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Archimedes and the Invention of Artillery and Gunpowder Author(s): D. L. Simms Source: Technology and Culture, Vol.

28, No. 1 (Jan., 1987), pp. 67-79 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Society for the History of Technology Stable URL: Accessed: 29/11/2008 04:09
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The part that Archimedes' weapons played in the defense of Syracuse was fully attested by Polybius (Histories,8:2:3.2-8.4) and repeated with some variations by Livy (Ab Urbe Condita, 24:34) and Plutarch (Vitae, 14:7). While some have felt that their accounts were overromanticized, more have considered that the descriptions were accurate and within the capacity of Hellenistic technology.' Later and less reliable authors added the weapon of fire-incendiary materials (Silius Italicus, Punica, 14:300-315), prototype Greek fire (Galen, De Temp, C3.2), a burning mirror (Anthemius, "On Burning Mirrors"), or just scientific means (Lucian, Hippias, C.2). Fire may well have been used in the siege; it was a standard weapon of the period. However, there is no authentic evidence that Archimedes made any special use of it. Nonetheless, legends of both the Greek fire and the burning mirror have survived to the present day, and belief in the latter story is still strong.2 The attribution of one other weapon to Archimedes does not appear to be so well known, yet it is much more extraordinary still-the
DR. SIMMS recently retired from the United Kingdom Department of the Environment. He acknowledges the help of John Alvey, Lindsay Blackburn, Mark Mazower, Richard Summers, and Christopher Pearson in translating and interpreting several of the documents. This paper was presented at a meeting of the British Society for the History of Science at the University of Leicester in April 1979. Some revisions were made when Marshall Clagett's definitive work on Archimedes in the Middle Ages became available in the U.K. and when reports of the experiments of loannis Sakas were published. 'M. Clagett, "Archimedes," in Dictionaryof ScientificBiography,ed. C. C. Gillispie (New York, 1970), 1:214 (fabulous ballistic instruments); E. W. Marsden, Greekand Roman Artillery:Historical Development(Oxford, 1969), pp. 91, 98. 21. Schneider, "Die entstehung der Legende um die kriegstechnische Anwendung von Brennspiegeln bei Archimedes," Technikgeschichte36 (1969): 1-11; D. L. Simms, and Culture 18 (January "Archimedes and the Burning Mirrors of Syracuse," Technology 1977): 1-24; P. Thuillier, "Une Enigme: Archimede et les miroirs ardents," La Recherche 100 (1979): 444-53. ? 1987 by the Society for the History of Technology. All rights reserved. 0040-165X/87/2801-0005$01.00



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invention of cannon or artillery (tormenta).This ascription is not infrequently found in commentators on Archimedes from the 14th to the early 18th centuries, and the last reference in that tradition is certainly as late as 1795. Moreover, as Ladislao Reti has shown, it is the probable source for Leonardo's attribution to Archimedes of the invention of the steam cannon or architronito. There has been no examination of the reasons the story was first recorded, or of how it related to the main Archimedean tradition, until Marshall Clagett's recent discussion. Reti was concerned solely with how the early references had led Leonardo to his astonishing opinion. J. R. Hale mentioned the story and the principal authorities for it in a discussion both of the various claims-they range from China, Germany, Moorish Spain, Hellas, and Hell-concerning the discovery and first use of the cannon and gunpowder and of their effects on warfare in the Renaissance.3 The most famous expression of this uncertainty about its place of origin is that by Francis Bacon, on the three inventions that shook his world (Novum Organum, bk. 1, aphorism 129). Appearanceof the Attribution A formula for gunpowder was given by Roger Bacon, and cannon were invented no later than the first quarter of the 14th century. The first mention in Western Europe occurs in an Italian document of 1326, and the first known illustration may date from the same or next year. The first use was probably at Crecy in 1346.4 The earliest reference to Archimedes' part in the invention of artillery followed soon afterward. Petrarch (1304-74) wrote an essay, "Of Engines and Artillerie," in De Remediis,a work started in 1358 and finished on October 4, 1366: I am surprised that you have not also those bronze acorns which are thrown with a jet of flame and a horrible noise of thunder [glandes aeneus quae flammis injectis horrisono tonitrujacientur]. It is not enough to have the anger of an immortal God thundering
3M. Clagett, "Biographical Accounts of Archimedes in the Middle Ages," in Archimedes in the Middle Ages, vol. 3, pt. 4, appendix 3 (Philadelphia, 1978), pp. 1329-41; Ladislao Reti, "II Mistero dell'Architronito," Raccolta Vinciana 19 (1962): 171-83; J. R. Hale, ed. "Gunpowder and the Renaissance," in FromtheRenaissanceto the Counter-Reformation, C. H. Carter (London, 1966), pp. 113-44, 115-16. 4J. R. Partington, History of GreekFire and Gunpowder(Cambridge, 1960), pp. 91-143 (detailed noting of each source, not necessarily based on a study of the originals), p. 97 a forgery), p. 101 (the first definite mention in Italian (first-mentioned date-1313-is document, Florence, 1326), pp. 91, 96 (Black Berthold or Berthold Schwarz is a purely legendary figure), p. 103 (Petrarch).

