Engineering in 2021 has been made so much easier with the use of computer aided design soft wares and other programs that enable the engineer to create designs more efficiently and effectively. However like existential questions such as “who am I?”, “Is there a God?” and “What should I eat for lunch today?” we are in awe of the engineering of the past. Wonders such as the Pyramids, Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Parthenon are structures that will never cease to amaze future generations as those who designed and build these projects did not rely on computers nor soft wares (relax you engineers out there, I’m not invalidating your profession). In this blog, we hop into our metaphorical time machine, go back to 447BC and take a dive into the civil and structural engineering of the ancient world.
When we think of Ancient Greece, our minds usually go to the Olympics, Zeus or the 300 Spartans. But there is a lot more to Greece than these parts of history and a lot more of our technology used today can be accredited to the Ancient Greeks. A few notable and less talked about mentions include the spiral staircase, the crane and the Truss roof.
The Spiral Staircase
Spiral stair cases were first developed and used in Ancient Greece. There are reconstructed blueprints of Temple A in Selinunte, Sicily. Now before you start giving me a geography lesson, I do know very well that Sicily is in Italy. But, during the period that this staircase was built (470-480BC), Selinunte was a colony of Ancient Greece.
In 515BC the Ancient Greeks first developed the Crane. This device, although primitive when comparing it to modern technology, saved groups of labourers time, allowing them to complete the job quicker, and their backs. Although the Ancient Mesopotamians (now modern day Iraq) were first to develop the crane (known as a Shardouf and primarily used for water irrigation) the Ancient Greeks developed it into a tool that could be used when constructing buildings and other structures. The Greeks used men and animals such as donkeys to power and move these cranes.
The Truss Roof
A Truss Roof is a structural framework of timbers that are designed to support a roof and bridge the space between this roof and above a room. In 550BC these roofs were developed by Ancient Greek architects and engineers with the largest clear span being featured at the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Agrigento Sicily (noticing a theme here?). There are two distinction of truss roofs. The first being a closed truss in which the truss features a tie beam or roof framing with a ceiling so the framing is not visible. The second distinction is called an open truss which is where the truss contains an interrupted tie beam or scissor truss which allow a vaulted ceiling area and or roof framing open to view which is not hidden by a ceiling.
Published by the Greek Ministry of Culture, an ingredient list reads 2 parts lime, one part sand, one park clay, 10 eggs and water as needed. This concoction was not only used in ancient times but is still used today as heritage laws in Greece specify that any changes a property owner makes to their home that is deemed a heritage building must be reversible. This mortar makes provides for an strong yet removable extension or renovation to one’s property.
Similar to their ancient counterpart, The Ancient Egyptians were also the fore parents for many engineering and constructions tools used today. Notable mentions include; Hydraulic Engineering and The Great Pyramid of Giza.
Mainly used to replace missing rainfall in periods of drought, the Ancient Egyptians were originally reliant on the Nile River to provide sufficient watering for domesticated animals, crops and people. Like many other times throughout history, an over reliance on our natural world may be a recipe for disaster and in the case of the Ancient Egyptians, the Nile River was prone to flooding, destroying crops, homes and taking lives. As such the Ancient Egyptians used Lake Fayum as a natural reservoir to store surplus water to use throughout the country’s dry season. To combat the devastating floods caused by the Nile’s swelling, the Egyptians utilised hydraulic engineering and created drainage canals, managing water in a systematic way.
The Great Pyramid of Giza
From being built by aliens to being used as a praying place by hippies who believe this structure possesses power and energy, the construction of The Great Pyramid of Giza has been the topic of much debate. Interestingly, The Egyptian Pyramids were built with such precision that our current technology cannot replicate it. Each pyramid is perfectly aligned with true north and is estimated to be built with 2.3 million stone blocks which was estimated to be set out every two and half minutes. The chemical compound of the pyramid’s mortar is known but cannot be reproduced or replicated.
