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10 Things We Wouldn't Have Without Ancient Greece: #1: Maps

10 Things We Wouldn’t Have Without Ancient Greece: #1: Maps

Hellenic News
Hellenic News
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Archeologists have found evidence of very crude maps of various forms–cave paintings of the stars, for example–but it wasn’t until pre-Socratic philosopher Anaximander published the first world map that cartography, as we know it today, really took off. His world map inspired many philosophers and historians to try their own hand at map-making, and generally the accuracy level improved with each try. It was his contribution that really ignited a societal interest in having accurate maps, and in geography in general. Anaximander may have even designed his world map on a slightly rounded surface, allowing for the convexity of the earth.

#2: Coins

The history of coins is not incredibly clear–mostly because there aren’t many written accounts describing their invention, manufacturing process, etc. Some of the oldest coins in existence appear to have come from Aegina Island (made roughly around 700 BCE) and from Ephesus (650 BCE). Some scholars, however, refute this claim, and there is an ongoing argument about the true origins of coins. However, it is undeniable that Ancient Greece popularized the use of coins as a form of payment–a system that was then adopted by the Romans and spread across Europe.

#3: Central Heating

Though it was the Romans who eventually perfected this system (called hypocaust), the Greeks were the first to heat a building by circulating hot air under the floors. Archeological evidence shows that the Temple of Ephesus was built so that hot air from the fire could be circulated under the temple floor through a system of pipes and vents.

#4: Automatic Doors
Auto Doors

Heron of Alexandria was an ancient Greek engineer and is still considered the most important inventor of classical antiquity. He designed and built an incredible amount of impressive machines, but perhaps one of his most impressive inventions is the world’s first automatic door. Designed for a temple, Heron’s engine, called the aeolipile, worked with heat, water, and pressurized air (plus a few weighted buckets), to turn a spindle that, as it revolved, opened the temple doors.

#5: Alarm Clock

Records indicate that the first alarm clock was owned by Greek philosopher, Plato! Like many Greeks at the time, Plato appears to have owned a water clock–a mechanism that marked the passage of time using water–but his was slightly different. It was made with an added mechanism that “chimed” twice a day–once in the evening and once at dawn. This design was then improved upon by Ctesibius, a famous Greek engineer who made the alarm clock truly programmable–giving its owner full control over the alarm (and thus full control over when to wake up).

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#6: Thermometer

Philo of Byzantium (along with Heron of Alexandria) understood that certain substances expand when exposed to heat. He used this principle to create the first rudimentary thermometer–a glass tube filled with a water/air interface. When placed in hot water or under the hot sun, the water/air interface inside Philo’s thermometer moved along the tube. This device was then used to tell the hotness or coldness of the air. As time went on, subsequent scientists (notably Galileo) improved upon the design, adding a system of numbers to quantify the movement of the interface and thus the temperature.

#7: Plumbing

In Ancient Greece, hygiene was an extremely important part of daily life. It’s most likely because of this that plumbing became so advanced in Ancient Greece–thanks to well-built aqueducts, the Greeks (particularly in Athens) enjoyed fountains, wastewater sewage systems, floodwater drainage, and perhaps most importantly, elaborate bath-houses that included some of the first showers. In fact, some households even enjoyed the luxury of sinks and running water.

#8: Lighthouses

Ancient lighthouses were somewhat different than their modern counterparts–instead of warning ships away from reefs and other dangers, ancient lighthouses were meant to draw mariners in. This was, of course, a time when ports were not so clearly defined as they are now, and ships would find their way to port by following a fire that had been lit on a hilltop. Over time, the ancients reasoned that the higher the fire, the better the visibility for mariners, so they started building fires on tall platforms–a practice which eventually led to the building of lighthouses.

The most famous ancient lighthouse was the Lighthouse of Alexandria, sometimes called the Pharos of Alexandria, which was built during the Ptolemaic Kingdom and was about 450 feet tall. For many centuries it was considered one of the tallest man-made structures in the world, which led to its being considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

#9: Sports Bras

Believe it or not, but the concept of a sports bra–or a bra specifically made to restrain the breasts during physical activity–may have originated in Ancient Greece. What started out as an apodesmos–a tight band of linen tied under the breasts to accentuate them (an ancient Wonderbra, if you will), eventually evolved into a mastodeton–a similar band worn across the breasts to contain and minimize them. This became popular attire for female athletes during activities like running and gymnastics, and was eventually adopted by Roman ladies (who called them strophia), who wore them to minimize the appearance of their breasts (large breasts were not considered attractive at this time in Rome).

#10: Vending Machines

vending machineRemember our friend Heron of Alexandria? He also put his genius to work in inventing the world’s first vending machine. Of course, his was a little different than the vending machines we have today–instead of getting a snack, you’d get a portion of holy water for use in the temples. When a temple-goer dropped a coin into the machine, the coin fell onto a tray connected to a lever. The weight of the coin triggered the opening of a valve, through which the holy water would pour. Once the coin slid off the tray, the lever snapped back into place and the valve closed. Heron designed this so that no temple-goer could take more holy water than he needed (apparently the stealing of holy water was a big problem back then!)

The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.


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