11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World

Theodoros - May 2, 2018

When you hear the words “Ancient Greece” what do you usually think about? Does your mind wander to the very first Olympics? Maybe it recalls the mythology of the Greek gods? Could it be Socrates, Plato and Aristotle that you think about as Greece is the motherland of philosophy? Alexander the Great and the spread of Greek culture through his vast empire? It might even remind you of ancient Greece’s role in the development of democracy. It’s true that there are many things we would not have today if it wasn’t for ancient Greece.

By taking a simple look at the world map today you would never believe that Greece, which is nothing but a small country, currently known as a beautiful tourist destination in southern Europe, had once dominated, influenced and colonized many parts of modern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Despite many people being aware that Greece is without a doubt one of the most significant and influential nations of all time with amazing contributions to human culture, it seems that very few are aware of how advanced the ancient Greeks were on a technological level as well. A number of inventions and discoveries on technological field are attributed to them, even though some of them have been improved throughout the centuries. The ancient Greeks, however, were too amazing to be true, even by modern standards and the following list proves that in a triumphant way.

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World
Terracotta pipes in ancient Greek houses had indoor running hot and cold water. Greatancestors.com

Central Heating Didn’t Cost a Thing in Ancient Greece

A few years ago, Russian president Putin bluffed that he would cut off Europe’s gas and the European leaders almost fell to their knees out of fear, ready to beg so they would not freeze to death during the winter. The ancient Greeks, however, would just give the middle finger to anyone who would make such a threat since their heating wasn’t based on gas, oil, or electricity and most importantly didn’t cost them anything. Before the Romans came up with the hypocaust system, the Greeks, specifically the Minoans, first placed pipes under the floors in their homes through which they passed warm water to keep the rooms and floors warm in the winter.

For this reason they usually built their homes in a way so that the tile floors were supported by cylindrical pillars, creating a space beneath the floor where hot vapors from a central fire could circulate and spread through flues in the walls. Central heating was the first truly reliable source of heat in antiquity and protected the Greeks from various diseases such as the common cold, hypothermia and freezing to death. The first known use of central heating was in the Temple of Artemis in the Greek city-state of Ephesus, which was also one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. Another notable system of centralized heating was discovered in Olympia (motherland of the Olympics) and was a bath house.

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World
The Antikythera Mechanism, Also Known as the World’s First Computer. Wikipedia

They Had Analog Computers That Did Not Need Electricity or Recharging

All right, the term analog computer that some archaeologists used back in the ’60s might be slightly exaggerated but the undeniable fact is that The Antikythera Mechanism, which was recovered in 1900 -01 from the Antikythera wreck, is the earliest preserved portable astronomical calculator in history from what we know at this point in time. It displayed the positions of the sun, the moon, and most probably the four planets known in antiquity, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter. It was used to predict solar and lunar eclipses and kept an accurate calendar for the Olympic Games, while scientists have admitted that the Antikythera Mechanism is probably the most advanced and complex ancient device ever discovered. For decades, scientific investigation failed to come to a safe conclusion and pretty much relied more on imagination than the actual facts.

Now we know that the archaic artifact has a clock mechanism and constituting of about 40 hand-cut bronze gears and its construction dates to the second half of the 2nd century BC. The complicated mechanism was protected by a wooden case, which had a bronze plaque on the front and the back. Scientists have examined meticulously the world’s oldest computer to find that the Antikythera mechanism even had instructions to use on its wooden casing. It had a single dial which showed the Greek zodiac and Egyptian calendar at the front and two dials at the back that gave information about lunar cycles and eclipses.

