Archimedes was little known in the West before the 13th century and his only work in circulation was The Measurement of the Circle. In 1269, William of Moerbeke, a Dominican who resided at length in the papal court of Viterbo, executed the first Latin translation of many of Archimedes' writings, collected in a codex now in the Vatican Library. A cultural beacon of the West, the court of Viterbo was visited by scholars of the calibre of mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, Witelo from Poland, author of a summa on optics, Campanus of Novara, who produced the edition of Euclid's Elements adopted until the 16th century, and English philosopher Roger Bacon. Moerbeke's translation was very true to the Greek text but failed to enjoy great success for its difficult contents and the limited circulation of knowledge during the dramatic times of the Black Death and the Hundred Years' War.

Herm of a young deity

Herm of a young deity

Early 2nd century AD


Archimedes and 15th-Century Humanists and Artists

When the classics were rediscovered, the Archimedes celebrated by ancient authors returned to the forefront. 1447 saw the election of Pope Nicholas V who founded the Vatican Library and championed the translation of many scientific texts, including a new Latin version of Archimedes' works by Iacopo da San Cassiano in 1450. Iacopo's Latin translation was corrected by the mathematician Regiomontanus (1436-1476) together with the prominent Humanist Cardinal Bessarion. A beautiful illuminated codex containing Archimedes' writings, copied in 1458, was even partially illustrated by Piero della Francesca. The artist then executed a copy of Archimedes' work, now in the Biblioteca Riccardiana in Florence, from this manuscript. Piero exploited his familiarity with Archimedes in his Libellus de quinque corporibus regolaribus, as did Luca Pacioli in his Summa de arithmetica.