A discussion forum for history enthusiasts everywhere
 
HomeHome  ShortcutsShortcuts  FAQFAQ  RegisterRegister  Log inLog in  

Share | 
 

 Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically

View previous topic View next topic Go down 
AuthorMessage
Tim of Aclea
Consulatus
avatar

Posts : 327
Join date : 2011-12-31

PostSubject: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Wed 24 Apr 2013, 21:51

From the victory in the 2nd Punic War onwards, say for a period of arround 200 years, the Roman Republic and then at the start of the Empire, Rome seemed to advance geographically at a brakeneck speed. Following the defeat in Germany in 9AD that expansion largely stopped (I know there was still Southern Britain and Dacia). My question to what extent did the Roman Empire advance technologically in the period up to the fall of the Western Empire? Had they stopped advancing in that field too.

Although the Empire was still well ahead of the medieval world at its endd in many aspects (roads and central heating, for example), if one compares medieval Europe in 1500AD with that in 1000AD one sees significant advances.

Examples would be in buildings such as cathedrals and fortifications, the use of gunpowder and the development of cannon and handguns, armour development leading to plate armour, oceanic voyages (I realise the Vikings were undertaking oceanic voyages at around 1000AD but they ceased while those undertaken c1500AD did not), development of machinery such as windmills, printing. Even in areas such as art with painters such as Jan van Eyke.

Can one list such significant changes between Augustus gaining supreme power and the fall of the Western Empire in 476AD.
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5414
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Thu 25 Apr 2013, 09:14

Quote :
Can one list such significant changes between Augustus gaining supreme power and the fall of the Western Empire in 476AD

No is the short answer - it was a period of significant refinements (especially in metallurgy and application/development of concrete - the material upon which the entire empire quite literally rested) but not of innovation on the scale such as applied in the early centuries of the second millennium. Technology directly associated with warfare seems to have benefitted most from investment and development, but the use of human slaves and the strictly enforced labour laws from Diocletian onwards seriously inhibited technological innovation in areas of more general social application.

Adam Hart-Davis once made a shrewd observation about the Romans in this respect. According to him Rome was genius at emulating and even improving technology that it encountered when it interfaced with other cultures who had originated it (normally when they were at war with them). When Rome ran out of enemies it ran out of things to copy.

The Byzantine empire did however produce some innovation in its time, not surprisingly when the use of slaves finally diminished in practise and economic benefit. A lot of Greek technological experimentation which had been in hiatus at the height of empire was reignited when the eastern empire assumed a Greek rather than Roman ethos in its make-up.
Back to top Go down
http://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Tim of Aclea
Consulatus
avatar

Posts : 327
Join date : 2011-12-31

PostSubject: Re: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Sun 28 Apr 2013, 15:37

Thanks for the reply Nordmann. I could not think of anything that dramatic either but thought I would check.

With regard to comments on copying others, in the 3rd C AD the Sassanid Persian empire became a significant threat which led to both significant enlargement of the Roman army and also changes in its make up.

Some weapon technologies, if one can call war elephants war technoligy, Rome copied but then discarded.
Back to top Go down
Triceratops
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2708
Join date : 2012-01-05

PostSubject: Re: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Wed 01 May 2013, 11:56

Came across this one, a sawmill in Hierapolis in modern day Turkey which dates to the second half of the 3rd Century AD and is the first known machine to use a crank & connecting rod;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hierapolis_sawmill
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5414
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Wed 01 May 2013, 15:13

The Hierapolis mill is a perfect example of the Roman relationship with technical innovation bordering on disregard, and that strange mix of excellent technical craftsmanship combined with an almost equally intense technophobia which characterised their society.

In Hierapolis (and it is not at all coincidental that this is in the Hellenic portion of the empire) a local lad, Marcus Ammianos, has solved a technical problem of transferring energy in sufficent amount and applicational exactness in order to improve efficency and output when cutting stone. In that sense the gear train is almost as important as the crank and rod combination, and both innovations appear to have been arrived at quite independently by Ammianos, either through improving on others' designs or through pure invention on his part. However it is the application that gives the game away with regard to Rome's relationship with such invention.


