THE ROBOTICS OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The desire to create automatic humanoids first appeared at the time of Homer (8th century B.C.). According to the legend, Hephaestus, the god of craftsmen, built golden automatic maids (who were strong and had the ability to act and speak) and the ingenious Daedalus built the automata Ariadne and Aphrodite. However, the most famous humanoid in Greek mythology was the bronze giant Talos. He was a vigilant guardian of Crete, running along the coastline of the island, who kept enemy ships away by throwing huge rocks towards them (Apollonius of Rhodes). Talos burned the intruders with his breath and blazing body. The “blood of immortals” ran in a single vein from his neck to his ankle, where a bronze pin was used to seal it. Philon of Byzantium (3rd century B.C.), in his treatise “Pneumatica”, describes in detail his robot – maid, which is the most significant of the Hellenistic period robots.

THE COMPUTING MECHANISMS OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

Abacuses with a quinary numeral system were in use since the 6th century B.C., in order to rapidly calculate complex mathematical operations, based on the acrophonic (Attic) numeral system, according to which the symbols derive from the first letters of the words (one, five, ten, etc.) represented by the symbols. Apollonius of Perga, in his lost “Okytokion” treatise, described a quick way to calculate multiplications, divisions, etc., which can be considered as a precursor to modern calculators. Kinematic computing devices such as Eratosthenes’s mesolabe, Plato’s cubist, Nicomedes’ conchoids, and algorithms, such as the sieve of Eratosthenes, were used to solve complex equations and calculate complex numbers. To calculate calendars and periodic astronomical phenomena, ingenious and complex computational mechanisms were invented, such as the planetaria and celestial globes of Archimedes and Posidonius (3rd century B.C.), that used interlocking toothed gearwork to simulate the orbits and eclipses of the sun, the moon and the five known planets with exquisite accuracy, according to Cicero. It is extremely important that a similar mechanism built in the 2nd century B.C. survived (from the Antikythera shipwreck) and its fragments are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

THE AUTOMATION & PROGRAMMING OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The art of constructing automatic theaters dates from the classical period. Aristotle describes them as “automata-miracles” that surprised the viewers who did not know how they were moved. Automata were considered the most impressive among the numerous technological achievements in the Hellenistic period, since their functions required knowledge in all fields of engineering. The manufacturers of automatic theaters presented the plot of a myth using animation, sound and photorealism, and competed with each other for the most beautiful and realistic representation. Heron of Alexandria documented the automatic theater of Philo of Byzantium (3rd c. B.C.), which he considered the best of all in his “Automatopoietica” treatise. Heron provides detailed construction instructions and describes the automatic operation of Nauplius’ myth, an “episode” of the popular Trojan War “series”, “directed” by Philon.

THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

Telecommunication, as history has proven, determines not only the outcome of a war but also the fate of a whole civilisation. For instance, the spread of the Greek city-states across the Mediterranean and the renowned expedition of Alexander the Great would not have been successfully completed had it not been for the exceptional network of telecommunications. The use of simple torch signals (a method of transmitting messages with firelight) and the creation of a beacon network (relay stations for message transmission) from earliest times, as far back as the Trojan War (12th century B.C.), contribute to an incredibly practical method for transmitting a determined message from the periphery to the centre of the Mycenaean world.

The need for quick transmission of multiple and various messages led the Greeks to the astonishing conception of the hydraulic telegraph (4th century B.C.), a hydraulic device that required the use of only one torch for the transmission of predetermined messages.

The need for secure message transmission led to the ingenious invention of the coded fire-signals (the transmission of a message letter by letter, 3rd century B.C.). The combined torch signal system resulted in the unavoidable increase in the number of beacons due to their weakness in distinguishing the multiple and various torch lights from great distances.

The invention and the use of such advanced systems, precursors of modern technology and unique worldwide in their kind until the 16th century A.D., defines the Greeks as prodigious pioneers in the field of telecommunication.

