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6-08-2015, 15:24

Builders and Craftsmen

While much of the architecture from ancient
Rome has crumbled into ruin, a number of
buildings, bridges, roads, and monuments remain
today. These structures stand as a testament
to the engineering and building abilities of the
ancient Romans.


Perhaps the greatest example of Roman engineering was the widespread use
of aqueducts. These artificial channels moved water. Some aqueducts were
tunnels through rocks or canals in the earth. Others looked like bridges,
with channels that carried water above ground. Aqueducts used gravity to
move the water supply.
Ancient Rome’s aqueducts were nothing short of an engineering marvel.
First century BCE Rome had a population of almost 1 million people.1 Waste
became a huge problem. Garbage, human and animal waste, used cooking
and cleaning water, and any other refuse became an issue. The Tiber River,
Rome’s only source of clean water, soon became polluted and choked with
garbage, human waste, and even dead bodies.
In 33 BCE, Marcus Agrippa became water commissioner. By the end of the
first century, the Romans had built nine aqueducts that carried 85 million
gallons (322 million L) of fresh mountain spring water into Rome each day.2
The Aqua Claudia supplied Rome from a water source 42 miles (68 km) away.3
It carried freshwater to Rome’s 14 districts. Aqueducts delivered water to
public bathhouses and to fountains, where residents could collect the water.
The aqueducts serving Rome with freshwater comprised an extensive
network of arches, channels, and tunnels. The Romans did not invent the
aqueduct, but Roman engineers combined reservoir
construction, bridge building, tunneling, piping,
and road making to create a state-of-the-art water
delivery system. Wherever possible, aqueducts
carried water underground or through tunnels or
channels to protect the water from contamination.
People still use some of the aqueducts today.
A system of sewers covered by stones removed
wastewater. Human waste was flushed from the
public latrines into a channel that fed into the main
sewage system. This emptied into a nearby river
or stream.


Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, known
simply as Vitruvius, was a Roman
civil engineer, architect, and
author who lived during the first
century BCE. Scholars remember
Vitruvius for his written works, a
collection of volumes called De
Architectura. It is one of the most
important sources of knowledge
about Roman building methods.
In it, Vitruvius described the
planning and design of structures
such as aqueducts and baths,
as well as machinery, measuring
devices, and instruments.


Arguably the most important contribution Rome
made to the field of architecture was the invention
of concrete. For a long time, Romans had been using
mortar to hold building blocks together. More than
2,100 years ago, Romans began mixing aggregate into their mortar to create
concrete. They used the material to create aqueducts, buildings, bridges,
and monuments. The addition of volcanic ash called pozzolana, which was
plentiful in the area, created a sticky paste that was strong enough to endure
decay or crumbling. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, who died in the
eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, wrote about pozzolana being used to make a
special maritime concrete that could set and harden under water for use in
piers and harbors.
Concrete allowed Roman builders to make tenement buildings, bridges,
and arches sturdier than before. Roman builders grew more knowledgeable
about concrete’s uses. Their understanding allowed for the successful
construction of the Pantheon in the 100s CE. The seven-story structure
remains intact, crowned with the largest unsupported concrete dome
existing in the world today.
The Pantheon also shows the usefulness of arches. The Romans
discovered that arches put much less strain on stone blocks than the
traditional stacking of bricks. This made arches a far more efficient building
technique. Arches could create tall, strong walls and doorways as well
as domes and vaults. The Romans incorporated arches in a variety of
structures, including aqueducts.

Tracking Time

The Romans used sundials to gauge how far along
in the day it was and water clocks to act as early
stopwatches. The Solarium Augusti in Rome was
a large obelisk that cast a shadow, based on the
sun’s position, onto pavement inlaid with gilded
bronze lines. One could read the time based
on where the shadow fell among the lines.
Water clocks, called clepsydras, used a regulated
flow of liquid into or out of a vessel. Often, a clepsydra
was a small earthenware vessel that had a hole in
its side, close to the base. Wax was used to plug
the hole. When a person wanted to start marking
time, they poured water into the vessel and pulled
out the wax plug. The water began to flow out of
the clepsydra. Once the vessel was empty, time
was up. The amount of allotted time was based on
how much water was poured into the vessel. For
example, the Romans used them in court to allow
speakers a certain amount of time to present their
cases. As time passed, water clocks became more
intricate, with small wheels connected to hands on
a dial that turned as water dripped onto them.


Romans also mastered the art of central heating, which they called
hypocaust. They used it in houses and public bathhouses.
Slaves kept a furnace fire blazing, which heated the air. The warm air
passed through spaces builders created under floors and between walls.
Hypocaust was so effective that people in some homes had to wear wooden
shoes to avoid burning their feet on the hot floor.
Hypocaust also allowed for hot water baths and saunas in public
bathhouses. Water could be heated hot enough to produce steam for
steam rooms.


Roadways in the ancient world were rarely more than heavily traveled paths.
Rain made them muddy. Deep ruts and holes were constant problems,
leading to broken cart wheels. The Romans changed that, devising a system
for building roads that drastically improved transportation throughout
the empire.
The Romans laid out roads as straight as possible. Surveyors used a
tool called a groma to ensure the planned paths were straight by plotting
right angles. The first major Roman military highway was the Appian Way.
The Romans named it after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman official who
began its construction in 312 BCE. Initially 132 miles
(212 km) long and extending from the city of Rome
to Capua, the Romans extended it an additional
234 miles (377 km) to Italy’s southeast coast.4
Workers began by clearing land, including
chopping down trees. Next, they dug trenches: a
wide one for the road, with one on each side for
drainage. Then, they filled the road trench with
layers of materials that varied given what was
available. First was compacted sand or earth,
followed by crushed rock. Next was gravel, which eventually was mixed in
cement. Workers added a layer of sand and gravel next, also mixed with
cement. The top was usually large stone slabs.
Over time, the Romans created 50,000 miles (80,000 km) of roads.5 The
routes allowed Roman armies to travel quickly and efficiently. Farmers and
traders pulling crops and goods by oxcart also benefitted. Many of these
roads, including the Appian Way, still exist today.


Nearly every Roman city had a blacksmith who was skilled in ironwork, a
craft the Romans did not invent but were quite adept at. The blacksmith used
a furnace, anvil, hammer, and pincers to hammer pots and tools into shape.
Bronzesmiths were also active in ancient Rome. They created bronze
objects by casting. First, they made a wax model of an object and covered it
in clay. Next, they heated the clay until the wax melted and could be poured
out of the clay, leaving behind a mold. The bronzesmith could then pour
molten bronze into the mold. Once fully set, the clay cast could be broken,
revealing the bronze object inside.
Romans also produced glass. They created an enormous number of
blown glass vessels, containers, dishes, and other items using a mixture
of silica, soda, and lime heated in a furnace to more than 2,000 degrees
Fahrenheit (1,000°C). Glassblowers shaped molten glass using a hollow metal
tube through which they blew air into a blob of the material attached at
the other end. The Romans did not invent glass, but they were the first to
implement its widespread use in windows.