The MythBusters The MythBusters

MythBusters Episode 46: Archimedes’ Death Ray

Premier Date: January 25, 2006

REVISITED: An array of bronze mirrors can set a wooden ship on fire. (From episode 16)


The large scale array simply took too long to light the ship on fire. On top of that the ship only ignited when it was stationary and positioned at less than half the distance described in the myth. The myth was plausible at a smaller scale, however. Flaming arrows were fired from a ballista at the ship, but to little effect. The most effective (and plausible with Archimedes-era technology) method of lighting the ship ablaze was through the use of molotov cocktails.

(This myth was revisited again in President’s Challenge.)