Ancient Greece can be credited with many inventions and discoveries, although many of these have been developed and adapted by subsequent generations. The ancient Greeks’ findings in the areas of astronomy, geography, and mathematics made them pioneers in the field of science. The Greeks’ interest in the scientific specification of the physical world can be seen as far back as the sixth century BC, and they have often been hailed as the fathers of science, medicine, zoology, and many other areas. Remarkable leaders like Alexander the Great and Pericles, and their innovative and philosophical ideas have motivated thousands of other intellectuals throughout history. Here is a list of the top 10 inventions and discoveries of ancient Greece that are still used today:
10. The Water Mill
Water mills were a revolutionary invention and have been used all over the world for the purpose of metal shaping, agriculture and, most importantly, milling. To mill means to grind, and that invariably means to grind grain. This in turn led to the production of edible food staples like rice, cereals, pulses, flour, and so on. Ever since its invention, the water mill has seen a number of adaptations, which have enabled people to use it to mill different raw materials. These mills are still used in many parts of the world and serve a similar function.
This useful invention takes its origins from the earliest known Perachora wheel, created way back in the third century BC in Greece, most likely invented by the contemporary Greek engineer Philo of Byzantium. Earlier, the portions of the mechanical treatise on this particular water mill written by Philo himself were regarded to have Arab origination. However, recent research by British historian M.J.T. Lewis has proved that the water mill was an ancient Greek invention.
9. The Odometer
One of the most widely used instruments in the present day, the odometer, measures the distance traveled by a vehicle such as a bicycle or automobile. Even though modern odometers are digital, not so long ago they were more mechanical, slowly evolving into electro-mechanical with the rise of technology. This omnipresent instrument was also being used in ancient Greece.
Vitruvius first described the odometer as being used for measuring distance around 27 BC, but evidence points towards Archimedes of Syracuse as its inventor sometime around the First Punic War. Some historians also attribute its invention to Heron of Alexandria. Regardless of who invented it, the odometer was widely used in the late Hellenistic period and by the Romans for indicating the distance traveled by a vehicle. It helped revolutionize the building of roads by accurately measuring distance. The Romans were then able to carefully mark distances with milestones.
8. The Alarm Clock
One of the most commonly used gadgets these days is the alarm clock, and it too had its origins in ancient Greece. Over time, the alarm clock has undergone a number of changes and improvements from the mechanical alarm to modern gadgets like cell phones, which come with an inbuilt alarm.
But the first alarms used by the ancient Greeks were nothing like today. The Hellenistic engineer and inventor Ctesibius (285–222 BC) fitted his clepsydras or water clock with a dial and pointer to indicate the time, and added an elaborate alarm system which involved pebbles dropping on to a gong, or the blowing of a trumpet by forcing bell jars down into water and taking the compressed air through a beating reed at pre-set times. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato (428–348 BC) was said to possess a large water clock with an unspecified alarm signal similar to the sound of a water organ. He used it at night, possibly for signaling the beginning of his lectures at dawn.
Cartography is the study and practice of making maps. It has played an important role in travel and navigation since ancient times. Even though the earliest known evidence of cartography points towards ancient Babylon as early as the ninth century BC, the Greeks took what they had at their disposal and brought cartography into a new light. Anaximander was one of the first pioneer cartographers to create a map of the world. Born between 611 and 610 BC, he made important contributions to the science of astronomy and geography.
Anaximander is mentioned in Aristotle’s work, who categorized him as a pupil of the physical school of thought, propounded by Thales. Anaximander included all inhabited areas of the world in his map. The map appeared in tablet form and featured Ionia in the center. It was bounded on the east by the Caspian Sea and stretched to the Pillars of Hercules in the west. Middle Europe borders the map in the north while Ethiopia and the Nile feature at the southern end.
Anaximander made immense contributions in the fields of cartography and geography and his map of the world was indeed a marvelous achievement of that time.
The modern Olympics are one of the greatest sporting spectacles of the modern age. But when Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the international Olympic committee, started the first modern Olympics in 1896, he was inspired by the ancient Olympics that were held in Greece more than 2,700 years ago. According to historical records, the first ancient Olympic Games can be traced back to 776 BC. They were dedicated to the Olympian gods and were staged on the plains of Olympia.
The Isthmian Games was staged every two years at the Isthmus of Corinth. The Pythian Games took place every four years near Delphi. The most famous games held at Olympia in the southwest of Greece took place every four years. People from all over the Greek world came to witness the spectacle. The victors were given olive leaf wreaths or crowns as prizes.
