John Peter Oleson
Because of its great weight, water is raised only when absolutely necessary, today as well as in the past, and the height of the lift and water requirements of the application force careful selection of the appropriate device. The importance of water-lifting for irrigation and many other socially important tasks fostered the involvement of the state from the Bronze Age onward. The laborious character of the task encouraged mechanization from an early period as well, and ultimately the involvement of technicians. The entire repertoire of ancient devices had appeared by the second century B.C. —with the possible exception of the chain-pump, for which we have evidence only from the first century B.C. Further advances depended on the spread of the technology to new areas and tasks, new administrative efficiencies, and the adoption of inexpensive, locally-available materials. Although human power remained the typical motive force, this technology also made use of animal and water power from at least the Hellenistic period onward.1
This chapter will review the development of the technology of water-lifting in Mesopotamia and the Graeco-Roman world from the Neolithic through the Byzantine period. The material is organized primarily by device or technique, in order to maintain some continuity across such a vast field, but this arrangement has some chronological logic as well. Although important in themselves, the devices and techniques must be evaluated in the context of the societies and economies which they served and which affected their character.
1 For general studies, see Oleson 1984, 1992a; Schiøler 1973.