Between Knowledge and Innovation: The Unequal Armed Balance

Between Knowledge and Innovation: The Unequal Armed Balance

Jochen Büttner, Anette Schomberg, Dirk Rohmann

Other involved Scholars: 

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Cooperation Partners: 

Excellence Cluster 264


Relief mit der Darstellung eines Fleischer bei der Arbeit. Rechts, hängend eine römische Schnellwaage. Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Skulpturensammlung (Albertinum). Inv. no. 415

Id autem ex trutinis, quae staterae dicuntur, licet considerare.

Pollio Vitruvius, ca. 20 v. Chr.

In the course of this project, the development of the unequal-armed balance will be examined as a case study of an innovation process. The study will model this process on the basis of existing material evidence and will interpret it by reconstructing the historical circumstances under which it arose.

The unequal-armed balance, the practical experience gained in its use, and the knowledge born of this experience not only served as midwife at the birth of the science of mechanics in the 4th c. BC, but also closely accompanied its development for more than 2000 years. Despite how important the former was to the birth and subsequent molding of the latter, there is a dearth of research on the emergence of the unequal-armed balance, the dynamics of its development and the resulting technical knowledge in antiquity and late antiquity. This is all the more remarkable considering that the unequal-armed balance was presumably the most widespread and frequently used mechanical precision instrument in antiquity and late antiquity. The number of surviving artifacts is correspondingly large. It is precisely the large number of extant and relatively well documented artifacts, supplemented by textual and iconographic sources, that makes the unequal-armed balance a suitable model for a paradigmatic study of the origin, dynamics and development of technological innovations and the cultural conditions and effects of these innovations in antiquity and late antiquity.

In striving to apply models and concepts developed in recent innovation research on antiquity and late antiquity, this project aims both to arrive at a clearer understanding of the processes by which technology developed in this era and to contribute to the development of a general theory of innovation.


For a more comprehensive account of the project and the research agenda consult the projects web page.

Funding Institutions

Excellence Cluster 264