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In Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" a nineteenth century character finds himself in medieval England and shortly manages to build all the "modern" inventions: from steam engines to Gatling guns.

While this is entertaining, I find it hard to believe that a single person would be able to introduce those modern world inventions without the backing of industry and science.

So let’s say that modern twenty-first century engineer/scientist/MacGyver travels back in time, but to make it more interesting lets make it to the Hellenic Greece around 490 BC and a good fate would allow him to became an influential person.

But he knows that in 10 years Xerxes will arrive with huge army — how can he prepare his city-state to fight off the invaders? Of course by using his knowledge — but then he can't like the Twain's Yankee just handwave and build machine guns in a country that still mainly relies on bronze. What then should he try to re-invent and build?

EDIT: 5 years seems to be a short span, I've changed it to 10.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, an experienced 19th century factory worker, empty-handed, would have much better chances to start the industrial revolution in a medieval or classical era, than a modern engineer with lots of modern tech. The 19th century hero in Mark Twain's novel had good knowledge of metalworking without needing high-tech computer controlled or electronically driven equipment. In the 19th century America, people were used to arriving in the middle of nowhere and building up a town from almost nothing. A modern engineer would have no chances without an industrial base supporting his gadgets. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jul 19 '16 at 6:22
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android, if you go back far enough you can make it the norm for historic groups to be bootstrapped to higher technology from the future and the time-police won't bother you as that's how it's always worked. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jul 19 '16 at 13:41
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    $\begingroup$ The Greeks were thinkers. If it counts, I would definitely expect Newtonian physics to fascinate them more than anything else. $\endgroup$ – Devsman Jul 19 '16 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ Just got back. Asked Cleisthenes if there was anything they could use, but he didn't have time to talk. He was catching a Bulbasaur. $\endgroup$ – Ed Plunkett Jul 20 '16 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ OT, but I think your engineer would do much better working for Xerxes and his tolerant, multi-cultural empire rather than for xenophobic and slave-owning citizens of a city-state : ) And don't forget that many military inventions/tactics were put into great use (eg combined arms phalanx of Alexander III) and then forgotten just because nobody felt like using them. So I doubt a total stranger could pitch his new ideas when proven, wars-winning ideas were rejected for no reason. $\endgroup$ – Agent_L Jul 21 '16 at 16:19

19 Answers 19

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I am far from the first to think of this, but alphabetical long distance signalling, whether by Semaphore line, heliograph or shuttered lantern gives you the biggest bang for your buck as an invention to introduce from a low technological base. Given that the Greeks already had alphabetic writing many people have wondered why they or the Romans didn't think of it. Just one of those things, I suppose. Naval flag signalling using pre-arranged flags to indicate certain manoeuvres was apparently known to the Greeks, but did not extend to a system able to send any message.

Two-way signalling faster than a galloping horse will transform the Greeks' defence against Xerxes, although they will need to be aware that he will eventually copy the idea. The Greeks do have the advantage of home territory, so they can build towers in advance. To keep their signals secure the Greeks will need to develop ciphers and codes for military and later commercial use. Once your time traveller has got them started on the idea - which by some accounts they had already had for themselves - there are plenty of ingenious mathematically-inclined Greeks to take codemaking and codebreaking forwards.

In an earlier answer to a similar question, I borrowed some more ideas for innovations to introduce from L Sprague de Camp's 1939 novel Lest Darkness Fall in which a time traveller introduces distillation of spirits as an immediate money-maker, and Arabic numerals to eventually transform the society of sixth century Rome. For that answer I forgot to mention another long term idea from the same book, double-entry bookkeeping, but remedy that omission now. In the long run the ledger entry is more powerful than the sword.

