The Romans were brilliant engineers, improving designs for things that already existed, as well as inventing new items to look after their citizens.
The Roman Empire spread as far as Britain in 43 AD, and you can still see Roman remains today at Verulamium Museum (and the Roman town that lies underneath Verulamium Park) in St Albans, showing that they were built to last. Caesar the moment and go take a look!
Read on for five of our favourite examples of excellent Roman engineering…
Water, water, everywhere: the aqueduct
The Romans were thirsty citizens. They built ingenious water transport systems called aqueducts to supply public toilets, underground sewage systems, fountains and public baths. The aqueduct shows off their civil engineering skills, carrying millions of gallons of water from faraway water sources. The water channel was built on top of the aqueduct and would slope gently downwards, over hundreds of feet, so gravity would cause the water to flow. The Romans also built their aqueducts using arches, which are strong and saved material compared to having a solid wall.
Rome-ing far and wide: roads
The Roman Empire was incredibly large and people needed a way to travel between cities and territory, near and far. They spread news and moved goods and military via the roads, most of which they built using crushed stone, sand, mortar and paving stones. These were angled so water would drain off the road. By A.D. 200, there were more than 53,000 miles of major roads crossing the Roman Empire and you can still see some of the roads in Britain today.
Arches weren’t invented by the ancient Romans but Roman structural engineers certainly improved upon the arches made in the previous 4,000 years. They used arches in bridges and took on the natural landscape, crossing valleys, hills, rivers and more! They also used them to strengthen monuments and buildings. The arch gives a lot of their architecture its typically “Roman” look.
Been there, dome that
Heavy, flat stone roofs are a problem for engineers and architects because they need to be supported by columns and strong walls. Roman structural engineers improved dome construction, using thick walls for a solid base and sides of the dome which decrease in thickness towards the top. At the dome peak there’s often an “oculus”, a circular opening, letting in light and decreasing the weight of the roof. A domed roof can make a building’s inside more spacious than its flat-roofed friends because of a lack of supporting columns.
Conquering with concrete
If you’ve ever been to or read about the Forum in Rome, you’ll know that some of the ancient buildings are still standing firm. This is thanks to the development of Roman concrete, made with a special recipe of rubble, lime, sand and volcanic ash. It was cheap, fireproof, strong and flexible. These days, modern concrete is used in so many of our buildings - let’s say thanks to those revolutionary Roman chemical engineers.
If you want to see some excellently preserved examples of Roman design, invention and engineering, check out Verulamium Museum and the Roman town underneath Verulamium Park in St Albans. Visit their website for more information about opening times.
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Images courtesy of Flickr | Creative Commons
Aqueduct: Oleg Shpyrko
Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum: David Paul Ohmer
Sunset at the Roman Forum: Benson Kua
Roman road to arch: Steven Damron