The Silver Triton

Suetonius Claud. 21.6.13–16

In: Nuncius
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  • 1 Monash University Faculty of Information TechnologyAustralia
  • | 2 Macquarie UniversityAustraliaSydney
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This article assesses the imperial Roman technological options and cultural impetus for constructing and displaying an automaton Triton. Suetonius reports that such a figure announced the commencement of a staged sea battle organised by Emperor Claudius to entertain the Roman citizens in 52 CE. This automaton, whose feasibility we assess, fits neatly as an application of the pneumatic techniques summarised by Heron of Alexandria, who was probably alive at the time. By drawing attention to this little discussed passage of Suetonius, our article corroborates the idea that these techniques were useful – here contributing to the “media-image” and audio-visual culture of Claudius’ imperial agenda – and that their wondrous effects provided an intellectual bridge between their practical utility and their ability to contribute to the philosophy of science and technology.

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