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One of the first historical references to the yo-yo appears on a Greek vase from 440 B.C. The ancient Greek name for this toy is unknown. Wikimedia Commons
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The gesture of "flipping someone off" with your middle finger dates back to Ancient Greece. It started as a phallic gesture meant to offend the recipient and goes back as far as the 4th century B.C.Wikimedia Commons
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Many Greek male statues are never well endowed because small penises were coveted. In ancient lore, only foolish males ruled by lust had large penises. Wikimedia Commons
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Girls had to marry as virgins — usually by the age of 13 or 14. The marriage was organized by the girl's father, who chose the husband and accepted the dowry. Wikimedia Commons
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Ancient Greeks believed in zombies and took serious precautions to keep the dead from rising out of their graves. Dead people who were thought to rise again — a diverse group including murder victims and those with genetic deformities — were known as "revenants." These people were either incinerated or dismembered before burial or weighed down with heavy stones afterward to keep them from getting up.Wikimedia Commons
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Ancient Greeks embraced pedophilia and a boy's father would even choose the older male partner. Every Olympian god, except Ares, is said to have had these relationships and it was not considered harmful but instead a normal part of life.Wikimedia Commons
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They used pebbles and broken ceramics as toilet paper.Wikimedia Commons
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The Ancient Greeks used the world's first computer in the first century B.C. The Antikythera mechanism was an astrological clock that employed gears and wheels that mimicked the movements of the planets. The measurements were so precise that it enabled its user to predict celestial events such as eclipses and phases of the moon, and kept track of the timing of the Olympic Games. Wikimedia Commons
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The ancient Greeks used olive oil as a spermicide. It was said to slow down the sperm’s mobility while drowning the weaker ones. Pixabay
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Ancient Greek Olympics didn't start the torch relay tradition — the Nazis did. At the 1936 Berlin games, the Nazis thought a torch relay would make for good showmanship and encouraged onlookers to yell "Heil, Hitler" as the flame passed. Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
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A brazen Ancient Greek's bull torture device supposedly saw victims placed inside a bronze bull and then burned to death by a fire below. Historians, however, argue to this day whether the device actually existed.Wikimedia Commons
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People used to work out naked. In fact, the word “gymnasium” translates from the Greek "gymnasion," meaning “school for naked exercise."NAMA/Wikimedia Commons
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The original Santa Claus, Bishop Saint Nicholas, was from ancient Greece. Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of children which entailed saving kids from lives of prostitution and resurrecting murdered youth.Pixabay
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Adultery was serious business; punishment for men could entail burning the hair from their anus with hot ash, and sodomizing them with a radish.Pixabay
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Politicians who became too powerful or dangerous could be exiled for 10 years if the public voted for it. In a process called Ostracism, citizens voted for a particular politician to be banished by anonymously scratching the leader's name into a piece of pottery, hence the modern word "ostracize."Wikimedia Commons
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Ancient Greeks rarely drank wine without diluting it first. A standard ratio of water-to-wine was four-to-one because heavy drinking and drunkenness were looked down upon and associated with barbarism. Wikimedia Commons
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When the Greeks fought the Romans in the Pyrrhic War (280 - 275 BC) they used elephants as a tool of mass destruction. The horses of the Roman cavalry never stood a chance against the elephant herd.Wikimedia Commons
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Ancient Greeks often purchased their slaves with salt. This is origin of the phrase “not worth his salt."Wikimedia Commons
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Men that performed in public, such as athletes, actors, or singers wore a leather string that pulled the penis upward and was tied in a bow. This practice was called kynodesmē and was considered a sign of modesty and decency.Wikimedia Commons
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Fathers would decide whether the family would keep their newborn and unwanted babies were abandoned in the street. Babies born too weak or deformed, or simply just born a female,
were sometimes left to die.Marsyas/Wikimedia Commons
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Ancient Greece's foremost doctor, Hippocrates, would taste patients' earwax, urine, or puss to diagnose their ailments. raedmansour/Flickr
