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These Ancient Greek Inventions Helped Shape Our World

 Ancient Greece has fascinated historians and writers for several centuries. The Greeks made significant contributions to philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine and were also known for their sophisticated sculpture and architecture. Their culture influenced the Roman Empire and many other civilizations and continues to inspire many cultures even today.
Ancient Greece is also credited with many inventions and discoveries that were expanded and adapted by subsequent generations. Many of them were unique and advanced for their times and many were revolutionary. The contribution of the Greeks to philosophy, medicine, architecture, and democracy is now well-known. However, they have bestowed the world with many other inventions, too. Here, we look at some important inventions and discoveries of ancient Greece that you might not be aware of.

1. The Odometer

 Ancient Greece Inventions, The OdometerImage source: Wikimedia Commons
The odometer is a widely used instrument today for indicating the distance traveled by a vehicle. These days, odometers are generally digital or a combination of digital and mechanical. However, you would be surprised to know that it was the Ancient Greeks who first invented this useful instrument. Back then, they were purely mechanical. The first mention of such a device was around 27 to 23 BC by Roman author Vitruvius. While he wasn’t Greek, historians believe that the device was developed in Ancient Greece. 
Interestingly, there’s still some debate around the original Greek inventor of the odometer - some believe it’s the renowned Greek mathematician, Hero of Alexandria, while others point out to Archimedes of Syracuse as its inventor sometime around the First Punic War. Alexandria, in fact, mentioned an odometer in his famous work, the Dioptra. Regardless of who the inventor was, the device was widely used in the late Hellenistic period and by the Romans for calculating the distance traveled by a vehicle. It also helped the ancient Greek civilization and assisted them in creating roads and bridges for traveling and setting milestones at specific distances.

2. Astrolabe

 Ancient Greece Inventions, Astrolabe
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
An astrolabe is an ancient instrument used to make astronomical measurements like altitudes of celestial bodies as well as the position of the Sun and the stars. The predecessors of the sundial, these cool devices were used in timekeeping, surveying, geography, and astronomy. The astrolabe is believed to have been invented sometime around 200 BC, and the Greek astronomer Hipparchus is often credited with its invention.
Several Greek scholars wrote comprehensive treatises and texts on the astrolabe and the instrument soon gained popularity all across the world. The tool was introduced to scholars in the early Middle Ages in Europe eventually where they began using it for navigation and for writing many texts. In the mid-15th century, the astrolabes were used by the mariners in celestial navigation.
The astrolabe is still common today as an ornament in many gardens and was indeed one of the priceless contributions made by Greece in the field of astronomy.

3. The Water Mill

 Ancient Greece Inventions, Water Mill
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Watermills were vital mechanical pieces of equipment that were first built in ancient Greece's hilly areas around the 3rd century BC. It was basically a water-powered mill for grinding grain, similar to the device that is still in use today. It was a groundbreaking invention in those days and helped in the process of milling and graining whole grains without the need of human force to achieve the task.
The early water mill consisted of one horizontal winged-wheel, a vertical axle, and two horizontal millstones. The big wheel used a relatively small amount of water to roll it on its axis and to mechanically move the grinding stone. The useful invention led to the production of edible food staples like rice, cereals, pulses, and flour. The water mill went through various modifications over the centuries and has helped people mill different raw materials.
Historical references, particularly by British historian M.J.T. Lewis, state that the Greek scientist and author Philon of Byzantion (ca. 280-220 BC) is likely to have invented the first water mill. He has even mentioned in his book, Pneumatica.

4. The Alarm Clock

 Ancient Greece Inventions, Alarm Clock
A majority of us have used the traditional alarm clocks while growing up and it is still one of the most commonly used gadgets in countless homes. This origin of this device, too, dates back to ancient Greece. The first alarm clock was created in ancient Greece, by Ctesibus (285–222 BC), a Hellenistic engineer and inventor. He mounted his clepsydras, or water clock, with a dial and pointer to indicate the time. Ctesibus then developed a system of dropping peddles, which were set to end at a specific time intervals, on a gong to make a sound. This went on to become the first alarm clock.
Later, ancient Greek philosopher Plato (428–348 BC) made his own version of an alarm clock with vessels. Water would be first poured into a top vessel which would trickle down at a specified rate to another bowl with an axial pipette.  When this second bowl filled, its water would swiftly fall into a third closed vessel, forcing air to come whistling out through a tube. It is said that Plato used the clock at night for indicating the beginning of his lectures at dawn. This might have been the first known awakening device in human history.

