The Ancient Greeks are widely known to shape most of the western culture - their contribution to philosophy, democracy, medicine, architecture, and mathematics cannot be disputed. However, there are other smaller elements of Ancient Greek culture that are still in practice today, and most of us are not even aware of where they came from. Customs like the birthday cake, which seem so natural as though they had existed since the dawn of time do have their roots somewhere…
These are 5 everyday customs and traditions that have surprisingly originated in Ancient Greece.
This inseparable, and arguably the best, part of birthday celebrations has its roots in Ancient Greece. The celebration of birthdays originated in Ancient Egypt where the people believed pharaohs became gods when they were crowned. Their coronation, the day they were “born” as gods, was a day of celebration every year. The Ancient Greeks adopted the custom and were the ones to add a dessert to the festivities.
Ancient Greek birthday cakes were moon-shaped, to be offered as a tribute to Artemis, the goddess of the moon. To make the cakes shine like the moon, they were decorated with lit candles. If you wonder about blowing the candles in making a wish, that bit was added much later, in 18th century Germany.
The first records of trial by jury come from Ancient Greece. During the 5th century BC a jury was established in Athens. It was massive by today’s standards; a typical jury consisted of 501 Athenian men, but for major or controversial cases, it could be expanded to over a thousand members always in an odd number. The jurors were so many in number to prevent any bribery from taking place.
Cases were decided by simple majority rule. After both the defendant and accuser had presented their arguments, the jury voted by placing a specific disk in a marked urn.
Among their many great contributions to the world, the Ancient Greeks also left us the vending machine. However, the Greeks’ vending machines didn’t dispense candy and snacks but rather holy water. They were invented by scientist and mathematician Hero of Alexandria c. 10-70 AD, and described in detail in his book 'Pneumatics'.
Hero’s vending machine operated much like the modern version does - you inserted a coin into a slot, then the coin hits a pan, which was attached to a lever. When the coin hit, the lever would move, opening a valve, through which the holy water came out. These vending machines were a way for temples to earn some money while also helping the people worship.