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Understanding Greek and Roman Technology

Expand your knowledge of Greek and Roman civilization with this in-depth study of their innovative technologies and feats of engineering.
Understanding Greek and Roman Technology is rated 5.0 out of 5 by 228.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best teaching in any of the Great Courses This is one of the very best courses I have ever taken in any context, including 5 years of doctoral studies at MIT (not in engineering!). The main reason the course is outstanding is the truly brilliant teaching methods of Prof. Rossler. I was a professor for almost 4 decades, and I am a very tough judge of teaching. Yet, I would give Prof. Rossler an A+ on his teaching in this course. He makes a wide range of ancient Greek and Roman technologies very understandable even for the lay person with no engineering background (such as my case). I loved his hands-on demonstration of things like how Romans built roads, aqueducts, bridges, water distribution systems, and various kinds of arches and vaults. His graphics and 3-D simulation models are out-of-this-world fantastic, very clearly and entertainingly explaining many different types of technology as they evolved over time during the ancient Greek and Roman eras. I also liked Prof. Rossler's down-to-earth and unpretentious approach to teaching, truly focused on the student taking the course, never making the student feel inferior but rather worthy of learning this information. Totally aside from his outstanding teaching, I found the content of the course to be fascinating, and the professor demonstrated a thorough knowledge of both the technologies he was demonstrating as well as the historical context within which they were implemented. Frankly, I think this course deserves more than 5 stars. That's how good it is. And it's all thanks to this truly superb instructor. I only wish I could thank Prof. Rossler directly for this truly GREAT course. It is certainly the very best Great Course of the 12 I've taken so far. I very highly recommend it.
Date published: 2022-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great understanding of ancient technology I purchased this course years ago and recently purchased the transcript. I was teaching a Sunday School class on how the Second Temple in Jerusalem must have been constructed using technology of that day. There are so many excellent examples in this course. You get a wonderful appreciation of how just human, animal and water power was used to create such marvelous structures. The instructor for this course is outstanding. To me, he sets the bar on how to teach technical subjects.
Date published: 2022-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very down to earth I think of this instructor as "a practical physicist" - the kind of guy who, when he sees someone accidentally drop a bag of groceries, automatically calculates in his head the mass and acceleration for the height, combined with the tensile strength of the bag, to determine the likely radius of spilled items... Basically, it is physics and materials science for dummies like me, who were too lazy to get through math. Exactly what I was looking for. He even builds his own tools and models! He is also quite enthusiastic, obviously loves his subject, and is therefore excellent at holding my attention.
Date published: 2022-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A tour de force. Lecturer is superb - great depth and breadth of knowledge, beautifully planned and enthusiastically delivered. Professor Ressler's working models are ingenious, engaging and effective, and a testament to his dedication to teaching. His explanations of engineering principles are clear and precise.
Date published: 2022-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A series of thought bomb explosions! I’ve listened to it twice now and am on my third run through it. So well presented, and logically and clearly laid out. My respect for the ancients and their accomplishments was always there, but now it’s so much higher. Without computers or even the scientific method (except when it came to weaponry apparently) they calculated these magnificent structures, systems, and machines into existence. I’d love to hear anything Gen. Ressier teaches—he’s that good.
Date published: 2022-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Title I enjoyed this course so much that I finished it in a week. I didn't want to put it down.
Date published: 2022-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This man is an excellent teacher. This material could at first glance seem dated or even irrelevant in a modern world, but nothing could be further from the truth. I recommend it to anyone ! For those in any type of building trade, property management, real estate or engineering it should be required !!
Date published: 2022-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating I purchased this course because it was an area of ancient history about which I knew very little. My initial concerns that I would not be able to follow certain engineering concepts was dispelled very early by Prof. Ressler's style of delivery, his ability to simplify certain aspects of engineering and most of all, his use of models and computer generated models. I do not think I could do justice to just how interesting, entertaining, creative and helpful these models were. The preparation and organization of each lecture was amazing. Truly well done.
Date published: 2022-03-20
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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. 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. Now, in Understanding Greek and Roman Technology: From Catapult to the Pantheon, get an 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.

About

Stephen Ressler

In over two decades as a teacher, I've never experienced anything quite like commitment of The Great Courses to rigor in the course development process and uncompromising production quality in the studio.

INSTITUTION

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 engineering education have won seven Best Paper awards from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). Professor Ressler has also won numerous awards from the ASCE, including the President's Medal and the 2011 Outstanding Projects and Leaders Award-the organization's highest award. His other accolades include the Bliss Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Engineering Education from the Society of American Military Engineers and the Norm Augustine Award for Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Communications from the American Association of Engineering Societies. Professor Ressler served for 34 years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and retired at the rank of Brigadier General in 2013. While on active duty, he served in a variety of military engineering assignments around the world. He is also a developer and principal instructor for the Excellence in Civil Engineering Education Teaching Workshop, which has trained more than 500 civil engineering faculty members from more than 200 colleges and universities.

By This Professor

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Understanding Greek and Roman Technology

Trailer

Technology in the Classical World

01: 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.

32 min
The Substance of Technology-Materials

02: 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.

29 min
From Quarry to Temple-Building in Stone

03: 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.

30 min
Stone Masonry Perfected-The Greek Temple

04: 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?

29 min
From Temple to Basilica-Timber Roof Systems

05: 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.

31 min
Construction Revolution-Arches and Concrete

06: 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.

35 min
Construction in Transition-The Colosseum

07: 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.

30 min
The Genesis of a New Imperial Architecture

08: 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.

35 min
The Most Celebrated Edifice-The Pantheon

09: 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.

27 min
Cities by Design-The Rise of Urban Planning

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.

27 min
Connecting the Empire-Roads and Bridges

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.

35 min
From Source to City-Water Supply Systems

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?

28 min
Engineering a Roman Aqueduct

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.

29 min
Go with the Flow-Urban Water Distribution

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?

27 min
Paradigm and Paragon-Imperial Roman Baths

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.

29 min
Harnessing Animal Power-Land Transportation

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.

31 min
Leveraging Human Power-Construction Cranes

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.

31 min
Lifting Water with Human Power

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.

31 min
Milling Grain with Water Power

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.

29 min
Machines at War-Siege Towers and Rams

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.

31 min
Machines at War-Evolution of the Catapult

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.

34 min
Machines at Sea-Ancient Ships

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.

34 min
Reconstructing the Greek Trireme

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.

33 min
The Modern Legacy of Ancient Technology

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.

33 min