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. Many of ancient Roman inventions are, to this day, used around the globe. The Roman Empire was not only a powerful one, but was one of the most prosperous civilizations to have ever flourished on this planet. We have selected 16 inventions that are still in use today.
roads and highways
At its height, the Roman Empire encompassed nearly 1.7 million square miles and included most of southern Europe. To ensure effective administration of this sprawling domain, the Romans built the most sophisticated system of roads the ancient world had ever seen. These roads, many of which are still in use today, were constructed with a combination of dirt, gravel and bricks made from granite or hardened volcanic lava. Roman engineers adhered to strict standards when designing their highways, creating arrow-straight roads that curved to allow for water drainage. The Romans built over 50,000 miles of road by 200 A.D., primarily in the service of military conquest. Highways allowed the Roman legion to travel as far as 25 miles per day and a complex network of post houses meant that messages and other intelligence could be relayed with astonishing speed. 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.
The arch has existed for roughly 4,000 years, but the ancient Romans were the first to effectively harness 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 various supports, preventing massive structures like the Colosseum from crumbling under their own 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. Arches can be regarded as one of the most significant Roman inventions to have revolutionized the science of architecture.
The Julian calendar
The modern Gregorian calendar is modeled very closely on a Roman version that dates back more than 2,000 years. Early Roman calendars operated around the lunar cycle, but because the Romans considered even numbers unlucky, they eventually altered their calendar to ensure that each month had an odd number of days. This practice continued until 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar and the astronomer Sosigenes instituted the Julian system to align the calendar with the solar year. Caesar lengthened the number of days in a year from 355 to the now-familiar 365 and eventually included the 12 months as we know them today. The Julian calendar was almost perfect, but it miscalculated the solar year by eleven minutes. These few minutes ultimately threw the calendar off by several days. This led to the adoption of the nearly identical Gregorian calendar in 1582, which fixed the discrepancy by adding leap years.
sewers and sanitation system
The ancient Romans were the first to use the concepts of using proper toilets and underground sewage system. The engineers laid whole cities above a systematized grid of sewage lines, all interconnected with chains of toilets and public baths. Each house had a gutter that was usually covered and interconnected with the rest. Hence, the Romans can be credited with inventing the modern age sanitation system.
Many ancient Roman structures like the Pantheon, Colosseum and Roman Forum are still standing today thanks to the development of Roman cement and concrete. The Romans first began building with concrete over 2,100 years ago and used it throughout the Mediterranean basin in everything from aqueducts and buildings to bridges and monuments. Roman concrete was considerably weaker than its modern counterpart, but it has proved remarkably durable, thanks to its unique recipe which used slaked lime and a volcanic ash known as pozzolana to create a sticky paste. Combined with volcanic rocks called tuffa, this ancient cement formed a 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. The invention of concrete can be termed as one of the greatest ancient Roman inventions to have metamorphosed modern day living.
The modern day newspaper can trace its origin to the ancient Roman times when it was first introduced to mankind. Rome was the cradle where a modern and systematic process was invented to help the flow of communication properly. The Romans were known to contribute to public discourse through the use of official texts detailing military, legal and civil issues. Known as Acta Diurna or daily acts, these early newspapers were written on metal or stone and then posted in heavily trafficked areas like the Roman Forum. Acta are believed to have first appeared around 131 B.C. and typically included details of Roman military victories, lists of games and gladiatorial bouts, birth and death notices and even human interest stories. There was also an Acta Senatus, which detailed the proceedings of the Roman senate. These were traditionally withheld from public view until 59 B.C., when Julius Caesar ordered their publication as part of the many populist reforms he instituted during his first consulship.
For most of human history, literature took the form of unwieldy clay tablets and scrolls. The Romans streamlined the medium by creating the codex, a stack of bound pages that is recognized as the earliest incarnation of the book. The first codices were made of bound wax tablets, but these were later replaced by animal skin parchment that more clearly resembled pages. Ancient historians note that Julius Caesar created an early version of a codex by stacking pages of papyrus to form a primitive notebook. Bound codices did not become popular in Rome until the first century. Early Christians became some of the first to adopt the new technology, using it extensively to produce copies of the Bible.
