Some 30 years have now elapsed since I first had that Eureka moment for my dissertation theme. Furthermore, 27 years since the Dissertation Committee at the Hochschule St. Gallen, Switzerland accepted the original edition of this book’s treatise, for the school’s dissertation requirement in completion of his doctor’s degree in economics in April 1992.
The subject of that dissertation was one that I conjured up himself beginning in 1988, much to the consternation of the professors involved in reviewing its defense save for his dissertation supervisor, Professor Dr. Theo Leuenburger. He was supportive in allowing me to continue with my theme and in sharing his knowledge of Chinese technology and that of the great Joseph Needham, who has since passed away.
The title of my dissertation, “Technology, Culture, and Creativity: Factors Connecting Invention and Scientific Discovery” remained the same, admittedly an ambitious one that he chose as a doctoral candidate at that time.
This treatise remains to date the earliest account of the evolution of the steam engine from the Hellenistic Period in Greece, continuously from Ctesibius, Hero of Alexandria and Philo of Alexandria to Papin, Savery, Newcomen, Leupold, up through James Watt and Oliver Evans. See Appendix G.
The retention of this title remains an epistemological challenge that goes beyond a requisite knowledge of a few languages such as Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, Dutch, and English. One’s English comprehension alone would make this undertaking nearly impossible. However, my previous studies in German and Dutch, as well as some high school Latin and night school French, encouraged me to take on this task. A better knowledge of French would have been most useful. At times, I relied on academic associates and friends to translate a few relevant paragraphs from French and Italian into English as well as Internet confirmations more recently.
In my mind, the short-lived first ‘Industrial Revolution” emerged with Ctesibius' brilliant invention starting circa 270 B.C. and ended after the Roman army under Octavian defeated Mark Anthony and Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Greece subsequent to the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C.
In dealing with similar bibliographical materials, requiring so many philological skills, I recommend for those venturing onto further research on this subject, that they seriously consider working as a team of at least two multi-lingual scholars and one expert in mechanical engineering. I have been fortunate to have consulted with Rial E. Hamann, a professional mechanical engineer with dozens of years of applicable experience, in reviewing the mechanical potential of the known artifacts of Ctesibius’ Pneumatic Hydraulis qua Steam Hydraulis.
The next possible barrier to future research is the longitudinal scope of this subject, starting with the death of Alexander the Great in 321 B.C. and 270 B.C. when Ctesibius flourished and extending at least until circa 1830 with Oliver Evans, ergo a span of about 2,100 years. The epiphany of envisioning a possible connection between Ctesibius of Alexandria (Ktesibios Κτησίβιος ο Αλεξανδρεύς) Hydraulis (Ύδραυλις) and James Watt’s augmented steam engine came to me as an inductive leap while working with Chris Freeman and Luc Soete at M.E.R.I.T. in Maastricht, the Netherlands.
This connection occurred to me when I first learned that Watt had built at least two pipe organs as a mathematical instrument maker in Glasgow, one for Joseph Black and one for his local Masonic Lodge. Watt built these musical instruments shortly before heading to London, England to start his very remarkable career in steam engine mechanics and engineering.
Of course, Ctesibius’ writings are all lost and likely buried in the ruins and ashes of the libraries of Alexandria and Athens. Fortunately, a few of Philo of Byzantium and Hero of Alexandria’s sketches remain, resolutely to affirm that no one other than Ctesibius of Alexandria can lay claim to the invention of the Hydraulis. However, by fortuitous circumstances, Vitruvius’ “De architectura” (“The Ten Books of Architecture”) survived with the finding of its entire Latin manuscript in St. Gallen (575 years before I arrived there), and shortly after the Council of Constance (1414-1418). “De architectura” details the Hydraulis, its parts, and subassemblies, but not how its internal works functioned. In speculation, one or more of the internal parts of the Hydraulis that Vitruvius’ description omits may have kept many technically-oriented readers of Vitruvius interested in attempting to determine how the Hydraulis functioned over the next 2 millennia. With the artifactual discoveries of one Hydraulis from Roman times in 1931 and another one unearthed in Dion, Greece, near Mt. Olympus in 1992, concerns regarding the Hydraulis being a narrative fiction by Vitruvius dissipated from the historical inquiry.
