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Archimedes Palimpsest


Archimedes Palimpsest

A typical page from the Archimedes Palimpsest. The text of the prayer book is seen from top to bottom, the original Archimedes manuscript is seen as fainter text below it running from left to right
Discovery reported in the New York Times on July 16, 1907

The Archimedes Palimpsest is a parchment codex palimpsest, which originally was a 10th-century Byzantine Greek copy of an otherwise unknown work of Archimedes of Syracuse and other authors. It was overwritten with a Christian religious text by 13th-century monks.[1] The erasure was incomplete, and Archimedes' work is now readable after scientific and scholarly work from 1998 to 2008 using digital processing of images produced by ultraviolet, infrared, visible and raking light, and X-ray.[2][3]

The Palimpsest is the only known copy of "Stomachion" and "The Method of Mechanical Theorems" and contains the only known copy of "On Floating Bodies" in Greek.[4]


  • History 1
    • Early 1.1
    • Modern 1.2
    • Imaging and digitization 1.3
  • Contents 2
    • List 2.1
    • The Method of Mechanical Theorems 2.2
    • Stomachion 2.3
  • Notes 3
  • Additional sources 4
  • External links 5



Archimedes lived in the 3rd century BC and wrote in Doric Greek. His works were first compiled by Isidorus of Miletus, the architect of the Hagia Sophia patriarchal church, sometime around 530 AD in the then Byzantine Greek speaking capital city of Constantinople.[5] A copy of these works was made around 950 AD, again in the Byzantine Empire, by an anonymous scribe. This was a period during which the study of Archimedes flourished in Constantinople in a school founded by the mathematician, engineer, and former archbishop of Thessaloniki, Leo the Geometer, a cousin to the patriarch.[6] This medieval Byzantine manuscript then traveled to Jerusalem, likely sometime after the Crusader sack of Constantinople in 1204.[7] There, in 1229, the original Archimedes codex was unbound, scraped and washed, along with at least six other parchment manuscripts, including one with works of Hypereides. The parchment leaves were folded in half and reused for a Christian liturgical text of 177 pages; the older leaves folded so that each became two leaves of the liturgical book.


The Biblical scholar Constantin von Tischendorf visited Constantinople in the 1840s, and, intrigued by the Greek mathematics visible on the palimpsest he found in a Greek Orthodox library, brought home a page of it. (This page is now in the Cambridge University Library.) In 1899 the Greek scholar Papadopoulos-Kerameus produced a catalog of the library's manuscripts and included a transcription of several lines of the partially visible underlying text.[8] Upon seeing these lines Johan Heiberg, the world's authority on Archimedes, realized that the work was by Archimedes. When Heiberg studied the palimpsest in Constantinople in 1906, he confirmed that the palimpsest included works by Archimedes thought to have been lost. Heiberg was permitted to take careful photographs of the palimpsest's pages, and from these he produced transcriptions, published between 1910 and 1915 in a complete works of Archimedes. Shortly thereafter Archimedes' Greek text was translated into English by T. L. Heath. Before that it was not widely known among mathematicians, physicists or historians.

The manuscript was still in the

  • The Digital Archimedes Palimpsest (official web site)

External links

  • Dijksterhuis, E.J. Archimedes, Princeton U. Press, 1987, pages 129–133. copyright 1938, ISBN 0-691-08421-1, ISBN 0-691-02400-6 (paperback)
  • Reviel Netz and William Noel. The Archimedes Codex, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007
  • The Nova Program outlined
  • The Nova Program teacher's version
  • The Method: English translation (Heiberg's 1909 transcription)
  • Did Isaac Barrow read it?
  • Will Noel: Restoring The Archimedes Palimpsest (YouTube), Ignite (O'Reilly), August 2009
  • The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem v. Christies’s Inc., 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13257 (S.D. N.Y. 1999) (via

