Where does an idea originate? Who is the first to “invent” this or that concept? In our modern world, we often hear that the true inventor is not the one who claims the invention to be his, either because the initial creator did not have the means to promote his idea or because he simply didn’t protect it with a copyright.
In antiquity, copyright did not exist, of course, and ideas traveled back and forth in the baggage of the merchants or in the minds of the craftsmen sold as slaves or moved from their homeland for whatever reason.
The grid plan of city building is largely attributed to Hippodamus of Miletus, a Greek mathematician, meteorologist, philosopher and physician from the 5th century BC, who also was known as a town planner. He planned the building of many cities around the Mediterranean, the first of which could be the
. He also was involved in the reconstruction of Miletus after the Persian destruction, to be followed by the construction of cities like Olynthus and Pella in harbor of Piraeus . His ideal city would be inhabited by 10,000 male citizens, which would correspond to a total of 50,000 people when including women, children and slaves. It would typically have a large central area that soon became the agora, surrounded by neighborhoods of Greece 240 m2 blocks of houses with an upper floor and separated by a wall, all facing south.
Digging a little further into history, it turns out the layout of Babylon was equally following the same grid plan with right-angle streets and the city must have looked very familiar to Alexander when he arrived there in 331 BC. Although Babylon is much older, the city was rebuilt by the Assyrians who made it the capital of their Neo-Babylonian Empire between 609 and 539 BC. King Nebuchadnezzar II, who reigned from 605 to 562 BC, added the famous ziggurat and the Ishtar Gate, one of the eight entries to the city. The
, which counted among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were also constructed by him. Based on the available descriptions of Babylon, the grid plan was already known in Hanging Gardens Asia over a century before Hippodamus claimed his “invention”.
Yet, there is more to the ancestry of the so-called ideal Greek city layout. We have to go back 4,500 years in time and all the way to the
where cities like Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were founded using the very same layout. These cities had a central agora, large public baths, a large central well and many small wells serving individual houses or a cluster of houses; the sewage was led to drains running under the main streets and many houses had their own bathroom. Both cities were large settlements belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization and located on the banks of the now dried up Indus Valley Ghaggar-Hakra River, west of the . Indus River
With the coming of the Islam and the general decline of the Middle-Ages, we in the west lost this marvelously well-organized city planning till it was revived in the 20th century all over the globe, from Asia to the America’s. Pending whatever discoveries will be made in the future, for now, Hippodamus’ “invention” is just some two thousand years older than generally accepted.