The Western Roman Empire may have fallen more than 1,500 years ago, but its rich legacy of innovation and invention can still be seen today.
The Romans were prodigious builders and expert civil engineers, and their thriving civilization produced advances in technology, culture and architecture that remained unequaled for centuries. From aqueducts to newspapers, find out more about 10 innovations that built ancient Rome.
The Romans enjoyed many amenities for their day, including public toilets, underground sewage systems, fountains and ornate public baths. None of these aquatic innovations would have been possible without the Roman aqueduct. First developed around 312 B.C., these engineering marvels used gravity to transport water along stone, lead and concrete pipelines and into city centers. Aqueducts liberated Roman cities from a reliance on nearby water supplies and proved priceless in promoting public health and sanitation. While the Romans did not invent the aqueduct—primitive canals for irrigation and water transport existed earlier in Egypt, Assyria and Babylon—they used their mastery of civil engineering to perfect the process. Hundreds of aqueducts eventually sprang up throughout the empire, some of which transported water as far as 60 miles. Perhaps most impressive of all, Roman aqueducts were so well built that some are still in use to this day. Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain, for instance, is supplied by a restored version of the Aqua Virgo, one of ancient Rome’s 11 aqueducts.
Many ancient Roman structures like the Pantheon, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum are still standing today thanks to the development of Roman cement and concrete. The Romans first began building with concrete over 2,100 years ago and used it throughout the Mediterranean basin in everything from aqueducts and buildings to bridges and monuments. Roman concrete was considerably weaker than its modern counterpart, but it has proved remarkably durable thanks to its unique recipe, which used slaked lime and a volcanic ash known as pozzolana to create a sticky paste. Combined with volcanic rocks called tuff, this ancient cement formed a concrete that could effectively endure chemical decay. Pozzolana helped Roman concrete set quickly even when submerged in seawater, enabling the construction of elaborate baths, piers and harbors.
The Romans were known to contribute to public discourse through the use of official texts detailing military, legal and civil issues. Known as Acta Diurna, or “daily acts,” these early newspapers were written on metal or stone and then posted in heavily trafficked areas like the Roman Forum. Acta are believed to have first appeared around 131 B.C. and typically included details of Roman military victories, lists of games and gladiatorial bouts, birth and death notices and even human interest stories. There was also an Acta Senatus, which detailed the proceedings of the Roman senate. These were traditionally withheld from public view until 59 B.C., when Julius Caesar ordered their publication as part of the many populist reforms he instituted during his first consulship. Continue reading at HistoryChannel.com.
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