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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 245.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Lecture Series This is one of the best lectures series I have encountered. Professor Ressler is wonderful, a lucid explainer and engages the viewer with computer graphics and models. These aids provide so much visual information that once the lecture is over, the ideas stick in the mind. This is a terrific series and to a classics major from the 1970s, an eye opener. I am going to crack open my edition of Vitrivius and see why his explanation of water supply systems is not as accurate as Frontinus's, a copy of which is available on line at the University of Chicago.
Date published: 2024-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fantastic history of Greek and Roman technology As the title of the course says, it's Professor Ressler takes you through the history of stone making/shaping (those pretty Corinthian columns are nice, but did you ever wonder at the almost perfect flatness of a stone wall? Made with just a hammer and chisel?) The course was so good, I ordered Vitruvius' "De Architectura" book. Professor Ressler explains various methods of moving/lifting water, how roads were made, all with models to demonstrate as if in a lab. I felt like I was auditing a course from an Ivy League school. Please get this course.
Date published: 2024-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very engaging! This is probably the best course I've watched. Prof Ressler is very passionate about what he's doing and performs lots of demos and experiments to demonstrate how the techniques worked. He must have had a blast making this course and it really shines through. It's fun to watch. If you ever wanted to understand how ancient buildings, Roman roads, and other ancient technologies were made and evolved over time this is the course for you.
Date published: 2024-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The great Explainer I watched one lecture and was fully impressed the way he explains and doing it practically with small models (require a lot of effort) and providing the detail shows how much research is done for just one lecture to elaborate, so I decided to watch the whole by looking at his dedication.
Date published: 2024-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love Stephen Ressler Ive watched all his courses I love Stephen Ressler I've watched all his courses Will you make more????????
Date published: 2024-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Looked forward to 1 or 2 lectures everyday This is the second course of this lecturer that I am listening to on the Great Courses. With this lecturer, his passion for teaching shines. He is a delight to listen to. When he says, let’s do and experiment, my ears perk up, my mind awaits the flood of dopamine and knows it is going to be innervated with delightful pleasure very soon. His excitement is indeed very contagious. He is extremely good at taking his students step by step, from the basic level to wherever he wants to take you to. My background is Ph.D. in physics, as that of my husband. Therefore, we can do components of forces etc., but have no background in civil engineering. We love Great Courses and like to learn everything from Greek Tragedy to Biochemistry to Astronomy. This professor has to be one of our most favoritest ones. It is a joy to see the models he builds and uses for easy grasping of the students. I am so glad he covered Aqueducts in this course. This has always intrigued me. How does one maintain a slope over miles from the source to the city? How did the Romans know the total average slope anyway. This lecture takes you through the whole building project step by step, including discussing labor, materials, planning - never leaving the students behind. I do have a question for the lecturer. How did the Romans do math with Roman numerals? A 0.4% slope in Roman numerals could be IV/M. Or perhaps 4 feet in 1000 feet and not worry about calculating the fraction. And these people, the ancient Romans, did not know of the zero. How did they do math like MXXVII * XXIX? Cube roots? Forget it. It is a delight to learn from this lecturer. If I could give 8 stars, I would. I would request this lecturer to do a course on architectural history.
Date published: 2024-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You will love this! I have now completed 80 Great Courses and Dr. Ressler's courses have moved into #1 and #2 as courses which I have found to be both fascinating and informative. I retired from teaching history (more than forty years) to middle and high school students. Dr. Ressler's ability to deliver his lectures with such a warm and engaging style sets him apart from the other professors of courses that I have experienced from the Great Courses. History and Science courses are by far my favorites, but the majority of the instructors of the Great Courses are not terribly impressive delivering their well prepared lectures. Dr. Ressler's presentations have been outstanding. He sets a high bar. If I had experienced his lectures on Greek and Roman Technology and Epic Engineering Failures when I first began my Great Courses studies three years ago, the lectures which followed would have been major disappointments. If you are looking for both Great Courses and Great Professors, Dr. Ressler's courses will inspire you as they have me. I recommend his without reservations!
Date published: 2023-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bravo Dr. Ressler! This has to rate as possibly the best educational course ever!!! I learned so much about ancient construction methods and technology. I also gained a deeper appreciation for the professions of engineering and architecture. I taught Kinesiology and used a lot of models like "Elvis the Pelvis". Dr. Ressler's models however are all amazing and so instructive. The computer graphics are also fantastic. The level of preparation and attention to detail as well as the clear explanation of principles in this course honors those ancient architects, inventors and craftsmen who combined to create the technology covered in the course. Thank you to all involved!
Date published: 2023-07-28
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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.


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.


United States Military Academy, West Point

Stephen Ressler is a Professor Emeritus from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he taught for 21 years. He holds an MS and PhD in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University and is a registered professional engineer in Virginia. He served in a variety of military engineering assignments in the United States, Europe, and Central Asia. He has focused his scholarly and professional work on engineering education and has won numerous national awards for engineering education and service.

By This Professor

Understanding the World's Greatest Structures
Everyday Engineering: Understanding the Marvels of Daily Life
Understanding Greek and Roman Technology
Epic Engineering Failures and the Lessons They Teach
Do-It-Yourself Engineering
Understanding Greek and Roman Technology


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