Archimedes Thoughtful by Domenico Fetti (1620)
Archimedes Thoughtful by Domenico Fetti (1620). Public Domain

Name: Archimedes
Place of Birth: Syracuse, Sicily
Father: Phidias
Dates: c.287-c.212 B.C.
Main Occupation: Mathematician/Scientist
The Manner of Death: Probably killed by a Roman soldier in the aftermath of the Roman siege of Syracuse.

Famous Quote

"Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand, and I will move the world."
- Archimedes

Life of Archimedes:

Archimedes, a mathematician, and scientist who determined the exact value of pi, is also known for his strategic role in the ancient war and the development of military techniques.

First the Carthaginians, then the Romans besieged Syracuse, Sicily, the birthplace of Archimedes. While in the end Rome won and killed him (during the second Punic War, probably in 212 at the end of the Roman Siege of Syracuse), Archimedes put up a good, almost single-handed defense of his homeland. First, he invented an engine that threw stones at the enemy, then he used glass to set the Roman ships on fire -- well, at least according to legend. After he was killed, the regret-filled Romans had him buried with honor.

Education of Archimedes:

Archimedes probably traveled to Alexandria, Egypt, home of the famous library, to study mathematics with the successors of Euclid.

Some of Archimedes' Accomplishments:

  1. The name Archimedes is connected to a pumping device now known as a Archimedes Screw, which he may have seen in operation in Egypt.
  2. He described the principles behind the pulley,
  3. fulcrum and
  4. lever.


The word "eureka" comes from the story that when Archimedes figured out a way to determine whether the king (Hiero II of Syracuse), a possible relative, had been duped, by measuring the buoyancy of the king's supposedly solid gold crown in water, he became very excited and exclaimed the Greek (Archimedes' native language) for "I have found it": Eureka.

Here is the relevant passage from a public domain translation of the passage from Vitruvius who wrote two centuries later:

"​But a report having been circulated, that some of the gold had been abstracted, and that the deficiency thus caused had been supplied with silver, Hiero was indignant at the fraud, and, unacquainted with the method by which the theft might be detected, requested Archimedes would undertake to give it his attention. Charged with this commission, he by chance went to a bath, and being in the vessel, perceived that, as his body became immersed, the water ran out of the vessel. Whence, catching at the method to be adopted for the solution of the proposition, he immediately followed it up, leapt out of the vessel in joy, and, returning home naked, cried out with a loud voice that he had found that of which he was in search, for he continued exclaiming, in Greek, εὕρηκα [heúrēka] (I have found it out)." - Vitruvius

The Archimedes Palimpsest:

A medieval prayerbook contains at least 7 of Archimedes' treatises:

  1. Equilibrium of Planes,
  2. Spiral Lines,
  3. The Measurement of the Circle,
  4. Sphere and Cylinder,
  5. On Floating Bodies,
  6. The Method of Mechanical Theorems, and
  7. Stomachion.

The parchment still contains the writing, but a scribe re-used the material as a palimpsest.

See William Noel Revealing the Lost Codex of Archimedes video.

< URL = > The Archimedes Palimpsest and < URL = >Archimedes Palimpsest.

Ancient Sources on the Weapons of Archimedes:

  • Polybius Histories
  • Livy AUC 24:34
  • Plutarch Life of Marcellus 14:7 "And yet even Archimedes, who was a kinsman and friend of King Hiero, wrote to him that with any given force it was possible to move any given weight; and emboldened, as we are told, by the strength of his demonstration, he declared that, if there were another world, and he could go to it, he could move this. 8 Hiero was astonished, and begged him to put his proposition into execution, and show him some great weight moved by a slight force. Archimedes therefore fixed upon a three-masted merchantman of the royal fleet, which had been dragged ashore by the great labours of many men, and after putting on board many passengers and the customary freight, he seated himself at a distance from her, and without any great effort, but quietly setting in motion with his hand a system of compound pulleys, drew her towards him smoothly and evenly, as though she were gliding through the water. 9 Amazed at this, then, and comprehending the power of his art, the king persuaded Archimedes to prepare for him offensive and defensive engines to be used in every kind of siege warfare. These he had never used himself, because he spent the greater part of his life in freedom from war and amid the festal rites of peace; but at the present time his apparatus stood the Syracusans in good stead, and, with the apparatus, its fabricator."
  • Silius Italicus Punica 14:300-315
  • Lucian Hippias 2

"Archimedes and the Invention of Artillery and Gunpowder," by D. L. Simms; Technology and Culture, (1987), pp. 67-79.

Archimedes is on the list of Most Important People to Know in Ancient History.

Read more about Archimedes in Discoveries in Science Made by Ancient Greek Scientists.

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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Archimedes." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 26). Archimedes. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Archimedes." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 28, 2021).