Ancient Rome: The Water Organ Of Vitruvius

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According to Vitruvius, Ktesibios was the first to build an organ like this. The Ktesibios organ comprised of a cylindrical water tub, that had an upright, cone-shaped funnel mounted on the holders at a slight distance from its bottom.

Two air supply pipes meet at the top of the funnel, whilst the other pipe directed the constant pressured air to the keyboard collector. The water organ of Vitruvius is an enhanced version, which uses two cylinders.

Organs were used especially in the late Classical Antiquity. We are not quite sure whether the Romans used Vitruvius' notes or notes of other mechanics.

How Did it Work? (Animation)

The two plungers are moved up and down. If you move a plunger down, air (red) flows through a valve. If you move it up, the valve closes and the air is piped to the hemisphere.

This hemisphere is placed in a reservoir, filled with water. The air is partially compressed, and partially the water is pressed down the hemisphere by the air. The water line in the reservoir rises.

One part of the air floats through a pipe on the top of the hemisphere.

There the air floats, passing another valve, in a chamber, which is connected to the pipes. If a key is pressed, a valve opens. Air floats through a pipe, a tone is created.

The interesting part about this organ is, that water keeps an instant pressure. If air floats out of a pipe, the pressure in the reservoir decreases. The water line sinks and the pressure is restored to normal.   

Who Was Vitruvius?

His full Roman name was actually Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. He was a very famous architect, military, and civil engineer during his time around 80 BC to 20 BC. But he is most well known as the author of a set of ten books on architecture known as De architecture. In his books, you will find many inventions that show off his genius. One such invention was the Odometer of Vitruvius.



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