ArchimedesArchimedesFew certain details remain about the lifeof antiquity’s greatest mathematician, Archimedes. We know he was bornin 287 B. C. E. around Syracuse from a report about 1400 years after thefact.
Archimedes tells about his father, Pheidias, in his book The Sandreckoner. Pheidias was an astronomer, who was famous for being the author of a treatiseon the diameters of the sun and the moon. Historians speculate that Pheidias’profession explains why Archimedes chose his career. Some scholars havecharacterized Archimedes as an aristocrat who actively participated inthe 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 of75 in Syracuse. It is said that he was killed by a Roman soldier, who wasoffended 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 throughhistory about his clever inventions than his mathematical theorems. Thisis believed to be so because the average mind of that period would haveno interest in the Archimedean spiral, but would pay attention to an inventionthat could move the earth. Archimedes’ most famous story is attributedto a Roman architect under Emperor Augustus, named Vitruvius. Vitruviusasked 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, henoticed that the deeper he submerged into the tub, the more water flowedout of the tub. This made him realize that the amount of water that flowedout of the tub was equal to the volume of the object being submerged. Thereforeby putting the wreath into the water, he could tell by the rise in waterlevel the volume of the wreath, despite its irregular shape. This discoverymarked the Law of Hydrostatics, which states that a body immersed in fluidloses weight equal to the weight of the amount of fluid it displaces. There are three main mechanical inventionscredited to Archimedes. The first one is the Archimedean screw which supposedlycould 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 displacementas demonstrated in the story above. Most historians would agree that moreimportant than his great mechanical inventions were his mathematical discoveries. The mathematical works that have been presentedto us by Archimedes could be classified into three groups. The first groupconsists of works that have as their major objective the proof of theoremsrelative to the areas and volumes of figures bounded by curved lines andsurfaces. The second category contains works that lead to a geometricalanalysis of statical and hydrostatical problems and the use of staticsin geometry.
Miscellaneous mathematical works make up the third group. Toward the end of Archimedes life, thepolitical situation around him became worse as the years went by. Afterthe 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. Afterthe Romans heard of this revelation they sent a fleet of ships to captureSyracuse. Archimedes was a key factor to the Syracusians’ ability to holdoff the Romans for so long.
He is said to have created catapults to hurlrocks and used compound pulleys with giant hooks to rip the Roman shipsapart. The most well known invention to ward off the Romans was the constructionof a series of giant lenses used to magnify the sun’s rays and set Romanships a blaze. The theorems that Archimedes discoveredand worked on raised Greek mathematics to a whole new level. He undertookdifficult problems in both mechanics and mathematics with great preserverence. Archimedes’ theorems, postulates, and inventions are still part of societytoday. These are some of the reasons that some scolars rank him with thegreatest mathematicians in history.