Understanding Greek and Roman Technology: From Catapult to the Pantheon

Course No. 1132
Professor Stephen Ressler, Ph.D.
United States Military Academy, West Point
Share This Course
5 out of 5
164 Reviews
99% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 1132
Video Streaming Included Free
Select A Format:
  • Hover Over Formats for Details
  • Click/Tap to Select a Format
  • Tap a format to the left
  • Add to your cart below

Video Streaming Included

Course Overview

Famed for great thinkers, poets, artists, and leaders, ancient Greece and Rome were also home to some of the most creative engineers who ever lived. Many of their feats have survived; others have disappeared into the mists of time. But modern research is shedding new light on these renowned wonders—impressive buildings, infrastructure systems, and machines that were profoundly important in their own day and have had a lasting impact on the development of civilization.

The glories of ancient Greek and Roman engineering include these iconic buildings:

  • The Greek Parthenon: Arguably the most aesthetically pleasing structure ever built, the Parthenon achieves this effect through astonishing precision in its architectural plan and stone masonry construction.
  • The Roman Colosseum: This ingeniously designed, mammoth arena represents a grand compromise between traditional stone masonry and a revolutionary construction method incorporating brick and concrete.
  • The Roman Pantheon: The ancient world’s most ambitious engineering achievement, the Pantheon is known for its cast concrete dome that has never been equaled in beauty or construction ingenuity.

Also on the list of impressive achievements are ancient technologies that you use every day:

  • Roads: Networks of well-drained, hard-surfaced roads are a legacy of the Romans, who even installed curbs, wide shoulders, and periodic steps to aid travelers in mounting horses or carriages.
  • Water systems: Large-scale systems for supplying clean water and drains for carrying away wastewater were also developed by the Romans, whose aqueducts and sewers transformed urban life.
  • Pumps: The Greeks and Romans invented a variety of techniques to move water. One, Archimedes’ screw, remains in widespread use today in devices from combine harvesters to snowblowers.

These and many other developments grew out of the same conditions that produced new political institutions, stunning sculptures, outstanding literary works, and empires that constituted much of the known world. In such a climate, is it any wonder that technology also flourished? Yet the engineering exploits of the Greeks and Romans are not as celebrated as they deserve to be, and they have been long discounted by some historians. However, new discoveries combined with a reevaluation of evidence show just how clever our ancient ancestors were.

In 24 lavishly illustrated lectures, Understanding Greek and Roman Technology: From Catapult to the Pantheon gives you an in-depth appreciation for what the Greeks and Romans achieved and how they did it. Your guide is Dr. Stephen Ressler, a former professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, a civil engineer, and a nationally honored leader in engineering education.

A Golden Age of Engineering

Understanding Greek and Roman Technology is a fascinating introduction to basic engineering principles and the science behind them. The course also gives a new perspective on one of the most productive periods in the history of civilization: classical antiquity. In case after case, you will find that engineering solutions reached during this era would not be surpassed for another thousand years or more.

These lectures are also ideal preparation for anyone planning to visit Greek or Roman sites. Even ancient building rubble is captivating if you know what to look for: tool marks, holes for joining pegs, projections used for lifting, and other signs that tell the purpose of a particular block of stone. Professor Ressler describes a field trip to an archaeological site in Turkey, where one of his students noticed chiseled Greek letters on foundation stones—markers that were clearly used to place the stones in their correct positions.

Clue by clue, Professor Ressler assembles a detailed picture of how ancient engineers went about their work. First you learn about the building materials available in antiquity and their strengths and weakness under different loads. Then you proceed to the three major sections of the course, which cover structures, infrastructure, and machines. Here is a taste of what you will learn:

  • Concrete: The versatility of form and composition of concrete made possible enormous structures and efficient new architectural forms in Rome’s awe-inspiring building program. Professor Ressler demonstrates the role of concrete in a sturdy Roman wall.
  • Cranes: Trajan’s Column in Rome consists of marble drums weighing as much as 60 tons each. How were they lifted into place? Professor Ressler shows how cranes powered only by human muscles were up to the job.
  • Catapults: Engineers improved catapults over a period of 700 years, developing new ways to store energy and propel a heavy projectile to its target. Innovations associated with this weapon include the universal joint, now used in automobiles.
  • Triremes: Professor Ressler’s favorite piece of ancient technology is the trireme, the racehorse of Greek warships, with three banks of oars and a bronze ram. Details of its design and construction were long uncertain—until 20th-century enthusiasts decided to build one.
  • Lead pipes: One of the many theories explaining the fall of Rome blames chronic lead poisoning from lead pipes used in water systems. But Professor Ressler explains why this idea does not “hold water.”
  • Slaves: A widespread theory contends that the Greeks and Romans had no incentive to develop labor-saving machines because of their access to slaves. But Professor Ressler proves that many ancient projects would not have been possible without unprecedented technology.
  • Get inside the Classical Mind

