Archimedes’ screw (3rd century BC)

Archimedes’ screw (3rd century BC)

The screw pump commonly attributed to Archimedes made irrigation much more effective



Archimedes, water-lifting device, irrigation, screw pump, invention, water, inventor, structure, agriculture, hollow wooden tube, axis, manual propulsion, technology, machine, mechanics, antiquity, history

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Water lift

Archimedes’ screw

Archimedes (c. 287-212 BC) was one of the greatest Greek scientists of the antiquity. He was born in Syracuse on the island of Sicily and spent most of his life there. He is known for his exceptional contributions to the field of mathematics as well as his inventions and discoveries. He was a renowned astronomer and physicist as well.

During his youth, he lived and worked in Alexandria, Egypt. A water pump that made irrigation more effective is commonly attributed to him. This device became known as "Archimedes’ screw" and spread quickly, as it used rotation to aid (replace) human power in a very creative and effective fashion.


  • hollow wooden tube
  • screw
  • axle
  • handle



  • hollow wooden tube
  • screw
  • axle
  • handle


Archimedes, one of the greatest Greek scientists of Antiquity, is known for his exceptional contributions to the field of mathematics as well as his inventions and discoveries. The screw pump known as “Archimedes’ screw” is also commonly attributed to Archimedes, but it was most probably not his invention. The name only reflects the fact that the apparatus had been previously unknown to the Greeks and became widespread during his lifetime. The original inventor, however, is unknown.

The screw pump is a simple machine used to lift water. It consists of a screw and a cylindrical casing, made of wooden boards and sealed with pitch resin. The shaft, placed at an angle of about 20° to the waterline, was turned manually.

As the shaft turned, the bottom end scooped up a volume of water. The water slid up in the spiral tube, until it finally poured out from the top. The screw was used mostly for irrigation, draining water out of mines or filling water tanks. This ancient but versatile device is still in use today.

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