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in the vault of heaven but, oh cruel mixture of pride, man sorry creature must also have his thunder. Those thunders which Vergil thought to be inimitable, man in his rage for destruction has come to imitate. He throws them from an infernal machine of wood as they are thrown from the clouds [mitti solet, ligneo quidam sed tartareo mittitur instrumento]. Some attribute this invention to Archimedes.... This scourge was once so rare that it was considered a prodigy, but now that mindes are apt to invent the worse things, it is as common as other kind of arms. No one has succeeded in tracing Petrarch's source, if indeed it had any other than his own imagination. Partington does note that the reference has been accepted as genuine and as important in dating the origin of the gun in Western Europe.5 Nonetheless, the belief that the ancients had had weapons and devices by then lost was quite general in his day. Given the knowledge that so much had been lost and so much recovered, this particular belief was not so unreasonable as it first appears. Books with titles such as AncientDiscoveriesNow Lost or something similar were to be published for centuries. Among those losses and recoveries had been knowledge of Archimedes and his achievements. Scholars in medieval times had always had available to them works containing passages on his life and works, but there is no evidence that anyone so much as noticed them. It was not until Archimedes' papers began to be translated into Latin from Greek and from Arabic toward the end of the 13th century that brief biographical accounts of him and his exploits began to appear.6 Archimedes had thus ceased to be a mere name in the books, and the idea of his being a great inventor was abroad by the time artillery and gunpowder were in use and Petrarch was writing. Indeed, to Petrarch's great friend Giovanni de' Dondi, Archimedes' authority was of the same order as that of Homer, Aristotle, Cicero, Virgil, Euclid, and Ptolemy. Clearly he expected Petrarch to accept this ranking, since he was using the authority of their names to support that of Hippocrates.7
5F. Petrarch, De RemediisUtriusque Fortunae,bk. 2, chap. 99; Partington (n. 4 above), pp. 103-4 (trans. based on a later edition [Rotterdam, 1649], p. 275), Thomas Twyne, Phisicke against Fortune (London, 1579), First Booke, Dialogue 99, pp. 125r-26r; E. H. Wilkins, Life of Petrarch (London and Chicago, 1961), p. 178 (De Remediis, begun in Milan); p. 205 (completed in Pavia 1366); Partington (n. 4 above), pp. 95, 103, 111, 132. 6Clagett (n. 3 above), pp. 1329-41. Clagett quotes four or five biographical sketches of the period immediately before Petrarch and traces their sources. Those available with references to Archimedes' part in the siege include Livy (Ab Urbe Condita 24:34), Pliny (Historia Naturalia 7:37), Cicero (De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum 5:19:50, Against Verres 58:131, TusculanarumDisputationum23:64-66), Valerius Maximus (Memorabilia8:7). 7Wilkins (n. 5 above), p. 227.