The Ancient Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle, had an open dislike for work done through manual labor. For him the mind alone was necessary, even Archimedes was satisfied to think continuously of the mathematics underlying his many famous inventions, while Ctesibius was more the “hands-on” mechanic, who preferred to see his inventions through to final construction and functioning. The general Greek contempt for technology did not prove to be a fatal flaw for the Hellenistic Period their demise can at the hands of Roman conquests and the dismantling of its budding industrial base by early Christians. The Romans were not able to repeat their mechanical inventiveness in theory or practice. The Greek conquerors, the Romans, were fond of making things manually as it was an integral part of their culture. They built impressive stone and cement buildings like the Pantheon, the Roman Colosseum, and the Amphitheater at Nimes as well as superb bridges, roads, and canals. The Romans were able to defeat the Greeks with the products of their artisan, manual crafts; ships, a wide array of mechanical weapons, armaments and an accumulated repertoire of superior warfare tactics soundly grounded in the earth as were their deep horizontal roads build like walls. They had open disdain for Greek theoretical mathematics and for Greeks, whom they perceived as preferring to live in Ivory Towers of contemplation.
Had the Greeks thought to apply their knowledge of mathematics and science to their advanced military technology, their cities may have survived the attack, first by the Romans and later the Ottoman Turks and even Western European crusaders in 1204.
The Roman armies and navies destroyed much of our Hellenistic Period legacy but not all of it. The Archbishop Theopholis I of Alexandria destroyed the Serapeum Greek Temple in the year 391. Bishop Cyril fermented a mob in 415 brutally to flay away her skin murdering Hypatia of Alexandria, a Greek philosophy teacher, and daughter of the Greek mathematician, Theon. After the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, only two important manuscript collections of Hellenistic Greece remain extant, one in Constantinople, where papyrus and parchment manuscripts still exist and the other in the House of Wisdom’s historical collection in Bagdad. There they house a similar collection translated from Greek and Latin into Arabic but also largely destroyed:
Along with all the other libraries in Baghdad, the House of Wisdom was destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258 – it was said that the waters of the Tigris ran black for six months with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river.
Even before the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453, Gutenberg anticipated the demand for a technology that would make it possible to spread the influx of these Greek manuscripts in 1439 with the invention of the first movable type printing press. Trustees of the failing Byzantine Empire manuscripts began transferring their cultural treasures to Venice, Rome, and Florence or Prague and St. Gallen in the Western Hemisphere beginning in the 14th-century. From these exiled literary treasures, the Renaissance sunk its first roots in Italy. Afterward, as printing emerges in Germany, Vitruvius’ “De architectura” comes first in Latin to academics in France, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and the United States, where industrialism followed in its path.
It was not until after World War II and the realization of the power of nuclear physics that science and technology would act as a conventional force, always embodied in all future scientific and industrial undertakings.
Time is like a river, binds the Hydraulis of Antiquity with the icon of the Industrial Age, the Steam Engine, as Ariadne’s Red Thread holds the two ends together like bookends on the shelf of the history of technology from Antiquity through to the Renaissance.
This treatise connects technology with science in the various historical contexts of cultures through time. Beginning with the Ancient Greeks and Romans through to the Middle-Ages, to the Age of Reason, and the Enlightenment, it focuses on the path of the Hydraulis, as brilliant inquirers attempted to pry open the secret nature of the engine of steam and music, ergo, the likelihood of a Steam Hydraulis in Antiquity.
Interestingly, the footprint of the roadmap that Greek manuscripts followed, starting in the 14th and 15th-centuries, coincides closely with the European core path of the industrial area or Megalopolis, or even the whimsical appellation of 'The Blue Banana. Gert-Jan Hospers relates, “For centuries, this banana-shaped metropolitan axis running from London to Milan has been Europe's breeding place for innovation and growth.”
