Could the ancient Greeks have been on the cusp of industrial revolution?
Archimedean inventions include what many people including Leonardo Da vinci thought probably included a steam cannon. The greeks had a primitive steem engine that if connected to a Archimedean screw, could have powered a boat. If they had made the leap to steam engines, the world may look very different today.
Last edited by Tortise; 05-07-06 at 06:24 AM.
Reason: watching tv and typing
I've seen this point discussed before. The ancient Greeks regarded machinery only as labor-saving devices. Since the people in charge had abundant slave labor, they could not see the point.
It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution was well under way that the other benefits of machinery were widely discovered, such as increased precision and, ultimately, whole new technologies. For example, I don't believe it would have been possible to build even prototypes of internal combustion engines without the precision of machine tools.
So the question becomes, why did the people of the post-Enlightenment period launch an Industrial Revolution when the equally academically sophisticated people of the Classical period did not?
I suspect it has everything to do with economics. The populations of the ancient nations were very low by today's standards and the middle class was miniscule. Most people were slaves and serfs. There weren't a lot of consumers to sell things to so there was no impetus to find ways to build more of them faster.
By the 17th and 18th Centuries the world's population was a sizeable fraction of a billion. Slavery and serfdom were not yet abolished, but the middle class was burgeoning in Europe and the more prosperous countries of the Western Hemisphere like the USA and Argentina. There was finally a reason to make more things faster, even if you weren't making better things with greater precision. Textiles were one of the first products to be "manufactured" because there were so many people to sell them to. The earliest factories were filled with machines powered by human muscles, but before long engines were introduced.
The rest is history.
Lets not forget that the Greeks were, as far as I am aware, missing many of the key parts of the kind of economics that we now take for granted, but really only grew up properly in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Plus, they didnt have science as we understand it. It was all too normal for them to reason something out and then just stop there, without testing the idea. Not to mention the difficulties of communicating ideas in an era before the printing press, when countries were small, people were very busy just surviving etc etc.
So no, the Greeks weren't on the cusp of an industrial evolution.
What about scientific background? I'm a little fuzzy on whether the Industrial Revolution spurred on techniques like calculus or the other way around, but surely without modern maths and physics we wouldn't have achieved our current technologies? The Greeks certainly contributed to maths, but unlike later generations, they didn't have the shoulders of Greek civilisation to stand on in order to develop even further
Most scientific papers were passed around in single copies until very recently. The printing press was not necessary for scientific progress.
The Industrial Revolution provided impetus for advances in physics and chemistry, but not so much for math. That was going on asynchronously. It wasn't until we got into electronics and nuclear physics that industry required more advanced math than was available in the 17th Century.
less hate, more science
don't forget steel. steel is probably the single most important part of the industrial revolution. just as steel was about to come on the scene, the dark ages hit. perhaps if the Greeks knew how to use crucible techniques while they were in their heyday, things would be different.
CAlculus is something like 400 years old, back to Leibniz and beyond.
As for modern maths and physics, modern = later 20th century ot me, and the industrial evolution started in the latter half of the 18th century. It was effectively mature by the time we had modern maths and physics.
Oh, Fraggle got to that point first.
As for the printing press, Fraggle, consider also that it made possible much more rapid dissemination of ideas, im pamphlets and books across Europe. It made it much cheaper. But then it also depends on whether you predicate scientific progress on some person shut up a tower, or whether you recognise the importance of communication and debate, as well as open minded, well educated laymen, in scientific progress. I argue that inventions like the printing press helped create a better educated populace, and helpd ideas move around faster and more easily than would have been the case had we been depending on simple hand copying. Thus, the Industrial Evolution could take place at the time it did, because the necessary ingredients were in place.
Peter Mathias, in his textbook "The first industrial nation" summarises the reaosns why the UK became the first industrial nation. Essentially they were a mixture of favourable natural resources, such as water and coal and iron, the presence of a well developed banking and economic system, some influences from Protestant non-conformist sects, (See Webers book on the topic) flexible social structure, applied science, and possibly one or tow other things which I dont have time to tease out from the book.
Essentially, in order to have an industrial revolution, you need to have a mixture of favourable factors, in the right place at the right time. The key point about the industrial revolution is that it set in motion changes which proceeded apparently as a massive rise in material standards, in PROGRESS. Is this soemthing that the Greeks could have concienved? Possibly not.
Also look at Da Vinci- he drew many wonderful inventions, but many of them were totally impractial at the time. Yet nowadays we can do them all, and even better than hec ould have thought possible, since we have had the past 400 years of improvement.
Valued Senior Member
I would not take issue with Guthrie (or Peter Mathias, for that matter) in nominating the UK as the first industrial nation, and find myself in agreement with the favourable factors nominated. Two forgotten factors, oddly, are SHEEP and RAIN! The export of wool was at the heart of the mercantile economy of Medieval England, and the source of wealth for many of its leading merchants. Britain's plentiful and regular rainfall produced a potential power source, via the millwheel, by no means as readily available in continental Europe. Britain was thus a favourable venue for the marrying (via invention and experiment) of millpower to the mechanised spinning and weaving of wool. And not by accident was the famously wet Manchester, adjacent to the Pennine Hills, the greatest milltown of all! The impetus to engineering begun at the mills was enabled to develop through the ready availability of coal and iron ore in many parts of the island of Britain.
