Who is Archimedes: Discover the extraordinary life and achievements of the ancient Greek mathematician, inventor, and genius from Syracuse who revolutionized mathematics, science, and engineering with his groundbreaking discoveries, innovative inventions, and timeless principles.
Archimedes of Syracuse: The Ingenious Mathematician, Inventor, and Astronomer
Archimedes, a brilliant Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer, and inventor, hailed from the ancient city of Syracuse in Sicily. His unparalleled intellect has solidified his reputation as arguably the world's greatest scientist and one of the most famous mathematicians in history. Archimedes' father, Phidias, an accomplished astronomer, likely ignited his son's passion for the sciences.
Despite the scarcity of information about Archimedes' life, his numerous accomplishments speak volumes. His ingenious application of infinitesimals and the method of exhaustion enabled him to derive and rigorously prove various geometrical theorems, anticipating modern calculus and analysis. These theorems encompassed the area of a circle, the surface area and volume of a sphere, and the area of an ellipse, among others.
Archimedes' remarkable mathematical achievements also include the approximation of pi, the exploration of the Archimedean spiral, and a groundbreaking system for expressing large numbers through exponentiation. Furthermore, he was a pioneer in applying mathematics to physical phenomena, delving into statics and hydrostatics. In these fields, he proved the law of the lever, introduced the concept of center of gravity, and enunciated Archimedes' principle, also known as the law of buoyancy.
Besides his mathematical prowess, Archimedes was a skilled inventor, devising machines such as the screw pump, compound pulleys, and innovative defensive war machines to safeguard Syracuse from invasion. Tragically, Archimedes perished during the siege of Syracuse, killed by a Roman soldier despite orders to spare him. His tomb, adorned with a sphere and a cylinder symbolizing his mathematical discoveries, was later visited by Cicero.
Although Archimedes' inventions gained recognition in antiquity, his mathematical writings remained relatively unknown until Isidore of Miletus compiled them in Byzantine Constantinople around 530 AD. Commentaries by Eutocius in the 6th century further expanded their reach, and the few surviving copies of his work became a vital source of inspiration for Renaissance scientists and those in the 17th century. The 1906 discovery of the Archimedes Palimpsest, which contained previously lost works, has continued to offer fresh insights into his mathematical genius.
Archimedes: The Enigmatic Life of a Mathematical Genius
Archimedes, a renowned Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer, and inventor, was born around 287 BC in the seaport city of Syracuse, Sicily, then a self-governing colony in Magna Graecia. His birth date is estimated based on a statement by Byzantine Greek historian John Tzetzes that Archimedes lived for 75 years before his death in 212 BC. Archimedes' father, Phidias, was an astronomer, although little else is known about him.
A biography of Archimedes, penned by his friend Heracleides, has been lost, leaving many details of his life shrouded in mystery. It remains unknown whether he married, had children, or visited Alexandria, Egypt, during his youth. However, his surviving works reveal that he maintained close relationships with scholars in Alexandria, such as Conon of Samos and head librarian Eratosthenes of Cyrene.
Greek and Roman historians wrote the standard accounts of Archimedes' life long after his death. The earliest reference to Archimedes appears in The Histories by Polybius, written approximately 70 years after his death. This account emphasizes Archimedes' construction of war machines to defend Syracuse from the Romans during the Second Punic War, when the city switched allegiances from Rome to Carthage. Despite eventually capturing Syracuse, the Romans experienced significant losses due to Archimedes' inventions.
Cicero, a Roman statesman, mentions Archimedes in his works. While serving as a quaestor in Sicily, Cicero discovered Archimedes' neglected and overgrown tomb near the Agrigentine gate in Syracuse. The tomb featured a sculpture depicting Archimedes' favorite mathematical proof, illustrating the volume and surface area of a sphere as two-thirds that of an enclosing cylinder, including its bases. Cicero also mentions that Marcellus brought two planetariums Archimedes had built to Rome.
Plutarch, in his Parallel Lives, states that Archimedes was related to King Hiero II of Syracuse. He also provides at least two accounts of Archimedes' death after Syracuse fell to the Romans. In the most popular account, Archimedes was studying a mathematical diagram when a Roman soldier ordered him to meet Marcellus. Archimedes refused, saying he had to complete his work on the problem, which led the enraged soldier to kill him. Another version claims Archimedes was killed for carrying mathematical instruments that a soldier believed were valuable items. Marcellus was reportedly angered by Archimedes' death, as he valued him as a scientific asset and had ordered that he not be harmed.
The last words attributed to Archimedes, "Do not disturb my circles," refer to the mathematical drawing he was allegedly studying when interrupted by the Roman soldier. However, there is no reliable evidence that Archimedes uttered these words, and they are not mentioned in Plutarch's account.
