You know your inventions are good when people use them hundreds of years after you die.
You know your inventions are really good when they are used thousands of years after you die.
Here we list and discuss some ancient Roman inventions and technologies that still impress upon our everyday lives.
Modern Plumbing and Waste Management
Yes, can you believe before 500 B.C. people had no idea what to do with their crap? I don’t even want to know what they did with their crap… But the fact is Roman plumbing (not the lead kind) has saved hundreds of millions of people directly, allowing city populations to soar with little disease comparable to past measurements.
Since most of their sewage systems were open and right in the middle of the street outside peoples doors so they could simply dump their buckets from the windows… the cities didn’t exactly smell too good back in the day.
They later realized how much devastation this was causing besides the unpleasant smell and decided to engineer underground plumbing systems. (As seen in photo above).
If you think they smell bad today… the only time these trenches got washed down river was when it rained or people poured their waste water downstream. Keep in mind no one had taps like we do today, and wasted little water on things like bathing, washing dishes, brushing their teeth, et cetera.
In other words they didn’t flush their toilets, used lead piping (which was only banned in Canada in the 19th century), and didn’t exactly treat their waste water before dumping in into the River Tiber, where they and probably hundreds of other small towns got their drinking supply.
But they nonetheless pioneered the systems we use today!
Roman Numerals are still used everywhere today from food menus and designer watches to marketing acronyms like CPM (Cost per 1000) M: meaning 1000 in ancient Rome.
The reason nations like the United States and Canada have a Republic (Roman), a Democracy (Greek), and Figurehead Representative as the President or Prime Minister, is because the American founding fathers found it best to study the history of other great nations, and even bad ones, before founding their own.
They totally forgot about equal rights in the beginning and some would argue still neglect to do more they than should today, but hey, at least they took the took three different political systems and mashed them together so all their citizens could understand their government more easily… Right?
Presidency, although selected as the most humble of terms in the 18th century, connotes differently today than it did back then. While Prime Minister in the 1700’s sounded something sort of like Optimus Prime… President, in my opinion hits a little harder as a leadership title today.
Even though Americans’ abhorrence for monarchies is well known, having a president goes back to the ancient times of Kings and having someone to see to as a leader, and/or blame as a failure, which Rome did not have from Tarquin 509B.C. to Caesar 36B.C.
Britain isn’t even an actual monarchy anymore, but this is another rabbit hole.
Hot Tubs and Spas
The Romans invented Hot tub?! What? Well probably not, but they did perfect them, as well as made hot-tubbing an important part of their everyday lives. Imagine having a hot-tub with the boys or girls every time you wanted to get clean. These were community events. They didn’t have showers, since water pressure wasn’t a science or study until steam 200 years ago, they relied entirely on natural slopes and artificial aqueducts (see cover image) to bring water from higher to lower places.
These Hot-tub and and bath houses became an integral part of Roman culture for both patrician and plebeian alike.
While engraving stone tablets and delivering them to every citizens’ door would be almost as impressive as building the Colosseum (thanks Vespasian A.D. 70-72), it wouldn’t quite be as beautiful…
Plus, I’m sure their copywriters and journalists were just awful.
They did have public announcements displayed on said tablet in parks, markets, and common areas for everyone to read.
And Ancient Rome writings weren’t exactly the easiest to store. Being written on either scrolls or carved into clay tablets, this made them terribly difficult to transport, easily breakable, and hard to store.
So instead of a scroll that could be up to 32 feet (10 meters) in length, yes those cartoons weren’t joking… that had to be unrolled to be read, Julius Caesar ordered the making of the very first bound book (likely stolen from ideas on his escapades in Egypt with Cleopatra).
It would be a collection of papyrus, (a popular Egyptian crop to this day) and when attached at the spine formed a codex. What this codex contained is another mystery, and it was probably an awfully boring rule-book type read if you could manage to the translate Latin.
This invention provided a safer and more manageable way to keep the information secure. The codex could contain a table of contents, an index, and numbers for reference.
This Roman invention was then popularized by the early Christians to make codices of the Bible that led to the spread of Christianity across Europe and the first Roman Emperor to convert to christianity; Constantine (Emperor A.D. 306-337) which was a big deal for Rome as it was only years prior illegal to worship one God under previous pagan emperors.
The Julian Calendar
Today, where I live at least, we use the Gregorian Calendar (year ) which functions best for our society.
But let’s see what the Romans were dealing with when their sundials went black.
The difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars aren’t much.
The Roman republican (before Caesar; first Emperor, after Tarquin; last King) their calendar contained only 355 days. And was more or less a lunar calendar.
Eventually the Roman civic calendar had become completely different and of sync to the seasons and holy festivals. By the time Julius Caesar did something about it they were about three months off course and ahead of the solar calendar.
To fix this mess, in 46 B.C., Caesar introduces a new calendar system, this one containing 12 months, and 365 days every 3 years, followed by 366 days on the fourth (the leap year) a year of 366 days (leap year).
And in 1752 A.D. (if that isn’t apparent) the Julian Calendar switched the beginning of the year from March 1 to January 1.
Modern Mailing Systems
Post offices function quite similar to what Augustus (Caesars predecessor, also known as Octavian, and a crap ton of other names…) ordered be created around 20 B.C.
It would be known as the Cursus Publicus, which translates from Latin to: Public Courses, or literally Courses Public. And used horses and vehicles along with the marvellously practical Roman roads to get messages abroad.
Out of all the amazing Roman inventions, I have to say these roads were so effective in Roman economy and expansion they estimate that the average speed of a mounted messenger using the system was about 50 mi per day (80 km). And using the relay system could even cover up to 170 miles per day (273 km).
THE BLOCK BARD
Founder | Head of Copy
Andres is a full-time copywriter, culture enthusiast, and C.E.O. of TheBlockBard Group of Companies. Some of his favourite things are Roman History and Personal Development. He has written extensively on topics like history, marketing, and politics.
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