Contributions of the Roman civilization to the Humankind

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This booklet depicts the different contributions of Roman civilization, its numerous achievements, and advancements. It also describes its battlefield, expansion of territories, and other important contributions.
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Contributions of the Roman civilization to the humankind
Preprint · December 2019
DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.14291.73766
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3 authors:
Lütfücan Kuloğlu Ertuğrul Cebeci
Istanbul Technical University Istanbul Technical University
Tunahan Kiliç
Istanbul Technical University
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2. Contributions of the Roman civilization to the humankind
Lütfücan Kuloğlu
Civil Engineering – Faculty of Civil
Ertuğrul Cebeci
Management Engineering – Faculty of Management
Tunahan Kılıç
Molecular Biology and Genetics – Faculty of Science and Letters
December 27, 2019
3. Since its foundation in 753 BC by Romulus, the Roman civilization also known as the
Rome had numerous achievements ensuring that it will last more than 2000 years prior to its
downfall in 1453 AD. The Romans were smart and qualified in a lot of fields. This helped
them being an advanced nation in the time. An 18th century philosopher, Montesquieu said in
his book: “Rome has always acted wiser than all other states in the world, and has maintained
the small-medium and large scale of prosperity with the same superiority. There was no
success that Rome did not take advantage of, and there was no disaster that Rome did not
learn their mistakes from.” As a highly developed civilization, the Romans affected and
contributed to the countries they interacted with. The Roman civilization lived in prosperity
due to its achievements and successfully managed to contribute to military, constructional and
cultural areas which have had major effects on shaping the world from the past to this day.
First of all, the Roman civilization heavily affected the nations within the republic and
the countries around them. Its effects lived on through hundreds of years after their extinction.
The Romans especially commanders and engineers contributed to the humankind in areas
such as warfare and transportation with their advanced level of military knowledge and
experience. The Romans dominated the region successfully with their prominent officials
specialised in warfare. They built siege weapons and devise battle tactics to conquer enemy
states. Those actions inspired other nations to develop their own tactics and weaponry with
high influence of the Romans. The Roman army became one of the best siege armies in the
history of the world by using their engineering skills as a weapon against their enemies. The
Romans created advanced methods of siege craft. There were two types of machines they
used which were onager and ballista. Roman soldiers threw heavy rocks with an onager and
they used a ballista that looked like a giant crossbow to fire huge metallic arrows on their
enemies. The Roman engineers also built siege towers with their unique styles. Campbell
(2005) asserted that the architect-engineer Vitruvius wrote a chapter about siege machines
4. which were necessary for protection and in times of dangerous situations in his book called
‘De architectura’ during the reign of Roman emperor Augustus (pp. 53, 54). They built strong
and high towers with multiple floors and each floor had a different duty.
The Roman military was also famous since they had successful battle tactics. Two
thousand years ago, the Roman army was one of the best equipped armies in the world. While
the architects mastered the art of using stone and concrete, military engineers used metal and
wood to create weapons for wars. In the early years of Rome, the Phalanx system was the first
system Roman soldiers used in battlefields. After Rome expanded its territories, the Romans
suffered serious defeats. Generals and statesmen realized that they had to change the battle
system. They quit the Phalanx system and formed the Cohort system. Cowan (2007)
discussed that Julius Caesar used cohorts to make maneuvers and charges against enemy and
cohort is an important unit for the Roman military (p. 7). Cohorts were bigger units than
Phalanx with heavy armor and swords. They were tough and almost invincible. They also
updated their clothes with various reformations. The Romans invented the testudo formation
with the help of Cohort system. Testudo is Latin for tortoise. Soldiers used the testudo for
their defense in a critical moment during a fighting. Cowan (2007) mentioned that Roman
soldiers formed the testudo battle formation like a tortoise with their shields to protect
themselves from arrows and other projectiles on battlefields (p. 53). Figure 1 shows that they
also formed testudo to approach walls and climb as a ramp. On account of all these facts, it
can be said that the combinations of technology and tactics made the Roman military the
premier fighting force in Europe hundreds of years and influenced military tactics for a
thousand year.
The Romans were magnificent road builders and constructors. They built roads with
different kinds of materials, most of them were hard and sturdy rocks. The Romans divided
roads into categories. The type of roads they cared most were military roads. They built
5. thousands of kilometres of roads in the state throughout history and those roads are still
around today. They did all of these in an era without modern surveying tools, construction
equipment or accurate maps. Nardo (2015) claimed that the Roman civilization had more than
three hundred seventy highways with stretching about eighty-five thousand kilometres. In
addition, there were many more dirt roads reaching corners in the Roman lands (p. 11).