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    $\begingroup$ +1: I could kick myself for not having thought of this one! (Since several ideas are noted here, I should specify that the self-kicking would be for not having thought of naming the clacks, in its various forms.) $\endgroup$ – Charles Rockafellor Jul 19 '16 at 7:52
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    $\begingroup$ The one side-effect of doing this is that nobody would ever invent the marathon race. We'd probably have some kind of flag waving event in the Olympics instead. $\endgroup$ – Simba Jul 19 '16 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Sima: Isn't that rhythmic gymnastics? $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Jul 19 '16 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ @ypercubeᵀᴹ, yes - in the Wikipedia entry for "Beacon" it says, "In Aeschylus' tragedy Agamemnon, a chain of eight beacons manned by so-called lampadóphoroi inform Clytemnestra in Argos, within a single night's time, that Troy has just fallen under her husband king Agamemnon's control, after a famous ten years siege." This, added to the point Pharap made about the "Polybius Square" suggests that the ancient Greeks had all the elements for visual telegraphy available but for some reason did not take the final step of moving from pre-arranged messages to generating new ones. Or perhaps > $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Jul 20 '16 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ < they did but it didn't take off for some reason, rendering my answer wrong. It could be that the expense of maintaining, staffing and defending a network of towers was just too great for a state of that time. (I gather it was considered expensive even in Napoleon's time, and French semaphore towers were sometimes burned down by opposing forces.) We know that a communications network pays for itself many times over in the long run, but we have hindsight - the Greeks didn't. $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Jul 20 '16 at 18:21
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Simple military technology would make the biggest impact, some ideas.

The longbow, along with conscript soldiers using the massed volley firing technique would outrange generally existing bows, but more importantly the ability to raise a huge force of minimally trained conscripts to provide the massed fire would be devastating to the professional soldiers/armies of the day.

The stirrup, along with the idea of a massed cavalry charge would be very effective against foot soldiers of the day.

The trebuchet able to throw massive loads very long distances. The greeks of 500BC had begun experimenting with simple catapult/mechanical bow throwers. This would be recognizable and generally understandable to them, and effective against fortifications or massed armies.

These ideas would be fairly simple to implement and manufacture at the existing technology level, and would provide a massive improvement over generally existing military methods.

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    $\begingroup$ Ooh, the stirrup's a good one! $\endgroup$ – Charles Rockafellor Jul 19 '16 at 1:55
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    $\begingroup$ Definitely +1 for stirrup, I'm not sold on the longbow idea - while it is superior to the Persian bow (used while mounted or on the move), it requires quite a lot of training to be efficient, and one of its main advantages was the ability to pierce the heavy armor which Persians would lack. $\endgroup$ – Yasskier Jul 19 '16 at 2:05
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    $\begingroup$ Forget bows, crossbows are more powerful and require less training. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Jul 19 '16 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ Longbows require a long training: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_longbow#Training. $\endgroup$ – Martín-Blas Pérez Pinilla Jul 19 '16 at 7:29
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    $\begingroup$ Minimally trained?!? You're kidding, right? There used to be a ha-ha-but-kinda-serious joke among the English military: "How do you train a longbowman? Start with his grandfather." $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jul 21 '16 at 17:58
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If the defense is the main concern I think gunpowder is the most feasible advanced technology to introduce on a disruptively large scale with the resources available at the time.

It would be possible to mine saltpeter (Potassium Nitrate) from somewhere like Spain, Sulfur is right there in Greece as is Charcoal. Grind them together carefully with stone tools to create gunpowder. Its not feasible to create accurate firearms with the available technology in that time frame, so employing it in explosive devices would be the best bet.

It would likely be easiest to inflict the largest amount of damage to the enemy when they are still ship-bound, so deploying naval mines could be one successful tactic. If unable to catch them at sea, then using them as ammunition in catapults or as land-mines would be both devastating and terrifying to an ancient army travelling in columns.

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    $\begingroup$ @Charles-rockafellor Yes I was initially going to answer that advances seafaring and navigation along with a knowledge of locations of other contemporary civilizations would be the most valuable thing. However I decided to change it to this with the scenario in the question being the defense of Greece. $\endgroup$ – navigator_ Jul 19 '16 at 2:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Yasskier I agree that trying to use it for firearms would prove futile as you mentioned in your other comment. However its not just the gunpowder but a larger solution in how to deploy it in ways that otherwise took 500 years to develop after the introduction of gunpowder-based hand weapons. $\endgroup$ – navigator_ Jul 19 '16 at 2:44
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    $\begingroup$ As for gunpowder, I think a horrifying use for it would be ad grenades. Imagine what a simple grenade does to a pike formation. $\endgroup$ – lijat Jul 19 '16 at 4:23
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    $\begingroup$ You could build brass cannons in the bronze age. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jul 19 '16 at 6:24
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    $\begingroup$ Traditionally saltpetre is extracted from urine. Don't remember offhand the rest of the chemistry for its production. Wouldn't be easy. You need to be build the industry for its manufacture not just know the formula for gunpowder. Then train the Greek soldiers not to kill themselves. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jul 19 '16 at 7:02
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To fight, I would reveal the secrets of biological warfare (and how to avoid catching germs yourself), iron, gunpowder, and large scale opium production.

