Antipater of Thessalonica

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Antipater of Thessalonica (Greek: Ἀντίπατρος ὁ Θεσσαλονικεύς) was the author of over a hundred epigrams in the Greek Anthology. He is the most copious and perhaps the most interesting of the Augustan epigrammatists. He lived under the patronage of Lucius Calpurnius Piso (consul in BC 15 and then proconsul of Macedonia for several years), who appointed him governor of Thessalonica.

There are many allusions in his work to contemporary history:

  • one celebrates the foundation of Nicopolis by Octavianus, after the battle of Actium
  • one anticipates his victory over the Parthians in the expedition of 20 BC
  • one is addressed to Gaius Caesar, who died in AD 4. None can be ascribed securely to a date later than 4.


Antipater is also known for being the first to mention use of the waterwheel in a poem. He tells of an advanced overshot wheel watermill around 20 BC/10 AD.[1] He praised for its use in grinding grain and the reduction of human labour:[2]

Hold back your hand from the mill, you grinding girls; even if the cockcrow heralds the dawn, sleep on. For Demeter has imposed the labours of your hands on the nymphs, who leaping down upon the topmost part of the wheel, rotate its axle; with encircling cogs,[3] it turns the hollow weight of the Nisyrian millstones. If we learn to feast toil-free on the fruits of the earth, we taste again the golden age.

The reference is important mentioning the mill, and supports other evidence of the antiquity of use. Taking indirect evidence into account from the work of the Greek technician Apollonius of Perge, the British historian of technology M.J.T. Lewis dates the appearance of the vertical-axle watermill to the early 3rd century BC, and the horizontal-axle watermill to around 240 BC, with Byzantium and Alexandria as the assigned places of invention.[19] A watermill is reported by the Greek geographer Strabon (ca. 64 BC–AD 24) to have existed sometime before 71 BC in the palace of the Pontian king Mithradates VI Eupator, but its exact construction cannot be gleaned from the text (XII, 3, 30 C 556).[20]

The first clear description of a geared watermill offers the late 1st century BC Roman architect Vitruvius who tells of the sakia gearing system as being applied to a watermill.[21] Vitruvius's account is particularly valuable in that it shows how the watermill came about, namely by the combination of the separate Greek inventions of the toothed gear and the water wheel into one effective mechanical system for harnessing water power.[22] Vitruvius' water wheel is described as being immersed with its lower end in the watercourse so that its paddles could be driven by the velocity of the running water (X, 5.2).[23]

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  1. ^ Wikander 2000, p. 375; Donners, Waelkens & Deckers 2002, p. 13
  2. ^ Lewis, p. vii.
  3. ^ The translation of this word is crucial to the interpretation of the passage. Traditionally, it has been translated as 'spoke' (e.g. Reynolds, p. 17), but Lewis (p. 66) points out that, while its primary meaning is 'ray' (as a sunbeam), its only concrete meaning is 'cog'. Since a horizontal-wheeled corn mill does not need gearing (and hence has no cogs), the mill must have been vertical-wheeled.


  • Ancient History
  • Select Epigrams from The Greek Anthology, Edited with a Revised Text, Translation, and Notes, by J. W. Mackail (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1890)

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