Four Ancient Greek Inventions That Were Way Ahead of Their Time

Four Ancient Greek Inventions That Were Way Ahead of Their Time
AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
Four Ancient Greek Inventions That Were Way Ahead of Their Time
AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
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Aristotle, Plato, Socrates... Ancient Greece's charismatic philosophers define the civilization's legacy in popular memory. Often forgotten are the technological inventions that set Greece apart from other societies during classical antiquity, which roughly spanned between the 8th century BC and the 6th century CE.

Mechanical engineer Kostas Kotsanas wants to change that. Perhaps the foremost expert on ancient Greek technology, Kotsanas created the Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology to apprise the public of Ancient Greece's formidable technological prowess. The stars of the show? Nearly 300 models of ancient Greek inventions, all exhaustingly researched and painstakingly built by Kotsanas himself. Here are four of the most incredible:

Plato's Alarm Clock

This may be the first known awakening device in human history. Water would be poured into a top bowl, which would trickle down at a known rate to another bowl with an axial pipette inside. Thus, when this second bowl filled, its water would rapidly fall into a third closed vessel, forcing air to come whistling out through a tube, and (hopefully) waking anyone nearby.

The Flying Pigeon of Archytas


A light, airtight shell shaped like a bird is attached via a nozzle to a ball of water. This ball of water is heated by some external source, producing steam, which gradually fills the "bird". Eventually, the bird will detach from the bulb as the internal pressure overcomes the friction force of its connection, launching into the air like a rocket!

Automatically-Opening Temple Gates

Heron of Alexandria was one of antiquity's great experimenters. He devised a vending machine, a basic syringe, and an ingenious fountain, but he was particularly fond of steam devices. One of his most notable and theatrical feats of technology was getting temple gates to open automatically. A roaring fire would be lit on a large altar and some of the heat would be siphoned to a pot of water below. The heated, expanding gases would force water through a siphon into another tank attached to a balance system which operates the axles of the doors. When the tank filling with water would sink down, the doors would swing open!

The Automatic Servant of Philon

Perhaps the first 'robot' ever created, this "automatic servant" had one purpose only: fill a cup with wine and dilute it to the drinker's desire. All one had to do was place a cup into the servant's hand, which would weigh it down and permit air to enter a jug of wine, letting the wine spill into the cup. As the cup filled, weighing the hand down even further, air would be cut off to the wine jug and instead would be let into a water jug. Water would then flow into the cup until the drinker removed it. Kotsanas created a video to show what was going on inside the robot.

 

The Ancient Greeks created dozens of other quirky, fascinating, and useful inventions. You can check them out at the Kotsanas Museum's website.


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