If I can't get them hooked on dope, kill them off with a plague, stab the remainder with incredibly sharp and durable spears, blind their archers with smoke bombs, collapse canyon walls on their convoys with dynamite, frighten their horses with cannon, and generally make it look like Zeus himself had come down mysteriously from Olympus to help a civilization that already had the genius of Athens, the fury of Sparta, and the courage of Thebes, then perhaps all is lost.

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Consider the number one killer of troops of the day, poor or inadequate medical facilities. You can effectively double and redouble your ranks if soldiers that would have died from infection can return to battle. You would further reduce your losses of intelligence and invested training. Start now with sterile facilities, reduced cross contamination, and proper waste disposal. Make it a culture of the people for continued civilization advancement.

So to answer the question, I believe modern sterilization practices(technology) would have the greatest positive effect on a defending force. Utilize your other prior knowledge to earn support then make this recommendation.

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  • $\begingroup$ problem with culture it's hard to change in short time. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jul 21 '16 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ Seems like it might be difficult to convince them of the reality of germs. I'm sure they'll notice if you can get them to follow new procedures for years, but how do you get that started? $\endgroup$ – DCShannon Jul 21 '16 at 19:30
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When the Persians ascend the goat path to flank Thermopylae they will be met with another army that wasn't there an hour before.

While there are stacks of useful inventions to take back and I have them in tables, the bootstrap sequence is long, but the history books are right there. We know the very hour of doom. My army shall be fresh and equipped with steel swords and spears and armor that cannot be broken. Though the bootstrap will not permit large quantities, the choke point is in my favor. Two hundred fresh men well equipped and well supplied are hard to dislodge from a choke point where only one man can approach at once, so narrow was the path.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes probably best one, knowing time and place. and gunpowder will be very useful here. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jul 21 '16 at 1:33
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Archimedes used parabolic mirrors back in the day to create the first energy weapon; they weren't that backward.

Use the concept of polished metal mirrors as an energy source, start ironworking. Even cast iron would be a major improvement over bronze weapons.

Gunpowder in clay pots mixed with metal shards gives you grenades.

Hygiene practices reduce disease in crowded camps. The concept of germs and the basic microscope would revolutionize Greek medicine. This would require the concept of glass lenses, but glass blowing already existed since at least 1000 BC; it would not be an unheard of concept to the Greeks.

Basic mechanics to design better tools, improve weapons, design siege machinery, build stronger boats faster. If the Greeks only managed to only double their productivity by the time the Persians landed, it would still be a winning advantage.

Most importantly, he would know WHEN the Persians would invade and get the Greek to coordinate their defences.The major reason the Persians got as far as they did was that only the Spartans and Athenians were in any shape to field a fighting force. On the other hand, once word reached Persia that the Greeks were advancing, Xerxes would move up his invasion schedule.

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    $\begingroup$ "Gunpowder in clay pots mixed with metal shards gives you Molotov cocktails." - actually it gives you grenades (as were developed in the early 19th century; before Molotov was even born). Molotov cocktails are something rather different involving petrol, $\endgroup$ – MD-Tech Jul 19 '16 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ @MD-Tech: Quite possibly. My idea of grenades was that the explosive is in a metal shell with a trigger or fuse and in Molotov cocktails you put sharp objects in a bottle add explosive and ignite with a flaming rag. According to wikipedia, there is no additional explosive added, so point taken. Still, both are viable options against a Bronze Age army, just replace petrol with flour or olive oil $\endgroup$ – nzaman Jul 19 '16 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ Cast iron as an improvement over bronze weapons? Back when iron took over, it wasn't for being better than bronze, it was about availability and cost. It took us a long time to finally make steel good enough to compete with bronze. Cast iron in particular is worthless for weapons, since it's way too brittle (and, well, heavy). Modern steel probably wouldn't be doable, since you'd have trouble finding the necessary additives, so unless the engineer remembers some old recipes, he'd have trouble introducing steel of high enough quality. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 20 '16 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ @nzaman Also, Molotov cocktails are firebombs. There is so little explosive force that adding sharp objects to the bottle would have little to no effect. The purpose of a Molotov cocktail is to light things on fire. $\endgroup$ – nukeforum Jul 20 '16 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, cast iron is rather hard - that's part of what makes it so brittle. It's very nice that your broken sword still keeps a sharp edge, but it's not very useful as a weapon. And no, it cannot slice through a bronze blade. It couldn't even slice through a wooden staff, and hitting anything like a shield, a bone or another sword would make it shatter. It would dull the bronze blade, but that's easily fixed. You don't want your weapon to be hard, you want it to be tough. Sure, if you have the option, making the edge hard is very useful, but the whole weapon must be tough first and foremost. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 20 '16 at 21:03
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I will make a counterpoint here.

