ROMAN TECHNOLOGY is the engineering practice which supported Roman civilization and made the expansion of Roman commerce and Roman military possible for over a millennium (753 BC–476 AD).
* 1 The energy constraint * 2 Craft basis
* 3.1 Roads * 3.2 Aqueducts * 3.3 Bridges * 3.4 Dams * 3.5 Mining * 3.6 Sanitation
* 4 Roman military technology
* 4.1 Other innovations
* 5 Technologies developed or invented by the Romans * 6 See also * 7 References * 8 Further reading * 9 External links
THE ENERGY CONSTRAINT
See also: List of Roman watermills
All technology uses energy to transform the material into a desirable object or uses some form of mechanics combined with another form to make something better. The cheaper energy is, the wider the class of technologies that are considered economic. This is why technological history can be seen as a succession of ages defined by energy type i.e. human, animal, water, peat, coal, and oil. The Romans used water power, and watermills were common throughout the Empire, especially to the end of the 1st century AD. They were used for cereals milling, sawing timber and crushing ore. They exploited wood and coal for heating. There were huge reserves of wood, peat and coal in the Roman Empire, but they were all in the wrong place. Wood could be floated down rivers to the major urban centres but otherwise it was a very poor fuel, being heavy for its caloric value. If this was improved by being processed into charcoal, it was bulky. Nor was wood ever available in any concentration. Diocletian\'s Price Edict can give us a glimpse of the economics of transporting wood. The maximum price of a wagon load of 1,200 lbs of wood was 150 d.(denari). The maximum freight charge per mile for the same wagon load was 20 d. per mile. Room heating was normally better done by charcoal braziers than hypocausts. But hypocausts did allow them to exploit any poor-quality smoky fuels like straw, vine prunings and small wood locally available. Hypocausts also allowed them to generate a humid heat for their baths.
The Romans worked almost all the coalfields of England that outcropped on the surface, by the end of the 2nd century (Smith 1997; 323). But there is no evidence that this exploitation was on any scale. After c. 200 AD the commercial heart of the Empire was in Africa and the East where the climate severely limited timber growth. There was no large coalfield on the edge of the Mediterranean.
Nevertheless, in Roman Egypt all the essential components of the much later steam engine were first assembled by the Greek Mathematician and Engineer Hero :
With the crank and connecting rod system, all elements for constructing a steam engine (invented in 1712) — Hero 's aeolipile (generating steam power), the cylinder and piston (in metal force pumps), non-return valves (in water pumps), gearing (in water mills and clocks) — were known in Roman times.
However, the aeolipile was a reaction engine , inefficient as a stationary engine. The first useful steam engine did not use steam pressure at all, but followed up a scientific advance in understanding air pressure.
Much of what is known of
ENGINEERING AND CONSTRUCTION
The Romans made great use of aqueducts, dams, bridges, and
amphitheatres . They were also responsible for many innovations to
roads, sanitation, and construction in general.
Roman architecture in
general was greatly influenced by the
In the Roman Empire, cements made from pozzolanic ash/pozzolana and
an aggregate made from pumice were used to make a concrete very
similar to modern Portland cement concrete. In 20s BC the architect
Another truly original process which was born in the empire was the practice of glassblowing , which started in Syria and spread in about one generation in the empire.
There were many types of presses to press olives. In the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder reported the invention and subsequent general use of the new and more compact screw presses. However, the screw press was almost certainly not a Roman invention. It was first described by the Greek mathematician and engineer, Hero of Alexandria , but may have already been in use when he mentioned it in his Mechanica III.
Cranes were used for construction work and possibly to load and unload ships at their ports, although for the latter use there is according to the “present state of knowledge” still no evidence. Most cranes were capable of lifting about 6–7 tons of cargo, and according to a relief shown on Trajan\'s column were worked by treadwheel .
The Romans primarily built roads for their military. Their economic
importance was probably also significant, although wagon traffic was
often banned from the roads to preserve their military value. At its
largest extent the total length of the
Way stations providing refreshments were maintained by the government at regular intervals along the roads. A separate system of changing stations for official and private couriers was also maintained. This allowed a dispatch to travel a maximum of 800 kilometres (500 mi) in 24 hours by using a relay of horses.
