Top 10 Ancient Rome Inventions That Are Still Used Today

The Roman Empire remains, to this day, one of the greatest civilizations to ever prosper. Is it really that surprising that it had brought so many amazing things into the world that changed it and made it for the better? Below is a list of the seven most influential inventions created by the Romans, traces of which can still be found in use today.


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Arches

The Arch of Caracalla at Volubilis, Source: Wikimedia

The Arch of Caracalla at Volubilis, Source: Wikimedia

We’ve all seen the wonders of the Ancient Roman architecture, and we now know that arches were an integral part of it. Although the Romans didn’t technically invent the concept of arches, they certainly put enough effort into transforming them into the beauties tourists gape at every day. The Romans took advantage of their power to build bridges, aqueducts, and of course, the magnificent Colosseum.  Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, their arches withstood the test of time and today, they can be traced in many cathedrals and monuments built in the Middle Ages.

Plumbing

Roman Public Toilets

Roman Public Toilets, Source: Wikimedia

The Roman aqueducts brought fresh water into the cities, but the Roman sewers took human waste out of them. The Roman baths and the sewer systems suggest that the Romans took personal hygiene and public health very seriously. Rome and other major Roman Empire cities had a very complex network of sewer tunnels and drainage systems. While dumping the waste into the river Tiber isn’t the best sanitary solution, there is no way to dispute the fact that the Roman sewage system has changed the world. In fact, it was so advanced that it remained virtually unchanged until the 19th century.

Roads

Pavement of the Via Egnatia

Pavement of the Via Egnatia, by Carole Raddato via Flickr

“All Roads Lead to Rome”. This expression doesn’t just refer to the vastness of the Roman Empire. The Romans were the ones who invented roads (and concrete!). The “highways” of the time were built primarily for military purposes and economy stimulation, but they were so well-made that many of them are still in use today. The Romans built about 55,000 miles across the entire Empire out of gravel, dirt, and granite, and they also were the first civilization to use road signs and “highway patrols”.

Julian Calendar

Russian icon of the Theophany (the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist) (6 January), the highest-ranked feast which occurs on the fixed cycle of the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar.

Russian icon of the Theophany (the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist) (6 January), the highest-ranked feast which occurs on the fixed cycle of the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar. Source: Wikimedia

Julius Caesar has implemented the calendar reform due to the Roman superstition against even numbers completely messing up the timeline. He based it on the duration of the solar year and introduced the 12 months system, naming each of them (for example, Aprilis, Augustus, September, and Julius, of course). His calendar might have been off by 11 and half minutes, but it’s still in use today by several Christian Orthodox churches who calculate their religious holidays according to it. It was eventually replaced in the 16th century by the Gregorian Calendar that we use today.

Roman Numerals

Roman Numerals

Roman Numerals (Public Domain)

 

The system that uses Latin letters instead of numbers was invented, as the name suggests, by the Romans. They were invented to serve as a simple, efficient counting method. While it didn’t have a zero (that was invented by the Mayans) and had a number of other flaws, the system was able to survive even the fall of the Empire. They are, of course, still in use today.

Bound Books

Bound Books - Roman Invention

Bound Books – Roman Invention, via Flickr, Credits

Most Ancient Civilizations had heavy tablets and parchment scrolls. Ancient Romans did too until they invented books. Yes, a paper book as we know it was invented by the Romans. The thick stacks of bound parchment and animal skin resemble books most closely – particularly textbooks, in fact. So today’s college, and law school students that struggle with massive volumes can thank the Romans who were the first people who bound law books (codex)! Christians of the time also used this technique to bind the first editions of The Bible. Speaking of law…

Roman Law

Statue outside the Law courts in George Street Brisbane

Statue outside the Law courts in George Street Brisbane (Via Flickr, Credits: Rae Allen)

Finally, the cornerstone of today’s many legal systems. The Roman law.Pro Bono, habeas corpus, the affidavit – all these modern notions are the descendants of the Twelve Tables. The Twelve Tables were the world’s first ever codification of a constitution, adopted in 450 BC. They listed the laws related to property, family, and various crimes. The Twelve Tables were succeeded by the Corpus Juris Civilis – the system that heavily influenced today’s civil law in many countries. Even today, all the legal systems use Latin to an extent – even the common law countries.

Central heating

Illustration of Roman hypocastum

Illustration of Roman hypocastum (Via Pinterest)

Romans didn’t like to be cold so they invented central heating, called hypocaustum in Latin. It was a simple system of circulating hot air from the furnace through hollowed floors and walls. The earliest mention of it was from around 350 BC, and this invention was an important improvement of living conditions of citizens and the hygiene in general. But because of its cost, it was limited to the wealthier class. It was also quite common in hot baths and other public buildings.

Fast food

The counter inside the thermopolium in Herculaneum.

The counter inside the thermopolium in Herculaneum.(Via Flickr, credits: Paul Turner)

Many would think that Fast Food restaurants are a product of the modern hectic world where people have no time to lose on cooking. But the fact is that Romans felt similarly, so they developed thermopolium, in literal translation “a place where something hot is sold”. These establishments that offered ready-to-eat hot food were mostly used by the poor and those without a kitchen in the home, which is one more connection with modern Fast food joints.

Welfare

Alimenta panel of the Arch of Trajan at Beneventum.

Alimenta panel of the Arch of Trajan at Beneventum.(Via Flickr, credits: Roger Ulrich)

Romans empire was the first state to take better care of it’s less fortunate citizens. First steps towards welfare was a law from 122 BC, Lex Frumentaria, by which state sold grain to the poor for the lesser price. Later emperor August decided to simply give monthly supplies of grain to the unfortunate. Later on, Emperor Trajan furthered welfare with his alimenta program by which the state provided general funds, as well as food and subsidized education.

 

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