Greek: Λυρα
What: A stringed musical instrument
Lyre family: lyre, chelys, phorminx and kithara

The lyre depicted in  Ancient Greek Pottery.

The lyre depicted in
Ancient Greek Pottery.

The lyre was a stringed musical instrument was one of the most important and commonly used instruments in ancient Greece. The lyre, in Greek mythology, was said to have been invented by Hermes who made the instrument to help him steal 50 prize cattle from Apollo’s sacred heard. When Apollo realized he had been robbed he protested to Maia and Zeus. Zeus ordered Hermes to return the cattle at which point Hermes began playing his lyre. The music was so enchanting to Apollo that he offered Hermes to keep the cattle in exchange for the lyre. Apollo would then become the player of excellence for the lyre and beacon one of his symbols. Apollo found out about the theft and was then offered the lyre from Hereme’s. The real inventor of the lyre is not known however the commonly used seven stringed version of the lyre is credited to Terpander of Lesbos, regarded as the father of ancient Greek music.

The lyre had seven strings of equal length but of different thickness (made of sheep gut) and was usually played by strumming with a plectrum, rather than being plucked. The lyre had two fixed upright arms or horns and and a crossbar at the top with turning pegs made of bronze, wood, ivory or bone. The lyre was played sitting or standing and was held with one hand that would be sometimes supported with a carrying strap worn over the shoulder of the player. The lyre would be played at many different occasions and was mostly played alone or accompanying singing or lyric poetry.

The earliest known depictions of the lyre date to the middle of the Bronze Age in the Cycladic and Minoan civilizations. Lyre’s can be seen on decorative motifs on Minoan pottery, wall-paintings in Mycenaean Pylos show a five string lyre and Mycenae shows decorated ivory fragments. Lyre’s can also be seen in 8th century BC Greek pottery. Surviving lyre’s from ancient Greece include a tortoise sound-box from the 5th century BC and turning pegs from the 6th century BC. In one incredible discovery a bronze lyre was uncovered from the Antikythera shipwreck dating back to the Hellenistic period. The lyre was an integral part of ancient Greek education. It was said that Achilles was taught how to play the lure while Plato considered the lyre or the kithara as the only suitable instruments for musical education. Some Greek city-states even depicted the lyre on their coins. These include the silver stater of cayman, the silver drachma of Delos, coins of Kos and coins of Thespiai.

The Ancient Greek Lyre:

Kithara of Apollo from Michalis Georgiou on Vimeo:

Brazen Bull

Greek: Ορειχαλκινο Ταυρο
What: A torture and execution device.
Location: Akragas, Sicily
Built: 6th Century BC
Inventor: Perillos of Athens

Brazen bull.

Brazen bull.

The brazen bull, (or the Sicilian bull) is a torture and execution device designed in ancient Greece. Perillos of Athens, a brass-founder, proposed to Phalaris, the tyrant of Akragas, Sicily, the invention of a new means for executing criminals. This was done hoping to dissuade the poor population from committing any more crimes. Accordingly, he cast a bull, made entirely of brass, hollow, with a door in the side in the 6th century B.C. The condemned were shut in the bull and a fire was set under it, heating the metal until it became yellow hot and causing the person inside to roast to death. The Brazen Bull became one of the most common methods of execution in Ancient Greece.

Phalaris commanded that the bull be designed in such a way that its smoke rose in spicy clouds of incense. The head of the ox was designed with a complex system of tubes and stops so that the prisoner’s screams were converted into sounds like the bellowing of an infuriated bull. It is also said that when the bull was reopened, the scorched bones of the remains shone like jewels and were made into bracelets.

As the story goes, when Perillos finished the brazen bull, Phalaris asked Perillos to try it out by himself. He then ordered him locked inside the brazen bull and set a fire underneath it. He was very pleased with the results. Being burned alive was a very exciting act to watch. Perilaus was then removed from the Bull before he died and Phalaris had him thrown off a cliff. The brazen bull was said to have been tossed in the ocean after the tyrant Phalaris was tossed from his thrown in 554 B.C.