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Petrarch's attribution appears obvious nonsense to almost all of us. Given the general lack of historical sense of Petrarch's contemporaries, the idea that Archimedes had invented the cannon may not have appeared nonsense to them. It should have to Petrarch, however, who did take a critical view of accounts of historical events, and who did ask the question of statements: Are they true? The man who produced the first scholarly edition of Livy's work, and who was the author of a Latin poem Africa on the subject of the Second Punic War, must have known that Livy's detailed account had not mentioned cannon, any more than had the snippets in other authors available to him. It is hard to credit that he himself believed that Archimedes had invented "modern artillery" and, in fact, the quotation shows that Petrarch did not commit himself.8 In addition to Petrarch's "modern" attitude to the truth of facts in general, there is also his special knowledge of Archimedes-unique for his time. His edition of Livy, his writing of Africa, and his high regard for Cicero had led to his familiarity, perhaps unexpected, with Archimedes' life and exploits to a greater extent than any of his predecessors. Probably as a result of this reading, Petrarch left an important account of Archimedes' life and activities that was based on original sources-Livy and Cicero-if not the primary one, Polybius. He knew of Polybius and of Plutarch, too, but he was unable to read them. Although Petrarch's Life of Archimedes referred to the battery of Archimedes had deployed, he did not mention the invention weapons of artillery. Nor does he make this attribution in any of his other references to Archimedes, such as his comment that Archimedes stated the sun was the center of created things. Presumably, Petrarch took the idea itself from Cicero (Tusculanarum Disputationum,1:68; De Republica, or possibly from Macrobius (In Somnium Scipionis, 1:20:3-4). 6:17) These quotations express the belief that the sun is the leader and prince and governor of all other lights. Neither Cicero nor Macrobius ever stated that this belief was Archimedes' own theory. The nearest is the passage in his essay "Sand Reckoner," which mentions Aristarchus's heliocentric theory. Petrarch's source for the Sand Reckoner is not obvious. The attribution is presumably another leap of Petrarch's imagination. Besides his knowledge of Archimedes, Petrarch knew of accounts of
8J.Larner, Cultureand Societyin Italy, 1290-1420 (London, 1971), p. 151 ("byhis textual scholarship-his search for the manuscripts of the classics, ... he [Petrarch] provided a model of what the scholar's task should be"); J. H. Whitfield, Petrarchand the Renascence (Oxford, 1943), pp. 124-25 (Valla certainly anticipated by Petrarch in the question, Is this fact possible?); Partington (n. 5 above), pp. 103-4; Twyne (n. 5 above), pp. 125-26; Reti (n. 3 above), p. 177, did not question Petrarch's belief.

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the ancients' military technology; for example, he possessed Vegetius's work De Re Militari, and he might at the very least have been expected to be puzzled at the absence of any mention of Archimedes' cannon in that work. It is not certain how much he knew about medieval warfare. Pellets of bronze would have been too expensive to use; ones of stone were more usual, but a wooden cannon, held together by leather or possibly bronze straps, was much more common than those cast in metal, be it brass, bronze, or iron.9 However, just as Bacon might produce that splendid, quotable passage on the unknown origins of gunpowder in one work, but show himself perfectly aware of its country of origin elsewhere,'? so it should not surprise us unduly when Petrarch, in an old-fashioned moralistic work like De Remediis,appears to give credence to a story about Archimedes that he would have rejected as the critical editor of Livy. Spread of the Story Once recorded by Petrarch, the story should have been spread by the popularity of De Remediis,the most widely diffused of Petrarch's Latin works. There are a large number of manuscripts still extant, and there are nearly forty printed editions prior to 1500 as well as many abridgments. G. N. J. Mann found that the explicitly classical material was normally omitted from the epitomes. He instanced that the first abridgment, in Catalan, contained only one such piece-"a mention of Archimedes as sole inventor of the bombard" or cannon. His conclusion was to doubt whether De Remediisplayed any role in the transmission of the classical elements it contained until at least the end of the 15th century. Although the reference to Archimedes might more exactly come under the heading of pseudoclassical, Mann's choice of
9F. Petrarch, De Viris Illustribus, ed. G. Martellotti (Florence, 1964), 1:122-23; F. Petrarch, De Rerum Memorandum,ed. G. Billanovich (Florence, 1943), 5:cvi-cviii, bk. 1, sec. 23, "Archimedes"; pp. xxvii-xxxii (December 1343-February 1345, written at Parma, several editions in the 16th century) (article on Pliny, p. xcixff., indicates a reference to part of his Historia Naturalia without reference to Archimedes); J. H. Whitfield, A Short History of Italian Literature(London, 1960), p. 75 (unfinished); R. R. Bolgar, The ClassicalHeritageand Its Beneficiaries (Cambridge, 1954), p. 435 (Polybius was not paraphrased by Bruni as de Primo Bella Punico till 1421 and books 1-4 were not translated by Perrotti till 1455); R. Pfeiffer, A Historyof ClassicalScholarship:1300-1850 (Oxford, 1976), p. 29 (Plutarch's Lives, not translated till the 15th century, was till then lost to the medieval Western world); Petrarch'sLettersto Classical Authors, trans. M. E. Cosenza (Chicago, 1910), pp. 51, 102 (Polybius); p. 55 (Plutarch); p. 153 (Archimedes' heliocentric theory); E. H. R. Tatham, Franceso Petrarca (London, 1926), p. 42, n. 1; Bolgar, ClassicalHeritage, pp. 262-63 (Vegetius in Petrarch's library); TheMilitaryInstitutions of Vegetius, trans. J. Clarke (London, 1767), bk. 4, p. 174. 'OF.Bacon, Essays (London, reprinted 1972), p. 172.


