When the Romans invaded Britain, they brought with them the type of technology boldly described by mainstream historians as being ‘firsts.’

In reality however, the Romans were using, second, third or even fourth hand technologies, copied from knowledge obtained from closely guarded, ancient sources.

Putting aside the obvious things people will think of, the example I will use is a 1600 year old chalice, known as the Lycurgus Cup.

Displayed at the British Museum, the cup appears jade green when lit from the front, but when backlit, turns blood red.

The strange properties of the cup, which had puzzled scientists since the Museum acquired it during the 1950’s, was finally solved in 1990.

Researchers had scrutinized minute broken fragments under a powerful microscope, and discovered that the maker had impregnated the glass with particles of gold and silver, ground down until they were as small as 50 nanometers in diameter.


50 nanometers is roughly less than a thousandth the size of a grain of table salt.

The precise mixtures of the metals used, does suggest that the Romans knew exactly what they were doing, which was also the view of archaeologist Ian Freestone of University College, London.

When hit with light, electrons belonging to the different metal flecks vibrate in ways that change the color depending on the observer’s position.

When the cup was filled, depending on what liquid was used, the vibrating electrons would change as they interacted, effectively changing the colour of the contents.

The Romans were clearly aware of, and were utilising nano technology almost two thousand years ago, and they were not even the first to use it.

Yet in the modern world, it was heralded as being a ‘first,’ a little over thirty years ago.

Home pregnancy tests are the most recognisable uses of this type of nano-based technology, but even they are a fairly recent ‘invention’, only introduced into the United States and Europe during the middle of the 1970’s.