Skip to comments.Study: Archimedes Set Roman Ships Afire with Cannons
Posted on 07/07/2010 8:20:04 AM PDT by SunkenCiv
Greek inventor Archimedes is said to have used mirrors to burn ships of an attacking Roman fleet. But new research suggests he may have used steam cannons and fiery cannonballs instead.
A legend begun in the Medieval Ages tells of how Archimedes used mirrors to concentrate sunlight as a defensive weapon during the siege of Syracuse, then a Greek colony on the island of Sicily, from 214 to 212 B.C. No contemporary Roman or Greek accounts tell of such a mirror device, however.
Both engineering calculations and historical evidence support use of steam cannons as "much more reasonable than the use of burning mirrors," said Cesare Rossi, a mechanical engineer at the University of Naples "Federico II," in Naples, Italy, who along with colleagues analyzed evidence of both potential weapons.
The steam cannons could have fired hollow balls made of clay and filled with something similar to an incendiary chemical mixture known as Greek fire in order to set Roman ships ablaze. A heated cannon barrel would have converted barely more than a tenth of a cup of water (30 grams) into enough steam to hurl the projectiles.
Channeling steam power
Italian inventor Leonardo da Vinci sketched a steam cannon in the late 15th century, which he credited to Archimedes, and several other historical accounts mention the device in connection with Archimedes.
Indirect evidence for the steam cannon also comes from the Greek-Roman historian Plutarch, who tells of a pole-shaped device that forced besieging Roman soldiers to flee at one point from the walls of Syracuse.
The Greek-Roman physician and philosopher Galen similarly mentioned a burning device used against the Roman ships, but used words that Rossi said cannot translate into "burning mirror."
(Excerpt) Read more at livescience.com ...
It's always been interesting; in the 1980s (I think it was) someone tried making bunches of polished bronze mirrors to try to set a dummy ship on fire using focused sunlight, and it didn't work. Nice that someone is taking the ancients at their word, and I'd hate to see Archimedes Screwed (/rimshot!) out of the credit, but this doesn't seem like any big deal to me, whether true or not. Used a catapault to chuck an incendiary onto attackers, whoa. :')
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Could this be related, somehow, to so-called “Greek Fire”?
A recent Mythbusters tried the same thing - a human could stand unprotected in the focus. The shields were just too diffuse.
Steam Punk ping!!! THe Japanese had steam driven weapons in a anime series I am a big fan of.
You must be writing Barry's script.
Given that the article said “The steam cannons could have fired hollow balls made of clay and filled with something similar to an incendiary chemical mixture known as Greek fire...” I’m going to go out on a limb and say “yes”.
Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Interesting story about Archimedes. The Roman general who was beseiging the city wanted to spare Archimedes but the soldiers found Archimedes working on a math problem and killed him anyway.
I knew I should have pinged you. :’)
Blinded by the light, wrapped up like a deuce... that’s got something going for it, blind the attackers, then launch the darts, spears, arrows, and other projectiles while they’re disoriented and no one can give the warning to raise shields. Thwack.
Greek Fire from the Chronicle of Ioannis Skylitzis, mid-12th mid-13th century, Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid
Thank you for that article. Once I get home from my deployment, one of these will be built on our AZ property as an intellectual exercise. My five children will get a hoot from it.
Oops. Didn’t read far enough! Thanks, Lee.
Always thought it would be pretty hard to coordinate a group to be able to focus on one spot. Especially at what is probably a moving target.
They are still using Archimedes Screws to draw water from the Nile in Egypt. At least they were in the early 1980’s.
Makes for great confusion if you can't see where you are going. Could have even used the mirrors to “guide” ships into a killing lane.
Since the mirrors couldn't set the ships on fire, blinding the pilots and overheating the crew would make them less efficient at attack.
Exactly. They sit and spin.
It brings a misty eyed tear to recall there was a time when, not only were Americans familiar with the name ‘Archimedes’, but were thought competent enough to handle hot things without warning labels and build cannons.
Those, my friends, were the days!
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