Moving statues of the ancient world

Ancient literature contains many stories of artificial humans. Examples of such creatures include the humanoid maids in Homer’s Iliad and the moving statues created by Daedalus, the father of Icarus. The Greeks also mentioned a bronze giant named Talos, who was created by the god Hephaestus to protect the kingdom of King Minos of Crete. Talos was nearly invulnerable except for his heel, where a blood vein ran next to his metallic skin. He was destroyed by piercing his ankle and cutting the vein.

Stories of moving statues in ancient Egypt tell of a statue created by the priests of Ammon around 1100 BC. The statue chose the next pharaoh by extending its arm and pointing to a male member of the royal family. These moving statues were apparently useful for religious propaganda, as they were thought to be vessels through which souls were reincarnated.

Perhaps these machines were not only mythological. Written sources indicate that the ancient Egyptians had sufficient knowledge of elementary mechanics to create non-digital robots, or automatons. The usual method of building them involved the use of a system of cables and pulleys. A sacred flame was ignited, heating and expanding the air, which activated the system.

This process became more and more refined over time. The Greek Ctesibius of Alexandria created an automaton that was controlled by a cam mechanism and could change its posture from sitting to standing. None of his work survives today, but later engineers of antiquity referred to his plans for automatons powered by hydraulics, steam, and pneumatics. The technology of the time allowed automatons to perform only a limited number of movements, but we can still trace the origins of robots to Ctesibius.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x