All Roads Lead to Rome – Ancient Roman Technology and Innovation: A Three-Part Course with Livia Galante

All Roads Lead to Rome – Ancient Roman Technology and Innovation: A Three-Part Course with Livia Galante


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The Romans are known for their remarkable engineering achievements. Aside from outstanding buildings, they created roads, bridges, tunnels, and impressive aqueducts. Their construction, many of them still standing, are a legacy of their superior engineering skills and resourcefulness. This course will delve deep into ancient Roman technology as we analyze the history of and engineering behind these incredible innovations.

Roman engineers improved upon older ideas and inventions introducing a great number of innovations. They developed materials and techniques that revolutionized bridge and aqueduct construction, perfected ancient weapons, and developed new ones while inventing machines that used the power of water. Roman engineering accomplishments generated much wealth and prosperity, improving the daily lives of Romans and helping Rome maintain its supremacy in Europe and the Mediterranean for centuries.

Led by an expert on Ancient Roman Topography, Livia Galante, this course will focus on ancient Roman technology. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with increased comprehension of technology, architecture, and engineering in the Roman world.

 

Lecture 1: All Roads Lead to Rome

In this seminar, we will exam the different types of roads, the vehicles, the way stations, and traveler inns. The Romans had an extended road network stretching from northern England to North Africa, from the Iberic peninsula to modern-day Iran and Iraq, with a total length of no less than 120,000 km (74,565 miles) in the second century AD. Roman roads were made essentially to maintain control over the Empire’s vast territories allowing the rapid movement of armies wherever necessary.

The construction of Roman roads involved colossal works of engineering to handle massive land excavation, the transport of materials for backfill and leveling over long distances, and huge hydraulic projects for water drainage. These roads were often managed in the same way as modern highways. Stone mile markers and signs informed travelers of the distance to their destination, while special complements of soldiers acted as a kind of highway patrol.

 

Lecture 2: Technology of Water

This lecture will look at the innovative methods the ancient Romans used in regards to water. While the Romans did not invent the aqueducts—primitive canals for irrigation and water transport existed earlier in Egypt, Assyria and Babylon—nevertheless they introduced many innovations that allowed them to build aqueducts on an unprecedented scale. 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. Water was then distributed through a capillary net of pipes in public fountains and baths. Only very few people could take advantage of tap water in their homes! The abundance of water also allowed the development of watermills where the power of the water hitting the wheels was often adjusted by a system of tanks and pipes. The Romans had other water devices used for sawing wood, stones, and for the crushing of metal ores. Sawmills had stone-cutting saws powered by waterwheels, using a crank and a connecting axle. Trip hammers, which used water wheels, cams, and hammers, were used in mining regions for crushing ore into small pieces.

Among the other extraordinary achievements of Roman engineers, there were bridges. The first stone bridges used stone blocks held together with iron clamps: by the mid-2nd century BCE, Romans made extensive use of concrete. Its use substantially increased the bridges' strength and durability. Bridges had arched structures that made them stronger and allowed for much longer bridge spans.

Lecture 3: Concrete, Arches, and Wall Facings–The “Roman Concrete Revolution”

This seminar will discuss one of ancient Rome’s greatest achievements: concrete. Many Roman structures like the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Markets of Trajan are still standing today thanks to the development of Roman concrete. Its unique recipe, which used slaked lime and volcanic ash, is known as pozzolana and produced a sticky paste. Combined with volcanic rocks called tuff, this ancient cement formed 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.

Arches have existed for roughly 4,000 years, but the ancient Romans were the first to effectively develop their power in the construction of bridges, monuments, and buildings. The ingenious design of the arch allowed the weight of buildings to be evenly distributed along with various supports, preventing massive Roman structures like the Colosseum from crumbling under their weight. Roman engineers improved on arches by flattening their shape to create what is known as a segmental arch and repeating them at various intervals to build stronger supports that could span large gaps when used in bridges and aqueducts. Along with columns, domes, and vaulted ceilings, the arch became one of the defining characteristics of the Roman architectural style. Besides the use of concrete, building techniques changed: ashlar blocks started to be replaced by regularly shaped cubilia, (little pieces of rock, cut in a pyramidal shape) and by bricks. Studying wall facings, it is possible to understand the evolution of Roman buildings as well as dating the structures quite precisely.

Livia obtained a degree in Archaeology at the Sapienza University of Rome and has a Master's degree in the History and Conservation of Cultural Heritage from the University of Roma Tre. Her main field of interest is ancient Roman topography and early Christian architecture; however, she is an accomplished scholar whose teaching ability extends to the Renaissance and Baroque Rome. As a native Roman, Livia is very enthusiastic about sharing the deep love and knowledge she has for her hometown with clients.

 

How does it work?

This is a three-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in ancient Rome there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $105 for three lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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