Romans are famous for their advanced engineering accomplishments,
although some of their own inventions were improvements on older
ideas, concepts and inventions. Technology for bringing running water
into cities was developed in the east, but transformed by the Romans
into a technology inconceivable in Greece. The architecture used in
1,000 cubic metres (260,000 US gal) of water were brought into Rome
by 14 different aqueducts each day. Per capita water usage in ancient
The aqueducts could stretch from 10–100 km (10–60 mi) long, and typically descended from an elevation of 300 m (1,000 ft) above sea level at the source, to 100 m (330 ft) when they reached the reservoirs around the city. Roman engineers used inverted siphons to move water across a valley if they judged it impractical to build a raised aqueduct. The Roman legions were largely responsible for building the aqueducts. Maintenance was often done by slaves.
The Romans were among the first civilizations to harness the power of water. They built some of the first watermills outside of Greece for grinding flour and spread the technology for constructing watermills throughout the Mediterranean region. A famous example occurs at Barbegal in southern France, where no fewer than 16 overshot mills built into the side of a hill were worked by a single aqueduct, the outlet from one feeding the mill below in a cascade.
They were also skilled in mining, building aqueducts needed to supply
equipment used in extracting metal ores, e.g. hydraulic mining , and
the building of reservoirs to hold the water needed at the minehead.
It is known that they were also capable of building and operating
mining equipment such as crushing mills and dewatering machines. Large
diameter vertical wheels of Roman vintage, for raising water, have
been excavated from the Rio Tinto mines in Southwestern Spain. They
were closely involved in exploiting gold resources such as those at
Dolaucothi in south west
Roman bridges were among the first large and lasting bridges ever built. They were built with stone, employing the arch as basic structure. Most utilized concrete as well. Built in 142 BC, the Pons Aemilius , later named Ponte Rotto (broken bridge) is the oldest Roman stone bridge in Rome, Italy.
An example of temporary military bridge construction are the two Caesar\'s Rhine bridges .
The Romans built many dams for water collection, such as the Subiaco dams, two of which fed Anio Novus , the largest aqueduct supplying Rome. One of the Subiaco dams was reputedly the highest ever found or inferred. They built 72 dams in Spain, such as those at Mérida , and many more are known across the empire. At one site, Montefurado in Galicia , they appear to have built a dam across the river Sil to expose alluvial gold deposits in the bed of the river. The site is near the spectacular Roman gold mine of Las Medulas .
Several earthen dams are known from Britain, including a
well-preserved example from Roman Lanchester,
Longovicium , where it
may have been used in industrial-scale smithing or smelting , judging
by the piles of slag found at this site in northern England. Tanks for
holding water are also common along aqueduct systems, and numerous
examples are known from just one site, the gold mines at
The buildings and architecture of Ancient
The Pantheon in
The technology developed for the baths was especially impressive, especially the widespread use of the hypocaust for one of the first types of central heating developed anywhere. That invention was used not just in the large public buildings, but spread to domestic buildings such as the many villas which were built across the Empire.
The most common materials used were brick , stone or masonry , cement
, concrete and marble .
Diagram of Roman road construction Main article: Roman roads
There were several variations on a standard Roman road. Most of the higher quality roads were composed of five layers. The bottom layer, called pavimentum, was one inch thick and made of mortar. Above this were four strata of masonry. The layer directly above the pavimentum was called the statumen. It was one foot thick, and was made of stones bound together by cement or clay.
Above that, there were the rudens, which were made of ten inches of rammed concrete. The next layer, the nucleus, was made of twelve to eighteen inches of successively laid and rolled layers of concrete. Summa crusta of silex or lava polygonal slabs, one to three feet in diameter and eight to twelve inches thick, were laid on top of the rudens. The final upper surface was made of concrete or well smoothed and fitted flint.
Generally, when a road encountered an obstacle, the Romans preferred to engineer a solution to the obstacle rather than redirecting the road around it: Bridges were constructed over all sizes of waterway; marshy ground was handled by the construction of raised causeways with firm foundations; hills and outcroppings were frequently cut or tunneled through rather than avoided (the tunnels were made with square hard rock block).
Drainage wheel from Rio Tinto mines.
The Romans were the first to exploit mineral deposits using advanced technology, especially the use of aqueducts to bring water from great distances to help operations at the pithead. Their technology is most visible at sites in Britain such as Dolaucothi where they exploited gold deposits with at least 5 long aqueducts tapping adjacent rivers and streams. They used the water to prospect for ore by unleashing a wave of water from a tank to scour away the soil and so reveal the bedrock with any veins exposed to sight. They used the same method (known as hushing ) to remove waste rock, and then to quench hot rocks weakened by fire-setting .
Such methods could be very effective in opencast mining, but fire-setting was very dangerous when used in underground workings. They were made redundant with the introduction of explosives , although hydraulic mining is still used on alluvial tin ores. They were also used to produce a controlled supply to wash the crushed ore. It is highly likely that they also developed water-powered stamp mills to crush hard ore, which could be washed to collect the heavy gold dust.
At alluvial mines, they applied their hydraulic mining methods on a
vast scale, such as
Las Medulas in north-west Spain. Traces of tanks
and aqueducts can be found at many other early Roman mines. The
methods are described in great detail by
Pliny the Elder
He also described deep mining underground, and mentions the need to dewater the workings using reverse overshot water-wheels , and actual examples have been found in many Roman mines exposed during later mining attempts. The copper mines at Rio Tinto were one source of such artifacts, where a set of 16 was found in the 1920s. They also used Archimedean screws to remove water in a similar way.
Main article: Roman military engineering
The army was also closely involved in gold mining and probably built
the extensive complex of leats and cisterns at the Roman gold mine of
Twelve kilometers north of Arles, at Barbegal, near Fontvieille ,
where the aqueduct arrived at a steep hill, the aqueduct fed a series
of parallel water wheels to power a flourmill . There are two
aqueducts which join just north of the mill complex, and a sluice
which enabled the operators to control the water supply to the
complex. There are substantial masonry remains of the water channels
and foundations of the individual mills, together with a staircase
rising up the hill upon which the mills are built. The mills
apparently operated from the end of the 1st century until about the
end of the 3rd century. The capacity of the mills has been estimated
at 4.5 tons of flour per day, sufficient to supply enough bread for
the 12,500 inhabitants occupying the town of Arelate at that time.
Scheme of the water-driven Roman sawmill at
The watermill is shown on a raised relief on the sarcophagus of Marcus Aurelius Ammianos, a local miller . A waterwheel fed by a mill race is shown powering two frame saws via a gear train cutting rectangular blocks.
Further crank and connecting rod mechanisms, without gear train, are
archaeologically attested for the 6th century AD water-powered stone
A complex of mills also existed on the
The site thus resembles
Barbegal , although excavations in the late
1990s suggest that they may have been undershot rather than overshot
in design. The mills were in use in 537 AD when the
Many other sites are reported from across the
* ^ Vinati, Simona and Piaggi, Marco de. “Roman Aqueducts,
Aqueducts in Rome.” Rome.info. Web. 5/1/2012
* ^ Duruy, Victor, and J. P. Mahaffy. History of
* Davies, Oliver (1935). Roman Mines in Europe. Oxford.
* Healy, A.F. (1999).
Pliny the Elder
* Smith, Norman (1972). A History of Dams. Citadel Press.
* ^ Simona Vinati and Marco de Piaggi, “Roman aqueducts, Aqueducts in Rome”, (Rome.info), Accessed Decemb