Tito Livio Burattini – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Burattini's most famous book—Misura Universale, published in 1675.

Tito Livio Burattini – Complete Biography, History, and Inventions

Who Was Tito Livio Burattini?

The Italian Tito Livio Burattini was a skilled architect, astronomer, mathematician, optician, mechanic, and inventor. His many interests and accomplishments are typical of the late European Renaissance. Learn more about this Renaissance man and his role in the history of calculating machines.

Early Life

Tito Livio Burattini (known also as Tytus Liwiusz Boratini, Boratyni or Buratin) was born on March 8th, 1617. He was born in an old and wealthy family of the local rural nobility in Agordo, a small mining town in the Republic of Venice, which is now in the province of Belluno, Italy.

Quick Facts

Full Name
Tito Livio Burattini
Net Worth
  • nobleman title
  • Regis Poloniae Architectus position
  • command of the fortress of Warsaw
Place of Birth
Agordo, the Republic of Venice (now in the province of Belluno, Italy)
Fields of Expertise
Polish Royal Court
Calculating machine and Flying Dragon “heavier-than-air” flying machine

While he became famous for a variety of accomplishments, his calculating machine is a significant invention in the history of calculators.

His paternal grandfather, Niccolò, was knighted by the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in 1591, together with his brothers Tito Livio, Girolamo, and Giovanni. This allowed the family to add to their names the title “da Susino.” The family originated and had property also in Susin di Sospirolo, a small town some 20 km south of Agordo.

Burattini was baptized under the name Tito Livio Niccolò to remember his grandfather. He had a younger brother—Filippo (Filip) who was born in 1620. Burattini’s father’s name was also Tito Livio. His father died in 1665. Burattini’s mother was Isabella (or Elisabetta) Milo (1590-1695), also from a local noble family. The native house of Burattini is still preserved in the central square of Agordo.

native house of Burattini

The native house of Burattini is still preserved in the central square of Agordo.

Almost nothing is known about Burattini’s childhood. As a boy, he was interested in the problems of mechanics. In the mid 1630s, he studied at the Universities of Padua and Venice, gaining a comprehensive knowledge of mathematics, physical sciences, architecture, and other disciplines. In 1635, a terrible fire destroyed the town of Agordo, but it seems Burattini had left his hometown several years before this disaster.

Plaque on the native house of Burrattini.

Plaque on the native house of Burrattini.


For much of his early career, Burattini was a traveling scholar. His travels, and the important mathematicians and scientists he met along the way, helped pave the way for his important inventions and ideas.

Egyptian Scholar

In 1637, he went abroad to Egypt (just like the inventor of the Sector, Fabrizio Mordente), where he stayed until 1641. He devoted himself to the study of Oriental languages ​​and the discovery of Egyptian antiquities. He visited and measured pyramids and obelisks and explored the Nile and its periodic flooding. 

Burattini even worked for some time as an assistant of the English mathematician and astronomer John Greaves (1602-1652) on his famous work on the pyramids, crowned by his important book Pyramidographia (1646). From 1639 to 1640, they measured several pyramids including the Great Pyramid of Giza, obelisks, and monuments. They tried to classify them and drew up plans for several towns, including Alexandria, Memphis, and Heliopolis.

In his notebooks describing his exploration of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Greaves noted his work with Burattini. A part of his notes is in Italian, which may demonstrate the close collaboration between them.

Polish Royal Court Official

After returning to Europe in 1641, Burattini settled for some time in Germany. In 1642, he was invited to serve at the Polish Royal Court in Krakow. He accepted the proposal and settled in Poland for several years.

Here he found good friends like Stanislaw Pudlowski (a pupil of Galileo and Professor at Jagiellonian University), Johannes Hevelius (a prominent Polish astronomer), Girolamo Pinocci (1613-1676), and Pierre Des Noyers, a King’s Secretaries, and others. He worked with them on various scientific topics.

