Archimedes of Syracuse (Greek: Ἀρχιμήδης) (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC) was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Although few details of his life are known, he is regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. Among his advances in physics are the foundations of hydrostatics, statics and the explanation of the principle of the lever. He is credited with designing innovative machines, including siege engines and the screw pump that bears his name. Modern experiments have tested claims that Archimedes designed machines capable of lifting attacking ships out of the water and setting ships on fire using an array of mirrors.
Archimedes is generally considered to be the greatest mathematician of antiquity and one of the greatest of all time. He used the method of exhaustion to calculate the area under the arc of a parabola with the summation of an infinite series, and gave a remarkably accurate approximation of Pi. He also defined the spiral bearing his name, formulas for the volumes of surfaces of revolution and an ingenious system for expressing very large numbers.
Archimedes died during the Siege of Syracuse when he was killed by a Roman soldier despite orders that he should not be harmed. Cicero describes visiting the tomb of Archimedes, which was surmounted by a sphere inscribed within a cylinder. Archimedes had proved that the sphere has two thirds of the volume and surface area of the cylinder (including the bases of the latter), and regarded this as the greatest of his mathematical achievements.
Unlike his inventions, the mathematical writings of Archimedes were little known in antiquity. Mathematicians from Alexandria read and quoted him, but the first comprehensive compilation was made only by Isidore of Miletus (c. 530 AD), while commentaries on the works of Archimedes written by Eutocius in the sixth century AD opened them to wider readership for the first time. The relatively few copies of Archimedes' written work that survived through the Middle Ages were an influential source of ideas for scientists during the Renaissance, while the discovery in 1906 of previously unknown works by Archimedes in the Archimedes Palimpsest has provided new insights into how he obtained mathematical results.
Archimedes was born c. 287 BC in the seaport city of Syracuse, Sicily, at that time a colony of Magna Graecia. The date of birth is based on a statement by the Byzantine Greek historian John Tzetzes that Archimedes lived for 75 years. In The Sand Reckoner, Archimedes gives his father's name as Phidias, an astronomer about whom nothing is known. Plutarch wrote in his Parallel Lives that Archimedes was related to King Hiero II, the ruler of Syracuse. A biography of Archimedes was written by his friend Heracleides but this work has been lost, leaving the details of his life obscure. It is unknown, for instance, whether he ever married or had children. During his youth Archimedes may have studied in Alexandria, Egypt, where Conon of Samos and Eratosthenes of Cyrene were contemporaries. He referred to Conon of Samos as his friend, while two of his works (The Method of Mechanical Theorems and the Cattle Problem) have introductions addressed to Eratosthenes.
Archimedes died c. 212 BC during the Second Punic War, when Roman forces under General Marcus Claudius Marcellus captured the city of Syracuse after a two-year-long siege. According to the popular account given by Plutarch, Archimedes was contemplating a mathematical diagram when the city was captured. A Roman soldier commanded him to come and meet General Marcellus but he declined, saying that he had to finish working on the problem. The soldier was enraged by this, and killed Archimedes with his sword. Plutarch also gives a account of the death of Archimedes which suggests that he may have been killed while attempting to surrender to a Roman soldier. According to this story, Archimedes was carrying mathematical instruments, and was killed because the soldier thought that they were valuable items. General Marcellus was reportedly angered by the death of Archimedes, as he considered him a valuable scientific asset and had ordered that he not be harmed.
The last words attributed to Archimedes are "Do not disturb my circles" (μή μου τούς κύκλους τάραττε), a reference to the circles in the mathematical drawing that he was supposedly studying when disturbed by the Roman soldier. This quote is often given in Latin as "Noli turbare circulos meos", but there is no reliable evidence that Archimedes uttered these words and they do not appear in the account given by Plutarch.
