Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Archimedes, the most illustrious citizen of Syracuse

If one name is immediately associated with Syracuse, it certainly is that of the mathematical genius Archimedes (ca 287-212 BC). Yes, we all know he was Greek but never realize that he actually lived and died in Sicily, then part of Magna Graecia.

It is unclear whether he was a close friend or a relative of King Hieron II of Syracuse (c.308-215 BC) but we know that the king sponsored Archimedes’ trip to Alexandria to study at the renowned library where he seems to have met his friend Conon of Samos and also Erastothenes of Cyrene whom he mentioned in the introduction of two of his works.

Archimedes was working for Hieron II and his son Gelon II constructing devices as catapults, burning mirrors, and an iron claw, a sort of crane with a grappling hook that was able to lift the ships out of the water and making them capsize and sink. He also is famous for inventing an orrery, i.e. a mechanical model of the solar system in which the sun is at the center and the earth rotates around it; it could predict solar and lunar eclipses.

Archimedes established the relationship between the circumference and the diameter of a circle.

His best known invention happened while he was taking a bath and noticed that the water level rose when he stepped into the tub. This led to his theory to calculate the volume of an object and he was so excited about his discovery that he ran out of his house, stark naked, shouting “Eureka!”, I found it! If we can believe Vitruvius, Archimedes applied this principle when King Hieron II asked him to determine whether the votive crown he had ordered for a temple was indeed made with the pure gold he had supplied or if the goldsmith had added some cheaper silver. A charming anecdote, no doubt, but it may not be entirely true as the calculations are far more complex than that.

Another invention called the Archimedes’ screw has been used successfully over the centuries, and still is in those places where water has to be moved from a lower level to higher grounds or canals. His system, consisting of a revolving screw inside a cylinder even applies to moving coal or grain. There are however discussions that tend to attribute the invention to the Babylonians who used the principle to irrigate their Hanging Gardens.

History written down by Athenaeus of Naucratis tells us that King Hieron II asked Archimedes in 240 BC to build a large ship to carry huge amounts of supplies and could also be used in war as well as for pleasure. It was in fact a catamaran weighing 4,000 tons for which timber from Mount Etna was used together with rosewood and ivory from Africa and rope from Iberia – nothing less!  It was capable of transporting 600 people and was equipped with a temple dedicated to Aphrodite, a gymnasium and even a garden! Because of its size, the ship that was appropriately called the Syracusia, would leak considerably through the hull but Archimedes’ screw was capable of pumping the excess bilge water out. As the ship was far too big to anchor in most harbors, Hieron II decided to generously send it to Ptolemy IV Philopator in Egypt loaded with wheat when Egypt was struck by famine.

It should be noted that Hieron II perfectly realized the advantages of taking side with Rome rather than resisting it and his sixty-year long reign brought the city great prosperity. This shows in particular in the huge altar used for sacrifices to Zeus where as many as 450 bulls could be offered in one day. It is still there for us to see, nearly 200m long and 23 meters wide making it the largest altar ever known. Originally it was 15 meters high, that is until the Spaniards reused the stones to fortify the harbor of Syracuse in 1526. We also owe to this king the construction of the largest theater of the Greek world of his days that could hold 15,000 people. When Hieron II died in 215 BC, his successor decided to chose the side of the Carthaginians, who were threatening Rome at the time. This event had unfortunate results for our friend Archimedes.

It happened during the Second Punic War that the Romans, after a two-year-long siege, finally took possession of Syracuse. The leading general, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, had issued clear instructions that whoever found Archimedes should treat him kindly and not harm him. Yet an inpatient soldier noticing that the old man refused to meet his general, killed Archimedes who was totally absorbed in his mathematical diagram. Apparently he had not realized that he was in fact addressing Archimedes – this is at least what Plutarch tells us.

Not a single trace is left of Archimedes in today’s Syracuse, except for a square in the heart of Ortygia that is named after him, Piazza Archimede. Recently a small science museum has opened there, entirely dedicated to the city’s famous citizen exhibiting a number of interactive displays and models that illustrate some of his inventions and theories like the Stomachon, a 14-piece composition puzzle; a sphere contained by the cylinder; and the burning mirrors. These are all very intriguing and very much worth the visit.

[Drawings taken from Wikipedia]

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