How Was Time Measured in Ancient Times What Is the Difference Now?

Time is a concept that has fascinated humans for centuries. In fact, the earliest recorded attempts to measure time date back to ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and Babylonians.

These early methods of timekeeping were very different from the modern methods we use today. In this article, we’ll explore how time was measured in ancient times and what the differences are with modern timekeeping.

Measuring Time in Ancient Times

The earliest known method of measuring time was using obelisks or sundials. The Egyptians used these structures to divide their day into two 12-hour periods, with one period being measured from sunrise to sunset and the other period being measured from sunset to sunrise. The Babylonians also used sundials, but they divided their day into 24 equal parts, which is where our modern system of hours comes from.

As civilizations became more advanced, so did their methods of measuring time. The Greeks developed a water clock called a clepsydra that used the flow of water to measure time. This was an improvement on earlier methods because it could measure shorter periods of time more accurately.

The Chinese also developed their own methods of measuring time, including using incense sticks that burned at a set rate or using a candle clock that burned down at a set rate.

The Development of Modern Timekeeping

The development of modern timekeeping can be traced back to the invention of the mechanical clock in Europe during the 14th century. These clocks were operated by weights or springs and had an escapement mechanism that regulated the movement of gears.

In 1884, an international conference was held in Washington D.C., where it was agreed upon that Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) would be used as the standard for measuring time around the world. This decision led to the creation of international time zones, which allowed for consistent and accurate communication across long distances.

Today, we use highly accurate atomic clocks to measure time. These clocks use the vibrations of atoms to keep time and are accurate to within one second over millions of years.

  • Differences Between Ancient and Modern Timekeeping

    • Ancient methods of timekeeping were often imprecise and varied between cultures.
    • Modern timekeeping is highly precise and standardized across the world.
    • Ancient methods were often based on astronomical events, such as the movement of the sun or stars.
    • Modern timekeeping is based on atomic vibrations.
    • The invention of the mechanical clock allowed for more accurate timekeeping in Europe during the Middle Ages.
    • The development of international time zones has allowed for consistent communication across long distances.


In conclusion, measuring time has come a long way since ancient times. From obelisks and sundials to atomic clocks, our methods have become increasingly accurate and precise.

While ancient methods may have been imprecise and varied between cultures, modern timekeeping is highly standardized across the world. The development of international time zones has allowed for consistent communication across long distances, making our world a more connected place.