Archimedes of Syracuse
Born: 287 BC in Syracuse, Sicily
Died: 212 BC in Syracuse, Sicily
Archimedes' father was Phidias, an astronomer. We know nothing else about Phidias other than this one fact and we only know this since Archimedes gives us this information in one of his works, The Sandreckoner. A friend of Archimedes called Heracleides wrote a biography of him but sadly this work is lost. How our knowledge of Archimedes would be transformed if this lost work were ever found, or even extracts found in the writing of others.
Archimedes was a native of Syracuse, Sicily. It is reported by some authors that he visited Egypt and there invented a device now known as Archimedes' screw. This is a pump, still used in many parts of the world. It is highly likely that, when he was a young man, Archimedes studied with the successors of Euclid in Alexandria. Certainly he was completely familiar with the mathematics developed there, but what makes this conjecture much more certain, he knew personally the mathematicians working there and he sent his results to Alexandria with personal messages. He regarded Conon of Samos, one of the mathematicians at Alexandria, both very highly for his abilities as a mathematician and he also regarded him as a close friend.
In the preface to On spirals Archimedes relates an amusing story regarding his friends in Alexandria. He tells us that he was in the habit of sending them statements of his latest theorems, but without giving proofs. Apparently some of the mathematicians there had claimed the results as their own so Archimedes says that on the last occasion when he sent them theorems he included two which were false:-
... so that those who claim to discover everything, but produce no proofs of the same, may be confuted as having pretended to discover the impossible.
Other than in the prefaces to his works, information about Archimedes comes to us from a number of sources such as in stories from Plutarch, Livy, and others. Plutarch tells us that Archimedes was related to King Hieron II of Syracuse (see for example):-
Archimedes ... in writing to King Hiero, whose friend and near relation he was....
Again evidence of at least his friendship with the family of King Hieron II comes from the fact that The Sandreckoner was dedicated to Gelon, the son of King Hieron.
There are, in fact, quite a number of references to Archimedes in the writings of the time for he had gained a reputation in his own time which few other mathematicians of this period achieved. The reason for this was not a widespread interest in new mathematical ideas but rather that Archimedes had invented many machines which were used as engines of war. These were particularly effective in the defence of Syracuse when it was attacked by the Romans under the command of Marcellus.
Plutarch writes in his work on Marcellus, the Roman commander, about how Archimedes' engines of war were used against the Romans in the siege of 212 BC:-
... when Archimedes began to ply his engines, he at once shot against the land forces all sorts of missile weapons, and immense masses of stone that came down with incredible noise and violence; against which no man could stand; for they knocked down those upon whom they fell in heaps, breaking all their ranks and files. In the meantime huge poles thrust out from the walls over the ships and sunk some by great weights which they let down from on high upon them; others they lifted up into the air by an iron hand or beak like a crane's beak and, when they had drawn them up by the prow, and set them on end upon the poop, they plunged them to the bottom of the sea; or else the ships, drawn by engines within, and whirled about, were dashed against steep rocks that stood jutting out under the walls, with great destruction of the soldiers that were aboard them. A ship was frequently lifted up to a great height in the air (a dreadful thing to behold), and was rolled to and fro, and kept swinging, until the mariners were all thrown out, when at length it was dashed against the rocks, or let fall.
Archimedes had been persuaded by his friend and relation King Hieron to build such machines:-
These machines [Archimedes] had designed and contrived, not as matters of any importance, but as mere amusements in geometry; in compliance with King Hiero's desire and request, some little time before, that he should reduce to practice some part of his admirable speculation in science, and by accommodating the theoretic truth to sensation and ordinary use, bring it more within the appreciation of the people in general.
Perhaps it is sad that engines of war were appreciated by the people of this time in a way that theoretical mathematics was not, but one would have to remark that the world is not a very different place at the end of the second millenium AD. Other inventions of Archimedes such as the compound pulley also brought him great fame among his contemporaries. Again we quote Plutarch:-
[Archimedes] had stated [in a letter to King Hieron] that given the force, any given weight might be moved, and even boasted, we are told, relying on the strength of demonstration, that if there were another earth, by going into it he could remove this. Hiero being struck with amazement at this, and entreating him to make good this problem by actual experiment, and show some great weight moved by a small engine, he fixed accordingly upon a ship of burden out of the king's arsenal, which could not be drawn out of the dock without great labour and many men; and, loading her with many passengers and a full freight, sitting himself the while far off, with no great endeavour, but only holding the head of the pulley in his hand and drawing the cords by degrees, he drew the ship in a straight line, as smoothly and evenly as if she had been in the sea.
Yet Archimedes, although he achieved fame by his mechanical inventions, believed that pure mathematics was the only worthy pursuit. Again Plutarch describes beautifully Archimedes attitude, yet we shall see later that Archimedes did in fact use some very practical methods to discover results from pure geometry:-
Archimedes possessed so high a spirit, so profound a soul, and such treasures of scientific knowledge, that though these inventions had now obtained him the renown of more than human sagacity, he yet would not deign to leave behind him any commentary or writing on such subjects; but, repudiating as sordid and ignoble the whole trade of engineering, and every sort of art that lends itself to mere use and profit, he placed his whole affection and ambition in those purer speculations where there can be no reference to the vulgar needs of life; studies, the superiority of which to all others is unquestioned, and in which the only doubt can be whether the beauty and grandeur of the subjects examined, of the precision and cogency of the methods and means of proof, most deserve our admiration.
His fascination with geometry is beautifully described by Plutarch:-
Oftimes Archimedes' servants got him against his will to the baths, to wash and anoint him, and yet being there, he would ever be drawing out of the geometrical figures, even in the very embers of the chimney. And while they were anointing of him with oils and sweet savours, with his fingers he drew lines upon his naked body, so far was he taken from himself, and brought into ecstasy or trance, with the delight he had in the study of geometry.
The achievements of Archimedes are quite outstanding. He is considered by most historians of mathematics as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. He perfected a methods of integration which allowed him to find areas, volumes and surface areas of many bodies. Chasles said that Archimedes' work on integration (see):-
... gave birth to the calculus of the infinite conceived and brought to perfection by Kepler, Cavalieri, Fermat, Leibniz and Newton.
Archimedes was able to apply the method of exhaustion, which is the early form of integration, to obtain a whole range of important results and we mention some of these in the descriptions of his works below. Archimedes also gave an accurate approximation to and showed that he could approximate square roots accurately. He invented a system for expressing large numbers. In mechanics Archimedes discovered fundamental theorems concerning the centre of gravity of plane figures and solids. His most famous theorem gives the weight of a body immersed in a liquid, called Archimedes' principle.
The works of Archimedes which have survived are as follows. On plane equilibriums (two books), Quadrature of the parabola, On the sphere and cylinder (two books), On spirals, On conoids and spheroids, On floating bodies (two books), Measurement of a circle, and The Sandreckoner. In the summer of 1906, J L Heiberg, professor of classical philology at the University of Copenhagen, discovered a 10th century manuscript which included Archimedes' work The method. This provides a remarkable insight into how Archimedes discovered many of his results and we will discuss this below once we have given further details of what is in the surviving books.
The order in which Archimedes wrote his works is not known for certain. We have used the chronological order suggested by Heath in in listing these works above, except for The Method which Heath has placed immediately before On the sphere and cylinder. The paper  looks at arguments for a different chronological order of Archimedes' works.
The treatise On plane equilibriums sets out the fundamental principles of mechanics, using the methods of geometry. Archimedes discovered fundamental theorems concerning the centre of gravity of plane fig