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Legacies of Roman Technology & Science

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  • 0:02 When in Rome
  • 0:41 Roman Aqueducts
  • 2:15 Roman Roads
  • 3:39 Roman Concrete
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the legacies of Roman technology and science, legacies that still influence us to this day. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

When in Rome

Do you like fresh water? Me too! Do you like roads? Me too! Concrete? Me too! Wow, we have so much in common - us and the ancient Romans. The ancient Romans were an Italian civilization between roughly 509 BC and 476 AD. Roman engineers were always looking for new ways to improve the lives of Roman citizens and many of their innovations left long-lasting legacies for technology and science. Some of the most influential were the aqueduct, Roman roads, and concrete.

Roman Aqueducts

When you have a big city with lots of people, those people need fresh water. People are just funny that way. The city of Rome only had a few fresh water springs, so the engineers built aqueducts, pipes that use the natural pull of gravity to bring water from springs in the mountains to areas without fresh water. Water from the aqueducts went to public fountains for drinking or to public baths.

The first Roman aqueduct was built in 312 BC for the city of Rome. Called the Aqua Appia, it ran ten miles out of town and brought 75,500 gallons of fresh water into the city per day. By the fall of Rome in 476 AD, the city had 480 miles of aqueducts bringing in 300 million gallons of water every single day. The Romans also used aqueducts to bring water to their colonies across Europe and the Mediterranean, from Britain to Africa. The longest aqueduct of the Roman Empire was the Valens Aqueduct, which ran over 600 miles to Constantinople.

As you can see, aqueducts were pretty important to the Romans, but they weren't easy to build. Since gravity pulls the water, the entire aqueduct had to maintain a consistent slope over miles. If the slope of the aqueduct changed at any point, the water would not flow correctly. This meant that sometimes the pipes would run underground through hills, then be elevated on bridges over valleys. On aqueducts that were too long for a single slope, large tanks were used like reservoirs that filled with water and then started a new slope from the top of the tank. Roman aqueducts brought fresh water to literally millions of people.

Roman Roads

Another long-lasting Roman technology was the road. Have you heard the phrase, 'All roads lead to Rome?' The Romans built 29 major highways from the city of Rome, which connected to almost 250,000 miles of road across the empire. Approximately 50,000 miles of these were stone-paved.

Okay, so nothing sounds too impressive about roads. The Romans had roads, big deal, so what? Actually, there's a lot more to roads than you might think. Roads connected the entire empire, allowing for people, goods, food, and troops to move around much more easily. Most of these areas never had formal roads before the Romans. To make sure that Roman troops and trade items could get anywhere they needed to, most Roman roads were a standardized width for a typical Roman cart. These roads were built to resist rain, freezing, and flooding, and most were made in a perfectly straight line between the two cities, which is the most direct route.

Roman roads were so technologically advanced that after the fall of Rome, nobody was able to create more efficient roads until the 19th century. Some original Roman roads are still in use, almost 2,000 years later, because they were so well built. Roman roads changed how people were able to move in Europe and opened up the continent to new styles of trade, military, and communication.

Roman Concrete

Obviously, the Romans built a lot of things. They loved building, and they were really good. But, what did they use for all of these projects? Stones were too heavy and expensive to transport all over Europe, and wood was not always strong or resistant enough. So, the Romans mixed quicklime and volcanic ash with water and small stones to create a magical concoction called concrete.

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