Medieval Robots Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art

E. R. Truitt

A thousand years before Isaac Asimov set down his Three Laws of Robotics, real and imagined automata appeared throughout European courts, liturgies, and literary texts. Medieval robots took such forms as talking statues, mechanical animals, or silent metal guardians; some served to entertain or instruct while others performed disciplinary or surveillance functions. Variously ascribed to artisanal genius, inexplicable cosmic forces, or demonic powers, these marvelous fabrications raised fundamental questions about knowledge, nature, and divine purpose in the Middle Ages.

Medieval Robots recovers the forgotten history of fantastical, aspirational, and terrifying machines that especially captivated Europe in imagination and reality between the ninth and fourteenth centuries. E. R. Truitt traces the different forms of self-moving or self-sustaining manufactured objects from their earliest appearances in the Latin West through centuries of mechanical and literary invention. Chronicled in romances and song as well as histories and encyclopedias, medieval automata were powerful cultural objects that probed the limits of natural philosophy, illuminated and challenged definitions of life and death, and epitomized the transformative and threatening potential of foreign knowledge and culture. This original and wide-ranging study reveals the convergence of science, technology, and imagination in medieval culture, and demonstrates the striking similarities between medieval and modern robotic and cybernetic visions.

Truitt cover


  • $55.00 cloth, 9780812246971
  • $55.00 ebook, 9780812291407
  • 312 pages
  • 36 color illus., 6 x 9 in.

about the author


E. R. Truitt specializes in medieval history and science and medicine. She received her A.B. from Wellesley, and her Ph.D. in the history of science from Harvard University in 2007. Her research interests include medieval technology, the occult sciences, courtly culture, imaginary lands and faraway places, and all aspects of the strange and weird ofthe medieval world.