The following is a list of 8 Greek inventions or discoveries that have had profound impacts on Western culture and society.
The Greeks created the world’s first democracy. Athens first started out with a monarchy and then advanced to an oligarchy until it finally reached a democracy. The democratic government consisted of 6,000 assembly members, all of whom were adult male citizens. The assembly voted on issues throughout Athens. In order for a law to pass, the number of votes needed to be a majority. But in order to banish or exile someone, all 6,000 votes were needed.
Today, at least in the United States, we also use a democracy. But instead of a direct democracy, we have a representative democracy in which the citizens democratically vote on who should make the decisions in the country. This is different than Greece’s direct democracy wherein the citizens voted on the decision rather than choosing people to make the decision.
2. The Alphabet
Greece was the first civilization to use an alphabet. It was developed after the Dark Ages and consisted of 24 letters. Believe it or not, the word “alphabet” originates from the first 2 letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta. Today many letters of our modern alphabet originate from the Greek alphabet, including letters such as A, B, E, and O.
The first library in the world, the library of Alexandria, was actually built in Egypt.
During this time, Egypt was colonized by the Greeks after it had submitted to Alexander’s rule. The Macedonians started spreading the Greek way of life to all of the conquered lands, including Egypt. After Alexander’s death, there was a power struggle. Eventually, the Kingdom of Egypt came under the rule of Alexander’s general, Ptolemy.
Ptolemy ordered the construction of the library, which contained over 700,000 scrolls of work. There was also a rule that all ships passing through the Alexandrian harbor had to declare if they had any works of science or philosophy. If they did, the work was copied and placed in the library, and the captain would receive the original copy back. Because of this accumulation of knowledge, many great discoveries took place in the library. For example, Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth and drew up plans for steam power. Today we have many libraries all over the world with billions of works of literature, but the first library in the world was the library of Alexandria.
4. The Olympics
The Olympic Games started in ancient Greece. The participants were the city-states of Ancient Greece and its colonies. The Olympic Games were held every 4 years in honor of Zeus, the king god. The prizes for winning were fame and glory, along with having statues of the winners erected and sometimes even putting the winners’ faces on coins. Today we still celebrate the Olympic Games and still continue some of the old traditions, such as the olive leaf crowns and the opening and closing celebrations.
Greece also held other games such as the Ptythian Games, which were held in honor of Apollo, the sun god, and the Isthmian Games, which were held in honor of Poseidon, the sea god.
Along with being the birthplace of many great mathematicians, Greece was also the mother country of many famous scientists. Some of the famous ones were:
- Eratosthenes, who calculated the circumference of the earth and was off by less than 1%.
- Aristarchus, who theorized that the earth revolved around the sun instead of the other way around.
- Archimedes, who was able to explain levers and pulleys. One of his famous quotes was, “Give me a lever long enough and I will move the Earth!”
- Hipparchus, who created a system to explain how all the planets and stars move.
A style of Greek architecture that is still used today is the pillar. The most famous example of Greek architecture is the Parthenon, a grand building with pillars located in Athens. Today, pillars are also used in many public buildings such as churches and libraries. There are also pillars in many buildings in Washington D.C., including the White House!
Today, many of us still read Greek myths. Some famous ones include the tales of Peruses, Theseus, and, of course, Heracles. The Greeks often used these myths to explain things that science couldn’t prove, but today, we mostly read the Greek myths for entertainment. Many Greek myths have been altered a bit in modern novels and movies. Some well-known adaptations are Disney’s Hercules and the bestselling novel Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Like the first library, the first lighthouse in the world was located in the Greek/Egyptian kingdom of Alexandria. This lighthouse was huge, comparable to the Statue of Liberty, and was the second tallest structure of its day (only the Great Pyramid of Giza was taller than it). The lighthouse had three layers: the base which was square shaped, the middle which was octagonal, and the round beacon on top. The lighthouse signaled itself using smoke and fire that formed in the beacon. Sadly, the lighthouse was destroyed due to earthquakes, but it set the model for all future lighthouses.