Archytas of Tarentum (c.428–c.350 BC)

Archytas of Tarentum was an ancient Greek general, mathematician, and philosopher. According to Aulus Gellius, a Roman writer, Archytas lived in the city of Tarentum, in what is now southern Italy. He was seven times elected general, and as victorious in every campaign. His civil administration was equally fortunate; and he was no less distinguished in mathematics and philosophy.


Archytas solved the problem of the doubling of the cubes and secured almost the reputation of a magician by his numerous mechanical contrivances. One of these earned him a place in the annals of rocket history. Around 400 BC, Gellius relates, Archytas mystified and amused the citizens of Tarentum by flying a pigeon made of wood. Apparently, the bird was suspended on wires and propelled by escaping steam – one of the earliest references to the practical application of the principle on which rocket flight is based.


A Pythagorean in philosophy, Archytas is supposed to have exerted an influence on Plato, and some affirm that Aristotle was indebted to him for the idea of categories. Only unimportant fragments of his writings remain. They relate to metaphysics, ethics, logic, and physics.


He died, according to Horace, by drowning in the Adriatic.