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, 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.
Some fields that were encompassed in the area of water resources (mainly for urban use) included groundwater exploitation, construction of aqueducts for water supply, storm water 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. Excellent examples of these technologies include the drainage system found in the Anatolian west coast, which featured an unusual masonry outlet structure that allowed self-cleaning of the drainage outlet. The technology, which demonstrated the Greek understanding of the importance of hygienic conditions to public health, was part of an elaborate drainage system and underground water supply network.
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 ores in underground galleries, washing it and smelting it to produce the metal. Elaborate washing tables still exist at the site, which used rainwater held in cisterns and collected during the winter months. Mining also helped to create currency by the conversion of the metal into coinage. Greek mines had tunnels that were as deep as 330 feet and were worked by slaves using picks and iron hammers. The extracted ore were lifted by small skips hauled by a rope that was sometimes guided by a wheel placed against the rim of the mine shaft.
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' screw||c. 3rd century BC||This 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.|
|Streets||c. 400 BC||Example: 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)|
|Cartography||c. 600 BC||First widespread amalgamation of geographical maps developed by Anaximander, although it is possible he had been exposed to mapmaking practices of the Near East.|
|Rutway||c. 600 BC||The 6 to 8.5 km long Diolkos represented a rudimentary form of railway.|
|Differential gears||c. 100-70 BC||The 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.|
|Caliper||6th century BC||Earliest example found in the Giglio wreck near the Italian coast. The wooden piece already featured one fixed and a movable jaw.|
|Truss roof||550 BC||See List of Greco-Roman roofs|
|Crane||c. 515 BC||Labor-saving device that allowed the employment of small and efficient work teams on construction sites. Later winches were added for heavy weights.|
|Escapement||3rd century BC||Described 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.|
|Tumbler lock||c. 5th century BC||The tumbler lock, as well as other varieties of lock, was introduced in Greece in the 5th century BC.|
|Gears||c. 5th century BC||Developed further than in prehistoric times for a variety of practical purposes.|
|Plumbing||c. 5th century BC||Although 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. Excavations at Olympus, as well as Athens, have revealed extensive plumbing systems for baths, fountains, and personal use.|
|Spiral staircase||480–470 BC||The earliest spiral staircases appear in Temple A in Selinunte, Sicily, to both sides of the cella. The temple was constructed around 480–470 BC.|
|Urban planning||c. 5th century BC||Miletus 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.|
|Winch||5th century BC||The 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).|
|Showers||4th century BC||A 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.|
|Central heating||c. 350 BC||Great Temple of Ephesus was warmed by heated air that was circulated through flues laid in the floor.|
|Lead sheathing||c. 350 BC||To protect a ship's hull from boring creatures; see Kyrenia ship|
|Astrolabe||c. 300 BC||First used around 200 BC by astronomers in Greece. Used to determine the altitude of objects in the sky.|
|Canal lock||early 3rd century BC||Built into Ancient Suez Canal under Ptolemy II (283–246 BC).|
|Ancient Suez Canal||early 3rd century BC||Opened by Greek engineers under Ptolemy II (283–246 BC), following earlier, probably only partly successful attempts.|
|Lighthouse||c. 3rd century BC||According 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.|
|Water wheel||3rd century BC||First described by Philo of Byzantium (c. 280–220 BC).|
|Alarm clock||3rd century BC||The 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).|
|Odometer||c. 3rd century BC||Odometer, 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 drive||3rd century BC||First described by Philo of Byzantium, the device powered a repeating crossbow, the first known of its kind.|
|Cannon||c. 3rd century BC||Ctesibius of Alexandria invented a primitive form of the cannon, operated by compressed air.|
|Double-action principle||3rd century BC||Universal 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).|
|Levers||c. 260 BC||First 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.|
|Water mill||c. 250 BC||The 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.|
|Three-masted ship (mizzen)||c. 240 BC:||First recorded for Syracusia as well as other Syracusan (merchant) ships under Hiero II of Syracuse|
|Gimbal||3rd century BC||The 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.|
|Fore-and-aft rig (spritsail)||2nd century BC||Spritsails, the earliest fore-and-aft rigs, appeared in the 2nd century BC in the Aegean Sea on small Greek craft.|
|Air and water pumps||c. 2nd century BC||Ctesibius 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, such as a water organ and, by the 1st century AD, Heron's fountain.|
|Sakia gear||2nd century BC||First appeared in 2nd-BC Hellenistic Egypt, where pictorial evidence already showed it fully developed|
|Surveying tools||c. 2nd century BC||Various 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 computers||c. 150 BC||In 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.|
|Fire hose||1st century BC||Invented by Heron in the basis of Ctesibius' double action piston pump. Allowed for more efficient fire fighting.|
|Vending machine||1st century BC||The 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.|
|Wind vane||50 BC||The 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.|
|Clock tower||50 BC||See Clock tower.|
|Automatic doors||c. 1st century AD||Heron 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.|
An astrolabe (Greek: ἀστρολάβος astrolabos; Arabic: ٱلأَسْطُرلاب al-Asturlāb; Persian: اِستاره یاب Astaara yab) is an elaborate inclinometer, historically used by astronomers and navigators to measure the altitude above the horizon of a celestial body, day or night. It can be used to identify stars or planets, to determine local latitude given local time (and vice versa), to survey, or to triangulate. It was used in classical antiquity, the Islamic Golden Age, the European Middle Ages and the Age of Discovery for all these purposes.