The roads were constructed by digging a pit along the length of the
intended course, often to bedrock . The pit was first filled with
rocks, gravel or sand and then a layer of concrete. Finally they were
paved with polygonal rock slabs.
Most Roman cities were shaped like a square. There were 4 main roads leading the center of the city, or forum. They formed a cross shape, and each point on the edge of the cross was a gateway into the city. Connecting to these main roads were smaller roads, the streets where people lived.
The Romans constructed numerous aqueducts to supply water. The city
Water inside the aqueducts depended entirely on gravity. The raised stone channels in which the water travelled were slightly slanted. The water was carried directly from mountain springs. After it had gone through the aqueduct, the water was collected in tanks and fed through pipes to fountains, toilets, etc.
The main aqueducts in Ancient
Roman aqueducts were built to remarkably fine tolerances, and to a
technological standard that was not to be equalled until modern times.
Powered entirely by gravity , they transported very large amounts of
water very efficiently. Sometimes, where depressions deeper than 50
metres had to be crossed, inverted siphons were used to force water
uphill. An aqueduct also supplied water for the overshot wheels at
Roman bridges were among the first large and lasting bridges built.
They were built with stone and/or concrete and utilized the arch .
Built in 142 BC, the
Pons Aemilius , later named Ponte Rotto (broken
bridge) is the oldest Roman stone bridge in Rome, Italy. The biggest
An example of temporary military bridge construction is the two Caesar\'s Rhine bridges .
Main article: List of Roman dams and reservoirs
They also built many dams for water collection, such as the Subiaco
Dams , two of which fed
Anio Novus , one of the largest aqueducts of
Further information: Roman metallurgy
The Romans also made great use of aqueducts in their extensive mining
operations across the empire, some sites such as
Las Medulas in
Alluvial gold deposits could be worked and the gold extracted without
needing to crush the ore. Washing tables were fitted below the tanks
to collect the gold-dust and any nuggets present. Vein gold needed
crushing, and they probably used crushing or stamp mills worked by
water-wheels to comminute the hard ore before washing. Large
quantities of water were also needed in deep mining to remove waste
debris and power primitive machines, as well as for washing the
Pliny the Elder provides a detailed description of gold
mining in book xxxiii of his
Naturalis Historia , most of which has
been confirmed by archaeology . That they used water mills on a large
scale elsewhere is attested by the flour mills at
Barbegal in southern
Further information: Thermae
The Romans did not invent plumbing or toilets, but instead borrowed their waste disposal system from their neighbors, particularly the Minoans. A waste disposal system was not a new invention, but rather had been around since 3100 BCE, when one was created in the Indus River Valley The Roman public baths , or thermae served hygienic, social and cultural functions. The baths contained three main facilities for bathing. After undressing in the apodyterium or changing room, Romans would proceed to the tepidarium or warm room. In the moderate dry heat of the tepidarium, some performed warm-up exercises and stretched while others oiled themselves or had slaves oil them. The tepidarium’s main purpose was to promote sweating to prepare for the next room, the caldarium or hot room. The caldarium, unlike the tepidarium, was extremely humid and hot. Temperatures in the caldarium could reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Many contained steam baths and a cold-water fountain known as the labrum . The last room was the frigidarium or cold room, which offered a cold bath for cooling off after the caldarium. The Romans also had flush toilets .
ROMAN MILITARY TECHNOLOGY
Further information: Roman military engineering
The Roman military technology ranged from personal equipment and armament to deadly siege engines. They inherited almost all ancient weapons .
While heavy, intricate armour was not uncommon (cataphracts ), the Romans perfected a relatively light, full torso armour made of segmented plates (lorica segmentata ). This segmented armour provided good protection for vital areas, but did not cover as much of the body as lorica hamata or chainmail. The lorica segmentata provided better protection, but the plate bands were expensive and difficult to produce and difficult to repair in the field. Overall, chainmail was cheaper, easier to produce, and simpler to maintain, was one-size fits all, and was more comfortable to wear – thus, it remained the primary form of armour even when lorica segmentata was in use.
The Roman cavalry saddle had four horns and was believed to have been copied from Celtic peoples.
