[LMB] OT: Romans

Damien Sullivan phoenix at mindstalk.net
Wed Aug 28 14:29:23 BST 2019

> 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>

A massive amount of false information, either underselling Roman
accomplishments, or giving false credit to medieval Europe.

> 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>

Uh, this link contradicts some of what you say.

> Romans were excellent constructors but bad gadgeteers. Compared to the
> Chinese, the Romans were lousy engineers. Of all schools of

> 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?

China had slavery, and Rome had many waterwheels, including overshot


"Barbegal complex (early 2nd century CE) in southern France. At the
Barbegal complex, for example, an aqueduct could supply water to sixteen
overshot wheels"

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

A third of the population dying to disease might have had something to
do with that.  If it's even true.

"The earliest known sawmill was the Hierapolis mill dating back to
250-300 CE... a surprisingly-sophisticated machine which consisted of a
reciprocating saw powered by a waterwheel. It could cut large amounts of
wood or stone, thereby saving enormous amounts of effort and labour."

"A Roman poet called Ausonius writes in an epic poem about the river
Moselle in Germany in the late 4th century CE and describes the
shrieking sound of a water-powered sawmill used to cut marble."

Gosh, what happened to slavery suppressing the invention of labour
saving devices?

Plus your own link:

"Archaeological evidence also shows lots of water mills being used in
Roman sites during the first three centuries of the Empire, and then
seeming to become less common. They were far from unknown in Antiquity.
So were many other water-lifting tools."

> Cue the Dark Ages and Christianity. Slavery is abolished. You can no

You make it sound like Christianity abolished slavery overnight.


It kept going for centuries.  "About 10% of England's population entered
in the Domesday Book (1086) were slaves"

And Europe got serfs instead.

> The Dark Ages (476–800) saw the following inventions:
> Heavy wheeled ploughshare, which superseded the ard plough

"The Romans achieved the heavy wheeled mouldboard plough in the late 3rd
and 4th century AD,"

> Horsecollar, which enabled use of horses as draught animals

Invented by China, spreading to Europe by the 900s.

> Crop rotation, which saw 300% increase on crops

300%?  I really doubt that.  And your own quora link says

"Two-field cropping, with provision to leave land fallow part of time,
has been known to people long before the Roman Empire, much less the
Middle Ages. In fact, the two-field system continued to be used in most
Mediterranean farmlands well after the 3-field system became close to
universal in Northern Europe — because it suited the environmental
conditions in that climate, whereas the 3-field system worked well in a
wetter, colder climate."

> Overshot waterwheel, which was much more efficient than undershot

Heavily used by the Romans.

> Windmills to supersede slaves grinding quern-stones

Invented by the Persians in the 800s, maybe later by Europeans.

> Lateen sail, which enabled tacking

Origins are mysterious, possibly Persian, Arab, Austronesian, or even Roman.

> Catalan forge. Much better than Roman bloomeries.
> Horseshoes. Enabled much more efficient use of horses.

I'll grant these.

> Water hammer. Enabled much more efficient manufacturing than merely smiting the iron by hand.

Trip hammer.  Chinese, and possibly Roman; if Roman, disappearing until
the 1100s.

> Spurs. Enabled controlling the horse without reins.

Invented by the Celts by the 400s BC.

> Stirrups. Enabled striking downwards with a sword on horseback.

Chinese, or the nomads north of China.

> Hourglass. To keep informed of time.

True.  Might help that Rome was a major pioneer of glassblowing.

> Distillation. To purify and refine things and produce liquors.

Akkadian, then Roman Greeks, Chinese, and Arab, and finally European

> Spinning wheel. Much better way to produce yarn than spindle.

Arab or Chinese.

> All in all, the 325 years of the Dark Ages saw much more technological progress than the preceding 325 years in the Roman Empire.

You're claiming that whole list for the dark ages?  Hourglasses,
spinning wheels, post-Roman trip hammers, and windmills were later,
usually much later, than a 325 year Dark Age period.  Earlier European
spinning wheel is 1300s.  Might have been some 8th century hourglasses
but they're not common until the 1300s.

-xx- Damien X-)

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