The Antikythera mechanism bears witness to the astronomical, mathematical, and mechanical ingenuity of the ancient Greeks who worked with calculators that did not need batteries or electricity. Now that’s truly genius, isn’t it? The world’s oldest computer is currently on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World
Replica of the “The Pigeon,” the world’s first known robot. Outerplaces.com

Contrary to Popular Belief It Was the Ancient Greeks Who Invented the First Robot

When most people think of robots, they normally think of electronic devices and machines in the shape of humans—just like cyborgs or androids—but truth is that the definition of the word robot covers a wider range than this. The first time we meet the word robot in recorded history was as recent as 1920 by Karel Capek and his brother, Josef Capek, but the fact is that the ancient Greeks had invented them well before that. Almost 2,250 years before the Capek brothers came up with the word robot, an ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician, and apparently the founder of mechanical science, Archytas, invented the first robot.

From the writings of another Greek inventor, Hero of Alexandria, we get to know about “The Pigeon” of Archytas. It is believed that the wooden bird was capable of flapping its wings and flying up to 200 meters, powered by some sort of compressed air or internal steam engine. Contemporary historians suggest though that the artificial dove was connected to a cable and flew with the help of a pulley and counterweight. The funny thing, however, is that Archytas created the artificial bird for a different purpose: to study what gives birds the ability to fly and ended up giving to the world, accidentally, the first robot and flying machine in history.

Almost two thousand years after Archytas came up with the pigeon, another great polymath that was obsessed with flight, Leonardo Da Vinci, studied birds meticulously in order to unlock their secrets and understand their flight system. He was based on the information that he had collected about bird’s flight (including the pigeon of Archytas) to create his famed “ornithopter.” For the record, in his notes, Da Vinci mentions bats, kites and birds as sources of his inspiration.

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World
The Parthenon in Athens, also known as the “Cradle of Western Civilization.” Wikimedia Commons.

Incredible Architecture That We Imitate Nowadays

Even if you’re not a fan of Greek culture, you have no choice but to accept that the Parthenon is one the most perfectly designed and built structures in the history of humankind. It’s no secret that Classic Greek architecture has been imitated more than any other architectural style and buildings such as the Louvre in Paris, the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, and the US Capitol among others are nothing but copies of ancient Greek temples and structures. Furthermore, ancient Greek architecture has influenced many world architectural movements throughout the centuries, such as the movement of Renaissance and the Neoclassical style.

For that matter, the neoclassical architectural style became so popular during the 19th century in Greece to the point that several architects at the time referred to it as the revival of the classical architecture. The Greek Revival architecture went on becoming a global phenomenon and during the mid-1800s it became known as the national style in the United States as well. The first major public building constructed in this style was the Second Bank of the United States, built in Philadelphia between 1819 and 1824. The architect used the Doric order as a model, but without sculptural decoration. This plainer look became fairly common.

However, various architecture surveys and studies conducted by the biggest universities have shown that even with modern technology we can only imitate the appearance of the Parthenon, not design and build again such a marvelous feat of architectural craftsmanship nearly 2,500 years later. Despite many of the modern masterpieces around the world being inspired by the architecture in Greece, particularly the ancient Greek style of Doric, Ionic or Corinthian rhythm, experts describe them as plain imitations.

Ancient Greek architecture, on the other hand, is distinguished by its highly formalized characteristics, both of structure and decoration that makes it incomparable. This is particularly so in the case of temples where each building appears to have been conceived as a sculptural entity within the landscape, most often raised on high ground so that the elegance of its proportions and the effects of light on its surfaces might be viewed from all angles. Nikolaus Pevsner, a decorated German scholar of the history of art (especially that of architecture), said it best, “the plastic shape of the [Greek] temple … placed before us with a physical presence more intense, more alive than that of any later building.”

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World
Plato’s Legendary Alarm Clock Worked with Water. Ekathimerini.

