Many of the things that make the UK a really cool place to live were actually invented by the Greeks – we just copied them.
OK, we didn’t copy everything. But let’s give them a bit of credit anyway.
First off the Greeks gave the world democracy – which we still use in Britain today to choose who runs the country. In ancient Athens, citizens met regularly to vote on the laws that changed their daily lives using a simple show of hands by all.
Democracy in Athens versus England and Roman Senatus consultum ultimum and Democracy in England.
I say all… women, slaves and foreigners were banned from voting. So NOT so democratic really!
The Greeks also gave us the Olympic Games. The very first Olympics took place in 776BC. The only event was a 200m foot race and the winner was a humble baker named Coroebus. As time went on the Greeks added more events making it more like the Olympics we know today. The big difference being that the Greeks did it all in the nude!
Also nowadays, Olympic athletes go nude….
The Greeks pretty much invented modern mathematics, sculpture, philosophy, science and even medicine. And they used some of their new knowledge to make cool inventions like the water wheel, the alarm clock, the catapult and even, the vending machine!
Finally, our language has roots in ancient Greece, from the individual letters through to complete words like dinosaur and helicopter!
So, whether we are talking about language, science, maths, law, buildings, sport, art or annoyingly early wake up calls – the Greeks got there first.
How did Greek ideas spread?
Even after 3,000 years, we’re still using ancient Greek ideas in maths, science and art. Our alphabet is based on the Greek one. Check a dictionary and you’ll find hundreds of words that come from the Greek language.
How did Greek ideas spread so far? It’s down to Alexander, the young king of Macedon. He led his army to take over Greece, Persia, Egypt and even part of India. He ruled so much of the world they called him ‘Alexander the Great’.
Wherever he went, Alexander took Greek ideas. When he died in 323BC, the Romans took over. They admired the Greeks’ way of life and carried Greek ideas to even more countries – including ours!
Did the Greeks invent government?
In ancient Athens, citizens would gather together on a dusty hill called the Pynx. Here they would decide the city’s laws and who should sit on its ruling council. This was ‘democracy’ or ‘rule by the people’.
All 30,000 citizens were men. Women and slaves didn’t get a say. A citizen could speak for the time it took water to run from one jar into another. When this water clock ran out, it was someone else’s turn.
A jury of 500 citizens decided if someone was guilty of law-breaking. Punishments included death. Citizens could also vote to get rid of people they disliked. Each man wrote a name on a broken bit of pottery called an ‘ostracon’. Anyone named more than 600 times got kicked out of the city.
Today, we also live in a democracy. Unlike in ancient Greece, women get to vote, too. Juries of 12 people decide if someone is guilty of a crime – we don’t use ostracons anymore!
How did the Greeks change sport?
The Greeks loved sport as much as we do. They enjoyed the discus, javelin, long jump, boxing and horse racing. Athletes prayed to Nike, the goddess of victory – she’s still a big name in sport today!
Greek men and boys trained in a gymnasium. We also go to the gym, although today women and girls are welcome too. The Greeks loved to watch races in a big, open-air ‘stadion’, very like a modern sports stadium.
Every four years the Greeks held a special sporting festival at Olympia – the Olympic Games. These inspired the modern Olympics which began in 1896. Some of the events were very similar. Like the Greeks, we also hold the Olympics every four years.
Legend tells of Pheidippides, who fought at the battle of Marathon in 490BC. When the Greeks won, he ran 26 miles (42 km) to Athens with the news – and then fell down dead. Modern marathon races cover the same distance as his epic run.
Did the Greeks change the way we think?
Aristotle studied plants, animals and rocks. He devised experiments to find out about the world we live in. Modern scientists do the same kind of thing.
Herodotus wrote a history of the Greeks. He based this on eyewitness reports, something today’s historians also try to do. Socrates and Plato were philosophers. They asked, “What is a good life?” and “How do we think?” Philosophers in our time also try to answer these questions.
Ancient Greek stories are still told today. We love films about superheroes and monsters. Our TV soaps are full of stories about long-lost children returning to find their parents – just as ancient Greek plays were.
Who was the greatest Greek?
Let’s introduce you few famous Greeks
Some people ask me, “Socrates, why do you always ask so many questions?” I suppose I’m just curious about things like, love, justice and how to live a good life.
But sometimes my questions get me into trouble. My wife got so fed up, she tipped a full chamber pot over my head! But that’s nothing compared to the citizens of Athens who have condemned me to death! They want me to drink a cup of poison.
Luckily I’m a philosopher, so what matters to me is inspiring other people to ask questions.
I am Aeschylus, the playwright. In my long life, I have written over 90 plays. They say the god Dionysus came to me in a dream and told me to write them.
I specialise in tragedies, sad plays about how we humans struggle with terrible choices. My plays have won first prize again and again at the Festival of Dionysus.
Many of my plays deal with legendary battles. I can speak from experience. I myself fought in the Battle of Marathon and helped stop the Persians taking over Athens.
Maybe you’ve never heard my name, Metrodora? That doesn’t surprise me. In my time, men think they’re the only important ones.
They ignore the work of women like me, even though I’ve written one of the first books of medicine, which has saved many lives. You could say it was the first ever medical encyclopaedia.
It is called “On the Diseases and Cures of Women”. Into it, I put everything I knew about how to cure illnesses, from using surgical instruments, to diagnosing diseases. And I included recipes for making medicines from herbs too!
Hi, my name is Pamphile and I grew up on the Greek island of Kos. What is my claim to fame? Take a look at your clothes. Are any of them woven from threads?
Legend says that long ago, I was the first person to spin a thread of silk. I invented the distaff, a long wooden stick that twirls to make a thread – like the one I’ve got in my hand.
If that’s not enough, I discovered how to weave threads into cloth, too. Without me, you probably wouldn’t have any clothes to wear!
I’m Archimedes, famous for maths, inventing and stargazing. You’ve probably heard the story about the time I was having a bath and noticed how water slopped out when I got in.
“Eureka!” I yelled. “I’ve worked it out!” because I had realised I could use water to measure the volume of almost anything. Just dunk it in the bath and measure how much water is displaced.
I was so excited, I jumped out and ran down the street. Some people said I had also invented streaking that day!