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that very example suggests the attribution was not well known in this period and that Petrarch's was probably the only written reference until the middle of the 15th century." There were, of course, other discussions about whether the cannon was an invention of the ancients. The noted antiquary, Flavio Biondo (1392-1463), decided that the bombard had not been discovered in antiquity-there was no mention of it in the works of Caesar, Vegetius, and Frontinus. He concluded that the bombard was one improvement the moderns had made over the weapons of antiquity. Biondo, as an editor of Livy and as someone familiar with Plutarch's work, should have known which weapons were actually used at Syracuse. There is no obvious reference in his two works, either to Petrarch's De Remediisor to Archimedes. Indeed, had Biondo known of Petrarch's reference, he must have realized that his dating of its first use at Chioggia (1380) was ridiculous-by that date Petrarch was dead. On the other hand, Pius II believed that the captains of antiquity were as well armed as those of his time and that, in Homer and Virgil, one could find descriptions of every kind of weapon which our age used and of many others which had gone out of fashion. The opposite view was put very forcibly by Francesco di Giorgio Martini: "If the ancients had guns, why don't we find any traces of gun-ports in their walls? Why did they go on using rams and catapults?" Tortelli, somewhere about 1450, wrote that ". .. a bombard comes close to being a superior marvel, though we may curse its inventor-albeit not knowing who he was-as deserving to be struck down by lightning like Salmoneus, since there is nothing so like lightning in its light, its sound, and its smell...." Leonardo denied that the Romans had the cannon, although in a second reference he was to attribute to Archimedes the steam cannon.12
"A Dialogue betweenReason and Adversity,intro. F. N. M. Dickstra (Assen, 1968), p. 16 (first printed 1474); p. 23 (most popular of all Petrarch's works-reprinted twenty times between 1470 and 1650 and no critical edition since); p. 24 (had its day and ceased to be); G. N. J. Mann, "Petrarch and the Transmission of Classical Elements," in Classical Influences in European Culture (A.D. 500-1500), ed. R. R. Bolgar (Cambridge, 1971), pp. 217-24, p. 217 (wide diffusion of De Remediis),p. 218 (sole exception-Archimedes as inventor of bombards), p. 222 (explicitly classical material omitted), p. 224 (no role in transmission of classical elements at least until the end of the 15th century-question open for further research). '2Flavio Biondo, Historiarum(Basle, 1531), dec. 3, bk. 1, pp. 393-94 (N.B.-the page nos. are misprinted as duplicate pp. 293-94); F. Biondo, Roma Triumphans(Basle, 1531), p. 132 (bombard first used in the Venetian war of 1390); C. C. Bayley, War and Societyin RenaissanceFlorence(Toronto, 1961), p. 224 (only modern improvement), p. 219 (editor of Livy), p. 220 (familiar with Plutarch's works); F. A. Gragg and L. C. Gabel, eds. and trans., "The Commentaries of Pius II," SmithCollegeStudiesin History30 (1947), bks. 1-4,