5. Basis of Geometry
Geometry is doubtless one of the oldest branches of mathematics, possibly older than arithmetic itself. And its practical necessity demanded the use of various geometric techniques way before any of these were recorded in history. The Egyptians, Babylonians, and the Indus were among the first to incorporate and use many such techniques but they never worked out the rules and axioms governing geometry. The Babylonians assumed value of Pi to be 3 and never challenged its accuracy.
Then came the age of Greek geometry and everything changed. The Greeks insisted that geometric facts must be established by deductive reasoning, much as it is done today. Thales of Miletus, regarded as the father of geometry, proposed a number of axioms and rules that were truly based on reasoning (called mathematical truths) in the sixth century BC. Then came the likes of Pythagoras, Euclid, and Archimedes whose geometrical axioms and rules are still taught in schools today. There were many more Greek mathematicians and geometers who contributed to the history of geometry, but these names are the true giants, the ones who developed geometry as we know it today.
4. Earliest Practice of Medicine
The ancient world did not fare too well when it came to the curing of disease. Back then, diseases were supposed to be the gods’ way of punishing humans and all possible remedies were surrounded by superstition. That all changed when Hippocrates of Cos started to collect data and conduct experiments to show that disease was a natural process; that the signs and symptoms of a disease were caused by the natural reactions of the body to the disease process. Born in 460 BC, Hippocrates was an ancient Greek physician of the Classical age and was considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He was referred to as the father of Western medicine in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field and was the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine.
The most famous of his contributions is the Hippocratic Oath, which bears his name. It was this document that first proposed an ethical standard among doctors. It covers many important concepts which are still used today such as doctor–patient confidentiality.
3. Modern Philosophy
Before the age of ancient Greece, the world did not see philosophy as we see it today. It was more shrouded in superstition and magic than it ever would be. For instance, the Egyptians believed that if the Nile rose and flooded, making the soil dark and fertile, their pharaoh had commanded it. But the Greeks approached philosophy from a different direction. They developed philosophy as a way of understanding the world around them, without resorting to religion, myth, or magic. In fact the early Greek philosophers were also scientists who observed and studied the known world, the earth, seas, mountains, solar system, planetary motion, and astral phenomena.
Their philosophy, based on reasoning and observation of the known world, played a pivotal role in the shaping of the Western philosophical tradition. Philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were such influential philosophers that their studies were used to teach subsequent ages of Romans and other Western cultures.
2. Concept of Democracy
The idea of every citizen having equal opportunity and a say in government constitutes the concept of democracy. It is one of the most widely used styles of governance in the modern world. And even more fascinating is the fact that democracy also had its origins in ancient Greece. In fact, the concept and the implementation of democracy can be traced back from the present day to ancient Athens.
Although there is evidence that democratic forms of government, in a broad sense, may have existed in several areas of the world well before the turn of the fifth century, it is generally believed that the concepts of democracy and the constitution were created in one particular place and time – in ancient Athens around 508 BC. For this reason, Athens is regarded as the birthplace of democracy. This transition from exploitation by the aristocracy to a political system where all members of society have an equal share of formal political power had a significant impact on future civilizations.
1. Discoveries in Modern Science
It would only be fair to say that, given the evidence, the ancient Greeks made some outstanding contributions in various branches of science. They made some astounding discoveries in the fields of astronomy, biology, and physics that broke with contemporary stereotypes. Many ancient Greek intellectuals excelled in mathematics, physics, and astronomy.
Aristotle introduced the idea of the earth as a globe. He also classified animals and is often referred to as the father of zoology. Theophrastus was the first botanist that we know of in written history. The Pythagoreans not only made the earliest advances in philosophy and geometry, but they also proposed the heliocentric hypothesis of the earth revolving around the sun and not the other way around as was believed at that time. This idea was so ahead of its time that it was regarded as blasphemy. Archimedes discovered that submerging a solid object in water would displace the same amount of liquid as the object’s weight. The Greeks had so much influence in the early concepts of science that most symbols used in physics and math equations are derived from the Greek alphabet.
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Without a doubt, Greek society inspired the achievements that shaped the foundation of ancient Western civilization. They were daring enough to go in directions no other civilization had ventured into before. They went on to accomplish great feats in the arts, philosophy, science, architecture, and many more. Although some of their ideas may have been discarded over time, many of the ancient Greeks’ discoveries and inventions are still used today. The major discovery that the sun is in the center of the solar system was once ignored, but later rediscovered and agreed upon. From cannons to plumbing, urban planning, wheelbarrows, showers, lighthouses, canals and many more, ancient Greek inventions and discoveries are numerous and widespread. A single list cannot do them justice.