Alarm Clocks That Worked With Water Not Batteries

Ever heard about “The Alarm Clock of Plato,” which by the way happens to be the first waking device in history? It may sound unbelievable but the ancient Greeks had alarm clocks way before modern technology “invented” them. Despite their love of logical rigor, our ancestors weren’t always precise in the ancient world. And that’s pretty normal if you take into consideration how they had no access to precise time-keeping. However, some people didn’t like to break their promise and most likely Plato was one of them. Apparently, the legendary philosopher had to find a way to be consistent with his students, in order to teach them the secrets of ancient Greek philosophy at a certain time every day. Unsurprisingly, he was the one who invented the first alarm clock in history.

For the ones who may not be familiar with him, Plato is one of the world’s most famous and studied philosophers in history and he’s known for being the most notable student of Socrates, while he would later become the teacher of Aristotle. There are many levels of controversy regarding Plato’s works and in what order he wrote them, due to their antiquity and the manner of their preservation throughout the centuries. Regardless, his earliest works are generally regarded as the most reliable of the ancient sources on Socrates.

The great philosopher is also remembered for designing the first alarm clock in the shape of an hourglass. The upper, ceramic vessel was the “reservoir” of the calculated water, which supplied water through a pipe to the next vessel and from there a programmed time evacuated the water through an internally located axial pipette to a next, closed vessel. When water was forced into the closed vessel, it forced the contained air to whistle through a tube at the top, making a sharp, annoying noise capable not only of waking you up but also of driving you crazy. Obviously, if you’re as smart as Plato you don’t have to worry about batteries and electric-powered devices.

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World
Ancient Greek pottery portraying the first showers,in history. Greeker than Greek.

Showers in Ancient Greece Didn’t Allow Water Waste

Several modern historians argue about the true origins of showers, as mankind has been taking some form of a shower for a long time before the installed shower was even invented. As various historical sources reveal, people would stand under waterfalls in order to clean themselves. The problem is that this type of “natural showers” weren’t available to a lot of people who didn’t live near a waterfall, plus they were provided by Mother Nature and thus they can’t be considered an invention or contribution of a specific tribe or culture.

On the other hand, the Ancient Greeks were the first who came up with a basic form of plumbing installed in their homes, which eventually led to the invention of showers. Due to the fact that the majority of the Greek city-states at the time were outfitted with aqueducts that helped water move from its source into homes and public buildings, the Greeks soon realized that when water is poured over your body it’s easier to clean yourself (instead of bathing). Early Greek showers were very plain and could be spotted in public bathing facilities that everyone had easy access to.

The unreasonable waste of water going on for decades in the West makes you wonder how we ended up being so greedy and irrational in our way of living and thinking when the forefathers of Western civilization, the ancient Greeks, did everything with a wisdom toward regulation. Before the Romans came up with the luxurious baths and spas, the ancient Greeks used showers like the ones we use today, with only the amount of water necessary for washing coming through the aqueduct system and then brought into the building through a series of pipes. Some of the pipes were installed higher up, and people would stand under the falling water as they bathed.

Interestingly, the Greeks preferred cold water and for a good reason too: to toughen the skin and make it look healthier. Ultimately, the earliest evidence of this type of shower was found in the ancient Greek city-state of Pergamon. Since it was very close to the ocean, it was much easier for the locals of Pergamon to use the natural water source for the public bathhouse. The archaeologists excavating the archaeological site of Pergamon not only found evidence of the shower in the bathhouse, but also in the art depicted on the pottery that was found there.

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World
The “Herod Atticus Odeon” in Athens, Greece, is considered the best preserved ancient theater in the world today. News GTP.

Theater Was a Technological Miracle in Ancient Greece

Greek tragedy as we know it today was created in Athens back in 532 BC, when Thespis was becoming (with his performance in front of the public) the earliest recorded actor. Tragedy, comedy and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there. After the “Great Destruction” of Athens by the Persians in 480 BC, the town, as well as the iconic Acropolis of the city were rebuilt, and theater became an even greater part of Athenian culture and civic pride. The development of theater itself as a structure was truly astonishing. From the simple platform where actors initially performed, theater in ancient Greece became so much more than just a form of art with the addition of the ingenious “pit” and the use of a wooden scenery, which was beautifully adorned with stone complexes and wonderful colonnades at the front part of the stage.

