All pneumatic machines – including the Ctesibian machine and the famous ancient machines built for entertainment purposes, such as singing birds and hydraulic organs – conveyed potentially fundamental questions related to the constitution of matter (of the elements). In a world that had no concepts such as, for example ‘pressure’, the explanation of the functioning of pneumatic machines was not trivial and required continuous investigation of the characteristics and constitution of matter. Obviously, this sensitive issue is at the fundament of every worldview. Such questions, and others related to them, were eventually faced by practically oriented Hellenistic scientists, and the traces of their ensuing scientific debates can be followed over the centuries up until the foundation of modern mechanics in the seventeenth century. Until now, ancient pneumatics has been investigated either concerning just its theoretical consequences, for example, in reference to the work of Hero of Alexandria, or in reference to its social meaning, as a symbol of power in ancient culture. Building on the results of these previous scholarly investigations, the way in which such technology circulated during antiquity will be investigated in order to map the technological innovations and contextual conditions that led to the significant outcomes following the emergence of new scientific knowledge. The analysis of archeological findings and of primary sources related to pneumatics – the fundamental sources – will be utilized to develop this investigation.
The widespread circulation of balances, steelyards and the corresponding technological and metrological knowledge is connected more with the development of ancient markets and the instruments, directions and dynamics of their import and export activities, rather than to mechanics itself. The circulation of this technology, however, led to the emergence of standards employed during measuring activities, as happened with the development of metrology, and the foundation of mechanics related to the circulation of the steelyard. However, no attempt has ever been made to carefully map the circulation and employment of balances and, in particular, of steelyards. Even less investigated are the meta reflections on such mechanical devices that were achieved possibly earlier than the fourth century BCE and that constituted a first theoretical input leading to the formulation of the most ancient law of mechanics. The investigations to be accomplished within the frame defined by the subject “Balances, Steelyards and the Foundation of Mechanics” aims to achieve a map of the circulation of early mechanical devices from the perspective of technological innovation and an analysis of the first meta reflections on these innovations.
Besides the sources directly connected to the history of mechanics, such as the Problemata, the sources that need to be analyzed in this context are the literary Greek sources, both from the perspective of technology transfer and as well the development of ancient markets, focusing in particular on the fifth and fourth centuries BCE.
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