The tomb of Archimedes carried a sculpture illustrating his favorite mathematical proof, consisting of a sphere and a cylinder of the same height and diameter. Archimedes had proved that the volume and surface area of the sphere are two thirds that of the cylinder including its bases. In 75 BC, 137 years after his death, the Roman orator Cicero was serving as quaestor in Sicily. He had heard stories about the tomb of Archimedes, but none of the locals was able to give him the location. Eventually he found the tomb near the Agrigentine gate in Syracuse, in a neglected condition and overgrown with bushes. Cicero had the tomb cleaned up, and was able to see the carving and read some of the verses that had been added as an inscription.
The standard versions of the life of Archimedes were written long after his death by the historians of Ancient Rome. The account of the siege of Syracuse given by Polybius in his Universal History was written around seventy years after Archimedes' death, and was used subsequently as a source by Plutarch and Livy. It sheds little light on Archimedes as a person, and focuses on the war machines that he is said to have built in order to defend the city.
The story about the golden crown does not appear in the known works of Archimedes, but in his treatise On Floating Bodies he gives the principle known in hydrostatics as Archimedes' Principle. This states that a body immersed in a fluid experiences a buoyant force equal to the weight of the displaced fluid.
While Archimedes did not invent the lever, he wrote the earliest known rigorous explanation of the principle involved. According to Pappus of Alexandria, his work on levers caused him to remark: "Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth." (δῶς μοι πᾶ στῶ καὶ τὰν γᾶν κινάσω) Plutarch describes how Archimedes designed block and tackle pulley systems, allowing sailors to use the principle of leverage to lift objects that would otherwise have been too heavy to move.
A large part of Archimedes' work in engineering arose from fulfilling the needs of his home city of Syracuse. The Greek writer Athenaeus of Naucratis described how King Hieron II commissioned Archimedes to design a huge ship, the Syracusia, which could be used for luxury travel, carrying supplies, and as a naval warship. The Syracusia is said to have been the largest ship built in classical antiquity. According to Athenaeus, it was capable of carrying 600 people and included garden decorations, a gymnasium and a temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite among its facilities. Since a ship of this size would leak a considerable amount of water through the hull, the Archimedes screw was purportedly developed in order to remove the bilge water. Archimedes' machine was a device with a revolving screw-shaped blade inside a cylinder. It was turned by hand, and could also be used to transfer water from a body of water into irrigation canals. The Archimedes screw is still in use today for pumping liquids and semifluid solids such as coal and grain. The Archimedes screw described in Roman times by Vitruvius may have been an improvement on a screw pump that was used to irrigate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Archimedes has also been credited with improving the power and accuracy of the catapult, and with inventing the odometer during the First Punic War. The odometer was described as a cart with a gear mechanism that dropped a ball into a container after each mile traveled.
Cicero (106 BC–43 BC) mentions Archimedes briefly in his dialogue De re publica, which portrays a fictional conversation taking place in 129 BC. After the capture of Syracuse c. 212 BC, General Marcus Claudius Marcellus is said to have taken back to Rome two mechanisms used as aids in astronomy, which showed the motion of the Sun, Moon and five planets. Cicero mentions similar mechanisms designed by Thales of Miletus and Eudoxus of Cnidus. The dialogue says that Marcellus kept one of the devices as his only personal loot from Syracuse, and donated the other to the Temple of Virtue in Rome. Marcellus' mechanism was demonstrated, according to Cicero, by Gaius Sulpicius Gallus to Lucius Furius Philus, who described it thus:
Hanc sphaeram Gallus cum moveret, fiebat ut soli luna totidem conversionibus in aere illo quot diebus in ipso caelo succederet, ex quo et in caelo sphaera solis fieret eadem illa defectio, et incideret luna tum in eam metam quae esset umbra terrae, cum sol e regione. — When Gallus moved the globe, it happened that the Moon followed the Sun by as many turns on that bronze contrivance as in the sky itself, from which also in the sky the Sun's globe became to have that same eclipse, and the Moon came then to that position which was its shadow on the Earth, when the Sun was in line.
