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Medieval Asian Inventions

500 - 1100 CE

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Medieval Asia saw the invention of products both luxurious (porcelain, toilet paper, perfume, chess) and intensely practical (the flamethrower, canal locks, and hypodermic needles).

589 CE | Invention of toilet paper, China

Toilet paper, which was invented in almost 1,500 years ago in China.
bollin on Flickr.com
The name of the first person to use toilet paper has been lost to history, but the first reference to the practice comes from Chinese court official Yan Zhitui in 589 CE. Other self-cleaning techniques around the world at that time included rags, leaves, grass, moss, corncobs, wool, a sponge-on-a-stick, or simply washing with water. Toilet paper has become one of the most favored bathroom hygiene methods because it is simple, effective and light-weight.

621 CE | Invention of chess, India

Chess was invented in India as a military tactics training device, 1,400 years ago.
Unhindered by Talent on Flickr.com
The game of chess probably evolved from a four-sided Indian game played with dice and a board. The original game, called Chaturanga, was used to teach military tactics. After some time, the game was simplified into a two-player strategy contest. Chess spread to Persia, Arabia, and finally into Europe in the eighth century, via the Moorish occupation of Spain and Portugal.

7th century CE | Invention of perfume, Arabia

Perfume was invented in Arabia about 1,400 years ago.
vagawi on Flickr.com
Although people had been using the oils of different herbs and nuts to perfume their bodies for thousands of years, but it wasn't until much later that Arab chemists had the idea of distilling flower oils for perfume. These oils, mixed with fragrant tree resins and musk, formed the basis of the modern perfume industry.

c. 850 CE | Invention of porcelain, China

Chinese potters invented porcelain about 1,200 years ago.
faungg on Flickr.com
Around 850 CE, Chinese potters developed a transluscent and fragile form of ceramics called porcelain. Made from a mixture of feldspathic rock and kaolin (also known as "China clay"), Chinese porcelain was a prized luxury item for importers in Europe and the Middle East for centuries. The secret of porcelain manufacture was not discovered until the eighteenth century in Europe.

c. 850 CE | Invention of gunpowder, China

Gunpowder was invented by accident in China in the ninth century.
jonrawlinson on Flickr.com
Ninth century Chinese alchemists in search of the Elixir of Life found instead a rather explosive combination - gunpowder. Despite the fact that it burned down several homes and did not increase life spans, the Chinese inventors recognized the military and civilian uses of this concoction, including fireworks, artillery shells, land mines, cannons and flamethrowers.

9th century CE | Windmills with verticle sails invented, Persia

Persian inventors created the first windmills about 1,200 years ago.
david.nikonvscanon on Flickr.com
Early windmills in Persia had between six and twelve sails, made of a wooden frame covered with cloth or reed mats. The mills were used both for drawing water and for grinding grain.

919 CE | Invention of the flamethrower, China

Shortly after gunpowder was invented, it was turned to military uses, such as the flamethrower.
BurningQuestion on Flickr.com
The Chinese used an early flamethrower (called a "pen huo qi" - fire throwing machine) in their frontier battles against the Mongols and other Central Asian peoples. The flamethrowers were ignited by slow-burning fuses, and used a petroleum-based fuel.

983 CE | Invention of navigation locks for canals by Qiao Weiyo, China

Amazingly, the first navigational locks were created about 1,100 years ago in China.
gailf548 on Flickr.com
Moving boats up a steeply-graded river or canal can be a daunting task. 10th century Chinese engineer Qiao Weiyo was the first person to realize that by building two locks, one after the other, on the watercourse, a pond of stillwater will be created between the locks. Then water from the higher side can be directed into the pond, raising the water level, and the boat. This system is still in use all around the world.

c. 1000 CE | Invention of medical syringe by Ammar ibn Ali al-Mawsili, Iraq

The hypodermic needle was invented about 1,000 years ago in Iraq.
mcost on Flickr.com
The Iraqi surgeon Ammar ibn Ali al-Mawsili invented the first medical syringes. His syringe was a hollow glass tube topped with a needle, which he used for extracting cataracts from the eyes of his patients.

1092 CE | Invention of the mechanical water-wheel clock by Su Sung, China

The creation of accurate time-pieces challenged engineers for centuries.
gruntzooki on Flickr.com
The Chinese Buddhist monk, Su Sung, invented the first reliable mechanical clock in 1092. The mechanism was driven by a water wheel, and drove astronomical models used for astrology and predicting the future.
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