Few certain details remain about the life of antiquit^s greatest
mathematician, Archimedes. We know he was born in 287 B.C. 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. 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
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
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
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 history.