Archimedes' Ingenious Discoveries and Inventions
Archimedes' Principle and the Golden Crown
Archimedes, the renowned Greek mathematician, engineer, and inventor, is best known for his discovery of the principle of buoyancy, often referred to as Archimedes' Principle. This principle was discovered while Archimedes was tasked with determining if a goldsmith had dishonestly mixed silver into a votive crown intended for King Hiero II of Syracuse. Archimedes needed a non-destructive method to measure the crown's density and verify its purity.
Legend has it that while taking a bath, Archimedes observed the water level rising as he submerged himself, leading to the realization that the displaced water volume could be used to determine the crown's volume. By comparing the mass of the crown to the displaced water volume, Archimedes could calculate its density and compare it to that of pure gold. Upon discovering this method, Archimedes reportedly ran through the streets naked, exclaiming "Eureka!" – "I have found it!" in Greek.
The Archimedes' Screw: An Ancient Engineering Marvel
Among Archimedes' numerous inventions was the Archimedes' Screw, a device originally designed to remove water leaking through the hull of the Syracusia, a massive ship commissioned by King Hiero II. The Archimedes' Screw consists of a screw-shaped blade inside a cylinder, which, when turned by hand, can transfer water or granulated solids such as grain or coal. This invention remains in use today and is believed to be an improvement on a screw pump used to irrigate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Archimedes' Claw: The Ship Shaker
Another ingenious invention attributed to Archimedes is the Archimedes' Claw, a defensive weapon designed to protect his home city of Syracuse. The claw, also known as "the ship shaker," was a crane-like arm with a large metal grappling hook suspended from it. When dropped onto an attacking ship, the arm would swing upwards, lifting the ship out of the water and potentially causing it to sink. Modern experiments have demonstrated the feasibility of this ancient superweapon, proving the enduring genius of Archimedes.
The Archimedes Heat Ray: Fact or Fiction?
While Archimedes might have authored a work on mirrors called Catoptrica, it is debated whether he used mirrors as a parabolic reflector to set ablaze ships attacking Syracuse. Lucian, a second-century AD writer, claimed that Archimedes destroyed enemy ships with fire during the siege of Syracuse. Anthemius of Tralles later mentioned that Archimedes might have utilized burning-glasses as a weapon. This alleged device, known as the "Archimedes heat ray," was said to have focused sunlight onto approaching ships, causing them to catch fire. In modern times, similar devices have been created, often referred to as heliostats or solar furnaces.
The credibility of Archimedes' purported heat ray has been debated since the Renaissance. René Descartes dismissed the idea, while modern researchers have tried to recreate the effect using only the means available to Archimedes, predominantly with negative results. Some suggest that a large array of highly polished bronze or copper shields could have acted as mirrors to focus sunlight onto a ship. However, the overall effect would likely have been to blind, dazzle, or distract the ship's crew rather than set the vessel aflame.
Archimedes and the Lever Principle
Although Archimedes did not invent the lever, he provided a mathematical proof of the principle in his work On the Equilibrium of Planes. Previous descriptions of the lever can be found in the Peripatetic school of Aristotle's followers, sometimes attributed to Archytas. Conflicting accounts exist regarding Archimedes' feats using the lever to lift heavy objects. Plutarch describes how Archimedes designed block-and-tackle pulley systems, allowing sailors to leverage heavy objects that would have been otherwise too cumbersome to move. Archimedes is famously quoted as saying, "Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth."
Archimedes' Contributions to Astronomy
In the Sand-Reckoner, Archimedes discusses astronomical measurements of the Earth, Sun, and Moon, as well as Aristarchus' heliocentric model of the universe. He describes the procedure and instruments used to make observations without the use of trigonometry or a table of chords. Ptolemy, quoting Hipparchus, also references Archimedes' solstice observations in the Almagest, making him the first known Greek to have recorded multiple solstice dates and times in successive years.
Cicero's De re publica portrays a fictional conversation that reveals General Marcus Claudius Marcellus took two mechanisms back to Rome after capturing Syracuse in 212 BC. These mechanisms, constructed by Archimedes, showed the motion of the Sun, Moon, and five planets. Pappus of Alexandria reports on a treatise by Archimedes (now lost) dealing with the construction of these mechanisms, entitled On Sphere-Making. Recent research has focused on the Antikythera mechanism, a similar device built around 100 BC, which would have required a sophisticated understanding of differential gearing – a knowledge once thought to be beyond the range of ancient technology.
Archimedes' Impact on Mathematics, Physics, and Beyond
Often regarded as the father of mathematics and mathematical physics, Archimedes had a profound influence on various fields of science and mathematics.