In 1645, Burattini returned for some time to Italy, then traveled again to Egypt. He eventually settled permanently in Poland in 1647, this time with his younger brother Filippo. The new Polish queen, Marie Louise de Gonzague, was a high-ranking and keen patron of sciences and arts and invited many European scientists to settle in Poland.

Burattini lived in Poland until his death, only leaving occasionally for short periods. He served four Polish kings—Władysław IV, Jan II Kazimierz, Michał Korybut and Jan III Sobieski, as an architect, engineer, mechanic, diplomat, and other roles.

He wrote several books, carried out experiments of optics and astronomy, manufactured lenses for microscopes and telescopes, constructed devices of various types, designed several important buildings, performed a couple of diplomatic missions ordered by his patron Queen Marie Louise Gonzaga, took part in military missions and battles, and performed other duties.

Polish Royal Architect

Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, Poland.

Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, Poland.

Burattini was appointed as the Regis Poloniae Architectus (Polish Royal Architect) in 1650 and directed the construction of the royal palace at Krakowskie Przedmieście in Warsaw, the Palace of Andrzej Morsztyn, the Church of the Discalced Carmelites, and other important buildings. He also restored Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw. In Ujazdowie, he arranged the first Polish astronomical observatory, in which he discovered the spots on Venus in 1665. Burattini was appointed as a financial secretary of the Royal Court In 1660.

Polish Diplomat and Captain

From 1655-to 1657, Burattini took part in several diplomatic missions in Vienna, Austria, and Florence and Bologna, Italy. Returning to Poland in 1657, Burattini and his brother Filippo participated in the Polish-Swedish War under the command of general Stefan Czarniecki. Burattini was a captain, commanding a company of infantry recruited at his own expense.

In compensation for his service to the Polish King, on May 1st, 1658 he leased the crown vineyard in Cracow. He was granted a diploma and nobleman title in August.

Mint Owner

In November 1658, Burattini opened a mint in Ujazdów, which struck small copper coins. He referred to them as borattines.

The production of the coins triggered a violent campaign against him when he was accused of making huge profits from the mint operation. He reportedly made 40% of the coin value in profit. He was also accused of adding glass to the coins which made them brittle.

In 1662, Burattini was brought to the Treasury Commission. The Commission found him innocent and consented to prolong the lease. Apart from the mint in Ujazdów, Burattini opened another mint in Brest-Litovsk. He faced new charges of abuse and bribery in favor of the candidacy of Prince de Condé in 1668, but he managed to refute these charges as well. To pay back the enormous debt (circa 1.5 million zlotys) due to Burattini by the Polish state, he was appointed administrator of the silver mint in Cracow in 1678.

Still preserved, this is another house of Burattini’s family with the coat of arms over the front gate.

Warsaw Fortress Commander

Burattini bought the village of Jelonek, south of Warsaw, in 1665. The next year he built a bridge over the Vistula for the army. Following the death of his patron, Queen Marie Louise Gonzaga in 1667, Burattini again won the favor of the Polish Crown. In September 1671, he was appointed as a commander of the fortress of Warsaw. he was again awarded a silver mint administration in Krakow in 1678. He died a few years later on November 17th, 1681.

What Did Tito Livio Burattini Invent?

Tito Livio Burattini was well-known in his time as a scholar, inventor, architect, soldier, politician, and coin mint owner. His two most famous inventions include a calculating device and an idea for a flying machine.

Calculating Machine

Burattini invented his calculating device sometime in the 1650s. The complex machine used 18 disks to add and carry numbers. It wasn’t just designed to perform basic mathematical calculations but had graduated disks specifically created to manage the many 17th-century Italian monetary systems. These included the system of Venice and Tuscany that included Ducato, lire, soldi, and denari.

Flying Dragon

A sketch from the treatise Dragon Volant by Burattini.

A sketch from the treatise Dragon Volant by Burattini.