Additional sources

  1. ^ Bergmann, Uwe. "X-Ray Fluorescence Imaging of the Archimedes Palimpsest: A Technical Summary" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  2. ^ "Smithsonian Magazine"Reading Between the Lines, . Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  3. ^ "archimedespalimpsest". Archived from the original on 21 February 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Morelle, Rebecca (2007-04-26). "Text Reveals More Ancient Secrets". BBC News. Archived from the original on 19 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  5. ^ "Editions of Archimedes' Work". Brown University Library. Archived from the original on 8 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-23. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Matthias Shulz. "Revolutionary? Authentic? Stolen? The Story of the Archimedes Manuscript" [Der Spiegel]] June 2007.
  10. ^ Matthias Shulz. "Revolutionary? Authentic? Stolen? The Story of the Archimedes Manuscript" [Der Spiegel]] June 2007.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Matthias Shulz. "Revolutionary? Authentic? Stolen? The Story of the Archimedes Manuscript" [Der Spiegel]] June 2007.
  14. ^ Hisrhfield, Alan (2009). Eureka Man. Walker & Co, NY. p. 187. Retrieved 2013-09-29. 
  15. ^ Shermer, Michael (2010-10-12). "Touching History". Retrieved 2014-12-29. 
  16. ^ Reviel Netz, William Noel and Nigel Wilson. The Archimedes Palimpsest, Vol. 1. Catalogue and Commentary; Vol. 2. Images and Transcriptions, Cambridge University press, 2011.
  17. ^ "Placed under X-ray gaze, Archimedes manuscript yields secrets lost to time". Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  18. ^ Carey, C. et al., from the Archimedes Palimpsest"Against Diondas"Fragments of Hyperides’ , "Inhaltsverzeichnis", Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, vol. 165, pp. 1-19. Retrieved 2009-10-11.
  19. ^ The Digital Archimedes Palimpsest Released, Dot Porter, The Stoa Consortium, October 29, 2008. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
  20. ^ Archimedes Palimpsest. Retrieved 2009-03-31. 
  21. ^ Eureka! 1,000-year-old text by Greek maths genius Archimedes goes on display Daily Mail, October 18, 2011.
  22. ^ Glassed-in DNA makes the ultimate time capsule New Scientist, February 15, 2015.


In Heiberg's time, much attention was paid to Archimedes' brilliant use of indivisibles to solve problems about areas, volumes, and centers of gravity. Less attention was given to the Stomachion, a problem treated in the palimpsest that appears to deal with a children's puzzle. Reviel Netz of Stanford University has argued that Archimedes discussed the number of ways to solve the puzzle, that is, to put the pieces back into their box. No pieces have been identified as such; the rules for placement, such as whether pieces are allowed to be turned over, are not known; and there is doubt about the board. The board illustrated here, as also by Netz, is one proposed by Heinrich Suter in translating an unpointed Arabic text in which twice and equals are easily confused; Suter makes at least a typographical error at the crucial point, equating the lengths of a side and diagonal, in which case the board cannot be a rectangle. But, as the diagonals of a square intersect at right angles, the presence of right triangles makes the first proposition of Archimedes' Stomachion immediate. Rather, the first proposition sets up a board consisting of two squares side by side (as in Tangram). A reconciliation of the Suter board with this Codex board was published by Richard Dixon Oldham, FRS, in Nature in March, 1926, sparking a Stomachion craze that year. Modern combinatorics reveals that the number of ways to place the pieces of the Suter board to reform their square, allowing them to be turned over, is 17,152; the number is considerably smaller – 64 – if pieces are not allowed to be turned over. The sharpness of some angles in the Suter board makes fabrication difficult, while play could be awkward if pieces with sharp points are turned over. For the Codex board (again as with Tangram) there are three ways to pack the pieces: as two unit squares side by side; as two unit squares one on top of the other; and as a single square of side the square root of two. But the key to these packings is forming isosceles right triangles, just as Socrates gets the slave boy to consider in Plato's Meno – Socrates was arguing for knowledge by recollection, and here pattern recognition and memory seem more pertinent than a count of solutions. The Codex board can be found as an extension of Socrates' argument in a seven-by-seven-square grid, suggesting an iterative construction of the side-diameter numbers that give rational approximations to the square root of two. The fragmentary state of the palimpsest leaves much in doubt. But it would certainly add to the mystery had Archimedes used the Suter board in preference to the Codex board. However, if Netz is right, this may have been the most sophisticated work in the field of combinatorics in Greek antiquity. Either Archimedes used the Suter board, the pieces of which were allowed to be turned over, or the statistics of the Suter board are irrelevant.

