The glorious history of ancient Rome holds a collection of the most fascinating ideas that were once revolutionary and that we still use today. Rome is ingrained in our political, cultural, literary traditions and quite frankly in our everyday life. And although many of the Roman inventions were a case of adaptation and improvement rather than originality, mainly because of the great influence ancient Greece had, yet some inventions remain truly unique to Rome. As you are about to find out, some had a crucial role in shaping the world we know today and some may come as a surprise to have originated so long ago.
Art and Architecture
Roman architecture is an interesting example of Greek influence, where they have borrowed certain designs and ideas only to make them better. Such an example is the use of columns which in their case was more decorative and less structural. Their further creations were curved roofs and arches which are considered to be the most important among Roman inventions. Arches revolutionized architecture and therefore made possible foundations for massive constructions such as bridges, aqueducts and amphitheatres. Two of the very important monuments that bear arches are the Colosseum and the Trajan’s Market.
To make their buildings durable Romans pioneered in making cement, incredibly strong material that combines volcanic ash and rock, because of which structures like Colosseum still stand today. It was also their idea to make the building framework in concrete before filling it with stone, for which again the Colosseum stands as an example. This way the prelude to the modern day living was set. Now, another thing that follows up on these ancient innovations is the concept of apartment buildings. Due to the vast increase in the population, the Romans had to come up with a solution to the urban growth of the city which is why these were very particular to Rome and not seen in other ancient cities. Historical research indicated that around 1.8 million people were settled among the apartment complexes at the time called insulae. Quite fascinating, right? The artistic approach of the ancient Romans in architecture can be seen throughout Western architecture, while their other creative artefacts are scattered today in museums all over the world.
Roads and the post
The Roman road system was so large that the saying “all roads lead to Rome” illustrates the vastness of the Empire and the invention of the road system that was long for about 55,000 miles. Many of the old Roman roads are still used today, as their quality and durability are so high they are incredibly strong. The reason for their strength lays in the materials used for the construction which are a combination of dirt, gravel and bricks made out of volcanic lava or granite. And it comes as no surprise that these roads were resistant to the harshest weather conditions. The development of roads was followed by traffic signs with information like distance and direction, which made travelling for trade and military easy. Suffice to say that we wouldn't be living and moving the way we do today if it weren’t for these clever Romans.
The construction of roads and the urban city transformations brought another ingenious invention of communication that we enjoy in today very much, the post and courier service. The first century BC brought a service that was used for transmitting messages and after the third century AD, there was an addition of express service which was delivered through horse riding. The most urgent messages could travel the fastest, thanks to the well-developed roads. Finally, the post became formalized thanks to Augustus Caesar.
The calendar, the holidays and the numerals
Although the calendar that was created by Julius Caesar wasn't the first calendar ever, it was the most influential in European history. His newly composed calendar was based on the solar year and used the 12-month system, unlike the previous one that relied on moon cycles. There are some speculations that it was due to Roman superstition towards even numbers that this calendar came about. Since 1582 western countries had replaced the Julian calendar by a more refined version the Gregorian calendar, yet several Christan Orthodox churches still calculate their religious holidays according to it.
Chances are you knew this, but did you know the origin of the beloved holiday and leisure time? Because of the highly developed road system and the concept of free time that was on the rise in the first century AD, Romans started to contemplate how they would spend their time off work. Thankfully the roads built from Rome enabled them to explore the countryside and the seaside. The region around Naples was a favourite spot on the seaside, where the wealthy families would retreat in order to read, write and engage in philosophy. It may be a little bit surprising that the touristic travels show their first occurrence at this time. Just like today, if someone had specific interests they would travel to a place to comply with the same. So for quenching the thirst for history Romans travelled to Athens, Greece rather than to an island or if looking for an exotic destination Egypt was a place to go. There were also travel guides books, but unfortunately, only a few were preserved and the only one that is still intact is “Description of Greece” by Pausanias, written in second century AD.
Another groundbreaking invention that we still use today is the numeral system. Due to a practical need for more efficient counting, the Romans used Latin letters instead of numbers. There was no zero in this system and there were many more flaws, but it did the job right especially for businessman at the time. Regardless of its flaws, the system managed to survive the fall of the Empire and still be used by us today.