This is a description of a planetarium or orrery. Pappus of Alexandria stated that Archimedes had written a manuscript (now lost) on the construction of these mechanisms entitled . Modern research in this area has been focused on the Antikythera mechanism, another device from classical antiquity that was probably designed for the same purpose. Constructing mechanisms of this kind would have required a sophisticated knowledge of differential gearing. This was once thought to have been beyond the range of the technology available in ancient times, but the discovery of the Antikythera mechanism in 1902 has confirmed that devices of this kind were known to the ancient Greeks.
The 2nd century AD historian Lucian wrote that during the Siege of Syracuse (c. 214–212 BC), Archimedes repelled an attack by Roman soldiers with a burning-glass. The device was used to focus sunlight on to the approaching ships, causing them to catch fire. This claim, sometimes called the "Archimedes heat ray", has been the subject of ongoing debate about its credibility since the Renaissance. René Descartes rejected it as false, while modern researchers have attempted to recreate the effect using only the means that would have been available to Archimedes. It has been suggested that a large array of highly polished bronze or copper shields acting as mirrors could have been employed to focus sunlight on to a ship. This would have used the principle of the parabolic reflector in a manner similar to a solar furnace.
A test of the Archimedes heat ray was carried out in 1973 by the Greek scientist Ioannis Sakkas. The experiment took place at the Skaramagas naval base outside Athens. On this occasion 70 mirrors were used, each with a copper coating and a size of around five by three feet (1.5 by 1 m). The mirrors were pointed at a plywood of a Roman warship at a distance of around 160 feet (50 m). When the mirrors were focused accurately, the ship burst into flames within a few seconds. The plywood ship had a coating of tar paint, which may have aided combustion.
In October 2005 a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology carried out an experiment with 127 one-foot (30 cm) square mirror tiles, focused on a wooden ship at a range of around 100 feet (30 m). Flames broke out on a patch of the ship, but only after the sky had been cloudless and the ship had remained stationary for around ten minutes. It was concluded that the weapon was a feasible device under these conditions. The MIT group repeated the experiment for the television show MythBusters, using a wooden fishing boat in San Francisco as the target. Again some charring occurred, along with a small amount of flame. In order to catch fire, wood needs to reach its flash point, which is around 300 degrees Celsius (570 °F).
When MythBusters broadcast the result of the San Francisco experiment in January 2006, the claim was placed in the category of "busted" (or failed) because of the length of time and the ideal weather conditions required for combustion to occur. It was also pointed out that since Syracuse faces the sea towards the east, the Roman fleet would have had to attack during the morning for optimal gathering of light by the mirrors. MythBusters also pointed out that conventional weaponry, such as flaming arrows or bolts from a catapult, would have been a far easier way of setting a ship on fire at short distances.
Archimedes was able to use infinitesimals in a way that is similar to modern integral calculus. By assuming a proposition to be true and showing that this would lead to a contradiction, he could give answers to problems to an arbitrary degree of accuracy, while specifying the limits within which the answer lay. This technique is known as the method of exhaustion, and he employed it to approximate the value of π (Pi). He did this by drawing a larger polygon outside a circle and a smaller polygon inside the circle. As the number of sides of the polygon increases, it becomes a more accurate approximation of a circle. When the polygons had 96 sides each, he calculated the lengths of their sides and showed that the value of π lay between (approximately 3.1429) and (approximately 3.1408). He also proved that the area of a circle was equal to π multiplied by the square of the radius of the circle.
In Measurement of a Circle, Archimedes gives the value of the square root of 3 as being more than (approximately 1.7320261) and less than (approximately 1.7320512). The actual value is approximately 1.7320508, making this a very accurate estimate. He introduced this result without offering any explanation of the method used to obtain it. This aspect of the work of Archimedes caused John Wallis to remark that he was: "as it were of set purpose to have covered up the traces of his investigation as if he had grudged posterity the secret of his method of inquiry while he wished to extort from them assent to his results.
If the first term in this series is the area of the triangle, then the second is the sum of the areas of two triangles whose bases are the two smaller secant lines, and so on. This proof uses a variation of the series which sums to .