THE CRYPTOGRAPHY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The first cryptographic method recorded in history was scytale, which was used for sending messages in times of war. It was invented in the 6th century B.C. and it was based on the transposition of the letters that formed the message. The famous Acarnanian General Aeneas Tacticus describes in his treatise “Poliorcetica” (Siegecraft) some excellent cryptographic methods, such as the use of a combination of dots instead of vowels (e.g. Διονύσιος καλός – Δ :: :·: Ν ::: Σ :: :·: Σ Κ · Λ :·: Σ) or the use of marked letters on an irrelevant message. He also devised an ingenious cryptographic disk.

THE ASTRONOMY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

Astronomy is another science, in which the foundations were laid by the ancient Greek philosophers and astronomers. The legacy of the ancient Greeks to human civilization is invaluable and some examples are the conception of the sphericity of the Earth (Pythagoras, 6th century B.C.), the heliocentric system (Aristarchus of Samos, 310-230 B.C.), the precise measurement of the Earth’s circumference (Eratosthenes, 276-192 B.C.), the list of 1.030 stars with their exact polar coordinates and apparent size (Hipparchus, 2nd century B.C.), etc. Meanwhile, mathematical models and instruments for measuring and predicting solar and lunar eclipses, as well as the apparent motion of the planets were discovered. The accuracy of the astronomical instruments in the Hellenistic period and the observations of earlier astronomers were such, that allowed Hipparchus to discover the phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes (equivalent to the periodic precession of the Earth’s axis) approximately every 26.000 years, and calculate accurately the duration of the (solar) year in 365+1/4-1/304 (365,24671) days.

THE AUTOMATION & THE AUTOMATIC NAVIGATION
OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

Automotive and automatic navigation appear for the first time in the twentieth (XX) rhapsody of the Iliad (8th century B.C.). There, Homer invents the “twenty automatic tripods with golden wheels”, constructed by Hephaestus, the technician Olympian god. Self-propelled and without a driver, they arrived at the meeting of gods, served them and returned. Although there is no clear technical description and realistic technological background, this passage is very important because it demonstrates the general interest of ancient Greeks in the self-propelled and self-navigating vehicle.

Homer’s mythical references regarding automation and automatic machines are numerous, such as the automatic gates, the golden healers, the golden dogs – guardians, the intelligent ships of Phaeacians, etc. However, in the 4th century B.C., this robotic technology has already been feasible, since Aristotle in his treatise “Metaphysics” praises these admirable existing automata of his era.

The automatic tripods of Hephaestus and the self-navigating vehicle become reality during the Hellenistic period by the Alexandrian engineers of the 3rd century B.C. and especially by Philon of Byzantium. The driving power is usually caused by the controlled descent of a lead weight (potential energy). The rotation of the wheels and the self-navigation of the vehicle are succeeded due to the traction of wound ropes (programmed in accordance with the desired course plan on pins) on their moving shafts.

THE STEAM MOBILITY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The most important steam machine of the ancient years is the “Aeolipile” (aeolosphere), a steam turbine that is preserved and described by Heron of Alexandria (1st century A.D.) in his “Pneumatica”. A sphere is placed over a closed boiler and communicates therewith. The boiler’s water is heated, becomes steam and emerges with speed from the two curved nozzles of the sphere, which rotates in a mad way (in accordance with the momentum conservation principle and the action-reaction law).

Given the ability of controlled transmission of movement during the Hellenistic period, if the socio-economic and political conditions allowed so, this admirable innovation would have resulted to the “Industrial revolution” with unforeseeable consequences for humanity.

THE JET PROPULSION OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The principle of jet propulsion (through the powerful discharge of a compressed gas) first appears in the flying pigeon, a magnificent flying machine, ancestral of the modern rocket-propelled technology, invented by Archytas of Tarentum (since the 5th century B.C.) and preserved by Favorinus in “Pantodape Historia” (Miscellaneous History) and by Aulus Gellius in “Noctes Atticae”.

THE “PNEUMATIC” AUTOMATA OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

In the Hellenistic Alexandria of the Ptolemy kings, all prior Hellenic thought was carried over, developed, advanced and grown to gigantic proportions while finding its ultimate and practical application. Men of letters and the arts from around the Greek world arrived and staffed its wondrous “Museum” with its great “Library”, which was situated within the royal complex. There lived and acted great scientists such as, Apollonius, Eratosthenes, Aristarchus, Conon, Hipparchus, etc. and three significant engineers, Κtesibios (3rd cent. B.C.), Philon of Byzantium (3rd cent. B.C.) and Heron of Alexandria (1st cent. A.D.) who were the initiators of the famous automata (automatic machines). After the end of the Hellenic-Roman world, their outstanding work spread influencing the Arabian civilisation and in turn spread throughout Europe preparing Renaissance.