The astrolabe's importance not only comes from the early development of astronomy, but is also effective for determining latitude on land or calm seas. Although it is less reliable on the heaving deck of a ship in rough seas, the mariner's astrolabe was developed to solve that problem.Automaton
An automaton (; plural: automata or automatons) is a self-operating machine, or a machine or control mechanism designed to automatically follow a predetermined sequence of operations, or respond to predetermined instructions. Some automata, such as bellstrikers in mechanical clocks, are designed to give the illusion to the casual observer that they are operating under their own power.Bellows
A bellows or pair of bellows is a device constructed to furnish a strong blast of air. The simplest type consists of a flexible bag comprising a pair of rigid boards with handles joined by flexible leather sides enclosing an approximately airtight cavity which can be expanded and contracted by operating the handles, and fitted with a valve allowing air to fill the cavity when expanded, and with a tube through which the air is forced out in a stream when the cavity is compressed. It has many applications, in particular blowing on a fire to supply it with air.
The term "bellows" is used by extension for a flexible bag whose volume can be changed by compression or expansion, but not used to deliver air. For example, the light-tight (but not airtight) bag allowing the distance between the lens and film of a folding photographic camera to be varied is called a bellows.Bematist
Bematists or bematistae (Ancient Greek βηματισταί, from
βῆμα bema 'pace'), were specialists in ancient Greece who were trained to measure distances by counting their steps.Calipers
A caliper (British spelling also calliper, or in plurale tantum sense a pair of calipers) is a device used to measure the distance between two opposite sides of an object. Many types of calipers permit reading out a measurement on a ruled scale, a dial, or a digital display. But a caliper can be as simple as a compass with inward or outward-facing points. The tips of the caliper are adjusted to fit across the points to be measured and then the caliper is then removed and the distance read by measuring between the tips with a measuring tool, such as a ruler.
It is used in many fields such as mechanical engineering, metalworking, forestry, woodworking, science and medicine.Central heating
A central heating system provides warmth to the whole interior of a building (or portion of a building) from one point to multiple rooms. When combined with other systems in order to control the building climate, the whole system may be an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system.Clock tower
Clock towers are a specific type of building which houses a turret clock and has one or more clock faces on the upper exterior walls. Many clock towers are freestanding structures but they can also adjoin or be located on top of another building.
Clock towers are a common sight in many parts of the world with some being iconic buildings. One example is the Elizabeth Tower in London (usually called "Big Ben", although strictly this name belongs only to the bell inside the tower).Diolkos
The Diolkos (Δίολκος, from the Greek διά, dia "across" and ὁλκός, holkos "portage machine") was a paved trackway near Corinth in Ancient Greece which enabled boats to be moved overland across the Isthmus of Corinth. The shortcut allowed ancient vessels to avoid the long and dangerous circumnavigation of the Peloponnese peninsula. The phrase "as fast as a Corinthian", penned by the comic playwright Aristophanes, indicates that the trackway was common knowledge and had acquired a reputation for swiftness.The main function of the Diolkos was the transfer of goods, although in times of war it also became a preferred means of speeding up naval campaigns. The 6 km (3.7 mi) to 8.5 km (5.3 mi) long roadway was a rudimentary form of railway, and operated from c. 600 BC until the middle of the 1st century AD. The scale on which the Diolkos combined the two principles of the railway and the overland transport of ships remained unique in antiquity.Hand fan
A handheld fan may be any broad, flat surface that is waved back-and-forth to create an airflow. Generally, purpose-made handheld fans are shaped like a sector of a circle and made of a thin material (such as paper or feathers) mounted on slats which revolve around a pivot so that it can be closed when not in use.
On human skin, the airflow from handfans increases evaporation which has a cooling effect due to the latent heat of evaporation of water. It also increases heat convection by displacing the warmer air produced by body heat that surrounds the skin. Fans are convenient to carry around, especially folding fans.
Next to the folding fans, the rigid hand screen fan, was also a highly decorative and desired object among the higher classes. Its purpose is different since they are more cumbersome to carry around. They were mostly used to shield the lady's face against the glare of the sun or the fire.Hydraulic telegraph
A hydraulic telegraph (Greek: υδραυλικός τηλέγραφος) is either of two different hydraulic-telegraph telecommunication systems. The earliest one was developed in 4th-century BC Greece, while the other was developed in 19th-century AD Britain. The Greek system was deployed in combination with semaphoric fires, while the latter British system was operated purely by hydraulic fluid pressure.
