The hydraulis (also hydraulicos or water organ , "water aulos ") is an organ-like keyboard instrument that was widespread in the Roman Empire . A characteristic feature is the air supply with a hydraulic principle, in which an even air pressure is maintained by water. The organs usually had several rows of pipes that could be registered individually.
Smaller organs from around the 2nd century AD, which received the air supply through bellows, were still called hydra , but were no longer water organs .
The Archaeology Channel
The creator of The Archaeology Channel discusses the invention and 2300-year evolution of the first keyboard musical instrument, featured also on a TAC video.
Invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria in the 3rd Century B.C., the hydraulis was the first keyboard musical instrument and the ancestor of the modern church organ. In 1992 Greek archaeologists recovered a fragmentary hydraulis dating from the 1st Century B.C. at the
Greek city of Dion, at the foot of Mt. Olympus. Based on this example and documentary evidence, the European Cultural Centre of Delphi finished reconstructing the instrument in 1999.
The video, The Ancient Hydraulis, generously made available by the European Cultural Centre of Delphi, appeared on TAC in March 2002. This video tells the story of the ancient hydraulis and its modern reconstruction and includes a performance of this remarkable instrument. Its appearance on TAC prompted classical-music radio station KWAX of Eugene, Oregon, to invite ALI President and Executive Director Dr. Richard Pettigrew to the station for a broadcast interview on the subject of the hydraulis. The interview covers the history of the hydraulis as well as the relevance of archaeology to people today and the purpose behind The Archaeology Channel.
Caitriona Bolster of KWAX interviewed Dr. Pettigrew in the KWAX studio on March 14, 2002. The interview was broadcast on March 19.
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Once upon a time a Greek engineer named Ktesibios (or Ctesibius in Latin) was working in Alexandria, Egypt. This was during the 3rd century BC when the Roman Empire ruled the region. He was an incredibly gifted physicist and engineer and was known for his work with compressed air, a very new concept at the time. His father was a barber, which has been said to have inspired his first invention: a counter-weighted mirror that could be adjusted to the height of each client. He later invented forced air pumps, air-powered catapults and the water clock (clepsydra), among other things.
At some point it became worth his time to figure out how to enable one person to play a big set of pipes without having to blow air through them one at a time. People before him had tried to create a mechanized system to blow air through pan pipes, but those attempts had never amounted to much. Accounts suggest Ctesibius never set out to invent a new instrument, he just wanted to solve an engineering problem.
The hydraulis was an instant hit with the Greeks and Romans and made a huge impact in the musical world that would be felt for centuries. This engineering marvel inspired a sequence of mechanical improvements during the Roman era that ultimately led to the creation of the bellows system. It would take over 1,000 more years for the water organ to morph into the powerful and mechanically-complex instruments used in many churches today.
The hydraulis of Dion
In 1992, the remains of a 1st-century BC hydraulis were found at Dion, an ancient Macedonian city near Mt. Olympus, Greece, during excavations under Prof. D. Pantermalis. This instrument consisted of 24 open pipes of different height with a conical lower ending. The first 19 pipes have a height from 89 to 22 cm (35 to 8 inches). Their inner diameter is gradually decreasing from 2 to 1.5 cm. These 19 pipes correspond to the "perfect system" of the ancient Greek music which consisted of one chromatic and one diatonic scale [ citation needed ] . The pipes No. 20 to 24 are smaller and almost equal in height and they seem to form an extension of the diatonic scale. The conical end of the pipes is inserted in a metal plate. At a point just before the narrowing part of every pipe there is an opening producing the turbulence of the pressurized air and the sound. The pipes are stabilized by two metal plates. The one facing outwards has decorative motifs. The instrument had two rows of keys. The lower part of the organ, with the air-pressing system, was missing.
From 1995 a reconstruction project started and by 1999 a working replica of hydraulis was made based on the archaeological finding and on ancient descriptions. The remains of the ancient hydraulis are exhibitted at the Museum of Dion.  
Exhibition "ANCIENT HYDRAULIS: THE RECONSTRUCTION. The sound of hydraulis, very sweet and pleasant"
The main exhibit was the Hydraulis that was reconstructed by the European Cultural Centre of Delphi during the period 1995-1999, based on the archaeological find of Dion. Apart from the instrument itself, exhibits also included several drawings of the archaeological find of Dion and photographs of coins, mosaics, small sculptures and pottery depicting the Hydraulis.
