4 remarkable inventions of Archimedes that still baffle us

4) Archimedes’ Catapults and Stonethrowers –


Now while these weapons systems may not sound as impressive as the aforementioned mechanisms, the effectiveness of Archimedes’ catapults might have surpassed the efficiency of the ‘exotic’ varieties of Archimedes’ war machines. To that end, according to Polybius, one of the major devices contrived by Archimedes related to a hefty stone-thrower that could hurl significantly heavy 500 lbs stones at the approaching ships. Another intriguing conception from the Greek engineer extraordinaire was the apparent design of a steam-powered catapult or a canon (as mentioned by Cicero in a manuscript discovered in a church library by Francisco Petrarch in 13th century AD).


These bigger constructions were complemented by smaller devices that would tactically keep up the rate of fire (of projectiles) on the advancing enemy lines. One of these smaller yet potent contraptions was supposedly the so-called ‘scorpion’ that could fire devastatingly accurate iron darts the keep the Roman marines at bay. As Polybius’ passage in Universal History describes a scene from the Siege of Syracuse –

Archimedes had constructed artillery which could cover a whole variety of ranges, so that while the attacking ships were still at a distance he scored so many hits with his catapults and stone-throwers that he was able to cause them severe damage and harass their approach. Then, as the distance decreased and these weapons began to carry over the enemy’s heads, he resorted to smaller and smaller machines, and so demoralized the Romans that their advance was brought to a standstill.

In the end Marcellus was reduced in despair to bringing up his ships secretly under cover of darkness. But when they had almost reached the shore, and were therefore too close to be struck by the catapults, Archimedes had devised yet another weapon to repel the marines, who were fighting from the decks. He had had the walls pierced with large numbers of loopholes at the height of a man, which were about a palm’s breadth wide at the outer surface of the walls. Behind each of these and inside the walls were stationed archers with rows of so-called ‘scorpions’, a small catapult which discharged iron darts, and by shooting through these embrasures they put many of the marines out of action.

Now from the historical perspective, it would be unfair to credit Archimedes with the creation of catapults themselves, since the first of such war machines had been in usage by 4th century BC. However, with the ingenuity and mathematical aptitude of Archimedes, the preciseness (and thus effectiveness and power) of the catapults were surely improved to a far greater degree.

Honorable Mention – The Antikythera Mechanism


The Antikythera mechanism was salvaged from a southern Greece shipwreck in 1900, and since then the proverbial ‘contraption’ has astonished archaeologists and scientists alike, by virtue of not only its evolved workmanship but also its advanced purpose. To that end, the mechanism is often stated as the world’s oldest gear ‘machine’, and is also called the world’s oldest analog computer – crafted to detect (or predict) various complex astronomical observances (including eclipses).


Oddly enough, in spite of such praises and hyperbolic statements, historians have still not been able to find out much about the creator of this state-of-the-art mechanism. The only substantiated factors are that the machine was made by Greek astronomers, and it was built around the period of 205 BC. As for the exact source of the enviable craftsmanship, there are several conjectures including the most recent hypothesis from ‘The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project‘ that proposes that the device was conceptualized in one of the colonies of Corinth (which can include Syracuse – the home of Archimedes). Other inferences pertain to the mechanism’s origin in Pergamum (in present-day Turkey) or in Rhodes – with both locations being known for ancient accomplishments in the fields of science and astronomy.

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