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7 amazing technologies created by ancient civilizations that we still use today

It’s easy to think that ancient societies were not very advanced. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have cars, phones, or even televisions, so ancient societies must have been pretty simple. Well, believe it or not, many of the technologies we use today were actually invented by these ancient societies.

A central heating system

A hypocaust (central heating system)
A hypocaust (Latin hypocaustum) in the Roman Baths, Bath, UK. A hypocaust is an ancient Roman system of central heating. The word literally means “heat from below”, from the Greek hypo meaning below or underneath, and kaiein, to burn or light a fire. © Wikimedia Commons

Even though ancient Greece was a powerful country, central heating has been around for a long time. This heating system was made up of flues or ducts put into the ground. The heat from the fire was then sent to people’s homes through these flues or ducts.

Since the fires needed for this process had to be kept going all the time, servants or enslaved people often had to keep an eye on them and ensure they stayed lit. Of course, none of the ancient Greeks had access to central heating like this. Most people who had access to this technology were wealthy and powerful.

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, a Greek temple to the goddess Artemis, is where it is known that central heating was used in the past. This is a long way from the sleek radiators and heated floors humans have today, but the invention on its own paved the way for more advanced central heating systems in the future.

Sewer systems

The sewage system of the ancient Roman town Nikopolis ad Istrum, today in Bulgaria: Cloaka maxima (Main sewer channel of the city).
The sewage system of the ancient Roman town Nikopolis ad Istrum, today in Bulgaria: Cloaka maxima (Main sewer channel of the city). © Flickr

We would be a bit of a mess if we didn’t have sewer systems. The first sewer system was built in Italy about 2,500 years ago. Many people think that the ancient Romans were the ones who came up with sewers, but in reality, the Etruscans were the ones who built the first sewers.

The Etruscans lived in what is now Tuscany, the western part of Umbria, and the northern part of Lazio. The Etruscan civilization lasted for hundreds of years, but with the rise of the Roman Empire, it died out.

The Etruscans built a sewer system that was made up of underground tunnels made of very carefully carved rock. When the Romans found these sewers, they started putting them all over the Roman Empire. This is why many think they were the first to build a sewer system.

Steam turbine

An illustration of Hero's aeolipile
An illustration of Hero’s aeolipile © Wikimedia Commons

Today, machines worldwide use steam turbines to power compressors and pumps. But the steam turbine was made a long time ago. The ancient Greeks were the ones who came up with the first steam turbine almost 2,000 years ago. Heron of Alexandria, a Greek polymath, and engineer, made this simple machine, which he called the aeolipile, in the first century AD.

This turbine consisted of two hollow tubes that turned into a hollow sphere. These tubes got steam from a hot pot underneath, which made the sphere spin. This was a long way from the huge steam turbines we have today, but it was an important step toward making these very useful machines.

The battery

Baghdad battery
The Baghdad Battery is the name given to a set of three artifacts which were found together: a ceramic pot, a tube of copper, and a rod of iron. It was discovered in present-day Khujut Rabu, Iraq in 1936, close to the metropolis of Ctesiphon, the capital of the Parthian (150 BC – 223 AD) and Sasanian (224–650 AD) empires, and it is believed to date from either of these periods. © Wikimedia Commons

Many people think the battery is a fairly new idea, but its simplest form was made almost 2,000 years ago, though no one knows exactly when. Archaeologists think this device was made in the second or third century AD, during the Parthian or Sasanian Empires.

The artifact was found in 1936 in Khujut Rabu, Iraq. It comprises a copper tube, an iron rod, and a simple pot made of clay. This doesn’t look like a modern lithium-ion battery, which has led to many different ideas about how it could be used.

Electrotherapy is the most common idea for how this mechanism could be used, but other researchers and scientists don’t agree. Some people think it was used to keep ancient scrolls safe, while others say that this artifact could never have been used as a battery because it doesn’t have any circuitry. The jury is quiet on whether or not this thing is the first battery in the world.

The compass

Vegvisir, a ‘Viking compass.’ © Tartila / Adobe Stock

Before the SATNAV was made, people used the compass to find their way and get around. A compass uses the Earth’s magnetic field to figure out which way is north, south, east, or west. And the Vikings were the ones who came up with the basic idea for this tool.

Even though the Vikings didn’t come up with the magnetic compass, they devised a way to divide the horizon into eight parts. This was called Vegvisir. A group of bright stars, like the Northern Star, also called Polaris, were used to make these navigational points. This system made it possible for later navigational systems and the traditional compass to be made.

The refrigerator

Yakhchal or ice chamber. Abarkuh, Iran.
Yakhchal or ice chamber. Abarkuh, Iran. © Flickr

By the year 400 BC, engineers from the Persian empire had mastered the process of storing ice in the middle of the desert during the summertime. During the winter months, large quantities of ice were transported from the adjacent mountains and stored in their own personal ice pits or freezers, which they named Yakhchal.

In Iran’s scorching, arid desert climate, these ancient refrigerators were utilized largely for the storing of ice for usage during the summer months as well as for the preservation of food. During the hot summer days, the ice was also used to chill treats for royalty, and it was also essential in the preparation of faloodeh, the traditional Persian frozen dessert.

The alarm clock

Ctesibius water clock, 3rd century BC, Alexandria (reconstruction). Thessaloniki Technology Museum
Ctesibius water clock, 3rd century BC, Alexandria (reconstruction). Thessaloniki Technology Museum © Wikimedia Commons

If your alarm clock woke you up yesterday for work, you might want to thank the ancient Greeks. In the third century BC, a Greek mathematician and inventor named Ctesibius noticed that ordinary Greek people had trouble remembering to wake up, eat, and go to events.

So, he decided to make something that could tell people what time it was. This mechanism made an alarm sound by having pebbles fall and hit a gong. The pebbles fell because a water clock kept track of the time. But many people think that the famous Greek philosopher Plato came up with the idea for the alarm clock. Plato lived and died already when Ctesibius was even born.

Plato made his water alarm clock in 427 BC, almost 200 years before Ctesibius did the same thing. We do know that Ctesibius went on to improve his invention. He changed the gong sound to one like birds singing or bells. So maybe we can thank both these ancient smart people for the alarm clock we use today.


Even though our world is very different compared to the ancients, we can’t deny that they came up with some great ideas that we still use today. We still don’t know much about ancient civilizations, but we know that they were just as curious and eager to move towards future as we are today.