Introducing Mathematicians from History 6 : Archimedes

In blog 6 in our series for students studying distance learning maths an Oxford Home Schooling distance learning tutor looks at the life and work of Archimedes.

When and where did he live?

Archimedes was born in Sicily in about 287 BC. He was educated in Egypt and then returned to Sicily where he lived until his untimely death in around 212 BC.

Why is he famous?

Archimedes is probably most famous for his discovery that when placed in water a floating object displaces an amount of water equal in weight to the object itself. Legend has it that he realised this stepping into his bath so he shouted “Eureka!” and ran home without his clothes. He also wrote many important mathematical works on geometry and mechanics.

Unusual facts

Archimedes is credited with the invention of the catapult and also the Archimedes Screw, which is becoming increasingly common as a water feature in children’s play areas.

A popular story tells how Archimedes died at the hands of a Roman soldier. He was working on a mathematical drawing in the sand when he was ordered to stop to meet the General. Archimedes refused saying he first needed to finish his diagram and so the soldier killed him. Some believe Archimedes’ last words were “Don’t disturb my circles.”

Links to modern mathematics

Much of Archimedes’ work is a foundation for modern mathematics. Calculations we do today involving the diameter and circumference of the circle are based on his discoveries. He developed an early approximation to the number we call pi.

Debby Gill


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