Heron Of Alexandria

Heron Of Alexandria

Early Life and Work

Many Greek scientists were known by the name Heron or Hero however the multi-faceted mathematician, scientist, inventor and engineer mentioned here is the ‘Heron of Alexandria’ who was born in 20 AD. He specialized in the fields of mechanics, mathematics and physics representing the works of the Hellenistic tradition in Science. It is said that his career started with teaching at the Musaeum however his achievements as an inventor are most noteworthy. The ‘Aeolipile’ was one of the first steam engines created centuries before the actual industrial revolution. The vending machine was the brainchild of Heron; the idea of inserting a coin in a machine for it to perform a certain function was mentioned in his book ‘Mechanics and Optics’. Heron was also the first to make a machine that operated with a windwheel. The theatrical world benefited from many of his inventions such as the sound effects like the thunder were produced by metal balls dropping on a drum.

Heron came up with the Principle of the Shortest Path of Light that stated that if a light ray propagates from one point to another within the same medium the path that it takes is the shortest one, a theory that was later confirmed and proved with the shortest path named the ‘Extremum’.

The ‘Heron’s Fountain’, a fountain that operates from hydrostatic energy is also one of his creations.

Mathematical Work

Heron’s works as an inventor truly reveal his genius but he is also accredited as a mathematician who delivered a lot to the field with his practical approach. From approximations of square roots and formulating the area of a triangle to his treatise in geometry, Heron’s contributions are wide ranging.

The ‘Metrica’ is a series of three books, found by R.Schone in Istanbul in 1896, in which Heron focuses on calculating areas and volumes of bodies such as pyramids, cones, cylinders, prisms etc. The infamous ‘Hero’s formula’ was found in this book which stated the area of a triangle with given sides. Other geometrical works include the ‘Definitions’ which was a list of geometrical terms, ‘Geometrica’ and ‘Sterometrica’. His mathematics focused primarily on its practical use such as calculating the seating capacity of a stadium, the number of jars that could be stored on a ship. He was the pioneer of geometrical terms and symbols. He also developed procedures for finding numerical square and cube roots. Heron mastered in geodesy, another branch of mathematics related to finding the size and shape of the earth and the locating objects and areas on it.

He gave methods of lifting heavy objects with the use of pulleys, levers and wedges. His book ‘Baroulkos’ which was based on machines and lifting is lost but we know for a fact that such a book did exist. He worked with mirrors and vault construction and treatise on surveying.

His knowledge was not limited only to mechanics and mathematics. Heron also mastered in other field including Cheirobalistra, Belopoeica, Automatopoietica and Pneumatica.


The year of Heron’s death is unknown to historians.

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