Evolution of a Crane and Hoist in Ancient Rome

Evolution of a Roman Crane and Hoist in Ancient Rome

Crane and Hoist in Ancient Rome
Ancient Roman Crane and Hoist in  Roman Empire

Ancient Roman Crane and Hoist: The Roman Empire invested a lot of time, effort and money developing new cranes for the construction of their buildings, bridges and especially aqueducts. They took the Greek’s crane as a model and improved it.

Crane and Hoist in Ancient Rome
Crane and Hoist in Ancient Rome

Roman Aqueducts and Ancient Cranes

Roman aqueducts were underground for most of their length, so they were easier to maintain, as well as being less expensive to build. The beautiful arcades that we can see in the remains of some of them, served to save the terrain accidents that could not be solved in any other way. Many times for the construction of these arches the dry sitting technique was used, which is also known as bone rigging. They worked the clean stone without any type of mortar. The ashlars couple with each other by the pressure they exert on each other. It is a work of great precision, you just have to think about the voussoirs of the arches. To lift the stones they used the Wheel Cranes, as can be seen in the images.

Crane and Hoist in Ancient Rome
Crane and Hoist in Ancient Rome

Before building the aqueducts, a series of studies were carried out, such as the quantity of water, its quality, the terrain through which it had to travel, all the accidents of the same. The works used to be extended in time due to how expensive they were, and they also required a great organization that fell to the emperor under the title of curator viarum. The personnel that worked in the works was very extensive, from the aquarum curator, military and civil engineer, surveyor, the fabri – they were the stonemasons, carpenters –  who were directed by the praefectus fabri, and lastly the slaves who performed multiple jobs.

Tripastos in Ancient Roman Empire

In fact, the simplest Roman crane was the Tripastos. It consisted of a single beam jib, a lathe, a rope, and a block containing three pulleys. By maintaining a multiplication ratio of 3 to 1, a single crane operator could raise 300 lbs.

Roman Design - Treadwheel Crane on Strasbourg Cathedral
Roman Design – Treadwheel Crane on Strasbourg Cathedral


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Pentaspastos and Roman Crane

A more advanced type of crane was the Pentaspastos which had five pulleys. Moreover and even more sophisticated than the Pentaspastos, was the Polyspastos, which had 15 pulleys and up to four masts with a ratio of 60 to 1.

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Roman crane


The Polyspastos, indeed, had four operators per side of the lathe, and it could have a maximum load lifting capacity of 6000 pounds accounting for the maximal effort per operator of 100 pounds each. In case the winch was replaced by a drum, it would double its capacity to 12000 lbs.

Crane and Hoist in Ancient Rome
Crane and Hoist in Ancient Rome


However some buildings contained stone’s blocks of more than 100,000 lbs. How could they lift these loads more than 30 yards high?

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Roman Empire Engineers. Roman Crane & Hoist

The Roman engineers managed to raise these weights using a diversity of winches. Although winches have a lower multiplication factor of forces than those driven by drums, Romans could have installed more quantity of winches operated by men or even animals. This kind operation a great coordination was required between the working groups that operated the capstans.

Roman Design - Treadwheel Crane on Mechelen Cathedral
Roman Design – Treadwheel Crane on Mechelen Cathedral

The cranes were almost always operated by slaves who were designed for these industrial jobs. In fact, they were assigned in the so-called squads which had a technical head, the praepositus.

Ancient Rome Crane
Ancient Rome Crane


Architect Marco Vitruvio Polión : Ancient Roman Crane & Hoist 

(in latín Marcus Vitruvius Pollio; c. -70 BC. -15 BC )

Marco Vitruvio was the author of a book, known today as The Ten Books of Architecture, a treatise written in Latin and ancient Greek about Architecture. It was dedicated to the Emperor Augustus.

Ancient Roman Crane engineers
Ancient Roman Crane Engineers

In this book he describes different types machines such as forklifts, cranes and pulleys used for engineering structures. It also contained descriptions of war machines like catapults, crossbows and siege machines.

As he was an engineer, Vitruvio was not only doing a description of the machines itself but he might probably have built and tested them.

Roman Cranes = Medieval Treadwheel Cranes

The Roman crane  ( treadwheel crane) almost unchanged or modified will be used until the modern age and in some cases until the mid-nineteenth century as in the ports of Germany. Some are still today in their original places of construction. As an example we will put the Cathedral of Strasbourg (France) and the Church Beverley Minster (England)


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