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Ancient Greek Inventions That are Still Used Today

ancient greek inventions
The Parthenon in Athens. Credit: Paolina27/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Many Ancient Greek inventions, although created many centuries ago, still play an incredibly large role in our daily lives today.

Aside from core theoretical concepts such as philosophy and democracy, ancient Greeks contributed many mechanical inventions to the world that we still use today.

Alarm clocks, odometers were inventions of the Ancient Greeks

The first alarm clock was created in Ancient Greece by Ctesibus, a Hellenistic engineer and inventor.

Much to the dismay of all those who love to sleep in, Ctesibus cleverly developed an elaborate system of dropping pebbles onto a gong in order to make a sound.

ancient greek inventions
Ctesibius’ water clock, the first alarm clock, as depicted by an architect in the 17th century. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

This sound was set to occur at specific time intervals, and could be used to wake people up or remind them of important events throughout the day.

The odometer, a tool used to measure the distance traveled by a vehicle, was also invented in Greece. There is great debate, whoever, as to which ancient Greek should be credited for the invention.

ancient greek inventions
Hero of Alexandria, as shown in a 9th century manuscript. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

Some say it was the Hero of Alexandria, one of the most prolific inventors of antiquity, who created the odometer, while others claim that it was Archimedes who first constructed the incredible tool.

Despite debates surrounding the identity of its creator, the invention of the odometer aided ancient Greek civilization by allowing for the construction of roads.

This linked the the towns at vast edges of the Greek world by an intricate web of roadways, increasing trade and interconnectedness across the ancient world.

We owe central heating, thermometers to Ancient Greece

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The Library of Celsus at Ephesus. Credit: Benh LIEU SONG /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Central heating and thermometers, inventions that many could not live without, were created by ancient Greeks.

According to archaeological discoveries at the ancient Greek site in Turkey, the Temple of Ephesus was kept warm in antiquity using flues under its floor to circulate the heat from fires kept burning underneath the sprawling temple complex.

The original concept for today’s thermometer dates back almost 2,000 years.

The Greeks of Alexandria were the first who figured out how air expands when exposed to high temperatures. Philo of Byzantium was the first to apply this technique to a physical invention and create the first thermometer.

Maps and levers are inventions created by Ancient Greeks

The Greek scientist Anaximander was the first who conceptualized the ideas of longitude and latitude, both of which are required to create an accurate map.

Later, Strabo and Eratosthenes created maps using Anaximander’s discoveries. Their maps, which spanned the entire known world at the time, were incredibly useful.

ancient greek inventions
Archimedes’ Lever. Credit:Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

The lever, which has an unlimited amount of uses in building of all kinds, was first described by the Greek mathematician Archimedes in 260 BC.

The use of the lever eventually made the construction of the iconic, massive buildings of the ancient era possible, and were even used to help ships disembark from port and set sail.

The Antikythera Mechanism: the world’s first computer

ancient greek inventions
The Antikythera Mechanism, known worldwide as the world’s first computer, was created by ancient Greeks. Credit: National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The day the Antikythera Mechanism, one of the most significant and impressive inventions of the ancient Greeks, was discovered in 1901 is celebrated across the scientific world.

This astoundingly intricate machine is an ancient Greek device which many scientists consider the world’s first computer.

The Antikythera Mechanism was discovered inside an ancient shipwreck by Greek sponge divers in 1901.

After numerous studies, it was estimated to have been constructed between 150 BC and 100 BC. A later study places it at 205 BC, just seven years after the death of Archimedes.

Antikythera shipwreck
Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

And now — exactly 120 years later — the astounding machine has been recreated once again, using 3-D imagery, by a brilliant group of researchers from University College London (UCL).

Not only is the recreation a thing of great beauty and amazing genius, it has made possible a new understanding of how it worked.

Since only 82 fragments of the original mechanism are extant – comprising only one third of the entire calculator – this left researchers stymied as to its full capabilities.

Until this moment, the front of the Mechanism, containing most of the gears, has been a bit of a Holy Grail for marine archaeologists and astronomers.

Using computer modeling, the UCL researchers have reconstructed the ancient computer, allowing them to more fully grasp exactly what it was meant to do.

By employing the information gleaned from recent x-rays of the computer, and their knowledge of ancient Greek mathematics, the UCL researchers have now shown that they can demonstrate how the mechanism determined the cycles of the planets Venus and Saturn.

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