Nothing is more impressive, however, than the sound engineering when it comes to the acoustics of ancient Greek theater. You have probably heard about the amazing acoustics of the Epidaurus Theatre and how anyone in attendance could perfectly hear what the actors said without any amplification even if they were sitting 60 meters farther from the stage. Amazingly, the acoustics of the theater seem to work today just as well as they did when it was first built. But the acoustics weren’t the only thing that made theater in ancient Greece a technological miracle; for every play and performance, the ancient Greeks created stage machinery and also small automatically programmed shows, with animated characters and sound effects, which excited the crowd and gave them the sense of a surrealistic experience.

For example, lifting machines were widely used for the impressive hovering and descending of determinant persons on the stage for the action of the play (especially gods and goddesses) and rarely heavier “items,” such as tanks or horses with riders on. According to the merging of literary and pottery information, this consisted of a long jointed beam which was based on a rotating vertical beam. The load was ascended by rope through a pulley and manual winch located on both ends of the beam. The beam had a counterweight to balance the risen load. The machine was mounted behind the scene near the left passage in a nearly horizontal position.

The operator of the machine, after balancing the load with counterweight, gave through levers the required slope and then the required rotation to the beam so that the load be found above the middle of the proscenium. One wheel at the end of the balanced beam may have facilitated the operator in the rotation. Furthermore, rotating prismatic constructions located at each side of the central door of the ancient Greek theatrical stage for the rapid change of scenery. The three vertical sides illustrated representations of the plot providing nine different combinations of scenery to the play. It’s an undeniable fact that even though the ancient Greeks didn’t spend mini fortunes on their theatrical productions like most contemporary theater producers, they still managed to offer spectacular shows to their audiences.

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World
The iconic painting portraying Plato and Aristotle discussing scientific and philosophical matters. YouTube.

Science Was in Harmony with the Environment Not Against It

There’s no doubt that our ancestors perceived science and philosophy way differently than the modern high-tech world. The ancient Greeks in particular, who are considered the first organized scientists in history, may have thought of themselves as natural philosophers, as practitioners of a skilled profession, such as physicians for example. This is what we notice in the academic works of Aristotle, Archimedes, Hippocrates and Euclid among others. These works and the important commentaries on them were the wellspring of science which reveal their way of thinking about life, while their inventions were in perfect harmony with Mother Nature.

Ancient Greek scientists and physicians didn’t focus on illness and medication like doctors usually do today, but instead they tried to prevent all those things that lead to illness by suggesting a healthy lifestyle that is in harmony with our nature. Furthermore, they didn’t fear death but accepted it as a natural part of life. Interestingly, two Greek philosophers, Leucippus in the 5th Century BC and Democritus of Abdera (circa 410 BC) were the first humans in recorded history to come up with the notion that there were two real entities: atoms, which were small indivisible particles of matter, and the void, which was the empty space in which matter was located. According to Pythagoras and his students, matter was made up of ordered arrangements of atoms, arranged according to geometrical principles into triangles, squares, rectangles, and so on.

Even on a larger scale, the parts of the universe were arranged on the principles of a musical scale and a number. For example, the Pythagoreans held that there were ten heavenly bodies because ten is a perfect number, the sum of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4. Thus with the Pythagoreans we find number emerging as the rational basis for an orderly universe — as the first proposal for a scientific ordering principle of the cosmos. Most importantly, the Pythagoreans suggested that science should respect Nature and not destroying it. On the other hand, the majority of modern scientists not only won’t respect the planet but will go as far as inventing atomic energy and other “nice” little things that have ruined the environment as nothing else has in history.

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World
Realistic depiction of the impressive temple of Zeus during antiquity in Greece. Pinterest.

