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History >> Ancient Greece >> Biography
- Occupation: Mathematician, physicist, and astronomer
- Born: 287 BC in Syracuse, Sicily
- Died: 212 BC in Syracuse, Sicily
- Best known for: Being a great mathematician and inventor
Archimedes is one of the more interesting characters in the history of Ancient Greece. He lived in the city of Syracuse where he solved problems and created inventions for the king. He was one of the great mathematicians in world history and made many early discoveries.
Archimedes was born on the island of Sicily in the city of Syracuse around the year 287 BC. His father was an astronomer named Phidias. Archimedes may also have been related to King Hiero II of Syracuse. Although little is known about his early life, at some point he traveled to Alexandria, Egypt to study mathematics and then returned to Syracuse.
Working for the King
There are many stories about how and why Archimedes came up with his many inventions. Several of them tell how King Hiero II would request Archimedes to solve different problems. Archimedes would then go off and come up with some ingenious way to help out the king.
Silver or Gold?
One day the king received a new crown made from pure gold. However, he suspected that the goldsmith may have used some silver in the crown to save money. He asked Archimedes to figure out if it was pure gold. Archimedes wasn't sure what to do. He knew the density of gold and the density of silver, but how could he determine the volume of the crown?
He figured it out while taking a bath. He could measure the amount of water the crown displaced and then he could compare that with the weight of the object. Once he had this information, he could determine if the density of the crown matched with pure gold.
Archimedes used his mathematical skills and genius to create useful inventions. One of his most famous inventions is called the Archimedes' Screw. It was a device that could lift water to higher levels. One of its first uses was to pump water out from leaking ships. It is still used today in some places to move water from low bodies of water to irrigation ditches.
One of the major events in Archimedes' lifetime was the attack of Rome on Syracuse. Archimedes devoted his talents to defending his city from the Romans and came up with some fascinating inventions. Two of his most famous were the Claw of Archimedes and the heat ray.
- Claw of Archimedes - The Claw of Archimedes was a large crane with a grappling hook on the end of it. When an enemy ship came close to the crane, it would hook the ship's prow and then tip the ship over.
- Heat Ray - Legend has it that Archimedes used mirrors to concentrate rays from the sun and set enemy ships on fire. This likely would not have worked, but perhaps it was used to distract or blind enemy ships.
Archimedes' true passion was mathematics. He made many discoveries and today he is considered one of the greatest mathematicians in history. Some of his discoveries were in the field of geometry where he worked with spheres, cylinders, circles, and parabolas. He also calculated the value of pi very accurately using a process called the "method of exhaustion." He even used something called "infinitesimals" to perform math similar to modern-day calculus.
After two years of holding off the Romans, the city of Syracuse was finally taken in 212 BC. Archimedes was working on a math problem when a Roman soldier approached him and ordered him to come meet with the Roman general. When Archimedes refused, the Roman soldier grew angry and killed him.
Interesting Facts About Archimedes
- Legend has it that Archimedes' last words to the Roman soldier who killed him were "Do not disturb my circles" referring to some drawings he had made in the sand.
- He is sometimes credited with inventing the odometer.
- The great inventor and astronomer Galileo once described Archimedes as "superhuman."
- The Fields Medal given to the top mathematicians each year has a picture of Archimedes on it.
- He discovered the Archimedes' principle in physics which says that the upward buoyant force on a body immersed in a fluid is equal to the weight of the fluid the body displaces.
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