The Full Wiki

Ancient Greek technology: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Parthenon in Athens.

Ancient Greek technology developed at an unprecedented speed during the 5th century BC, continuing up to and including the Roman period, and beyond. Inventions that are credited to the ancient Greeks such as the gear, screw, rotary mills, screw press, bronze casting techniques, water clock, water organ, torsion catapult and the use of steam to operate some experimental machines and toys. 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 Hero.



Schematic of the antikythera mechanism
  • Antikythera mechanism
  • Pipe organs
  • Diving bells
  • Catapult|Torsion catapults
  • Showers
  • Cannon
  • Trojan Horse
  • Pulleys

Water technology

One of the foundations for many modern technological achievements would include water resources. Some fields that were encompassed in the area of water resources (mainly for urban use), would include such areas as 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.[1]


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


The failure of the Greeks to develop their technology has sometimes been status of people providing labor. Manual labor was despised, and anyone attempting to apply 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 BCE by the engineer Eupalinos at Samos has led to some revaluation of the skills of the Greeks.

Ancient Greek technology

Technology Date Comment
Streets ca. 400 BC Example: The Porta Rosa (IV-III century BC) was the main street of Elea (Italy). It connects the northern quarter with the southern quarter. The street is 5 meters wide and has an incline of 18 % in the steepest part. It is paved with limestone blocks, griders cut in square blocks, and on one side a smull gutter for the drainage of rain water. The building is dated during the time of the reorganization of the city during Hellenistic age (IV th III th cenury BC) Greek street - III century BC - Porta Rosa - Velia - Italy.JPG
Cartography ca. 600 BC First widespread amalgamation of geographical maps developed by Anaximander.
Rutway ca. 600 BC The 6 to 8.5 km long Diolkos represented a rudimentary form of railway.[2] Diolkos1.jpg
Caliper 6th c. BC Earliest example found in the Giglio wreck near the Italian coast. The wooden piece already featured one fixed and a movable jaw.[3][4]
Truss roof 550 BC[5] See List of Greco-Roman roofs
Crane ca. 515 BC Labor-saving device which allowed the employment of small and efficient work teams on construction sites. Later winches were added for heavy weights. Trispastos scheme.svg
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 escapements mechanism were already integrated in ancient water clocks.[6] Washstand automaton
Tumbler lock ca. 5th c. BC The tumbler lock, as well as other varieties, was introduced to Greece in the 5th century BC.
Gears ca. 5th c. BC Developed further than in prehistoric times for a variety of practical purposes.
Plumbing ca. 5th c. BC Excavations at Olympus as well as Athens have revealed extensive plumbing systems for baths and fountains as well as for 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.[7] Plan of ground floor of Temple A at Selinunte (ca. 480 BC). The remains of the two spiral stairs between the pronao and the cella are the oldest known to date.
Urban planning ca. 5th c. 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.
Crossbow ca. 5th c. BC The Greeks made use of a handheld crossbow called the gastraphetes. Modern reconstruction of a gastraphetes
Winch 5th c. 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 B.C. 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).[8]
Wheelbarrow 5th c. BC Two building material inventories for 408/407 and 407/406 B.C. from the temple of Eleusis list, among other machines and tools, a one-wheeler (hyperteria monokyklou).[9]
Showers 4th c. 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.[10]
Central heating ca. 350 BC Great Temple of Ephesus was warmed by heated air that was circulated through flues laid in the floor.
Lead sheathing ca. 350 BC To protect a ships hull from boring creatures. see Kyrenia ship
Astrolabe ca. 300 BC First used around 200 B.C. by astronomers in Greece. Used to determine the altitude of objects in the sky.
Lighthouse ca. 3rd c. BC The Lighthouse of Alexandria was designed and constructed by Sostratus of Cnidus. PHAROS2006.jpg
Alarm clock 3rd c. BC The Hellenistic engineer and inventor Ctesibius (fl. 285–222 BC) fitted his clepsydras with 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).[11]
Odometer ca. 3rd c. BC Odometer, a device used in the late Hellenistic time and by Romans for indicating distance traveled by a vehicle was invented sometime in the 3rd century BC. Some historians attribute it to Archimedes, others to Hero of Alexandria. It helped revolutionize the building of roads and travelling by them by accurately measuring distance and being able to illustrate this with a milestone.
Chain drive 3rd c. BC First described by Philo of Byzantium. The device powered a repeating crossbow, the first known of its kind.[12]
Cannon ca. 3rd c. BC Ctesibius of Alexandria invented a primitive form of the cannon, operated by compressed air.
Double-action principle 3rd c. BC Universal mechanical principle which was discovered and applied first by the engineer Ctesibius in his double action piston pump which later was developed further by Heron to a fire hose (see below).[13 ]
Levers ca. 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 ca. 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.[14][15]
Gimbal 3rd c. 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.[16] Rotating gimbal-xyz.gif
Dry dock ca. 200 BC Invented in Ptolemaic Egypt some time after the death of Ptolemy IV Philopator (reigned 221-204 BC) as recorded by Athenaeus of Naucratis.
Air and water pumps ca. 2nd c. 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.
Surveying tools ca. 2nd c. 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 ca. 150 BC See Antikythera mechanism NAMA Machine d'Anticythère 1.jpg
Fire hose 1st c. BC Invented by Hero in the basis of Ctesibius' double action piston pump.[13 ] Allowed for more efficient fire fighting.
Vending machine 1st c. BC The first vending machine was described by Hero 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.[13 ]
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.[17]
Clock tower 50 BC Apart from a wind vane the Tower of the Winds also featured eight sundials arranged around the top of the polygonal structure.[18] Recent research has shown that the height of 8 m was motivated by the intention to place the sundials and the wind-vane at a visible height on the Agora, making it effectively an early example of a clocktower.[19] Tower of the Winds
Automatic doors ca. 1st c. AD Hero of Alexandria, a first century BC inventor from Alexandria, Egypt, created automatic doors for a temple with the aid of steam power. [13 ]


