Blast To The Past

Words by Emily Burkhardt
Art by Sarah Mackey

Everyday objects and practices don’t just appear out of nowhere, they’ve actually been around for a lot longer than what we might think.

No, I’m not talking about last year, or even 1994. I’m talking about back in the days when gladiators were the main form of entertainment and hieroglyphics were still written and understood. Ancient civilizations were incredibly intelligent, considering they didn’t have Google or electricity. They are the people who we owe some of the best inventions to, so read about the ancient beginnings of some completely normal things.


Unsurprisingly, those pyramid-building Egyptians were pioneers of invention. They had nasty garlic breath problems solved from day one, as they mixed various herbs with honey to create small candy-shaped pellets. These became known as the first breath mints. They also made the first pens out of thin reed brushes and built the first door lock in 4000BC. Shaving was first introduced into our everyday skincare routines by Egyptian priests and 4th Century AD manuscripts revealed that the Egyptians created the first recipe for toothpaste. Mint, dried iris flowers, rock salt and pepper would be mixed together to form a powder, so we have the Egyptians to thank for Colgate’s minty freshness. There is also evidence from an ancient medicine text called the Edwin Smith Papyrus to suggest that the Egyptians were dabbling in plastic surgery practices between 3000BC and 2500BC. Clearly, they had to be looking good for their afterlife celebrations! 


These Zeus-worshipping folks were perhaps one of the most influential ancient civilisations in terms of great ideas. Not only are they the ones to thank for the beginnings of democracy and theatre, they also invented some really awesome stuff. The Greeks discovered a way to warm their houses by pumping pipes under their floors with warm water, and thus the magic of central heating was born. On a slightly less fun note, we have Greek mathematician Pythagoras to thank for that annoying triangle theorem we all had to learn in primary school but barely ever used in adult life. Speaking of overachieving Greeks, let’s talk about mathematician and engineer Hero of Alexandria. Although 99% of you have probably never heard of this man before, he is known as the greatest experimenter of antiquity. Throughout his lifetime, he is credited with the invention of mechanical devices such as singing birds, puppets, fire engines, water organs, automatic doors, robots, vending machines and most famously, the steam engine.

But they win the award for the best invention ever because the Greeks came up with the first recipe for pancakes! Plus, they were also one of the first civilisations to make an iteration of pizza, called ‘plakous’ in Greek or ‘large round pie’. They made the dough with barley, flour, wine and water and added onion, herbs, cheese and garlic on top. Although they weren’t the visionaries who thought to put pineapple on top, it’s obvious that they were complete trailblazers.


Not to be outdone by their Greek or Egyptian predecessors, the Romans stepped up. You’re probably aware of their involvement in aqueducts and developments in plumbing, the current state of our calendar system and the good old Olympic Games. But there’s more to their legacy than just Julius Caesar and casually commanding an empire from Britain to the Middle East at one point or another. Emperor Nero was believed to have watched the gladiatorial games in the first century AD with the help of emerald as a form of corrective lens. This has come to be known as the first iteration of eyeglasses. Football was first played in its ancient form called ‘harpastum’ by Roman soldiers during their invasion of Britain. Even though the Romans didn’t have the expensive labs and machines of today’s scientists, a 1600 year old goblet has shown that they were investigating the tiny world of nanotechnology. Ever the practical thinkers, Roman engineer and architect Vitruvius developed the first odometer for measuring the distance travelled by a vehicle in 15BC. There would also be no Chadstone or Melbourne Central without the glorious minds of the Romans. In 113AD, they built the first-ever shopping mall. It was called the Trajan’s Mall and with over 150 rooms across four floors, patrons could choose from soap, cosmetics, gold, silver, textiles and food.

The ancient peoples from around the world laid the foundations for many of the things we use, and take for granted every day. Modern society has simply improved on their items and practices. So next time you eat a slice of pizza, or brush your teeth, or check to see how many kilometres you’ve driven, say a little thank you to the ancient peeps who came before you. We owe them big time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s