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Archimede's Iron Claw Essay

1212 words - 5 pages

Archimedes Iron Claw was one of Archimedes’ greatest inventions. It was incredible machine, the likes of which had never been seen before and was likely never seen again after the Second Punic War. The claw was employed in the year 213 B.C.E. when Roman warships attacked the coastline of Syracuse. Archimedes employed an ingenious system of long range catapults and ballistae along with the iron claw and other machines for surprising any enemies that got within close range of the wall. Part of the genius of the iron claw is that, by Polybius’s description, it seems to have been operable by only one man while having the power to take out an entire quinquereme weighing roughly 100 metric tons.
Though it is widely accepted that the iron claw did exist in some form, no one really know exactly how it was built and there is much disagreement on the subject. However, the basic nature of the device was that it consisted of some sort wooden beam that would swing out over the battlements. Attached to the beam was some sort of grappling hook attached to a chain that would grab the ship by its prow and lift it out of the water. The ship could then me shaken violently until the crew fell into the water and subsequently dropped into the depths of the sea.
The evidence for Archimedes Iron claw comes from three ancient writings by Polybius, Livy, and Plutarch. Although none of the accounts are from people who saw the device firsthand, which may make them a bit more prone to exaggeration, the sources seem to be reliable and do not directly contradict each other. It seems likely that there may not have been any firsthand written accounts of the machine in action “Because according to Plutarch, Archimedes ‘would not consent to leave behind him any treatise on this subject’” (C.K.Young 190). However, as pointed out in C.K. Young’s article, we run into the problem of translation. It would seem that the original translators, since they probably did not have a technological background, may have skewed the translations to fit their understanding of the machine instead of what the text may have intended to convey.
The modern scholars’ interpretations of the ancient sources are very different, but they also take vastly different approaches to test and attempt to prove their personal theories. In the article by Rorres and Harris, the two attempt to explain how the device might’ve worked using 1/60th scale models of the devices. They propose that, unlike many common methods which suggest the use of human or animal power, the lifting of the ship was done by the shifting of a heavy counterweight on the back of a lever arm as described by Livy. They challenge the idea that the ships must’ve been lifted straight out of the water because they found in their tests that it was significantly easier to just catch the grappling hook on the side of the ship and tip it over. Rorres and Harris create models that involve devices placed directly on the wall instead slightly behind...

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