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Ten Ancient Greek Inventions Used Today

ancient Greek Inventions
Ten ancient Greek inventions. Credit: Thermos, CC BY-SA 2.5

There are a plethora of items we use in our daily lives which you may be surprised to hear are actually ancient Greek inventions. They may not have perfected the makeshift and primitive inventions, but they did pave the way for many of our modern conveniences.

Ancient Greek inventions that will shock you:

1. The Alarm Clock

Dating back to 428-348 BC, ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, was the first to have an alarm clock. Not to be confused with the digital alarms that we rely on nowadays, his was a ‘water clock.’ The design was as such that, after it had counted the desired time, it would play notes from a water organ—quite the alarm clock!

2. Automatic Doors

Another invention that we continually use, clueless to its Greek origin, is automatic doors. Of course, the prototype for automatic doors was powered by steam and not electricity. Heron of Alexandria created a hydraulic system and installed it at an Alexandrian temple, complete with fire, water, and steam. The ropes would be triggered and the doors pulled open.

3. Cement

Take a moment and look around…where would we be without cement? Although rooted from a Roman word, from 100 BC onwards, the Greeks had invented the first version of the binding building material to which they added limestone to a mixture of clay, water, and sand. Ruins of most of these early structures can be found on the coasts of modern-day Turkey.

4. Central Heating

In ancient times, the Greeks had a version of ‘forced air’ heat that was later perfected by the Romans. Basically, slaves would tend to a fire that was constantly burning which created the air that traversed the pipe system laid out under the floors.

5. Coin Money

You might complain when your wallet or purse feel bogged down by the weight of coins, but isn’t it better than carrying around a goat for which to barter? The systems of having tokens was already in place, but the ancient Greeks sought to organize it by introducing various sizes of coins made with different materials and therefore having different values.

6. The Crane

Along with other inventions that eased the tasks of building structures, the ancient Greeks invented the crane back in 6th century BC. This undoubtedly helped in lifting the heavy stones that they used to build their temples. The holes that are still evident today in these enormous blocks of stone are believed to be where they attached ropes to pull them into place.

7. Maps

One of the most important inventions of all time is maps. Nowadays, cars come with built-in GPS, and we have our cell phones with maps galore…so can you imagine how difficult it would be to get around without maps?

During his lifetime from 610-546 BC, Anaximander created maps in which he incorporated the concept of latitude and longitude. Later on, Helena Eratosthenes and Strabo created maps of the entire known world at the time, and in 6200 BC, maps were first produced in western literature. So, the next time you Google a destination or set your GPS coordinates, give a little shout-out to Anaximander!

8. Sinks with Running Water and Showers

That’s right, the Greeks were the first to have a system in which water ran freely so you could wash both of your hands at the same time. The ancient Greeks were quite big on hygiene and washed themselves with clay, drenching themselves in oils. They also had steam baths. Having the first automated sink with running water come from Greece seems only natural.

They were also the first people to have showers and an adequate sewage system. The complex water drainage system was run by aqueducts and sewage systems made of lead pipes from which water was pumped both into and out of large communal shower rooms, such as those discovered at Pergamum.

9. Umbrellas

They might have looked a bit ‘Flintstone-like,’ but they worked! Depictions detail umbrellas in ancient Greek society made of large bones and wood or plant leaves as far back as 4th century BC. Used to block the rain and sun in ancient times, it was considered ‘unmanly’ for a male to carry an umbrella, and paradoxically, Athenian women carried umbrellas as a symbol of subservience. Eventually, these stereotypes subsided as anyone who uses an umbrella on a rainy day in modern society is thought to be well-prepared and organized.

10. Vending Machines

Next time you kick the vending machine, trying in vain to release your paid-for snack from the grips of the mechanic claws, think of how far the vending machine has come over the years. The very first vending machine was invented by Heron of Alexandria back in c. 10 to 70 AD. Remember him?

He gave us automatic doors, as well. The ancient Greek mathematician and engineer resided in his native city of Alexandria, Roman Egypt, and was one of the greatest experimenters of his time. Of course, back in those days, you would put a coin into a slot at the top of the machine for a dose of holy water rather than Zingers.

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