Saa’i Timekeeping Chronicles; Water Clocks

As another week goes by, and my obsession with time-telling devices just grows stronger. Admittedly, I enjoy these research sessions far too much. This week, I am obsessed with the wondrous creation that is a water clock.

The water clock, true to its name is a device which measures time by the flow of liquid, either into or out of an object. With the outflow clock, as expected, the time is measured by water leaving the bowl, the water will then trickle into another bowl which contains markings to indicate how much time has passed. With the inflow clock, time is measured by looking at how full the bowl gets. It also will have markings indicating the measurement of time. 

 It’s a simple device that is really quite clever if you think about it.


Water clocks date back centuries, it is actually not known when they were first discovered. They definitely existed in the 16th century and have been found in ancient Egypt, India and China. All of these civilisations developed these devices in a different way, and so many different versions of water clocks exist.

The Ancient Greeks and Romans took this device and created the “Clepsydra” – which literally means “water thief”. 

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The original water clocks had simple bowl-shaped devices which measured water and thereby measured time. One of the things that the Romans and Greeks did was to add an escapement mechanism into it. They eventually developed a stop-watch type of device controlled by accurately filling it and then stopping it with wax if necessary.

Eventually, these clocks came in many different forms and sizes, some featured dials, others had trap doors that swung open and some made noises. 

Ever so creative as they were, they used these devices for a variety of reasons. From measuring the amount of time appointments ran at brothels, the allocated time that speakers had in court, to even measuring heartbeats. Yup, you read that right, back in another world, Herophilos, a Greek physician used this device to measure heartbeats to figure out disorders. He figured out the connection between heart and pulse beats and even differentiated the size, strength, rate, and rhythms of hearts using water clocks.


They also incorporated it into other timekeeping devices, such as sundials.  One of the most famous examples of this is The Tower of the Winds which rests in Athens, this device is basically a timekeepers dream. 

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This marble structure is said to have been created around 100–50 BC, It consists of eight sundials, a water clock and a wind vane. The structure is heavily decorated with the eight so-called "wind deities", it truly is a sight for sore eyes.

When the Ottomans took over the territory, the device was turned into a tekke – a place for gatherings of those who belonged to the Sufi brotherhood. It was then used by whirling dervishes as part of their spiritual Sama ceremonies. To this day Turkish inscriptions can be found within it.

As gorgeous and clever as these devices are, I think I'll stick to my Saai Timepieces for the time being. 


Have you come across any fascinating time-keeping devices? Tweet us @saai_timepieces or comment below.

Mitta ThakrarComment