Skip to Content
Uncategorized

The Amazing Steam Engines Of The First Century

An online translation of an ancient text reveals some engineering marvels from antiquity.

Ask a person in the street who invented the steam engine and you’re more than likely to hear the names of various Renaissance inventors such as Denis Papin or James Watt.

Less well known is the fact that steam engines were in use at least 2000 years ago. Our knowledge of these devices is largely the result of a text called Pneumatica written in the first century by the Greek mathematician, engineer and inventor Hero of Alexandria.

Today, Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, at the Politecnico di Torino in Italy, talks us through some of these devices as they are described in an online translation of Hero’s work.

Hero was clearly aware of some remarkable machines. Sparavigna describes, in particular, a steam-powered device for levitating a ball, a steam-powered rotating ball and an engine for opening and closing temple doors (see above). These are just a small fraction of the machines that Hero describes in this and other work.

It’s probable that Hero wasn’t the inventor of all of them–he’s almost certainly describing the work of others as well as himself.

But it is clear that Hero is one of the great engineers in history. And somebody who will now get greater, well-deserved exposure thanks to the online availability of his writing.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1101.3470: Water, Air And Fire At Work In Hero’s Machines

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.

Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?

Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.

How to befriend a crow

I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.

Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.