Is technology a feature only of our time? In the conditions of the great global crisis, it is quite common for people of our time to wait for new technology to appear – as a deus ex machina – and solve the trouble we found ourselves in, even when we suspiciously criticize and conspire about it. But there have been long, and mostly dark and unhappy, periods of shell history when technology has played a far more modest role.
Thus, the Middle Ages were not a time of flourishing technology, and only in it will one banal technology – the mill – begin to change economic relations and, through the development of the first manufactories, become the germ of technical civilization of the West, and revive enthusiasm for technology with the Renaissance. And although it is usually considered that the technical knowledge of antiquity was simply lost with the fall of Rome, this is in many ways wrong.
On the contrary. The ancient peoples themselves, whose societies were driven by the seemingly inexhaustible labor force of slaves, did not value technical knowledge nearly as much as philosophy or other intelligent skills. Indifference to technology is actually transferred to the Middle Ages through all those institutions that previously made up Rome, through cities and monasteries, so over time, some earlier practical knowledge is completely lost throughout Europe.
Some devices, however, are used continuously, such as catapults or the famous water clock, the hourglass. After Archimedes, the most important mechanic of Ancient Greece was a certain Ctesibius of Alexandria, who died around 270 BC. The son of a barber, Ktesibije invented several devices that used air pressure, including pumps and an air catapult. His most famous invention is precisely to improve the performance of the hourglass.
Places of spirituality will later renew their interest in technology, but apart from inventions, primarily military ones, which are already used in practice, little will be able to be found in ancient manuscripts. Unlike modern times, intelligent people in antiquity did not write down how practical inventions work and who discovered them. True, this is difficult to understand from the perspective of the existence of today’s patent offices, specialized professional journals, internet portals and TV shows that follow every new technological endeavor.
Despite that, it is quite clear that the key contribution to the development of ancient technology was made by Archimedes of Syracuse himself (around 290-212 BC), a Greek physicist, mathematician, philosopher and inventor, a scientist incredibly prolific not only for his time. Three centuries after Thales of Miletus, as well as later Ionian physicists and Pythagoreans who had already significantly developed astronomy and mathematics, Archimedes supplemented the existing heritage with an opus that is huge and diverse, and only according to what has been preserved to this day.
Unfortunately, no writings on Archimedes’ practical inventions and machines have been preserved. According to Plutarch, Archimedes did not write about his practical inventions because he had a low opinion of them, even though they made him famous. However, the legends about Archimedes testify to some extent that he really created practical mechanisms.
Archimedes is credited with inventing a pump that, like a drill, draws water at an angle. He allegedly researched the use of a lever and gears to transmit and amplify forces, and the sentence “Give me a lever, I will move the earth” is also attributed to him.
According to a famous anecdote, for the king of Syracuse, he measured the ratio of gold and silver in the royal crown, and when he realized how the force of the thrust worked, he ran out of the tub into the street with the cry of HeurAk (I discovered). It is impossible to verify that today, although that story certainly has a basis, since in the first of the two books “On Floating Bodies”, Archimedes states the laws of hydrostatics.
According to legend, Archimedes also constructed several war machines to defend Syracuse from the Romans. He used a system of large lenses to light galleys at sea, and constructed catapults, large slingshots and hot oil throwers. He allegedly constructed two small mechanical planetariums that the Romans discovered after the conquest of Syracuse in 212 BC.
Almost three centuries after Ctesibius and Archimedes, Heron of Alexandria, a surveyor and inventor who died around 32 AD, systematized an entire menagerie of mechanical inventions from Babylon, Egypt, and Ancient Greece. Heron is known in mathematics for the formula for calculating the area of a triangle using the lengths of all three pages, which bears his name, and in two books “Pneumatics”, Heron presented a series of mechanical devices such as mechanical birds, dolls, fire engines and water organs.
Heron’s most famous invention from Alexandria is the steam bottle, aeolipil, which is the first steam engine ever made. This simple device consisted of a vessel in which water vapor was heated and a tube through which the steam exited. Due to the law of impulse conservation, the steam from the tubes rotated the bottle in the opposite direction from the steam jet.
Similar to Alexandria, Rhodes was an important center of ancient astronomy in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, where important astronomical discoveries were made, and it is believed that the Antikythera mechanism was made on the island of Rhodes. The Stoic philosopher Poseidon (135-51 BC) founded an academy on this island in which astronomy was studied. His student,