Ancient Greek Robotic Technologies on Display

automatic maid 1

On the first floor of the Herakleidon Museum Annex on Apostolou Pavlou Street in central Athens there is an automatic maid that looks like it came out of Star Trek. Surprisingly, it was made hundreds of years ago by Philon of Byzantium in the 3rd century BC.

This automatic-robotic maid was one of the leading “technologies” in the Hellenistic period, it is considered to have been the first working robot in history. It used to be a complex device in the form of a life-size woman.  In her right hand she held a wine jug, when a cup was placed in the palm of her left hand, she automatically poured wine first and then water to achieve the right mix, both the wine and water were stored in metal jugs suspended in her chest. Kostas Kotsanas has created a recreation of the automatic maid which is on display stunning the crowds.

The exhibition “Amazing Inventions of the Ancient Greeks” has many more fascinating technologies which prove the advanced civilization of the Ancient Greeks, such as the static automated theater, also by Philon, which presented to audiences the plots of popular myths, through moving images, sound and impressive effects (something like today’s modern cinema).

Or the alarm clock of Plato (5th century BC), believed to be the first ever such device designed to emit an alarm, in this case a whistle. The coin-operated holy water dispenser devised by Heron of Alexandria (1st century AD), a distinguished mathematician and engineer, which was ideal for placement at temple entrances. When a coin was thrown into the pot, it fell onto a balance that moved and opened a valve, releasing a quantity of holy water according to the weight of the coin.

And of course Archimedes’ steam cannon, which fired stone balls.

Kotsanas was very interested in ancient Greek technology and while still a student of mechanical engineering in the 1980s began to reconstruct the inventions of the ancient Greeks as fully working models. “They are extraordinary machines and pioneering, specialized instruments, which demonstrate that the technology of our ancestors was strikingly similar to that at the start of the modern era, and that Western civilization owes much to Greece; far more than we think” he has stated.

So far, Kotsanas has recreated more than 350 ancient inventions which apart from this exhibition can be viewed at the museums he has created in the Peloponnese at his own expense: the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology and the Museum of Ancient Greek Musical Instruments in Katakolo, Ilia, as well the Archimedes Museum at Ancient Olympia.

Admission to all three is free.

The Athens exhibition, which will remain open until January 10th, has recently augmented with the addition of a photography section featuring images of 6th century BC technology by Anthi Xenaki.

“Amazing Inventions of the Ancient Greeks” is on display at the Herakeidon Museum Annex (37 Apostolou Pavlou, Thiseio, www.herakleidon-art.gr).