When you hear the words “ancient Greece” what do you think about? Does your mind wander to the very first Olympics? Maybe it recalls the mythology of the Greek gods. It might even remind you of ancient Greece’s role in the development of democracy. It’s true, there are many things we would not have today if it wasn’t for ancient Greece such as vending machines, classical architecture, anchors, sinks, coins and more. But even though most people are aware that many things related to Western culture originated in Greece, there’s much more associated with it than we realize. In fact, if you look around, you’re bound to see or interact with something that has its roots in ancient Greece. Take a look for yourself with these 25 Things We Would Not Have Without Ancient Greece.
Despite the fact that most people believe urban planning is a relatively modern innovation (from the last two centuries), Hippodamus, the ancient Greek architect and urban planner, is considered by most historians to be the “father of city planning” for his design of Miletus. His plans of Greek cities were characterized by order and regularity in contrast to the intricacy and confusion common to cities of that period, including Athens. He is seen as the originator of the idea that a town plan might formally embody and clarify a rational social order.
The earliest evidence of a watermill can be found in the wheel of Perachora, estimated to have been created during the third century BCE in Greece. However, the earliest recorded proof we have for the existence of a watermill comes from the Greek engineer Philo of Byzantium, who mentions in one of his works water wheels that people frequently used in Alexandria during the Hellenistic period.
Way before Copernicus, several Greek astronomers had noticed that Earth revolved around a relatively stationary sun at the center of the solar system. Many notable scientists such as Philolaus, Heraclides of Pontus, Seleucus of Seleucia, Aristarchus of Samos, and Hypatia had proposed a heliocentric system almost two thousand years before Copernicus.
The ancient Greeks set a high standard for themselves in promoting physical and mental fitness. This was a concept reflected in their approach to exercise and cleanliness. Athens required many aqueducts to bring water from the mountains and in order to do that they developed highly extensive plumbing systems for baths and fountains, as well as for personal use within homes. The water supplies were directed to storage cisterns, which in turn fed a multitude of street fountains, some of which are still in use today.
This omnipresent instrument is another contribution of the ancient Greeks. It was used to measure the distance between cities and is believed to have been first used systematically by Alexander the Great’s bematists Diognetus and Baeton to measure the distances of routes traveled.
Anaximander, one of the most important pre-Socratic philosophers, is credited with the invention of maps and cartography. Despite maps being produced before his time in Egypt, Lydia, the Middle East, and Babylon, they focused exclusively on sole directions, roads, towns, and borders. Anaximander’s innovation was to represent the entire inhabited land known to the ancient Greeks.
Before the development of clearly defined ports in ancient Greece, mariners were guided by fires set on hilltops. Since raising the fire would improve visibility, placing the fire on a platform became a practice that led to the development of the lighthouse. The most famous lighthouse of antiquity was the Pharos of Alexandria, which was built during the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt around 280–247 BCE and designed by the Greek architect Sostratus of Cnidus.
During the sixth century BCE the Greeks invented a way to lift heavy stone blocks onto emerging temple walls, which we know today as a crane. Holes drilled into the stone suggest ropes were attached to the blocks so it could be pulled up.
The first coins were developed independently in Iron Age Anatolia and Archaic Greece around 600–700 BCE. In this way the Greeks became the first to develop coins of different sizes and materials depending on their value which were then used to buy or trade goods.
Clock Towers (and Weather Station)
When people think of clock towers, they usually think of medieval Europe, but in reality the first clock tower was built in ancient Greece. The Tower of the Winds in Athens, right under the Acropolis, was the first clock tower and weather station. It helped local merchants estimate the time of delivery for their products and, at the same time, helped them protect their freight from extreme weather conditions.
Before the Romans came up with the hypocaust system, the Greeks, specifically the Minoans, had a system of their own. The Greeks would place pipes under floors in their homes through which they passed warm water in order to keep the rooms and floors heated during the winter season. For this reason they usually built their homes so that the tile floors were supported by cylindrical pillars, creating a space beneath the floor where hot vapors from a central fire could circulate and spread through flues in the walls.