About eighty automata, which constitute an excellent practical application of all the scientific principles known at that time, survived in the books of Heron and Philon in Arabic translation.

THE MEASURING INSTRUMENTS OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

Perhaps the surest indicator of technological progress in any civilisation is the availability and the reliability of its measuring instruments. With their use, the practical technique and science achieve a two-way and productive connection. The Greeks invented numerous precision measuring instruments such as the goniometer, the odometer, etc., which enabled the development of all ancient disciplines from Engineering to Astronomy. Their distant travels, the exact calculation of the Earth’s diameter, the mapping of the Earth and their amazing constructions are just some results of the above.

THE TOOLS & MACHINES OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

With the invention of numerous specialised tools and measuring instruments, the Greeks &with their unsurpassed aesthetics& carved the miraculous wonder of the ancient Greek world. Finally, the invention of remarkable machines, such as the pantograph, the internal spiral cutting machine, etc., led in turn to the development of a multitude of complex mechanisms and instruments.

THE GEODESY & CARTOGRAPHY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

Geodesy and cartography were scientifically approached from the 7th century B.C. Thales of Miletus calculated the distance and height of inaccessible objects using mathematical proportions. Eupalinos of Megara (6th century B.C.) manufactured a 1.036-meter-long underground tunnel on Samos island to install the water supply pipe, which was simultaneously excavated from both ends. Anaximander of Miletus (610-545 B.C.) and Hecataeus of Miletus (549-472 B.C.) made a map of the world on which lands and seas were depicted. In the Hellenistic period pacers (people who would walk in order to measure a distance) and scientists with dioptras, odometers and nautical odometers measured land and sea distances accurately, while great voyagers explored the world, such as Pytheas of Marseille (ca 380-310 B.C.), who calculated England’s and Ireland’s coastline and discovered the frigid Thule (Iceland). Dicaearchus of Messina (340-290 B.C.) was the first to produce a map with a rectangular coordinate system (with equidistant architectural meshes), in which the island of Rhodes was the center of the axes and the distances were measured in stadia.

Eratosthenes of Cyrene (275-194 B.C.) calculated the circumference of the Earth accurately and constructed a map with parallels and meridians, in which Alexandria was placed at the center of the axes. Hipparchus (190-120 B.C.) introduced a spherical rectangular geographical mesh of parallels and meridians, measured in degrees, using the Holy Cape of Iberia as the starting point.

Marinus of Tyre (60-130 A.D.) developed the right cylindrical projection with equidistant meridians and differentiated parallels, depending on the maximum duration of the longest day. Ptolemy (85-165 A.D.) recorded the geographical coordinates of 6.500 place names on his flat map of the world in degrees.

THE MEASUREMENTS OF TIME OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The clocks of the ancient Greeks
“If you position your nose pointed towards the Sun
and open your mouth wide,
you will show all passers-by the time of day”

Greek Anthology 11.418

 

The measuring of time is perhaps the most mysterious and at the same time the most impressive occupation of man since the beginning of his existence. Many peoples, prior to the Greeks, constructed clock-calendars, however, they were almost always consumed by the construction of larger, taller and more impressive ones (Stonehenge, Egyptian obeliscs, etc).

In ancient Greece, the country of moderation (in relation to man), science served technology in the best way possible. The Greeks invented (from the 6th cent. B.C. until the end of antiquity) an amazing collection of clocks charaterised by their unrestricted imagination, their astounding variety, their high aesthetics and exceptional ergonomy; a collection which defines them as the ultimate masters of time through the ages.

In almost all ancient civilizations, day was referred to as the time period between sunrise and sunset and was divided into 12 hours of altering duration, according to the constant increasing length of the day during the year. The year was divided into 12 parts (zodiacs) which corresponded to their homonymous asterisms. Therefore, ancient clocks counted 365 different hours (according to the day of the year) while simultaneously functioning as calendars. The reconstructed clocks which follow have been designed to operate at the latitude of 37° 40´.