Roman soldiers built military roads to march their armies quickly from place to place. So,
they could move their armies anywhere in the state in days. With these roads, Romans also
managed to travel easily within the state. Laurence (2002) stated that the roads connected
Rome’s distant territories to each other and they were essential for the citizens of Rome to
communicate with the other provinces of the state (p. 25). The roads built by the Romans
became a guiding system for the future Europeans. Successor nations after the Roman
civilization studied the Roman roads so they could build additional roads for themselves.
They also improved the Roman-built roads, creating a milestone in Europe mainland for the
next centuries. The roads of the Roman civilization were like veins of a body with the city of
Rome as its heart. There is even a famous saying for that: “All roads lead to Rome.” The
roads had significant benefits for the lives of citizens and soldiers of Rome. They used roads
for travelling and also varied interactions. Some of the interactions was performed by Roman
soldiers. Nardo (2015) explained that Roman soldiers used military roads to transport their
supplies faster in wartimes. Some of the troops used the roads to gather needed materials by
trading and some of them held documents on the roads for the army (p. 18). The roads built
by the Roman armies were not used by soldiers only. Some of the interactions were
performed by the citizens as well. The civilians of the Rome were also allowed to use those
military roads when the roads were available in peace times. Nardo (2015) noted that Flaccus
told about roads named the “viae militares”, which means “military roads” in Latin. The
Roman administration gave orders to Roman soldiers to build the mentioned roads. Those
6. roads were built for transportation of the armies but they were also used for other duties.
Messengers delivered mails on the roads. Also, groups of faithful people travelled on the
roads to reach the temples and pray to their gods (p. 18). Thanks to the high-quality roads,
trade interactions between the Roman state and its neighbours boosted the state’s economy.
So, international trade made Rome an economical super-power in the region. Taking all these
facts into account, it is clear that the well-built roads helped the Romans to expand and
control their territories. Furthermore, the roads created prosperity in the state as its economic
effect and the Romans became a civilization that everyone envied by leaving indelible marks
in the history of the humankind.
The other contribution of Roman civilization to the humankind is constructional
contributions. Two important contributions were sanitation and water systems. In the area of
sanitation, they built sewers, latrines and baths which became pioneer for the future. With
these sanitation systems they improved the quality of their cities and made them more
attractive to people. The Roman citizens cared for their public life with clean houses and
towns and there were successful engineers among them with experience of water systems.
According to Koloski (2015), there are many toilet remnants in the vicinity of Rome which
were from second and third centuries A.D (p. 13). Constructional contributions of the Roman
civilization created foundation for today’s world that by providing sanitation and water
systems. The first of the ways is sanitation. Sanitation was the most significant rule of the
public in the Roman state. Romans wanted to abandon old humankind habits, therefore, made
more contemporary systems. In addition, sanitation is divided into two. Sanitation is divided
into two parts. The initial basis of Roman’s sanitations are sewer and latrine. Koloski (2015)
stated that Roman experts built large sewers network and public toilets in their cities. They
operated with committees to control sewers systems. Absolutely Romans did not know
anything about how to purificate water, ventilate water or what is inside water. However,
7. cities such as Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Ostia had sewers and toilets showing that they had
knowledge about how to ventilate water. Therefore, it seemed the Romans were able to
increase the efficiency of sewage by trial and error (pp. 78, 79).
The other corner stone of Roman’s sanitations is bath. People of Rome used public
baths for both socializing and personal hygiene. It seems these baths prime step of hygiene for
history of humankind. However, first baths were in sight in years ago but, Roman baths
provided reach to present baths for humanity. At the Roman baths, people also could relax
and follow latest news. Roman baths contained swimming pool and gym so people could
exercise. Figure 2 shows that Romans built their baths with multisections. Water was
constantly supplied by aqueducts and flowed to the baths. Water was heated using a system
which created hot air from the floor. The Romans decorated their baths with mosaics and
pictures of their gods. Oetelaar (2016) asserted that there were three primary rooms that were
common to most baths: the frigidarium, the tepidarium, and the caldarium. These housed the
cold, warm, and hot showers, separately. The bigger complexes moreover had a natatio for
swimming, dry and damp saunas, gymnasia, libraries, stores, and gardens. Taking all these
facts into consideration, it is possible to claim that the science and technology of that day, it is
quite surprising that they have made structural contributions at these levels, that they have
progressed in such an area as sanitation and that they have paid so much attention to
sanitation. In addition, the fact that they developed themselves through trial and error in the
toilet systems or built things that influenced not only the baths but the social life of the people
and also effectively exposed the place of sanitation in the life of the Roman people.
