Hero of Alexandria

Born c. 10 AD
Died c. 70 AD
Residence Alexandria, Roman Egypt
Fields Mathematics
Known for aeolipile

Heron of Alexandria (Greek: Ἥρων ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς, Heron ho Alexandreus; also known as Hero of Alexandria c. 10 AD – c. 70 AD) was a Greek mathematician and engineer who was active in his native city of Alexandria, Roman Egypt. He is considered the greatest experimenter of antiquity[1] and his work is representative of the Hellenistic scientific tradition.[2]

Heron published a well recognized description of a steam-powered device called an aeolipile (sometimes called a "Heron engine"). Among his most famous inventions was a windwheel, constituting the earliest instance of wind harnessing on land.[3][4] He is said to have been a follower of the atomists. Some of his ideas were derived from the works of Ctesibius.

Much of Heron's original writings and designs have been lost, but some of his works were preserved in Arabic manuscripts.


It is almost certain that Heron taught at the Musaeum which included the famous Library of Alexandria, because most of his writings appear as lecture notes for courses in mathematics, mechanics, physics, and pneumatics. Although the field was not formalized until the twentieth century, it is thought that the work of Heron, his automated devices in particular, represents some of the first formal research into cybernetics.[5]


Heron's aeolipile

Heron described[6] the construction of the aeolipile (a version of which is known as Heron's engine) which was a rocket-like reaction engine and the first-recorded steam engine (although Vitruvius mentioned the aeolipile in De Architectura some 100 years earlier than Hero). It was created almost two millennia before the industrial revolution. Another engine used air from a closed chamber heated by an altar fire to displace water from a sealed vessel; the water was collected and its weight, pulling on a rope, opened temple doors.[7] Some historians have conflated the two inventions to assert that the aeolipile was capable of useful work.[8]

Hero's wind-powered organ (reconstruction)


Hero described a method for iteratively computing the square root of a number.[12] Today, however, his name is most closely associated with Heron's Formula for finding the area of a triangle from its side lengths.

In media


The most comprehensive edition of Hero's works was published in five volumes in Leipzig by the publishing house Teubner in 1903.

Works known to have been written by Hero:

Works that sometimes have been attributed to Hero, but are now thought most likely to have been written by someone else:[16]

Works that are preserved only in fragments:

See also


  1. Research Machines plc. (2004). The Hutchinson dictionary of scientific biography. Abingdon, Oxon: Helicon Publishing. p. 546. Hero of Alexandria (lived c. AD 60) Greek mathematician and engineer, the greatest experimentalist of antiquity
  2. Marie Boas, "Hero's Pneumatica: A Study of Its Transmission and Influence", Isis, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Feb., 1949), p. 38 and supra
  3. 1 2 A.G. Drachmann, "Heron's Windmill", Centaurus, 7 (1961), pp. 145–151
  4. 1 2 Dietrich Lohrmann, "Von der östlichen zur westlichen Windmühle", Archiv für Kulturgeschichte, Vol. 77, Issue 1 (1995), pp. 1–30 (10f.)
  5. Kelly, Kevin (1994). Out of control: the new biology of machines, social systems and the economic world. Boston: Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-48340-8.
  6. Hero (1899). "Pneumatika, Book ΙI, Chapter XI". Herons von Alexandria Druckwerke und Automatentheater (in Greek and German). Wilhelm Schmidt (translator). Leipzig: B.G. Teubner. pp. 228–232.
  7. Hero of Alexandria (1851). "Temple Doors opened by Fire on an Altar". Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria. Bennet Woodcroft (trans.). London: Taylor Walton and Maberly (online edition from University of Rochester, Rochester, NY). Retrieved 2008-04-23.
  8. For example: Mokyr, Joel (2001). Twenty-five centuries of technological change. London: Routledge. p. 11. ISBN 0-415-26931-8. Among the devices credited to Hero are the aeolipile, a working steam engine used to open temple doors and Wood, Chris M.; McDonald, D. Gordon (1997). "History of propulsion devices and turbo machines". Global Warming. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-521-49532-6. Two exhaust nozzles...were used to direct the steam with high velocity and rotate the sphere...By attaching ropes to the axial shaft Heron used the developed power to perform tasks such as opening temple doors
  9. Humphrey, John W.; John P. Oleson; Andrew N. Sherwood (1998). Greek and Roman technology: A Sourcebook. Annotated translations of Greek and Latin texts and documents. Routledge Sourcebooks for the Ancient World. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-06137-7., pp. 66–67
  10. Woodcroft, Bennet (1851). The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria. London: Taylor Walton and Maberly. Retrieved January 27, 2010. No. 57. Description of a Syringe
  11. Noel Sharkey (July 4, 2007), A programmable robot from AD 60, 2611, New Scientist
  12. Heath, Thomas (1921). A History of Greek Mathematics, Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 323–324.
  13. animator.ru
  14. Jamies W. McKinnon. "Hero of Alexandria and Hydraulis". In L. Root, Deane. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
  15. De gli automati, overo machine se moventi, Volume 2 (Venice, 1589; repr. 1601), On Automaton; translated from the Greek.
  16. O'Connor, J.J. & E.F. Robertson. "Heron biography". The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive. Retrieved 2006-06-18.

Further reading

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