    An engineer in the mold of his versatile predecessors in antiquity, Professor Ressler not only created all of the physical models used in this course but most of the computer models as well. Unlike off-the-shelf graphics, these animations are tailor-made to answer specific questions in the lectures, deepening your understanding of how ancient engineers worked and giving you a realistic picture of ancient problem solving in action.

    Understanding Greek and Roman Technology opens with a thought-provoking lesson. In 480 B.C., Greek naval forces decisively defeated the invading Persian armada at the Battle of Salamis, thanks to the Greeks’ superior deployment of technology. The Greeks maximized the performance of their trireme warships to overcome a Persian advantage of 3 to 1. Had they not achieved this crucial edge, they surely would have lost, halting the growth of classical civilization before it could spread. What better demonstration of the influence of technology on the course of human events!

    Hide Full Description
24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Technology in the Classical World
    Begin your exploration of ancient Greek and Roman engineering by probing the technological edge that allowed the Greeks to beat the Persians at the Battle of Salamis. Then survey the aims of the course and preview an impressive piece of technology that you will encounter in a later lecture. x
  • 2
    The Substance of Technology—Materials
    Study the engineering materials available in classical antiquity. First look at the simple physics of compression and tension. Then consider six specific materials: stone, wood, clay, copper, bronze, and iron. Examine how they came into use and how their properties influenced the design of technological systems. x
  • 3
    From Quarry to Temple—Building in Stone
    Gain a deeper appreciation for the ancient world’s most important construction material by following a block of stone from a quarry to its final resting place in the wall of a Greek temple. Learn how stone blocks were extracted from solid bedrock, moved many miles, and then fitted together without mortar. x
  • 4
    Stone Masonry Perfected—The Greek Temple
    Focus on the classical-era temple, one of the crowning achievements of Hellenic civilization. Where did it originate? Why are the many examples so architecturally consistent? What were the principles of Greek temple design? And what were its structural limitations? x
  • 5
    From Temple to Basilica—Timber Roof Systems
    No wooden roof of a Greek temple has survived from antiquity, yet we can surmise a great deal about how these impressive structures were engineered. Trace how Greek and later Roman architects covered large interior spaces with increasingly sophisticated timber roof systems. x
  • 6
    Construction Revolution—Arches and Concrete
    Learn how the physics of the arch solves the problem of the tensile weakness of stone. Then see how standard bricks and concrete greatly simplify and reduce the cost of monumental building. These technologies were the key to Rome’s construction revolution. x
  • 7
    Construction in Transition—The Colosseum
    Built in the A.D. 70s, the Colosseum reflects a transitional period of Roman building technology. Follow the construction of this mammoth arena from the ground up. Begin with the geometry of the building. Then focus on its blend of traditional and state-of-the-art construction techniques. x
  • 8
    The Genesis of a New Imperial Architecture
    Focus on two structures—Nero’s Golden House and Trajan’s Market—which are emblematic of Rome’s bold new imperial architecture during the 1st and early 2nd centuries. These buildings feature complex vaulted and domed structures, asymmetrical floor plans, and striking interior spaces. x
  • 9
    The Most Celebrated Edifice—The Pantheon
    Conclude your study of great classical-era structures by examining the greatest of them all: the Pantheon in Rome. Imitated but never equaled, this temple to all the gods incorporates Greek as well as quintessentially Roman architectural features. The stupendous dome is a work of engineering genius. x
  • 10
    Cities by Design—The Rise of Urban Planning
    Start a series of lectures on infrastructure in the classical world with a look at city planning. The Piraeus in Greece was an influential early example. Analyze the Roman approach to creating a rational order for their cities. Also learn the Roman technique for surveying a city plan. x
  • 11
    Connecting the Empire—Roads and Bridges
    At its height, the Roman Empire had 75,000 miles of public roads, organized into a system that incorporated way-stations, milestones, triumphal arches, and upward of 1,000 bridges. Investigate how the Romans created this impressive transportation network, parts of which have survived for 2,000 years. x
