Ancient Greek Inventions That Are Still Used Today

While many civilizations have come and gone throughout human history, not many made a technological and developmental impact similar to the Greeks. Whether this was through their complex machinery at the time or their ability to comprehend unique yet timeless ideas, Ancient Greeks were known to be some of the best inventors. To this end, many of their inventions, while being thousands of years old, are still in use! Let’s go over some of the most amazing Ancient Greek inventions that have managed to withstand the test of time.

Cartography (Maps)

Ptolemy's Map of the World (circa 150), Shows China, Sri Lank and the Southeast Asian Peninsula
A Reconstruction of Ptolemy's Map of the World (circa 150), Shows China, Sri Lank and the Southeast Asian Peninsula via Wikipedia

Cartography being the study and practice of map-making, is an essential science that has greatly impacted the world. It was initially brought up in ancient Babylon, although it wasn't until the Greeks that cartography became a full-fledged science with endless capabilities. Specifically, a man named Anaximander spent the majority of his life from 610-546 BC as a cartographer and made huge leaps in terms of a world map, astronomy, and even the concepts of latitude and longitude. Thanks to his immense contributions, maps became commonplace, and we can now roam around freely through cities with the help of our GPS systems!

The Alarm Clock

Ancient Alarm Clock
An Ancient Alarm Clock Used by Egyptians and Invented by the Greeks, via www.booksfact.com

One of the most difficult parts of going to work in the morning is waking up on time. Thankfully 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 renowned philosopher from Ancient Greece, Plato. Dating back to approximately 400 BC, Plato developed an ingenious design that used an integrated mechanism to time a machine that would trigger a water organ to play at a specified time. Although, parallel to Plato, many people credit the alarm clock to Ctesibus, an inventor from Alexandria. Cresibus took this design one step further by adding dials for time indication and even an elaborate system that would drop pebbles on a gong at a set time. Whatever the case may be, this Ancient Greek invention is still in use all around the world!

Odometer

GREECE - CIRCA 2006: a stamp printed in the Greece shows Odometer, by Hero of Alexandria, Ancient Greek Technology, circa 2006
A Stamp Printed in Greece Showing an Ancient Odometer, Printed in 2006

An invention often taken for granted by many today, the odometer is one that is present in various vehicles we use. Whether you are riding a bike or driving your car, the odometer is always working and letting you know how far you’ve travelled. However, this is also one of the many inventions that came out of Ancient Greek civilization. Specifically, with initial descriptions from the Roman military engineer Vitruvius, his accounts trace the roots of the first odometer, “Heron’s Odometer,” to the Heron of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician. Although, this topic is still under debate as many historians credit this invention to another Greek mathemetician, Archimedes of Syracuse, during the Punic war. Either way, it is surely an Ancient Greek invention 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 truly perfected this invention, the Ancient Greeks were the first to use centralized heating. Invented by the ancient Minoans, they used an underfloor vent system that was filled with hot air to keep the floor warm through conduction. Connected to this system would often be a fire which was kept alive by slaves according to the heating requirements. 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 lovely 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 came of Greek origin. The brainchild of the famous Greek mathemetician and avid inventor, Heron of Alexandria, these early designs used steam-powered hydraulics. Essentially, a combination of fire-heated air and an intricate rope system connecting the parts helped automatically open the doors. As time passed, this Greek invention was modernized and can now be seen in many buildings and urban establishments.

The Concept of Democracy

Caryatids in Erechtheum from Athenian Acropolis,Greece
The Caryatids in Erechtheum from the Athenian Acropolis in Greece

While this may not be a physical invention like the others on this list, it is still an insight into the 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, while there are traces of similar forms of government from as early as 5th century BCE, it wasn’t until 508 BCE in Athens that the true concept was formed. During this time, the city-state of Athens formulated a government form which allowed people to elect their leaders; thus, it gained a reputation as ‘the birthplace of democracy.

Vending Machine

Diagram Showing How the Ancient Greek Vending Machine Worked, via www.applevending.co.uk

Although this may seem like a recent invention to many, vending machines have actually been around for thousands of years. Initially invented by the famous Greek mathemetician who is credited with a plethora of inventions, Heron of Alexandria, the earliest vending machines came up 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 falls off, the valve closes and the holy water stops flowing. So, while it may have been a basic design, this shares a striking resemblance in functionality to modern vending machines, although usually with snacks instead of holy water.

Going through all these unique and fascinating inventions, it is evident that Ancient Greek civilization has affected our modern lives immensely. Just imagine if you never had central heating and had to spend winter months heating yourself with fire. Or, what if the alarm clock never existed and you had to hope for the best before bed every night? Thanks to these inventions and advancements by the Ancient Greeks, we can now enjoy many things in life!

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