sciences in Paris

Patrice Bret


This study examines the science and technology prize system of the Académie des Sciences through a first survey of the prizes granted over the period extending from the 1720s to the end of the 19th century. No reward policy was envisaged by the Royal Academy of Sciences in the Réglement (statute) promulgated by King Louis XIV in 1699. Prizes were proposed later, first by private donors and then by the state, and awarded in international contests setting out specific scientific or technical problems for savants, inventors and artists to solve. Using cash prizes, under the Ancien Régime the Academy effectively directed and funded research for specific purposes set by donors. By providing it with significant extra funding, the donor-sponsored prizes progressively gave the Academy relative autonomy from the political power of the state. In the 19th century, with the growing awareness of the importance of scientific research, the main question became whether to use the prizes to reward past achievements or to incentivize future research, and the scale and nature of the prizes changed.

“In the Society’s Strong Box”

A Visual and Material History of the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, c. 1736–1760

Rebekah Higgitt


It has become a commonplace that exceptional achievement, including within science, should be rewarded with prizes and that these will often take the form of a medal. The ubiquity of such awards today means that the circumstances behind their arrival tend to be overlooked, but they were novelties when first suggested at the Royal Society in the 1730s. This article traces the creation of the Copley Medal and explores the meaning of medals to the recipients, the Society and the proposer of the scheme, Martin Folkes. Paying attention to the medal’s iconography and material nature can shed light on how experimental philosophy and the role of the Royal Society were conceived by key Fellows, demonstrating their links to antiquarianism and Freemasonry. Rather than arriving as a fully formed reward system, the medal concept required investment of time, money, thought and skill, and the development of ritual, meaning and value.