Although I disagree with the location of Hosper’s starting point of his “Axis,” beginning in London and ending in Milan, the ‘Blue Banana’ and the diffusion route of Hellenistic technology are essentially alike. Conversely, a full factual argument is made that the latent Industrial Revolution started in Italy and transversed northward through France, Germany, Holland, and then England.
Figure 1 Hosper’s “Blue Banana” (2002) Figure 2 Ludwig Schätzl’s Diagram (1993)
The technological diffusion of Vitruvius and Hero’s manuscripts, translations, and printed publications provided technical information for the revived construction of the Hydraulis and the Fire Engine along its chronological path of diffusion from Venice to London and beyond. However, this path may have originated in St. Gallen after the Council of Constance (1414-1418) with Poggio Bracciolini’s raid on its Abbey Library. Hero of Alexandria’s Hydraulis rendering appears to have been preserved over more than a millennium (Figure 107b). However, Vitruvius’ “Ten Books of Architecture” provides only the Latin description with no extant original images or mention of its requisite check values, which were necessary for it to function.
This similarity of the path taken by Vitruvius’ “Ten Books of Architecture” and the path of the “Blue Banana” of industrial development is more than only a circumstantial coincidence. Certainly, if the Hellenistic technologies’ diffusion path did not closely align with the European Megapolis of today, critics would object that they should overlap to assist in validating the influence of the Hydraulis from the past.
Since the time that Ctesibius fabricated the first organ pipes in the 3rd-century B.C., for the past 25 years, the I doubt if anyone could have predicted the impact that modern organ builders would apply Additive Manufacturing technology (popularly known as 3D Printing) to the long-standing tradition of handcrafted organ pipe fabrication. Nor was the predication of an Allen, non-pipe electronic organ in the Basilica of the Vatican in 2017. However, organ builders now fabricate organ pipes with 3D Printing and CAD software programs. They employ 3D Printing of these pipes not to improve on the long history of this artisan craft, but rather to preserve the prior works of their building art. 3D scanners now scan pipes hundreds of years old that have worn down or deteriorated over time, so that restorators can accurately and speedily fabricate exact pipe replicas with 3D printers. This technological advancement will allow organ restoration specialists to return historic organs to their original condition and at much lower reproduction costs when compared with their prior restoration techniques.
The most important message from Antiquity is that there is no guaranty that scientific and technological progress will continue to build upon a once established base. That is unless civilization has maintained its capability of not losing the basic information to recreate such assets. Moreover, to recover seemingly lost technologies, civilization must be able to restore previous levels of technical development. After the fall of the Hellenistic Period in 391 A.D., a significant and not wholly known body of Hellenistic Technology may still be missing. Technological regression takes place when insufficient documentation or artifacts survive to resurrect previously viable technologies, scientific information, and mathematical formulations. These factors are required to reproduce or improve technologies to a fully functioning status.
Furthermore, certain sociopathic dimensions of human nature arise in the pursuit of personal financial gain, fame or political power, not only devoid of empathy for their fellow human beings but focused on the preservation of the scientific and technological personal reputations and national heritage claims for their provenance.
The negative barbaric behavior that destroyed the libraries of Alexandria, the burning of the House of Wisdom in Bagdad by Mongol invaders and those responsible for carrying off the precious manuscripts from the St. Gallen Bibliothek, as if they were nothing more than the spoils of an undeclared war, are still with us. There are no signs that our nature has further evolved and that there are too many of us who have not curbed their primitive destructive instincts. These are not yet capable of understanding the categorical imperative for us to hold on to and protect the fragile scientific and technological treasures that separate us from our beastly past “red in tooth and claw.”
As one still learns on a regular basis that some crazed individual or group has wantonly destroyed another artifact or manuscript, one must remind oneself of this heritage as it is today, may not be there as one wakes tomorrow.
Cort MacLean Johns, Ph.D.-HSG
Meerssen, the Netherlands, November 18, 2019 ×