The Most Eminent Scientist of the Classical Age


During the classical age, Archimedes was regarded as the most acclaimed Greek scientist, mathematician, inventor, astronomer, engineer, physicist and scholar. Although historical accounts tell us very less about this man, the existing proofs show us that he was a man of letters. Born at Syracuse, Sicily, in modern day Italy, at a time when Syracuse was Magna Graecia’s colony, he is claimed to have been the son of an astronomer, Phidias, from whom he may have got his genius. As per Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, which is a collection of the biographies of the prominent men and women of Rome and Greece, Archimedes is believed to be related to King Hiero II, the ruler of Syracuse. Owing to his close relation with the King and his son, Gelon; he obtained a lot of success and prestige. It is said that Hiero would always call upon Archimedes to solve complicated problems and the latter never disappointed him. The famous engineer and inventor even designed and built innovative machines to help King Hiero in defending Syracuse from enemies. Some of his war inventions include defensive war machines, screw pump and compound pulleys for which the world lauds him, even today.

During his youth, Archimedes went to study at the school established by Euclid, the distinguished Greek mathematician, in Alexandria, Egypt. At school, he is said to have made friends, with two of the most popular names of his times, Eratosthenes of Cyrene and Conon of Samos. Except for this brief period, he spent the rest of his life at Syracuse.

During the time of the Second Punic War, when Syracuse was seized by the Roman forces after a blockade of 2 years, Archimedes died. Regardless of specific orders from General Marcus Claudius Marcellus not to hurt Archimedes; Furious, a Roman soldier who was sent by the former to fetch Archimedes, killed the great scientist. The story goes like this - Furious had gone and asked Archimedes to appear before him. Being deeply engrossed in a mathematical diagram, he refused to obey the commands of the soldier, who was so enraged by this disobedience that he killed Archimedes. In his biography, Plutarch gives a lesser-known account of Archimedes’ death, which suggests that the scientist was killed while he was making an attempt to surrender to the Roman soldier. According to this story, the Roman soldier mistook the mathematical instruments Archimedes was carrying for something valuable and killed him.

Do not disturb my circles’ are the final words attributed to Archimedes. These words refer to the mathematical circles that he was sketching, when the Roman soldier interrupted him. In tandem with his last words, Archimedes’ tomb portrays his renowned diagram of a sphere inside a cylinder, each being of the exact same height and diameter. The outstanding scientist had successfully proved that the surface area of a sphere and its volume form exactly 2/3rds of a cylinder, base included.

Archimedes is credited, with several remarkable and baffling inventions. Some of the incredible discoveries of the great scientist are given below.