The Ten Books on Architecture, 10.4

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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Engines for Raising Water

4I shall now explain the making of the different kinds of engines which have been invented for raising water, and will first speak of the tympanum. Although it does not lift the water high, it raises a great quantity very quickly. An axle is fashioned on a lathe or with the compasses, its ends are shod with iron hoops, and it carries round its middle a tympanum made of boards joined together. It rests on posts which have pieces of iron on them under the ends of the axle. In the interior of this tympanum there are eight crosspieces set at intervals, extending from the axle to the circumference of the tympanum, and dividing the space in the tympanum into equal compartments.

2Planks are nailed round the face of it, leaving six-inch apertures to admit the water. At one side of it there are also holes, like those of a dovecot, next to the axle, one for each compartment. After being smeared with pitch like a ship, the thing is turned by the tread of men, and raising the water by means of the apertures in the face of the tympanum, delivers it through the holes next to the axle into a wooden trough set underneath, with a conduit joined to it. Thus, a large quantity of water is furnished for irrigation in gardens, or for supplying the needs of saltworks.

3But when it has to be raised higher, the same principle will be modified as follows. A wheel on an axle is to be made, large enough to reach the necessary height. All round the circumference of the wheel there will be cubical boxes, made tight with pitch and wax. So, when the wheel is turned by treading, the boxes, carried up full and again returning to the bottom, will of themselves discharge into the reservoir what they have carried up.

But, if it has to be supplied to a place still more high, a double iron chain, which will reach the surface when let down, is passed round the axle of the same wheel, with bronze buckets attached to it, each holding about six pints. The turning of the wheel, winding the chain round the axle, will carry the buckets to the top, and as they pass above the axle they must tip over and deliver into the reservoir what they have carried up.

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