Impressive ancient mechanisms
Unique exhibits in Greek Museums
Greece has more than 100 museums which is an indicative number of the country’s archaeological wealth. The country is an open exhibition site in which centuries intertwine with everyday life. Not only you will enjoy visiting the country’s National Museums but you will have the opportunity to see ancient treasures in plain sight all over the country. Witness the civilization’s ongoing evolution through some ancient everyday objects as well as complex mechanisms that are still in use today with slight changes. Let us introduce you to some of the most exquisite mechanisms from antiquity and be prepared for your next visit to the Greek museums.
Did you know that you can see a computer dated back to ancient times at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens? It’s the renowned Antikythera Mechanism; an astronomical calculating machine made out of copper, which has fascinated science and technology historians. It was retrieved from sponge divers in 1900, at depth of 60m, in a shipwreck near Antikythera, along with statues and many other items. The ship had left Rhodes heading towards Rome and is dated back to Julius Caesar's era in the 1st century BC.
Common theory about the machine’s function is that it was a portable astronomical calculating machine of planet movements such as the Sun and Moon, it predicted lunar and solar eclipses, and could also maintain a precise calendar.
The hydraulis of Dion
The hydraulis of Dion is the first keyboard organ of antiquity and is dated back to the 1st century BC. It was excavated in 1992 and is showcased at the Archaeological Museum of Dion, at the foot of the myth-laden Mt. Olympus. It is an invention attributed to Ctesibius of Alexandria, an engineer of the 3rd century BC.
An interesting feature of this organ was its hydraulic operating system. This system was responsible for the production, movement and adjustment of air and pressure which was channeled through tubes by a light keystroke. Two people were required to play the organ; one pressed the keys while the other one forced air through the organ’s pipes by the use of water.
The Hysplex from Nemea
After getting acquainted with scientific and musical instruments let’s get to know an athletic instrument from the mythical land of Nemea. This land with the renowned Stadium and Temple of Zeus used to host biennially one of the four Panhellenic festival taken place in Ancient Greece, the Nemean Games. Excavations have uncovered stones on which the mechanism, called hysplex, was placed and triggered allowing athletes to have a fair start in races.
A panathenaic amphora from Athens depicts the hysplex which was an athletic starting line mechanism of two horizontal ropes stretched in front of runners at knee and chest height, tied to two wooden poles (called angones) at each end. The mechanism was triggered by the starter; he stood behind the athletes handling the mechanism’s ropes, with a sudden movement he would let go, the poles and ropes would drop instantly in front of the runners allowing them to start their race.