The water clock or clepsydra comes from the Greek word klepsydra, "thief of water", as it was used to limit the speaking time of lawyers during trials. 

It is thought to have been invented by the Egyptians in the 16th century BC. It is unreliable because the speed of the flow varies according to the temperature and pressure of the water, 

From the eleventh to the thirteenth century, documentary sources about water clocks are more numerous, but their interpretations remain ambiguous.

For example, a manuscript mentions that in 1176 a college of church commissioners was established in Sens Cathedral to supervise the clock. In 1198, an ordinance stipulated that the men in charge of the clock during the week risked a fine if they did not wind the mechanism in time. In 1867, G. Juillot, a member of the city's Archaeological Society, concluded with certainty that the clock was "weighted and stamped". A. Ungerer, in a 1931 book, makes it a "mechanical clock", which is even more implausible (according to Gerhard Dohrn-van Rossum, notes 4-52);

According to Jocelin de Brakeland, in 1198, during a fire in Bury St Edmunds Abbey, the monks rushed to the clock to fetch water. There is no ambiguity here, the 'horologium' is powered by water, so it is a hydraulic clock whose reservoir was large enough to put out the occasional fire.

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