Gies’ “Triumphs & Failures of Ancient Technology”

The Roman civilization achieved an advanced level of technological knowledge that was inherited form technological innovations of the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. These inherited technologies include: Egyptian stonemasonry techniques, sailing techniques, variations to the Phoenicia mariner-merchant’s alphabet, agricultural tools and techniques, mining technology, iron metallurgy, handicraft production, glass manufacturing, and building construction (such as the Pont du Gard shown below).

Though a lot of Roman technology was inspired by the Egyptians, the Near East, and the Greeks, there were other civilizations that contributed. The Gauls provided the improvement in the harvesting process by way of the jointed flail and were the source of a form of soap. Barbarians brought a better grade of metal for weapons. Also, the Germanic peoples also introduced a modern Western-style clothing. manufacturing techniques, and the wooden barrel.

Despite these great borrowed and improved technologies, the Romans were left technologically handicapped by two failures. One was the shortcoming of the horse harness, which remained unimproved. By the 2ndcentury B.C., horses in China were pulling against a breath strap so that they could breathe freely. The second was their failure to see the waterwheel as an invention of
capital importance. The Romans didn’t completely cut out the water wheel but instead focused on men and animals as their source of power.

There were two other failures that exceeded the realm of technology but still influenced the Roman civilization: theoretical science and economics. Theoretical science was regarding as doing at the expense of knowing. Many Romans inherited Latin as its lingua franca and never even bothered to translate the works of Greek savants such as Aristotle, Euclid, and Archimedes. An explanation to this was usually pointed to the rhetoric-based Roman education system. The economy of the Romans was impoverished and a largely stagnant peasant economy, masked by its political and military facade. Availability of capital resource on a large scale belonged to the government, which spent its money on roads, public buildings, water supply, and other civic amenities. This left little contribution to industrial and agricultural production, weakening its dynamics that enable the creation of technology.

Just like anything else, success must come with failure. Nevertheless, the Greeks and Romans improved and expanded all that they borrowed. Many technologies are sometimes left to the wind, failing to see any advancement. Seeing the value in the Roman’s borrowing, there was a succession that was capitalized upon to create the New Europe.



By Kristan Wilkins

Word Count: 400

2 Replies to “Gies’ “Triumphs & Failures of Ancient Technology””

  1. It was nice reading your blog. You described certain failed technologies such as the Water wheel and horse harness very briefly. It would’ve been better if you could describe it in greater detail and rationally explain why they were considered to be failures.
    But apart from that, it was great!

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