  • 12
    From Source to City—Water Supply Systems
    Delve into the history of water supply technologies. The Greeks solved the problem of transporting water across deep valleys by building inverted siphons. By contrast, the Romans preferred to use arcaded aqueduct bridges whenever possible. Why was this apparently extravagant technique often more practical? x
  • 13
    Engineering a Roman Aqueduct
    Design an aqueduct for a hypothetical Roman town. First identify a water source. Then consider its elevation and distance to the town, the possible terrain profiles for a channel, and the appropriate type of aqueduct. Conclude by examining the complex system that supplied plentiful water to Rome. x
  • 14
    Go with the Flow—Urban Water Distribution
    Trace the flow of water through a major city such as Rome—from the aqueduct to water towers, public fountains, buildings and private residences, and ultimately to sewers. Among the questions you consider: Did the widespread use of lead pipes create a lead poisoning hazard? x
  • 15
    Paradigm and Paragon—Imperial Roman Baths
    Complete your exploration of classical-era infrastructure by exploring one of the ancient world’s finest examples of an engineered system: the imperial Roman baths. Focus on the magnificent Baths of Caracalla, finished in A.D. 235, by spotlighting the major steps in its five-year construction. x
  • 16
    Harnessing Animal Power—Land Transportation
    Begin a sequence of eight lectures on machines in the ancient world. After an introduction to the simple machines described by the Greeks, focus on land transport employing the wheel and axle. Discover that wagon technology reached a high level of sophistication in the Roman Empire. x
  • 17
    Leveraging Human Power—Construction Cranes
    How were giant stone blocks lifted using only muscle power? Examine the technology of classical-era cranes, breaking down their components to understand how they provided significant mechanical advantage. Close with a theory on the construction technique used to stack the massive marble drums of Trajan’s Column in Rome. x
  • 18
    Lifting Water with Human Power
    In antiquity, water pumps were extensively used in ships, mines, and agriculture. Investigate how these devices worked. From Archimedes’ screw, to the waterwheel, to the piston pump, each had tradeoffs between flow rate, height of lift, and muscle power required. x
  • 19
    Milling Grain with Water Power
    By the 1st century A.D., waterwheels were widely used for grinding grain throughout the ancient world. Explore three different types of waterwheels that were perfected by the Romans: the undershot wheel, the overshot wheel, and the vertical-shaft wheel, each with its advantages and disadvantages. x
  • 20
    Machines at War—Siege Towers and Rams
    Focus on the ancient world’s most technologically intensive form of warfare—the siege—which provided a powerful stimulus for the development of large-scale machines such as siege towers and rams. Analyze several famous sieges, including the Roman attack on Jotapata during the Jewish War. x
  • 21
    Machines at War—Evolution of the Catapult
    Trace the evolution of the catapult, which overcomes the inherent human physiological limitations associated with the bow and arrow. From hand-operated crossbows, catapults progressed to giant artillery pieces able to shoot enormous arrows and hurl heavy projectiles. Revisit a type of catapult called the palintone from Lecture 1, and watch it in action. x
  • 22
    Machines at Sea—Ancient Ships
    Spurred by their dependence on maritime trade, the ancient Greeks became masters of nautical engineering. Follow the development of their ship design and sailing techniques, which were adopted by the Romans and paved the way for the great age of exploration in the 15th century. x
  • 23
    Reconstructing the Greek Trireme
    The trireme, a swift warship with three banks of oars, ruled the Mediterranean Sea in the 5th century B.C., when the Athenian empire was at its height. Yet only sparse evidence remains for what these vessels were like. Follow a detailed reconstruction based on tantalizing clues. x
  • 24
    The Modern Legacy of Ancient Technology
    Finish the course by exploring the legacy of classical-era technology, discovering that its influence is everywhere. From roads, aqueducts, and planned cities, to structural trusses, concrete, and the classical architectural style, the fruits of Greek and Roman engineering play a vital role in the modern world. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Video Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 24 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 232-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 232-page printed course guidebook
  • Photographs
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

