The Flying Pigeon of Archytas of Tarentum

The Flying Pigeon of Archytas of Tarentum
The Flying Pigeon of Archytas of Tarentum

Flying Machines

When thinking of flying machines, we often picture the big metallic birds that pullulate the sky and are able to take us to the farthest corners of Earth.

Much has changed since the first flight of the Wright brothers in 1903. The tragic disappearance of Amelia Earhart after becoming the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and the daring feast of Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock, flying solo around the world in 1964.

Nowadays, Aeronautics has become an incredibly complicated subject with only the very best able to pilot planes. But advances in mechanics and engineering did not happen overnight. Centuries of research and studies, of trial and error, had to happen so that the modern man of today could enjoy the luxuries of air travel.

Although there is a lot of disputed evidence as to when and where the first flying machines came from, there is however a historical consensus that places the first flying machine in the 4th Century B.C.

In fact, it was the work of mathematician and mechanic Archytas of Tarentum who first developed an automatic aircraft that imitated the flight of a dove. This first flying aircraft is known as ‘The Flying Pigeon of Archytas of Tarentum.’

Invention by Strategos Archytas of Tarentum
Invention by Strategos Archytas of Tarentum

Archytas of Tarentum

Archytas of Tarentum, born in the Greek city-state of Tarentum (modern-day Taranto), in southern Italy, around 428 BC, was a Greek philosopher, mathematician and statesman.

He was educated in the local school and later in Athens, where he studied philosophy under Plato and Aristotle and was also heavily influenced by the Pythagorean school of thought, which focused on mathematics and philosophy.

Archytas was an influential politician and statesman. He was appointed as the general (Strategos) of the Tarentine army and soon afterwards became the ruler of the city-state. During his reign, he was able to unite the various factions of the city and implement a number of reforms. He also created a system of laws and set up the first democratic government in Tarentum.

​Reconstruction of the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology
​Reconstruction of Archytas’ Flying Pigeon by the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology Kotsanas

He also wrote a number of works on politics and philosophy, which were influential in the development of ancient Greek thought. He was especially known for his treatise on the mathematics of proportions, which is still considered one of his most important works.

Archytas was a gifted mathematician, who made significant contributions to geometry and mechanics. He is known for his work on the three classical problems of geometry, which are now known as the “Classical Greek Problems”. These include the problem of doubling the cube, trisecting an angle and squaring a circle. He is also credited with developing the mathematical theory of proportions, which was later used by Euclid and continues to be used today.

Archytas was also a great inventor, who created a number of mechanical devices. His most famous invention was the first known steam engine, which he used to power a wooden dove. The dove was able to fly through the air and was seen as a great technological achievement at the time. He also invented a number of other devices, such as a water clock, a windmill and an automated flying pigeon.

Archytas died in the year 350 BC (o 360 BC according to some accounts) and his legacy lives on to this day. He is remembered as one of the most important and influential figures of the ancient world, who made significant contributions to mathematics, specifically geometry and mechanics, philosophy and politics.  

The Flying Pigeon of Archytas

The Flying Pigeon of Archytas, also known as ‘the Pigeon of Archytas’, is a legendary ancient Greek mechanical pigeon that is said to have been built by the mathematician and philosopher Archytas of Tarentum.

The Flying Pigeon, said to have been built as a mechanical toy, is one of his greatest achievements, and it is considered to be the first recorded example of a flying machine. According to the myth, Archytas created the pigeon using a combination of mathematical principles, mechanical engineering, and his own imagination.

The Flying Machine of Archytas
The Flying Machine of Archytas – by the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology

The story of the Flying Pigeon of Archytas has been passed down through the ages, and it has been the subject of numerous historical accounts and legends. Some of these accounts describe the pigeon as a mechanical toy, while others describe it as a functional machine that was used for military purposes.

The pigeon was made of lightweight materials, such as wood, and was powered by steam. The steam was produced by heating water in a copper container and directing it through a powerful piston air pump that connected to the wings of the pigeon. When the steam escaped from exceeded the mechanical resistance of the connection, it would cause the pigeon to launch.

The First Flying machine
The First Flying machine – by the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology

 The wings of the pigeon would flap, propelling the pigeon forward and keeping it aloft. The pigeon is said to have been capable of flying for a considerable distance, between 100 and 200 metres, and it was capable of flying in a straight line as well as making turns.

In recent years, the Flying Pigeon of Archytas has been the subject of much research and discussion. Scholars and engineers have attempted to recreate the pigeon, using the descriptions and legends as a guide.

Some of these recreations have been successful, while others have not been as successful. Regardless of their success, these recreations serve to highlight the ingenuity and creativity of Archytas, and they demonstrate the importance of his contributions to the field of engineering and technology.

Strategos' Archytas First Flying Machine
Strategos’ Archytas First Flying Machine – by the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology

The Flying Pigeon of Archytas is considered to be a remarkable achievement, given the technological limitations of the time. Archytas’ design for the pigeon was based on a thorough understanding of the principles of mechanics, and he used his knowledge of mathematics and engineering to create a machine that could fly.

Modern Religious Practice with an updated version of the Flying Pigeon of Aarchytas of Tarentum

Despite the different interpretations of the story, the Flying Pigeon of Archytas remains one of the most famous examples of ancient technology and it continues to inspire fascination and awe.

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