You may recognize the name Archimedes, but unless you are a historian or a mathematician you’re unlikely to know why you should care about him or his discoveries.

Archimedes was a toga-wearing Greek mathematician, born in 287 B.C., over two millennium ago. He was chosen by historyten.com as one of their “most famous scientists.” His father was an astronomer and the family lived in the seaside city of Syracuse. Archimedes spent a large part of his life in the Egyptian city of Alexandria.

This is important because Alexandria had the great Ptolemy Legides, which was a world famous library, later destroyed. Inclined towards learning from his youth Archimedes spent much of his time in Alexandria at the library studying science, astronomy, physics, mechanics, and engineering. This paid off and today our world exists as it is partly because of his discoveries.

For instance, it was Archimedes who used calculus to calculate the volume of a circle and the quantity of a sphere. He defined the correct estimation of pi and invented a math system for expressing massive numbers.

Still numerous cartoons and comics depict Archimedes as a naked man running around shouting “Eureka” at one of his discoveries. Likely this never happened, but shouting “Eureka” after a discovery has become tradition and easier to visualize than understanding his inventions.

*Archimedes’ Principle is the principle of buoyancy.* If an item is placed in liquid and forced down, the result will equal the weight of the applied force and the fluid displaced by the item.

*Archimedes’ Screw* was a device used to transfer water up hill. It worked in irrigation before the establishment of pumping systems and was used to irrigate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

*Archimedes’ Iron Claw* was a huge fishing rod with a hook at one end and anchored inside a battlement defending a seaside at the other end. The Claw could then be used to “hook” the end of an attacking ship and capsize the vessel.

Unfortunately, it was the Claw that instigated Archimedes death. The story goes like this.

During the war of Syracuse in 241 B.C. the Claw sank Roman ships commanded by Roman Commander Marcellus. Syracuse defeated the Romans.

Marcellus was impressed by the the Iron Claw and ordered soldiers to bring the inventor to him— alive. Archimedes, hyper focused had very poor political instincts. He said no, he was working on a mathematical diagram and didn’t have time. This didn’t go over well and one of the soldiers stabbed Archimedes. Archimedes died at the age of 75 in 212 B.C. and it’s likely that the soldier didn’t fare too well, either.

Still the instrument of his death, the “Claw,” was checked in 1999 A.D. and still worked.

Most of what is known about Archimedes is from histories written centuries after his death. These works have been lost then rediscovered. A manuscript by Isidorus is kept in the library in Jerusalem.

Written by Richard Marrison

Anthropologist

M.S., Eötvös Loránd University

Budapest, Hungary

historytenhq@gmail.com

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