Among the most successful civilization of antiquity, Ancient Rome gave more than its fair share of innovations. Building on their millennia-long legacy, the Romans achieved several advances in fields as diverse as engineering, law, technology and arts, many of which remained unrivaled for centuries to come.
Innovations such as concrete, arches and a republican government are all famous examples coming from Ancient Rome but are far from the most remarkable. From plumbing to rudimentary steam engines, we highlight the things you didn’t know were invented in Ancient Rome
1. Modern Plumbing
While earlier civilizations employed some form of basic plumbing, the Romans gave it its modern form. Romans employed an advanced system of aqueducts, concrete and lead pipelines to supply water to its numerous cities and estates. Many houses and public buildings were connected to a complex network of sewage line, ensuring that the wealthy citizen enjoyed a level of sanitation somewhat comparable to today’s standards.
After the fall of Rome and the subsequent de-urbanization of the Eastern half, nothing similar would exist in the world for well over a thousand years.
At its height, the Roman Empire stretched across three continents and was home to roughly 1/5 of the World population. Effectively administrating such a vast domain would have been impossible without a sophisticated system of roads and highways, allowing both goods and armies to cover vast distances in a very short period. Roads were slightly raised in the middle so to drain off any water o the surface. The Romans were also the first to use road signs and mile markers as a means of easier navigation.
The fact that many highways remain largely intact today is a testament to the quality craftsmanship the Romans employed in their construction.
3. Bound Books
For a majority of recorded history, writing was done on heavy clay tablets and unwieldy scrolls. Romans made the process more organized and practical with the invention of the Codex, the very first manifestation of the modern-day books.
Although not widely adopted until the turn of 1st century CE, the design was revolutionary, being far more economical and practical than other conventional mediums. The method was highly popular among the Christian community who used it to make the first copies of the bible.
4. Civil Law
Many of today’s legal concepts regarding civil matters can trace their roots to the Roman law or Corpus Juris Civilis (“Body of Civil Law”). Compiled during the reign of Justinian l, it organized over 1000 years of legal history into one document.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, it became the basis for the legal system in many European countries. With colonization, it was introduced in one form or another in most parts of the world. Many legal terms – habeas corpus, pro bono, affidavit— derive from the Roman legal system.
The Romans were the first to invent newspapers to keep its citizens updated on the daily affairs of the Empire. Known as Acta Diurna (Daily Acts), these early newspapers were written on stone or metal slabs and then posted for the public to view. Another more exclusive newspaper was the Acta Senatus, highlighting the proceedings of the Senate. In 59 BCE, it was also made public on the orders of Julius Caesar.
The Roman Republic and the succeeding dictatorship were the first to pioneer a comprehensive system of welfare for its citizens. Entitlement programs such as subsidized grains and handouts helped the government win the approval of the masses and prevent riots.
7. Medical Corps
The Romans readily adapted medical and surgical techniques from the Ancient Greeks and themselves further made many advances in these fields. Among them was the formation of medical corps to tend to the needs of injured soldiers during battles.
8. Steam Engine
The Aeolipile was an experimental steam turbine invented by Heron of Alexandria. It consisted of a hollow metal sphere with two tubes on opposite ends. On heating the central war container, Torque was produced when the high-pressure steam exited the tubes.
However, Heron regarded it as little more than a curious toy and never found any practical use for it. Fast-forward some 1600 years, the re-application of steam power would propel Great Britain into the industrial age.
9. Vending Machines
Another one of Heron’s inventions, the world’s first vending machine was a holy water dispenser. A coin was inserted through a slot in the machine. The coin’s weight caused a lever to open a valve – letting some holy water to flow out- until the coin would fall off and the lever would then tilt back into its original position.
The color-changing properties of a 4th Century Roman Chalice – the Lycurgus Cup – for many great decades’ baffled scientists. That is until English Researchers in the 90s discovered, to their amazement, that the glass was impregnated with nano-sized particles of gold and silver. They were arranged in such a way that – when the light hits the goblet’s surface – “electrons belonging to the metal flecks vibrate in ways that alter the color depending on the observer’s position.”