Religious Ceremonies in Ancient Greece Were Fun Even for Atheists

History has taught us that the relationship between the ancient Greeks and their gods was based on the concept of exchange. During the past few decades, thousands of votive offerings have been unearthed from sanctuaries in Greece, which according to archaeologists was the ultimate way for ancient people to express their appreciation and gratitude to gods. Maybe that explains why religious ceremonies in ancient Greece were super fancy shows. As we already know, the Greeks loved art, music, and poetry so much that they often included art in their religious ceremonies to give a more dramatic and divine atmosphere to the whole thing.

They worshiped deities in sanctuaries located either in the city or in the countryside, depending on the deity’s nature and character. A sanctuary was a well-defined sacred space set apart usually by an enclosure wall. This sacred precinct, also known as a temenos, contained the temple with a monumental cult image of the deity, an outdoor altar, statues and votive offerings to the gods, and often features of landscape such as sacred trees or springs. Many temples benefited from their natural surroundings, which helped to express the character of the divinities. A major example would be the temple of Poseidon (God of Sea) at Sounion, which offers to this day a fascinating view of the blue waters surrounding the temple.

Due to the fact that the ancient Greeks worshiped more than one god, the priests had to be creative and come up with new ways to excite the masses so they would keep coming back with offerings for each of the gods. For that reason, they often hired engineers to create the so-called “automata,” mechanisms that were not really useful but which amazed the crowds. One such “automata” was automatic doors. Believe it or not, the ancient Greeks designed the first automatic doors in history and first used them within the altar at the place of worship. When a person made an offering to one of the gods, the doors of the altar opened, thanks to a fire being ignited within the altar.

This same idea was used to move statues inside the place of worship such as wooden birds and other animals. Also, holy water was sprayed on the worshipers from the temple ceiling through specially designed pipes, which offered them the illusion of divine grace. The four most famous religious festivals in ancient Greece included athletic competitions, multiple sacrifices of animals, and were held every four years at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea, and Isthmia in Corinth attracting visitors from every city-state of Greece.

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World
The gloved hands of a bronze statue of an ancient Greek boxer. The hands, gently folded over each other, wear oxys, a type of leather hand wrap used for ancient Greek boxing. Health and Fitness History.

Ancient Greece Produced Stronger, Tougher and More Natural Athletes Than Today

There’s no doubt whatsoever that the ancient Greek athletes were some of the most natural, tough, and badass guys the world has ever known. Especially when it comes to combat sports such as wrestling, boxing, and pankration (think of MMA but way more brutal), it’s safe to say that modern champions, even with the help of substances like anabolic steroids, wouldn’t last more than a couple of rounds with the likes of Melankomas, Polydamas, Diagoras, Theagenes, and Milo of Croton. To get an idea, Milo of Croton remains to this day the most decorated Olympic wrestler of all time, with seven victories at seven different Olympic Games. He won the boy’s wrestling tournament in 540 BC at the 60th Olympics, and went on to win the men’s competition a record six times from the 61st through the 66th Olympiad.

He had an estimated 1,200 wins and one loss over age 48, while the modern record held by the greatest wrestler of our day – Alexander Karelin – is 887 wins and two losses. Milo’s size and physique were described as out of this world, and his strength and technique perfect, which led many people to believe he was the son of Zeus. Ancient sources report that he would show off his strength by holding his arm out, fingers outstretched, with no man able to bend even his pinky finger. Another source claims that during his prime he carried a four-year-old cow on his back to the Olympic stadium and sacrificed it to Zeus with his bare hands.

Another great example would be Theagenes of Thasos, the fighter with the most recorded victories in all combat sports. Often described as an extremely strong, muscular, and tall man, Theagenes won two Olympic titles, in boxing in 480 BC and pankration in 476 BC. He competed for 22 years in every major combat competition of his time (boxing, pankration, wrestling), winning various titles all across the ancient world. According to Greek historian Pausanias, he won an estimated 1,400 fights; about 1,200 more victories than Willie Pep, who, with 229 wins, is considered the winningest boxer of our day.

