Few certain details remain about the life of
antiquity’s greatest mathematician, Archimedes. We know
he was born in 287 B.C.E. around Syracuse from a report
about 1400 years after the fact. Archimedes tells about his
father, Pheidias, in his book The Sandreckoner. Pheidias
was an astronomer, who was famous for being the author of
a treatise on the diameters of the sun and the moon.
Historians speculate that Pheidias’ profession explains why
Archimedes chose his career. Some scholars have
characterized Archimedes as an aristocrat who actively
participated in the Syracusan court and may have been
related to the ruler of Syracuse, King Hieron II. We also
know Archimedes died in 212 B.C.E. at the age of 75 in
Syracuse. It is said that he was killed by a Roman soldier,
who was offended by Achimedes, while the Romans seized
Syracuse. Archimedes had a wide variety of interests, which
included encompassing statics, hydrostatics, optics,
astronomy, engineering, geometry, and arithmetic.
Archimedes had more stories passed down through history
about his clever inventions than his mathematical theorems.
This is believed to be so because the average mind of that
period would have no interest in the Archimedean spiral, but
would pay attention to an invention that could move the
earth. Archimedes’ most famous story is attributed to a
Roman architect under Emperor Augustus, named Vitruvius.
Vitruvius asked Archimedes to devise some way to test the
weight of a gold wreath. Archimedes was unsuccessful until
one day as he entered a full bath, he noticed that the deeper
he submerged into the tub, the more water flowed out of the
tub. This made him realize that the amount of water that
flowed out of the tub was equal to the volume of the object
being submerged. Therefore by putting the wreath into the
water, he could tell by the rise in water level the volume of
the wreath, despite its irregular shape. This discovery
marked the Law of Hydrostatics, which states that a body
immersed in fluid loses weight equal to the weight of the
amount of fluid it displaces. There are three main mechanical
inventions credited to Archimedes. The first one is the
Archimedean screw which supposedly could serve as a
water pump. The second invention was the compound
pulley. The third invention was the way of finding the volume
of something by displacement as demonstrated in the story
above. Most historians would agree that more important
than his great mechanical inventions were his mathematical
discoveries. The mathematical works that have been
presented to us by Archimedes could be classified into three
groups. The first group consists of works that have as their
major objective the proof of theorems relative to the areas
and volumes of figures bounded by curved lines and
surfaces. The second category contains works that lead to a
geometrical analysis of statical and hydrostatical problems
and the use of statics in geometry. Miscellaneous
mathematical works make up the third group. Toward the
end of Archimedes life, the political situation around him
became worse as the years went by. After the death of
Hieron II, Syracuse fell into the hands of his grandson,
Hieronymus, who changed from the alliance of Rome to the
alliance of Carthage. After the Romans heard of this
revelation they sent a fleet of ships to capture Syracuse.
Archimedes was a key factor to the Syracusians’ ability to
hold off the Romans for so long. He is said to have created
catapults to hurl rocks and used compound pulleys with giant
hooks to rip the Roman ships apart. The most well known
invention to ward off the Romans was the construction of a
series of giant lenses used to magnify the sun’s rays and set
Roman ships a blaze. The theorems that Archimedes
discovered and worked on raised Greek mathematics to a
whole new level. He undertook difficult problems in both
mechanics and mathematics with great preserverence.
Archimedes’ theorems, postulates, and inventions are still
part of society today. These are some of the reasons that
some scolars rank him with the greatest mathematicians in

Category: History