How to use Archimedes’ ingenious ancient weapons
What do you mean you haven’t heard of Archimedes? He’s one of the most famous people in the known world! He’s a genius inventor from right here in Syracuse, the city-state by the sea. He’s transforming math from just theories into actual inventions and machines that can do incredible things. He can make stuff go uphill! It’s all the 3rd-century BCE rage. No? Nothing? OK. Remember a while back when that guy ran around the city naked yelling “Eureka”? Right? That was him.
Anyway, he’s not just a streaker. He’s also the one that devised all these incredible machines we’ve been using to defend Syracuse from the Romans. Let me show you three of the craziest ones so you can help next time they attack:
- The Hands of Iron: So, when invading Roman ships approach, how do we keep their soldiers from docking? Cannons haven’t been invented yet. Fortunately, thanks to Archimedes, we have this massive lever-and-pulley system so you can stand here, safely behind the city wall, and control this set of massive claw-hands that go over the wall and pick the ship right up out of the water and dump it over. They never see that coming.
- The Death Ray Mirrors: More invading ships than the hands of iron can manage? That’s fine. Archimedes also devised these huge parabolic mirrors that can reflect the very light of the sun and concentrate so much of it onto a single point that it can set fire to a ship several yards away. Really fun to watch.
- The Ballista: OK, so the Romans are here. All is not lost! You still have your ballistas, which are catapults that work kind of like stationary crossbows. Just turn these levers, which twist these ropes really tightly, then pull the trigger to release the ropes and send heavy rocks and darts and things flying at enormous speed. You just have to aim.
To be honest, machines like these are probably a big part of why we’ve been able to hold the Romans at bay for so long. (Sources disagree on whether these were actually used.) Unfortunately, as you can see, that’s all moot, because the Romans are here, bearing down on us as we speak. Some traitor let them in the back door. Then apparently some peon soldier killed Archimedes, not knowing who he was. So… it was nice knowing you.
Interactive models of these three defensive machines, as well as more than 60 others, are ready for you to touch, explore, and experiment with. Learn more about Archimedes and the exhibit HERE.