ancient rome inventions

10 Incredible Ancient Roman Inventions You Should Know About

The Italian city of Rome has often been called the cradle of Western Civilization. From art and architecture to politics and technology, Rome’s contribution to modern society cannot be doubted. Ancient Roman inventions continue to inspire awe even today.

So here are 10 Ancient Roman inventions that you should know of.

10 Ancient Roman Inventions

1. Roads

Roads

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One of the key factors that helped the Roman Empire to flourish as it did was the effective administration of the land that was under its rule. It was all thanks to the complex yet elaborate network of roads they had built to connect cities and towns.

The roads in ancient Rome were built to be slightly raised in the middle, sloping down on either side. This type of structure helped them drain off rainwater and debris into ditches placed on either side. The roads were created in a largely straight network and consisted of a foundation of clay, chalk, bricks, and gravel with flat stones on the surface.

This structure was so successful that by 200 AD ancient Rome had up to 50,000 miles of roads.

2. Bound Books

codex

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Ancient Rome also gifted the world with the first form of the bound book, known as the codex. Before this point, all written information lived on long scrolls of parchment.

Difficult to create and maintain, these parchments had to be rolled and unrolled each time anyone wanted to reference them. They were also hygroscopic and therefore prone to wear and tear. The codex on the other hand was more similar to modern-day books.

Although it translates to a “block of wood”, the codex was a stack of bound pages with hardcovers placed on either end. The earliest forms of the codices were bound wax tablets and were later replaced by animal skin parchment. One of the most famous copies of a similar codex is The Codex Sinaiticus.

It wasn’t until the reign of Julius Caesar that the codex became a stack of papyrus paper.

3. Central and Underfloor Heating

Underfloor Heating

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The hypocaust was ancient Rome’s way of dealing with freezing winters. An amazing feature of this design was that it not only included a form of ancient central heating but also underfloor heating.

The design included a ground-level furnace that would create hot air and circulate it in the space beneath the floor. The space beneath the floor was raised by a series of concrete pillars made from tiles to facilitate the process.

It also included a system of flues to channel off the smoke and allow it to escape through the roof so it wouldn’t pollute the space above.

It was an engineering marvel, especially because there was a huge risk of fire, smoke inhalation, and carbon monoxide poisoning that they had to consider.

Although the Romans did master the technique, it wasn’t affordable for the commoners to build such a structure. Therefore, the hypocaust was only seen in public spaces like the thermae (or Roman bathhouses), public buildings, or homes of the wealthy.

4. Dental Fillings

Dental Fillings

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A set of human remains found in France that dates back to the 1st and 2nd century AD had wrought-iron implants in the molars. This suggests they’d undergone a procedure much similar to modern-day dental filling.

People of ancient Rome might have also figured out a way to deal with problems of toothache, loose teeth, and teething. A major proof of this is a written record of oral medicine put together by a man named Celsus. The record dates back to 100 BC and contains instructions on soothing baby teething, repairing loose teeth, and treating toothache.

5. Calendar

Calendar

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If there’s an ancient Roman invention that comes quite close to its present-day design, it’s the Julian calendar. The Western or Gregorian calendar that is accepted internationally is only 0.002% more accurate than the Julian calendar.

The Julian Calendar was introduced under the rule of Julius Caesar in 46 BC and was a reform of the Roman calendar. It had a 12-month system with 365 days per year and a leap year of 366 days after every three-year cycle. It also acknowledged January 1st as the first day of the year.

Before that the Roman calendar was inspired by the Greek models that followed the lunar cycle. It was then introduced into Rome with some cultural alterations. While the calendar’s original form wasn’t perfect to start with, the additions made it more difficult to maintain.

By the point of the reform, the Roman calendar needed to be constantly adjusted to make up for discrepancies between the solar and lunar cycles. Eventually, Julius Caesar employed the help of astronomer Sosigenes to come up with a more permanent solution and created the Julian Calendar.

6. Newspapers

Newspapers

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The Acta Diurna, or the Daily Acts, was an ancient Roman invention that might have been the earliest form of today’s newspapers. They were large slabs of stone and metal that were erected in busy areas such as the Roman Forum.

Introduced by Julius Caesar in 130 BC, the Acta Diurna included information about current affairs, military victories, astrological readings, gladiatorial bouts, births and deaths, and such. On some occasions, they also included stories of human interest. The practice was so successful that it also inspired the Acta Senatus, which would list the proceedings of the Roman Senate.

The practice of publishing the Acta Diurna continued well into 222 AD and went on to include a variety of topics. Initially, the slabs were kept in areas like the Forum where they were not accessible to the commoners. It was only later on that the public could view them.

7. Concrete

Concrete

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While the Romans did not invent concrete, they did make significant contributions to the making of the modern-day version of concrete.

Roman concrete, also known as opus caementicium, was a material made by combining volcanic ash, lime, and seawater. It was used extensively in the building of ancient Roman structures like roads, pipelines, and buildings. Some of the most famous examples of its use include the Roman Pantheon, Colosseum, and the Roman Forum.

8. Surgical Tools and Practices

Surgical Tools

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The Caesarian section is perhaps the most common medical invention gifted to the world by the ancient Romans. But there are equally important medical contributions that many people don’t know about.

One such invention is the practice of battlefield surgery. It was under the rule of Emperor Augustus that the first ever trained medical corps were deployed to provide treatment on the battlefield. This also led to the invention of surgical equipment such as the hemostatic tourniquet and the arterial surgical clamp.

Over time the importance of the role of the field doctor on the battlefield also gave the Romans the idea to undertake physical examinations of new recruits. They were also known to have started the practice of disinfecting surgical tools in hot water before surgery.

Some of the inventions from ancient Rome such as the vaginal speculum, forceps, syringe, scalpel, and bone saw were still in use through the 19th and 20th centuries.

9. Sanitation Systems and Aqueducts

Sanitation System

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Ancient Rome’s sanitation system was one of its most remarkable inventions due to the sheer number of similarities it shares with modern-day sanitation.

The most unique of these was the aqueducts. These massive structures were built to help bring fresh water into the city from nearby sources. Aqueducts allowed people living in these cities to access fresh, running water any time of the day.

The constant supply of fresh running water also facilitated the construction of public bathrooms. These bathrooms featured long stone benches that had holes in them every few feet for the people to sit over.

The entire structure was supported by a system of plumbing that allowed fresh running water to flow beneath the toilets and empty into a large sewage system known as the Cloaca Maxima, or the Great Drain.

Another similarity in the sanitation systems of ancient Rome and the present day is seen in the plumbing structures of multi-storeyed dwellings. These dwellings featured a system of pipes that could channel feces to the ground level for the Night Soil Men to collect and use as fertilizer.

10. Postal Service

Postal Service

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Ancient Romans established a postal system that can be said to be an early form of postal service. Known as the cursus publicus, it was started in 20 BC by Emperor Augustus.

This early postal service was made up of 2 crucial elements – a horse cart called rhedæ and a messenger. Every day the messenger would mount the horse cart and transport messages, packages, and notices over a distance of 50 miles.

Many such messengers made up an elaborate relay team-style operation that could carry up to 170 urgent messages in a single run. Their network included regions of Italy and the provinces where the well-engineered roads made it much easier to travel.

Although ancient Rome’s postal service was state-regulated, there was no guarantee of safe delivery. The costs of using this postal service were quite high too.

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