Ammianos's grave with a bas relief of the engine, proof of the pride he and his community felt in his technical prowess, and the significance of the sawmill engine's design and designer


Precision and uniformity of standard in cutting stone at consistently high levels is not going to be achieved necessarily by throwing more and more slaves at the task. While skilled stone cutters can of course be trained, keeping a constant work force of such skilled people capable of producing at the speed and to the standard of the machine must have been a continual nightmare for the entrepreneur. For this reason the traditional Roman aversion to what we would now call "labour-saving" technology has been negated. But only in this precise instance - the logical "next step" of seeing in how many other ways the same technology can be applied has never been taken.

Even more damning an indictment of this Roman reluctance to develop technology is, as the wiki article states, the fact that with this crank and connecting rod concept we know that 4th century Rome now had access to all the essential ingredients of the steam engine, fifteen hundred years before the Industrial Revolution. Not only that but these ingredients had all been originated and put into use for various purposes within just one part of the empire, its Greek territories, giving rise to the possibility that the users of one were aware of the existence of the others. Yet, it being Roman society, no one appears to have had either the inclination or aptitude to combine them. In a culture in which the end application must first be understood before it is solved through technical means, the required experimental stage of combining existing technologies and perfecting a working steam-powered engine was therefore never going to happen.

Terry Jones and others in recent times have challenged us to contemplate just how far back Roman "civilisation" set us in terms of civilisation itself, and the Hierapolis sawmill is a fair indication of the fact that they are right to do so.
Back to top Go down
http://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Triceratops
Censura
avatar

Posts : 2708
Join date : 2012-01-05

PostSubject: Re: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Thu 02 May 2013, 10:14

I did wonder if Roman metallurgy was up to the job of producing boilers capable of holding steam pressures but it appears they did;



central heating boiler from Pompeii.
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5414
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Fri 03 May 2013, 12:43

And here's a good example of high-tech brass piston-work, in this example used in a manually powered bilge pump from the 1st century CE:



This design dates back effectively to Hero just a little earlier (he who also experimented with steam-driven mechanisms and must have been adding two and two in his own mind at the time) but it was in use almost unchanged as late as Archbishop Isidore of Seville's time (7th century CE) when he spoke of the force of water output being so strong that it could be used to wash the high ceilings of basilicas from floor level without the use of scaffolding or brushes.
Back to top Go down
http://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Tim of Aclea
Consulatus
avatar

Posts : 327
Join date : 2011-12-31

PostSubject: Re: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Thu 09 May 2013, 07:26

I remember once reading a speculative article on what would have happened if Alexander the Great had lived to a ripe old age and founding a lasting dynasty. Amongst the events following that were
Buddhism becaming the religion of Europe
The first working steam engine coming on line c200BC
Hannibal barca discovers America
The inhabitants of Judea are encouraged to migrate estwards and eventaully become assimulated into the local population.
No Roman Empire
Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5414
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Thu 09 May 2013, 08:50

I imagine the last projection is the crucial one in the context of general technological advancement in Europe. Opening Europe up to a Greek-facilitated osmosis of eastern philosophical, religious and scientific thought would have seen many developments occurring potentially centuries before they did in actuality. The real key factor is not so much territorial domination, I feel, but whichever culture's idea of economics prevailed, and Rome was almost unique historically in its almost complete reliance on extremely cheap and abundant labour to support a system whereby a tiny minority reaped the vast bulk of the financial rewards. It was a city-state mentality (one mirrored even in Greece) but it was Rome that managed to impose it on such a vast scale, and it was during this prolonged period of imposition that technical and philosophical stagnation occurred.

