Top 10 Greatest Inventions and Discoveries of Ancient Greece

The Ancient Greeks are known to house a plethora of inventions and discoveries besides being the cradle of a whole new civilization.

Right from the genesis of vague ideas of art, culture and philosophy to concrete installations, the Greeks have availed all things for constant use of man.

Some of them are so futuristic that they are still being used large and full in almost every institution.

Most of these inventions and discoveries have merely undergone a varying degree of modification. However, they were first brought to life by the mighty Greeks in the then era. 

Here I have enlisted the top ten most significant inventions and discoveries of ancient Greece that are still in use today. 

10. The Olympics: Held in honor of Zeus

Ancient-greece-olympia
A place to train the wrestler and other athletes for Olympia.
Source: Wikimedia Common

The Olympics are more than just a discovery; they are an international phenomenon. The first record of the Olympic Games was on the plains of Olympia in ancient Greece in 776 B.C.

It was played in honour of their prominent God, Zeus and featured events such as the athletics, pentathlon and wrestling. Besides sportsmanship, the Olympics is also known for its religious significance to honour Zeus.

The tradition of holding the Olympics every four years also has its root in the initial Olympics of ancient Greece, and the hiatus was called ‘Olympiad’, which was a measuring unit then. 

The end of the Games possibly ceased their conflicts and Zeus, and his son Heracles is said to be the progenitors of the game. 

The game has kept the age-old tradition of happening every four years intact, but it has significantly increased its status and prestige.

Over the years, the game has thrived and has been hosted by many countries flourishing more than just games: a global movement on diplomacy and foreign relations. 

Thus, the Olympics birthed and reached its peak in the 5th and 6th century before befalling during the Roman reign and subsequent rulers. However, it resurfaced years later, and the next game is going to be held this year by South Korea. 

9. Money: The invention of first coin

Coin of Athens, (545–525/15) BC
First Coin Used in Athens, (545–525/15) BC
Source: Wikimedia Common

The concept of money is one of the most significant discoveries in the history of humankind. Even before the barter system (introduced in ancient India), the Lydians were using circular metal pieces (both silver and gold) the old Greek coins for trade which credits the Greeks with the discoveryFirst Coin Used in Athens, (545–525/15) BCof money.

The silver coins were known as ‘Drachma’ which meant ‘to grasp’. The Lydians were the first to use the stamped coins with different pictures on them minted circa 600-650 BC. 

Fast forward to the present day; money is the most important belonging of any person that comes second to a person’s body.

Perhaps the Greeks had never thought that something they had devised centuries ago could soar in its value so much and become one of the most significant things in life.

8. Maps: Concept of longitude and latitude

Hippocratic oath
A fragment of the oath on the 3rd-century
Source: Wikimedia Common

The ancient Greeks were the progenitors of cartography, and thus, we know of the maps. It was Anaximander (610-546 B.C.) who first invented a geographical map. 

The Greeks brought forth the concept of longitude and latitude, and Eratosthenes first used it.

Archimedes invented the odometer, which worked by counting the revolutions of the wheel on a cart with which one could make an accurate calculation of the distance. 

Cartography or the reading or making of maps has been handed down by the Greeks to us. They used this technique to traverse throughout the world.

Initially only present in an art form, map making technique is now beyond three dimensions thanks to the computers and can be digitized universally. Maps may be made from the satellite or via Google maps; either way, they are now made more convenient than ever. 

7. Theatre and Music

Music-in-Ancient-Greece

The ancient Greeks developed theatre to portray qualities such as patriotism, a homage to their holy Gods, equality and hospitality.

Thus, in pursuit of passing on this particular value as a legacy, people and practitioners started instilling them on their offspring and subsequently consolidated as a ritual in the 6th century. 

The ancient Greeks had a special place for music in their lives. They invented musical instruments such as panpipes which laid the foundations of the invention of the modern flute.

The greatest Greek music composer Michael Theodorakis has won global acclaim with his masterpieces like Epifanio and Zorba. 

6. Geometry: Pythagoras theorem | first book on Geometry

Pythagoras ( 570 - 495 BC)

In a right-angled triangle, the square of its hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the square ls of the other two sides.

Yes, I hated it too. The ancient Greeks, credited for the invention of mathematics and most of its formulae were ingenious.

We all are aware of the Pythagoras theorem. This theory, proposed by the Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras is Millenium years old.

The first book on Geometry was by a Greek mathematician Euclid in 300 BC. Besides this, the Attic or Herodianic numerals or the Greek numeral system was developed during 450 BC and came into use by the 7th BCE. 

Thales, of Ancient Greece, is said to be the first person to lay the foundations of abstract Geometry, formulating the Thales’s Theorem, Intercept Theorem among others.

Thus, the ancient Greeks greatly influenced the area of Geometry and numbers.

5. Astronomy 

Astronomy

The Greeks developed ‘astrolabe’, an instrument devised to determine the position of the Sun and the stars in the sky. The astronomers used it during the 200 BC which was the first known use of an astrophysical object. 

Ptolemy, Thales, Aristarchus, Hipparchus have contributed well to early astronomy. Pythagoras was the first one to dismiss the Flat Earth theory and assume that the Earth was spherical.