Greek society was built around Yeoman farmers who had roughly equal landholdings, roughly equal economic outputs, stood together as equals on the field of battle (the Hoplite Phalenx) and used this as justification to stand as equals in the Ekklesia as part of the democratic government of the polis. One reason the Hoplite phalanx evolved the way it did was it specifically excluded the poor (who had no weapons to effectively attack a wall of bronze) or the Aristocrats (who's main contribution was javelin armed cavalry, also an ineffective tool against a fully formed phalanx).

So whatever your innovations are, they must be first and foremost acceptable to a class of Yeoman farmers who value both their equality and their ability to hold the power of their society. Longbows or other weapons that help the poor, or stirrups and shock cavalry which would help the aristocrats, would be considered horrifying and destabilizing for the Greeks, and indeed if introduced before the Persian Wars, would probably result in Greece being embroiled in a series of civil wars between the various class elements.

As an aside, the introduction of effective naval technology which allowed the Greeks to take to sea on equal terms with the Phoenicians (and win the battle of Salamis) ended up being extremely destabilizing to the Greek Polis system. Athens granted full citizenship to the rowers because of their performance in the Persian Wars, and this large block of relatively poor, landless people allowed Athens to become "hyper democratic" compared to other city states, develop quite different interests and priorities and become prey to Demagogues. The critical naval technology? A sliding sheepskin seat pad which allowed rowers to make longer and more powerful strokes on the oars when manning a trireme.

So perhaps the best possible solution would be to introduce more effective non mechanized farming techniques, to allow the Hoplite class to expand and provide more savings and investment to the overall Greek society. The Greeks did pretty well during the Persian Wars, having a stronger agricultural base would simply provide greater defensive depth to the Greek city states, and make it much more difficult for Xerxes to advance into Greece.

The long term effect would be to make the Persians think twice about a rematch (and if the Persians didn't come back for a second round, the Greeks and eventually Macedonian King Alexander III would not be thinking about overthrowing the Persian Empire in return).

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, a modern horse collar comes then to my mind - surprisingly simply yet important invention $\endgroup$ – Yasskier Jul 20 '16 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ What they used that time bronze or iron? What kinda yoke they used? Choking or not choking? I see only one problem in 10y time frame it's hard to implement any social changes on global scale specially if everybody care about their equality. So more local changes will be better it will be. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jul 21 '16 at 2:13
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Kicking off an industrial revolution is hard, technology require an energy source and you need quite advanced technology to access most energy sources, it would be a nightmare to build geothermal or hydroelectric power plants from bronze age technology. If there was a large near-surface deposit of coal in ancient Greece you could build steam engines and kick start industrial infrastructure but as far as I know they mainly used charcoal because coal wasn't readily available.

The five year limit is tough too, it's hard to introduce radical new technologies so quickly, I suppose you would have to limit yourself to upgrading branches on the existing tech tree. For example teaching them modern medicine, metallurgy, basic mechanical engineering, invent a flywheel powered lathe, pasteurization and other food preservation techniques.

Edit: Inspired by navigator's answer.

Two or four man lever operated pumps, long hoses (perhaps partially buried if defending a strategic location) and barrels full of "greek fire" which is probably lamp oil mixed with something. The pumps and fuel can be transported in an armoured cart but obviously you would want to keep it away from the enemy and the hoses would be vulnerable, hence burying them to protect them from arrows.

