Roughly 40,000 years ago, a group of people known as the Minoans settled nearby the island of Crete. They were the foundation of what would soon become one of the mightiest civilizations in history – the Ancient Greeks. They quite literally changed the world, leaving a cultural legacy that can hardly be matched, rich in literature, art, theatre, clothing, and Olympic Games. Moreover, we also owe them a great deal for being the ones to introduce the concept of democracy, so prominent in most of the post-WWII countries today.
The Minoans were later preceded by another civilization, called the Mycenaean. Although excellent traders and builders, they were also fine soldiers, having been remembered by history for their participation in the famed battle for Troy. If you’ve taken an interest in the culture of Ancient Greece and, by default, everything that precedes it, it’s undoubted that you’re familiar with Homer’s works – the Iliad and the Odyssey – which tell the tales of the Mycenaean age.
But this is exactly the point I was getting to. So many tales have been told about Ancient Greece (the so-called Dark Ages excluded) and in so much detail, you just have to start wondering: don’t we, perchance, know pretty much everything by now? You can never know everything, my friend. But I’m sure we all know that and no one actually asked themselves that silly question. Not phrased like that, at least. A better rephrasing would be, “Is there anything left that can surprise me when it comes to this civilization?”
The answer is, obviously, yes. So, grab a pen, read ahead the following list about some of Ancient Greece’s strange facts and cross the ones you already knew. So, if you want to have your mind blown by some of the lesser known facts about Ancient Greece, proceed.
Athena V Poseidon: Dawn of Olive Trees
The city of Athens was named after goddess Athena, as you may have figured. But this was the result of a competition. When the Greeks wanted to find a patron deity of the city-state that would be known as Athens, they had two options. Athena, goddess of wisdom and skill, was one of them, with the second being Poseidon, the infamous god of seas.
Cecrops, the first king of the would-be-Athens, asked the two gods to each offer a gift that would prove valuable to the city. Poseidon offered water, which sounded nice at first… until you actually tasted it. Since the water was salty, it was pretty much useless. Athena followed next, gifting the city an olive tree. Given the alternative, Cecrops was pleased and, therefore, granted Athena the honor of having one of the oldest cities in the world named after her.
The downside is that Poseidon wasn’t too happy, cursing Athens to never have enough water and the world to have to suffer from a horrible Percy Jackson movie adaption. One of these is a lie, have fun figuring out which.
Hipster Greek Scuba Divers
Ancient Greeks were scuba diving before scuba diving was even invented. Maybe the term was a bit misused, but one thing was clear – they were one of the first civilizations to really take this whole “underwater exploration” business seriously. Long before the invention of submarines and other inventions that would help humans not die when exploring the vastness of seas and oceans, Ancient Greeks were using barrels and kettles.
Or, better said, inverted barrels and kettles which came to be known as “diving bells.” Someone would patiently sit inside of those bells as their helpful fellows would lower them into the hydrographic abyss. Air was trapped inside of an “air pocket,” something that allowed the divers to repeatedly return and take another big breath without actually returning to the surface. In case you’re in need of a visual reference, Pirates of the Caribbean uses a device that’s as similar as it gets.
This technology has been used around 360 B.C., as recorded by Aristotle. Seemingly, Alexander the Great himself handled a similar submersible for his underwater exploration missions.
Guilt-Tripping Tax Collecting
If there is one thing that Ancient Greeks truly cared about, that’s freedom. It was because of this that they would later create the foundations for democracy, the system that (at least in theory) is explicitly supposed to protect freedom. In fact, Ancient Greece cared so much about its citizens that it refused to implement direct taxes and fees. A city without taxes and fees? Where’s a time traveling machine when you need one?
However, it was still a state-city and state-cities required some sort of funding for their schools, armies, buildings, and so on. This funding mostly came from wealthy families, who paid “taxes of shame.” Sure, there may not have been any written laws stating that you need to pay any fees, but in Antiquity, sometimes ethics and pride outweighed laws. If you had money but didn’t contribute to the well-being of the city, you were pretty much considered a pariah. Many wealthy citizens contributed directly by building temples, schools, and other institutions.
Are you processing this? Ancient Greece had no law codes about taxes and fees, but still had people pay taxes and fees because of ethics, morals, and shame? These days, this sounds like the premise of a utopian science-fiction work of literature.
A godly competition, ancient scuba diving, and shame based tax collecting – these are all real facts. Strange, but real. The list could probably go on forever, given how there’s surely enough material to work with. For instance, did you know that Ancient Greeks thought that beans contained the souls of the dead, so they never ate them? I bet that beans wish they could return to those times of glory when they were as worshipped as cows in contemporary India.
As bizarre as some of these facts are, they barely make up one percent of the huge legacy of Ancient Greece. They may have thought beans were human soul holders, but they also invented theatre and were the civilization that infiltrated Troy by building a giant wooden horse. In fact, all these strange facts, although definitely odd, only manage to make the Ancient Greeks shine more. They had a great mythology, explored the deep sea before Jesus Christ was even born, and managed to have a functioning society that relied solely on morals.
If you ever see me in the street, I’ll be wearing an “Ancient Greece Fan #1” T-shirt.