The ancient Greeks were the first to have an automated sink with running water, so both hands could be washed at the same time. They washed themselves with lumps of clay, had steam baths, and rubbed their skin with oil, which they then scraped off with an instrument called a strigil, along with any dirt.
The ancient Greeks were the first to use baskets of stones, large sacks filled with sand, and wooden logs filled with lead as anchors. Such anchors held the vessel merely by their weight and by their friction along the bottom. Iron was afterward introduced for the construction of anchors, and an improvement was made by producing them with teeth to fasten themselves to the bottom.
The ancient Greeks were the first people to have showers. Their aqueducts and sewage systems made of lead pipes allowed water to be pumped into and out of large communal shower rooms used by the elite and common citizens alike.
When you think of an automatic sliding door you probably think it’s a fairly modern thing, but that’s not true. The Greeks invented automatic sliding doors for temples in order to add mystic qualities to them and to assist their polytheistic culture. The first automatic doors worked via compressed air or water.
The first awakening device in human history, also known as “Plato’s Alarm Clock,” was a contribution of the famous philosopher and bears his name. This genius device worked with water.
According to the Smithsonian, the “Pigeon” of Archytas was a wooden bird that could flap its wings and fly (up to two hundred meters), powered by some sort of compressed air or internal steam engine. Archytas created the artificial bird to study what gives birds the ability to fly and ended up accidentally giving to the world the first flying machine in history.
Vending machines might look like modern marvels, but they are actually pretty old. Greek inventor Hero of Alexandria made one around 215 B.C. which dispensed holy water to temple worshipers. A coin was dropped into a slot and came to rest on a metal pan, where its weight pushed the pan down to open a valve and dispense water. Once the coin’s weight made the pan tilt at a severe angle, the coin would slide off and return the pan to an upright position, shutting the valve off.
The original technology behind the thermometer is quite old, dating back almost two thousand years. It was the Greeks of Alexandria who first figured out how air expands when exposed to high temperatures. It was Philo of Byzantium who first applied this technique to determine air temperature, and Galileo later improved on it by introducing the concept of a “scale” to quantify the process.
Greek architects created the three major architectural orders of antiquity (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian) that continue to influence the world to this day. Greek architecture provided not only many of the staple features of modern Western architecture, but has also given the world magnificent buildings which have literally stood the test of time and continue to inspire admiration, the Parthenon being a prime example.
The city-state of Athens is where theater was born. It was part of a broader culture of theatricality and performance in classical Greece that included festivals, religious rituals, athletics, music, poetry, weddings, and even funerals. In fact, even the word theater is derived from the Greek word théatron, which means “a place for viewing.”
What is known as “the automatic servant of Philon” was the first operating robot. It was a human-like robot in the form of a maid that held a jug of wine in her right hand. When the visitor placed a cup in the palm of her left hand, she automatically poured wine and then poured water into the cup, mixing it when desired.
Arguably the three most famous, influential philosophers of all time; Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, are widely considered the fathers of Western philosophy and freethinking. Even the term philosophy derives from the Greek word φιλοσοφία (philosophia), which was probably first coined by Pythagoras and means “love of wisdom” or “friend of wisdom.” Through philosophy the Greeks became the first people in recorded history to try to interpret the world, nature, reality, and existence from a human perspective.
The First Analog Computer/Calculator
Okay, we admit we might be stretching it a little by calling “the Antikythera mechanism” an analog computer, but the fact remains that it is the earliest preserved portable astronomical calculator in recorded history. It could display the positions of the sun, the moon, and most probably the four planets besides Earth known to antiquity: Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. It was also used to predict solar and lunar eclipses and kept an accurate calendar of many years.
According to some historians, logic is an even more important ancient Greek contribution than philosophy. Logic was first developed by Aristotle. Aristotelian logic became widely accepted in science and mathematics and remained in wide use in most parts of the world until the early nineteenth century. Aristotle’s system of logic was responsible for the introduction of hypothetical syllogism, temporal modal logic, and inductive logic, as well as influential terms such as terms, predicables, syllogisms, and propositions.