Because of the Earth’s rotation around its axis, half of its spherical surface is always illuminated by the Sun while the other half is shaded.

Ecliptic is the annual orbit of the sun in the celestial sphere (according to the hypothetical geocentric universal system) which forms an angle of 23° 27´ with the axial rotation of the Earth, an occurrence which is responsible for the appearance of the seasons and for the altering length of the day and night.

  • Vernal equinox: 21 March (day duration=night duration=12 hours)
  • Spring: 21/3 – 21/6 (92 days and 20.2 hours)
  • Summer solstice: 21 June (maximal day duration= 14 hours for places at the latitude of 37° 40´, minimal night duration)
  • Summer: 21/6-22/9 (93 days and 14.4 hours)
  • Autumnal equinox: 22 September (day duration = night duration = 12 hours)
  • Autumn: 22/9-22/12 (89 days and 18.7 hours)
  • Winter solstice: 22 December (minimal day duration = 9 hours for places at the latitude of 37° 40´, maximal night duration)
  • Winter: 22/12-21/3 (89 days and 0.5 hours)

21 Jun.    21 March    22 December    22 September

Taurus – Gemini – Pisces – Cancer – Virgo – Libra – Aries – Scorpio – Capricorn – Sagittarius – Aquarius – Leo

Winter solstice. Equinox. Summer solstice

 

TYPES OF ANCIENT GREEK CLOCKS

 

  • Sundials

The hours were indicated from the shadow (on a diagramed surface) by a horizontal, vertical or oblique pointer (“gnomon”), or the mark (a bright spot) from an opening which was lit up by the rays of the sun.

  • Hydraulic clocks (Clepsydras)

    Their initial function was based on the steady constant flow of water between two containers.

 

SOURCES (for all clocks): Vitruvius, On architecture, IX, Ptolemy, About anallemma-Astronomica – Apotelesmatica, Hipparchus, Commentary on the Phenomena of Aratus and Eudoxus, Pap. Oxy. 470. 31-85, Diodorus of Sicily, History, Αthenaeus, Philosophers at dinner, Diogenes Laertius, Lives of eminent Philosophers, Strabo, Geography, Apollonius, Conics, Pliny the Elder, The Natural history, Sharon Gibbs, Greek and Roman sundials, D. G. Price, Portable sundials in antiquity, Herman Diels, Antike Technik, Economou-Nikolantonakis, Astronomic measuring instruments, Stamatis, Archimedous Apanta, E. Wiedemann-F. Hauser, (Nova acta 100) Uhr des Archimedes, Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers.

STEADY SUNDIALS
PORTABLE SUNDIALS
LEVEL SUNDIALS

HYDRAULIC CLOCKS (CLEPSYDRAS)
THE GADGETS OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

In the Hellenistic period inventors, such as Ctesibius, Philo, etc., created many remarkable high-tech gadgets. Their aim was to meet the numerous and diversified needs of the developed society, such as the wealthy upper class’s consumerism, the need to attract visitors to the market using the art of sensationalism, the interest of the clergy in magical devices and the research for educational instruments for the students of Technical Schools. Dozens of smart microappliances survive in the book “Pneumatica” written by Philon of Byzantium and the work of Heron of Alexandria, such as an ingenious wine-jug, a device to “convert” water into wine, an automatic goblet, a self-powered fountain, a door alarm system, etc.

THE RELIGIOUS TECHNOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The technological achievements during the Hellenistic period were also put at the service of religion. The powerful and rich clergy sought mechanical wonders to consolidate its position and funded scientists towards this end. Temples and oracles were full of sound and visual effects. Dozens of mysterious devices were invented, expanding the boundaries of ancient Physics, in order to produce illusions. Priests acted as magicians and sometimes as doctors, manipulating the believers and attracting others. Automatic doors, automatic fountains, moving and singing birds were some of the most popular effects. Sometimes, they even used statues with eyes that gushed blood, or floating chariots.

