Different types of clocks used in ancient time

Clocks have been around for quite a while and they have had their fair share of impact on our lives. When humanity was still a bit young we used to mark time by the rising and setting of the sun. And a month by the waxing and waning of the moon. But as we grew we built better and more precise ways of telling time. And, one of our first tries to this was the water clock.

The Water Clock

One of the very first devices used to measure time was the water clock back in the 5th century B.C. To elaborate, some amount of water was put in a vessel. That was allowed to escape through a hole in the bottom. The time determined varied according to the size of the vessel and the hole made at the bottom

A picture of an ancient water clock to better elaborate "Different types of clocks used in ancient time"
Different types of clocks used in ancient time

It was all before we had the liberty of wearing fancy clocks on our wrist. Or even the scientific knowledge to make the atomic clock. Which helps function the internet as well as the GPS system properly. So, how was it possible for anyone to maintain some kind of a schedule? The very first things were sundials which made it possible to navigate through time but they only worked in the day time. So, Egyptians thought of making a time measurement device using the most common liquid around, water. They were educated enough to know that as the level of water in a container drops, the outflow of the stream coming out of the hole made will also drop

A picture of different flows of water to better elaborate "Different types of clocks used in ancient time?"
What is a water clock And how does it work?


They were one of the first instruments to be used for dividing up a day. It was used to divide up the day from sunrise to sunset to 12 equal parts. But, as the name tells, this clock was only useful in the day time

It used the shadow of an object exposed to the sun. And, as the sun went through its progressions throughout the day, it ultimately caused the shadow of the object to move and ultimately tell time

A picture of a sundial to better elaborate "Different types of clocks used in ancient time"
Different types of clocks used in ancient time

The sundial is considered the very first device that was used by the ancient people to figure out the time. The world’s oldest sundial is the “valley of king” which dates back to 1500 B.c. but some say that the history of sundials started way before that. There were different types of sundials that were used. Some made of stones and other made of wood

The Candle clocks

This came to be in China in near 500 A.D. An example of how it worked is that as the candle burnt down whilst the passing of the day the time would be determined by seeing how much the candle has already burnt and which mark it has crossed. To further elaborate, here is a picture

 A picture of the candle clock
Different types of clocks used in ancient time

Then came the mechanical clocks in the 14th century which soon became the standard. It started off by having a weight hanging from a pulley that turned the geared the single hand. Which indicated the hours as well as the portions of the hour. Then came the spring-wound clocks in the fifteenth century. This was around 1400 A.D. when coiled springs began to be used in clocks. And as most of the locksmiths were also clockmaker, hence they were simultaneously introduced in clocks too.

The sand Glass

Probably, the most famous of ancient clocks and there is a high chance you have at least seen it. The sandglass consists of two glass bulbs which are vertically connected with a narrow neck. The neck allows some amount of sand to pass through the upper glass to the lower glass. Usually, the upper and lower glasses are exactly alike, so the sandglass would measure the exact same time regardless of its orientation

A picture of a sunglass clock
Different types of clocks used in ancient time

The first sandglass clock is said to have been made by a french monk named Liutprand during the eighth century A.D. The sandglass clock is also known as the hourglass as it could only tell when an hour was up. They were used to set off blocks of time. And hence, they were all designed to measure one hour. Nowadays if you wish to buy an hourglass/sandglass for decor, there are some that cost thousands of dollars due to their unique history.

Pendulum clocks

This was a big jump in the clockverse when we talk about accuracy. This clock became popular trough the famous scientist Galileo and was the most accurate type of clock till 1930. It was officially first invented by Christian Hyuugans.

A picture of a pendulum to better elaborate "Different types of clocks used in ancient time"
Different types of clocks used in ancient time

A pendulum is the main timekeeping element of a pendulum clock. Clock pendulums are usually made out of weights suspended on a wood rod or a metal rod. In better clocks, the weights are usually heavier as it increases the accuracy of a pendulum. The pendulum is kept in its momentum with the help of an escapement. Each time the pendulum swings through its center position, it releases one tooth of the escape wheel.

The force of the clock’s mainspring or a driving weight hanging from a pulley, transmitted through the clock’s gear train, causes the wheel to turn, and a tooth presses against one of the pallets, giving the pendulum a short push. The clock’s wheels, geared to the escape wheel, move forward a fixed amount with each pendulum swing, advancing the clock’s hands at a steady rate. Usually, the pendulum can also be adjusted, mostly with an adjustment nut. Moving it up causes the pendulum to move faster and so the time is increased while moving it down causes the pendulum to go slower and so the time is decreased.

This was an extensive list of some of the most elegant ancient clocks. Hopefully, it was helpful and if you have any further related questions do use the comment section below.

Lastly, If you are interested in knowing why do pendulum clocks stop during earthquakesOpens in a new tab.. We wrote an article on that, so check it out. And stay tuned for more interesting articles about clocks

AK Iqbal

A University of London’ student with a passion for writing. Clocks have always intrigued me and the importance that they have in our lives is way beyond phenomenal. So, on this site, I write everything about clocks, everything from answering any clock-related queries that you might have along with recommending some of my favorite clocks accordingly. Moreover, I will also be conducting some researches on clock related topics and sharing the things that I learn. So stay tuned to ohmyclock for all the fun clocks related content

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