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Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos first proposed the idea of a heliocentric universe in the 3rd century B.C. None of his work survived, but tales of his writings from other Greek philosophers inspired Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus in the 16th century.Wikimedia Commons
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The Greeks played a soccer-like sport called episkyros with a ball made from an inflated pig's bladder.Wikimedia Commons
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Most Greek men could play at least one musical instrument fairly well. Men were also trained to sing and dance, as music was essential to everyday life.Wikimedia Commons
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Lesbianism in ancient Greece was called Tribadism, and most tribades were believed to have enlarged clitorises. The definition extended to include a masculine woman who penetrated both women and men. Wikimedia Commons
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Boys in the Spartan warrior society left home, began a rigorous education, enrolled in military training, and started an endurance program at age seven.Wikimedia Commons
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Tradition held that Spartan women were to be abducted by their soon-to-be husbands as part of the wedding. Ancient Greek writer Plutarch claimed that these Spartan women would have their heads shaved and be made to sit alone in a darkened room while wearing men's clothing until their future husbands came and abducted them and carried them off to consummate the union.Wikimedia Commons
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The Ancient Greeks believed that a woman's womb could "wander" about her body. In the case of miscarriage, the area was fumigated with cow dung in hopes that the womb would move away from the smell and discard its fluids.Wikimedia Commons
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Greek philosopher Plato invented the first alarm clock around the 4th century, B.C. He did it by adding a whistle to a water clock, which works as water drips from one vessel into another.Wikimedia Commons
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Most Ancient Greeks wore a chiton, basically a long, sleeveless T-shirt. Both men and women wore this garment. internetarchivebookimages/Flickr
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Women possessing a unibrow were considered intelligent and beautiful. If women were lacking in the eyebrow department, they might use kohl, an ancient eye cosmetic, to fill in the gap. Elenats.93/Wikimedia Commons
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Married women were not allowed to watch the ancient Olympics, under penalty of death. The actual reason is unknown, but it may be because of the naked male competitors parading around. Wikimedia Commons
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Male prostitutes were as common as females and both served male clientele. This predates any moral laws on same-sex relations. While the man was expected to be the "pursuer," the object of his lust could be either male or female.Wikimedia Commons
33 Ancient Greece Facts That Reveal The Strange Side Of The Founders Of Western Civilization
It all but goes without saying that Ancient Greece has had an unparalleled influence on Western civilization as we know it.
The best and brightest of the Greek kingdoms and colonies between approximately the eighth and second centuries B.C. pioneered everything from drama and literature to mathematics and astronomy. Greek artwork hangs in museums all over the world and the wisdom of Plato and Aristotle is still taught in high schools and universities today. And without the Ancient Greeks, we almost certainly wouldn't have geometry, the Olympics, or democracy itself.
And yet, there's even more to the story of Ancient Greece than first meets the eye.
For starters, historians don't always agree on what exactly "Ancient Greece" means. The timeline implied by this phrase isn't exactly set in stone, but most agree that the period began in the eighth century B.C., a time when Greek writing first emerged in earnest, the legendary poet Homer created his seminal works, and the Greek people started living in developed city-states.
From there, those city-states like Athens and Sparta developed further and forged advancements in technology, culture, and government that persist to this day. Everything from history's first computer to its first dramas came into being in Ancient Greece.
Meanwhile, the Greeks made advancements in warfare and diplomacy that allowed them to take the technology and culture that they'd developed to the rest of the world as they knew it at that time. By the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., most of the northern Mediterranean was under Greek control.
But by the second century B.C., invading Roman forces were rapidly dismantling Greek domination of the region. Historians generally agree that the end of "Ancient Greece" as we know it came with Roman victory in the Battle of Corinth in 146 B.C., at which point the Greek peninsula came under Roman rule.
Although Greek dominance may have ended then, their influence lasts to this day.
And as much as the Greeks are rightly revered for essentially giving birth to Western civilization, any comprehensive list of Ancient Greece facts is also sure to include some surprising tidbits that reveal a stranger, sometimes darker side of Hellenistic life.
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several published book covers in her career as a graphic artist.