Death Machines – The Brazen Bull:

Mount Athos

Greek: Ορος Αθως
What: A monastic community
Located: Northern Greece

Mount Athos.

Mount Athos.

Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula located in Northern Greece. It is the home of 20 Orthodox monasteries under the direct jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. It is the oldest surviving monastic community in the world and dates back more than a thousand years. Although part of Greece it is actually governed by its own local administration. Today some 2,000 monks call Mount Athos their home.

It was said that Mount Athos was visited by the Virgin Mary and Mother of God and St. John the Evangelist when their ship was blown off course and forced to anchor near the port of Klement. The Virgin overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the mountain asked her Son for it to be her garden. And a voice was heard that said: “let this place be your inheritance and your garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved”. Since then the mountain was to be the garden of the Mother of God and is out of bounds to any other women.

Life on Mount Athos hasn’t changed much since its byzantine days. The daily lives of the monks is steeped in religious practices and strict Byzantine rules. Their life is divided into three equal parts: one for praying, one for working and one for resting. There are two main meals a day, one at half past ten in the morning and supper at seven in the evening. The food is very basic: salad, beans, vegetables, fish, olives, bread, feta cheese and red wine. At festivals fish is served, never meat. The Julian calendar continues to be followed, which is 13 days behind from the Gregorian calendar used by the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Greek is the main language spoken, although some monasteries speak other languages such as Russian, Serbian and Romanian.

CBS Documentary – A Visit To The Holy Mountain ATHOS, Greece:

Diogenes of Sinope

Greek: Διογενης ο Σινωπευς
Who: Philosopher.
Born: 412 BC
Died: 323 BC (81 years old)

Diogenes by John William Waterhouse,  depicting his lamp, jar, and diet of onions.

Diogenes by John William Waterhouse,
depicting his lamp, jar, and diet of onions.

Diogenes “the Cynic” was an ancient Greek philosopher who was born in Sinope (modern day Sinop, Turkey), a Greek state at the time.Diogenes was exiled from his native city and moved to Athens, where he is said to have become a disciple of Antisthenes, the former pupil of Socrates. Diogenes, a beggar who made his home in the streets of Athens, made a virtue of extreme poverty. He is said to have lived in a large tub, rather than a house, and to have walked through the streets carrying a lamp in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man. He eventually settled in Corinth where he continued to pursue the Cynic ideal of self-sufficiency: a life which was natural and not dependent upon the luxuries of civilization. Believing that virtue was better revealed in action and not theory, his life was a relentless campaign to debunk the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt society.

In his new home, Athens, Diogenes’ mission became the metaphorical adulterating/defacing of the “coinage” of custom. Custom, he alleged, was the false coin of human morality. Instead of being troubled by what is really evil, people make a big fuss over what is merely conventionally evil. This distinction between nature (“physis”) and custom (“nomos”) is a favorite theme of ancient Greek philosophy, and one that Plato takes up in The Republic, in the legend of the Ring of Gyges. Unlike the other citizens of Athens, he avoided earthly pleasures. This attitude was grounded in a great disdain for what he perceived as the folly, pretense, vanity, social climbing, self-deception, and artificiality of much human conduct.

At the Isthmian Games (in Corinth), he lectured to large audiences. It may have been at one of these festivals that he met Alexander the Great. The story goes that while Diogenes was relaxing in the sunlight one morning, Alexander, thrilled to meet the famous philosopher, asked if there was any favour he might do for him. Diogenes replied, “Yes: Stand out of my sunlight.” Alexander still declared, “If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes.” In another account, Alexander found the philosopher looking attentively at a pile of human bones. Diogenes explained, “I am searching for the bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from those of a slave.”