Ostomachion is a dissection puzzle in the Archimedes Palimpsest (shown after Suter from a different source; this version must be stretched to twice the width to conform to the Palimpsest)


Some pages of the Method remained unused by the author of the palimpsest and thus they are still lost. Between them, an announced result concerned the volume of the intersection of two cylinders, a figure that Apostol and Mnatsakanian have renamed n = 4 Archimedean globe (and the half of it, n = 4 Archimedean dome), whose volume relates to the n-polygonal pyramid.

A problem solved exclusively in the Method is the calculation of the volume of a cylindrical wedge, a result that reappears as theorem XVII (schema XIX) of Kepler's Stereometria.

  1. Archimedes did not know about differentiation, so he could not calculate any integrals other than those that came from center-of-mass considerations, by symmetry. While he had a notion of linearity, to find the volume of a sphere he had to balance two figures at the same time; he never figured out how to change variables or integrate by parts.
  2. When calculating approximating sums, he imposed the further constraint that the sums provide rigorous upper and lower bounds. This was required because the Greeks lacked algebraic methods that could establish that error terms in an approximation are small.

But there are two essential differences between Archimedes' method and 19th-century methods:

When rigorously proving theorems, Archimedes often used what are now called Riemann sums. In "On the Sphere and Cylinder," he gives upper and lower bounds for the surface area of a sphere by cutting the sphere into sections of equal width. He then bounds the area of each section by the area of an inscribed and circumscribed cone, which he proves have a larger and smaller area correspondingly. He adds the areas of the cones, which is a type of Riemann sum for the area of the sphere considered as a surface of revolution.

Using this method, Archimedes was able to solve several problems now treated by integral calculus, which was given its modern form in the seventeenth century by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz. Among those problems were that of calculating the center of gravity of a solid hemisphere, the center of gravity of a frustum of a circular paraboloid, and the area of a region bounded by a parabola and one of its secant lines. (For explicit details, see Archimedes' use of infinitesimals.)

Once he shows that each slice of one figure balances each slice of the other figure, he concludes that the two figures balance each other. But the center of mass of one figure is known, and the total mass can be placed at this center and it still balances. The second figure has an unknown mass, but the position of its center of mass might be restricted to lie at a certain distance from the fulcrum by a geometrical argument, by symmetry. The condition that the two figures balance now allows him to calculate the total mass of the other figure. He considered this method as a useful heuristic but always made sure to prove the results he found using exhaustion, since the method did not provide upper and lower bounds.

The method that Archimedes describes was based upon his investigations of physics, on the center of mass and the law of the lever. He compared the area or volume of a figure of which he knew the total mass and center of mass with the area or volume of another figure he did not know anything about. He viewed plane figures as made out of infinitely many lines as in the later method of indivisibles, and balanced each line, or slice, of one figure against a corresponding slice of the second figure on a lever. The essential point is that the two figures are oriented differently, so that the corresponding slices are at different distances from the fulcrum, and the condition that the slices balance is not the same as the condition that the figures are equal.

Archimedes used exhaustion to prove his theorems. This involved approximating the figure whose area he wanted to compute into sections of known area, which provide upper and lower bounds for the area of the figure. He then proved that the two bounds become equal when the subdivision becomes arbitrarily fine. These proofs, still considered to be rigorous and correct, used geometry with rare brilliance. Later writers often criticized Archimedes for not explaining how he arrived at his results in the first place. This explanation is contained in The Method.

In his other works, Archimedes often proves the equality of two areas or volumes with Eudoxus' method of exhaustion, an ancient Greek counterpart of the modern method of limits. Since the Greeks were aware that some numbers were irrational, their notion of a real number was a quantity Q approximated by two sequences, one providing an upper bound and the other a lower bound. If you find two sequences U and L, with U always bigger than Q, and L always smaller than Q, and if the two sequences eventually came closer together than any prespecified amount, then Q is found, or exhausted, by U and L.

The most remarkable of the above works is The Method, of which the palimpsest contains the only known copy.

The Method of Mechanical Theorems

It contains:[4]



On October 29, 2008, (the tenth anniversary of the purchase of the palimpsest at auction) all data, including images and transcriptions, were hosted on the Digital Palimpsest Web Page for free use under a Creative Commons License,[19] and processed images of the palimpsest in original page order were posted as a Google Book.[20] In late 2011, it was the subject of the Walters Art Museum exhibit "Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes".[21] In 2015, in a research experiment into the preservation of digital data, Swiss scientists encoded text from the Archimedes Palimpsest into DNA. [22]

The transcriptions of the book were digitally encoded using the Text Encoding Initiative guidelines, and metadata for the images and transcriptions included identification and cataloging information based on Dublin Core Metadata Elements. The metadata and data were managed by Doug Emery of Emery IT.