Your professor

Stephen Ressler

About Your Professor

Stephen Ressler, Ph.D.
United States Military Academy, West Point
Dr. Stephen Ressler is Professor Emeritus from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). A registered Professional Engineer in Virginia, he earned a B.S. from West Point and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University, as well as a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. Professor Ressler's papers on...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor

Reviews

Understanding Greek and Roman Technology: From Catapult to the Pantheon is rated 5.0 out of 5 by 164.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great I purchased it a couple of weeks ago and I have watched three quarters so far. Impressive teacher, I am hooked. The course is filled with clear demonstrations and remarkable illustrations. You don’t have to be an engineer (I am) to appreciate it.
Date published: 2018-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative , Interesting I am very satisfied with this course . With his use of models and graphics , Professor Ressler's technique is excellent . His presentation style is pleasing , and makes the subject matter easy to comprehend , and he skillfully brings new dimensions to an already interesting subject . Very well done .
Date published: 2018-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Knowledgeable and Fun Professor I watched this course on stream and I found it so good that I bought it in DVD format to give as a gift to someone I know would enjoy this subject. The course is very well presented, with great information and awesome demonstrations. The professor is knowledgeable, dynamic, and fun to watch.
Date published: 2018-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Oh my! This course is History Channel's "Engineering an Empire" on massive steroids. Just purchased the set yesterday afternoon and started watching the streaming version about an hour later and got through 15 of the 24 lectures before I had to force myself to go to bed at midnight. That's how fantastic I have found this series. The presenter, Stephen Ressler, is quite knowledgeable with the subject matter and has an informal, easy style that presents the engineering complexities in a manner than anyone can follow. There are no mathematics involved and he makes frequent use of his own constructed models to illustrate the engineering concepts in simple terms. (p.s. I wonder how much time the maintenance staff of the set spent cleaning up after each lecture.) I do have to admit that I have more than a passing interest in Roman engineering, and maybe that is the reason I like this course so much. I submit that anyone who has visited Rome and its iconic landmarks and wondered about the Romans and why/how they built what they did will find this course informative. For example, since I first learned about Via Appia Antica back in the fourth grade, I have always wanted to walk along the Appian Way. Finally, in my early 60s, I got the opportunity. There is just something about a 2,300 year old road . . . that is still being used today! (Albeit only by local residents and farmers.) However, now that I know so much more about how the road was constructed, I feel the need to revisit and take a closer look at the engineering of the road. During my first visit, I missed some aspects of the road that Professor Ressler discussed. To get the best out of this course, one needs to purchase one of the video versions. The audio versions will just miss too many illustrations and examples that go a long way in simplifying the problems that the Greek and Roman engineers overcame.
Date published: 2018-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! Dr. Ressler is a fantastic lecturer, who possesses knowledge, insight and exceptional presentational skills. Each lecture is structured effectively to explain and emphasize main ideas and the series is sequenced effectively to build your understanding, whether you have background knowledge or not. I found it hard to stop watching and wished there were more lectures in this series. Not only will you learn about the technology itself but also a significant amount of history, as Dr. Ressler incorporates both historical record and current analysis in his exploration. I highly recommend this course!
Date published: 2018-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The right way to appreciate the ancient genius Certain topics can’t be delivered through books. This is an example of it. I’ve read so many books of history but never understood how the old technology was great. Why the aqueduct was amazing? How did the trireme helped the Greeks achieve victory? The professor delivers fantastically though computer models, live examples and basic explanation of scientific facts. If you have any interest in Greeks or Roman history then this course is a must.
Date published: 2018-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible and awesome! This course is amazing and there are no words to express how great it is. Professor Ressler's knowledge of Classical Roman and Greek engineering, art, and history is incredible. His models are truly works of art and CAD designs are beautiful. Professor Ressler is entertaining, brilliant, talented, and truly one of the WORLD'S BEST TEACHERS. If you take this course, you will be guaranteed never to think of the ancient world in the same way again.
Date published: 2018-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greek and Roman technology One of the best courses I have purchased. The models used were fantastic teaching tools. Fascinating technology, extremely well presented and the knowledge of the instructor is incredible. Great course !!
Date published: 2018-03-28
  • y_2018, m_7, d_17, h_21
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_2.0.8
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_11, tr_153
  • loc_en_US, sid_1132, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 28.81ms
  • REVIEWS, PRODUCT

Questions & Answers

Questions

1-10 of 11 Questions
1-10 of Questions

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought