Kailey Deane – Chapter 7 Gimpel’s “The Medieval Machine”: The Mechanical Clock

Chapter 7 of The Medieval Machine, by Jean Gimpel, illustrates the innovations that lead to the mechanical and astronomical clock, as well as the Medieval society that allowed for such work to take place.

The Middle Ages, although considered to be a dark period for humanity, set the stage for invention and innovation. Unlike earlier times, progress was seen as a positive and normal part of life. Inventors during this time were known for being bolder and less worried about the traditions of prior societies. This mindset allowed for the invention of many useful technologies, including eyeglasses. One of the most influential inventions that emerged during this time was, and still is, the mechanical clock.

Prior to the invention of the mechanical clock, time was kept in unequal and unreliable ways. One of the main time indicators was church and town bells. However, the divisions of time were based upon equal dark and light times of the day. This was not a correct system, as night and day are typically not equally divided, and the hours of daylight changes during various times of the year. Even clocks that were invented were unreliable; the water-powered clock could not be used during the winter, as the water would freeze.

The invention of the mechanical clock was not done overnight and was developed by multiple people. One of the earlier examples was seen in China during the 11th century, with a complex astronomical clock created by Su Sung. However, astronomical devices at the time were strictly watched by the government, limiting the knowledge known about the machine, and the clock did not survive once later dynasties took charge.

The quest to design a mechanical clock was not seen until later in Europe. Inventors began trying to find a more reliable clock design around the latter half of the 13th century; one of the earlier tested designs involved replacing the water in water-powered clocks with mercury. Eventually, the mechanical clock emerged, which is hypothesized to be a result of astronomical clocks. The exact date is argued, but manuscripts and illustrations signify that the mechanical clock was established by the 14th century.

Abbot Richard of Wallingford was an earlier pioneer of innovating astronomical clocks, who spent many years working in a monastery. He created the Albion, which could predict the position of the planets and was influential for later astronomical devices, and the Rectangulus. The amount of time that he devoted to these devices and their manuscripts earned him the disdain of others; he was even reprimanded by King Edward III. However, the detail that he put in to his manuscripts helped pave the way for later devices and later recreations of his own.

Giovanni Di Dondi created the astrarium in the 14th century, which incorporated elements of the mechanical and astronomical clock. This device, made of brass and bronze, included a twenty-four-hour time keeping system, a calendar of important religious dates, and the position of multiple planets at any given time. His clock included the sun and moon, along with Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, and Venus. Unlike most clocks at the time, which was set in sync with the sunset, Giovanni used noon to set the astrarium. Along with this astronomical clock, he wrote and illustrated a detailed manuscript. This manuscript allowed for the spread of his invention; the manuscript was printed repeatedly, catching the attention and admiration of many. His design was even copied by Leonardo da Vinci.  Giovanni’s manuscript was specific in such a way that exact replicas have been made in recent years. The main astronomical components of the astrarium, versus the smaller mechanical aspects, have led Gimpel and others to believe that the mechanical clock was a “by-product” of the astronomical clock.

The mechanical clock, and even an equal division of time itself, changed society. Bells in towns and churches were made more reliable, and people were able to align to the same schedule. King Charles V even required that all clocks match his, creating an established system for everyone to follow. The Roman Church incorporated the clock into their churches. Overall, the clock spread, and a reliable system of timekeeping was received in a positive manner. However, the Greek Orthodox church opposed the clock up until the 20th century, as they considered timekeeping to be unimportant when considering eternity. The East did not adopt the same timekeeping methods as the West for many years, either.

The complexity of the astrarium, especially for it’s time, is further explained in this article (click link). The design worked by a verge and foliot system, unlike most clocks at the time. There were numerous dials and 107 wheels in the machine. The clock was able to tell the viewer the position of planets using longitude. The sun and moon’s orbit could be seen. There was a built-in calendar system, which showed important dates for the church. Even dates that changed each year, such as Easter, could be set accurately. Although the original astrarium fell into disrepair, all of these details are known as a result of Giovanni’s excellent manuscript.


Word Count: 846

Image: http://www.uh.edu/engines/didondi.jpg

Clarke “The Stirrup” – Kailey Deane

The stirrup, one of the seemingly small innovations of the ancient world, was one that changed the face of warfare and expanded the exploitation of horses in defense. The article by Colin Clarke offers an in-depth discussion of how the stirrup lead to different forms of warfare, weapons, and social structures.

Prior to the introduction of the stirrup, the use of horses in warfare was not fully exploited. The Greeks used mounted troops for raids and to chase retreating armies, as well as locating and observing enemy troops, but did not use them in battles. The Persians, who were feared enemies of the Greeks, were believed to have hired Asian horsemen, skilled in the “War of Horse and Bow”, to aid them in battle, giving them an advantage over most armies at the time. Some ancient legions, such as the Romans and Germans, would ride into battle, but dismount before they began fighting. Although saddles were prevalent in Rome, the design limited fighting abilities and mobility.

The stirrup first emerged in nomadic cultures in Siberia and the Altaian Mountains during the 5th century. The Chinese began to use this technology soon after. From here, the stirrup expanded into Western Europe; the exact time is uncertain, but it is estimated to have been in use between 500 and 750 AD, when they began to be depicted in artwork. As time progressed, the stirrup grew widespread and were made shorter to allow for more bend in the knee. As the stirrup was used more, weaponry in Western Europe changed, allowing for the use of bigger weapons, including spears and lances.

It is undeniable that the stirrup changed warfare, as it increased stability and comfort in the saddle. Stirrups made cavalry more useful, allowed the use of bigger weapons, and gave the rider greater mobility. The height, speed, and weapons of mounted troops gave then an advantage over ground troops. Many historians consider the stirrup one of the most influential inventions, ranking them among clocks and the steam engine.

However, the direct effects tend to “stirr-up” argument among historians. Some historians, such as Lynn White, link the use of stirrups to widespread cavalry use, bigger weapons, and the emergence of feudalism. Evidence from cultures beyond Western Europe suggest otherwise, instead supporting that culture had more to do with the effects of the stirrup than the invention itself. Although the Japanese adopted a form of feudalism, they continued to use the bow and arrow, instead of the lances in Europe. At the time, the “War of Horse and Bow” was an honorable martial art; the skill associated with this type of warfare was considered superior to using lances and spears. The Mongols, who had a culture that was heavily dependent on horses, never developed a system of feudalism. Even after the introduction of the stirrup, they continued their nomadic lifestyles. As with most technologies, the effects of the invention were dependent on the society that it was used in.

The Stirrup Controversy,” by John Sloan, provides further arguments against Lynn White. Many of White’s supporting statements have been proven wrong since he first published of his hypothesis in “Medieval Technology and Social Change,” including when stirrups were being used by different armies. Part of his thesis also seems to contradict itself, as some examples provided, such as the Gothics and French, were known to have had a powerful cavalry before stirrups emerged. Sloan also argues that much training and development had to take place for each army; the stirrup did not suddenly appear and automatically make everything better. As time progresses, more evidence is uncovered that goes against White’s theory and other historians are developing varying beliefs, including the idea that feudalism was a defense mechanism against the Vikings.

In short, the introduction of the stirrup did have many advantages and changed the face of warfare. However, the social impact of the stirrup is widely argued, and the effects were not solely dependent on the technology itself. As with anything else discussed involving the history of technology, the use and development of the stirrup was influenced largely by culture and the people that used them. Technology is not an isolated concept. In addition, the study of a technology requires looking beyond Western Europe.


Word Count: 715

Image Found At: http://en.chinaculture.org/created/2005- 1