Although we can not say exactly what the origin of the hourglasses, apparently the Roman armies used them during the night preceding a battle. The first written references are the eighth century and his first appearance is in the monasteries and convents of the time, indicating the hours of prayer. Its use began to generalize from the fourteenth century and the best evidence is the fresco painted in 1338 by Ambrogio Lorenzetti entitled "Allegory of Good Government".
The hourglass began to be widely used in navigation, was an essential element contained in all lists of tools and rigging of ships. Used to mark the shift of guards on board, as well as the work on the boat and much later, when navigation began to be high and the marine lost sight of the coast, like measuring duration of the voyage in order to calculate the longitude where the ship was.
Its use was also popular on land, both secular and religious aspect. For example began to be used much in the kitchen, to measure the cooking of food and pastries. Since 1500 and with the appearance of the mechanical clock, hourglass began to fall into disuse, but has never completely disappeared.
Celebrity hourglasse was the one of Charlemagne, king of the Franks, was so big it was only necessary to flip every 12 hours. The oldest known is currently held in the British Museum in London.