More Power! Medieval Machinery

Think modern society has a monopoly on power tools? Think again! For the mechanically-inclined, this week's edition of Aoife's Links is chock full of serious drool-bait: medieval machines.

Greetings my Faithful Readers!

This week it's all about More Medieval Power.

Wait--did you think everything in the Middle Ages was done painstakingly by hand? Think again! Like ourselves, our ancestors were no slouches when thinking up ways to avoid hard physical labor. How did those huge blocks of stone get to the top of the cathedral? Machine Power! How did that Gutenberg Bible get printed? Machine Power. How was the wheel formed so perfectly for carriages and carts? Machine Power. And Da Vinci, the penultimate renaissance man, had a hand in designing some very sophisticated machines. These were not gas or electric powered engines, but rather they were powered by water, by air, by animals, or even by Men running in their own hamster-like wheel! From unloading ships to grinding grain, to fulling cloth, to pumping water, to tearing down castle walls, machines were everywhere in the Medieval world. Please join me in exploring some of those fascinating machines.



Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon
m/k/a Lisbeth Herr-Gelatt
Riverouge, Endless Hills, Aethelmearc

Machines of War Medieval Siege Teacher's Site
(Site Excerpt) NOVA's science game, "Destroy the Castle," is very much like the real thing. There are five elements you can adjust in your trebuchet: stone ball weight, sling length, counterweight design, distance from the castle, whether to add wheels.

Reconstructing Medieval Artillery
(Site Excerpt) Work has begun on a 22-ton fourteenth-century trebuchet at Warwick castle in southern England. The largest reconstructed trebuchet ever attempted, it is the work of medieval weapons expert Peter Vemming of the Danish Medieval Centre. Once it is completed in late June, the siege weapon will launch projectiles--sending them up to 300 meters--daily throughout the summer. War Machines
(Site Excerpt) There was a great quantity of machines of attack. Some were drove by counterweights like the assay balances, the mangonel. Others by the tension of ropes, nerves, branches, springs of wood or steel, like the caables, maleveisines, pierrieres. Some others, by their own weight and the impulse of arms, like the rams.

Machines of Peace

NYU: The Medieval Technology Pages
A list of References
Horizontal Loom
Tidal Mills

Da Vinci Inventions
(Site Excerpt) Spring-Driven Car: It is doubtful that any such vehicle was ever constructed. Though springs had been known since ancient times, their use to supply power first appeared in clocks and watches made after Leonardo's time. He recognized their potential usefulness in such theoretical designs as this, and in a drawing for a flying machine in which springs were intended to provide an aid to manpower.

Epact: Scientific Instruments of Medieval and Renaissance Europe
(Site Excerpt) This is one of the earliest surviving armillary spheres and the assigned date is consistent with its simple form. Only later do such instruments include more complicated motions and planets. Here there is simply the celestial sphere, incorporating the motion of the sun, and a central earth.

Matteo Ricci: The Art of Printing
(Site Excerpt) They have another odd method of reproducing reliefs which have been cut into marble or wood, An epitaph, for example, or a picture set out in low relief on marble or on wood, is covered with a piece of moist paper which in turn is overlayed with several pieces of cloth. Then the entire surface is beaten with a small mallet until all the lineaments of the relief are impressed upon the paper.

The Origin of the Suction Pump
(Site Excerpt) The European piston pump that made its first appearance in the fifteenth-century in the writings of Taccola (c. 1450) and Martini (c. 1475) had a suction pipe incorporated into it[2]. Fig 2. shows an underdeveloped design with a crude construction.

ORB: Science and Technology in the Middle Ages: A Preliminary Bibliography

Medieval and Renaissance Lathes
(Site Excerpt) There are several reasons why this simple machine has been in use for thousands of years. From a practical point of view, the lathe can easily produce truly round objects, invaluable in making wheels for carts and parts for mills and pumps. Turned spindles can also be easily assembled into complex objects such as chairs, beds, tables, etc.

The medieval machine. The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages
An ebook whose full text is available online for free. Adobe Acrobat needed to view ebook.

A Revolution in Timekeeping
(Site Excerpt) Then, in the first half of the 14th century, large mechanical clocks began to appear in the towers of several large Italian cities. We have no evidence or record of the working models preceding these public clocks, which were weight-driven and regulated by a verge-and-foliot escapement.

Medieval Technology Bibliography

Industrial Developments in Medieval Dartford
(Site Excerpt) Of all the machines in use, the mill was the most widespread. It turned wind or water power into cost-effective energy for grinding flour, tanning leather, processing cloth and a variety of other tasks. The mills played an important economic role in medieval society. Although the initial investment in mill machinery and plant was expensive, the long-term return in profits was excellent. It is not therefore surprising to find that important institutions such as the Church and the Knights Templars owned mills on the River Darent either in or close to the town. The River Darent provided a constant and reliable flow of water ideal for driving rudimentary mill machinery.

Engines of our Enginuity: The Medieval 20th Century
(Site Excerpt) Medieval machines keep popping up, all through the book. Bowser shows how to calibrate a medieval water clock. He calculates the performance of a flap valve pump -- the kind sailors began using to pump bilge water from sailing vessels just after Columbus.

Statue of Jan van Eyck in front of reconstruction of medieval crane
(Photo and Commentary)
(Site Excerpt) This crane was powered by men walking inside its two wheels, hamster-fashion. You can see the bottom of one wheel here.

Medieval Crane of Gdansk, Poland
(Site Excerpt) The human powered 'squirrel-cage' winch mechanism makes you tired just looking at it! Its distinctive silhouette is visible up and down the waterfront. (NOTE: The photps present strangely, but you can click on them for enlargements)