(PHILOSOPHY, ROME and its EMPIRE – continued)
The Romans were borrowing philosophy from the Greeks while some were busy trying to improve the lives of people through an understanding of construction techniques. Aristotle's school, in Athens, had made advances in understanding levers, balances and wedges. And, in the mid-200s BCE, in the tradition of Anaxagoras, a Greek from Syracuse named Archimedes had worked on the relative densities of bodies and the theoretical principles of levers. He invented the ratio pi, and he invented numerous mechanical contrivances, including machines used in war, which were employed to defend against Roman soldiers. While he was alone and working peacefully on a problem, the story goes, a Roman soldier pursuing his duties put him to the sword.
The Romans borrowed from Archimedes, and they continued to improve the sewers they had inherited from the Etruscans. Sewage remained a more pressing problem than any philosophical issue they were capable of solving. People were pouring their waste into the street, getting sick or dying and unaware of the best approach to finding out why. That would come in the wake of small technological inventions more than a thousand years later.
Drinking water was being contaminated with sewage, which was unpleasant. Some Romans disliked foul smells. The Romans had enough sense to build aqueducts to bring in fresh water from the hills outside of their towns – nothing new – aqueducts having been built elsewhere in the world centuries before, including more than a thousand years before in the Indus Valley. Rome's first aqueducts were underground. Rome's first aqueduct to carry water above ground was the Aqua Marcian, about 56 miles long, with a bridge section about ten miles long. The Romans were also building aqueducts in all parts of their empire.
It was around this time that Rome was creating its Concrete Revolution. This was the use of a new material – concrete – made with lime and powdered clay, to which water is added, and fist-sized rock mixed in. It was a change from stone and mud brick and a turning point in the history of architecture that allowed new designs and structural complexity.
This was around the same time that the Romans were building public latrines and systems of sewage pipes to carry sewage out of the streets and into the river. In 33 BCE, Rome's first emperor, Augustus, had construction done that enclosed city's sewers. Augustus encouraged spending for public works and public parks. In 19 BCE, the construction of a new aqueduct was completed. Splendid new public baths were built. A ministry of transport was begun that built and maintained roads. From a city of sun-dried brick, Rome under Augustus was to become a city of marble as well as concrete, with new roads improving communications and trade.
The Roman philosopher, Pliny the Elder (CE 23 to 79), in his Naturalis Historia, remarked that of all the that Romans had accomplished, the sewers were “the most noteworthy." And around the year 100, sewer construction extended to the homes of the well-to-do.
Roman citizens came to expect high standards of hygiene. Aqueducts were used everywhere in the empire to supply not just drinking water for private houses, but for supplying other needs such as irrigation, public fountains and public baths.
But service for everybody was seen as hopeless. This was not a democratic age. People were resigned to contemporary ideas and ways of doing things. They depended on distant authority. There was no house-to-house garbage collection. People continued to dump their rubbish into the street, and the rubbish at times became so thick that stepping-stones were needed. Street levels were to rise as new buildings would be constructed on top of trash – while philosophers pondered what was and was not right or good character.
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