Besides, the Roman contributions of sanitation, the Roman contributions of water
systems cannot be denied. The Roman civilization was very superior in architecture. They
built a great number of structures for their water systems. One of the most famous building
achievements of the Romans are the aqueducts. Aqueduct is from Latin which means “to lead
8. water”. Aqueducts are structures used to carry water and they were very important in their
lives. According to Walski, Romans built aqueducts and pipes to transfer water to their cities
in long ranges (2006, p. 111). The Romans built many aqueducts in years. They set an
example for humanity. Walski (2006) noted that the foremost broad water dispersion
frameworks in old times were the Roman reservoir conduits, which passed on water long
separations by implies of gravity through a collection of open and closed conduits (p. 111).
The Romans constructed them over the ground. They were intrepid after selecting a water
source stream or springs. A channel was burrowed and was driving all the way into the city of
Rome. The water which came with aqueducts passed through baths, fountains and people’s
houses. It also went through the sewer lines and flushed out a lot of filth into the rivers.
Owens (1991) said that the exertion, which the citizens of Kremna made to supply water for
showers, is advance conformation of the relationship between shower house in Roman
common life (p. 56). The Romans brought on those aqueducts into not just Rome but cities all
over its empire and so many of them are still standing today impressively. Secondly
contribution of Romans about water systems is hydraulic engineering. Hydraulic engineering
was very difficult for that era. Furthermore, Roman’s era was not advanced level about
sciences and maths or another engineering subjects rather than today’s technology. On the
other hand, Rome had significant progress in hydraulic engineering. Chanson (2000) stated
that the Romans created aqueducts with the best examples of hydraulic engineering in ancient
times. They used and repaired numerous aqueducts for many years. A lot of aqueducts
contained long and flat parts modified by shorter steps drops. Some claimed that Roman
aqueducts maintained a river flow regime but the recent research suggested that these vertical
drops created crucial flows requiring a technical reaction to stabilise normal water flow; it
also noted that the Romans found three procedures to define this problem: stepped channels,
dropsshafts and chutes followed by stilling basins (p. 47). In view of these information, it can
9. be claimed that Roman’s aqueducts very important things for cities and Romans considered
this for empire. Also, these structures were very ahead of the times. Not only that, they were
so great in hydraulic engineering that they were actually working on science and mathematics.
The Roman people made many constructional contributions to human history. They laid the
foundations of today without knowing.
Alongside military and constructional contributions, the Roman civilization
contributed in cultural areas to the humankind as Roman laws and calendars. Certain roman
officials created calendars and laws and some of the officials renovated them. Even after long
period of time, these contributions are still used in today's world. The last arrangements of
solar calendar which is used at the present time is made by emperor Augustus who was the
first emperor of the Roman civilization. The founder of Rome, Romulus created the first
calendar with its starting point as 753 BC and second king of Rome Numa Pompilius
regulated the calendar fixing its errors. Romans used the Romulus calendar until the
legendary commander Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar wanted to reform the calendar with the
help of the Roman senate because the old calendar was insufficient. Julius Caesar was
assassinated by Brutus and Cassius in the senate in 44 BC. After the death of Caesar, series of
civil wars erupted in the republic. Octavian achieved victory in those civil wars and named
himself Augustus, the Roman Emperor. As Theodossiou and Mantarakis (2006) indicated
Emperor Augustus created a calendar in his name after his remarkable victory in the battle of
Actium on 2 September 31 BC and selected the day he had won the battle as its starting point.
The Roman governors started using the new calendar but local cities continued to use
lunisolar calendar until they became Christian. The calendar of Augustus was solar calendar
which contain 365 days and an additional day in every 4 years and include 12 mounts same as
ancient Macedonian calendar (pp. 347-348).
10. A natural year takes 365.25 days. There is an extra day every four years because of
0.25 day in the natural year. This consequence is reached by the Metonic cycle which is
calculated by using 235 lunations taking 19 years. The Roman civilization used various
calendars during its existence. The first calendar using by Romans is lunar calendar but lunar
calendar does not reflect natural year exactly. Roman officials used their authority to deceive
civils. Because religious ceremonies were done according to lunar calendar and officials
change the time of religious ceremonies thanks to time difference between lunar and solar
calendar. Julius Caesar realised this situation and decided to fix. Some Roman officials got
help from competent astronomers to calculate the time correctly. According to Rüpke (2011),
Rome prepared a solar calendar which include an extra day every four years. Previous
calendar, lunar calendar, has twenty-two intercalary in two years or completely a month
intercalary in every three years period but solar calendar has one day intercalary in four years
period. In this way, Rome intended to get away from political, religious and financial parlay.
