3 Inventions that Shaped the History of Ancient Rome

Students examine ancient building materials during one of JCU's many on-site classes.

Students examine ancient building materials during one of JCU’s many on-site classes.

Many inventions that we take for granted today – from roadways to concrete and even our calendar – have their origins in the ancient world. Some were invented in Ancient Rome, and others were perfected by the Empire as it absorbed technologies from the civilizations it conquered.

As you complete your studies in Italy, you’ll get to learn about some of these innovations first-hand in one of John Cabot University’s many on-site classes. And even outside of class, students can explore the world-famous Roman aqueducts, stroll along 2, 000-year-old roads, or marvel at the famous dome of the Pantheon.

Which inventions shaped the history of Ancient Rome and why are many of them still in use today? Read on to find out.

The Julian Calendar Helped Standardize the Passage of Time

While Ancient Roman innovations are often overshadowed by earlier Greek breakthroughs, the Roman Empire can still take credit for several important developments – including the Julian Calendar. Before the creation of the Julian Calendar, Ancient Rome used the unwieldy Roman Calendar which was often manipulated by officials to make a term in office either longer or shorter (whichever best suited their interests).

To help standardize years (and prevent officials from manipulating the calendar to advance their political agendas), Julius Caesar created the Julian Calendar. It was based on the solar year rather than the phases of the moon, and used a leap year every four years to help keep the calendar in sync with the Earth’s movements around the sun. It was only off by 11 minutes each year, which is why the Gregorian Calendar we use today is heavily based on the Julian version.

Without the calendar to help organize important events chronologically, it’s hard to imagine how historians and students could effectively study history in Italy!

Aqueducts: Ancient Roman Feat of Engineering

Students enrolled in art history schools in Rome will marvel at the beautiful architecture of the aqueducts. These feats of engineering were built with practical purposes in mind, but were also designed to impress and show off the power of the Roman Empire.

Roman aqueducts were constructed to help sustain the capital’s massive population, which by some estimates had swelled to one million residents. Rome’s population needed a large supply of fresh, clean water in order to thrive. To automate the delivery process, Roman engineers designed the aqueducts to use gravity to channel water from elevated sources downward, toward the city of Rome.

Lead pipes connected water from the aqueducts to both private and public buildings in an impressive network. Ultimately, the design was so successful that hundreds of aqueducts, both above and below ground, were constructed all across the Empire. Students in Rome can visit one of the best preserved examples, called Nero’s Aqueduct, which stretches from Porta Maggiore to the Palatine Hill.

Roman aqueduct

Roman aqueduct

Appian Way: World’s First Superhighway?

Students completing their classical studies in Rome can walk along the famous Appian Way – one of the first major roads ever built by the Romans. Constructed in 312 BC, the Appian Way once spanned 330 miles from Rome to the port of Brindisi on the Adriatic coast. Perhaps the most famous “highway” in the world, it was traveled by many of history’s biggest names, including Julius Caesar and St. Peter. It was also the site where Spartacus’s defeated army was crucified and displayed as a gruesome, very public reminder of what happened to those who opposed the Empire.

The Appian Way – like most roads in the Roman Empire – was built for the purpose of moving troops quickly from one region to another. It helped Rome maintain order across its vast lands, but also played a crucial role in the speedy delivery of news. Couriers traveling along Roman roads could exchange horses at several points along their route, allowing them to cover great distances without interruption. In a sense, the Appian Way was a “superhighway” for both the transmission of information and people across the Empire’s expanding sprawl.

A stretch of the Appian Way

A stretch of the Appian Way

Want to check it out for yourself? Today, the remarkably well-preserved road starts at the Aurelian wall, at the Porta San Sebastiano. Along the way you can admire numerous reminders of Ancient Rome, including tombs and catacombs from the first Christian communities.

Which ancient Roman innovations will you visit first while studying abroad in Italy?

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