Although he reasoned it backed by mystics rather than scientific reasons. They also formulated a groundbreaking conclusion that the moon shone as a result of the reflection of light shed by the Sun. In addition to that, they also found an explanation for the eclipse. 

Aristotle presumed the size of the planet as 400,000 stadia (the equivalent of stadia is not available). However, it is generally believed to have been about 64,000 kilometers. Such foresight, considering the calculation at a time of bare minimum technical aids, is commendable. 

Similarly, Alexandria, Syene and Eratosthenes collaboratively presented another calculation tentatively matching the present time calculation. 

Deducing, we can say that the Greeks took observational astronomy to a whole new level providing leverage to the subsequent astronomers. 

4. Thermometer

History-of-Thermometer

The thermometer is one staple piece of possession that is domesticated universally. This boon was endowed upon us by Gabriel Fahrenheit. What is lesser known is that even before Gabriel, the Greeks had conceptualized this. 

The word thermometer also comes from the Greek words, ‘thermos’ meaning ‘warm’ and meter meaning ‘to measure’. The first thermometer ever was devoid of the thin rod that is present in the modern thermometric gizmo.

It was an ordinary device consisting of a tube filled with air and water. As the wind would heat, it consequently raised water. It observed the changes in temperature primarily.

The Greeks invented the thermoscope, which has a similar concept like Galileo’s air thermometer. Still, it was Galileo who first put the scales beside the tube and converted the device into a scientific instrument to distinguish between temperature and heat. 

3. Alarm Clock

History-of-Alarm-Clock- ancient greece

The ancient Greeks came up with the idea of an alarm clock. The world’s first alarm clock was created in 200 BC by Ctesibius (285-222 BC) who was an engineer far ahead of his time.

The traditional alarm clock that was made by the Greeks was nothing like the one we use today. It had a dial and a pointer for the time, and it had an alarm system that would drop pebbles into a Gong at a preset time. However, this apparatus did not produce sound enough to wake up a person. It required some productive method to put it to use.

The modern alarm clock is based on the same principles of the water clock. It’s amusing to think that the alarm clock has surpassed the test of time, still in use today. I cannot stop but wonder if the Greeks ever snoozed it for as many times after the alarm goes off. 

2. Aeolipile: First Steam Engine 

Heron, also known as Hero, an ancient Greek engineer who lived during the 1st century A.D. invented the steam engine.

He made it as a toy back when the people could not put much practical use of it. Hence, Hero of Alexandria was only posthumously credited and remembered. 

This primitive steam engine which was called aeolipile, had previously been speculating. It was Hero who went on to dramatize the concept and earn for himself the title of inventing it.

His apparatus featured a small sphere accompanied by two curved arcs perpendicularly placed to its axis.

When the water would heat inside the area due to a boiler set underneath, the arches would blow off steam, and consequently, the sphere would start rotating. 

It was a master plan cooked up by his ingenuity, who put to use wind power, fire and built a steam engine.

Much, much before the industrial revolution dawned on the face of humankind, Hero was a man who had invented it.

Today, it has many practical applications in every part of the industries and mining plants. If you are privileged to turn on the lights, connect to an adapter, you should be grateful to Hero, truly a hero. 

1. Medicine 

Hippocrates-c.-460-c.-370-B.C.

Perhaps the most significant contribution of the ancient Greeks should be medicines and the most famous and vital contributor in this field should be Hippocrates (c. 460- c. 370 BC). Known as the ‘Father of Medicine’, Hippocrates was a physician in Classical Greece. Hippocrates learnt medicine from his forefathers.

Since the ancient Greek was period pre-dominated by superstition; a sense of deep fear of God embedded in themselves that led them to believe that any disease caused was solely a punishment inflicted by Gods.

Hippocrates was the first person traced to have dismissed such convictions as false and preached that illness was a result of the surrounding environment and food consumed by the person. 

He is also known for writing a magnum opus, ‘Hippocratic Corpus’ where he has defined and identified many diseases with their causal factors. The book also identifies principal diagnosis with their prescribed remedies. Throughout his life, he traversed along with many cities practising medicine. 

It directly contributed to the medical field as he redefined diseases such as clubbing of fingers, lung cancer, cyanotic heart disease, etc.

He also introduced the famous Hippocratic Oath which the medical doctors have to take mandatorily. 

Thus, this man revolutionized the practice of medicine, and his legacy passed on to generations. For the same reason and others, he is best known as ‘The Great Hippocrates’ and deserves it. 

Conclusion

The ancient Greeks may be shrouded in mystery and may not have existed and to an extent, merely thriving in speculations.

Similarly, the life and times of these people and their culture may seem like a tiny chunk of history shelved in our cupboards, confined only to paper.

However, from dusk till dawn, any of the objects we use-from alarm clocks to computers to calculators to medicines we intake-all of them resonate with the ancient Greek history and stand as a testimony to their glorious history.

Thus, the study of ancient Greek history and their contributions are indispensable ingredients of understanding the contemporary world. 

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Cite this article as: Sandhya Ghimire, "Top 10 Greatest Inventions and Discoveries of Ancient Greece," in HistoryTen, May 14, 2020, https://historyten.com/greece/greatest-inventions-and-discoveries-ancient-greece/.
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