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Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Ancient Rome boasted the most impressive technological feats of its day, using many advancements that would be lost in the Middle Ages and not be rivaled again until the 19th and 20th centuries. But though adept at adopting and synthesizing other cultures' technologies, the Roman civilization was not especially innovative or progressive. Many practical Roman innovations were adopted from earlier Greek designs. New ideas were rarely developed. Roman society considered the articulate soldier who could wisely govern a large household the ideal, and Roman law made no provisions for intellectual property nor the promotion of invention. The concept of "scientists" and "engineers" did not yet exist, and advancements were often divided and based on craft, as groups of artisans jealously guarded new technologies as trade secrets. Nevertheless, a number of vital technological breakthroughs were spread and thoroughly used by Rome, contributing to an enormous degree to Rome's dominance and lasting influence in Europe.

Roman engineering as well as Roman military engineering constituted a large portion of Rome's technological superiority and legacy, and contributed to the construction of hundreds of roads, bridges, aqueducts, baths, theaters and arenas. Many monuments, such as the Colosseum, Pont du Gard, and Pantheon, still remain as testaments to Roman engineering and culture.

The Romans were particularly renowned for their architecture, which is grouped with Greek traditions into "Classical architecture". During the Roman Republic, it remained stylistically almost identical to Greek architecture. Although there were many differences from Greek architecture, Rome borrowed heavily from Greece in adhering to strict, formulaic building designs and proportions. Aside from two new orders of columns, composite and Tuscan, and from the dome, which was derived from the Etruscan arch, Rome had relatively few architectural innovations until the end of the Republic.

In the 1st century BC, Romans started to use concrete, widely. Concrete was invented in the late 3rd century BC. It was a powerful cement derived from pozzolana, and soon supplanted marble as the chief Roman building material and allowed many daring architectural schemata. Also in the 1st century BC, Vitruvius wrote De architectura, possibly the first complete treatise on architecture in history. In late 1st century BC, Rome also began to use glassblowing soon after its invention in Syria about 50 BC. Mosaics took the Empire by storm after samples were retrieved during Lucius Cornelius Sulla's campaigns in Greece. Article on history of Roman concrete

Concrete made possible the paved, durable Roman roads, many of which were still in use a thousand years after the fall of Rome. The construction of a vast and efficient travel network throughout the Empire dramatically increased Rome's power and influence. It was originally constructed to allow Roman legions to be rapidly deployed. But these highways also had enormous economic significance, solidifying Rome's role as a trading crossroads—the origin of the saying "all roads lead to Rome". The Roman government maintained way stations which provided refreshments to travelers at regular intervals along the roads, constructed bridges where necessary, and established a system of horse relays for couriers that allowed a dispatch to travel up to 800 kilometers (500 mi) in 24 hours.

The Romans constructed numerous aqueducts to supply water to cities and industrial sites and to assist in their agriculture. The city of Rome was supplied by 11 aqueducts with a combined length of 350 kilometres (220 mi).Most aqueducts were constructed below the surface, with only small portions above ground supported by arches. Sometimes, where depressions deeper than 50 metres (165 ft) had to be crossed, inverted siphons were used to force water uphill. The Romans also made major advancements in sanitation. Romans were particularly famous for their public baths, called thermae, which were used for both hygienic and social purposes. Many Roman houses came to have flush toilets and indoor plumbing, and a complex sewer system, the Cloaca Maxima, was used to drain the local marshes and carry waste into the Tiber river. Some historians have speculated that the use of lead pipes in the sewer and plumbing systems led to widespread lead poisoning which contributed to the decline in birth rate and general decay of Roman society leading up to the fall of Rome. However, lead content would have been minimized because the flow of water from aqueducts could not be shut off; it ran continuously through public and private outlets into the drains, and only a small number of taps were in use.

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