Ancient Greek Laptop explained

Of course Ancient Greeks had laptops! I’m sick and tired of all those people trying to deny the evidence of their own eyes. I mean look at it: what else could it possibly be? Not to mention those portals – a dead giveaway.

Gravestone with a Woman and Her Attendant

Gravestone with a Woman and Her Attendant

Actually, archaeologists have unearthed evidence of many other modern devices which nobody dares to speak of. For example, look at this ancient teacher using a modern laptop with a stylus in his classroom:


Scene from an ancient Greek classroom.

These two statues in the Acropolis museum they’re using tablets with their covers down, isn’t it plainly obvious?


Two scribes, in the New Acropolis Museum.

Not to mention this statue in Olympia which shows just how familiar ancient Greeks were with cell phones. I mean my own parents aren’t that comfortable using a cell phone and yet here he is, chatting easily, like a 21st century teen.


A seer from the Pediment of the Temple of Zeus in Olympia.

Aren’t these proof enough, you disbelievers?


You wish!


Here comes science

The interesting thing about all these claims is that no one has been able to find a single plug, charger or battery in more than two centuries of continuous, persistent digging. No electricity production plant has been discovered either. Transfer cables, pylons? Nope.

What the heck? We’ve found ancient toilets, tweezers, children’s toys, grains and even pollen, but not one plug? Drat. That really complicates things. Where did that laptop get its juice from?

So, if not tablets or laptops, what are these objects?

Actually they are tablets, only not digital.

The analog tablet

Excuse me? What on earth is an analog tablet?

Simply put, it was a slab of wood, covered with a material one could write on. That material could be fine wax, in which case writing was done using a pointed stylus. The back of the stylus was flat – a stroke of the flat end could quickly erase what was written leaving the page blank again.

For more permanent records, the wood could be whitewashed, and painted or written on using a pen dipped in ink.

Often these tablets were joined together to form something like a booklet. Think of them as a rather bulky notebook.

The lady in the tombstone could possibly have been an amateur poetess, perhaps longingly looking at some of her own writing that she never finished. It’s not impossible, although I find the jewelry box theory far more likely (see below).

The sitting statues in the New Acropolis museum are scribes, holding boxes with all their writing material on their knees. The box could include wooden tablets with wax for quick note taking, bits of papyrus for more permanent writing, stylus and pen, knife for sharpening the above, ink, extra wax.

An example of such tablets was recently discovered in Istanbul, beautifully preserved in the mud that engulfed a sunken Byzantine ship of about 800 CE (AD). Notice the holes on the side for the leather cords which held the tablets together.


Byzantine wooden tablets, from a sunken ship in Istanbul.

Another example is this poet’s kit (4th century BCE), now in the Piraeus Archaeological Museum, which contained waxed wooden tablets.


Waxed wooden tablets for note-taking, Archaeological Museum of Piraeus.

The USB portals?

Despite the claims of the viral video, these are drill holes. It’s quite probable that the relief in question had been broken and repaired by means of metal “dowels” onto which the broken piece of marble was attached (or a replacement). This was common practice and drill holes like these are found in many ancient sculptures.


The jewelry box theory

Could it be a jewelry box? It is more than probable. Some claim that other jewelry boxes on gravestones look different but, seriously, are all modern jewelry boxes alike? Here is an example of a flat box – if opened it wouldn’t be much bigger than the “laptop” one.



Young servant girl, on broken funeral stela. National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece.

Looking or playing with items the deceased loved in daily life but cannot have anymore is a familiar theme in tombstones like this one; it is probably a means to convey sorrow for the small earthly pleasures that the dead lost forever.



Woman and her attendant in funerary stela. 5th century BCE, National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

The probability that the flat case in question is indeed a jewelry box is supported by the fact that the deceased is shown wearing three impressive bracelets, either implying how much she loved to dress herself to the nines, or to show off her family’s wealth. The very ornate armchair she’s sitting on seems to indicate the latter. The jewelry in the box is not shown but it must have been painted, as all ancient Greek statuary was colored.

The cell phone

Despite the familiar gesture, looks can be (and often are) deceiving. The man shown is a Seer from the pediment of the Temple of Zeus in Olympia. The pediment shows the legendary chariot race between King Oinomaos and prince Pelops, for the hand of the former’s daughter. Endowed with the power to tell the future, the elderly man could foretell the result of the race and therefore knew that the king would die during it. His gesture is one of worry or consternation and the cell-phone like item in his hand is a bit of marble that simply wasn’t chiseled off. Actually several details in all the sculptures of this temple are not finished to perfection, probably due to lack of funds.

I hope I’ve put all the crazy theories about laptops in antiquity to rest, once and for all.


… ancient Greeks may not have had laptops or cell phones but they had conceived of very sophisticated devices, some of which they actually built and others they simply theorized about…

(to be continued)



Note 1: The original photo was obtained with the kind permission of the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Malibu, California, but was too large to upload here. A compressed version is used instead. All rights belong to the museum.

Note 2: The picture of the Byzantine writing tablets was obtained from this article. Again, all rights belong to the authors.

One comment on “Ancient Greek Laptop explained

  1. Pingback: Relief of a woman with scrolls | Aristotle, Greek tourist guide

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