Ancient Greek History

Odometer Was Invented in Ancient Greece

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Greek News 5An odometer is an instrument that is used to measure distance. These days, the large majority of odometers are digital or a combination of digital and mechanical. However, it wasn’t always this way. Back when the Ancient Greeks first invented this useful instrument, they were purely mechanical. Designs have evolved over the years, but the basic function was always the same. They have always been used to measure distance in things like automobiles, bicycles, and back before these were invented, horse drawn carts. Here is more information about the history of the odometer:

Alexander the Great May Have Used Odometers

Not much is known about how and when the first odometer was invented. However, the first known evidence that the odometer existed in Ancient Greece can be found in the written works of two writers, Pliny, who was a Roman, and Strabo, an Ancient Greek. They both mention that Alexander the Great was concerned with measuring distance through his bematists, who were trained to measure distance while counting their steps. These writers noticed that the bematists were precise and accurate, which wasn’t always the case when measuring distance with their footsteps. Both writers concluded that in order to achieve such accurate measurements, a mechanical device had to have been used. However, the writers merely speculated and didn’t specifically mention the device itself. It is widely believed, however, that Alexander’s bematists did use odometers to make their measurements accurate.

First Known Mention of Odometers

Vitrivius, a Roman who was alive from around 80-15 BC, is actually the first to have directly mentioned the use of an odometer for measuring distance. Although he wasn’t an Ancient Greek, many people believe that the inventor of the odometer that he mentioned was actually Archimedes, a Greek inventor from Syracuse who was alive from 287-212 BC. However, this is under debate because some people actually think that Hero of Alexandria invented the first odometer. He mentioned an odometer in his famous work, the Dioptra. During Vitruvius’s time, the odometer was designed to fit on a chariot and it accurately measured distances from one place to the other. It is very possible that the device had already been invented before he was even born, though.

Odometer Use is Widespread

It is widely accepted that both the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Romans regularly used odometers. However, there is some debate as to who actually invented it. The fact that Alexander the Great employed people who would measure distance based on step-counting indicates that there was a great need for such a device. Over time, other inventors, such as Leonardo DaVinci, improved on it. Today, they’re widely used and most people don’t even think about where they came from. Although the odometers that most people encounter today are actually digital, they wouldn’t have been possible without the Ancient Greeks!



Wikipedia – Odometer

Wikipedia – Strabo

Wikipedia – Pliny the Elder

Wikipedia – Bematist

Wikipedia – Vitruvius

Wikipedia – Archimedes

Wikipedia – Hero of Alexandria


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This post was written by Greek Boston

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