5. The Olympics

 Ancient Greece Inventions, The Olympics
The Olympic Games are a global phenomenon today. However, they started way back in ancient Greece. The ancient Games were staged in Olympia, Greece, from 776 BC through 393 AD and were dedicated to the Olympian gods. But at their heart, the Games were a religious festival that included a plethora of interesting games like running, jumping and throwing events, plus boxing, wrestling, pankration (a sort of mixed martial art which combined boxing and wrestling) and chariot racing. 
Initially, the Games lasted for a full five days and were viewed by at least 40,000 spectators packed into the stadium each day. People from all over Greece attended the Games, which was held once every four years, with a lot of excitement and the winners were given olive leaf wreaths or crowns as a prize. 
The first modern Olympics began in 1896 and the founder of the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Coubertin, is said to have taken extensive inspiration from the ancient Olympic Games.

6. Greek Fire

 Ancient Greece Inventions, Greek Fire
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Developed in the 7th century, Greek fire was a devastating and secret weapon that helped protect the Byzantine Empire for many centuries. The formula for the weapon was closely guarded and passed from emperor to emperor until the fall of the empire in 1453.
Historians later discovered that it was an incendiary weapon, a flaming liquid, that was extremely hard to contain and couldn’t even be put out after using water. In fact, it would burn even more forcefully after coming in contact with water and would stick to anything it would touch. Also called “sea fire” and “liquid fire” by the Byzantines, the liquid was heated, pressurized, and then delivered through a tube called a siphon. It was also thrown in pots or ship-mounted tubes.
Researchers have tried to figure out the ingredients of this Greek fire for years and it is believed that it was made from a combination of quicklime and naphtha or turpentine. In many ways, Greek fire was the ancestor of napalm, a deadly incendiary substance of 20th-century warfare.

7. Cartography

 Ancient Greece Inventions,Cartography
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
While the earliest known evidence of cartography (the study and practice of making maps) points towards ancient Babylon as early as the ninth century BC, it was not accurate and only displayed a small piece of land. It was the ancient Greeks who then formed the earliest paper maps that were used for navigation, and to outline certain areas of the Earth. A Greek philosopher, Anaximander, is credited to have made the first map of the world which included Europe, Asia, Libya, and the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Curiously, though, he believed that the earth was cylindrical and suspended in space and showed it likewise in his map.
Later on, when many of Anaximander’s theories were proved to be wrong, Hecataeus of Miletus created a map based on the philosopher’s work but with various improvements. The first person in history to include geographical coordinates into maps was Dicaearchus, a Greek geographer. This made finding locations easier. Herodotus, Eratosthenes, and Ptolemy were other well-known Greek mapmakers and their works were based on explorer observations and mathematical calculations. All of them played a significant part in creating accurate maps of the world and helping travel and navigation in ancient times.

8. Theatre

 Ancient Greece Inventions,Theatre
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Today, we can’t imagine a world without theater, movies, or musical shows. But if it wasn’t for the Ancient Greeks, theater may not have even existed. Several historians have traced the proper development of theater to the city-state of Athens. The word “theater”, in fact, has its roots in an Ancient Greek word théatron or "a place for viewing". Ancient Greek theater provided a great platform for many of today’s theatrical genres and traditions.
Greek theater was first established 6th century BC and commenced with festivals in Athens honoring the Greek god, Dionysus. Back then, ancient hymns, called dithyrambs, were sung in honor of the god. The Theater of Dionysius, which is still located near the Acropolis in Greece, was at the core of this festival. Interestingly, in ancient Greek theater, only three actors performed on stage at a time, where each performer was allowed to play multiple roles in the work’s production.
While there are no existing plays from the 6th century BC, historians have found that the earliest known actor was Thespis, from whom the term “thespian” originated and who went on to be known as the Father of Tragedy.
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