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The second authority for the story is De Re Militari of Robertus Valturius (ca. 1413-82). The work was commissioned by Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini, under whom Valturius worked. It was finished probably in 1455-almost certainly before 1463-and was first printed in 1472 and thus before De Remediis.Valturius did not name Petrarch as the source of his reference: The cannon (bombard), as it is commonly called, is an engine made of metal which, by a torch of fire [firebrand] and sulfureous powder from the depths of the earth, hurls great bronze balls and flaming arrows and huge and very heavy stones far and wide with a thunderous and cracking noise, crushing the walls of towns and demolishing obstacles. It is thought it was invented by Archimedes at the time when Marcellus was besieging Syracuse in order to protect the liberties of his city and either prevent or postpone the destruction of his fatherland and which in our time was being used by rulers to control or destroy the liberties of people. The language and the argument are so similar to that of Petrarch that it is reasonable to assume that Valturius was quoting directly. Later commentators seem unaware that Valturius, like Petrarch, did not quite commit himself (ut putatur, "it was thought") to the belief that Archimedes actually invented "bombards" or cannon. Other passages in his work discussed the more usual weapons, the tormenta and machines of war described in Livy's Ab Urbe Conditaand in Plutarch's life of Marcellus. Valturius did not scrutinize the evidence for or against the story. This fits the comment by Bertrand Gille in The RenaissanceEngineers: "In this work Valturius appears not so much as a technician and a practical man as a man of letters. Some people have thought that he was nothing but a secretary who did nothing more than give literary form to the ideas and inventions of his master." However, according to C. C. Bayley, Valturius had drafted plans for the construction of Castello Sismondo at Rimini, and he argued that De Re Militari everywhere commanded a wide and respectful audience (there were several editions), although it levied heavy tribute on the established classical authorities-Xenophon, Frontinus, and Julius Caesar-and did not acknowledge Leonard Bruni's De Militia of 1422. Valturius certainly added information on Archimedes from Plutarch's Lives, available by 1470. Cornazano produced an epitome of the work
bk. 5, p. 393; A. Keller, "A Renaissance Humanist Looks at 'New' Inventions: The Article 'Horologium' in Giovanni Tortelli's De Orthographia,"Technologyand Culture 11 (July 1970): 345-65; The Notebooksof Leonardoda Vinci, ed. and trans. E. McCurdy (London, 1954), 2d ed., 2:526, 176-77 (steam cannon of Archimedes).


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in Italian rhyme, but he attributed the invention of gunpowder to that mythical figure, Berthold Schwarz, and, in a comment about the ancients' weapons, mentioned Marcellus but not Archimedes.13 The third source is Tartaglia, who named both Valturius and Cornazano and also added the invention of gunpowder: It is commonly believed, based on the authority of Cornazano, that guns and gunpowder were devised accidentally by a German alchemist. However, in my opinion, Archimedes of Syracuse, the eminent Philosopher and Mathematician, was the original inventor, and whoever wrote the commentary on leaf 6 of the first volume of Vitruvius is of the same opinion. Moreover, Valturius states in the tenth chapter of his book on warfare, that there are many references to Archimedes having designed a device made from iron out of which he could shoot, against an army, very large and heavy stones, with an accompanying loud report. From this, we conclude that it was a device like a great gun, but firing huge stone cannon-balls (similar to those used until comparatively recently) and the noise when it was fired was so loud that only a cannon and nothing else could make something similar. I believe that earlier guns were less well made than they are now, because an invention is at first rough and crude, but over time it is improved because modifications are then easier to devise. The same may be true of gunpowder; when it was first devised by Archimedes, or by whomsoever it was for that matter, it was not probably made in the same way, using the same proportions as it is today. The reference in Vitruvius is to a manuscript note in an edition of his work: "Archimedes was the great inventor of machines and war machines including artillery." Reti commented that Tartaglia's was a picturesque exposition and that he did not care much about historical accuracy.'4 Tartaglia stated
'3Robertus Valturius, De Re Militari (Verona, 1472), no signatures, crude table of contents, no chapter numbers, no pagination; rev. ed. by Paulo Ramus (Verona, 1483), chapter numbers, no pagination; rev. ed. by Paulo Ramus (Paris and Basle, 1532), p. 261 (quotation), bk. 10, p. 264 (drawing tormenta),p. 265 (Plutarch), p. 264 (Livy). Valturius was summarized and translated into Italian by A. Cornazano as OperaBellissimadel Arte Militar (Venice, 1493), bk. 8, bk. 2, chap. 22 (ref. to inventor of gunpowder); bk. 3, chap. 2, p. 19 (Marcellus). At least six editions within the next sixty years. Valturius, De Re Militari, trans. into French by Meigret (Paris, 1534); Bertrand Gille, The Renaissance Engineers (London, 1966), p. 87 (finished in 1455); Bayley (n. 12 above), pp. 369-89 (De Re Militari--sources); J. A. Campano, Vitae Parallelae (Rome, 1470, 1475), 2 vols. '4Niccolo Tartaglia, QuesitietInventioni (Venice, 1554), bk. 3, p. 39 (dedicated to Prince Henry VIII); Niccolas Tartaglia, ThreeBooksof Colloquies, trans. Cyprian Lucar (London, 1588), Third Book of Colloquies, 5th colloquie, p. 71; Reti (n. 3 above), p. 178 (quotation from the famous edition by Cesarino, Di Lucio VitruvioPollione di Architectura Libri Dece Traducta de Latino in Vulgare (Como, 1521), p. 179 (accuracy).

