Various sources on the internet - such as Crane (machine), A History Of The Crane and The sky is the limit: human powered cranes and lifting devices - state that the Ancient Greeks were the inventors of the crane sometime during the 6th century BC.

Cranes were adopted and improved upon by the Romans; the image below is the earliest depiction of a crane I've been able to find.

enter image description here

"...part of the rich decoration of the tomb of the Haterii, a family of builders who built their own tomb along the ancient via Labicana in the early years of the 2nd century A.D." (my highlighting) Source: museivaticani

This appears to be a treadwheel crane and the it's the only depiction of crane from ancient times I've found - more than 600 years after the crane was invented.

Are there any earlier depictions, for example in reliefs or vases or murals? If not, are there any other pre-medieval depictions of cranes?

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    Dang. Read the Title of the Q and was all set to go with Cheers, Season 3, Episode 1 (Sept 27, 1984). Should have known @LangLangC would have a better answer than me.
    – Kerry L
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 0:16

1 Answer 1


The Roman builder Lucceius Peculiaris would be another pre-medieval example.

enter image description here Lucceius ; Peculiaris ; Ex Biso ; Redemptor ; Fecit ; Prosceni.

Unfortunately it is apparently even a bit younger than the example from the question, 3rd century:

enter image description here Object Information - general
Presently located: Capua, Italien, IT, Museo Provinciale Campano - Place information is Aufbewahrungsort - Ort im Gazetteer Provenience: Italien, Capua / Santa Maria Capua Vetere, in den Ruinen des Theaters Category/Culture Area/Function: Inschrift; Relief; Weihung Belongs to monument: nein Initiated/Commissioned by: Lucceius Peculiaris redemptor prosceni cultural sphere: römisch Dating: spätrepublikanisch. - after: W. Fuchs - Ende/spätes 3. Cent. n. Chr. - Argument: Vergleich u. a. mit Köpfen vom Galeriusbogen sowie Gewändern auf dem Galerius- und Konstantinsbogen / after: G. Zimmer -

3631: Votivrelief des Lucceius Peculiaris Capua, Museo Provinciale Campano (larger version)

The illustrated manuscript Manuscript - Vat.lat.3225 also caled Vergilius Vaticanus from the 4th century contains scenes from "building a city"

enter image description here

The scene described in more detailed may mean:

Aeneas and Achats see Carthage under construction (f.13r); Aeneas in front of Didon (f.16r); Venus sends to Dido the Love in the form of Ascanius (f.17r). // {{Information |Description={{en|1=Folio 13r of the Vatican Vergil (Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225). Aeneas finds Carthage. Illustration of text from the Iliad.}} |Source=Vatican Vergil (Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3 Src: French WP and WikiMedia Commons

Romans are great, Greeks are even greater? But they are youngster. As this is about the oldest of these devices, we usually have to look into Mesopotamia or Egypt?

There we find enter image description here

This relief from Nineveh shows a man with a shaduf (A bucket attached to a long beam, weighted at one end, and balanced so that the bucket will rise easily.). He is changing the course of a stream to help Sennacherib's workers move a giant sculpture.
Alabaster wall panel relief in two parts: showing a winged bull for Sennacherib's palace leaving the quarry. The bull, roughly finished, has been placed on a sledge which advances on rollers, hauled by prisoners of war. Four overseers, two with trumpets, direct the operation from the top of the colossus. On the left, the king stands in hand-drawn chariot. Some men clear rocks from the track; others pull on a long lever, wedged into place to shift the load when it sticks. Below, men use buckets, attached to counterpoised arms to raise water and divert a stream. From Gypsum wall panel relief in two parts: showing a winged bull for Sennacherib's palace leaving the quarry.

Ruler: Sennacherib, Neo-Assyrian, Date 700BC–692BC

This type is believed by some to have been used in Nubian pyramid construction. enter image description here

In any case:

One of the earliest versions of the crane to be developed was the shaduf, first used to move water in Egypt about four thousand years ago. The shaduf consists of a long, pivoting beam balanced on a vertical support. A heavy weight is attached to one end of the beam and a bucket to the other. The user pulls the bucket down to the water supply, fills it, then allows the weight to pull the bucket up. The beam is then rotated to the desired position and the bucket is emptied. The shaduf is still used in rural areas of Egypt and India.

And from Augustan times

enter image description here Construction work was demanding. The expanded use of large pieces of marble and other heavy stones like granite necessitated ever-larger lifting apparatuses. Made of wood, there are scant material traces of these apparatuses, but they do appear in art and literature. A terracotta plaque from Via Cassia shows a general in armor standing amid representations of a military trophy, flying victory, and a kneeling representation identified as Roma. On either side are smaller figures operating wrench cranes to lift squared stones for massive walls (Schäfer 435–436; Figure 6) . Although interpretations of this scene vary, obviously, the inclusion of a building act assumes familiarity and potent meaning for construction. Similarly, a carving from Capua commemorating a vision by Lucceius Peculiaris, possibly a contractor for the Augustan rebuilding of the amphitheater, shows a hoist and treadwheel crane lifting a monolithic column (Sear 7). Vitruvius devoted an entire chapter to hoisting machines which he associates with a certain magnificence (10.1.2).

Diane Favro: "Reading Augustan Rome: Materiality as Rhetoric In Situ", Advances in the History of Rhetoric, 20:2, 180-195, DOI: 10.1080/15362426.2017.1326325

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    +1 for the Lucceius Peculiaris and Augustan images but I'm not aware of anyone accepting the shaduf as a crane. Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 22:57
  • @LarsBosteen Lucceius may be even older than what I wrote above (I got confused when Goggle led me to a another guy with similar name…, but haveb prolly found an earlier date for the structure; before the browser crashed. Need to recheck that.). –– Re shaduf: it is a mechanical lifting/hoisting device. Really: I thought before you update your Q with a stricter definition, I'll push save button in editor… ;) Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 23:01
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    @LarsBosteen I'm also quite the believer that eg there have to more pictures online. Alas, my credentials for a meta-search-engine have run out and that arachne link leads to yet another terribly 'designed' interface. But if you're really into it: self-answers are one way… ;) Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 23:10
  • You've done enough for me not to self-answer, and others may still post something. Re shaduf: I won't edit, but your inclusion of this may account for the downvote as it is not generally considered to be a crane. BTW, have you come across a detailed description of the 'building a city' image anywhere? Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 0:12
  • The book from the Vatican site itself is too badly digitised for my eyes to decipher. But fr.WP says: "Aeneas and Achats see Carthage under construction (f.13r); Aeneas in front of Dido (f.16r); Venus sends to Dido the Love in the form of Ascagne (f.17r)." Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 0:20

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