Other than combat sports, however, ancient Greek athletes were phenomenal in other athletic competitions as well, such as javelin. Even though we don’t know many details about ancient javelin-throwing, modern historians suggest that most elite throwers averaged throws of about 92 m. It is important to point out here that javelin throwers, like all athletes of the time, competed without special equipment, barefoot, and were given only a few steps to throw, instead of the pretty long run-up that is available for modern javelin throwers. More importantly, javelin-throwing was part of the pentathlon contest and followed the sprint.

In other words, athletes didn’t give their best effort at the throw so as to preserve energy for the three events that followed (the discus throw, the long jump, and wrestling), plus they had already participated in a track race before they even started. Still, they averaged a throw of about 92 m, while the current world record is 98.48 m. The aforementioned facts have led many modern experts concluding that if ancient javelin throwers solely focused on the javelin event, they could have easily broken the 100 m barrier even without modern equipment and performance-enhancing drugs.

11 Things The Ancient Greeks Did Better Than The Modern Hi-Tech World
Statue of Socrates, who’s widely regarded the father of Western Philosophy and one of the greatest thinkers of all time. Independent.

Simply Put: They Were Smarter Than Modern Humans

Various studies throughout the decades prove time and again that the ancient Greeks were more creative and possibly smarter than modern humans. According to recent scientific research conducted by Dr. Gerald Crabtree, professor of pathology and developmental biology at Stanford University, the ancient Greeks were not only smarter than us, but he also speculates that human beings become less intelligent with the passage of time. According to Dr. Crabtree, human intelligence peaked thousands of years ago in ancient Greece and we’ve been on an intellectual and emotional decline ever since as some inevitable changes in our genetic makeup, combined with technological developments, led us to become much less intelligent than our ancestors.

The controversial study is based on the theory that the vast capacity of the human brain to learn new tricks is currently in danger from an array of genetic mutations that have accumulated since people started living in cities a few thousand years ago. More specific, Dr. Crabtree argues that for more than 99 per cent of human evolutionary history, we have lived as hunter-gatherer communities surviving on our wits, leading to big-brained humans. Since the invention of agriculture and cities, however, natural selection on our intellect has effective stopped and mutations have accumulated in the critical “intelligence” genes.

Dr. Crabtree says in a paper published in the journal Trends in Genetics,

“I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas and a clear-sighted view of important issues. Furthermore, I would guess that he or she would be among the most emotionally stable of our friends and colleagues. I would also make this wager for the ancient inhabitants of Africa, Asia, India or the Americas, of perhaps 2,000 to 6,000 years ago. Life as a hunter-gatherer was probably more intellectually demanding than widely supposed.

A hunter-gatherer who did not correctly conceive a solution to providing food or shelter probably died, along with his or her progeny, whereas a modern Wall Street executive that made a similar conceptual mistake would receive a substantial bonus and be a more attractive mate.”

Dr. Crabtree concludes, while he also suggests that the invention of agriculture less than 10,000 years ago and the subsequent rise of cities such as Athens relaxed the intensive natural selection of our “intelligence genes.”


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources

Alena Hall. 12 Gifts Ancient Greece Gave To The World. Huff Post. 2017

Theodoros Karasavvas. 25 Things We Would Not Have Without Ancient Greece. List25. 2015

Austin S. Central Heating in Ancient Greece. Sites Google. 2013

Jo Marchant. Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism, the First Computer in History. Smithsonian Magazine. February 2015.

Mrreese. The steam-powered pigeon of Archytas – the flying machine of antiquity. Ancient Origins. October 2014.

Colette Hemingway. Architecture in Ancient Greece. Metropolitan Museum Art. October 2003.

Brainy Bunny. The Influence of Ancient Greek Architecture. Owlcation. 2018.

Showers Were Invented in Ancient Greece. Greek Boston. 2011.