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Clocks and Dials with Automata: The Mosaic of Qasr El-Lebya

  • Helen Fragaki
Part of the History of Mechanism and Machine Science book series (HMMS, volume 15)

Abstract

The figure of Helios surmounting the Pharos of Alexandria on the mosaic of Qasr el-Lebya (539 A.D.) points its sword towards a semicircular object which has been convincingly recognized as a sundial. On the basis of the study of Alexandrian automata, it can be argued that this figure is a moving statue. In fact, clocks and dials, often associated with animated statues, were part of the ingenious inventions of Alexandrian engineers since the Ptolemaic period. One of the most famous ones was the water clock of Ktesibios which included automata indicating time by the same arm gesture as that of the Helios on the pavement of Qasr el-Lebya. During Late Antiquity, clocks connected to automatically moving figures seem to have been particularly popular. The clock of Gaza, described by Procopius (473-535 A.D.), included a statue of Helios, very similar to that of the mosaic, moving every hour and pointing its index finger to successively opening doors. Despite the absence of the personified Sun in Arabic time measuring devices, there is evidence of automata pointing to indicate time. Descriptions of moving statues on the Pharos by Arab authors may therefore refer to figures like the one depicted in this mosaic.

Keywords

Index Finger Late Antiquity Wooden Disc Horizontal Shaft Rotatable Annuli 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Springer Netherlands 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen Fragaki
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.UMR 7041, Archéologies et Sciences de l’Antiquité / Maison René Ginouvès –Nanterre / CNRSUniversité de Paris IParisFrance
  2. 2.UMR 7041, Archéologies et Sciences de l’Antiquité / Maison René Ginouvès –Nanterre / CNRSUniversité de Paris Ouest Nanterre la Défense, Ministère de la cultureNanterreFrance

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