Praise from Prominent Figures in Mathematics and Physics
Historians of science and mathematics generally agree that Archimedes was the greatest mathematician of antiquity. Eric Temple Bell, for example, asserted that Archimedes, Newton, and Gauss would be the three greatest mathematicians in history, considering their achievements against the backdrop of their respective times.
Famous scientists and mathematicians, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Huygens, Leibniz, and Gauss, have all expressed their admiration for Archimedes. Nikola Tesla, the renowned inventor, also praised Archimedes, considering him an ideal figure.
Honors and Commemorations
In honor of Archimedes, a lunar crater and a mountain range on the Moon have been named after him. The prestigious Fields Medal for outstanding achievements in mathematics features a portrait of Archimedes, accompanied by a carving illustrating his proof of the sphere and cylinder, and an inscription in Latin that translates to "Rise above oneself and grasp the world."
Archimedes has also been commemorated on postage stamps issued by countries such as East Germany, Greece, Italy, Nicaragua, San Marino, and Spain. Furthermore, the exclamation "Eureka!" attributed to Archimedes serves as the state motto of California, in this case referring to the discovery of gold near Sutter's Mill in 1848, which sparked the California Gold Rush.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do we know about Greek mathematics?
Our knowledge of Greek mathematics comes from a variety of sources, including ancient texts, commentaries, and historical accounts. Some of the most famous Greek mathematicians include Archimedes, Euclid, and Pythagoras, who have made significant contributions to the field of mathematics.
Primary sources such as Archimedes' works, including "On Floating Bodies," "Measurement of a Circle," "Quadrature of the Parabola," "On Conoids and Spheroids," and "Method of Exhaustion," provide insight into his mathematical discoveries and inventions. Additionally, Archimedes' Palimpsest, a manuscript containing several of his works that was overwritten by later scribes, offers valuable information about his contributions to mathematics.
Historians and biographers like Plutarch and Cicero have written accounts of the lives and accomplishments of these mathematicians, further enriching our understanding of their work. Furthermore, the works of other Greek mathematicians, such as Apollonius and Aristarchus, have been preserved and passed down through generations, allowing us to study their mathematical theories and principles.
Many of these ancient Greek texts were translated into Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age, preserving and spreading knowledge of Greek mathematics to other cultures. Later, during the Renaissance, these texts were translated into Latin and other European languages, which helped to reintroduce Greek mathematics to the Western world and inspire a new generation of mathematicians.
In conclusion, our knowledge of Greek mathematics is the result of a combination of preserved primary texts, historical accounts, and the transmission of knowledge across different cultures and time periods.
Why was Archimedes famous?
Archimedes was famous for being a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer, and inventor from the ancient city of Syracuse in Sicily. He is often considered one of the greatest mathematicians in history and the most famous mathematician and inventor in ancient Greece.
Some of his most notable accomplishments include:
- Archimedes' Principle: Archimedes discovered the principle of buoyancy, which states that the upward buoyant force exerted on a body immersed in a fluid is equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the body. This principle is fundamental to understanding fluid mechanics and hydrostatics.
- Geometry and the Method of Exhaustion: Archimedes made significant contributions to geometry, including the development of the method of exhaustion, a precursor to modern calculus. He used this method to determine the area under a curve and to calculate the volume of a sphere, among other things.
- The Archimedean Screw: Archimedes is credited with inventing the Archimedean screw, a device used to raise water from a lower level to a higher level. This invention is still in use today for irrigation and pumping water.
- Pi (π) Approximation: Archimedes contributed to the understanding of the mathematical constant Pi (π) by approximating its value through his work on the measurement of a circle.
- Inventions for Warfare: Archimedes also designed various war machines, including the Archimedes' Claw, a defensive weapon used during the Roman siege of Syracuse.
- Archimedes' Palimpsest: The Archimedes Palimpsest, a manuscript containing several of his works, has provided valuable insights into his mathematical discoveries and inventions.
His exceptional contributions to mathematics, physics, and engineering earned him the admiration of fellow mathematicians, scientists, and inventors throughout history, including Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton. Archimedes' work laid the foundation for many areas of modern mathematics and science, making him an influential figure in the history of human knowledge.
Here are some of Archimedes most famous quotes.
Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.
Mathematics reveals its secrets only to those who approach it with pure love, for its own beauty.
He who knows how to speak, knows also when.
To see more Archimedes quotes, we recommend visiting the Archimedes Quote section in Quotes Analysis.
We hope we have been helpful to you in this "Who is Archimedes" article, and we hope you have a better understanding of who this amazing scientist and philosopher is!