During the inauguration of the exhibition on 25 October, a conference was organised with speakers:
Athanasia Psalti, Head of the 10 th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities
Athanasios Markopoulos, Professor of Byzantine Literature and Director of the European Cultural Centre of Delphi
Panagiotis Vlagopoulos, Ass. Professor of Music Studies, Ionian University, and member of the scientific team of the reconstruction project of the Ancient Hydraulis.
A musical demonstration of the instrument followed.
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Ctesibius Invents the Water Organ, the First Keyboard Musical Instrument
The Greek inventor and mathematician of Ctesibius (Ktesibios, Tesibius, &Kappa&tau&eta&sigmaί&beta&iota&omicron&sigmaf) of Alexandria, supposedly originally a barber, and also possibly the first head of the Museum of Alexandria, made several contributions to hydraulic engineering. He invented the hydraulis, a water organ that is considered the precursor of the modern pipe organ. This instrument was not an automaton since it required a human player.
Ctesibius described one of the first force pumps for producing a jet of water, or for lifting water from wells, examples of which have been found at various Roman sites, such as at Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) in Britain. The principle of the siphon has also been attributed to him. In his De architectura Vitruvius described the water organ and credited the force pump to Ctesbius.
"The hydraulis was the world's first keyboard instrument and was, in fact, the predecessor of the modern church organ. Unlike the instrument of the Renaissance period, which is the main subject of the article on the pipe organ, the ancient hydraulis was played by hand, not automatically by the water-flow the keys were balanced and could be played with a light touch, as is clear from the reference in a Latin poem by Claudian (late 4th century), who uses this very phrase (magna levi detrudens murmura tactu . . . intonet, &ldquolet him thunder forth as he presses out mighty roarings with a light touch&rdquo) (Paneg. Manlio Theodoro, 320&ndash22)" (Wikipedia article on Hydraulis [Water organ], accessed 12-25-2011).
An original hydraulis from the first century BCE was excavated at Dion, Pieria, Greece, and is preserved in the Museum of Dion.
Ancient Greek Water-Organ Sounds Again at Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis Museum in Athens is welcoming the summer season with an extraordinary free concert of music played on an ancient Greek water-organ.
The ‘hydraulis’ was made in the ancient Mediterranean city of Alexandria, in today’s Egypt.
Ctesibius, a famous engineer of his time, built the first hydraulis which was operated by compressed air first channeled through a container of water to equalize the pressure.
The sound came from a row of pipes of different lengths. Parallel rows of pipes were subsequently added to give a polyphonic effect.
The powerful and pleasant sound made the water-organ very popular, and it was soon to be utilized in temples, theaters, hippodromes, fairs, and even the Roman imperial court.
Later, as barbarians raided the rich, ancient cities, the water-organ was abandoned and forgotten in the West.
However, the Byzantine court retained it in a more advanced form which did not require the use of water, and it eventually became an emblem of state.
In 1992, during excavations outside the villa of Dionysus at Dion, Professor Dimitris Pandermalis – now director of the Acropolis Museum – and his colleagues found an unexpected gem: A row of pipes and some large copper slabs bearing the impressions of pipes on the site of an ancient workshop.
Archaeologists took the precious find to the on-site laboratory where they established that it was a musical instrument, a water-organ.
The Dion water-organ dates from the 1st century BC and is the oldest surviving musical instrument of its kind. A reconstruction project started in 1995 and, four years later, a working replica of the hydraulis was made based on the archaeological finding and ancient descriptions.
The remains of the ancient hydraulis are exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Dion.
In the Middle Ages, the hydraulis developed into the Western church organ.
Professor Pandermalis will present the history of the hydraulis and the discovery of the parts of the instrument during the Dion excavations. Following that, visitors will enjoy a virtuoso recital of hydraulis performed by famous Greek organist Ourania Gassiou. The event will close with a special harp recital performed by the talented harpist Thodoris Matoulas.
The event is organized in cooperation with the Association of Friends of the European Cultural Centre of Delphi.
Museum of Ancient Greek Technology Offers Virtual Tours
The Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Inventions in Athens. Credit: Facebook/Kotsanas Museum
The many brilliant technological inventions of the ancient Greeks come alive — interactively — during new virtual tours of the collection of Athens’ Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology.