There are numerous accounts of Diogenes’ death. He is alleged variously to have held his breath; to have become ill from eating raw octopus; or to have suffered an infected dog bite. When asked how he wished to be buried, he left instructions to be thrown outside the city wall so wild animals could feast on his body. When asked if he minded this, he said, “Not at all, as long as you provide me with a stick to chase the creatures away!” When asked how he could use the stick since he would lack awareness, he replied “If I lack awareness, then why should I care what happens to me when I am dead?” At the end, Diogenes made fun of people’s excessive concern with the “proper” treatment of the dead.

Unsung Philosophers: Diogenes:


Ancient Greek Coins

Greek: Αρχαια Ελληνικα Νομισματα
First introduced: 7th Century BC
Denominations: Tetartemorioi, Obol and Drachm

Ancient Greek coin - Athens Owl.

Ancient Greek coin – Athens Owl.

The Ancient Greeks were among the first people in the world to use a coinage system starting in the 7th century BC. The central denomination of this coinage system was the drachm (meaning “a handful”) which derived its name from the fact that six obol (Prior to the coinage system metal sticks were used and were referred to as obol) were usually how much someone could hold in their hand.

Coins were first issued in Ionia, Asia Minor by Lydians to pay Greek mercenaries for their services who wanted to be paid in precious metal. These coins were very labor intensive and were made of gold and silver, which were highly prized and abundant in that area. With the advancement of technology in producing coins they eventually caught on with the ancient Greek world. Over half of the two thousand Greek city-states began minting their own coins. All coins were hand made and usually depicted a portrait of the cities patron god or goddess or a legendary hero on one side with the other side depicting a recognizable symbol of the city and the cities name written as well. During the Hellenistic era, when the Greek culture spread to parts of North Africa and the Middle-East, the Greek-kingdoms began minting coins with a portrait of the Kings themselveson them with the name of the king inscribed on them instead of the Greek-kingdom name.

The most commonly used coin in the classical era was the Athenian tetradrachm (“four drachmae”) which depicted the goddess Athena on the front and owl on the back. This is where the saying “an owl to Athens” comes from, which refers to something that is plentiful in supply. During the 5th and 4th century BC it was believed that a skilled worker would be paid a daily wage of one drachma and a juror would get paid half a drachm. In Aristophanes play “Wasps” he mentions that the daily half-drachm of a juror was just enough for a family of three to live on for the year. Today’s historians and economists estimate the value of one drachm in ancient Greece to be equal to US$42.

Famous coins of ancient Greece:

Ancient Greek Coins for Auction:


Greek: Δελφοι
Where: Delphi, Central Greece
Founded: 1200 BC
Closed: 395 AD



Delphi was an important site of worship in ancient Greece and home to the Delphic oracle (The Pythia). Delphi was thought by the Greeks to be at the middle of the Earth and people from all over the ancient world would come to Delphi to seek the oracles advice. Delphi was also home to a major temple dedicated to the god Apollo and the Pythian Gameswhich were held every four years.

Delphi was most famous for its oracle. The oracle was always an older woman chosen from one of the peasants in the area. She would sit on a tripod over an opening in the Earth where she would fall into a deep trance allowing the god Apollo to take over her body. While in this trance the oracle would go into a “rave”and the priests of the temple would translate these ravings into elegant verses to the people who consulted the oracle.

Delphi prospered for centuries as people would erect statues and build temples in honour of Apollo and thanking the oracle. Among the more famous statues and buildings at Delphi were the Temple of Apollo built in the 4th century BC, the Treasury of Athensthe Ancient Theatre, the Tholos (see picture above), the Stadiumthe Charioteer and more. Delphi was truly a place of riches.

During the early part of the 1st century BC barbarians burned the temple of Apollo and looted Delphi. The oracle and the surrounding area turned into decay. Delphi was looted again in 66 AD when Nero came to Greece and took away over 500 of the best statues and brought them back to Rome. Then in 395 AD Theodosius I ordered for Delphi’s closer due to its ties to pagan rituals. It wasn’t until 100 years later that Christians settled permanently and established the town of Kastri. Delphi would become buried and it wasn’t until in 1893 that the French Archaeological School uncovered Delphi that the site would be brought back to life.

