The Roman Civilization

The expression Roman Civilization, as used in the present chapter, refers to that period which extended from about 100 B.C. to the end of the second century A.D. Perhaps it should have been called the Greco-Roman Civilization, because the Romans had relatively very few new independent conceptions to offer even though they managed to build magnificent aqueducts to supply Rome with millions of gallons of water daily, remarkable sewer systems, and a very fine harbour.  Even during the peak of the Roman Civilization, the language of learned men was Greek, and all the major writers of the time (like Varro, Vitruvius, Celsus, Pliny, and Seneca) preferred to demonstrate an encyclopaedic knowledge rather than to express original and independent thoughts. This had a profound effect on the intellectual life in Western Europe throughout the early Middle Ages.

It can be said, with some justification, that the Romans were ‘practical’ engineers – for example, their awe-inspiring aqueducts were built without any conscious application of physical principles or unique solutions of constructional problems. Men like Vitruvius and Frontinus did try to lay down some practical principles, but as far as the Romans were concerned, they were satisfied with the existing state of affairs.

By Asit K. Biswas, Chapter 5 of the book: History of Hydrology, 1970, North-Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam.

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