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Hourglass and Other Medieval Technologies


The renaissance started in the 16th century B.C. and is the period that immediately followed the medieval era. Meanwhile, the medieval age began around the 5th century B. C. and progressed to the 15th century. Less human advancement characterized the medieval period due to a variety of reasons, like famine and pandemics. However, there were technologies developed during the period that became revolutionary. This article explores three technologies, namely: the heavy plow for improvement in agriculture, the treadwheel crane for mining, building, and ship loading, and the hourglass for recording time. Each of the inventions took place at different periods before the renaissance, yet they were all crucial in advancing human life. This essay discusses the three technologies and explores the significance of each.

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The Heavy Plow (carruca)

The invention of the heavy plow was around the 9th century and is one of the most important inventions of the medieval ages. It comprises three major parts with diverse functions: a colt cuts the soil vertically, an asymmetrical plowshare cuts the ground horizontally, and a mouldboard creates deep furors after cutting sods aside. The improvement replaced the older plows, which functioned best in the Mediterranean climate and sandy soil instead of the heavy soils found in Northern Europe (Lucas 982). Therefore, the design of the carruca made it possible to plow regions with clay soils that consequently increased crop yields and propelled economic growth and trade.

Treadwheel Cranes

The development of the treadwheel crane happened in ancient Rome and improved from earlier Greek inventions of the construction crane. It consists of two wheels of about 1.2 meters wide and 4.2 meters in diameter and a boom made of two heavy oak beams. Also, the construction has a central drive shaft joining the two wheels and a joint at the axis, which is fastened by a rope or chain. The lifting capacity of the treadwheel crane capped at 3.2 tons, and the usual loads hoisted and lowered were wine barrels, millstones, and other heavy equipment. The treadwheel was a significant technology because it made human work more manageable. The machine could quickly raise or lower enormous weights with ease, and it propelled the advancement of mining, building, and construction jobs.

The Hourglass

The invention of the hourglass took place around the early 1300s and effectively measured intervals of time. It comprises two glass bulbs joined at their apex that introduces a gap for passaging through the medium enclosed in the bulbs. Two types of medium used in the hourglass are Sand and mercury. Ideally, the design of the passage is proportional so that the medium runs entirely through one glass bulb to another within a specified time, usually one hour. The invention of the hourglass was revolutionary because it was cheaper and simpler to use than water clocks or mechanical clocks; besides, its accuracy in solving some problems was acceptable and applicable in many areas. The hourglass was important in ships as it found use in logging and navigation; it was also an instrument for keeping time in churches and cathedrals.


The hourglass, the treadwheel crane, and the heavy plow are three medieval technologies discussed in the essay that revolutionized human lifestyles and were all developed during the medieval ages. The invention of the heavy plow changed Agriculture by improving crop yield; the treadmill was an efficient machine in hoisting and lowering a heavy load, whereas the hourglass was reliable and effective for measuring intervals of time and keeping logs.

Work cited

Lucas, Adam. “Narratives of Technological Revolution.” Handbook of Medieval Studies, 2010, pp. 967–990.

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