Philip’s Fountain: The Oldest Still-In-Use Hydraulic Work in the World

Philip’s Fountain: The Oldest Still-In-Use Hydraulic Work in the World

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The Filippeios Krini (Philip’s Fountain) is a 2,300-year-old fountain that was commissioned by King Philip II of Macedonia. It has miraculous survived in working order to the present day, making it the oldest still-in-use hydraulic work in the world.

In 338 BC King Philip II of Macedonia established a military camp at Nestani in order to attack Amfissa, located across the Gulf of Corinth from Nestani. Although by this time the King’s influence was waning due to unsuccessful sieges on Perinthus in 340 BC and Byzantium in 339 BC, the King could not allow the residents of Amfissa to continue farming on the Crisaian plain – land that rightfully belonged to Delphi, the oracle of Apollo. The Macedonians camped in Nestani for many weeks. In order to provide his troops with enough water, the King ordered a fountain be built, Filippeios Krini (Philip’s Fountain). In what has come to be known as the Fourth Sacred War, King Phillip II soundly defeated Amfissa and expelled its citizens from the region. The King’s reputation was restored but he was assassinated two years later by one of his own bodyguards. It was an ignoble end to a King with a mixed legacy. However, his memory will continue to live on in the Filippeios Krini.

Illustration of hydraulic and hydrostatic.

Illustration of hydraulic and hydrostatic. ( Public Domain )

The technology of waterpower systems is known as hydraulics, which comes from the Greek words for “water pipes”. Beginning around 2000 BC, the Minoans and then the Mycenaeans developed incredibly advanced techniques for water supply, water transportation, drainage, storm water and sewage removal, flood protection, and irrigation. By the Hellenistic era, the Greeks had invented easy-to-use devices like the water wheel and the force pump – an instrument that enabled the user to raise water from the ground and was used by Rome’s fire brigades.

These pumps were brilliantly simple instruments that worked by “rotating an inclined cylinder bearing helical blades around its axis whose bottom is immersed in the water to be pumped. As the screw turns, water is trapped between the helical blades and the walls, and thus rises up to the length of the screw and drains out at the top” (Koutsoyiannis and Angelakis, 2003). The device is sometimes referred to as Archimedes’ screw pump. Force pumps are still used today for a wide range of functions including pumping well water, removing bilge water from boats, pumping out flooded basements, extinguishing fires, and for water jets.

The water wheel.

The water wheel. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

It was a Greek named Anaxagoras (c. 510 – c. 428 BC) who clearly articulated the hydrologic cycle: “the sun raises water from the sea into the atmosphere, from where it falls as rain; then it is collected underground and feeds the flow of rivers” (Koutsoyiannis and Angelakis, 2003). The philosopher’s later work on the origins of thunder (i.e. explaining that the phenomenon did not come from Zeus) contributed to his imprisonment for impiety and his subsequent forced retirement.

Detail of the right-hand facade fresco, showing Anaxagoras

Detail of the right-hand facade fresco, showing Anaxagoras. ( Public Domain )

By the time of King Philip II, installing a fountain to provide fresh groundwater for soldiers and horses was routine. The Filippeios Krini was not intended to last 2,350+ years, however, it’s simple mechanics and solid masonry have enabled it to continue (with periodic repairs) to provide water to the residents of Nestani.

The hilltop Greek village is also the site of another famous Greek fountain: the pipelines that draw water from the naturally occurring sinkhole Dini (sometimes called Pausanias). This sinkhole is believed to mark the birthplace of Poseidon. According to the Greek myth, Poseidon was the child of Cronus and Rhea. Cronus was the youngest Titan and had usurped his father Uranus (the Sky) for the rule of the universe. He was thus understandably worried about a son of his seeking to overthrow him and so decided to eat all of his children at birth, beginning with the first, Hades. His consort, Rhea was displeased with this practice and so sought to save her second son, Poseidon. Shortly after he was born, Rhea left him near the sinkhole amidst a flock of lambs. When Cronus came looking for the baby, Rhea said that she had given birth to a horse and presented the King God with a colt. Interestingly, this did not strike Cronus as suspicious and he promptly ate the horse. Poseidon survived and became the god of horses, a title he maintained even after he took up the role of God of the Sea when he and his brothers divvied up ruling the world. In ancient days, residents of Nestani would sacrifice horses to Poseidon.


I don't think the Grand Canal would qualify under the meaning of the term "hydraulics" as it is used in this article.
Before your post, I had never heard of the Grand Canal - I had to go look it up in Wikipedia. Fascinating reading.

How about the Grand Canal, also known as the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, which was constructed in sections from the 5th century BC onwards?

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