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    $\begingroup$ What are you going to make the hoses out of? $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 19 '16 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ Coal was widely used, as was crude oil - it just wasn't used for metallurgy etc., due to its impurities. It took us a long time to be able to produce refined coal that was actually usable for producing steel. But making a steam engine is not exactly simple, and it requires high quality alloys, a lot of fiddling and is very dangerous. I'm not even starting on modern steam turbines :) That said, you don't need hydroelectric power - even introducing waterwheels and windmills would be a huge bonus for the industry. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 20 '16 at 16:34
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This question deserves a solid list and treatise, though I suspect that such a treatment is beyond my capabilities. I'll list some possibilities that occur to me, for others to expand upon:

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  • $\begingroup$ Addendum not worthy of a full edit: the obvious gunpowder, of course (I debated adding it). $\endgroup$ – Charles Rockafellor Jul 19 '16 at 1:59
  • $\begingroup$ Early gunpowder weapons were not very efficient, I doubt that few cannons shooting once every few minutes would provide enough advantage. $\endgroup$ – Yasskier Jul 19 '16 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Yasskier Don't forget the psychological effects. Early armies would be freaked out until they get used to it. $\endgroup$ – Euphoric Jul 19 '16 at 6:24
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    $\begingroup$ Aluminum production went through several chemical processes (1825-1886) prior to the electrolytic approach, but you're still right about the expense. I can't much debate the problem of production of nylon materials, but primitive plastics might be within a 10-year development capability. I think that I must concede that imaginary numbers might not be of much immediate benefit (beyond causing the ancient Greek geometers to debate); as well, I think that I might have to concede on the Babbage engine's requirements (could be done, but only at great expense). $\endgroup$ – Charles Rockafellor Jul 20 '16 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ Medical knowledge of antimicrobial chemicals and microbes would help defend a city? Future technical developments in light weight tough materials wouldn't either? Same for mathematics, food storage, advanced mechanical computation, or medieval arms R&D? $\endgroup$ – Charles Rockafellor Jul 21 '16 at 1:27
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The assembly line, replaceable parts, and "tools to build tools".

The advantages of many of the other inventions that other people have mentioned (cross bow, trebuchet) could be massively multiplied using assembly lines to create large quantities of them and also focusing on replaceable parts so that broken equipment can be fixed more quickly. This can even apply to technology they already have, e.g. ship assembly lines or shoe assembly lines.

(Side note: For a humorous fictional take on this, see Larry Niven's "The Flying Sorcerer".)

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    $\begingroup$ Interchangeable parts requires precision machining, which requires high-strength tool steels, which requires a strong understanding of chemistry plus a supply line capable of providing high-purity raw materials, which requires... An assembly line more sophisticated than "throw a whole lot of people at it" is a fairly late-stage development of industrialization, not something you can do in a decade. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 19 '16 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ Let's take the crossbow as an example. Basic crossbow has 4 parts (plus bits holding it together): the stock, the bow, the bow string, and the firing lever (and, OK, maybe the stirrup). You will probably still be hand carving the wooden pieces, but you can use guides to get them close enough that any firing lever can fit on any stock and the fasteners are in the same spots. Then you can have specialist carvers carving stocks, etc., and specialist assemblers assembling them in a four(five)-step line. Even arrows get an assembly line, 1) form dowel, 2) cut notch, 3) fletch, 4) attach head. $\endgroup$ – user3067860 Jul 20 '16 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ assembly line, just as principle is already useful - very good suggestion. It can be used not only in production but everywhere - teaching as example. They maybe used some of that - but I'm sure true power of method was hidden from them. As example its easier to learn one operation then whole process. Disagree with @Mark, "three plate method" probably was not known those times and it is base for measuring. Also important need and ability to see sense in that all. Plain care about accuracy, templates, verification of measuring sticks, central production of them, using them - is good enough. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jul 21 '16 at 1:57
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg, the "three plate method" for making flat surfaces is necessary but not sufficient for precision machining. No amount of care or measurement accuracy can compensate when your cutting tool wears down appreciably over the course of making a single part (something I learned the hard way when trying to do precision drilling of a high-hardness alloy using a tungsten carbide bit -- even with the best measurement tools of a modern machine shop, each drill bit change introduced about a 10% uncertainty in depth). $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 21 '16 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark I agree it's complex task, but not forget, most building blocks wood, bronze and soft iron - so steel inserts will go like carbide inserts 1800-1900 europe had no super tools. But still they managed to do much stuff. But really their materials not today's materials, as tools they need. Also just casting is big deal, casting of iron was important method of doing things, because they had no tools which might cut 2 inch deep making 2 tonnes of chips without wear. In most cases wearing of tools is not important until it cuts, more important is you measurement, which shows how close u are. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Jul 21 '16 at 2:28
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I am really surprised that noone has mentioned this so far: Greek Fire (wikipedia) Pros:

