Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ancient Greek technology

Ancient Greek technology developed during the 5th century BC, continuing up to and including the Roman period, and beyond. Inventions that are credited to the ancient Greeks include the gear, screw, rotary mills, screw press, bronze casting techniques, water clock, water organ, torsion catapult, the use of steam to operate some experimental machines and toys, and a chart to find prime numbers. Many of these inventions occurred late in the Greek period, often inspired by the need to improve weapons and tactics in war. However, peaceful uses are shown by their early development of the watermill, a device which pointed to further exploitation on a large scale under the Romans. They developed surveying and mathematics to an advanced state, and many of their technical advances were published by philosophers, like Archimedes and Heron.

Water technology[edit]

Some fields that were encompassed in the area of water resources (mainly for urban use) included groundwater exploitation, construction of aqueducts for water supply, stormwater and wastewater sewerage systems, flood protection and drainage, construction and use of fountains, baths and other sanitary and purgatory facilities, and even recreational uses of water.[5]


The Greeks developed extensive silver mines at Laurium, the profits from which helped support the growth of Athens as a city-state. It involved mining the ore in underground galleries, washing it and smelting it to produce the metal. Elaborate washing tables still exist at the site, which used rain water held in cisterns and collected during the winter months. Mining also helped to create currency by the conversion of the metal into coinage.


