Archimedes’ Burning Mirror: A Genius of Science


Archimedes was a genius whose principles are still in use in the field of engineering science. He created a highly advanced and innovative military technologies that have been lost in time. One such technology is the Burning Mirror. There are many tales that speak of using lenses and mirrors in battles. Most interesting myth/fact is about the fearsome Solar Mirror or Burning Mirror innovated by Archimedes. This was a brainchild of Archimedes and developed between 212-215 BC in Syracuse. With the help of this giant mirror Archimedes incinerated the invading ships in Roman fleets and they were set on fire. Archimedes was credited for this wonder some victory over the mighty Romans.

Archimedes' Burning Mirror burnt the Roman ships

Polybius later accounted for the incident stating that the Romans were set to capture the city if it wasn’t for an old man from Syracuse known as Archimedes. The Roman fleet suffered severe losses and many of their ships were burnt. They stopped their assault on the city but laid a siege of eight months over the city forcing the dwellers to face starvation. But in 212 BC Marcellus took advantages of a Greek festival to enter into the Greek city and conquered. But Archimedes delayed the invasion by more than an year. No sooner Marcellus captured the city he sent soldiers to capture Archimedes. When soldiers met Archimedes he was busy in solving a complex mathematical equation and refused to accompany the soldiers. He was killed by Roman soldier for his insolence.

Similar models have been built to test the authenticity of the story

Though Archimedes has been held in high regard as genius over the years, but the authenticity of his Burning Mirror has often been put under question. Roman historian Dio Cassius has described the mirror as a hexagonal mirror, surrounded by several square mirrors, whole settings was placed in an assemblage. The mirrors gathered sun rays and converted them into laser like beam. This ignited the Roman ships from a long distance and reduced them to ashes. Though people in the 17th century dismissed this concept as a myth, but in 1747 George Louis LeClerc claimed that he had ignited a pine plank from 150 feet using about 128 mirrors. Then in 1975, a Greek scientist Dr. Ionnis Sakkas used 60 mirrors to ignite a wooden ship about 160 feet away. A German experiment in 2002 also met with similar success. Later experiments provided that sunny weather conditions and perfect heat was required to burn a ship or any wooden object from a long distance.

Yet again Archimedes has proved that science rules and often science can be weird and wondrous. Though the original Burning Mirror has been lost in time but its theory remains intact.

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