Delphi – The Bellybutton of the Ancient World – BBC (full documentary):

Secrets at Delphi:


The Greek Islands

Greek: Ελληνικα Νησια
Numbers of Islands: over 5,000
Islands with more than 100 inhabitants: 78
Largest Island: Crete

Map of the Greek Islands.

Map of the Greek Islands.

The Greek Islands are a collection of over 5,000 islands and islets that belong to Greece. Only 227 of the islands are inhabited, and only 78 of those have more than 100 inhabitants. The largest Greek island by area is Crete at 8,336 km located in the southern Aegean. The Greek islands have become a popular travel destination for touristslooking to take in the Greek sun and sea with Mykonos and Santorini as the most frequently visited islands.

There are eight groups of Greek islands (see picture): The Ionian Islands on the West coast of Greece. The Crete and Kitheria Islands in the Southern Aegean. The Cycladic Islands located in the central area of the Aegean meaning “circle” in Greek and named so in ancient times for the islands surrounding Delos. The Dodekanesse islands meaning “12 islands” in Greece although there are really 20 islands. The East Aegean islands just off the coast of Turkey. The Saronic Islands located just off the Greek mainland. The Sporades islands meaning “scattered” in Greek and finally the Northern Aegean Islands. These different groups of islands are all unique in their own way and are what make up the Greek islands.

Best Greek Islands for:

  • Beaches:Naxos, Mykonos and Thassos
  • Main Town:Mykonos and Santorini
  • View:Santorini
  • Sightseeing:Crete and Rhodes
  • Nightlife:Mykonos, Corfu, Ios and Zakinthos
  • Harbour:Symi
  • Classical Site:Delos
  • Peace and Quite:Many to be found
  • Food:All of them

Greek Odyssey: The Greek Islands:

Tunnel of Eupalinos

Greek: Ευπαλινειο ορυγμα
Where: Samos island
Built: 6th Century BC
Engineer: Eupalinos from Megara

Tunnel of Eupalinos.

Tunnel of Eupalinos.

The Tunnel of Eupalinos is a tunnel of 1,036m in length built in 530 BC in Samos, Greece. It was built to serve as an aqueduct and is considered to be a masterpiece of ancient engineering.The tunnel is the second known tunnel in history which was excavated from both ends, and the first with a geometry-based approach in doing so. The tunnel was built to act as a water supply for the main port city in Samos. With the advancement of the Persian army on Samos the people of Samos needed safe access to the closest water supply and they needed it fast. Therefore, instead of building the tunnel from one direction and coming out the other they needed to built it from both sides of the mountain and have it meet in the middle.

The students of Pythagoras were entrusted with this difficult job, under the direction of the engineer Eupalinos (whom the tunnel is named after) from Megara. Eupalins needed to figure out a way to have both sides meet in the middle and did so using well-known principles of geometry. If Eupalinos made a mistake of more than two metres with his measurements it would be disastrousas the two sides would not meet in the middle and would miss each other completely. Knowing that two parallel lines never meet, and having calculated where the expected meeting point in the middle should be, he changed the position of both tunnels close to their meeting point so that a crossing point would be guaranteed. The tunnel would be used for the next thousand years only to be buried and forgotten until recently re-discovered one hundred years ago.

Today the tunnel remains as a popular tourist attraction but may never have been discovered if it weren’t for Herodotus describing it in one of his scripture:

“And about the Samians I have spoken at greater length, because they have three works which are greater than any others that have been made by Hellenes: first a passage beginning from below and open at both ends, dug through a mountain not less than a hundred and fifty orguia in height; the length of the passage is seven stadia and the height and breadth each eight feet, and throughout the whole of it another passage has been dug twenty cubits in depth and three feet in breadth, through which the water is conducted and comes by the pipes to the city, brought from an abundant spring: and the designer of this work was a Megarian, Eupalinos the son of Naustrophos.”

