In the standard handbooks on the techniques of Greek architecture, the problem of lifting heavy architectural members is considered mainly in terms of the various cranes and hoists based on compound pulley systems which are described by Vitruvius and Hero of Alexandria. It is assumed that the same basic method was employed also in the Archaic period, and that the use of an earth ramp by Chersiphron to raise the architraves of the temple of Artemis at Ephesos in the mid-sixth century was exceptional. If this is true, it is a matter of some interest in the history of technology. The simple pulley, used not to gain mechanical advantage but just to change the direction of pull, is first known from an Assyrian relief of the ninth century B.C., and may well have been known to the Greeks before they began to build in megalithic masonry in the late seventh century B.C.; but the earliest indisputable evidence for a knowledge of compound pulley systems is in the Mechanical Problems attributed to Aristotle, but more probably written by a member of his school in the early third century B.C. This is a theoretical discussion of a system which was already used by builders, but it is not so certain that practice preceded theory by three centuries or more. It is therefore worth looking again at the evidence for the use of cranes, hoists and pulleys in early Greek building.
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