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Ostomachion (after Suter; this version requires a lateral stretch by a factor of two to match that in the Archimedes Palimpsest)
Ostomachion (after Suter): square reformed with some pieces turned over

Ostomachion, also known as loculus Archimedius (Archimedes' box in Latin) and also as syntomachion, is a mathematical treatise attributed to Archimedes. This work has survived fragmentarily in an Arabic version and a copy, the Archimedes Palimpsest, of the original ancient Greek text made in Byzantine times.[1] The word Ostomachion has as its roots in the Greek Ὀστομάχιον,[2] which means "bone-fight", from ὀστέον (osteon), "bone"[3] and μάχη (mache), "fight, battle, combat".[4] Note that the manuscripts refer to the word as "Stomachion", an apparent corruption of the original Greek. Ausonius gives us the correct name "Ostomachion" (quod Graeci ostomachion vocavere, "which the Greeks called ostomachion"). The Ostomachion which he describes was a puzzle similar to tangrams and was played perhaps by several persons with pieces made of bone.[5] It is not known which is older, Archimedes' geometrical investigation of the figure, or the game. Victorinus,[6] Bassus[7] Ennodius[8] and Lucretius[9] have talked about the game too.


The game is a 14-piece dissection puzzle forming a square. One form of play to which classical texts attest is the creation of different objects, animals, plants etc. by rearranging the pieces: an elephant, a tree, a barking dog, a ship, a sword, a tower etc. Another suggestion is that it exercised and developed memory skills in the young. James Gow, in his Short History of Greek Mathematics (1884), footnotes that the purpose was to put the pieces back in their box, and this was also a view expressed by W. W. Rouse Ball in some intermediate editions of Mathematical Essays and Recreations, but edited out from 1939.


  1. ^ Darling, David (2004). The universal book of mathematics: from Abracadabra to Zeno's paradoxes. John Wiley and Sons, p. 188. ISBN 0-471-27047-4
  2. ^ ὀστομάχιον, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  3. ^ ὀστέον, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  4. ^ μάχη, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  5. ^ Ausonii Cento nuptialis in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, auctores antiquissimi, vol. 5, part 2: D. Magni Ausonii opuscola, Berolini apud Weidmannos, 1883, pagg. 140-41.
  6. ^ Ars grammatica, III, 1 in Grammatici latini, Lipsiae in aedibus R. G. Teubneri, 1857, vol. 6, part 1, pagg. 100-01.
  7. ^ De metris, 9 in Grammatici latini cit., pagg. 271-72,
  8. ^ Carmen CCCXL (2, 133) in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, auctores antiquissimi, vol. 7, Magni Felicis Ennodi opera, Berolini apud Weidmannos, 1885, pag. 249
  9. ^ De rerum natura, II, 776-787 cited in Reviel Netz, Fabio Acerbi, Nigel Wilson (2004). "Towards a reconstruction of Archimedes' Stomachion" (PDF). SCIAMVS. 5: 67–99. Retrieved 3 October 2013.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • J. L. Heiberg, Archimedis opera omnia, vol. 2, pp. 420 ff., Leipzig: Teubner 1881
  • Reviel Netz & William Noel, The Archimedes Codex (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007)
  • J. Väterlein, Roma ludens (Heuremata - Studien zu Literatur, Sprachen und Kultur der Antike, Bd. 5), Amsterdam: Verlag B. R. Grüner bv 1976

External links[edit]