Ancient Greek Inventions That Are Still Used Today

While many civilizations have come and gone throughout human history, few have had a technological and developmental impact similar to that of the Greeks. Whether it was their complex machinery at the time or their ability to understand unique yet timeless ideas, the ancient Greeks were known to be some of the best inventors. To this end, many of their inventions, although thousands of years old, are still in use! Let’s review some of the most amazing ancient Greek inventions that have managed to stand the test of time.

Cartography (Maps)

A reconstruction of Ptolemy’s world map (c. 150), shows China, Sri Lanka and the Southeast Asian peninsula via Wikipedia

Cartography being the study and practice of cartography, is an essential science that has had a tremendous impact on the world. It was initially mentioned in ancient Babylon, although it was only among the Greeks that cartography became a science in its own right with infinite capabilities. Specifically, a man named Anaximander spent most of his life from 610 to 546 BC as a cartographer and made huge advancements in terms of world maps, astronomy, and even concepts of latitude and location. longitude. Thanks to his immense contributions, maps have become commonplace and we can now move freely around cities using our GPS systems!

The alarm

old alarm clock
An ancient alarm clock used by the Egyptians and invented by the Greeks, via www.booksfact.com

One of the hardest parts of going to work in the morning is waking up on time. Luckily, with our trusty alarm clocks, waking up is much easier and you can be sure you’ll make it to work! For this amazing invention, we have to thank the famous ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. Dating back to around 400 BC, Plato developed an ingenious design that used a built-in mechanism to time a machine that would trigger a water organ to play at a specific time. Although, alongside Plato, many people attribute the revival to Ctesibus, an inventor from Alexandria. Cresibus took this design one step further by adding dials for timekeeping and even an elaborate system that would drop pebbles onto a gong at a set time. Anyway, this invention of ancient Greece is still used all over the world!

Odometer

GREECE - CIRCA 2006: a stamp printed in Greece shows Odometer, by Hero of Alexandria, Ancient Greek Technology, circa 2006
A stamp printed in Greece showing an old odometer, printed in 2006

An invention often taken for granted by many today, the odometer is one that is present in various vehicles that we use. Whether you’re cycling or driving your car, the odometer always works and shows you the distance traveled. However, it is also one of the many inventions that came out of ancient Greek civilization. Specifically, with initial descriptions by the Roman military engineer Vitruvius, his accounts trace the roots of the first odometer, “the heron’s odometer”, to the heron of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician. Although this subject is still under debate, many historians attribute this invention to another Greek mathematician, Archimedes of Syracuse, during the Punic War. Either way, this is surely an invention from ancient Greece that is still in use today!

Central heating systems

Underfloor heating system created by the ancient Greeks, via www.greecehighdefinition.com

Although it was quite primitive at the time, and the Romans really perfected this invention, the ancient Greeks were the first to use centralized heating. Invented by the ancient Minoans, they used an underfloor ventilation system that was filled with hot air to keep the floor warm by conduction. Connected to this system, there was often a fire which was tended by slaves according to heating needs. One of the earliest examples of such a heating system was discovered at the Temple of Artemis. So while it may not be as advanced as it is now, this system was a precursor to the beautiful warmth we enjoy in our homes today.

Automatic doors

First automatic door invented in ancient Greece, via www.greecehighdefinition.com

Powered by steam instead of electricity as we know it today, the first automatic doors are of Greek origin. Dreamed up by the famous Greek mathematician and passionate inventor, Heron of Alexandria, these early designs used steam hydraulics. Essentially, a combination of fire-heated air and an intricate rope system connecting the rooms allowed the doors to open automatically. Over time, this Greek invention was modernized and can be found today in many buildings and urban establishments.

The concept of democracy

Caryatids at Erechtheum of Acropolis of Athens, Greece
The Caryatids at Erechtheum of the Acropolis of Athens in Greece

While it may not be a physical invention like the others on this list, it is still a glimpse into advanced developments made by the ancient Greeks. Specifically, democracy, one of the most popular forms of government today where the public elects representatives, was actually invented in ancient Greece. Specifically, although there are traces of similar forms of government as early as the 5th century BCE, it was not until 508 BCE in Athens that the true concept was formed. Meanwhile, the city-state of Athens formulated a form of government that allowed the people to elect their rulers; thus, it gained a reputation as the “cradle of democracy”.

Vending machine

Diagram showing how the old Greek vending machine worked, via www.applevending.co.uk

Although it may seem like a recent invention to many, vending machines have been around for thousands of years. Originally invented by the famous Greek mathematician who is credited with a plethora of inventions, Hero of Alexandria, the first vending machines appeared between 10 and 70 AD. Using Greek coins, he created a device that would accept a coin, drop it onto a pan that would pull a lever, and finally open a valve that would dispense holy water. Once the coin drops, the valve closes and the holy water stops flowing. So, although it is a basic design, it shares a striking resemblance in functionality to modern vending machines, albeit usually with snacks instead of holy water.

Going through all these unique and fascinating inventions, it is evident that the ancient Greek civilization has greatly affected our modern lives. Imagine if you never had central heating and you had to spend the winter months warming yourself with a fire. Or, what if waking up never happened and you had to hope for the best before you went to bed every night? Thanks to these inventions and advancements of the ancient Greeks, we can now enjoy many things in life!

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