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that the cannon was made of iron, whereas Petrarch wrote that it was wooden, but his view of how inventions improve with time follows the ideas expressed by Petrarch. His opinions appear to have gone unnoticed by other commentators of this period. Magi was the first to deny the attribution, but, although he gave references to Petrarch's De Remediisand to Valturius, he assumed that they both believed the story. The basis of his refutation was a simple one-Plutarch had described Archimedes' military weapons, some of them were noisy, but none of them sounded like guns and gunpowder. His argument was convincing enough and those who later deny the story normally base their denials on Magi.15 Survival of the Story Although Magi's work was reprinted in 1604, shortly before Mirabella's work appeared, the latter ignored its arguments. In his note on the life of Archimedes, which was based on Plutarch, Mirabella added that some thought that Archimedes had invented artillery. Mirabella was uncertain whether this was true. He recognized that so much had been ascribed to Archimedes-because of this, he considered the credibility of this particular attribution had been diminished. Like Petrarch and Valturius before him, Mirabella did not therefore state his own opinion unequivocally, so that later commentators who credited him with believing the story were not wholly unjustified.16 Buonanni, a descendent of a family that had befriended Petrarch, a decade later credited Mirabella with attributing the "inventioni della polve degli archibugi" to Archimedes and criticized him for not examining the evidence properly. Had Mirabella done so, he would have realized that Archimedes was not the inventor of this weapon. It had been used long before his birth, admittedly in a battle at Syracuse, by the Athenians in their war with Syracuse. The reader is then referred to the seventh book of Thucydides and the twelfth book of Diodorus. Both these books are fairly long and the specific references intended by Buonanni are not easy to identify. Thucydides related that Demosthenes, one of the Athenian generals, used siege engines to make an attempt on a counterwall built by the Syracusans. His attempt was unsuccessful, partly because the defenders set the siege engines on fire. Diodorus's account gave several other examples of a similar kind over a longer period. Given the context, it is not possible to defend Buonanni
'1Hieronymus Magi (Girolamo Maggi in British Library Catalogue), Variarum Lectionemseu Miscellaneorum,bks. 1-3 (Venice, 1564), bk. 1, p. 3v. Reprinted in J. Grutens, Fax Artium Liberalium(Frankfurt, 1604), 2, bk. 1, 2 ab ff. '6V. E. Alagova Mirabella, "Vita d'Archimede Siracusano," in Dell'Antiche Siracuse (Naples, 1613), bk. 2, pp. 106-10, p. 109.


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by arguing that he thought that Mirabella was referring to the ordinary siege engines of the Hellenistic period; moreover, he was familiar with Plutarch's Lives. Both Mirabella's and Buonanni's works were reprinted over the years, so the story was kept alive.'7 Gabriel Naude, librarian to Cardinal Mazarin, has been described as a man of a skeptical and critical turn of mind; he argued that we should "reject all the fables, unless we recognize them as just and reasonable after diligent research and exact criticism." It was on these criteria that he considered the story in a general review of military activities that included a full review of the legend of the burning mirrors and dismissed that as a fable for lack of evidence. The references to Archimedes' machines of war first were given, and Naude then turned his attention to de inventionepulveris pyrii attributed to Archimedes by Mirabella. The words he chose were crisp. He, for one, left no doubt about his opinion. "The invention which is attributed to him ought not only to be despised as false, but also ought to be laughed at, as the thoroughly absurd as one might say the ridiculous dream of one who is

