Column

History’s Mysteries: The Death Ray of Archimedes

We all know about Archimedes. He was the ancient Greek mathematician who famously said, “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the Earth.”

Maybe what we don’t know is that Archimedes led the defense of his city, Syracuse, against the attack of the Roman army. He invented a weapon, called the Archimedes Claw, that helped protect the city. But there are legends that he designed another weapon that raised fear in the hearts of the Romans: his Death Ray.

Archimedes’ Death Ray worked by focusing the sun’s rays using a series of mirrors. These polished, reflective mirrors were held by soldiers along the city’s walls. Their target? The Roman ships. Evidently, the focus of the sun’s rays could create such heat that the ships would burst into flames.

An alternative version of the Death Ray was that it was a single gigantic mirror that could incinerate anything in its path. Whatever the version, it seemed that Archimedes had invented the first laser gun in history.

Modern-day experiments have shown that mirrors and the sun could indeed be arranged to achieve this purpose. MIT employed a series of 127 mirrors that burned up a recreation of a Roman ship. In 1973, an engineer incinerated a rowboat with a similar setup.

However, there are a few problems with Archimedes’ weapon. The biggest argument against it is if this Death Ray really existed, why didn’t others copy it? But history books are silent about any further ancient Death Rays.

• Professor James Pinkerton is a retired educator who loves to share the mystery in our history. He can be reached at pinkertonjames1914@gmail.com.

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