THE HOISTING MACHINES OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The moving of heavy loads (stones) appears as early as the 5th millennium B.C. with the impressive megalithic structures in Western Europe, and later takes on epic dimensions with colossal construction projects of the first great civilisations (Egyptian etc.). However, concerning horizontal shifting, the traction on a specially shaped ramp using levers, ropes and sleds required synchronised manpower. The impressive structures of the Mycenaeans belong to this category, with the giant wall-gate lintels and vaulted tombs.

The greatest revolution, also in this sector, was brought about by the Greeks (6th c. B.C.) with the invention of the pulley and its use in various block and tackles (such as the two-wheeled pulleys, three-wheeled pulleys etc. for the doubling, tripling etc. exertion of force) in conjunction with the invention and application of various types of winches for the increased exertion of force according to the ratio of the length of the driving lever arms to the radius of the traction rope reel. The invention and development of multiple hoisting machines, such as the one-mast crane, the two-mast crane (today’s gantry), four-mast crane (today’s scaffolds), etc. in combination with the use of clever stone fastening methods, impressive methods of braking and suspension, lubrication and special sliders, rollers and suitably wheeled vehicles led to the Greek architectural marvel.

Modern lifting technology is the direct evolution of the impressive lifting technology of the ancient Greeks, by which great Greek engineers such as Archimedes, Heron, Pappus etc. theoretically occupied themselves.

 

Block and tackles (Polyspasta)

They consisted of the combination of a fixed and a movable “pulley” in an interdependent system by the lifting rope. In the wooden or metal sheath of each “pulley” one or more axles were fitted and around each one rotated one or more pulley-wheels. “Trispasto” was the system with three wheels (two in the top “pulley” and one in the bottom). “Tetraspasto” was the system with four wheels (two in each “pulley”), etc.

SOURCES: Vitrouvios, On architecture, X, 1-2, Heron of Alexandria, Mechanics, “Pappos of Alexandria, Mechanics.

 

Links, dowels and “empolia”

For the secure horizontal fitting of adjacent stone blocks, bronze or iron “links” in the form of I were usually used which were placed in corresponding curved sockets in the blocks and were stabilised and protected with cast lead. For their stable vertical mounting, “dowels” were used, i.e. bronze or iron laminas which were placed in a similar manner. For the secure connection of the vertebras of the pillars the “empolia” (i.e. wooden elements of square cross-section that were placed in corresponding square sockets in the centre of the vertebras) were used. The “empolia” had holes in their centre and were linked together by the “pole”, a vertical pin, allowing the free rotation of the vertebras.

SOURCES: A. Orlandos, The materials of structure of ancient Greeks (I & II), Manolis Korres, From Penteli to the Parthenon.

 

The winches

They basically consisted of a long axle which wrapped the rope pulling the load and were either firmly fixed in the radial axle or moveable levers in special sockets for the application of the required drawing force by the operators. Sometimes they had pulleys, sprockets or even worm gears to further increase productivity.

The ground winches for the lifting rope and the tautening of the balancing ropes were attached to a stably fastened vertical pole while the winches of the scaffolds were placed on horizontal beams with rollers for their easy horizontal shifting.

SOURCES: Vitrouvios, On architecture X, 1-2, Heron of Alexandria, Mechanics, Pappos of Alexandria, Mechanics.

 

Methods of stone suspension

For their elevation, the stones (with the use of wood for the protection of their acmes) were usually fastened by strong ropes that were attached to the grab of the crane. Due to the difficult removal of ropes on several occasions (the ropes would be crushed by the stone above after its placement), various brilliant systems of stone mooring were devised, such as:

A) Via apertures in the form of U that were carved on the top surface and internally of the stone (Olympia, Delphi, Temple of Aphaia, etc.).

B) Via carved ledges (elbows) on the longitudinal side surfaces of the stones that were usually later removed (Parthenon, Propylaia, etc.).

C) Via carved traverse grooves at the bottom part and sometimes on the sides of the stone as well (Selinous, etc.).

D) Via carved grooves in the form U in the traverse side surfaces of the stone (Akragas, Temple of Aphaia, etc.).

E) With the help of a pair of tongs (anchors and grabs) hung in notches (tenons and mortises) and suitably carved apertures of the stone (Parthenon, Olympia, Delphi, Epidaurus, etc.).

