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Ancient Greeks were a step away from creating a steam powered water pump

04 February 2016 / 18:02:08  GRReporter
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The ancient inventors of the Hellenistic era were a step away from creating a water pump driven by steam and a piston that set the beginning of the modern industrial revolution, as stated by professor Theodosis Tassios at the National Polytechnic University Metsovio and honorary professor Michalis Tiverios at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki during an event at the House of Music, entitled "Did the Ptolemaic contemporaries have a steam powered water pump?"

As Theodosis Tassios pointed out, at the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty, scientists had invented one after another all the necessary mechanical elements (bars, pipes, gears, turbines, etc.) that would allow them to use the wind and water energy to create pumps. Thus, they used wind and hydraulic energy. Furthermore, they made the first step to steam driven mechanisms by converting thermal energy into kinetic.

According to Theodosis Tassios, ancient Greeks were very close, namely between 10 and 100 years maximum, to inventing a steam driven water pump, and exactly they would have put the beginning of the industrial revolution long before it occurred. In the end, this happened in 1776, when the Scottish engineer James Watt invented such a water pump.

Professor Tiverios in turn stated that only around 2.5% of the ancient historical texts have been preserved, thus not excluding the probability of the steam machine to have been invented, even if a pump was created in the form of a toy, and of the technology to have been forgotten afterwards. However, no such testimony and evidence have been found, at least to the present day.

Theodosis Tassios, who is also president of the Society for the Study of Ancient Greek Technology, believes that ancient Greeks were very close to the "source" due to their impressive scientific and technological progress but ultimately, they failed to go so far as to use steam to drive a pump and respectively, to create the steam engine.

The two scientists talked about the important work of inventors Ctesibius (3rd century BC, the founder of the school of mathematics and mechanics in Alexandria), Philo of Byzantium (a student of Ctesibius) and Heron of Alexandria (probably the 1st century AD), whose inventions demonstrated the advancement of the Greek applied science and technology. Many of the writings by the Greek engineers and inventors have been preserved in Arabic translations, as stated by professor Tiverios.

Theodosis Tassios emphasized the passion of ancient Greeks for technology, noting that even the Homeric epics talks about automatic vessels and robotic vessels. Later, the combination of cosmopolitanism (especially in Alexandria), the emerging middle class and the interests of the Ptolemaic contemporaries led to significant inventions, as demonstrated by the Antikythera Mechanism (also known as the Antikythera astrolabe). Naturally, the question remains whether these technologies were commonly used or if they were the privilege of a small group of people.

Tags: Ancient technologyWater pumpSteam engineIndustrial revolution
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