ANCIENT ROMANS WERE MAKERS, TOO. HERE COMES 12 OF the best Roman Empire inventions
Even now, Ancient Romans development continue to touch our lives and contribute to the world
The Roman Empire may have fallen centuries ago, but its influence on modern society is still felt today. From roads and aqueducts to concrete and central heating, the ancient Romans were responsible for many inventions that have stood the test of time and continue to shape our world.
Roman inventions are still very much around us today. But where and why?
The Roman Empire is considered one of the most influential civilizations ever. From the Colosseum to aqueducts, the impact of the Roman Empire is valuable today. So many parts of our modern world, especially in Europe (and their former colonies) and parts of North Africa, can be traced back to this ancient civilization.
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.
These innovations made life easier for the people of ancient Rome and laid the foundation for many of the technologies we take for granted today.
When you visit Rome, you’ll see some stunning and impressive ancient structures still standing in some shape or form. The Pantheon, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum are all examples of buildings that were built by the Romans using a form of cement. It’s not the cement we use today, but as an early form it was effective and it was used in many of their structures and developments.
The Romans didn’t invent the idea of transporting water. There were primitive canals and other water transportation systems in place before Ancient Roman times. However, they harnessed the idea, developed and refined it, and using their engineering skills to build the Aqueduct. This was a really impactful and impressive development since it brought clean water into towns and cities, and it played a role in other developments, like sanitation.
Another critical Roman invention, sanitation, is fundamental today. Romans were very knowledgeable when it came to civil engineering. But their talent wasn’t limited to building large structures like the Colesseum or roadways. While it may seem less visually impressive, their sewage and sanitary plumbing systems highlight their engineering excellence. These consisted of a mixture of masonry, early concrete, and in some circumstances, lead piping. The drainage pipes were connected and flushed regularly, with the water running off streams. Romans also used covered gutter systems and public bathrooms, ensuring the streets were clear of human waste. This improved the aesthetics of large population centers and drastically enhanced public health.
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the ability to build and maintain these structures was rapidly lost, with many post-Roman nations in Europe regressing hundreds of years in terms of sanitation. They would only develop similar systems over a thousand years later. Some systems, like the Cloaca Maxima in Rome, would continue to be used today.
Romans developed a sophisticated structure of roads and highways. This was a crucial part of managing such a vast Empire. They built 55,000 miles throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. It helped them to move supplies, soldiers and communications around their land efficiently. Romans also introduced signs and markers on their roads.
Social care and welfare
Ancient Roman administrations also developed welfare type programs. They developed laws that provided money to help feed and educate orphans and poorer children from society.
The Romans developed the Julian calendar, which also had 365 days split into 12 months. It was based on the solar year and named after Julius Caesar who implemented it. Some religious bodies still use it today to calculate holidays.
Elements of surgery
The Romans built on the developments the Greeks made in surgery. They developed many new surgical tools and techniques themselves. The Romans also used an early form of antiseptic in surgery – since they acknowledged the need to clean and dip their surgical tools before use. They developed the idea of the caesarean section. They also pioneered battlefield surgery and for them, being prepared to medically help their soldiers was a key part of being battle ready.
Elements of the modern legal system
Rome’s legal system formed the basis for many legal systems around the world. They developed the concept of being innocent until proven guilty. They also developed a code called ‘the twelve tables’ that listed punishments for crimes. Terms like ‘pro bono’, ‘subpoena’ and ‘affidavit’ all derive from the Roman legal system.
Newspapers / public press
Romans were the first to distribute a form of daily news to citizens. These handwritten sheets of announcements were publicly displayed in Rome. They also covered political developments, military updates and details about major scandals or stories. The Romans published accounts of what happened in the senate and it was Julius Caesar who made sure this information was made public, in the same way the daily news was.
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The size and growth of the Roman Empire made transporting communication necessary. Emperor Augustus developed the first postal and courier service – a state run courier and carriage service that took communication from one official to another across the Roman Empire.
Hypocaust: underfloor heating
Romans also built flues into the walls, ensuring the heat had a path to warm higher floors, and fumes could eventually escape safely through the roof. This was an impressive engineering feat at the time — especially as the risks of poor construction included carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke inhalation, or fire hazards.
It’s important to note that these systems were expensive and were usually only used in public buildings, large homes owned by wealthy Romans, and in the thermae, or Roman baths, which featured heated floors and walls. Today, the basic concept remains unchanged and is still used in places like Turkish baths.
Early forms of apartments
Due to population pressures, Rome was perpetually in need of more space for housing. Instead of building new homes outward, architects proposed stacking six to eight apartment blocks around a staircase and central courtyard.
The result was apartments or “insulae” (islands), named as such because they occupied whole blocks, with roads flowing around them like water. By the fourth century A.D., there were around 45,000 insulae in Rome.
The higher-value apartments on the lower floors were called cenacula, while the apartments for poorer tenants on higher floors were called cellae.
Overall, the apartments were reserved for middle to lower-class citizens, as the upper classes preferred their own separate housing spaces in the prestigious areas of the city. Like today, this kind of living arrangement had issues, including, in Roman times, tenants being pestered with waste falling from floors above, slumlords, and fires.
Maker Faire Rome – The European Edition has been committed since its very first editions to make innovation accessible and usable to all, with the aim of not leaving anyone behind. Its blog is always updated and full of opportunities and inspiration for makers, makers, startups, SMEs and all the curious ones who wish to enrich their knowledge and expand their business, in Italy and abroad.
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