Ancient Greek Inventions

Among the many great contributions of Ancient Greece to the global civilization, some inventions were destined to change forever the course of human history. The Greeks, inventive and imaginative as they were, did not hesitate to push the boundaries of science and engineering, thus offering mankind the tools to better understand the universe and to live a more fulfilled life.

9 Famous Ancient Greek Inventions to Know

Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism source: Tilemahos Efthimiadis from Athens, Greece, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Antikythera Mechanism is an ancient Greek hand-powered mechanical model of the Solar System. It has been described as the first analog computer and it is the oldest known device used to predict the positions of stars and planets. The artifact has been dated anywhere around 300 to 50 B.C, and it was retrieved from the sea in 1901.

The device could predict astronomical positions decades in advance, as well as keep track of the four-year cycle of the ancient Olympic Games. It is composed of 37 bronze gear wheels that enabled it to follow the movement of the moon and the sun through the zodiac. All the known fragments of the Antikythera mechanism are kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Klepsydra

Klepsydra - ancient greek invention
Klepsydra / source: Shutterstock

The klepsydra, or water clock, was a mechanism developed in ancient Greece to solve the problem created by the limited power of the sundial, the first timekeeping device, which could only work when the sun was out.

During the 4th century, klepsydra’s use was widely spread in public places in Ancient Greece, most often used in courts, to limit the speech time of lawyers and witnesses. Many other civilizations would soon adopt this time-keeping technology, also making a great effort to advance it even further. The klepsydra would eventually lead to the development of the mechanical and digital clock.

Ancient Greek Theatre

theatre of Dionysus in Athens

The origin of the Greek theatre is rooted in religious festivals, particularly dedicated to the god Dionysus. The authorities of the city-states held an annual festival to honor the god Dionysus to promote peace and community. The first shows were usually individual poets who used to act out their written works, which in due time they started to attract large audiences.

Competitions would also take place for who could create the best performance, with Thespis being the earliest recorded competition winner, and who is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of drama. Tragedy, comedy, and satyr plays were the three theatrical forms, with Aeschylus, Aristophanes, and Sophocles being among the most famous play writers.

Olympic Games

Olympia birthplace of the olympic games
Ancient Olympia birthplace of the olympic games

One of the most widely known contributions of ancient Greece to the world is the Olympic Games. These were a series of athletic competitions among the representatives of Greek city-states and one of the Panhellenic Games of ancient Greece. They were held in honor of Zeus, in the city of Olympia, with the first Olympics being traditionally dated to 776 B.C., the year which marked the beginning of the ancient Greek calendar.

They were celebrated every four years, and during the games, a truce was enacted so that the athletes could travel safely from their cities to the games. Among the competitions were the pentathlon, discus-throw, and the pankration, a form of wrestling.

Astrolabe

Astrolabe - ancient greek inventions
Astrolabe – ancient astronomical device for determining the coordinates and position of celestial objects / source: Shutterstock

An astrolabe is a two-dimensional model of the celestial sphere. An early astrolabe was invented in the Hellenistic era by Apollonius of Perga between 220 and 150 B.C., with its invention often attributed to Hipparchus. This mechanism was a combination of the planisphere and the dioptra, and it functioned as an analog calculator capable of working out several different problems in astronomy.

Astrolabes continued to be used during the Byzantine period as well. Around 550 A.D., Christian philosopher John Philoponus wrote the earliest extant treatise we have on the instrument. Overall, the portability and usefulness of the astrolabe made it something like a multipurpose computer.

Flamethrower

Arbalest flamethrower Greek fire, Byzantine Empire / source: Gts-tg/Wikimedia Commons

The earliest use of the flamethrower is recorded by Thucydides. It was first used by the Boeotians during the Peloponnesian War with the goal of burning down the Dilion walls. It consisted of a scooped out an iron-bound beam, which was ripped at length and had a bellow at the users’ end, with a cauldron hung with chains at the other end.

The use of the flamethrower against the stone wall was first described by the Greek architect Apollodorus of Damascus, who recommended a combination of fire and acid that could crack stone walls. Historians believe that the range of the flamethrower was five meters and that it could have also been used in naval battles when the ships came close together.

Levers

Levers were first described around 260 B.C. by the Greek mathematician Archimedes. They use a pulley system to lift up heavy objects using a minimum amount of force. It had a huge impact on various industries, especially in construction. The monumental Greek temples would have never been built if the Greeks did not first introduce the use of levers into mainstream use.

Archimedes’ screw

Hydro electric generation via Archimedes screws.

Archimedes’ screw, or water screw, is a machine used for transferring liquid materials from a low level to a higher one. It was invented by the Syracuse natural philosopher and scientist Archimedes, probably around 250 B.C. It represents a combination of two common simple machines, the inclined plane, and the cylinder, with the plane wrapping around the cylinder to make a common screw shape. This machine also facilitated irrigation and the transfer of many other materials, such as powders and grains.

You might also like: Famous Greek Philosophers.

Thermometer

Galileo Thermometer / source: Fenners, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Everyone is familiar with the modern-day thermometer, but the original technology behind it is really old, dating back to antiquity. It was the Greeks of Alexandria who first understood, during the 1st century B.C., how air expands when exposed to high temperatures.

The first thermometer was a simple device consisting of a tube filled with air and water. As the air grew heated, it would expand and cause the water to rise. In the medieval era, Philo of Byzantium was the first to apply this technique to determine the temperature, with the concept being improved later on by Galileo.

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