The Artistic Complexity of the Antikythera Mechanism: A Comprehensive Tutorial

Kyriakos Efstathiou,
EU ERA Chair on Digital Cultural Heritage, Digital Heritage Research Laboratory (Cultural Informatics), Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering and Informatics, Cyprus University of Technol-ogy, Limassol 3036, Cyprus

Marianna Efstathiou and Alexandros Basiakoulis
Center for the Multidisciplinary Research and Promotion of the Antikythera Mechanism
«Ioannis Seiradakis», Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 54641 Thessaloniki, Greece

DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.8116838


Recovered in 1901, from a first-century BC shipwreck, the Antikythera Mechanism is considered to be the oldest extant complex geared device. It was constructed in ~150 BCE and was essentially an analog computer, an astronomical and calendrical device, designed to predict astronomical phenomena, such as lunar and solar eclipses, to maintain calendar accuracy and to predict the dates of Panhellenic Games. The device was operated manually by a user, setting a date in a dial. All necessary calculations were made using a set of gears (at least 39), while the results were displayed on several scientific scales. The Mechanism’s miniature size, the elaborate gear trains, the use of eccentrical gears and the employment of a pin–and–slot gear system to calculate the anomalous orbit of the Moon, demonstrate that the Greek mechanicians of the Hellenistic period had become far more skillful in designing geared devices than the surviving written sources imply. Geared devices matching the complexity of the Antikythera Mechanism would not appear again in Europe until the mechanical clocks of the thirteenth century. The aim of this paper is to present this ancient elaborate device in the most comprehensible way.


Antikythera Mechanism; Gear Device; Gears; Ancient Astronomy; Ancient Technology; Egyptian Calendar; Metonic Cycle; Saros

1. Introduction

Like many great discoveries, the Antikythera Mechanism was found by accident. In 1900, sponge divers came across a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera, and over the next year or so, they retrieved a number of artifacts—statues, coins, jewellery, and so on. One item they brought to the surface was not immediately recognized: a lump of corroded bronze and wood, broken into several calcified fragments.

The artifacts were all sent to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens for cataloguing and restoration, but the bronze lump sat almost unnoticed (Seiradakis et al., 2018; Jones, 2017; Kaltsas et al., 2012; Zafeirop-oulou, 2007; Archaeological Ephemeris, 1902). When researchers finally turned their attention to it, they couldn’t agree on what it was. The bronze lump seemed to contain gears and dials, suggesting it was a navi-gational device or perhaps even a clock. Some archaeologists suggested that it was a mechanism too ad-vanced for the date of the shipwreck—the first century B.C.—and thought it might have been lost at sea more recently.
In time, however, analysis using X-ray and other advanced imaging revealed its true nature, and the Anti-kythera Mechanism is now considered as important for technology and sciences as the Acropolis for the ar-chitecture and arts. The object is the remains of the earliest known analogue computer.
Now we know that it was an extremely advanced mechanism that could be used to calculate and predict astronomical events. Detailed studies of the mechanism by various researchers have shown that it could predict with astonishing accuracy the position of the sun, moon, and the planets on the sky. It could also de-termine the phases of the moon, adjust the calendar, determine the dates of the ancient Olympic Games, and predict solar and lunar eclipses (Seiradakis et al., 2018; Jones, 2017; Kaltsas et al., 2012; Zafeiropoulou, 2007; Archaeological Ephemeris, 1902; Price de Solla, 1974; Wright, 2005; Ramsey, 2007; Malzbender et al., 2021; Freeth et al., 2006; Efstathiou et al., 2012; Efstathiou M. et al., 2013; Anastasiou et al., 2014; Efstathiou et al., 2018; Anastasiou et al., 2013; Anastasiou, 2014; Efstathiou M., 2018; Efstathiou M. et al., 2017; Basiakoulis et al., 2017).
From the letters and the symbols of the inscriptions, it can be concluded that it was built in the first half of the 2nd century BC., possibly in Rhodes, where at that time, the science of astronomy flourished. In addition, two of the greatest astronomers of antiquity lived there during that period. Hipparchus died in Rhodes in 120 BC, as well as the Stoic philosopher and astronomer Poseidonios the Rhodian, who is mentioned in a work by Cicero as the maker of a celestial globe – planetoscope (Kaltsas et al., 2012).
The Mechanism was assembled in a wooden box (compass) measuring 32 cm x 16 cm x 10 cm. The front and back views were covered by bronze plates with calendar or astronomical scales and pointers. These sur-faces were protected by two wooden outer covers, to which densely inscribed bronze plates were attached. The basic structure of the Mechanism is shown in Figure 1, in which it is displayed an accurate replica of the Mechanism (Efstathiou et al., 2012; Efstathiou M. et al., 2013).....
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