Celebrating Ancient Discoveries

‘Look upon our Discoveries ye Moderns and Despair!’

Chapter I – Herodotus and the Samians


Herodotus furnishes the first entry in this series. After relating the ups and downs of Polycrates tyrant of Samos, Herodotus pauses to eulogize three engineering achievements of the Samians, which he hails has the ‘greatest works of all the Greeks’. These are as follows:


(1) A tunnel driven through a mountain.

(2) A breakwater barrier around their harbour.

(3) The greatest of all temples.


(1) The tunnel was created as a water channel to bring water from one side of Mt. Ampelus to the city on the other. The very fact that they successfully excavated through the mountain to answer a basic need in the 6th century BC shows that Herodotus has a point.


(2) and (3) are praised for their size, and 2 in particular is praised for its entrenchment and stability – they sunk it to an impressive 120 ft. The structure clearly seems to have achieved its aim. The temple was renowned for its splendour.


I would be very easy to think that modern feats of engineering are possible only because of our technology…but is that really the case?


Expect something on Roman concrete later in this series.

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