Biography:Ammonius Saccas

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Short description: Hellenistic Platonist philosopher (175-242)
Ammonius Saccas
Alexandria, Roman Egypt
Died242 (aged 66-67)
Alexandria, Roman Egypt
EraAncient philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy

Ammonius Saccas (/əˈmniəs/; Greek: Ἀμμώνιος Σακκᾶς; 175 AD – 242 AD) was a Hellenistic Platonist self-taught philosopher from Alexandria, generally regarded as the precursor of Neoplatonism and/or one of its founders.[1][2][3] He is mainly known as the teacher of Plotinus, whom he taught from 232 to 242.[2] He was undoubtedly the biggest influence on Plotinus in his development of Neoplatonism, although little is known about his own philosophical views. Later Christian writers stated that Ammonius was a Christian, but it is now generally assumed that there was a different Ammonius of Alexandria who wrote biblical texts.


The origins and meaning of Ammonius' cognomen, "Sakkas," are disputed. Many scholars have interpreted it as indicating he was a porter in his youth, a view supported in antiquity by Byzantine bishop Theodoret.[4][5] Others have asserted that this is a misreading of "Sakkas" for "sakkophoros" (porter). Some others have connected the cognomen with the "Śākyas," an ancient ruling clan of India,[6][7] claiming that Ammonius Saccas was of Indian origin. This view has both been subsequently contested[8][9] and supported[10][11] by more recent scholarship. Some scholars supporting Ammonius' Indian origin have also contended that this ancestry is consistent with the passion of his foremost student Plotinus for India, and helps to explain the philosophical similarities between Vedanta and neoplatonism, which many scholars attribute to Indian influence.[12][13][14][15][16][17] On the other hand, scholars contesting his Indian origins, point out that Ammonius was from the Brucheion quarter of Alexandria, which was the royal quarter of the city inhabited mostly by Greeks,[18] and that the name "Ammonius" was common to many Greeks,[19] with a number of scholars and historians supporting a Greek origin for Ammonius.[20][21]

Most details of Ammonius' life come from the fragments left from Porphyry's writings. The most famous pupil of Ammonius Saccas was Plotinus who studied under Ammonius for eleven years. According to Porphyry, in 232, at the age of 28, Plotinus went to Alexandria to study philosophy:

In his twenty-eighth year he [Plotinus] felt the impulse to study philosophy and was recommended to the teachers in Alexandria who then had the highest reputation; but he came away from their lectures so depressed and full of sadness that he told his trouble to one of his friends. The friend, understanding the desire of his heart, sent him to Ammonius, whom he had not so far tried. He went and heard him, and said to his friend, "This is the man I was looking for." From that day he stayed continually with Ammonius and acquired so complete a training in philosophy that he became eager to make acquaintance with the Persian philosophical discipline and that prevailing among the Indians.[22]

According to Porphyry, the parents of Ammonius were Christians, but upon learning Greek philosophy, Ammonius rejected his parents' religion for paganism. This conversion is contested by the Christian writers Jerome and Eusebius, who state that Ammonius remained a Christian throughout his lifetime:

[Porphyry] plainly utters a falsehood (for what will not an opposer of Christians do?) when he says that ... Ammonius fell from a life of piety into heathen customs. ... Ammonius held the divine philosophy unshaken and unadulterated to the end of his life. His works yet extant show this, as he is celebrated among many for the writings which he has left.[23]

However, we are told by Longinus that Ammonius wrote nothing,[24] and if Ammonius was the principal influence on Plotinus, then it is unlikely that Ammonius would have been a Christian. One way to explain much of the confusion concerning Ammonius is to assume that there were two people called Ammonius: Ammonius Saccas who taught Plotinus, and an Ammonius the Christian who wrote biblical texts. Another explanation might be that there was only one Ammonius but that Origen, who found the Neo-Platonist views of his teacher essential to his own beliefs about the essential nature of Christianity, chose to suppress Ammonius' choice of Paganism over Christianity. The insistence of Eusebius, Origen's pupil, and Jerome, all of whom were recognized Fathers of the Christian Church, that Ammonius Saccas had not rejected his Christian roots would be easier for Christians to accept than the assertion of Prophyry, who was a Pagan, that Ammonius had chosen Paganism over Christianity.

To add to the confusion, it seems that Ammonius had two pupils called Origen: Origen the Christian, and Origen the Pagan.[23] It is quite possible that Ammonius Saccas taught both Origens. And since there were two Origens who were accepted as contemporaries it was easy for later Christians to accept that there were two individuals named Ammonius, one a Christian and one a Pagan. Among Ammonius' other pupils there were Herennius and Cassius Longinus.