  • the greeks actually did win against Xerxes and did so most decisively on the sea (battle of salamis wikipedia), and greek fire was used best on sea
  • while the original formula is unknown, there were some substances with similar effect over the centuries
  • it seemingly had rather sopicticated delivering systems, but simple granades were known too
  • it was created and used in the same region, so the ingredients needed should be available
  • it has greek in the name ;)
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  • $\begingroup$ "Greek" fire got its name because it was used by the Byzantine Empire, which covered rather more territory than the city-state of Athens. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 20 '16 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark "city-state of Athens" != "Hellenic Greece around 490 BC". Byzanz is in the first sentence of the first article i linked to. The territory of Byzanz did change a lot in time. And i do not see how this all is relevant. $\endgroup$ – MoDofGoD Jul 21 '16 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ "Greek Fire" (more properly know as "Sea Fire") was not invented by the Classical Greeks, but centuries later by the Byzantine Empire. The Battle of Artemesium and Salamis were both won by superior Greek naval strategy and tactics, taking advantage of the home waters and being able to meet Phoenician Triremes on an equal footing. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jul 23 '16 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Thucydides indeed - did you read the articles i linked to and decided to point out what the say? $\endgroup$ – MoDofGoD Jul 23 '16 at 8:13
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Dynamite

(A late 19thC technology so not the toughest option)

The reason the battle was fought at the Thermopylae was because that was the only place the Persian army could get through.

Given dynamite, you have two options.

  • Close the pass that was used to outflank the Greek army
  • Close the main pass at Thermopylae itself

If you can time this to split the Persian army in half then you've got an easy win on the war at your next battle.


Failed option: Steel

(3rdC onwards)

As you mentioned, the Greeks were mostly still running on Bronze. However in practice steel doesn't seem to offer significant upgrades in the field as bronze still performs very well. When a man is cutting you off at the knees, you don't take the time to check what his weapon is made of.

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  • Professionalize the army. The Romans built their empire on top of their legions - professional, experienced soldiers that were disciplined and knew how to fight as an unit. Standard weapons also meant that weapons were interchangeable and can be "mass produced".
  • Introduce high quality steel. Iron is better than bronze and steel is better than iron. Steel swords, chainmail, helmets, etc will give you a huge advantage on the battlefield.
  • Binoculars. Relatively easy to make, huge intelligence advantage
  • Any agricultural improvements your engineer could affect will lead to population growth which in turn means more soldiers.
  • Improve hygiene / healthcare. Obviously means more and healthier soldiers.
  • Communications - build a telegraph stations in key location so your lookouts can relate troop movements to you.
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  • $\begingroup$ In 10 years, having more kids just means having more people to care for. Having a higher output of food will, however, allow fewer people to work in the fields, which frees manpower for other things. $\endgroup$ – Clearer Jan 5 '18 at 7:15
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Glass.
Glass would be useful for telescopes and profitable as building and art materials.
You can melt concrete using just a lens. See troops in the distance. Better than silver for reflection.

Uses of microscopes would jumpstart a lot of the ideas about teaching people about germs. You guys are forgetting, that people didn't believe there were little bugs on their hands that caused illness. It took years of campaigning just to get doctors to wash their hands before surgery.

But it would be unsurpassed in generating monetary value. I believe you can buy Manhattan with just a few boxes of glass beads.

Side note: Gunpowder would probably get you killed as a witch.

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  • $\begingroup$ Of course we love glass too, but can you try to add more than a few lines to your answer? $\endgroup$ – Hohmannfan Jul 20 '16 at 1:09
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    $\begingroup$ Glassmaking already existed. More for luxury goods though. What you need to introduce is lens making which is a good idea. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_glass You wouldn't get killed as a witch. The ancient Greeks were more accepting of their witches. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_in_the_Graeco-Roman_world Welcome to Worldbuilding and help keep the ideas flowing. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jul 20 '16 at 9:13
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People have some great answers on here, and certainly medical advances would be paramount if possible. Basic hand washing in lye would be really easy to do, and sterilizing water with sun or heat, but it is so esoteric many people would probably not listen(see the issues with modern day third world countries). Penicillin would be an option, but after a quick google, it looks like getting a pure form is challenging http://io9.gizmodo.com/in-case-of-apocalypse-heres-how-to-make-penicillin-in-1110902296 and even if you find a way to make all of the things needed for it, you run the chance of bad luck at the beginning which could end up with your neck in a noose.