Burattini presented the Polish king Władysław IV with a treatise entitled Dragon Volant, or Flying Dragon, in 1647. The drawings describe a complex ornithopter. The King showed particular interest and ordered a working model to be produced. In the same year, a small model carrying a cat as a passenger was reputedly demonstrated before the Polish Court.

 Burattini was granted 500 talers from the Royal Treasury for the construction of a full-size machine. The machine was ready in May 1648. It used four pairs of tandem-mounted wings and a large folding parachute. The machine had a crew of three and Burrattini maintained it would fly from Warsaw to Constantinople in just 12 hours.

Most historians believe that Dragon Volant was the most important milestone in the development of “heavier-than-air” flying machines between Leonardo Da Vinci at the end of the 15th century and Sir George Cayley in the early 1800s.

The news of the flying models constructed by Burattini and about plans of implementation of the machine itself circulated among many European countries. What remains today is a treatise by Burattini, Il volare non e impossibile, and two drawings of the machine, one of which was sent to be assessed by Blaise Pascal.

Tito Livio Burattini: Marriage, Divorce, Children, and Personal Life

Little is known about Burattini’s personal life. He married once, had six children, and died a poor man.

Net Worth

While little is known about Burattini’s finances throughout his life, he died with little money to his name.


Burattini married Teresa Bronisława Opacka (1640-1701) in 1660. He was the young daughter of the prominent Polish nobleman Zygmunt Opacki (1587-1654).


Tito Livio Burattini and Teresa had six children: Ludwika Izabela, Aleksander, Franciszek, Kazimierz Karol, Zygmunt, and Barbara.


In Poland, Tito Livio Burattini managed to establish himself not only as a scientist, but also as a businessman, diplomat, nobleman, and father. His end however was miserable and he died poor and sick in Vilnius on November 17th, 1681.

The Primary School “Tito Livio Burattini” in Agordo.

Tito Livio Burattini: Awards and Achievements

Burattini was a well-known scientist, mathematician, and scholar. He held a busy correspondence with some other famous scientists of his time, including Ismael Boulliau, Johannes Hevelius, Athanasius Kircher, Marin Cureau de la Chambre, and many others.

Regis Poloniae Architectus, 1650

He directed construction on the royal palace and other important buildings after he was appointed the Polish Royal Architect or Regis Poloniae Architectus.

Diploma and Nobleman Title, 1658

Burattini was granted a diploma and nobleman title in August 1658 in recognition of his service to the Polish king.

Command of the Fortress of Warsaw, 1671

He was given command of the fortress of Warsaw in recognition of his achievements in 1671.

Tito Livio Burattini Published Works and Books

Tito Livio Burattini may have written many important books and works in his lifetime. The most famous, however, was Misura Universale.

Misura Universale, 1675

Burattini's most famous book—Misura Universale, published in 1675.
Burattini’s most famous book—Misura Universale, published in 1675.

This famous book was where Burattinia first suggested the name “meter” as the name for a unit of length. He chose the word meter after metron, a Greek word for measure.

Burattini’s meter was a universal unit of measurement, based on the length of a pendulum, beating one second. He was not the first to propose the adoption of a decimal metric system but was the first to advance a project that received wide attention and first suggested the name meter for the basic unit of length.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Tito Livio Burattini?

Tito Livio Burattini was an architect, military captain, traveler, nobleman, and inventor of a calculating device.

What did Tito Livio Burattini invent?

Tito Livio Burattini’s most famous invention was a calculating machine that used 18 disks to perform calculations and carry numbers.

Why did Tito Livio Burattini invent his calculating machine?

Tito Livio Burattini invented his calculating machine for currency calculations in the 17th century.

When was Tito Livio Burattini born?

Tito Livio Burattini was born on March 8th, 1617 in Agordo in the Republic of Venice. The town is now part of the province of Belluno in Italy.

When did Tito Livio Burattini die?

Tito Livio Burattini died on November 17th, 1681.

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