CLAS 1000 Chapter 16-17: 16: Roman Technology and Engineering & 17: Art and Architecture

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March 23-27th, 2015
Textbook Reading – Chapters 16 & 17:
Chapter #16: Roman Technology and Engineering – page #355-377:
Modern engineers develop technology based on the investigation and application of scientific
and mathematical principles
In the Roman period, the situation was quite different the study and explanation of natural
phenomena was a gentleman’s occupation
These individuals, whom we call natural philosophers, employed reason rather than
experiment in their study of the natural world
Notable Roman natural philosophers were Lecretius, and Seneca the Younger
The practical application and technical mastery of physical principles were left to skilled
craftspeople, who derived their expertise form personal experience and probably from
technical manuals that must have been in circulation among the professional same field
The inconsistent survival of technical installations and implements is a challenge for modern
Tools and devices made from perishable organic materials, corroding metals, or metals that
are easily reduced and recycled for other purposes rarely appear in the archaeological record
Most evidence is archaeological or incidental from non-technical literary works
Another different between ancient technology and modern engineering is the sense of
Sources of motive energy were, with a few significant exceptions, human or animal
The strength of hands and feed were directed or magnified by the pulley, lever and inclined
plane, but there was no possibility of accelerating locomotion on land beyond the speed of
horses, donkeys, oxen, or camels
Roman technology was purposeful and pragmatic its goal was to solve specific problems
and respond to precise and immediate needs, not to earn money by its widespread
dissemination and sale
The greatest Roman achievement probably lay in what we today would term civil engineering
Through their excellent organization and administration and virtually inexhaustible resources,
the Romans developed these technologies on a scale unprecedented in Europe
A full impression of Roman society and the interaction between Romans and newly
incorporated people is impossible without the consideration of Roman technology, as it not
only marked the ancient physical landscape but also impacted many aspects of the daily lives
of those who made up that society
Terminology and Transfer of Knowledge:
People who were occupied with the design are called construction, and operation of
mechanical devices in antiquity engineers
Some of these could convert muscle, water, or wind power into useful work
The word technology is ultimately derived from the Greek word tekhne (“skill,” or “craft)
The closest Latin equivalent, ars, is the root of the word artifex (“artificer; a professional
workman, craftsman, or artisan”)
Anfixed and faber (“a worker in wood, stone, or metal”) perhaps comes closest to the
meaning of the modern English word engineer, itself derived from the Latin ingenium (“skill”; “
“cleaverness”; “talent”)
A person who is ingeniosus is “full of intellect” and “superior in mind”
The word is also related to the Latin verb ingignere (“to beget”)
Another term that Roman authors use to denote a person responsible for the design and
construction of buildings and mechanical contrivances, architectus the word can be
translated, depending on the context, as both “architect” and “engineer”
The word machine is derived from the Latin machina. Meaning an artificial device for
performing a task
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This brief glimpse at vocabulary demonstrates a key feature of Roman technology: the
willingness to adopt technological achievements from other cultures and to apply them
skillfully to Roman needs
The Roman state, and wealthy individuals within it, often used its almost limitless financial
and human resources to enhance existing technologies and structures on an extraordinary
Natural philosophy the attempt by individuals, usually upper-class males, to explain natural
phenomena, such as earthquakes or climate, purely by reason. Natural philosophy
succeeded natural mythology and preceded natural science, although there is significant
chronological overlap
The civil-engineering achievements in the Roman world could not have succeeded without
written transmission of information and technical drawings
Technology Assimilated:
Rome grew from a humble city-state to a large territorial entity within a relatively short time
It was natural that, as their reach extended further and further, the Romans became familiar
with different cultures and their skills and technologies
Exchange of expertise and ideas happened inevitably through intercultural contact and
through travelling traders and craftspeople
This exchange created a cultural feedback loop as new technologies enabled further
expansion that, in turn, led to the introduction of yet more ideas and technologies
As the Roman territory included more geographical areas that were different from central
Italy, it was only natural that the Romans employed the local traditional technologies and
skills to modify the environment according to their own needs
The Romans were introduced to the millennia-old cultures of Greece, Egypt, and
Mesopotamia, adopted and adapted their technical know-how, and applied it to promote the
development of cities in the largely non-urban societies in the west and north (Gaul, Spain,
Germany, Britain)
The urbanization of these geographical areas is one of the most lasting consequences of
Roman technical and administrative influences, as many modern cities in Northern and