In The Sand Reckoner, Archimedes set out to calculate the number of grains of sand that the universe could contain. In doing so, he challenged the notion that the number of grains of sand was too large to be counted. He wrote: "There are some, King Gelo (Gelo II, son of Hiero II), who think that the number of the sand is infinite in multitude; and I mean by the sand not only that which exists about Syracuse and the rest of Sicily but also that which is found in every region whether inhabited or uninhabited." To solve the problem, Archimedes devised a system of counting based on the myriad. The word is from the Greek μυριάς murias, for the number 10,000. He proposed a number system using powers of a myriad of myriads (100 million) and concluded that the number of grains of sand required to fill the universe would be 8, which can also be expressed as eight vigintillion.
Equal weights at equal distances are in equilibrium, and equal weights at unequal distances are not in equilibrium but incline towards the weight which is at the greater distance.
Any body wholly or partially immersed in a fluid experiences an upthrust equal to, but opposite in sense to, the weight of the fluid displaced.
It has also been claimed that Heron's formula for calculating the area of a triangle from the length of its sides was known to Archimedes. However, the first reliable reference to the formula is given by Heron of Alexandria in the 1st century AD.
The foremost document containing the work of Archimedes is the Archimedes Palimpsest. In 1906, the Danish professor Johan Ludvig Heiberg realized that a 174-page goatskin parchment of prayers written in the 13th century AD was in fact a palimpsest: the text was written over erased older work, which he identified as copies, written in the 10th century AD, of previously unknown treatises by Archimedes. The parchment spent hundreds of years in a monastery library in Constantinople before being sold to a private collector in the 1920s. On October 29, 1998 it was sold at auction to an anonymous buyer for $2 million at Christie's in New York. The palimpsest holds seven treatises, including the only surviving copy of On Floating Bodies in the original Greek. It is the only known source of the Method of Mechanical Theorems, referred to by Suidas and thought to have been lost forever. Stomachion was also discovered in the palimpsest, with a more complete analysis of the puzzle than had been found in previous texts. The palimpsest is now stored at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, where it has been subjected to a range of modern tests including the use of ultraviolet and light to read the overwritten text.
The treatises in the Archimedes Palimpsest are: On the Equilibrium of Planes, On Spirals, Measurement of a Circle, On the Sphere and the Cylinder, On Floating Bodies, The Method of Mechanical Theorems and Stomachion.
The Fields Medal for outstanding achievement in mathematics carries a portrait of Archimedes, along with his proof concerning the sphere and the cylinder. The inscription around the head of Archimedes is a quote attributed to him which reads in Latin: "Transire suum pectus mundoque potiri" (Rise above oneself and grasp the world).
The exclamation of Eureka! attributed to Archimedes is the state motto of California. In this instance the word refers to the discovery of gold near Sutter's Mill in 1848 which sparked the California Gold Rush.
b. The treatises by Archimedes known to exist only through references in the works of other authors are: On Sphere-Making and a work on polyhedra mentioned by Pappus of Alexandria; Catoptrica, a work on optics mentioned by Theon of Alexandria; Principles, addressed to Zeuxippus and explaining the number system used in The Sand Reckoner; On Balances and Levers; On Centers of Gravity; On the Calendar. Of the surviving works by Archimedes, T. L. Heath offers the following suggestion as to the order in which they were written: On the Equilibrium of Planes I, The Quadrature of the Parabola, On the Equilibrium of Planes II, On the Sphere and the Cylinder I, II, On Spirals, On Conoids and Spheroids, On Floating Bodies I, II, On the Measurement of a Circle, The Sand Reckoner.
c. Boyer, Carl Benjamin A History of Mathematics (1991) ISBN 0471543977 "Arabic scholars inform us that the familiar area formula for a triangle in terms of its three sides, usually known as Heron's formula — k = √(s(s − a)(s − b)(s − c)), where s is the semiperimeter — was known to Archimedes several centuries before Heron lived. Arabic scholars also attribute to Archimedes the 'theorem on the broken chord' … Archimedes is reported by the Arabs to have given several proofs of the theorem."
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