In April 2007, it was announced that a new text had been found in the palimpsest, which was a commentary on the work of Aristotle attributed to Alexander of Aphrodisias. Most of this text was recovered in early 2009 by applying principal component analysis to the three color bands (red, green, and blue) of fluorescent light generated by ultraviolet illumination. Dr. Will Noel said in an interview: "You start thinking striking one palimpsest is gold, and striking two is utterly astonishing. But then something even more extraordinary happened." This referred to the previous discovery of a text by Hypereides, an Athenian politician from the fourth century BC, which has also been found within the palimpsest.[4] It is from his speech Against Diondas, and was published in 2008 in the German scholarly magazine Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, vol. 165, becoming the first new text from the palimpsest to be published in a scholarly journal.[18]

Sometime after 1938, one owner of the manuscript forged four Byzantine-style religious images in the manuscript in an effort to increase its value. It appeared that these had rendered the underlying text forever illegible. However, in May 2005, highly focused X-rays produced at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park, California, were used by Drs. Uwe Bergman and Bob Morton to begin deciphering the parts of the 174-page text that had not yet been revealed. The production of X-ray fluorescence was described by Keith Hodgson, director of SSRL: "Synchrotron light is created when electrons traveling near the speed of light take a curved path around a storage ring—emitting electromagnetic light in X-ray through infrared wavelengths. The resulting light beam has characteristics that make it ideal for revealing the intricate architecture and utility of many kinds of matter—in this case, the previously hidden work of one of the founding fathers of all science."[17]

A team of imaging scientists including Dr. Roger L. Easton, Jr. from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Dr. William A. Christens-Barry from Equipoise Imaging, and Dr. Keith Knox (then with Boeing LTS, now with USAF Research Laboratory) used computer processing of digital images from various spectral bands, including ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths to reveal most of the underlying text, including of Archimedes. After imaging and digitally processing the entire palimpsest in three spectral bands prior to 2006, in 2007 they reimaged the entire palimpsest in 12 spectral bands, plus raking light: UV: 365 nanometers; Visible Light: 445, 470, 505, 530, 570, 617, and 625 nm; Infrared: 700, 735, and 870 nm; and Raking Light: 910 and 470 nm. The team digitally processed these images to reveal more of the underlying text with pseudocolor. They also digitized the original Heiberg images. Dr. Reviel Netz of Stanford University and Nigel Wilson have produced a diplomatic transcription of the text, filling in gaps in Heiberg's account with these images.[16]

At the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the palimpsest was the subject of an extensive imaging study from 1999 to 2008, and conservation (as it had suffered considerably from mold). This was directed by Dr. Will Noel, curator of manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum, and managed by Michael B. Toth of R.B. Toth Associates, with Dr. Abigail Quandt performing the conservation of the manuscript.

After imaging a page from the palimpsest, the original Archimedes text is now seen clearly

Imaging and digitization

[15]) is known to live.James Randi Educational Foundation in the collector's home in Falls Church, Virginia where Adams (a benefactor and treasurer of the James Randi because of a blogpost by Michael Shermer where he describes seeing it at a birthday party for Rick Adams This almost certainly refers to [14] grounds, and the palimpsest was bought for $2 million by an anonymous buyer. Simon Finch, who represented the anonymous buyer, stated that the buyer was "a private American" who worked in "the high-tech industry", but was not Bill Gates.laches decided in favor of Christie's Auction House on Kimba Wood. The plaintiff contended that the palimpsest had been stolen from its library in Constantinople in the 1920s. Judge Christie's, Inc v. Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem Indeed, the ownership of the palimpsest was immediately contested in federal court in New York in the case of the [13] to sell it in a public auction, risking an ownership dispute.Christie's Sirieix died in 1956, and in 1970 his daughter began attempting quietly to sell the manuscript. Unable to sell it privately in 1998 she finally turned to [12] These gold leaf portraits nearly obliterated the text underneath them, and x-ray fluorescence imaging at Stanford would later be required to reveal it.[11]

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