Every dynasty throughout China has brought many technological and engineering developments. Notable mentions include The Great Wall of China, The Crossbow and an improved version of Greek Fire.
The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is seen to be symbolic of the pinnacle of Chinese technology, architecture and civil engineering. The Great Wall of China was built under the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang between 220 and 200 BC. The wall was mainly built from rammed earth, stones and wood. However, bricks were heavily used in many areas of the wall, as were materials such as tiles, lime, and stone. The size and weight of the bricks made them easier to work with than earth and stone, so construction quickened. Additionally, bricks could bear more weight and endure better than rammed earth. Stone can hold under its own weight better than brick, but is more difficult to use. Consequently, stones cut into rectangular shapes were used for the foundation, inner and outer brims, and gateways of the wall.
Popularised by Medieval Europe, China is responsible for engineering and developing the crossbow. In early developments, the Chinese Crossbow bows were made from composite material and used winches for large crossbows mounted on fortifications or wagons. Crossbows have been found in several tombs having been featured and found with the Terracotta Army in the tomb of Qin Shihuang
China’s response to Byzantium’s Greek Fire
Byzantium had developed a weapon that took form as a ship-mounted flame-throwing weapon. Greek Fire was used by the Byzantines to set fire to enemy naval ships. The Chinese adaption of this weapon saw Greek Fire (or as the Chinese used to call it Fierce-Fire Oil Cabinet) being used in contexts such as city walls and ramparts where the weapon was fitted with a horizontal pump and a nozzle of small diameter.
The Aztecs arrived in the Valley of Mexico and built one of largest and most powerful empires in Pre-Columbian Americas. Apart from their military might, the Aztecs were highly skilled engineers who build the marvelous city Tenochtitlan on one of the most difficult terrains. Their engineering achievements include the construction of a double aqueduct, a massive dike, causeways and artificial islands.
Prior to the popularisation of artificial islands by the UAE’s Dubai, the Aztecs created chinampas (floating or artificial islands) which enabled them to farm new land and reside on. In order to build a chinampa, the Aztecs staked out the shallow lake bed and weaved the stakes together to form fences. This fenced off, enclosed area was layered with mud, lake sediment and decaying vegetation which brought it above the level of the lake. These enclosed chinampa’s ranged anywhere from 90m by 5m to 90m by 10m. The lake provided the chinampas with moisture laden with decomposing organic wastes that irrigated and fertilized the artificial island’s soil, supporting an intensive and highly productive form of cultivation. The chinampas could produce up to 7 crops a year allowing enough food for the rising population of the Aztec cities.
As the Aztec population in Tenochtitlan grew so did the demand for fresh water. In the 1420s, they initiated the construction of the Chapultepec aqueduct to bring clean water to their city from the springs at Chapultepec on the mainland. This aqueduct ran for 3 miles and poured water into public fountains and reservoirs. This engineering feat has been hailed remarkable as very few ancient civilizations could master engineering and specifically, the construction of an aqueduct this sophisticated.
Lake Texcoco was the largest of five interconnected lakes and thus Tenochtitlan was constantly under threat from the large quantity of water surrounding it. A catastrophic flood in the mid 1400s almost destroyed the whole city. To address the issue, the Aztecs designed a huge dike or dam with a height of around 12ft and running for around 10 miles from the southern edge of the lake to the north. Made of sticks, weeds and stone, it was the largest earthwork in the Americas at the time. It was fitted with doors which could be raised or lowered to control the level of water behind it. Apart from protecting Tenochtitlan from floods, the dike also kept the brackish waters beyond the dike, to the east.
Although civil and structural engineering in 2022 Sydney is far more progressive and sophisticated than that of the Ancient and Medieval world, the inventions and engineering attempts of our fore parents has paved the way to the engineering we see all around us today. Speaking of revolutionary engineering solutions, Bellmont Façade Engineering uses premium and reliable grade technology to ensure your building is of the highest quality. Give us a call today on 02 9718 0775 or send us an email at email@example.com.