Roman siege engines such as ballistas , scorpions and onagers were not unique. But the Romans were probably the first people to put ballistas on carts for better mobility on campaigns. On the battlefield, it is thought that they were used to pick off enemy leaders. There is one account of the use of artillery in battle from Tacitus, Histories III,23: On engaging they drove back the enemy, only to be driven back themselves, for the Vitellians had concentrated their artillery on the raised road that they might have free and open ground from which to fire; their earlier shots had been scattered and had struck the trees without injuring the enemy. A ballista of enormous size belonging to the Fifteenth legion began to do great harm to the Flavians' line with the huge stones that it hurled; and it would have caused wide destruction if it had not been for the splendid bravery of two soldiers, who, taking some shields from the dead and so disguising themselves, cut the ropes and springs of the machine.
In addition to innovations in land warfare, the Romans also developed the Corvus (boarding device) a movable bridge that could attach itself to an enemy ship and allow the Romans to board the enemy vessel. Developed during the First Punic War it allowed them to apply their experience in land warfare on the seas.
* Military Surgery : Although various levels of medicine were
practiced in the ancient world, the Romans created or pioneered many
innovative surgeries and tools that are still in use today such as
hemostatic tourniquets and arterial surgical clamps.
A Roman Onager
A Roman Testudo Formation
* Testudo : This strategic military maneuver is originally Roman. The tactic was implemented by having units raise their shields in order to protect themselves from enemy projectiles raining down on them. The strategy only worked if each member of the tested protected his comrade. Commonly used during siege battles, the “sheer discipline and synchronization required to form a Testudo” was a testament to the abilities of legionnaires. Testudo, meaning tortoise in latin, “was not the norm, but rather adopted in specific situations to deal with particular threats on the battlefield”. The Greek phalanx and other Roman formations were a source of inspiration for this maneouver.
Example of a Pontoon Bridge
* Pontoon Bridge : Mobility, for a military force, was an essential key to success. Although this was not a Roman invention, as there were instances of "ancient Chinese and Persians making use of the floating mechanism”, Roman generals used the innovation to great effect in campaigns. Furthermore, engineers perfected the speed at which these bridges were constructed. Leaders surprised enemy units to great effect by speedily crossing otherwise treacherous bodies of water. Lightweight crafts were “organized and tied together with the aid of planks, nails and cables”. Rafts were more commonly used instead of building new makeshift bridges, enabling quick construction and deconstruction. The expedient and valuable innovation of the pontoon bridge also accredited its success to the excellent abilities of Roman Engineers. * Pilum (spear): The Roman heavy spear was a weapon favored by legionaries and weighed approximated five pounds. The innovated javelin was designed to be used only once and was destroyed upon initial use. This ability prevented the enemy from reusing spears. All soldiers carried two versions of this weapon (a primary spear and a backup). A solid block of wood in the middle of the weapon enabled legionaries protection for their hands while carrying the device. According to Polybius, historians have records of "how the Romans threw their spears and then charged with swords". This tactic seemed to be common practice among Roman infantry.
TECHNOLOGIES DEVELOPED OR INVENTED BY THE ROMANS
Abacus, Roman Portable.
Brass The Romans had enough understanding of zinc to produce a brass denomination coinage; see sestertius .
Bridge, segmental arch More than a dozen Roman bridges are known to feature segmental (=flat) arches. A prominent example was Trajan\'s bridge over the Danube, a lesser known the extant Limyra Bridge in Lycia
Bridge, pointed arch
Constructed in the early
The harnessing of camels to ploughs is attested in
Cast Iron Recently archaeologically detected in the Val Gabbia in northern Lombardy from the 5th and 6th centuries AD. This technically interesting innovation appears to have had little economic impact. But archaeologists may have failed to recognize the distinctive slag, so the date and location of this innovation may be revised.
Crank handle A Roman iron crank handle was excavated in Augusta Raurica , Switzerland. The 82.5 cm long piece with a 15 cm long handle is of yet unknown purpose and dates to no later than c. 250 AD.
Dam, Bridge The Band-i-Kaisar, constructed by Roman prisoners of war in Shustar, Persia, in the 3rd century AD, featured a weir combined with an arch bridge, a multifunctional hydraulic structure which subsequently spread throughout Iran.