The failure of the Greeks to develop their technology has sometimes been attributed to the low status of people providing labor. Manual labor was despised, and anyone applying science to it was likely to lose status in society, removing much of the incentive to seek technological innovation. A sophisticated tunnel built for an aqueduct in the 6th century BC by the engineer Eupalinos at Samos has led to some reevaluation of the skills of the Greeks.
Archimedes Screwc. 3rd century BCThis device, capable of lifting solid or liquid substances from a lower plane to a higher elevation, is traditionally attributed to the Greek mathematician Archimedes of Syracuse.[6][7]Archimedes-screw one-screw-threads with-ball 3D-view animated small.gif
Streetsc. 400 BCExample: The Porta Rosa (4th–3rd century BC) was the main street of Elea (Italy) and connected the northern quarter to the southern quarter. The street is 5 meters wide. At its steepest, it has an inclination of 18%. It is paved with limestone blocks, griders cut in square blocks, and on one side a small gutter for the drainage of rain water. The building is dated during the time of the reorganization of the city during Hellenistic age. (4th to 3rd centuries BC)Greek street - III century BC - Porta Rosa - Velia - Italy.JPG
Cartographyc. 600 BCFirst widespread amalgamation of geographical maps developed by Anaximander, although it is possible he had been exposed to mapmaking practices of the Near East.[8]
Rutwayc. 600 BCThe 6 to 8.5 km long Diolkos represented a rudimentary form of railway.[9]Diolkos1.jpg
Differential gearsc. 100-70 BCThe Antikythera mechanism, from the Roman-era Antikythera wreck, employed a differential gear to determine the angle between the ecliptic positions of the sun and moon, and thus the phase of the moon.[10][11]Antikythera mechanism.svg
Caliper6th century BCEarliest example found in the Giglio wreck near the Italian coast. The wooden piece already featured one fixed and a movable jaw.[12][13]
Truss roof550 BC[14]See List of Greco-Roman roofs
Cranec. 515 BCLabor-saving device that allowed the employment of small and efficient work teams on construction sites. Later winches were added for heavy weights.[15]Trispastos scheme.svg
Escapement3rd century BCDescribed by the Greek engineer Philo of Byzantium (3rd century BC) in his technical treatise Pneumatics (chapter 31) as part of a washstand automaton for guests washing their hands. Philon's comment that "its construction is similar to that of clocks" indicates that such escapement mechanisms were already integrated in ancient water clocks.[16]Washstand automaton
Tumbler lockc. 5th century BCThe tumbler lock, as well as other varieties of lock, was introduced in Greece in the 5th century BC.
Gearsc. 5th century BCDeveloped further than in prehistoric times for a variety of practical purposes.
Plumbingc. 5th century BCAlthough there is evidence for Sanitation of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the ancient Greek civilization of Crete, known as the Minoan civilization, was the first civilization to use underground clay pipes for sanitation and water supply.[17] Excavations at Olympus, as well as Athens, have revealed extensive plumbing systems for baths, fountains, and personal use.
Spiral staircase480–470 BCThe earliest spiral staircases appear in Temple A in Selinunte, Sicily, to both sides of the cella. The temple was constructed around 480–470 BC.[18]Plan of ground floor of Temple A at Selinunte (c. 480 BC). The remains of the two spiral stairs between the pronao and the cella are the oldest known to date.
Urban planningc. 5th century BCMiletus is one of the first known towns in the world to have a grid-like plan for residential and public areas. It accomplished this feat through a variety of related innovations in areas such as surveying.
Winch5th century BCThe earliest literary reference to a winch can be found in the account of Herodotus of Halicarnassus on the Persian Wars (Histories 7.36), where he describes how wooden winches were used to tighten the cables for a pontoon bridge across the Hellespont in 480 BC. Winches may have been employed even earlier in Assyria, though. By the 4th century BC, winch and pulley hoists were regarded by Aristotle as common for architectural use (Mech. 18; 853b10-13).[19]
Showers4th century BCA shower room for female athletes with plumbed-in water is depicted on an Athenian vase. A whole complex of shower-baths was also found in a 2nd-century BC gymnasium at Pergamum.[20]
Central heatingc. 350 BCGreat Temple of Ephesus was warmed by heated air that was circulated through flues laid in the floor.
Lead sheathingc. 350 BCTo protect a ship's hull from boring creatures; see Kyrenia ship
Astrolabec. 300 BCFirst used around 200 BC by astronomers in Greece. Used to determine the altitude of objects in the sky.[21][22]
Canal lockearly 3rd century BCBuilt into Ancient Suez Canal under Ptolemy II (283–246 BC).[23][24][25]
Ancient Suez Canalearly 3rd century BCOpened by Greek engineers under Ptolemy II (283–246 BC), following earlier, probably only partly successful attempts.[26]
Lighthousec. 3rd century BCAccording to Homeric legend, Palamidis of Nafplio invented the first lighthouse, although they are certainly attested with the Lighthouse of Alexandria (designed and constructed by Sostratus of Cnidus) and the Colossus of Rhodes. However, Themistocles had earlier established a lighthouse at the harbor of Piraeus connected to Athens in the 5th century BC, essentially a small stone column with a fire beacon.[27]PHAROS2006.jpg
Water wheel3rd century BCFirst described by Philo of Byzantium (c. 280–220 BC).[28]
Alarm clock3rd century BCThe Hellenistic engineer and inventor Ctesibius (fl. 285–222 BC) fitted his clepsydras with a dial and pointer for indicating the time, and added elaborate "alarm systems, which could be made to drop pebbles on a gong, or blow trumpets (by forcing bell-jars down into water and taking the compressed air through a beating reed) at pre-set times" (Vitruv 11.11).[29]
Odometerc. 3rd century BCOdometer, a device used in the late Hellenistic time and by Romans for indicating the distance travelled by a vehicle. It was invented sometime in the 3rd century BC. Some historians attribute it to Archimedes, others to Heron of Alexandria. It helped revolutionize the building of roads and travelling by them by accurately measuring distance and being able to carefully illustrate this with a milestone.
Chain drive3rd century BCFirst described by Philo of Byzantium, the device powered a repeating crossbow, the first known of its kind.[30]
Cannonc. 3rd century BCCtesibius of Alexandria invented a primitive form of the cannon, operated by compressed air.
Double-action principle3rd century BCUniversal mechanical principle that was discovered and first applied by the engineer Ctesibius in his double action piston pump, which was later developed further by Heron to a fire hose (see below).[31]
Leversc. 260 BCFirst described about 260 BC by the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes. Although used in prehistoric times, they were first put to practical use for more developed technologies in Ancient Greece.[32]
Water millc. 250 BCThe use of water power was pioneered by the Greeks: The earliest mention of a water mill in history occurs in Philo's Pneumatics, previously been regarded as a later Arabic interpolation, but according to recent research to be of authentic Greek origin.[1][33]
Three-masted ship (mizzen)c. 240 BC:First recorded for Syracusia as well as other Syracusan (merchant) ships under Hiero II of Syracuse[34]
Gimbal3rd century BCThe inventor Philo of Byzantium (280–220 BC) described an eight-sided ink pot with an opening on each side, which can be turned so that any face is on top, dip in a pen and ink it-yet the ink never runs out through the holes of the side. This was done by the suspension of the inkwell at the center, which was mounted on a series of concentric metal rings which remained stationary no matter which way the pot turns itself.[35]Rotating gimbal-xyz.gif
Fore-and-aft rig (spritsail)2nd century BCSpritsails, the earliest fore-and-aft rigs, appeared in the 2nd century BC in the Aegean Sea on small Greek craft.[36]Here a spritsail used on a Roman merchant ship (3rd century AD).
Air and water pumpsc. 2nd century BCCtesibius and various other Greeks of Alexandria of the period developed and put to practical use various air and water pumps which served a variety of purposes,[37] such as a water organ and, by the 1st century AD, Heron's fountain.
Sakia gear2nd century BCFirst appeared in 2nd-BC Hellenistic Egypt, where pictorial evidence already showed it fully developed[38]
Surveying toolsc. 2nd century BCVarious records relating to mentions of surveying tools have been discovered, mostly in Alexandrian sources, these greatly helped the development of the precision of Roman aqueducts.
Analog computersc. 150 BCIn 1900–1901, the Antikythera mechanism was found in the Antikythera wreck. It is thought that this device was an analog computer designed to calculate astronomical positions and was used to predict lunar and solar eclipses based on Babylonian arithmetic-progression cycles. Whereas the Antikythera mechanism is considered a proper analog computer, the astrolabe (also invented by the Greeks) may be considered as a forerunner.[39]NAMA Machine d'Anticythère 1.jpg
Fire hose1st century BCInvented by Heron in the basis of Ctesibius' double action piston pump.[31] Allowed for more efficient fire fighting.
Vending machine1st century BCThe first vending machine was described by Heron of Alexandria. His machine accepted a coin and then dispensed a fixed amount of holy water. When the coin was deposited, it fell upon a pan attached to a lever. The lever opened up a valve, which let some water flow out. The pan continued to tilt with the weight of the coin until it fell off, at which point a counter-weight would snap the lever back up and turn off the valve.[31]
Wind vane50 BCThe Tower of the Winds on the Roman agora in Athens featured atop a wind vane in the form of a bronze Triton holding a rod in his outstretched hand rotating to the wind blowing. Below, its frieze was adorned with the eight wind deities. The 8 m high structure also featured sundials and a water clock inside dates from around 50 BC.[40]
Clock tower50 BCSee Clock tower.[41]Tower of the Winds
Automatic doorsc. 1st century ADHeron of Alexandria, a 1st-century BC inventor from Alexandria, Egypt, created schematics for automatic doors to be used in a temple with the aid of steam power.[31]

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