[LMB] OT: Romans

Pat Mathews mathews55 at msn.com
Sun Aug 25 20:52:33 BST 2019

Yes, indeed! Thanks for that neat summary.
From: lois-bujold-bounces at lists.herald.co.uk <lois-bujold-bounces at lists.herald.co.uk> on behalf of Howard Brazee <howard at brazee.net>
Sent: Saturday, August 24, 2019 5:33 PM
To: Discussion of the works of Lois McMaster Bujold. <lois-bujold at lists.herald.co.uk>
Subject: [LMB] OT: Romans

I found this:  https://www.quora.com/Why-did-technological-progress-grind-to-a-halt-during-the-Dark-Ages-when-the-Byzantine-Empire-survived-until-1453 <https://www.quora.com/Why-did-technological-progress-grind-to-a-halt-during-the-Dark-Ages-when-the-Byzantine-Empire-survived-until-1453>

It didn’t.

Romans were excellent constructors but bad gadgeteers. Compared to the Chinese, the Romans were lousy engineers. Of all schools of engineering (civil, process, mechanical, chemical) the Romans mastered only the civil engineering. They were lousy metallurgists, lousy mechanical engineers, lousy production engineers, lousy chemical engineers and lousy gadgeteers.

There was a reason for this, and it was slavery. Nothing is impossible for a man with a vision, ambition, skills of organizing things and an endless supply of unpaid and coerced labour. Slavery really gets things done. But it also effectively impedes all kinds of technological progress. There simply is no incentive to innovation nor develop any labour saving technology when you have slaves. Why build windmills when you have enough slaves to grind the quern-stones?

The Roman technological process got in grinding halt in the 2nd century AD. There really were no new inventions after the 2nd century AD.

Cue the Dark Ages and Christianity. Slavery is abolished. You can no more whip, scourge and bully slaves to work and to build things, but you have to pay your workers. It means labour is expensive. Now this is an incentive to develop labour-saving technology. And it really was.

The Dark Ages (476–800) saw the following inventions:

Heavy wheeled ploughshare, which superseded the ard plough
Horsecollar, which enabled use of horses as draught animals
Crop rotation, which saw 300% increase on crops
Overshot waterwheel, which was much more efficient than undershot
Windmills to supersede slaves grinding quern-stones
Lateen sail, which enabled tacking
Catalan forge. Much better than Roman bloomeries.
Horseshoes. Enabled much more efficient use of horses.
Water hammer. Enabled much more efficient manufacturing than merely smiting the iron by hand.
Spurs. Enabled controlling the horse without reins.
Stirrups. Enabled striking downwards with a sword on horseback.
Cantled saddle. Prevented lance charge becoming pole vault.
Hourglass. To keep informed of time.
Distillation. To purify and refine things and produce liquors.
Spinning wheel. Much better way to produce yarn than spindle.
All in all, the 325 years of the Dark Ages saw much more technological progress than the preceding 325 years in the Roman Empire.
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