Hierocles, writing in the 5th century, states that Ammonius' fundamental doctrine was that Plato and Aristotle were in full agreement with each other:[25]

He was the first who had a godly zeal for the truth in philosophy and despised the views of the majority, which were a disgrace to philosophy. He apprehended well the views of each of the two philosophers [Plato and Aristotle] and brought them under one and the same nous and transmitted philosophy without conflicts to all of his disciples, and especially to the best of those acquainted with him, Plotinus, Origen, and their successors.[26]

According to Nemesius, a bishop and neoplatonist c. 400, Ammonius held that the soul was immaterial.[27]

Little is known about Ammonius's role in the development of neoplatonism. Porphyry seems to suggest that Ammonius was instrumental in helping Plotinus think about philosophy in new ways:

But he [Plotinus] did not just speak straight out of these books but took a distinctive personal line in his consideration, and brought the mind of Ammonius' to bear on the investigation in hand.[22]

Two of Ammonius's students – Origen the Pagan, and Longinus – seem to have held philosophical positions which were closer to middle Platonism than neoplatonism, which perhaps suggests that Ammonius's doctrines were also closer to those of middle Platonism than the neoplatonism developed by Plotinus (see the Enneads), but Plotinus does not seem to have thought that he was departing in any significant way from that of his master. Like Porphyry (The Life of Plotinus, 3, 24–29),[28] also Nemesius refers of Ammonius Saccas as the teacher or the master of Plotinus (Nemesius, Nature of Man, 2.103).[29][30]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Keyser, Paul T.; Scarborough, John, eds (2018). "Plotinus and Neoplatonism: The Creation of a New Synthesis". Oxford Handbook of Science and Medicine in the Classical World. New York City: Oxford University Press. pp. 847–868. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199734146.013.78. ISBN 9780199734146. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Armstrong, A. Hilary; Duignan, Brian; Lotha, Gloria; Rodriguez, Emily (1 January 2021) [20 July 1998]. "Plotinus". Encyclopædia Britannica. Edinburgh: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.. Retrieved 5 August 2021. "Plotinus (born 205 CE, Lyco, or Lycopolis, Egypt?—died 270, Campania), ancient philosopher, the centre of an influential circle of intellectuals and men of letters in 3rd-century Rome, who is regarded by modern scholars as the founder of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy. [...] In his 28th year—he seems to have been rather a late developer—Plotinus felt an impulse to study philosophy and thus went to Alexandria. He attended the lectures of the most eminent professors in Alexandria at the time, which reduced him to a state of complete depression. In the end, a friend who understood what he wanted took him to hear the self-taught philosopher Ammonius Saccas. When he had heard Ammonius speak, Plotinus said, “This is the man I was looking for,” and stayed with him for 11 years. Ammonius is the most mysterious figure in ancient Western philosophy. He was, it seems, a lapsed Christian (yet even this is not quite certain), and the one or two extant remarks about his thought suggest a fairly commonplace sort of traditional Platonism. A philosopher who could attract such devotion from Plotinus and who may also have been the philosophical master of the great Christian theologian Origen must have had something more to offer his pupils, but what it was is not known. That Plotinus stayed with him for 11 years is in no way surprising. One did not enter an ancient philosophical school to take courses and obtain a degree but rather to join in what might well be a lifelong cooperative following of the way to truth, goodness, and the ultimate liberation of the spirit.". 
  3. Scott, Walter (1982) (in en). Hermetica: Introduction, texts, and translation. Random House. pp. 2. ISBN 978-0-87773-338-6. 
  4. Mozley, J.R., "Ammonius Saccas", Dictionary of Early Christian Biography, (Henry WAce, ed.), John Murrary & Co., London, 1911; LSJ sv. σακκᾶς
  5. Theodoret, Græcarum affectionum curatio, Book 6, Paragraph 96.
  6. [William H. McNeill: The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community, pp. 380]