F) With the help of the cancer, scissors-like hinged pincers whose lower ends were hooked into suitable sockets on the top part or the sides of the stone and which automatically clasped with its elevation (Sounio, etc.).

G) With the help of the wolf, a system constructed by two metal or, more seldom, wooden pieces (one rectangular and the other of trapezoidal cross-section with only one side inclined), that were applied to respectively carved trapezoidal sockets of the stone (sidelong on one side) so as to wedge automatically during the elevation (e.g. Temple of Hephaestus, Ancient Agora of Athens etc.). The suspension was made either by aperture or by the shaped hook of the trapezoidal piece. During the post-Hellenistic period the wolf was used with three pieces, two of which were of trapezoidal cross-section with opposite inclinations (bell).

SOURCES: A. Orlandos, The materials of structure of ancient Greeks (I &II), Manolis Korres, From Penteli to the Parthenon.

THE MILITARY TECHNOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

In the ancient world, until the end of the 5th century B.C., innovations in the art of defense and siege were minimal. The safety of the walls, the numerical supremacy but mainly the bravery of soldiers were usually the chief comparative advantages of opponents. However, the Greeks managed to change the facts in this sector, as well.

The beginning was in Syracuse in 399 B.C. (during the rule of Dionysius the Elder), with the systematised aid of technology in defense of the city. In the decades that followed, a multitude of engineers experimented, with the result being the production of the oxybeles catapults (launchers of arrows and small stones of long range and powerful impact force) but also other machinery, such as the incredible war machines of Archimedes ranking at the top.

Yet, the greatest drive for siege art was realised by the Macedonians (Philip II, Alexander the Great and his Successors), with the production of powerful catapults but also with the invention of astonishing and impressive siege machines. At that time, they also constructed the remarkable armoured vehicles (“tanks”), such as the giant siege towers (helepolises, sing. helepolis), the all-powerful roofed rams, the effective borers, etc.

The leading achievement of that period, however, was the polybolos catapult of the Rhodians, a mechanism for the continuous automatic launching of arrows.

THE ATHLETIC TECHNOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The athletic ideal, according to which winners were rewarded a branch of tree as a prize, the concept of good sportsmanship and the ideal of a “healthy mind in a healthy body” were born and spread in Ancient Greece during the Archaic period, although sports and games already took place in the Minoan and Mycenaean period. The most important Panhellenic athletic event was the Olympic Games, which were recorded from 776 B.C., and were used as a common means of dating by the ancient Greeks. In addition to the Panhellenic Games (Olympics, Pythian, Nemean and Isthmian), several other local games were organised. Every city had to offer a Gymnasium (gym) and most times a Palaestra (wrestling arena) and a Stadium. The Greeks designed highly innovative devices in the field of sports technology, e.g. the halteres (dumbbells) for jumpers and the leather straps for javelin throwers in order to improve performance, as well as all kinds of mechanisms used to prevent the athletes from a false start. Τhe most important invention was the hippaphesis of Kleoitas, an ingenious mechanical device that allowed the different in time but fair start of chariots and horses in the chariot races at the hippodrome of Ancient Olympia.

THE STRATEGY GAMES OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The games of the Ancient Greeks were an integral part of their civilization. There were games for individuals and teams, mind games and fun games played by children and adults, at home, in the market, at feasts, at festivals, even during breaks from the battle. Some of the most impressive are the mechanical automatic games, such as the magic dance, the floating ball and the magic mechanical horse with a throat that could be cut (with a knife by the presenter of the automaton), while it automatically continued to drink water from a cup. Many ancient strategy games are precursors of popular modern board games, such as polis (chess), the ancient backgammon, the ostomachion (jigsaw and tangram) and the triodin (tic tac toe).

THE MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

Excavations have unearthed specialized surgical instruments dated as far back as the Mycenaean Period (e.g. Nafplias tomb), that reflect the highly sophisticated medical technology in ancient Greece. Cranial drills, instruments called ‘protectors of meninges’ (meningophylax: small plate inserted under a bone which was being cut in order to protect underlying structures), vaginal specula (colposcopes), arrow pullers, scalpels, forceps, hooks, cauterization and suture needles, catheters, eyelid retractors, etc.

