A Roman Pump in Perfect Condition

roman pump madrid
The Ctesibius pump in the Museo Arqueológico Nacional de Madrid

In one of the ancient copper mines of Spain (Sotiel) this ingenious pump was discovered.

Here are the pieces recently copied and cast at the Codina Foundry in Madrid:

ctesibius pump codina foundry (Madrid) reproduction

It is the famous sipho described by Pliny the Elder and Vitruvius, in perfect condition after two thousand years.

This kind of pump, which looks like some nineteenth-century contraption, was in fact invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria, a sort of Merlin who lived in 250BC.
It consists of two identical cylinders, each with a piston, that converge in a chamber with valves that open and close alternately to let water pass through without interruption.

pump ctesibius

Mining engineers believe this one was not used to empty water out of the mine but rather to spray cold water on rocks that had been heated, to fragment them. Or perhaps to put out fires in the mine, as in this eighteenth-century etching showing another version of the Ctesibius pump in action.


Didn’t the old backyard pumps in America work on the same principle?


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18 Responses to A Roman Pump in Perfect Condition

  1. murat baykent says:

    Can I use this pump’s picture in a book ? Would you let me know the conditions please ?

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  4. freggersjr says:

    Considering how clever they were in designing pumps, one would think that they would also have invented a steam engine. Surprisingly they did not.

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  10. K.N.G.N. says:


  11. bobwiley22 says:

    This is great. Can I have permission to use this picture educationally? Not commercially. I’m looking for a picture of an ancient Roman water pump. And your picture is wonderful.


  12. 100swallows says:

    R. Wojnar: The pump was discovered in 1889 at the Sotiel-Coronado mine (Valverde del Camino, Huelva, Spain); but by whom, I can’t find. My source is: http://www.lapisspecularis.org/ARTIFEX.pdf

  13. R. Wojnar says:

    Who found this pump in Spain and when?

  14. e shepherd says:

    How is this similar to a Ram Pump?

  15. 100swallows says:

    Ali Ahmed: I’m glad the information was useful. I just put in some clearer illustrations, so you can see the mechanism better. Un saludo.

  16. Ali Ahmed says:

    this sort of information has helped me a great deal, especially in doing research for a hydraulics lab that involves issues related to pumping mechanisms,
    thank you

  17. Little stories of our ancestors that make them big in history!!!

  18. this is just amazing. just the kind of thing you’d never see without the web. thanks for this post.

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