From metal bulls roasting people to death to philosophers in barrels, here are ten crazy
things the ancient Greeks did.
Milo of Croton
The Ancient Greeks invented progressive strength training.
Milo of Croton won six Olympiads in the wrestling events.
He also won multiple times at the Pythian Games, Isthmian Games, and Nemean Games.
Milo loved to show off his strength and dexterity.
According to sources, his favorite trick was to hold a pomegranate and have people try
to take it from him.
No one was strong enough to take the pomegranate from him and he also managed to not damage
How did he gain such prodigious strength and skill?
According to popular legend, Milo noticed a newborn calf near his home.
He decided to lift the animal and carry it on his shoulders.
He returned the next day and did it again.
He did it every day until the calf grew to a four-year-old bull.
Thus was progressive strength training born.
Here’s another wild athlete story.
Theagenes of Thasos was a formidable fighter who won over 1,300 bouts over his two decade
He even won a crown for long-distance running in the city of Argos.
As a boxer, he was never defeated.
According to legend, years after his death, a vandal tried to deface a statue honoring
The bronze statue broke in half and crushed the would-be criminal.
Birth Control by Sneezing
The Ancient Greeks had various forms of birth control.
Some forms involved certain herbs and plants, which worked very well.
However, one physician, Soranus, advised women to do something a little odd.
After intercourse, women were told to squat and sneeze to avoid becoming pregnant.
He also suggested jumping up and down to dislodge the sperm.
If that’s not crazy enough for you, the website Snopes.com was still debunking the
“jump up and down” method of birth control as recently as 2007.
In the 6th century BC, a brass worker named Perilaus of Athens created a large, hollow
bull made of brass and gave it to a ruler named Phalaris.
A door on the side of the bull allowed a man to climb into the sculpture.
Once the door was closed, a fire could be lit from underneath and slowly roast the person
But it doesn’t end there.
In the head of the bull was a series of stops and pipes that transformed the screams of
the person into “the tenderest, most pathetic, most melodious of bellowings”.
Phalaris was far from impressed.
So disgusted by the cruelty of the piece, he asked Perilaus to climb into the bull and
demonstrate the capabilities of the pipes.
Once inside, Phalaris shut the door and ordered a fire lit beneath the bull.
He reportedly said, “Receive the due reward of your wondrous art; let the music-maker
be the first to play.”
Before Perilaus died, they removed him from the bull and threw him off a cliff.
Despite Phalaris’s disgust, the brazen bull became the most common form of execution in
Here’s an extra fact.
Phalaris was a tyrant ruling in Acragas in Sicily from 570 BC to 554.
He’s known for several building projects but he did have a cruel streak that made him
the proverbial “evil tyrant”.
According to legend, after he was overthrown by a general, the new ruler ordered Phalaris
to die by roasting to death inside the brazen bull.
Did you know?
Cheating was a huge problem in Ancient Greek sport, just like today.
Most of the time, it was the usual bribery or foul moves during games.
Here is a picture of a scene on a kylix depicting two pankratists fighting.
One of them is trying to gouge out the eye of his opponent while simultaneously biting.
The umpire is preparing to strike the fighter for the foul.
Some fighters would find an easier way and try to curse or hex their opponents using
“curse tablets” to make them lose.
An event held during the Olympic Games was the pankration, which was a mixed martial
arts style that blended boxing and wrestling.
Most famous of the pankratists was Arrhachion.
During the 54th Olympiad in 564 BC, Arrhachion entered the pankration to defend his championship.
However, his opponent got the better of him and put Arrachion into a chokehold.
It is said Arrhachion’s trainer shouted, “What a fine funeral if you do not submit
Arrhachion responded by twisting and kicking his opponent’s foot and dislocating it.
The pain forced his opponent to surrender.
Unfortunately, the move broke Arrhachion’s neck.
Despite that, the judges named Arrhachion the victor.
In death, he successfully defended his title.
His fame spread as people held him up as the athletic ideal.
Geographer Pausanias mentioned a statue immortalizing Arrhachion during his description of Phigalia,
making it the oldest victor statue ever recorded.
Throw an Apple
Throughout history, there have been dozens of ways for one person to declare love to
The Ancient Greeks put an interesting twist on it: they threw apples.
According to Greek myth, Eris, the goddess of discord, was upset that no one invited
her to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis.
True to her nature, she threw a golden apple inscribed with the words “to the most beautiful”
into the wedding party.
Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite all claimed the apple.
For whatever reason, they chose Paris of Troy to select the recipient.
Hera and Athena bribed him, but Aphrodite offered the best prize: the most beautiful
woman in the world, Helen of Sparta.
Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, claimed Helen, and started the Trojan War.
Isn’t that romantic?
From then on, Greeks considered the apple sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
Throwing an apple was the symbolic way of declaring love and catching it meant you reciprocated
the person’s feelings.
