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5 Ancient Greek Customs We Still Practice Today

 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.


1. Birthday Cake

Common Customs That Originate in Ancient Greece birthday cake

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.

Related: These Ancient Greek Inventions Helped Shape Our World

2. Jury

Common Customs That Originate in Ancient Greece jury

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.

3. Spa Treatments

Common Customs That Originate in Ancient Greece spa treatments
As you may know, Ancient Greeks were the first to come up with a system of running water and drainage. They were very keen on hygiene, so it’s only natural that bathing became ritualized. In her book, ‘The Book of Bath’ Françoise de Bonneville writes that in 6th century BC Greece, "Bathing was becoming an art – of cleansing sands, hot water, hot air in dark vaulted "vapor baths", a cooling plunge, a rubdown with aromatic oils.” Many of these practices are still in use today in spa facilities. 

4. Vending Machines

Common Customs That Originate in Ancient Greece vending machines

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.

Related: 12 Popular Inventions That Are Actually From Ancient China

5. Umbrellas

Common Customs That Originate in Ancient Greece umbrella
The forefathers of modern umbrellas were invented in Ancient Greece, too. Depictions of umbrellas made of large bones and wood or plant leaves at the top date back to 4th century BC. These devices were used to block the sun or rain. Interestingly, it was seen as ‘unmanly’ to carry an umbrella in Ancient Greece, and Athenian women did so as a sign of subservience.
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