Mechanical inventions seem to have been quite popular among the elite Greek [and later] Roman populations of Egypt. During the time I was working at the Phoebe Hearst Museum at Berkeley, I came a cross a hoard of Greek coins – from the Tebtunis finds of Grenfell and Hunt – that had not been properly cataloged or recorded.
A library search revealed a type of machine used at a temple that would allow a certain amount of holy water to be given in exchange for a coin. The hoard may well have been part of such a machine at the Fayum in Egypt.
The Greek coins, part of the finds of Grenfell and Hunt in their excavations in the Fayum, were associated with literally thousands of manuscripts – some of which – as seen in the following picture – had been reduced to a confetti size:
An extraordinary cache of papyri, apparently dumped as rubbish with a few objects (coins, statuettes, etc.), in some priests’ rooms along the western side of the enclosure wall, was uncovered in stages, first by Grenfell and Hunt, then perhaps by Rubensohn, then by sebakhin, and lastly in 1931, when the Italian expedition cleared out the two underlying cellars. [Suitcase A of the cellar papyri]
The cache comprised thousands of documents, most of which are still unpublished. The upper layers consisted mainly of private and administrative documents concerning the affairs of the priests and temple (like those cited above), of the first to mid-third centuries AD.
The lower layers contained mostly religious, literary, scientific and reference texts in Greek, demotic, hieratic and hieroglyphic, mainly of the same period, but including some ‘antique’ documents. These texts must have come from the temple library, the ‘House of Life’, or from the priests’ own collections …
Source – Dominic Rathbone, A Town Full of Gods: Imagining Religious Experience in Roman Tebtunis (Egypt)
The first keyboard musical instrument and the ancestor of the modern church organ, the hydraulis was invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria in the 3rd Century B.C.
This video tells the story of the ancient hydraulis and its modern reconstruction and includes a performance of this remarkable instrument.
Source – The Ancient Hydraulis
Picture below is a reconstructed hydraulis – the only example of the Roman instrument.
ANCIENT TEXT SOURCES
From ancient times, several texts have survived that contain technical descriptions of the Roman water organ. Heron of Alexandria describes in his book ” pneumatics “a simple organ type with a piston pump and a register. Julius Pollux, who lived in the second half of the 1st century AD, distinguishes between small organs that are operated with bellows and large instruments that use water.
Source – The Roman Hydraulis
Here are several links to performances – from here, I’m having trouble with them, perhaps you can link to at least one; the first is quite nice:
- Ancient Hydraulis (Constellations Project)
Ginsberg-Klar, Maria E. 1981. “The Archaeology of Musical Instruments in Germany during the Roman Period“. World Archaeology 12, no. 3
12th Olympia International Film Festival for Children and Young People and 9th Camera Zizanio, opening ceremony, December 5, 2009 at Apollon theatre, Pyrgos, Greece.
Hydraulis, the earliest organ.
Source – You Tube link
Web links: (http://www.archaeologychannel.org/ )
- European Cultural Centre of Delphi
- History of the Pipe Organ (Music History and Literature)
- Hydraulis: the Ancient Hydraulis and Its Reconstruction