Steampunk Rome IV: The Great Library of Alexandria – RPG, Pt 2 – Egyptian, Greek, and Roman History

Arriving at the Great Library of Alexandria, Andre’s character Pyrrho of Pergamum searches for the secret plans for the floating statue. But in order to get his hands on them, he must first solve several science and engineering challenges. Along the way, we learn a great deal about the Library of Alexandria and its marvelous discoveries.

Be sure to support the show at www.patreon.com/deadideaspod to get your portrait drawn!

Custom map of Rome by Adam McKithern. Music by Rachel Westhoff. Maps, pics, references and more at www.deadideas.net.

Become our patron on Patreon at www.patreon.com/deadideaspod

Time/place: The Hellenistic World, 201 BCE

Dead Idea: Ancient Steam Technology

Co-host: Andre Sólo

In this episode, Andre’s character faces several science and engineering challenges. You can try your hand at solving them too. Post your solutions to our Facebook page at @deadideaspod!

Challenge #1: Invent an Ox-powered Water Lifter

An ox can walk in a circle, providing horizontal motion, but your water-lifter wheel requires vertical motion (see illustration below). Can you invent a way to make these two technologies interface? You can add whatever components you like, so long as it was available in the Hellenistic world (which includes gears, axles, pistons, cams, valves, pulleys, reduction gears, driveshafts, screws, bolts, nuts, ball bearings, floats, etc.). For the Hellenistic solution, listen to the episode.

Ox-powered Water Lifter Problem

Challenge #2: Find the Circumference of the Earth

This one’s a doozy, but Eratosthenes solved it using little more than a stick, a shadow, and some sick geometry. Can you? Use the information in the diagram below to figure out the answer. Here are the important details:

  • Assume the Earth is round
  • Assume the sun’s rays strike the earth in parallel lines
  • The sun is directly overhead at noon on the summer solstice at Syene
  • At the same moment in Alexandria, the sun casts a shadow at angle of 7 degrees ,or 1/50th of a circle
  • Alexandria is 5000 stadia (about 800km/497mi) north of Syene

For the Hellenistic solution, listen to the episode.

Eratosthenes_measure_of_Earth_circumference problem

2058px-Mediterranean_at_218_BC-en.svg

The Hellenistic World, end of 3rd cen. BCE

Custom-generated map of alternate history Rome by Adam McKithern

The Roman Empire at its greatest extent, 117 CE

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Main Sources

Allen, R. C. (2017). The Industrial Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Arun. (2018). “10 Major Causes of the Industrial Revolution.” Learnodo-Newtonic.com. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2018, from: https://learnodo-newtonic.com/industrial-revolution-causes

Deakin, M. A. B. (1994, Mar). “Hypatia and Her Mathematics.” The American Mathematical Monthly, 101(3): 234-243.

Dzielska, M. (1995). Hypatia of Alexandria. Lyra, F., Trans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Greene, M. (2004). “The Birth of Modern Science?” Nature.com. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2018, from: https://www.nature.com/articles/430614a

Hero of Alexandria. (1851). The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria. Woodcroft, B., Trans. Himedo.net. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2018, from: http://himedo.net/TheHopkinThomasProject/TimeLine/Wales/Steam/URochesterCollection/Hero/index-2.html

James, P., and Thorpe, N. (1994). Ancient Inventions. New York: Ballantine.

Jones, P. J. (2006). Cleopatra: A Sourcebook. University of Oklahoma Press.

Koyama, M. (2017). “Could Rome Have Had an Industrial Revolution?” Medium.com. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2018, from: https://medium.com/@MarkKoyama/could-rome-have-had-an-industrial-revolution-4126717370a2

Lefkowitz, M. R., and Fant, M. B. (2016). Women’s Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Lowe, D. (2016). “Suspending Disbelief: Magnetic Levitation in Antiquity and the Middle Ages.” Classical Antiquity, 35(2): 247-278.

MacLeod, R., Ed. (2000). The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World. New York: I. B. Tauris.

Miles, M. M. (2011). Cleopatra: A Sphinx Revisited. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Montserrat, D. (1996). Sex and Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt. New York: Kegan Paul International.

Mosjov, B. (2010). Alexandria Lost: From the Advent of Christianity to the Arab Conquest. London: Duckworth.

Oleson, J. P., Ed. (2008). The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pollard, J. and Reid, H. (2006). The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind. New York: Viking.

Rowan-Robinson, M. (2004). “Praising Alexandrians to Excess.” PhysicsWorld.com. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2018, from: https://physicsworld.com/a/praising-alexandrians-to-excess/

Rowlandson, J., Ed. (1998). Women & Society in Greek & Roman Egypt: A Sourcebook. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Russo, L. (2004). The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why It Had to Be Reborn. Levy, S., Trans. New York: Springer.

Torchinsky, J. (2012). “The Greeks Had the Technology to Build a Car in 60 A.D.” Jalopnik.com. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2018, from: https://jalopnik.com/5888188/the-greeks-had-the-technology-to-build-a-car-in-60-ad

Watts, E. J. (2010). Riot in Alexandria: Tradition and Group Dynamics in Late Antique Pagan and Christian Communities. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Wyatt, L. T. (2009). The Industrial Revolution: Greenwood Guides to Historic Events, 1500-1900. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Leave a Reply