POWER is at the heart of industrialisation, and rainfall and coal ensured that Britain was benificently endowed. However, I would also rank PRECISION as a prerequisite to industrialisation. The machines of the eighteenth century may seem crude by our present standards, but their crafting was well in advance of medieval standards. Something important had happened between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries: it was the coming of precision.
The development of precision engineering largely happened in South Germany, Switzerland and Bohemia -- and hardly at all in Britain. The development of printing has been mentioned earlier in this thread. The idea of printing from blocks was not new in the fifteenth century, and several persons experimented with movable type. Johann Gutenberg's printing press in Mainz was not so much the product of a new idea or invention; rather it represented a major pushing forward in the development of precision engineering -- here applied to the casting of type. The same area of Europe saw the principal developments in clockmaking and personal firearms – all of these depending upon, or it turn supporting, precision in craftsmanship.
So the development of the printing press was not only important for its product – the mass-produced book – but also in its own right as one of the contributing threads in the evolution of precision engineering. Although little (if any) of this evolution had taken place in Britain, there had grown up a local community of skilled craftsmen (some of them jewellers like Gutenberg!) capable of working to the precise tolerances demanded in building the machinery of the industrial revolution. Without them, it could not have happened.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the Ancient Greeks were a long way off building Stevenson’s Rocket! (But an interesting topic, Tortise.)
Last edited by River Ape; 05-13-06 at 03:50 PM.
Ah ha, someone else who has read MAthias, perhaps?
Also, wasnt there some Greek inventor, I think whose name began with an A, who was killed afte rthe ROmans took some town somewhere? To me that kind of epitomised the problem with things back then. You could kill the inventor of something, and the secret would be safe, since communication was sliightly different, more dangerous, and there wasnt much in the way of methods of preserving and transferring knowledge set up.
This is an interesting idea that one of the more thoughtful sci-fi writers picks up every five years or so. What if the Greeks had taken just one more step? In one fun story a man travels back in a time machine and manages to truly inspire some of the famous classical thinkers into inaugurating an era of scientific discovery.
He hurls back toward the 22nd century envisioning the fabulous technology that will exist with a 2,000 year head start. Instead his time machine vanishes because it was never invented. The world appears to be in the Middle Ages. Yet vastly better in many ways. The Egyptian, Aztec, and Inca civilizations have survived because Rome never became a great power and the Abrahamic religions did not take over the world.
It turns out that within the lifetime of the Greek sages whom he inspired, they were able to see the results of technological advances and foresee where that would take the world. So they stopped dead in their tracks and didn't even produce the learning that the Greeks in our world bestowed upon us. They did not want to be responsible for human beings creating new technology faster than our culture could adapt to it.
Cricetulus griseus leninus
Archimedes. IIRC, he was doing an experiment when a roman soldier came in and told him he was being taken prisoner. Archimedes wasn't listening and carried on with his experiment, or said "Sure, just let me finish this". The Roman soldier grew annoyed and killed him.
Originally Posted by guthrie
Hmm, that sounds like a case of 'the grass is always greener in the other universe' to me. I think if we went back in time and corrected our mistakes, we'd just make different ones.
Originally Posted by Fraggle Rocker
Still, an interesting idea. Do you remember the name of the author?
Hmm, dont think I have read that story.
Another point, although since I cant find my book on the history of iron and steel making right now, you'll have to accept is a very generalised point:
Metallurgy. I know they had iron, obviously. But to go from Heros revolving ball, essentially a pot with a restricted exit for the steam, then to a steam boiler is quite a leap.
Even the simplest steam engine possible, that of a vertical tube in which steam is passed from teh boiler, forcing the piston up, then gravity pulling back down when the steam condenses, requires a fair bit of pressure resistant capability. Possibly more than the Greeks could have managed, and even had they made small, working demonstration models, where would they get the iron ore, the coal/ charcoal to smelt it, and the blacksmiths and others to weld it all together?
To reiterate- the Industrial Evolution occurred because a lot of factors came together in the one small geographical area, at the right time. It was quite a unique event.
Consider also China, which during its heyday invented more stuff than Europeans, before them, yet never actually put it all into wide use.
Does anyone know how much math (beyond simple geometry to make sure your pieces fit together) was actually used in the early industrial revolution? Keep in mind that the greeks didn't even have algebra.
Not off the top of my head I am afraid. Most of my books tend to be about the economics or the industrial side of things.
This seems to me to be rather like saying "the Chinese had rockets in the twelfth century, so why didn't they take the next step and invent space flight?"
Originally Posted by Tortise
Although burning something to heat water and use the steam to do useful work is the core idea of steam power in the industrial revolution, there's a world of difference between being able to make something spin with steam and using steam power to run a complex machine. A lack of precision machining ability, math, and steal would seem to me to be huge barriers for an industrial revolution.
I was going to say the same thing. I agree totally. You cant jump from stone age to computer age.
Originally Posted by Nasor
well ancient Egypt was also a centre of science and industrial evolution, perhaps the very beginning of idustrialization as we know it, even people like pythagoras travelled to Egypt; many wonder today how in the bejeesus they built those huge pyramids.
thou art wise oJjames R
The Greeks were probably too smart to do anything as stupid as start an industrial revolution.
Originally Posted by Tortise