Ancient Roman Inventions That Changed Everything

Part of the brilliance of ancient Rome is the way the culture conquered somebody, looked around, said "Hmm. We could use that. That would look good in the den," and appropriated it, calling it their own. Take crucifixion, for example, which is actually something they got from the Persians.

There's no question, however, that the ancient Romans contributed some of their own inventions in this, that, and the other thing. So let's start with the other thing.

President Dwight Eisenhower is said to have pushed for an interstate freeway system after he saw Germany's Autobahn at the end of World War II. Similarly, the Romans laid down roads, putting stones in lines that were as straight as possible, conquering the terrain and enabling the rapid transit of commerce and troops. Sections of these roads are still in use, which is more than you can say about a lot of big-city streets today.

Related was Roman use of the arch in construction, particularly as a support for bridges and aqueducts. These arches were golden, but not in the sense of Happy Meals. The aqueducts, for their part, made fresh water available in major metropolitan areas, without having to rely on scattered wells. They simply tapped into outlying water already flowing downhill and deposited it in reservoirs.

Roman arches: Not golden, but still impressive

Some credit Romans with the first consistent sewage systems, and also public toilets. But those hygiene measures only went so far — the public privies used a communal damp sponge on a stick instead of toilet paper. They also get credit for inventing the first newspapers, but probably couldn't use them as toilet paper, since they were chiseled in stone.

The Romans weren't the first group of visitors in foreign lands to lay siege. But they did borrow and then perfect the process. For instance, they built a new-and-improved version of the catapult that was cheaper to make but just as effective as the original.

But among their innumerable inventions, one item is hard to argue with in terms of importance: The Romans invented concrete. Love it or hate it, concrete has enabled all manner of construction ever since. Formulas vary, but the basic recipe is used everywhere to great effect. Whether a foundation, a floor, walls, or the sidewalk in front, we're talking concrete. The next time you're exploring a city, as you're roamin', think Roman.