Ancient Greek physicians like Hippocrates of Kos (5th century B.C.), Herophilos of Chalkidon (3rd century B.C.), Galen of Pergamon (2nd century B.C.) etc., used these instruments in order to perform sophisticated surgeries: trephinations, treatments of ophthalmic cataract, dental surgeries, such as complete and partial dentures, “Apollonian” (Cesarean) sections, even the placement of artificial limbs.

THE HYDRAULIC TECHNOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

In the art of hydraulics, the Greeks assimilated the techniques of other civilisations, developed them or devised new ones with great ingenuity such as the famous machines of the 3rd c. B.C.: the hydraulic screw of Archimedes, the piston pump of Ktesibios, the fire-extinguishing pump of Heron, the sub-divided wheel and chain pump of Philon of Byzantium, etc.

In the constructions of the hydraulic networks, the most ancient drainage network in the Kopaida area (14th c. B.C.) impresses even today with its size (more than 2300 metres of underground drainage tunnel) while the tunnel of Eupalinos (6th c. B.C.) on Samos island (an underground tunnel of 1036 metres for the installation of a drinking water transfer pipe under the mountain) is one of the greatest achievements of antiquity, with continuous function for more than 1000 years, and an object of admiration especially for the method of construction with the simultaneous opening from both ends.

By transferring principles from the art of hydraulics to other sectors, they created unbelievable constructions (e.g. the hydraulic musical organ Hydraulis).

THE NAVAL TECHNOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The island cluster of the Aegean Sea and the nautical trade character of its residents led to the naval Greek marvel and made the Greeks absolute masters of the seas. Since 9000 B.C., with the discovery of obsidian from Milos island to the Frachthi cavern in Argolida, the most ancient commercial travel in human history is proven. Until 1500 B.C. the sea-going ships (oared- sailed) of exceptional perfection of the Minoan Crete (master of the seas) sailed the Mediterranean (and not only). In the years that followed “round” commercial ships with their square sails continued being the transporters of products and culture to each corner of the world. At the same time, with the military conflicts in the crossroad of the Aegean Sea, the Greeks realised that at sea speed was a powerful military advantage. The fastest ships could approach the rival ships from the side, ram them and sink them. Thus, the development of war ships was changed into a fight for a greater speed. The ships from “round” as were the commercial ones became “long” that is to say acquired a shallow keel and an oblong form so that they were hydrodynamic and many oarsmen could be deployed (with minimal soldiers). The sails were henceforth supplementary. The triantaconter, the penteconter, the bireme and the fastest the trireme constituted the peak of naval technology each in their era. The colossal commercial – recreational ships of the successors of Alexander the Great (such as the “Syracusea”) led the naval art to its limits and needed 1500 years in order to be exceeded.

THE TEXTILE TECHNOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS
THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT GREEK THEATRE

The ancient theatre was an amazing innovation, on a worldwide scale, which constantly incorporated “state-of-the-art” technology of each era. The development of the theatre itself as a structure was very impressive; from the simple “platform” with the addition of the ingenious “pit” and the use of simple wooden scenery to the amazing stone complexes with the astounding “stage”, with the wonderful colonnades at the front part of the stage and at the two “backstages”, the impressive podium and the “side-aisles” completely harmonised in their space.

Since the earliest appearance of the theatre (6th cent. B.C.), a multitude of technological innovations found application or were invented in order to improve its function and to serve the performance, such as: the “staircase of Death” (a hidden underground passage for the advent of Death), the “trap-door” for the quick appearance and disappearance of persons and objects, the “Deus ex machina” a crane for the hovering and descending of determinant persons on the stage (precursor of the modern theatrical elevating mechanisms), the “periaktoi” the rotating projectile launcher for the quick change of scenery, the “ekkyklyma” and “exostra” two mechanisms which were used for transporting the dead, objects, etc. on stage and for the rapid emergence and change of the interior scenery (precursor of modern rotating stages on a wagon), etc.

