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Greek Science

Mechanics And Technology

It is often claimed that technology and science were completely separate activities in the ancient world, and that technology was marginalized and played a minor role in ancient society. This view, however, collapses when considering the relationship between mechanics and technology. Practical expertise, techne, however, often had to fight against associations with simple manual labor.

The discipline of mechanics in the ancient periods was concerned with the construction of machines, but it is uncertain to what extent the machines described were actually built. At times they were treated as mathematical objects and at times described as real machines. The earliest preserved mechanical treatise, Mechanical Problems, was written by a member of the Aristotelian school and answers an array of questions with reference to the principle of the lever. Later mechanical writers from Alexandria, such as Philo of Byzantium (c. 200 B.C.E.) and Hero of Alexandria (first century B.C.E.), wrote a large number of works on mechanical topics ranging from the construction of automatic theaters and mirror devices for temples to techniques for land measurement, lifting, and catapult construction. The mechanical treatises combined practical claims to efficacy with mathematical treatments demonstrating a close relationship between geometry, technology, and physics in this field.

While many of the devices described in mechanical treatises may have been pure invention, others were based on real machines. Technological invention and skill played important roles in construction work, land measurement, entertainment, and catapult construction. Catapults were becoming widespread in warfare from the fourth century B.C.E. and were central in sieges; and mechanical automata were used to induce wonder, for instance in religious processions. Images of instruments on gravestones and on wall paintings also testify that technology was part of society at a multitude of levels.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Glucagon to HabitatGreek Science - Early Cosmology, Plato, Aristotle, Mathematics, Mechanics And Technology, Astronomy, Medicine, Bibliography