Regarding Alexander, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it does seem that the odds were stacked against both him living to a ripe old age and the founding of a lasting Alexandrian dynasty. He was the archetypal "early achiever" whose undoubted genius for military conquest was applied at the expense of almost everything else normally associated with empire-building. Long-term planning and diplomacy were not his fortes, and indeed if he had approached the task he set himself with such considerations in mind it is doubtful he would have achieved anything like the success he did. However there are still many "what ifs" between his decade of explosive expansion and Rome's eventual elimination of its Punic competition that could also have led to Rome never establishing the hegemony it did. And if any or all of them had actually happened then the projections you list above could equally well have come to pass.

Buddhism is the only one I'd quibble with - the Greeks' attraction to mystical faiths and their readiness to assimilate such influences from the east was indeed a factor that would actually lead to the eventual demise of the Graeco-Roman religious model and this process would have conceivably been much accelerated without Rome as superpower being there to forcibly maintain a religious status quo as it did, but the evidence suggests that such assimilation would have been heavily filtered through Greek philosophical sensibilities. There is no guarantee therefore that any Buddha that emerged from that process might in any way resemble the one with which we are familiar today. If any religion were to become dominant in that process it would of necessity have been a hybrid - indeed much like what actually happened, only some four or so centuries later than if it had been facilitated by an Alexandrian dynasty having precluded the growth of Rome.
Back to top Go down
http://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Tim of Aclea
Consulatus
avatar

Posts : 327
Join date : 2011-12-31

PostSubject: Re: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Wed 29 May 2013, 17:15

Quote :
However there are still many "what ifs" between his decade of explosive expansion and Rome's eventual elimination of its Punic competition that could also have led to Rome never establishing the hegemony it did.

Surely not just its Punic competition but also the successor states of Alexander, especially the Seleucid Empire.

Quote :
Buddhism is the only one I'd quibble with

I would quibble with 'Hannibal Barca discovers America'. Even if one disregards the lack of either archaeological or contemporary evidence for his existance, the sort of upheaval that in Carthage resulting from it becoming part of the Macedonian Empire would have made it extremely unlikely that the right people would have been in the right place at the right time for HB to have been born. Science fiction series such as Star Trek like 'parallel universes' which are very different but which have the same characters in it, so they can kill off the odd one which they cannot so easily do in the 'real universe'.

Quote :
If any religion were to become dominant in that process it would of necessity have been a hybrid

Are not all major world religions hybrids in one way or another?

Sorry for the delay in responding, but I am busy writing 2 papers for my institute.

regards

Tim



Back to top Go down
nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
avatar

Posts : 5414
Join date : 2011-12-25

PostSubject: Re: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Thu 30 May 2013, 13:44

Quote :
Surely not just its Punic competition but also the successor states of Alexander, especially the Seleucid Empire.

Indeed - it's hard to know where to stop with conjecture concerning what would have happened had the Romans not clobbered one of their neighbours. They clobbered so many.

What's intriguing also is wondering what would have happened had Persia not proved such an insurmountable obstacle to their expansion over some centuries. I can't see anyone further east being able to do much to stop them at the time had they pushed for the South China Sea. At least until they would have come across the Han dynasty - now that would have been interesting.
Back to top Go down
http://reshistorica.historyboard.net
Tim of Aclea
Consulatus
avatar

Posts : 327
Join date : 2011-12-31

PostSubject: Re: Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically   Tue 18 Jun 2013, 14:05

'What's intriguing also is wondering what would have happened had Persia not proved such an insurmountable obstacle to their expansion over some centuries.'


Yes elsewhere it could be argued that Rome stopped expanding when it ran out of places that were worth the economic return to conquer.
Back to top Go down
 

Had the Roman Empire stopped advancing technologically as well as geographically

View previous topic View next topic Back to top 
Page 1 of 1

Permissions in this forum:You cannot reply to topics in this forum
Res Historica History Forum :: The history of things ... :: Technology and human invention-