Perhaps the greatest of all the ancient civilisations, the Roman Empire represented the age of classical antiquity and helped create the world we live in today.
The massive engineering projects that were undertaken and the advances in medicine and society ensure Roman infl uence can still be felt now. For example, concrete and cement were first popularised in Ancient Rome, as was a type of central heating known as a hypocaust.
One of the most remarkable traits of all though, was the ability for the Romans to work all their schemes and inventions into fully functioning cities within an extensive empire.
Rome itself was a bustling metropolis that no other civilisation matched in prosperity and size for centuries afterward.
They were also famously profi cient at town planning and building large structures. Home life was revolutionised under the Romans. Also, as is well known, the army was an all-conquering juggernaut that took the old world by storm. To commemorate their affect on modern society and technology, we discover just how innovative and ground-breaking this civilisation really was.
Inside a Roman house
The citizens of Rome had to be properly housed to ensure that the vast urban sprawl could operate as an organised society. Prior to the Romans, impressive structures were built by the Egyptians and the Greeks but never on the scale of the Roman Empire with its extensive housing projects.
Roman building techniques owed a lot to Greek and Etruscan influences. Houses were one or two storeys high and included lots of different sections. Ideally adapted to the Mediterranean heat, the typical Roman house often had no windows (glass was rarely used), instead fitted with an atrium to act as an open-air courtyard in the middle of the building.
Life in a house was boosted by a fully functioning public welfare system that provided grain to 300,000 of Rome’s families every year. If you wanted some retail therapy, Trajan’s Market had over one hundred tabernae (shops) selling a variety of goods.
Not every citizen was lucky or rich enough to own a house. Lower classes were put into one of Rome’s many ‘insulae’ apartment buildings and there are believed to have been over 40,000 of these in the city. In fact, these apartments outnumbered family houses by 20 to one!
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Building blocks – The Romans used pulleys and levers to shift large building blocks. Slaves carried out the hard graft.
Roof tiles – A stonesman would carve thin tiles from stone. These were laid on top of wooden beams and fi xed with nails.
Mosaics – Chips of stone were laid into cement to create beautiful works of art. This technique borrowed from Greece.
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Heating in Roman houses – hypocaust system
Larger residences were heated by a hypocaust system, an ancient method of underfloor heating.
Slaves kept the system running by keeping the flame alight. It is still unknown how well the convection currents worked and whether some rooms got too hot because of the system.
Underneath a raised floor, vents allowed heated air to travel freely and used convection currents to heat the tiles above. The warm air came from a woodburning furnace.
The hypocaust was reserved only for the wealthiest villas and large bathhouses. Also, the burning of wood produced toxic carbon monoxide fumes.
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