Perpetual motion in the Middle Ages

The oldest European reference to a perpetual-motion machine is a drawing of an overbalanced wheel—clearly influenced by Arab models—in the notebook of Villard de Honnecourt, a 13th-century architect from Picardy. Another document shares the same geographic provenance: in his study on the lodestone, the 13th-century scientist Pierre de Maricourt presents a curious perpetual wheel powered by “magnetic induction.” Medieval evidence is generally scarce, because artisans and engineers did not communicate their knowledge in written form. However, we may reasonably assume that discussions of perpetual motion were common by the mid-14th century, as can be deduced from the works of these two authors, who refer to a debate between master-craftsmen and artisans that had been going on for some time.

Petrus Peregrinus, De magnete seu Rota perpetui motus libellus - Ms. Vat. Lat. 4082 (BAV), f. 195v
Petrus Peregrinus
De magnete seu Rota perpetui motus libellus
Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Ms. Vat. Lat. 4082, f. 195v
14th century
Villard de Honnecourt, Mechanical overbalanced wheel
Villard de Honnecourt
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms. Fr 19093, f. 5r