Western Europe was originally founded by the Romans
Streets and Bridges:
Roads were a significant factor in roman territorial expansion and control
The Roman road network was so well laid out that, in many instances, modern European
highways follow the ancient Roman roads
Its primary purpose was the fact and efficient movement of infantry, but the Roman public
road network that spanned some 120,000km throughout the empire was, of course, also
used by civilian travelers
Traders make use of these roads as well, but land transport was generally slow and
inexpensive, so most goods were transported by ship
The axels and frames of chariots and carts usually had no springs, so clattering along on a
road paved bath with stone slaps would have been a tooth-rattling experience even over
short distances
The first major Roman road was the Via Appia or Apprian Way, named after Appius Claudius
Caecus, during whose censorship it was constructed in 312 BCE
As Rome got involved in military affairs in the Hellenistic kingdoms of the eastern
Mediterranean in the 2nd half of the third century BCE, it was extended to reach the port town
of Brindisi
During subsequent countries well-developed roads were built in all Roman provinces, from
Britain to Africa and Spain to Mesopotamia
The Roman highways had all the amenities that male-long distance travel as convenient as
possible the roads were symbols of Roman technical skill and, especially in newly
conquered regions, metaphors of Roman culture as a whole: stable, durable, and convenient
Roman roads had to offer table footing throughout the year in most varied weather, avoid
excessively steep gradients, be as straight as possible to present the shortest possible
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distance between two places, and be sufficiently durable to survive extreme climate
conditions and prolonged use with minimum maintenance
Bridges were another important part of the road network
Engineers of the Roman army could built temporary or collapsible bridges and pontoon
Bridges across rivers represent a particular engineering challenge because the construction
of piers in running water requires special provisions to prevent the obliteration of the
underwater foundations
Broad structures submerged in running water obstruct the flow and have to content with very
strong forces, so bridge piers were generally pro-shaped and narrow
In general, it was desirable to build bridges with as few piers as possible
In some cases, additional works were placed in the water upstream from the piers to provide
some protection against continuous pressure and erosion
The preferred method of construction was to cross the river with only one arch and place the
piers on dry land on either side, well away from the flowing water
Bridge construction was a compromise between the number of piers to be built in the water
and the height of the bridge apex and the gradient of the required ramps
The Romans also built bridges with segmental arches that allowed broad spans with low rise
Water Transport:
The Mediterranean Sea has always provided a natural mode of transport for its surrounding
Sea transport was much less expensive than land transport in antiquity
A cargo ship could carry many times the load of an ox cart, and draught animals, unlike
ships, needed to be watered and fed
On the other hand, seafaring on the Mediterranean Sea could be treacherous
Literary and archaeological evidence of shipwrecks is abundant
Seafaring was usually limited to the summer months to avoid winter storms
Navigation was very difficult in the absence of the magnetic compass mariners navigated
by prominent landmarks and the sun during the daytime and by the starts during the night
Staying within sight of land was expedient for many reasons: there was no great need for
provisions as the crew could make landfall during the night and have access to shelter, food,
and water and in the event of a wreck, salvation was relatively close
The proximity of land also had a number of drawbacks: rocks and cliffs jagged coastline of
certain places, which increased the risk of shipwrecks, and the coves and inlets of the same
stretches of coast were ideal hideouts for pirates
The Romans were never avid seafarers
Serious Roman involvement in seafaring began in 264 BCE, when Rome was drawn into a
military conflict with Carthage over territory in Sicily and in order to expel the Carthaginian
garrisons from the island, the Romans had to take to the sea
The Roman senate decided to build a fleet of 120 warships, and it is likely that Romans
requisitioned the service of shipbuilders from the Greek city-states in southern Italy that had
their own navies
Part of ancient marine fighting strategy was the ramming of enemy vessels with a metal-
covered break-shaped forward extension of the keep, which could incapacitate the enemy by
penetrating their hull below the water line
The Romans were clearly uncomfortable with this type of warfare, and being accomplished
warriors on land, they transferred their preferred type of warfare onto the ships the
equipped their new vessels with bridges that could be dropped onto the decks of enemy
In this way the Romans turned naval combat from ramming manoeuvers into infantry battles
After both victories and setbacks, the Romans established naval supremacy over the
Carthagians and won the First Punic War
A second area of maritime expertise acquired by the Romans involved merchant vessels
During the Republic, the population of the city of Rome grew too large to be supplied with
foodstuffs from the surrounding countryside alone
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