Build Your Own with the Ancient Hobbyist
Ever wonder how the recreations on the show are made? Download the instructions here and get started making your own models of ancient inventions.
Aulos: Bamboo Flute
An aulos is a Greek reed instrument consisting of a cylindrical or slightly conical tube that is generally about 50 cm long. Primitive examples were made of reed or bone, but wood and ivory later became common. The aulos accompanied a wide range of Greek activities: It was present at sacrifices, dramas and even wrestling matches, the discus throw and sailor's dances on triremes (warship). Plato associates it with the ecstatic cults of Dionysus (god of wine) and the Korybantes (dancers who worshipped goddess Cybele). In his writings, Plato even banned the aulos from his Republic.
Clepsydra: Water Clock
A clepsydra is a clock that uses water to tell time. This kind of gadget was especially handy for the ancients as it, unlike devices that relied the sun, allowed them to keep track of time both indoors and on days when the sun wasn't shining. While never reaching the accuracy required for today's standard of time keeping, the water clock was the most accurate and commonly used timekeeping device for millennia, until it was replaced by the more accurate pendulum clock in 17th century Europe.
Pyrgo's Dice Tower
The Romans used this device while playing a game called Tabula, which is a little similar to backgammon. Dice games were very popular in Ancient Rome, as was gambling. Gambling on Tabula became so popular in fact, that the emperor Commodus at one point actually turned the imperial palace into a casino! He then used the house winnings to refund the country's bankrupt treasury. Gambling eventually became such a problem that the Republic restricted it to week-long festivals. One dice tower was found with the Latin inscription "Pictos victos, hostis deleta, ludite securi"which translates as "The Scottish are defeated, the enemy wiped out; play without fear".
Said to be the oldest stringed instrument in the world, the mouth bow has its origins in Africa, but exists in different versions around the world. Simple in form, a mouth bow consisted of a string (similar to a bow used for hunting or battle) that was placed against the lips. By changing the size and shape of the mouth while striking or plucking the string, the musician was able to change the notes that emerged and produce a melody. In the United States today, a version of the mouth bow is used in the Appalachian Mountain region, where it was believed to have been brought by African slaves during the 19th century.
The word rhombus is from the Greek word for something that spins. A Rhombos in ancient Greece was what is known among anthropologists as a bullroarer, a small object rapidly swung about on a cord in order to make a noise. To the Greeks, it was a sacred instrument, however, to many other cultures it was also a means of communicating over distances. By modifying the expansiveness of its circuit and the speed given it, the modulation of the sound can be controlled, making the coding of information possible. The low frequency component of the sound travels extremely long distances, especially on the wind.
The Skytale was a favourite device of the Spartans – those muscley blokes from the Film 300. It was mentioned in writings as early as the 7th Century BC. It's fairly weak as a cryptographic device, however, so long as no one else knows the actual theory behind the encoding process, you'll be fine. It has the advantage of being fast and not prone to mistake, important when on the battlefield. 2500 years ago, the percent of people who could read and write was much smaller than it is today. Therefore, at the time Skytales provided a much more secure method of communication than they would do today.
The sun dial is one of the oldest timekeepers in known history. Quick and easy to make, the skill came with calibrating the device. The only thing it required was the sun... Something that ancient Greece and Rome had plenty of.
The Taketonbo is an oriental children's toy from around 400 AD. This translates into English as "Bamboo Dragonfly" and is believed to have been the inspiration for a famous Leonardo da Vinci design of a helicopter that loses its power and auto rotates back to earth. Sir George Cayley, the father of modern aeronautics, studied the Chinese helicopter top in 1809, which lead to huge developments in western aeronautics.
The trebuchet began appearing in Europe around the 12th Century. It was used to fling a range of objects ranging from simple rocks and stones, to flaming incendiary bombs and in some cases, dead animals such as cows and horses. They were used until the end of the 15th century, when gunpowder weapons such as the cannon took over. In 1422 at the siege of Karlatejn, human corpses and manure were fired over the enemy walls, apparently managing to spread infection among the defenders.
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