So I figure 2 things would be great:

  1. introducing materials and metallurgy advances. Composite woods would make a big difference, as certainly would better metals. Refining iron ore into basic steels is actually pretty easy, and then from there it could fairly quickly be turned into armor, wheels, swords, arrows(Yay the longbow idea), crossbows, stirrups(also a great idea), etc. and they would be things that people could see and hold so they would certainly start using them.

  2. Hot air or hydrogen balloons This is a fun one and might not be achievable in 5 years (unlike steel), put a wooden water wheel on the side of a river(bonus you introduce water driven mills for wheat grinding). Put the gears in it to get a small dowel spinning at a high speed, extrude some copper wire. Go find some natural magnets in all of the limestone in that area, and bam you have an electric generator. You can use this to create hydrogen and oxygen from salt water, and then use the Hydrogen to fill wood framed leather and pitch dirigible. Don't bother with engines, just float that guy up there tied to a rope and use it for long distance spotting, or fill it with archers and rain arrows down from above and well out of range.

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  • $\begingroup$ Steel is easy, but with the technology of the time, it's also very labor-intensive, and produces pieces of a pound or less, of varying quality. As for hydrogen, you're better off making it by pouring oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid) over iron filings. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 21 '16 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ "use this to create hydrogen and oxygen from salt water" -- last time I tried this, what I actually created was a lot of chlorine gas. Not pleasant. I believe the ancient greeks knew how to produce sodium hydroxide (aka lye) however, and that would be a much better additive to the water than salt. $\endgroup$ – Jules Jul 21 '16 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ Awesome solutions for hydrogen. Certainly both would be easier than what I was thinking, though I suppose chlorine gas has its uses in this scenario as well. As far as steel goes, it is a matter of organization, and seems like it could be fairly achievable, though I admittedly have not tried it personally. For that matter, you might be better off making a few nice(for the time) pieces and then bribing the other powerful kings around to help defend you. $\endgroup$ – theinvisibleduck Jul 21 '16 at 22:01
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Dental hygiene

Lack of dental hygiene in WW1, may have killed more people than bullets. Introducing the toothbrush (fairly simple concept, easy and cheap to make) could dramatically improve the lives of the Greek; on top of that, it wouldn't change the balance of power in the Greek society.

Better materials

Not just metals, but pretty much anything will do. Quality bricks would allow for better and stronger buildings, or at least, houses that are faster to build. With a strong binder, you could quickly build what amounts to a medieval castle which would be virtually unsiegable. Building castles will disrupt the power structure of the Greek society and will require a large amount of people for the construction. Minor fortifications might be a better options.

Viking longboats

I'm not too sure about this -- the real strength of the viking longboats lies in its maneuverability on rivers. At any rate, they are strong, lightweight and don't require a lot of materials. They rival modern (recreational) sailboats for speed, on open waters.

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Building on the 'better hygiene' (brilliantly simple) I'd suggest military tactics and training.

Ancient battlefields are basically slugging matches in which nummerical advantage and morale play a major part. Try to impose modern tactics on a slugging match might rob the enemy of many nummerical advantages.

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    $\begingroup$ Military tactics of the time (at least among the great powers like the Persians and Greeks, and later the Romans) were sophisticated adaptations to the available technology. Modern small-unit tactics and rapid, flowing combat are the result of individuals being able to carry massive amounts of firepower and call in even more from long distances away. Try to use those tactics with bows and swords (or worse: the long spears of the phalanx), and your army will get quickly squashed by the concentrated force of the opposing army. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 19 '16 at 23:40
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Steam-based automatic weapons (ala The Cross-Time Engineer by Leo Frankowski).

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not familiar with the work in question, but steam typically requires large-scale fuel sources (eg. coal mining), automated anything requires precision machining, and weapons usually involve concentrated energy, which requires high-strength materials. You'll need to build up quite a bit of infrastructure in order to make these weapons practical. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 20 '16 at 1:36

protected by Community Jul 20 '16 at 0:57

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