THE PULLING MACHINES OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The difficulty of pulling heavy loads was definitively solved in ancient Greece by inventing powerful machines that were usually characterized by the general term windlasses. The discovery of the endless screw (helix) and its application into gearboxes showed that overcoming heavy weights would no longer have any limits. According to legend, Archimedes applied this technique in the presence of the king Hieron II and he managed single-handedly, by simply turning a lever and applying minimal force, to launch the colossal ship “Syracusia”, which was built under his supervision. Observing this endless overcoming of heavy loads by adding gears or pulleys, he excitedly exclaimed “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth” (Pappus of Alexandria). For example, the combination of a screw and a gear that has 500 teeth, having a lever to screw axis ratio of 1:10 and a gear to drum ratio of 1:10, increases the applied force 50,000 times!

THE KINEMATIC MECHANISMS OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The offer of the ancient Greek to mathematics was immense. In geometry the solving of problems by using only ruler and compass led to the development of the geometric algebra and the foundations of the Euclidean geometry taught unchanged until today. They were introduced concepts such as the analysis, the synthesis, the induction as scientific methods. During the Hellenistic period a kind of trigonometry was developed with the help of detailed tables of chords of the circumference a cycle. It was devised a method of differentiation in a rectangular or non-rectangular coordinate system for troubleshooting in extreme values. They were discovered the integration methods for the calculation of specific sizes, volumes, lengths and weight centres. For solving equations of 3rd and 4th grade they were used ingenious mechanical structures (kinematic geometry) as Plato’s cubist, Ptolemy’s mesolabe and Nicomedes’ trisector (through conchoid).

THE WIND AND HYDRAULIC ENERGY OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

In the Greek world, for the first time machines were operating without the work of humans or animals, but with the power of the wind and running or falling water. They even used ingenious ways of transmitting the movements of these machines. Characteristic examples are the “Greek” watermill of Strabon with the vertical transmission of interlocking wheels and the windmill of Heron with the converter of rotary motion to reciprocating motion.

THE MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS

The culture of ancient Greeks, as of no other population, was permeated with music, which was inseparable from poetry and dancing.

Ancient Greek music used an enormous variety of many different modes (Mixolydian, Lydian, Phrygian, Dorian, Aeolian, Ionian, etc.) instead of the two (Major and Minor scales) of contemporary western music.

Furthermore, it was richer with the “chromatic” and “henarmonic” genus, and their “colourings”, which supplemented the “diatonic” one, used exclusively today.

Finally, it bequeathed to us the theory of “musical intervals” which have suffered, however, in modern European music, the “brutal” blending for the benefit of polyphony at the expense of the perfect natural musical intervals studied thoroughly by the ancient theorists of music (from Pythagoras and Aristoxenus to Ptolemy).

The multitude of artistic depictions and bibliographic references, as well as the sporadic extant musical fragments in the ancient notation (“parasimantiki”) allow us the reconstruction of numerous musical instruments and the revival of ancient Greek music.

 

Musical notation and musical testimonies

Since at least the 3rd century B.C., a system of musical notation appears on papyrus and inscriptions, where the notes are marked by letters above the syllables of the verses while the duration of the notes are depicted by particular additional marks above the letters. The yielding of the notes is known from the extensive tables of many writers (e.g. Alypios).

 

The song of Seikilos (2nd c. B.C.)

The world’s oldest surviving complete musical composition, including musical notation

From the roughly 100 preserved musical texts of antiquity, the song of Seikilos constitutes the most ancient complete musical composition worldwide.
It is an inscription and a sensational song with a diachronic message, which Seikilos (a lyric poet and musician of the Hellenistic years) dedicated to our life. They were engraved on a small, round, marble tombstone dated from the 2nd century B.C.

 

 

“I am an icon, not a stone
Seikilos placed me here
as a deathless remembrance
αn everlasting monument”

“While you live, shine
have no grief at all
for life is short
and time demands its toll”

 

The small grave column (kioniskos) on which the song of Seikilos was inscribed, was discovered in 1883 in Tralleis (near Ephesus) of Asia Minor. It was lost in 1922 during the Asia Minor destruction. It was accidentally found (broken at its base) in the garden of a woman who used it as a base for a flowerpot. Today it is exhibited in the National Museum of Denmark constituting an everlasting monument as Seikilos had wished…

KEYBOARD INSTRUMENTS
STRINGED INSTRUMENTS
WIND INSTRUMENTS
PERCUSSION INSTRUMENTS