  1. ^ Angelakis, A. N., and D. Koutsoyiannis, Urban water engineering and management in ancient Greece, The Encyclopedia of Water Science, edited by B. A. Stewart and T. Howell, 999-1007, Dekker, New York, 2003.
  2. ^ Lewis, M. J. T., "Railways in the Greek and Roman world", in Guy, A. / Rees, J. (eds), Early Railways. A Selection of Papers from the First International Early Railways Conference (2001), pp. 8-19 (8 & 15)
  3. ^ Mensun Bound: The Giglio wreck: a wreck of the Archaic period (c. 600 BC) off the Tuscan island of Giglio, Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology, Athens 1991
  4. ^ Roger B. Ulrich: Roman woodworking, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 2007, ISBN 0-300-10341-7, p.52f.
  5. ^ Hodge, A. Trevor: The Woodwork of Greek Roofs, Cambridge University Press, 1960, p. 41
  6. ^ Lewis, Michael (2000), "Theoretical Hydraulics, Automata, and Water Clocks", in Wikander, Örjan, Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History, 2, Leiden, pp. 343–369 (356f.), ISBN 90-04-11123-9  
  7. ^ Ruggeri, Stefania : „Selinunt“, Edizioni Affinità Elettive, Messina 2006 ISBN 88-8405-079-0, p.77
  8. ^ J. J. Coulton, “Lifting in Early Greek Architecture,” The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 94. (1974), pp. 1-19 (12)
  9. ^ M. J. T. Lewis, The Origins of the Wheelbarrow, Technology and Culture, Vol. 35, No. 3. (Jul., 1994), pp. 453-475
  10. ^ "Multicultural Resource Center: Showers".  
  11. ^ Landels 1979, p. 35
  12. ^ Werner Soedel, Vernard Foley: Ancient Catapults, Scientific American, Vol. 240, No. 3 (March 1979), p.124-125
  13. ^ a b c d Old World, High Tech: World's First Vending Machine
  14. ^ M. J. T. Lewis, Millstone and Hammer: the origins of water power.(University of Hull Press 1997), pp. 1-73 especially 44-45 and 58-60
  15. ^ Andrew Wilson, "Machines, Power and the Ancient Economy", The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 92. (2002), pp. 1-32 (7f.)
  16. ^ Sarton, G.: A History of Science, The Norton Library, Vol. 2., 1970: p.343-350
  17. ^ Joseph V. Noble; Derek J. de Solla Price: The Water Clock in the Tower of the Winds, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 72, No. 4 (1968), pp. 345-355 (353)
  18. ^ Joseph V. Noble; Derek J. de Solla Price: The Water Clock in the Tower of the Winds, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 72, No. 4 (1968), pp. 345-355, p. 353
  19. ^ Joseph V. Noble; Derek J. de Solla Price: The Water Clock in the Tower of the Winds, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 72, No. 4 (1968), pp. 345-355, p. 349

Further reading

  • Landels, John G. (1979), "Water-Clocks and Time Measurement in Classical Antiquity", Endeavour 3 (1): 32–37  
  • Lewis, M. J. T., "Railways in the Greek and Roman world", in Guy, A. / Rees, J. (eds), Early Railways. A Selection of Papers from the First International Early Railways Conference (2001), pp. 8-19 (10-15)
  • Kotsanas, Kostas (2009) -"familiar and unfamiliar aspects of Ancient Greek Technology" (ISBN: 978-9963-9270-2-9)
  • Kotsanas, Kostas (2008) -"Ancient Greek Technology" (ISBN: 978-960-930859-5)

See also



Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address