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“To know your future you must know your past“. George Santayana.
In modern times, the status of inventor or invention is attributed to who and when it was patented. Oftentimes, the title of ‘inventor’ is given to those who contributed most to the standardization of these inventions rather than the person who created the concept or idea.
The inventions we use daily are the result of many years of development and many individual contributions. Inventing is a continuous process of upgrading and retrofitting to suit the current times and although their contributions cannot be overstated, our list of ancient Greek inventions regards the initial idea/concepts (never before seen/heard/regarded) or proposer, as the respective invention and inventor.
Historically, Greece was the center of civilization for many years, and with good reason. With the likes of great thinkers like Pythagoras, Socrates, and Aristotle, ancient Greece was the origin of many inventors and inventions, some more popular than others. Here is a list of Ancient Greek Inventions you didn’t know about:
The way we viewed and navigated the earth has come a long way. In ancient times, people used landmarks, stars, and even their memory (reliable or not) to get to where they were going. For centuries, a more efficient and standard method of navigation needed to be adopted.
It was Hipparchus, a Greek astronomer (190-120 BC), who proposed latitude and longitude as a means to specify a location, i.e., coordinates. Theoretically, he established the concept of navigation and the foundation of how it would work.
Ptolemy, another Greek philosopher, incorporated the aforementioned coordinate system that would form the basis for the modern map and cartography. Although it was a great improvement at the time, this means of navigation was comparably inaccurate to today’s standards. With time and additional contributions from later inventors, like Gemma Frisius and the Italian astronomer Cassini John Harrison, navigation gradually has become more and more of an exact science.
Zoology, and many other natural sciences, are firmly rooted in the skill of observation. Historically, Aristotle is considered the father of Zoology because of his astute observatory skills in animal variety, structure, behavior, and classification. His meticulous approach to his studies is the foundation of many a science including taxonomy, biology, and psychology to name a few.
Aristotle’s zoology incorporated a basic scientific method to research and as such was limited to the knowledge and tools of the age, as suffered by earlier Greek philosophers, Anaximander and Theophrastus. Over the centuries there have been many universities founded in Europe that focused entirely on animal research and have taken Zoology to an entirely new level.
The invention of the thermometer has had its debate among scholars. The first thermometer was invented by Galileo Galilei in 1593 and was called a thermoscope. It was a very simple water thermometer comprising glass bulbs that rose and fell with the temperature changes. Nevertheless, for the first time, an instrument could provide proof of temperature variation. However, Philoof Byzantium, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher was the first one that conducted an early experiment on the expansion of air with heat. He created a device where a tube connected to a hollow sphere was extended over a jug of water. This concept was later improved by Galileo.
Soon after its invention and in the many years following, advancements were made in the design and function of the thermoscope. Italian inventor Santorio Santorio attached a numerical scale to the thermoscope allowing it to be finally considered a thermometer by the accepted standards. What we consider the modern thermometer was invented in 1714 by Gabriel Fahrenheit.
The Greeks loved organization and structure. This love was reflected in their culture, architecture, speech, and even thought. It is no surprise that the first known thesaurus was written in the 1st century by Philo of Byblos, a Greek writer, grammarian, and historian. It was called “On Synonyms”. There have also been records from the 4th Century CE of an Indian poet named Amara Sinha using a poem as a means of compiling their version of a thesaurus.
In 1805, British doctor Peter Mark Roget started not only compiling a list of words but also arranging them, by meaning, making it an efficient and user-friendly resource. He published the first modern thesaurus in 1852 and was called: “Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, Classified and Arranged So As to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.”
Everything has to start somewhere, and what we consider a steam engine today began its journey with Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes. He invented the first steam-powered device the “steam cannon’, introducing the practical applications of steam and its potential usefulness. Following Archimedes’ trend of thought, another Greek inventor named Hero of Alexandria fashioned the world’s first steam turbine, an aeolipile.
Concerning the application of these turbines, it was Jerónimo de Ayanz y Beaumont who first patented his invention of a steam-powered water pump in 1606, the first of its kind. Notably, Thomas Savery is credited for inventing the first commercially used steam-powered device.
No individual can truly claim the “invention” of the shower. Our ancestors, centuries prior, used waterfalls to clean themselves, and as such, the shower has been ever present with nature.
Traditionally, people had to travel long distances to find waterfalls to have a shower. With time, the Egyptians attempted to address this travel issue by ordering their servants to carry jugs of water to their residences primarily for showering. The servants would pour the water over their heads to emulate the waterfall.
The ancient Greeks were the first people to have showers within their cities (communal) and even homes (private). They introduced the concepts of sewage systems, running water, and what we would come to know as plumbing. There have been numerous advancements to showers since ancient times including the first patented mechanical shower invented by William Feetham.
How much more Greek can something get if it’s named after an ancient Greek legend? The myth of the marathon begins with a message. Pheidippides, a professional messenger, supposedly ran from Marathon to Athens (25 miles) carrying a message. Although the content of the message has been disputed, he undisputedly dropped dead upon its delivery, birthing the legend of Marathon.
The marathon race as an inclusion in the Olympic Games became a reality by the efforts of Michel Bréal and Pierre de Coubertin (the founder of the modern Olympics). Now it is a highly popular event for athletes and spectators alike. The winner of the first Olympic marathon was Spyridon Louis, a Greek water carrier.
Elevators have existed as early as ancient roman times. These rideable platforms were operated by animals, men, or sometimes water; primitive but effective nonetheless. Evidence of their existence can be found as early as the Egyptians when the pyramids were being built and The Colosseum, to raise gladiators, beasts, and more. The earliest elevator was made by Archimedes in 236 B.C. as recorded by the writings of Vitruvius.
Throughout history, many variations of the elevator have been discovered. In 1743, Louis XV had a “flying chair” built in the Palace of Versailles to allow him access to one of his mistresses. The King also had a “flying table” installed in his retreat château to carry meals from the downstairs kitchen to the dining hall, eliminating the need for assistance from servants.
By the mid-19th century, elevators were powered by steam or water and were more commonplace. However, it wasn’t until 1852 with the invention of the safety brake by Elisha Graves Otis that people began to trust its use and application in everyday life earning her the title of the father of elevators.
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