A few other references may be noted. Although the story never became widely known in England, Fuller wrote of the invention of gunpowder in the first account of the Waltham Abbey power mills: "Though some suppose it is as ancient as Archimedes in Europe (and ancienter in India) yet generally men behold the Friar of Mentz the first founder thereof some three hundred years since." Raleigh, like Bacon, knew nothing of it: "Archimedes ... had framed such engines of warre ... did more mischiefe to the Romans than could have been wroughte by the Canon, or any instruments of Gunne powder, had
'7D. Giacomo Bonanni e Colonna (Buonanni in British Library Catalogue), Duc de Montalbano, Dell'Antica Siracusa (Messina, 1624), bk. 2, "Archimede," pp. 324-31, pp. 328-29 (artillery), pp. 326-27 (burning mirrors); Thucydides, Historyof thePeloponnesian War, trans. C. F. Smith (London, 1965), 4:83; bk. 7, 1. 43; Diodorus of Sicily, Universal History, trans. C. G. Oldfather (London, 1940), 5:155 (cap. 11.2) (no mention of siege engines at the same incident), 263 (cap. 85.2) (Carthaginian generals, Hamilcar and Hannibal, advanced two enormous towers against the walls of Acragas, whereupon the defenders burned the siege engines in a counterattack), 435 (cap. 109.4) (Syracusans under Dionysius joined the Geloans against the Carthaginians and used engines of war; Francesco Bonanno (Buonanni in British Library Catalogue), Principedi Roccasiorita, Duca di Montalbano, Delle Antiche Siracuse (Palermo, 1717), 2 vols. (vol. 1 by his own ancestor Giacomo; vol. 2 included Mirabella's work); G. Bonanno, reprinted in J. G. Graevius, ThesaurusAntiquatatum(Lugduni, 1725), vol. 11, as Jacobi Bonanni et Columnae, SyracusarumAntiquarumIllustratarum,2 bks. lsJ. A. Clarke, Gabriel Naude (Hamden, Conn., 1970), p. 11; G. Naude, Syntagma de Studio Militari (Rome, 1637), bk. 2, sec. 9, pp. 655-57, 656.

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they in that age been known." Raleigh accepted that it was a Chinese invention. '9 Fabricius gave reference to Archimedes' life and works and noted that Petrarch and Robertus Valturius reported that Archimedes had invented modern artillery but that Magi denied this. Mazzuchelli, in the last full account in the Archimedean tradition, referred to Petrarch and Valturius and agreed that Magi had refuted the story. His attitude resembled Naude's, for, while considering at length the controversy whether Archimedes set fire to enemy ships with burning glasses, Mazzuchelli observed scathingly that Mirabella believed that Archimedes had invented gunpowder, but this came as no surprise since Mirabella was capable of believing that Archimedes had used burning mirrors. Finally, Harles expanded Fabricius's notes for the fourth edition of 1795.20 There is one comparatively late exception to the use of Magi's arguments and one that reflects a sound understanding of innovation. The unknown English translator of a work by Pancirolli, first published in 1599, expressed his sardonic attitude in his own additions. Why did those who believed this story not take Demetrius the besieger as the true founder of artillery? "But methinks they are very ridiculous who make Salmoneus the Founder from those verses in the Sixth Aenead: Salmoneus had invented a scarecrow." Although the commentator knew that "Indian" writers claimed that the Chinese had invented gunpowder as well as printing and that other authors claimed that the Moors used guns before the Germans, he wondered why, if either of these claims were true, the transmission had been so slow. "After all, once the Venetians knew of guns and the Romans knew of printing, it was rapidly communicated to other people."21
'9T. Fuller, History of the Worthiesof England (London, 1662), pp. 318-19; William Bourne, TheArte of Shootingin GreatOrdnance(London, 1587), p. 5 (Schwarz only), p. 38 (Tartaglia but not Archimedean story). Tartaglia's work was not yet translated into English: Sir Walter Raleigh, Historyof the World(London, 1614), pt. 1.5, chap. 3, sec. 15, p. 516; Hale (n. 3 above), p. 116 (Raleigh). 20J.A. Fabricius, BibliothecaGraeca(Hamburg, 1716), 2:551-52, bk. 3, chap. 22 (source of Gibbon's knowledge of the burning mirrors: it is a pity he missed this story); Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London, 1964), 4:183; Maria Mazzuchelli, Notizie Storichee CriticheIntorno alla Vita alle Inventioni ed Agli Scrittid'Archimede (Brescia, 1737), p. 69; J. H. Fabricius, BibliothecaGraeca, ed. G. C. Harles (Hamburg, 1795), 4th ed., bk. 4, chap. 22, 2:183. 21Guido Pancirollus, Rerum Memorabilium(Hamburg, 1599); in English, The Historyof Many MemorableThings Lost Which Were in Use among the Ancients, with a commentary based on that by Salmuth and with additions (London, 1715), 2 vols. (bound as one), pp. 385-86.