There are no other scriptures that mention the tunnel and if it were not for Herodotus description we may never have even known about it. In 1853, Using this description as his guide, the French archaeologist Victor Guerin began searching for it. He was able to locate the spring and the beginning of the aqueduct but did not discover the tunnel. For the next 30 years people continued to look for it and it wasn’t until in 1882 when a monk revealed where the tunnel was that an effort was made to re-open the tunnel and clean it out. However, due to the difficulty of cleaning the tunnel it was abandoned and it wasn’t until 90 years later in 1971 that the tunnel was finally cleaned and cleared by the German Archaeological Institute of Athens.


Engineering an Empire – Ancient Greece:


Hippodrome of Constantinople

Greek: Ιπποδρομος της Κωνσταντινουποληs
What: Stadium for Chariot Racing
Where: Constantinople (modern day Istanbul)
Built: Fourth Century AD

Ottoman minature of the Hippodrome (1582).

Ottoman minature of the Hippodrome (1582).

The Hippodrome of Constantinople was a stadium that was built in the fourth century AD for chariot racing. The Hippodrome, meaning “horse path” in Greek, was the centre of sporting and social life in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, that would have fit up to 100,000 people. It was in the shape of a long “U” with the emperor’s loge located at the eastern end of the track over looking the stadium. The emperor’s loge was accessible via an underground passage which only the emperor and other imperial family members could use.

The top of the entrance to the Hippodrome was decorated with four large horse statues made of copper. These horses were looted during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 by the Venetians and taken back to Venice to St. Mark’s Basilica where they still remain to this day. Many statues of gods, emperors and heroes decorated the stadium. In the middle of the Hippodrome (known as the Spina) stood three tall and important monuments: The Bronze Obeliskthe Serpent Column and the Egyptian Obelisk.

The Hippodrome was home to four teams that took part in chariot races. Each one was financially supported by a different political party: The Blues (Venetoi), the Greens (Prasinoi), the Reds (Rousioi) and the Whites (Leukoi). Up to eight chariots (two chariots per team), with four horses each competed in the races. The rivalry between the Blues and Greens was one of the greatest at the Hippodrome. So fierce was this rivalry that it culminated with the Nika riots of 532, in which 30,000 people were killed.Today nothing is left of the Hippodrome except for the three monuments located in the Spina. The area is known as Sultan Ahmet Square and there is a paved road over top where the original racetrack was.

Byzantine Empire Hippodrome of Constantinople – Sultanahmet:

Byzantium Hippodrome:

Antikythera Mechanism

Greek: Μηχανισμος των Αντικυθηρων
What: An Ancient computer that calculates astronomical positions.
Discovered: 1900-1901 at the Antikythera shipwreck
Built: 1st Century BC

The antikythera mechanism.

The antikythera mechanism.

The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient computer that was designed to calculate astronomical position. The device was discovered in 1900-1901 just off the Greek island of Antikythera by a group of sponge divers. There they discovered a ship wreck dating back to the 1st century BC and among the ship’s treasures was this device. During its time the device would have been housed in a wooden box and comprised of 30 gears all in different shapes and sizes with instructions written on the device in Koine Greek. It is thought that the device may have been constructed on the Greek island of Rhodes, which was known as the centre of astronomy and mechanical engineering at the time.

The device worked by turning a small hand crank to the correct date which in turn turned the gears around showing the calculation of the position of the Sun and Moon, moon phases, eclipse cycles, the location of the five known planets at the time and the timing of the ancient Olympic Games. It is thought that the device may have been designed by the Greek mathematician Archimedes as Cicero’s De re public mentions of a similar device brought to Rome after the death of Archimedes at the siege of Syracuse in 212 BC.

Ancient Greek Discoveries: Antikythera Mechanism – The world’s first computer:

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