How did the ancient Greeks construct their many massive temples and other buildings – one heavy block at a time – without the use of modern advanced machinery?
Cranes first appeared in ancient Greece over 2,500 years ago, however, new research suggests that a lifting machine – a kind of proto crane – was in use around 150 years earlier.
The ancient Greeks constructed their monumental architecture using a crane, which appeared in the late sixth century BCE. What the Greeks used before this, to build the impressive Archaic temples, has always remained a bit of a mystery to historians.
Prior to the current recent research it was suggested that the Greeks lifted heavy stone blocks using ramps made from mud brick, in a similar manner to the Egyptians and Assyrians had done centuries before.
Recent research published in the Annual of the British School at Athens has found that the builders of the oldest stone temples of Greek history, made use of a primitive lifting machine as early as the mid-seventh century BCE. The lifting machine would have been capable of lifting stone blocks weighing over 200 to 400 kilograms. Technically the machine is not a crane, as it did not function with winches and hoists, rather, the Greek builders redirected force by using a rope passed over a frame.
Author of the study, Alessandro Pierattini, claims the machine was first used by the Corinthians, who also used the device to build ships and for lowering heavy sarcophagi into narrow, deep pits. The Corinthians were masters at shipbuilding, which, was the most advanced technology of the Early Archaic Period
This kind of building techniques allowed a crucial step in the development in Greek monumental architecture, from mudbrick construction to building with stone. Evidence for this building technique can be seen in the grooves found on the bottom of stones used to contract temples in both Corinth and Isthmia. The placement of the blocks involved a combination of levers and ropes that allowed for lowering each block tight up against its neighbour. This device is also the earliest documented use of the lever in Greek construction in historical times.