Books and the Newspaper
A genuinely original act among Roman’s inventions is, by all means, is the invention of the book. Parallel to the invention of paper in China, the Romans started to use a process of binding books along the edge and so for the first time large amounts of writing could be concentrated in one place and a highly transportable one for that matter. Finally, this allowed for the complex ideas to be shared among wider groups of people in what became a standard way of writing and storing information up until the recent development of e-books. It's fair to say that thanks to Romans we can enjoy their great invention.
It seems that changing the way we communicate was a focal point for ancient Romans as they have developed another useful invention, the newspaper. Although it wasn't on paper from the very beginning, the concept was still much the same. Before using sheets of paper, they used stone or metal that featured daily stories and information that were put up for everyone to see.
Literature, Language and Education
So much of the world’s literature has been influenced by the literature from ancient Rome. It is incredible how enduring the literary creations of those times are, so much that the works from the Golden Age of Roman poetry by poets like Virgil, Horace and Ovid had an everlasting impact. Their impact was an inspirational voyage for authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, Dante and many more.
It was Shakespeare who was especially under the influence of the ancient Romans who were quite inspirational to him and because of which he had created plays such as Julius Ceasar and Antony and Cleopatra.
Another major impact Romans had on the Western world was their language. They spoke Latin which was widely spread by Roman political power and soon enough became a basis for a whole group of languages known as the Romance languages. These include French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Catalan but also in many words in the English language Latin roots can be found. Latin is still today quite present in the judicial and medical system. Although the educational system in ancient Rome was designed and based on a model from Greece, the learning process was moved from home to a public place where children were sent at the age of seven. So the informal ways of teaching that involved parents passing on knowledge to their children were replaced by specialized and formal ways of school systems throughout the provinces ruled by the Romans. Today, unlike in ancient Rome, education is more widespread and accessible, yet the structure and the system as it is in the first place are what still remains.
Law and Social Welfare
Commonly many of our modern laws are mistaken to actually be modern, whereas, in fact, they date back to ancient Rome. Because of their efficiency and effectiveness, they have prevailed until today. The historical importance of Roman law is reflected in the use of Latin legal terminology in many legal systems including civil and common law. Elements like Pro Bono, habeas corpus, the affidavit are modern notions that belong to the very first drafts of the Roman laws known as the Twelve Tables. Even though the Roman justice system was extremely harsh in its punishment, nonetheless it did serve as a rough outline of how court proceedings happen today both in Europe and the USA. Romans were also among the first ones to recognize the lesser fortune of its citizens and provide aid. The first initiation was through a plan to make grains available for a smaller price. Later on, the emperor August gave monthly supplies of grain to those in need. The welfare programme was improved in the following years by Emperor Trajan and his alimenta program by which the state supplied individuals with general funds, as well as food and support for education.
Shopping malls and fast food
The concept of a modern-day shopping mall actually come from a two millennia old idea that belongs to ancient Rome. Their creation of multi-functional places that can hold different activities and sell things at the time is you must admit pretty genius. The biggest ancient shopping mall was the Trajan Market that held shops, restaurants, halls that hosted different performances and surprisingly had a public library. There were around 150 separate rooms that sold all sorts of goods. The public bathhouses held a similar structure as well, they were more like multifunctional recreational centres that in addition to the bathhouses had a gym, massage rooms, saunas, gardens, libraries, art galleries, restaurants and various shops. An impressive example of this majestic idea is the famous Baths of Caracalla that spread over 200,000 square meters and could have accommodated up to 8,000 people.
And so we finally get to the yummiest aspect of today’s shopping malls, the fast food and by now it may not be such a surprise but yes Romans invented that too! It was because many of the Roman households didn't have a kitchen that the food on the go was necessary in order to feed the vast population. Again, much like today, the food that was served in special restaurants thermopolium at a small price looked a lot like what we call today fast food. The ancient street cuisine consisted of lentils, beans, vegetables, eggs, meat stews and sausages, pork bites, roasted fish and chicken and of course bread and wine.