Most of us deploy some form of security system in our homes to protect our properties and personal possessions. With the rise of smart security systems, we’re now able to monitor and guard against a myriad of threats from burglary to flooding at the touch of a button.
But what were security systems like in the past, and how did our forebears go about safeguarding their stuff? We take a look below at just how the means we use to property our properties have changed over the decades – and in what ways they may have stayed the same!
Security Systems Of The Past
It’s not just a sign of our modern times that we have a deep concern with keeping our properties safe; the first security systems can be traced back to the civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. These ancient security systems used basic wooden pin locks to help keep out intruders; they were, however, relatively easy to physically force open – in time, metal was used to construct these locks for greater protection, and their design was improved. Dogs served as a form of early burglar alarm, while our wealthier ancestors may even have employed armed guards to prevent intrusion and theft.
The Ancient Romans used geese as a method of home security, and soldiers would also station a flock of geese outside of any fortifications they were occupying. Not only would the geese make a loud noise at the approach of a potential intruder, but they’re also highly territorial and liable to become aggressive, making them the perfect combination alarm/deterrent system. Interestingly, the practice continued into modern times: until 2012, a flock of geese served to protect the warehouse of famous Scottish whisky maker, Ballantine’s.
Labyrinths and mazes were also used by ancient civilizations to deter, confuse, trap, and even torment potential invaders and continued to be used for centuries in many different countries. While the myth of King Minos of Crete and the minotaur within the maze may have been a story, it no doubt held a kernel of truth, with this type of early security system helping to dissuade thieves from making an attempt on a property.
Home Protection in the Middle Ages
A classic means of protecting a larger house, or castle, in the Middle Ages was through the use of a murder hole. The clue’s in the name, really. These large openings were designed to enable defenders to throw things down onto the intruders below – typically, boulders, molten led, scalding water, and tar were used as missiles, although dung wasn’t unheard of either.
Moats were also a well-used form of defense in the Middle Ages – although they’d been used to protect property since the time of ancient Egypt. There’s evidence that one dry moat in the Czech Republic that surrounds Krumlov Castle – was actually filled with bears.
Security Systems, Medieval Style
More advanced ways of protecting the home and possessions began to come into play during this period. In Japan, some properties made use of nightingale floors: beneath the floor itself was a series of pulleys, metal nails, and metal plates, which would generate a distinct and very loud noise when walked on, thereby alerting the household to the presence of an intruder. The problem was that the floor made noise no matter who walked on it, and legend says that staff in buildings where they were installed learned how to walk in a specific manner to avoid setting them off.
The construction of fences, walls, and other obstacles around property became much more widespread during the medieval period, and it also became common practice in many countries to hang a bell on the inside of a door to alert the inhabitant that someone had entered the house.
Locks became more sophisticated and sturdier, too – although they never stayed a step ahead of picklocks for very long!
Industrial Revolution Era Home Security
The first patent for an electric alarm bell was made by Augustus Pope in 1853; it worked via a series of electrical circuits connected to magnets and then attached to doors and windows and would sound if one of these were opened. In time, Pope improved his invention so that it would continue ringing even once the opened window or door was closed again, making things even harder for potential burglars, and by 1857 his devices were being manufactured en masse to a public eager to better protect their home and valuables.
Barred gates and windows began to be increasingly seen during this period, and lighting began to be used as a way to indicate residents’ presence in the home in the hope of dissuading an intruder – outdoor lighting helped with this, too.
Changes to systems of production during this period meant that locks didn’t just become stronger and more resilient but were cheaper than ever before, too, and so were widely available for the first time.
Modern Security Systems
While it’s true that the security systems we have available to us now all stand on the shoulders of the devices, inventions, and innovations that came before them, the tech advances that have made them possible would no doubt blow the minds of our distant forebears.
While keys and locks may remain the basic element of all security systems, smart locks can now be controlled remotely and can even incorporate fingertip scanning as well as passcodes, while smart doorbells allow residents to see – and even speak – to whoever has come calling without needing to open the door at all.
Watchtowers were how, for centuries, surveillance was carried out to keep properties from being invaded – they were effectively the precursors to the security cameras that we use today to help keep our things safe.
Smart home security systems are a new, holistic way to manage and maintain all aspects of home security, and can be used to monitor camera footage, set rules to turn lights on and off while we’re away, and alert us to flood and fire risks, for example. What would have taken an army of people and an unimaginable amount of resources in the medieval period can now be achieved with the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger from anywhere in the world.