Ancient Greek Inventions

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The ancient Greeks made many innovations, many of which are still widely used in modern society. The Greeks created physical inventions such as the catapult, the cannon and the steam engine as well as concepts such as dramatic theatre, the Olympic Games and democracy.


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Theatre and drama as we know it was invented in ancient Greece as a tribute to the god of wine and fertility, Dionysus. Dionysus was celebrated in song and dance performed by a chorus until a Dionysian priest named Thespis broke away from the chorus and acted out a myth with dialogue. Thespis, for whom the term "thespian," meaning actor, is named, was the first actor. This style of entertainment became immensely popular, leading to the construction of a theatre in Athens to stage the new tragedies in honour of Dionysus. Soon, other forms of drama were established, including satires and comedies. A playwright named Aeschylus is credited with inventing drama after writing a play with two actors and a chorus, instead of a single cast play. The chorus served to introduce new elements of the play and recap events from previous scenes. Very few ancient Greek plays remain because they were only intended for single performances and not considered important literary works until after they had been lost. Among the most famous ancient Greek playwrights are Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. The most famous of the preserved ancient plays are "Agamemnon," "Oedipus Rex," "Antigone," "Medea" and "Hippolytus."

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The ancient Greeks are responsible for inventing several objects used in the art of warfare that were widely used. The most notable of these inventions are the catapult and the cannon. The catapult was invented by Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse in 400 B.C. This contraption was used to hurl heavy objects or shoot arrows over a long distance, so that hand-to-hand combat wasn't always necessary. From Dionysius's invention, two types of catapults were created. The first is a double-armed machine called a ballista that is used for shooting arrows. The design of the single-armed machine is better suited for hurling large objects like rocks. The first cannon was invented by the ancient Greeks. Rather than being fired by gunpowder, these cannons used compressed air to launch objects. It is believed that Archimedes used a steam-powered cannon when fighting the Romans in the third century B.C. This theory seems likely, considering that the first steam engine was invented by Heron in ancient Greece, although it was originally made as a toy. Although steam engines were only used for novelty in Greece, the technology is largely responsible for the achievements of railroading and the Industrial Revolution.

The Olympics

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We have the Greeks to thank for the invention of the Olympic Games, an athletic competition that takes place every four years with challengers from nearly every country in the world. Although the exact origins are unknown, the earliest record can be traced to 776 B.C. The Games were originally held as a festival to honour the Greek gods. Legend has it that Hercules was responsible for the first Olympic Games in 1664 and that distance measurements were made according to the actual foot length of Hercules. The original Olympians competed naked and their only prize was an olive wreath and the esteem of the crowd. Today separate Olympic Games are held for summer and winter sports, giving us an Olympics every two years.


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The democratic form of government was invented in Athens under the rule of Ceisthenes. Under this new government, all free, male, Athenian-born adults were allowed to attend the Assembly and actively participate in politic decisions. The Assembly at Pnyx Hill gathered 40 times each year and required an attendance of at least 6,000 citizens in order to pass a valid vote. Intellectuals such as Plato and Socrates disagreed with democracy, believing that the public masses were too ignorant to make a correct decision, but it is a governmental form that dominates world politics today.