10 Incredible Ancient Technologies That Were Way Ahead of Their Time – Part 2

by Parul Dhamija2 years ago
Picture 10 Incredible Ancient Technologies That Were Way Ahead of Their Time – Part 2

In this day and age, technology has become a way of living. From simple things like automatic doors to advanced inventions like robots, technology reigns supreme in the modern era. But have you ever thought if such things existed in ancient times? Yes, some did! Ancient technology existed and even some of those inventions paved the way for things that are still in use today. From historic hydraulic systems to the first-ever seismoscope, here is a list of 10 incredible ancient technologies that were way ahead of their time.

1 Machine de Marly – An Ancient Hydraulic System

Louis XIV ordered the construction of the machine, Marly, to supply water to his parks at the Palace of Versailles. The model consisted of 14 giant wheels of about 38 feet in diameter and powered over 250 motor pumps to pump water from the Seine River to the king’s palace. Located seven kilometers from the Château de Versailles, the machine worked for 133 years. 

Machine de Marly – An Ancient Hydraulic System
Carte Machine de Marly (Image to the left); Pierre denis martin view of the marly machine and the aqueduct at louveciennes. Image Credit: Archives départementales des Yvelines/Wikimedia.org, Pierre-Denis Martin/wikimedia.org

The Machine de Marly or the “Marly Machine” was a giant hydraulic system built in 1684 in Yvelines, France. It was constructed to pump water from the Seine River and transport it to the Palace of Versailles to meet a large water supply for the fountains of King Louis XIV. It was the most extensive and costly hydraulic system of that time. After three years of planning and construction, the project was completed with a cost of nearly 5,500,000 livres.

The model consisted of 14 giant wheels of about 38 feet in diameter that powered over 250 motor pumps to bring water to the Louveciennes Aqueduct. The axles of the wheels had two cranks, one of which moved the pistons to push water into the pipes and eventually raise it to the first reservoir.

The other crank moved cross-arm levers, powered the pumps, and moved the water from the lower reservoir to the upper. The water then moved to the tower located on the mountain from where was pushed to a large aqueduct to meet the water needs at Versailles.

The Marly Machine functioned for 133 years but suffered frequent breakdowns on the way. It was destroyed in 1817. (source)


2 Greek Fire 

Greek Fire was an incendiary weapon developed by the Byzantines in the 7th century to be used in warfare. It was deployed on ships and either thrown in pots or discharged from tubes. Though the composition of Greek Fire was evidently a petroleum-based mixture. Many speculated proposals including combinations of several flammable compositions exist today, but no one is certain exactly its composition. 

Greek Fire
Image Credit: Codex Skylitzes Matritensis, Bibliteca Nacional de Madrid/wikimedia.org

Greek Fire was an incendiary weapon introduced by the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century CE to set fire to enemy ships. It probably employed a petroleum-based mixture emitted by a flame-throwing weapon. Since the fire was able to burn while floating on water, the Byzantines used this technology to their advantage to win several naval battles, especially against the Arabs, to save their capital city Constantinople. 

Since the development and deployment of Greek Fire were secretly guarded by Constantine VII’s military, its composition was lost forever. Speculations are there it was a petroleum-based mixture that could be either discharged from handheld or ship-mounted tubs or thrown in pots. Some historians believe that the mixture could be of naphtha and quicklime. The composition of the fire continues to be a matter of speculation even today. 

The Byzantines used Greek fire to win several battles. In 673, it wrought havoc on the Arab army that attacked Constantinople. The fire was then used against another Arab attack in 717 by Leo III the Isaurian. Its efficacy, especially in the sea, was a prime reason behind the longevity of the Byzantine Empire. (source)


3 Steam Engine

The first working steam engine was invented by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century CE. The turbine consisted of a spherical sphere that rotated and produced torque whenever the steam from a heated water container reached the ball. The Egyptians couldn’t find any practical use for this steam engine, and the technique was lost until re-emerging in the 17 century.  

Steam Engine
Roman Aeolipile – The ancient steam engine. Viewed as a novelty it could have triggered an industrial revolution 1500 years early in the Roman Empire at the height of its power (Image to the left); Working model of Hero’s Aeolipile and steam boiler based on Sketches in 16th-century Manuscripts. Image Credit: TheManWithTheFlan/Reddit, The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum via collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/

Hero of Alexandria, the great Greek mathematician and engineer, invented the first working steam engine in the 1st century CE. Also known as “Hero’s Engine” or “aeolipile,” the device consisted of a sealed cauldron of water placed over a heat source.

As the water boiled in the vessel, steam rose and moved a hollow sphere or ball through the pipes. This led to the production of torque and rotation of the sphere on its axis. 

It is not known whether Hero’s steam engine was put to any practical use. Whether it was a pragmatic device, one of the practical ancient technologies, or an object of reverence, no one really knows. (1, 2)


4 The Baghdad Battery

The Baghdad Battery is said to be nearly 2,000 years old. It incorporates a clay jar supported by a stopper made from asphalt. An iron rod surrounding a copper cylinder is attached to the stopper. When filled with an electrolytic solution, the jar produces 1 to 2 volts of electricity.

The Baghdad Battery
Image Credit: dawn.com

This is one of the most controversial ancient technologies on this list. The Baghdad Battery is a 2,000-year-old artifact discovered in 1936 in Khujut Rabu, a region just outside of Baghdad. Also known as the “Parthian Battery,” it is composed of a clay jar fitted with a copper cylinder and iron rod. A stopper made of asphalt is attached to the jar.

When filled with vinegar, grape juice, or any other electrolytic solution, the jar produces 1 volt of electricity. Although there is no written record describing the function of this jar, scientists believe it to be one of the most ancient technologies used to electroplate items. Another idea is that it could possibly be a device used in religious ceremonies to shock devotees into belief.

(1, 2)


5 Tessarakonteres, aka “Catamaran Galley” 

Tessarakonteres, aka “forty” was a giant galley built by the fourth pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt in the 3rd century BCE. It supposedly carried a total crew of 6,000 men and was rowed by “forty” rowers on each column of oars. With a length of 130 meters and a height of 24.2 meters to the tip of the stern, Tessarakonteres is probably the largest human-powered vessel ever built.

Tessarakonteres, aka “Catamaran Galley”
Image Credit: alchetron.com

Tessarakonteres, or simply “forty”, was a large catamaran galley built by the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy IV Philopator in the 3rd century BCE. Its name “forty” refers to the number of rowers that propelled the ship from each column of oars. Several explanations exist regarding the distribution of the oarsmen.

The most popular was from  L. Casson, a New York-based specialist in maritime history. He assumed that the Tessarakonteres (40-rowed) had two eikoseres (20-rowed) connected by a common deck. The eikoseres would have 2,000 rowers, 1,000 on each side. In this way, the number of rowers along with other crew members including military and officers would reach 6,000 men. 

Well, Tessarakonteres was believed to be 130 meters long. The height of the ship was 24.2 meters from the waterline to the tip of the stern and 22 meters from the waterline to the prow. At the size described, the ship would have been the largest ship of the ancient past. The irony is that Plutarch, a famous Greek historian, described the ship as an exhibition item only. (source)

Also Read:
10 Ancient Artifacts That Are Too Strange to Be True

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