Philosopher in a Barrel
Diogenes of Sinope is a larger than life figure who we know little about with any certainty.
He left behind no writings or other first-hand accounts.
Most of what we know comes from legend and theory.
If half of this was true, he must have been a fascinating figure.
Diogenes immigrated from modern-day Turkey to Athens in the 4th century BC because he
and his father may have been defacing money.
Diogenes fled before authorities arrested him.
Why he defaced money remains a mystery.
Anyway, Athens at the time was the center of Greek philosophy and Diogenes fell in love
with the teachings of Antisthenes, who preached asceticism and simplicity.
At first, Antisthenes was unimpressed by Diogenes and tried to chase him away with a stick.
Eventually, though he relented and took Diogenes on as a pupil.
In an effort to fully live this new philosophy, Diogenes gave away all of his possessions
save a stick, a cloak, and a bread bag.
He lived in a barrel, urinated in public, and did everything he could do to show that
happiness was not found in wealth or possessions but in oneself and in pure honesty.
People thought he lived like a dog, so they called him a “cynic”, which meant “canine”.
His philosophy, therefore, became known as “cynicism”.
Diogenes’ story doesn’t end here.
Pirates captured him during a voyage to Aegina and took him to Corinth, where he lived until
dying around the age of 90.
How he died is a thing of legend.
Some say he died from a dog bite, others that he ate some bad octopus, and still others
say he held his breath until dying.
Most historians think it was just old age.
Diogenes requested that his friends throw his remains to the dogs but they gave him
a proper burial, placing a marble pillar and a statue of a dog over his grave.
Want to hear a funny story?
One day, Diogenes sat by his barrel to enjoy the sun.
Alexander the Great approached him and asked if he could do anything for the famous philosopher.
Diogenes replied, “Yes.
Step to one side.
You’re blocking the sun.”
Those of you who enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey might also enjoy this.
Otherwise, you might want to skip this number.
A BDSM practice today, figging began as a Greek practice for horses, called “gingering”.
Ginger was placed into the anus of a horse to cause the horse to hold its tail up high.
At some point, someone decided to use it as a punishment for female slaves and it became
known as “figging”.
A skinned ginger root was inserted into the anus or vagina, causing a burning sensation.
The slave was then restrained so she could not remove the root.
Interestingly, the practice of figging as a punishment was carried on until the Victorian
era, when the same was done to female prisoners.
Did you know?
Slaves filled in important gaps in the workforce because working for money, outside of a government
job, was frowned upon.
Slaves worked as cooks, artisans, maids, miners, nurses, porters, and even in the army as attendants
to their masters, baggage carriers, and sometimes as fighters.
The weirdest example?
The police in Athens during part of the fifth and fourth centuries BC consisted mostly of
In ancient Greece, if a woman wore red lipstick, it meant she was a prostitute as it was seen
as extremely sexually suggestive.
Most women during this time avoided makeup altogether.
The lipstick was often made from a combination of dye, wine, sheep sweat, human saliva, and
Because it was a mark of prostitution, it also led to the first law concerning lipstick.
If a prostitute appeared on the street during the wrong hours of the day or without the
required lip color, she could be fined for posing as a lady.
When we think of the term “gymnasium”, we think of exercise, basketball courts, and
The word we use, though, has a double meaning.
It comes from a Greek noun that meant “a place to exercise” and “a place to be
In Ancient Greece, men exercised in the nude.
They believed that doing so honored the gods.
In fact, the practice was so beloved that when someone tried to introduce loincloths,
they were vehemently refused.
The Greek gymnasium, however, was more than a place to work out.
It functioned as a sort of men’s club, where they discussed politics and philosophies of
Young boys and older men met and became lovers in gymnasiums.
It was an accepted practice of Ancient Greek life because the older man was supposed to
act as a mentor for the boy.
Burning the Temple
The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and
was built around 550 BC.
The temple was 350 feet by 180 feet.
The statue of Artemis was made of gold, ebony, silver, and black stone.
A garment decorated with reliefs of animals and bees covered the legs and hips.
Wonderful works of art adorned the interior of the temple.
A young Ephesian man named Herostratus wanted his name remembered throughout history.
On July 21, 356, he set fire to the wooden furnishings of the mostly stone building and
put rags placed in key places throughout the sanctuary so it would burn faster.
By morning, only the pillars were left behind.
The Ephesians were so enraged that, after executing Herostratus, they made a law to
strike Herostratus’ name from all record and make it illegal to speak his name.
However, a non-Ephesian historian named Theopompus recorded the arsonist’s name.
The date is also important as it was the same night Alexander the Great was born.
Legend has it that Artemis was so preoccupied by the birth of Alexander, she didn’t notice
her own great temple burning.
Ephesians rebuilt the temple, only for it to be destroyed again later, by the Goths.