Although both systems employed water in their sending and receiver devices, their transmission media were completely different. The ancient Greek system transmitted its semaphoric information to the receiver visually, which limited its use to line-of-sight distances in good visibility weather conditions only. The 19th-century British system used water-filled pipes to effect changes to the water level in the receiver unit (similar to a transparent water-filled flexible tube used as a level indicator), thus limiting its range to the hydraulic pressure that could be generated at the transmitter's device.While the Greek device was extremely limited in the codes (and hence the information) it could convey, the British device was never deployed in operation other than for very short-distance demonstrations. The British device could, however, be used in any visibility within its range of operation so long as its conduits, if unheated, did not freeze in sub-zero temperatures —which contributed to its impracticality.Lighthouse
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses and to serve as a navigational aid for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways.
Lighthouses mark dangerous coastlines, hazardous shoals, reefs, rocks and safe entries to harbors; they also assist in aerial navigation. Once widely used, the number of operational lighthouses has declined due to the expense of maintenance and use of electronic navigational systems.Lodestone
A lodestone is a naturally magnetized piece of the mineral magnetite. They are naturally occurring magnets, which can attract iron. The property of magnetism was first discovered in antiquity through lodestones. Pieces of lodestone, suspended so they could turn, were the first magnetic compasses, and their importance to early navigation is indicated by the name lodestone, which in Middle English means "course stone" or "leading stone",
from the now-obsolete meaning of lode as "journey, way".Lodestone is one of only a very few minerals that is found naturally magnetized. Magnetite is black or brownish-black, with a metallic luster, a Mohs hardness of 5.5–6.5 and a black streak.Mechanics (Aristotle)
Mechanics (or Mechanica or Mechanical Problems; Greek: Μηχανικά) is a text traditionally attributed to Aristotle, though his authorship of it is disputed. Thomas Winter has suggested that the author was Archytas. However, Coxhead says that it is only possible to conclude that the author was one of the Peripatetics.During the Renaissance, an edition of this work was published by Francesco Maurolico.Museum of Ancient Greek Technology
The Museum of Ancient Greek Technology is a museum in Katakolo, Elis, Greece. It was founded by Kostas Kotsanas and holds 200 operating reconstructions of mechanisms and inventions of the ancient Greeks covering the period from 2200 BC to 100 AD.
It is approximately 500 meters from the pier. The tour is conducted in English / French by the curator, while the exhibits are also accompanied by explanatory labels in English as well as rich audio-visual material (posters, diagrams & videos of their operation).Odometer
An odometer or odograph
is an instrument used for measuring the distance travelled by a vehicle, such as a bicycle or car. The device may be electronic, mechanical, or a combination of the two. The noun derives from the Ancient Greek word ὁδόμετρον, hodómetron, from ὁδός, hodós ("path" or "gateway") and μέτρον, métron ("measure"). Early forms of the odometer existed in the ancient Greco-Roman world as well as in ancient China. In countries using Imperial units or US customary units it is sometimes called a mileometer or milometer, the former name especially being prevalent in the United Kingdom and among members of the Commonwealth.Phryctoria
Phryctoria (Greek: φρυκτωρία) was a means of communication used in Ancient Greece.Trojan Horse
The Trojan Horse is a story from the Trojan War about the subterfuge that the Greeks used to enter the independent city of Troy and win the war. In the canonical version, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside including Odysseus. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, ending the war.
Metaphorically, a "Trojan Horse" has come to mean any trick or stratagem that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or place. A malicious computer program which tricks users into willingly running it is also called a "Trojan horse" or simply a "Trojan".
The main ancient source for the story is the Aeneid of Virgil, a Latin epic poem from the time of Augustus. The event is also referred to in Homer's Odyssey. In the Greek tradition, the horse is called the "wooden horse" (δουράτεος ἵππος dourateos hippos in Homeric/Ionic Greek (Odyssey 8.512); δούρειος ἵππος, doureios hippos in Attic Greek).Tunnel of Eupalinos
The Tunnel of Eupalinos or Eupalinian aqueduct (in Greek: Efpalinion orygma - Ευπαλίνιον όρυγμα) is a tunnel of 1,036 m (3,399 ft) length in Samos, Greece, built in the 6th century BC to serve as an aqueduct. The tunnel is the second known tunnel in history which was excavated from both ends (Ancient Greek: αμφίστομον, romanized: amphistomon, "having two openings"), and the first with a geometry-based approach in doing so. Today it is a popular tourist attraction.Vending machine
A vending machine is an automated machine that provides items such as snacks, beverages, cigarettes and lottery tickets to consumers after money, a credit card, or specially designed card is inserted into the machine. The first modern vending machines were developed in England in the early 1880s and dispensed postcards. Vending machines exist in many countries, and in more recent times, specialized vending machines that provide less common products compared to traditional vending machine items have been created.