A quick guide to the philosopher and mathematician
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Brief Bio: Archimedes, Greek, 287-212 BCE
One of the world’s most celebrated mathematicians and philosophers, his discovery of hydrostatics, application of pi in geometry and invention of numerous war machines made him revered both in his day and centuries later. His weapons of war were vital to the defence of Syracuse when it was besieged by the Romans from 214 to 212 BCE, but the city eventually fell and the great man was slain.
1. Inventor of superweapons
While living in Syracuse he designed numerous weapons to defend the city from attackers, including an elaborate ‘death ray’ designed to concentrate the rays of the Sun onto enemy ships, setting them alight. He also developed effective catapults and a ‘giant claw’ that would latch onto the hull of a ship and cause it to capsize.
2. Master of levers
Archimedes applied his understanding of geometry and physics to develop immensely powerful levers. By calculating the length, strength and position of the lever and fulcrum point relative to an object being lifted, he revolutionised methods of construction. He was so confident in the potential of his levers, he even claimed: “Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the Earth.”
3. Defined the number pi
A brilliant mathematician, Archimedes is credited with forming the earliest accurate measurement of a circle, using the irrational number pi (circa 3.14). Also known as Archimedes’ Constant, this number was theorised by the mathematician in his book Measurement of a Circle. Though it’s been described more accurately since, Archimedes’ number is still used today.
4. Discovered hydrostatics
When taking a bath one day, he noticed the displacement of water was proportionate to the volume of his body submerged in it – it was rising up the sides as he lowered himself down. Legend has it he was so astonished by this epiphany, which formed his understanding of hydrostatics, that he ran naked through the streets crying the now-famous phrase ‘Eureka!’
5. His screw changed the world forever
Though it seems relatively simple to modern eyes, Archimedes’ screw was revolutionary at the time and demonstrated how low-lying water could be transferred upward to canals or artificial streams for irrigating farmland. This invention would later influence Leonardo da Vinci in his attempts to develop a functioning flying machine.
Originally published in All About History 11