Hypatia was born around 350 AD in Alexandria. She was the daughter of Theon, a mathematician who was the head of a prestigious and exclusive school in Alexandria. From a young age she learned math and astronomy, and thanks to her father was able to get the same education as boys.
She excelled at math, surpassing her father, and eventually taking over his role as the head of the school. She had wide ranging intelligence and was well respected. She wrote commentaries on important math books, and possibly edited the existing version of Ptolemy’s Almagest, one of the most important old books in astronomy.
Her students came from far and wide, and she taught Christians and Pagans alike. Many of her students came to occupy high places in the Roman Empire, becoming dignitaries and bishops.
This fact, in addition to her wide renown as being highly intelligent and a wise counselor, meant that she was a powerful individual. She had friends in high places, and politicians would come to her for advice.
“There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.” source
Unfortunately, Hypatia also lived during a time of great political turmoil. In the 5th century, Alexandria was a majority Christian city. There had been conflict between the Pagans and Christians that resulted in the destruction of a Pagan temple. However, none of this had any effect on Hypatia since she was not a conventional Pagan.
In 412 AD however, a new bishop called Cyril took power. He was described as being ruthless and power hungry. After some Jewish hostility towards the Christians of Alexandria, Cyril closed all the synagogues in Alexandria, took the property of the Jews, and expelled many Jews from the city.
Orestes was the Roman prefect of Alexandria, and a close friend of Hypatia. He was angered by Cyril’s actions, and there was a conflict between them.
As the feud between them continued, rumors began to spread that it was Hypatia’s fault, since Orestes would frequently go to Hypatia for advice. Cyril and his followers sought to discredit her, and eventually the rumor spread that Hypatia was using spells and witchcraft to influence Orestes.
Things eventually escalated enough that a mob of people attacked Hypatia on the streets on her way home, and murdered her in a very gruesome manner, before burning her body.
After her death, Hypatia became a martyr of philosophy, and led future Neoplatonist philosophers to become much more opposed to Christianity.