Weapons Invented by Archimedes

Plutarch claims Archimedes was killed for refusing to follow the orders of a Roman soldier.
••• Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images

Archimedes was born in the ancient Greek city-state of Syracuse in 287 B.C. He is remembered as one of the greatest mathematicians and scientists of all time. Many of his inventions – most notably the Archimedes' screw – continue to be used today. His work in arithmetic, geometry, mechanics and hydrostatics is foundational to much of our modern understanding of these fields. Archimedes is also credited with inventing a number of military devices. Most of these devices were originally designed to prove his mathematical and mechanical theories and were adapted for military use when Syracuse was attacked by the Romans under Marcellus.

Catapults and Similar Siege Engines

The first century historian Plutarch, in transcribing an account of Marcellus's siege of Syracuse, describes a number of "engines" designed to hurl arrows and rocks at attacking Roman troops and ships. According to this account, some of the rocks hurled from Archimedes's catapults weighed as much as 10 talents – around 700 pounds. Marcellus also reported a device that made it appear as if the city wall rapidly shot out arrows and stones at the attacking troops. Marcellus also used a variety of weapons able to hurl or shoot projectiles at attackers both at great range and directly under the city's walls.

Archimedes' Claw

The Archimedes claw was a device used to demonstrate the power of leverage. Archimedes used long ropes affixed to a ship to tip it over with minimal force. The defenders of Syracuse used this principle by firing ropes with a crow's-head-shaped device at the Roman ships and pulling on the ropes to overturn the ships or to dash them on Syracuse's rugged coastline. It is uncertain how the claws were delivered. Suggestions vary from cranes to catapults and trebuchet-like devices.

Burning Mirrors

Twelfth century historians John Tzetzes and John Zonares credit Archimedes with using a system of mirrors to direct the heat of the sun at Roman ships, setting them ablaze. Zonares goes so far as to claim that Archimedes destroyed the Roman fleet this way. Many modern historians and scientists consider these claims dubious. However, a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering students were successful in replicating the feat of setting a ship ablaze using only mirrors in a 2005 set test, lending plausibility to the legend that Archimedes invented a death ray using mirrors.

Steam Cannon

The steam cannon is another questionable device credited to Archimedes. Plutarch and Leonardo da Vinci both claimed that he had developed one. Some historians suggest that the cannon – which allegedly used rapidly-heated steam to propel a projectile – may have been the actual device which caused the fires attributed to the "death ray." They suggest it is possible that Archimedes used such a device to fire hollow clay projectiles filled with an incendiary to set the ships ablaze. The year after their successful attempt to construct a death ray, MIT engineering students also successfully tested the steam cannon's feasibility, using a design similar to the one Leonardo credited to Archimedes.

Related Articles

Facts for Kids About Galileo
List of Discoveries of Galileo Galilei
Tools Used by Early Explorers
History of the Pendulum
Single-Engine Airplane Facts
Is This Beluga Whale Seriously a Russian Spy?
Who Was the First Person to Discover Gravity?
Modern Uses of a Catapult
Galileo Galilei's Invention & Contributions
Heliocentric Model of the Solar System Facts
The History of Wind Vanes
How Does a Rock Crusher Work?
The Discovery of Gravity & the People Who Discovered...
How Was Granite Quarried in Ancient Egypt?
What Weapons Were Used During Colonial Days of North...
Tools of Early Humans
Inventor of the Nail Gun
Barometric Pressure & Hurricanes

Dont Go!

We Have More Great Sciencing Articles!