Dam, Buttress Attested in a number of Roman dams in Spain, like the 600 m long Consuegra Dam
Foot-powered loom Before 298 AD, with a hint the invention arose at Tarsus
Flos Salis A product of salt evaporation ponds Dunaliella salina used in the perfume industry (Pliny Nat. Hist. 31,90)
Force pump used in fire engine See image of pointable nozzle
Dichroic glass as in the Lycurgus Cup. Note, this material attests otherwise unknown chemistry (or other way?) to generate nano-scale gold-silver particles.
Hydraulis A water organ. Later also the pneumatic organ.
Leather, Tanned The preservation of skins with vegetable tannins was a pre-Roman invention but not of the antiquity once supposed. (Tawing was far more ancient.) The Romans were responsible for spreading this technology into areas where it was previously unknown such as Britain and Qasr Ibrim on the Nile. In both places this technology was lost when the Romans withdrew.
M.J.T.Lewis presents good evidence that water powered vertical
pounding machines came in by the middle of the 1st century AD for
fulling , grain hulling (Pliny Nat. Hist. 18,97) and ore crushing
(archaeological evidence at
Grainmill, rotary. According to Moritz (p57) rotary grainmills were
not known to the ancient
Sawmill, water powered. Recorded by 370 AD. Attested in Ausonius\'s poem Mosella. Translated "the Ruwer sends mill-stones swiftly round to grind the corn, And drives shrill saw-blades through smooth marble blocks". Recent archaeological evidence from Phrygia, Anatolia, now pushes back the date to the 3rd century AD and confirms the use of a crank in the sawmill.
Shipmill, (Though small, the conventional term is "shipmill" not
boat mill, probably because there was always a deck, and usually an
enclosed superstructure, to keep the flour away from the damp.) where
water wheels were attached to boats , was first recorded at
Essentials of the
Newspaper, rudimentary See Acta Diurna .
Paddle wheel boats In de Rebus Bellicis (possibly only a paper invention).
Pewter Mentioned by Pliny the Elder ( Naturalis Historia 34,160-1). Surviving examples are mainly Romano-British of the 3rd and 4th centuries e.g. and . Roman pewter had a wide range of proportions of tin but proportions of 50%, 75% and 95% predominate (Beagrie 1989).
An artificial reservoir, highly unusual in that it was meant for
recreational rather than utilitarian purposes was created at Subiaco ,
Italy, for emperor
iron -bladed (A much older innovation (e.g. Bible; I Samuel 13,20-1) that became much more common in the Roman period)
Pottery, glossed i.e. Samian ware
Sails, fore-and-aft rig Introduction of fore-and-aft rigs 1) the Lateen sail 2) the Spritsail , this last already attested in 2nd century BC in the northern Aegean Sea Note: there is no evidence of any combination of fore-and-aft rigs with square sails on the same Roman ship.
Sails, Lateen Representations show lateen sails in the Mediterranean as early as the 2nd century AD. Both the quadrilateral and the triangular type were employed.
Roller Bearings Archaeologically attested in the Lake Nemi ships
Rudder, stern-mounted See image for something very close to being a sternpost rudder
Sausage, fermented dry (probably) See salami .
Screw press An innovation of about the mid-1st century AD
Sewers See for example Cloaca Maxima
Soap, hard (sodium) First mentioned by Galen (earlier, potassium, soap being Celtic).
Though first attested as early as the 5th century BC in Greek
Street map, early See Forma Urbis Romae (Severan Marble Plan), a carved marble ground plan of every architectural feature in ancient Rome.
Sundial, portable See Theodosius of Bithynia
Surgical instruments , various
Tooth implants, iron See
Towpath e.g. beside the Danube, see the "road" in Trajan\'s bridge
Excavated from both ends simultaneously. The longest known is the
5.6-kilometre (3.5 mi) drain of the
Vehicles, one wheeled
Solely attested by a
Wood veneer Pliny Nat. Hist. 16.231-2
This "see also " section MAY CONTAIN AN EXCESSIVE NUMBER OF SUGGESTIONS. Please ensure that only the most relevant links are given, that they are not red links , and that any links are not already in this article. (January 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this template message )
Maritime hydraulics in antiquity
Ancient Greek technology
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