Top 10 Lesser-Known Greek Contributions

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When people think of Ancient Greek contributions to the world, they usually think of Democracy, the Olympic Games, mythology, philosophy, architecture, tragedy, comedy and theatre among others. It’s no secret that Greece, even though a small dot on the map, gave birth to many great things and it is widely considered to be the mother of Western Civilization. Even though most people are aware that almost everything related to western culture started in Greece, there’s much more associated with it than most people realize. With this list, we are not only aiming to enlighten, but to shock as well with some well-hidden and forgotten modern inventions that come from antiquity.

Automatic doors

Automatic doors were first invented in ancient Greece to assist the polytheistic society. As there were many Gods in Greece, the priests and other religious figures for each God had to come up with new ways to keep the masses coming with offerings. To this end, they created automatic doors that were placed within the altar at the place of worship. When a person made an offering to one of the Gods, the doors of the altar opened, thanks to a fire being ignited within the altar. This same idea was used to move statues within the place of worship.

It is believed that Heron of Alexandria designed the first of automatic doors, which worked via compressed air or water. Evidence also exists that when someone lit the fire within the altar a thin rain of flavored water would pour down upon those attending the religious event in the temple, while various metal birds would sing and whistle and statues would move or fly. Other research has provided evidence to show that priests could effectively control the lighting inside and outside of the temple and produce an artificial fog to give to the litany a more mysterious character.

Cannons

Ever wonder why the Ancient Greeks were invincible for hundreds of years? We have concrete proof that an Ancient Greece invented the first cannon. Of course, we are referring to the first steam cannon designed and created by Archimedes during the Siege of Syracuse. This specific weapon was highly advanced for its era and fired cannon balls that weighed about 26 kilograms (57 lbs). These cannon balls could cover an astonishing distance of about 1,100 meters. This cannon is widely considered to be the world’s first gun operated with steam.

Robots

While it might sound crazy, it is true that the first robot was designed and created by an Ancient Greek mathematician and general scientist named Archytas around 400-350 BCE.

Archytas, also known as “the father of mechanical engineering” was the one who designed and created a highly advanced, wooden pigeon that used compressed steam to make it function and fly. In his quest to learn how birds fly, Archytas decided to create his own bird because he felt like it would help him relate better to those he was studying. His bird was capable of flying between 200 or 300 meters before running out of steam, a unique achievement if one takes into account the era it was made. Despite the fact that Archytas created the specific artificial bird for a different purpose, he “accidentally” gave to the world the first robot and flying machine ever.

Heliocentrism

Before Copernicus made his discovery, Greek astronomers noticed that the Earth and the rest of the planets revolve around a relatively stationary Sun at the center of the solar system. Many great thinkers and scientists in Ancient Greece, such as Philolaus, Heraclides of Pontus, Seleucus of Seleucia, Aristarchus of Samos and Hypatia (who, according to one version of the story, was murdered for her beliefs and scientific studies), had proposed a heliocentric system almost two thousand years before Copernicus. Many historians and astronomers believe that Aristarchus of Samos might have been the first person to construct a complete and scientific heliocentric system. Unfortunately, his work has been lost to time. Based on one of his essay that has survived, historians have also learned that Aristarchus was probably the first person to calculate almost precisely the size of the Earth and measured the size and distance of the Moon and Sun.

Watermill

Evidence exists that humans have used watermills since the Neolithic Ages as millstones and pestles made from crystalline rocks, which people use to grind wheat, have been found dating to this era. In the 16th century B.C. the first form of a mill, known as a quern, was found in modern-day Cyprus. The earliest evidence of a watermill can be found in the wheel of Perachora, which is estimated to have been created during the 3rd century BC. in Greece. Remains of mills similar to the ones that we use today can be found in the ancient agora of Athens, which many historians believe means that the use of mills was already well-underway in Greece before Roman reign. However, the earliest written, concrete proof that we have for the existence of a watermill comes from Greek engineer Philo of Byzantium, who mentions in one of his works water wheels that people frequently used in Alexandria, during the Hellenistic period. Thus, this invention can be placed in Greece between 250 and 240 B.C.

Clock Tower (and Weather Station)

When people think of clock towers, they usually think of the most famous one, Big Ben. When it comes to weather stations, the first image that comes to mind is usually a lot of snow, Antarctica and some loner inside a shelter filled with awesome technology and complicated machines saving the world from gigantic tsunamis. However, the first clock tower and weather station came from sunny Athens. 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. It is believed that this tower was built in 47 BC. Today, it can still be admired by the millions of tourists who go to Athens each year as it still stands in the ancient Agora, which is located in one of the most beautiful and visited neighborhoods in the world – Plaka.

Alarm Clock

The first awakening device in history was an Ancient Greek creation as well. To be more specific, it came from the great philosopher Plato, which is why it is known as “The alarm clock of Plato.”

Plato invented a night clock and gave it the form of an hourglass. The upper, ceramic vessel was the “reception” of the calculated water, which would supply water through a pipe to the next vessel. From there, a programmed time would evacuate the water through an internally located axial pipette to next a closed vessel. When water was forced into the closed vessel, it forced the contained air to whistling through a tube at its top, making a sharp and annoying noise capable to wake up a person. At the bottom of the device was a fourth vessel, which collected the water so that it could be used again later.

Lighthouses

During the 3rd century B.C., Ancient Greeks built, in Alexandria, a lighthouse to guide ships safety to port. The city, located in Egypt, was under the control of Greece at that time and named after Alexander the Great. At night, a large fire would be built within the tower of the lighthouse. Ship captains could see this fire from long distances out at sea, allowing them a clear idea of where they were going. During the day, the large plume of smoke from the extinguished fire provided the same guidance. This lighthouse was designed by Greek architect and engineer, Sostratus of Cnidus.

The lighthouse at Alexandria was meant to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was the first known lighthouse in the world and remained in place for 1,500 years.

Central Heating

Even though the Romans often get credit for the invention of central heating, it was actually the Greeks who invented it. Before the Romans came up with the hypocaust system, the Minoans placed pipes under the floors of their homes through which they passed warm water to keep the rooms and floors warm in the winter. Wealthier citizens, who could afford better technology, 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. These inventions were discussed in 1900 when British archaeologist Arthur Evans unearthed the palace of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete and introduced the modern world to one of the most advanced and complete civilizations in history – the Minoan Civilization.

Showers

Next time you take a hot shower, you might want to thank the Ancient Greeks. Well, almost, as they enjoyed taking cold showers instead of hot showers. The Romans might be famous for their luxurious spas and baths , but it was the Greeks who invented modern showers. The first real bathrooms with showers similar to the ones we have today, with water coming through a pipe from a pump, were invented and widely used by Ancient Greek athletes. After training, usually in Gymnasia (gyms in Ancient Greece) and Palaestras, athletes would take a cold shower in the changing rooms since sanity and beauty was one of the principal elements in ancient Greece.

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