Another marvelous and groundbreaking invention by the ancient Romans was the numeral system, which is still in practice today. The Roman numeral system used letters in Latin as opposed to numbers and was invented for making counting easier and effective. This numeral system had many a defects, but it has still survived. There was no zero in this system, but it helped people conduct simple counting in an efficient manner. If you look through the findings, you will notice that the use of this system started around 900 BC. Tradesmen made use of Roman numerals for conducting business.
surgical tools and techniques
The Romans invented many surgical tools and pioneered the use of the Cesarean section, but their most valuable contributions to medicine came on the battlefield. Under the leadership of Augustus, they established a military medical corps that was one of the first dedicated field surgery units. These specially trained medics saved countless lives through the use of Roman medical innovations like hemostatic tourniquets and arterial surgical clamps to curb blood loss. Roman field doctors also performed physicals on new recruits and helped stem the spread of disease by overseeing sanitation in military camps. They were even known to disinfect instruments in hot water before use, pioneering a form of antiseptic surgery that was not fully embraced until the 19th century. Roman military medicine proved so advanced at treating wounds and promoting wellness that soldiers tended to live longer than the average citizen despite constantly facing the hazards of combat.
Subpoena, habeas corpus, pro bono, affidavit – all of these terms derive from the Roman legal system which dominated Western law and government for centuries. The basis for early Roman law came from the Twelve Tables, a code that formed an essential part of the constitution during the Republican era. First adopted around 450 B.C., the Twelve Tables detailed laws regarding property, religion and divorce and listed punishments for everything from theft to black magic. Even more influential than the Twelve Tables was theCorpus Juris Civilis,an ambitious attempt to synthesize Rome’s history of law into one document. Established by Byzantine Emperor Justinian between 529 and 535 A.D., the Corpus Juris included modern legal concepts, such as the notion that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it became the basis for many of the world’s legal systems.
grid based street systems
The concept of grid based cities was not invented particularly in Rome but was refined on a scale well beyond any prior civilization and brought symmetrical alignment throughout their cities. Romans brought the grid system into their cities and connected each of the cities with roads. Streets were mapped out in the form of rectangular grids, with a crisscross of streets, the same pattern that can be seen throughout the world today.
The Romans enjoyed many amenities for their day, including public toilets, underground sewage systems, fountains and ornate public baths. None of these aquatic innovations would have been possible without the Roman aqueduct. First developed around 312 B.C., these engineering marvels used gravity to transport water along stone, lead and concrete pipelines and into city centers. Aqueducts liberated Roman cities from a reliance on nearby water supplies and proved priceless in promoting public health and sanitation. While the Romans did not invent the aqueduct, primitive canals for irrigation and water transport existed earlier; they used their mastery of civil engineering to perfect the process. 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 eleven aqueducts.
The modern day postal service can thank the ancient Romans for inventing the system 2,000 years ago. It was under the rule of Augustus Caesar that a formalized postal service came into practice. Originally known asCursus Publicus, the postal service was run and operated by the government. It included transportation and delivery of messages and tax revenues to various Roman cities and provinces.
The ancient Roman Empire flourished not only on a strong foundation of properly laid grids, drainage and a groundbreaking legal system, but also because its traffic signs made traveling for trade and military efficient. All Roman provinces and cities were marked with roads, each of which had traffic signs or markers erected on the sideways. The milestone concept was developed in Rome and is still used today. It contained information such as distances and directions.
fast food restaurants
Everyone is familiar with the concept of fast food establishments and restaurants and it was Rome where the concept first became a reality. The ancient Roman cities offered many luxuries and food establishments which were very essential to the public. The restaurant would prepare the meal that could eaten there, taken away to eat at home or it could be delivered. The types of food ranged from bread and wine, to soup, sausages and even gelato.
Ancient Rome was the wellspring for many modern government programs, including measures that subsidized food, education and other expenses for the needy. These entitlement programs date back to 122 B.C., when the tribune Gaius Gracchus institutedlex frumentaria, a law that ordered Rome’s government to supply its citizens with allotments of cheaply priced grain. This early form of welfare continued under Trajan, who implemented a program known asalimentato help feed, clothe and educate orphans and poor children. Other items including corn, oil, wine, bread and pork were eventually added to the list of price-controlled goods, which may have been collected with tokens calledtesserae. These generous handouts helped Roman emperors win favor with the public, but some historians have argued that they also contributed to Rome’s eventual economic decline, a lesson that modern politicians might take note of.