Rome achieved to get rid of exploitations by using solar calendar (p. 111). Considering the
information above, it can be said that the using of solar calendar inhibits the exploitation of
human, politics or religious. If these exploitations did not inhibit, life conditions cannot reach
in today’s world because the clergy uses their authority badly and thanks to solar calendar, the
science covers a distance.
The history of Romans began with founding of Rome about Eighth century BC.
Starting from this point, the Romans conquered surrounding area and they achieved to reach
huge territory. During expand territory, the Roman history could be examined in three period
in terms of political organisation: Monarchy (8-6 century BC), Republic (from sixth century
to 31 BC) and Empire (from 31 BC to 565 AD). Legal history of Romans took form
depending on these periods because life conditions changed in all periods. Therefore,
necessary laws were differed in all periods. Mousaurakis (2003) said that legal history of
11. Romans could be divided into four phases: the archaic, the pre-classical, classical, post-
classical periods. In the beginning of the archaic period, there were not any written laws. The
laws were determined by priestly class. These laws included religious laws, regulation of
calendar, and private laws. In 450 BC, the first written and recorded laws of Romans was
prepared named as laws of twelve tables. These laws were developed by pontiffs (pope) and
jurisconsults and also the office of praetor who was Roman magistrate was presented.
Praetor’s edict became the strongest force improvement of civil law and allowed law known
as ius praetorium. The Romans faced with some problems about economy and social life by
expansion of the empire. In pre-classical period, the power was given to magistrates and
praetors to form new flexible laws. These laws were progressive and free. Roman laws had
the most maturity in the classical period (about late the first century BC) thanks to intentive
work of the jurist and effect on the application of laws. The jurist in this period had huge role
on the known Roman laws. However, decision of senate and order of the emperor became
main source of the law. Ius praetorium weakened and praetorian effect decreased. In post-
classical period, the main sources of law were public and economic laws. The laws which
came from beginning of the Romans were published. The last arrangements were done in
Justinian time (pp. 2-6). The Rome reached enormous territory after became Roman Empire.
Roman Empire divided into two regions as Western Rome and Eastern Rome in 395 AD
because of historical events in this century such as migration of tribes. Western Rome was
conquered by Germanic barbarians in 476 and Eastern Rome was conquered by Ottomans in
1453. The most important emperor of the Rome after separation was I. Justinian. Eastern
Rome survived thanks to right decisions of Justinian until 1453. Justinian is known with legal
improvements alongside social life, constructional and architectural. Anderson (2009) noted
that most of the knowledge about Roman laws come from Corpus Iuris Civilis which was
written in the middle of the sixth century AD and was compiled by emperor Justinian. Corpus
12. Iuris Civilis is consist of four parts: the Codex, the Novels, the Institutes and the Digest.
These parts are about compilation of previous imperial legislation, aspect of modern Corpus
Iuris Civils, an elementary textbook, and the major part of Corpus Iuris Civilis written by
jurist respectively (p. 18). As indicated above, it can be argued that Romans had improved
their legal system along their existence and they left us experience that is about working of
laws in different stage of kingdoms or republic.
In conclusion, the Roman civilization changed the course of history and left a huge
impact on the humankind. The Romans contributed many fields. The world was affected by
their military, constructional and cultural contributions. First of all, they contributed to
military area. Soldiers were specialized in warfare but they also cared for their transportation
in the state. Secondly, they mastered the constructional field and contributed to sanitation and
water systems for their hygiene and public life. Finally, they reformed their calendars and
laws to be used for many years as their cultural contribution. For all these mentioned, it can be
said that the Roman civilization holds an important place in the history. Without their
contributions, the earth we live on would be different. Although the Romans vanished
hundreds of years ago, their legacy lives on while most of us are unaware of it.
13. References
Anderson, C. (2009). Roman law [DX Reader version]. Retrieved from
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Chanson, H. (2000). Hydraulics of Roman aqueducts: steep chutes, cascades, and dropshafts.
American Journal of Archaeology, 104(1), 47-72. doi: 10.2307/506792
Cowan, R. (2007). Roman battle tactics 109 BC-AD 313. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
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15. Figure 1. This illustration shows a group of Roman soldiers use testudo formation to
capture enemy walls. Adapted from “Roman Battle Tactics 109 BC-AD 313” by
Osprey Publishing, 2007. Copyright 2007 by Osprey Publishing.
16. Figure 2. This drawing shows the plan of the baths of Emperor Caracalla. Adapted
from “CFD, thermal environments, and cultural heritage Two case studies of Roman
baths” by AP Dynamics, 2016. Copyright 2016 by AP Dynamics.
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