Presented as a new tool for the public to enjoy the astounding ancient inventions displayed at the Museum, the new show is called “Ancient Greece – the Origins of Our Technologies.”
In an announcement, the Museum says “Heron, Philon, Archimedes, Ktesibios, Pythagoras and Hipparchos invite you to discover the cutting edge technology of antiquity through their inventions.
“From the automatic hydraulic clock of Ktesibios to the Antikythera Calculating Mechanism, we observe that the foundations for many conquests of modern civilization, such as steam and gas propulsion, the computer and robotic constructions, had already been laid by the ancient Greek world.
“Philon’s automatic servant and ‘magic’ wine jug, Archimedes’ hydraulic screw, and so much more come to illuminate unknown aspects of everyday life in public and private life.”
Museum of Ancient Greek Technology awarded in 2019
The Kostas Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology, located on Pindarou Street in central Athens, features working reconstructions of brilliant but little-known ancient Greek mechanical inventions — many of which were almost lost forever.
The Museum was nominated as the “European Museum of 2019” by the European Museum Forum.
The Antikythera Mechanism, often referred to as “the first computer in the world,” which was created in the time of Ancient Greece. It was discovered in a shipwreck off the shores of the Greek island of Antikythera in the 1900s. Credit: Facebook/Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Technology
This is the third museum in Greece to be recognized for presenting ancient Greek technological achievements. However, all of these museums were founded by Costas Kotsanas, a brilliant Patras University engineer who was on a mission to bring these intricate machines back to life.
The first museum opened at the site of Ancient Olympia in 2003 and the second in Katakolo in 2013.
The Athens museum has a particular focus on musical instruments and games.
Not widely known in Greece, the museums have nevertheless been showered with invitations by foreign museums and institutes as far away as Asia, and been visited by many foreign tourists in Greece.
The “Robotic Server,” an invention of the Greek scientist Phillon. Credit: Facebook/Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology
“Robotic servants” and “automatic cinemas”
Born in Seliana, Achaia, in 1963, Kotsanas studied mechanical engineering at the Polytechnic University of Patras. The 300-odd exhibits in his remarkable museums contain operating models of ancient Greek inventions, from the “robot-servant machine” of Philon to the “Cinema of Heron.”
“My father’s interest began 30 years ago, when he was an engineer at the University of Patras,” Kostas Kotsanas’ son, Panagiotis, told the press in an interview.
“He started focusing on ancient Greek technology, studying the sources and reconstructing” what he found, he added.
There is an automatic clock in Kotsanas’ collection that was invented by the mathematic genius Ktesibios, and even an early form of steam engine — made entirely of bronze.
The Antikythera Machine — the world first computer
The museum also has a model of the priceless treasure, the “Antikythera Machine,” found in a shipwreck off a small Greek island, which was actually a form of analog computer made of bronze and used to compute the movements of the stars.
The Athens museum’s funding comes from the 15-year-old cultural nonprofit organization which the Kotsanas family itself created to promote ancient Greek technology.
Beyond the Antikythera Mechanism, a few other mechanical inventions of the ancient Greeks are part of the fascinating collection.
Astrolabe and first steam engine in the world
Apart from these jaw-dropping inventions, the collection includes:
– The astrolabe, serving as an ancient GPS, invented by Ptolemy
– The automated opening of a temple’s doors following a sacrifice, which was the world’s first automation of a building, by Heron of Alexandria
– The aeolosphere, which was the first steam engine in the world, by Heron
– The palintonos, the first giant catapult in history, by Philon
– The hydraulis, the oldest keyboard instrument of Dion, by Ktesibios of Alexandria
– The hydraulic-powered ticking clock, by Archimedes
The European Museum Forum is a cultural organization founded in 1977 under the Council of Europe. It is an independent, non-profit charity, registered in the United Kingdom.
Since its inception, its objective has been to recognize the best museum practices across Europe and to encourage innovative developments in the museum sector.
The inventions at the Museum have traveled as part of special exhibitions to most continents, and been shown at scores of museums, as well as the European Patent Office at the Hague, universities and the National Library of France.
The Kostas Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology is located at Pindarou 6 & Akadimias, in the Kolonaki area. Tel.: 211 411 0044, 690 72 92 002. You may buy an electronic ticket for the virtual tours via this link.
The digital tour of the exhibition is interactive and educational and is aimed at visitors of all ages.