D. L. Simms

Although Heiberg noted a reference in Libri's work, he appears to have ignored the story in his edition of Archimedes' works, and, since the later lives and editions largely derive from his, the attribution disappeared from the Archimedean tradition until its restoration by Clagett. Those references that are given are found in accounts of Leonardo's story of"steam cannon," often, but not invariably, with the reference in Petrarch given as its source.22 Commentary None of the supporters of the attribution, with the exception of Tartaglia, considered the evidence for other discoverers of gunpowder or artillery. Its creation and survival may to some extent be excused by the fact that the inventor of gunpowder, as well as its place of origin, then as now was unknown or uncertain.23 Whenever the origin of an invention is unknown or even doubtful, Archimedes has always been a prime candidate as its discoverer or inventor. This candidacy, though, has always had less credibility than the idea of attributing its invention to a creature of the imagination, Berthold Schwarz; but then, it is always easier to controvert an error than destroy a myth. It is noticeable, too, that no one seems to have used the argument that the "ancients" did not have the requisite chemical understanding to devise gunpowder or the metallurgical knowledge to manufacture guns. Belief collapsed because of the weight of historical (and military) criticism derived, ironically enough, from the approach adopted by Petrarch. Its survival for so long is an interesting example of what learned men can believe when they do not reflect on, let alone scrutinize, the evidence. Nonetheless, its existence confirms that the first glimpse of Archimedes in the late Middle Ages was of a great engineer or miracle worker.24 Only later did Plutarch's belief-that Archimedes despised practical applications of his ideas-establish itself. The ideas that these people may have had of Archimedes' powers may have been exagger22G.Libri, Histoire des SciencesMathematiques Italie (Paris, 1838), 1:208, n. V; L. en J. Heiberg, QuestionesArchimedeae(Leipzig, 1879), pp. 39-41; F. M. Feldhaus, Die Technik derAntike und desMittelalters(Potsdam, 1931), p. 138; A. Brunet and P. Mieli, Histoiredes Sciences (Paris, 1935), p. 362; Reti (n. 3 above), p. 175 (Valturius); p. 177 (Petrarch); Partington (n. 4 above), pp. 103-4; Carlo Cipolla, Guns, Sails, and Empires:Technological Innovation and theEarly Phases of EuropeanExpansion, 1400-1700 (New York, 1965), 22 p. (quotation from Petrarch omits reference to Archimedes); Jack Lindsay, Blast Power and Ballistics (London, 1974), pp. 366-67. 23Heizo Nambo, "Who Did Invent Explosives?"Journal of theIndustrial ExplosivesSociety of Japan 28 (1967): 322-29, 403-13. 24G.Sarton, A History of Science (London, 1959), 2:70.

Archimedesand the Invention of Artilleryand Gunpowder


ated, even fantastic, but they were nearer the truth than those who continue to copy what Plutarch wrote and who neglect or do not understand what Archimedes achieved. Besides, only recently, Ioannis Sakas demonstrated that a scaleddown version of the steam cannon can throw a missile some 50-60 meters. There was no reason to doubt that Leonardo's steam cannon would work, for, as Reti cogently argued, Leonardo was the precursor of Watt. Sakas, however, is reported as believing that Leonardo had access to Archimedes' original plans and thus that he was actually building a weapon designed by Archimedes. He is also apparently reported, too, as claiming that Petrarch had specifically referred to the steam cannon.25 A lack of historical sense is not confined to Petrarch's contemporaries.

25I.Sakas, Times(London), May 15, 1981; Timesleader (London), May 16, 1981; letter from D. L. Simms, Times (London), May 21, 1981; Sigvard Strandth, A History of the Machine (London, 1984), Arrow ed., p. 130 (Archimedes' thoughts on a steam cannon, later taken up by Leonardo da Vinci); Martin Kemp, Leonardoda Vinci, the Marvellous Worksof Nature and Man (London, 1981), p. 179 (admiration of Archimedes' architronito).