clepsydra (klĕpˈsĭdrə) [key] or water clock, ancient device for measuring time by means of the flow of water from a container. A simple form of clepsydra was an earthenware vessel with a small opening through which the water dripped; as the water level dropped, it exposed marks on the walls of the vessel that indicated the time that had elapsed since the vessel was full. More elaborate clepsydras were later developed. Some were double vessels, the larger one below containing a float that rose with the water and marked the hours on a scale. A form more closely foreshadowing the clock had a cord fastened to the float so that it turned a wheel, whose movement indicated the time. A further step was the use of gear wheels and a turning pointer. It is believed that clepsydras were used in Egypt c.2000 B.C.; from Egypt they were introduced into Greece and later from there into Rome.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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