Carlson’s “The Romans”


In the article, “The Romans”, Carlson explains goes over a brief history of the Roman’s with a focus on the technologies they made. The technologies that he goes over can be broken into two categories:  Military Technologies and Social Technologies.

Military Technologies:

When developing military technologies, the Roman’s focused on siege and artillery weapons, such as ballista, crossbows, catapults, and siege towers.

The manuballista, or hand-crossbow, was originally brought to Rome from China in the 4th Century BCE and allowed soldiers to shoot arrows more accurately over longer distances.

The carroballista (mounted cross-bow) was a much larger weapon. It used skeins made from human hair or animal sinews to produce tension. Once a projectile was placed in front of the drawstring, the soldiers would use a winch to create tension in the skein. When the tension was released, the projectile would be violently propelled forward.

Towards the end of the 4th Century BCE, the Romans had invented the onager, meaning “wild ass”. The onager worked by using a thick skein connecting a flexible throwing arm and a stable frame. The throwing arm would have a sling attached where heavy stones could be loaded. When the skein was tightened, the arm would be pulled back under heavy tension, where a catch would prevent it from firing until it was released. The onager could fire stones over 500 yards.

A comparison of ballista and artillery ranges

In addition to siege weapons, the Romans would also build walls, forts, and watchtowers along their frontiers to deter barbarian invaders and help control the local population. With these technologies, the Romans were able to rapidly expand their empire abroad while providing a steady stream of booty and plunder at home. Many generals, such as Sulla, Pompey, and Ceasar were able to rise in political power as a result.

Social Technologies:

After Augustus’s defeat in Germany in 7 CE, he abandoned the territorial conquest and began to focus on improvements within.  He shared power with many of the aristocratic families, reducing the risk of internal conflict while appointing governors to take control of the newly conquered provinces. During the first two centuries the new millennia, Augustus and his successors were able to bring about significant political and social stability, which allowed for unprecedented growth in technology.

During this time, the ideal citizen of Rome was thought to be a wealthy farmer with a large estate. Despite this, few inventions were made to make farming easier, as it was simpler to buy more land and hire more workers than make existing jobs more efficient. However, many aristocrats would also use their surplus wealth to undertake civic projects, such as making monuments, amphitheaters, aqueducts, the famous Colosseum.  Engineers trained when Rome was constantly at war became invaluable in organizing massive festivals and structures, such as man-made lakes to practice mock sea battles in.

Perhaps one of the more famous inventions during this time was the Roman Arch. Due to the curved shape of the arch, the weight of the building would push the columns together rather than apart. This allowed them to create large buildings with curved roofs or long bridges across a valley. One other variation of the arch was to make it continuously revolved around a center point, which would make a dome. This is how the enormous dome of the Pantheon was created.

Pantheon in Rome, inside view

In conclusion, the Roman’s had two great periods of technological prowess. The first era would have been from before Augustus when they dominated the military scene with their advanced ballistics, while the second era was that of peace after the fall of Ceasar and Augustus came into power.

613 Words

Here’s a link for a really cool video on Roman weapons.

And here is a link for a lot of other cool inventions made by the Romans! Some interesting inventions listed here would be the Julian Calendar and a postal service.


— Jeremy Lane