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New: Article on the Medieval minsters of Beverley, Rippon and York, submitted by Stuart Sharp.

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Our castles pictures and notes have been updated with Farleigh Hungerford Castle. A full list of the historical galleries we have on line is also available now.

Technology and Nature in the Development of Ancient Greek Cities

Both the natural environment and the available technologies were significant factors in the development of the Greek cities. The Greeks were building cities from about the eighth century BCE. It is difficult to distinguish how much the shape of these cities was determined by technology and how much by the environment. The interaction between technology and the environment is dynamic, with each shaped by and shaping the other.

I Technology

Military needs and technologies were very significant determinants of the growth and layout of Greek cities. The earliest cities grew under the pressure of the need for defence and were usually sited on rocky defensible positions, some distance from the harbour, and were heavily fortified (Chant & Goodman, p 60).

Wall building was the most "laborious and expensive task," involving the most impressive engineering feats in Greek architecture, according to Wycherley. (Wycherley, 1976, quoted in Chant & Goodman, p 60) Stone was readily available. As the usual building material, its properties shaped the construction style. For example, posts and lintels were used in public monuments (as compared to the arches used in Roman buildings).

Stone required lifting technologies, using people rather than hoists (J.J. Coulton, in Chant, pp 42-47). Coulton argued that cranes were not used until after 515 BC. When they were used, it was not because they could lift larger blocks (meaning it represented a technological advance), as blocks lifted after that date were actually smaller, but because of current labour shortages (ibid, p 46).

Animals were used in the transport of huge and heavy stone blocks. According to Burford, Greek yoke technology has been wrongly criticised on grounds that apply to horses, rather than to the oxen that were used. Greek yoke technology was fit for oxen and could shift stone effectively (Burford, in Chant, p 28-36).

The ad hoc growth of the early settlements was replaced by more formally planned rebuilding, particularly after the fifth century Persian attacks. With the advance in military technologies, such as the use of catapults, strong fortifications and defensive layout of streets became increasingly necessary. In the course of rebuilding, town planning theories were developed and put into practice. The grid plan became common. Aristotle argued for a defensive city design using both regular and irregular features, to reconcile the demands of moving troops and equipment quickly (for example a grid system) and of confusing attackers (unplanned development) (Aristotle, in Chant & Goodman, p 78-79).



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