  7. [E. Seeberg, "Ammonius Sakas" Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, vol. LX, 1941, pp. 136–170; Ernst Benz, "Indische Einflüsse auf die frühchristliche Theologie" Abhandlungen der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse, Jahrgang 1951, no. 3, Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur Mainz, pp. 1–34, pp. 30ff.;R.T. Wallis "Phraseology and Imagery in Plotinus and Indian Thought" in R. Baine Harris (ed.), Neoplatonism and Indian Thought (Norfolk, VA, 1982): The International Society for Neoplatonic Studies pp.119-120 n. 72.]
  8. Hans-Rudolf Schwyzer, Ammonios Sakkas, der Lehrer Plotins (Westdeutscher Verlag, 1983). p.83.
  9. Clifford Hindley: "Ammonios Sakkas. His Name and Origin" Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 75, 1964, pp. 332–336.
  10. R.T. Wallis "Phraseology and Imagery in Plotinus and Indian Thought" in R. Baine Harris (ed.), Neoplatonism and Indian Thought (Norfolk, VA, 1982): The International Society for Neoplatonic Studies pp.119-120 n. 72.
  11. Paulos Mar Gregorios: "Neoplatonism and Indian Philosophy"
  12. J. Lacrosse, “Plotinus, Porphyry and India: a Re-Examination,” in P. Vassilopoulou (ed.), Late Antique Epistemology. Other Ways to Truth (New York: 2009), 103-13.
  13. Gregorios, PM (ed.), 2002, Neoplatonism and Indian Philosophy, Albany
  14. Staal, JF, 1961, Advaita and Neoplatonism. A Study in Comparative Philosophy, Madras.
  15. Harris, R. Baine (ed.), Neoplatonism and Indian Thought, Norfolk Va., 1982: The International Society for Neoplatonic Studies
  16. Lacrosse, J., 2005a, 'The commensurability of mystical experiences in the East and in the West. A comparison between Plotinus and Çankara ', in A. Dierkens and B. Beyer of Ryke (eds.), Mystique. The Passion of the One, from Antiquity to the Present, Prblèmes d'Histoire des Religions, Volume XV, Brussels, pp. 215-23.
  17. Brunner, F., 1981, 'A comparison between Plotinus and viçishtâdvaita', in Les Cahiers de Fontenay no. 19-22. Neo-Platonism. Mixes offered to Jean Trouillard, Paris, pp. 101-24.
  18. Dennis C. Clark, "Review of Jean-Michel Charrue: De l’être et du monde Ammonius, Plotin, Proclus" The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 01 Jan 2012, Volume 6: Issue 1, p 150
  19. Gillies, John (1813) (in en). Aristotle's Ethics and Politics. T. Cadell & W. Davies. pp. 193. 
  20. (in en) The Quarterly Journal of Prophecy. 4. James Nisbet and Co.. 1852. pp. 124. 
  21. Holbach, Paul Henri Thiry (2008) (in en). Christianity Unveiled. Hodgson Press. pp. 359. ISBN 978-1-906164-04-1. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Porphyry, Life of Plotinus, from Reale, G., (1990), A History of Ancient Philosophy IV: The Schools of the Imperial Age. Page 298. SUNY Press.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Eusebius, History of the Church, vi, 19. [verification needed]
  24. Longinus, quoted by Porphyry, Life of Plotinus, xx.
  25. Hierocles in Photius, Bibl. cod. 214, 251.
  26. Hierocles, in Photius, Bibl. cod. 251. from Karamanolis, G., (2006), Plato and Aristotle in Agreement?: Platonists on Aristotle from Antiochus to Porphyry, Page 193. Oxford University Press.
  27. Nemesius, On the Nature of Man, ii
  28. Hubbard, Lynn Vivien (November 1, 2017). Bergson, Plotinus and the harmonics of evolution. Bristol: The Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences, University of the West of England. p. 17. OCLC 1063691221. Retrieved June 8, 2021. 
  29. M J Edwards (June 13, 2000). "God and Christ in Irenaeus. By Anthony Briggman". The Journal of Theological Studies (OUP) 71 (2): 889–892. doi:10.1093/jts/flaa045. "...with incorporeals posited by Ammonius Saccas, the teacher of Plotinus (Nemesius, Nature of Man 2.103).". 
  30. Nemesius (1636). "2". The Nature of man. Miles Flesher for Henry Taunton in St. Dunstans Churchyard in Fleetstreet.;view=fulltext. Retrieved June 8, 2021. 


  • Armstrong, A., (1967), The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, pp. 196–200.
  • Karamanolis, G., (2006), Plato and Aristotle in Agreement?: Platonists on Aristotle from Antiochus to Porphyry, Oxford University Press, pp. 191–215.
  • Reale, G., (1990), A History of Ancient Philosophy IV: The Schools of the Imperial Age, SUNY Press, pp. 297–303.

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