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.

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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


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

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