URBEM FECISTI - ENGINEERING AND EMPIRE (1) | Bed and Rome and Breakfast

domenica 19 marzo 2017


Why comparing Egytian pyramids and the Colosseum?
They are the symbols of ancient civilizations, both important but deeply different. The Egyptian civilation, although stable and long lasting, reamined local while the Roman one has been global
What was absolutely new with Rome, at least in part of the world, was the ability to create a very large empire with a modern conception of the state that is still alive and that remained stable over several centuries, 15 if we consider the Eastern Roman Empire.  How was that possible?
The Roman Empire was essentially a confederation of cities, each with a high degree of local self-government. Each city, and the countryside that was controlled by it, had the obligation to recognize the general authority of Rome, to send to Rome a certain amount of taxes but it was free to keep the local traditions if they were not in contrast with the authority of Rome. In that way local elites became part of the Roman power system. Eventually, most of the emperors were not born in Rome but their origins were in the provinces.
Promoting urbanization was a key to develop that model of government. In that way local elites were concentrated in a unique place rather than being dispersed here and there and control was easier.
In addition, people living in the cities were privileged over those living in the countryside.
The foundation of new cities and  the growth of existing ones proceeded all along the existence of the Western Empire. Rome was the first megalopolis of the human history, surpassing 1 million of inhabitants between I and II century AD and remaining close to 1 million till the first half of the V century AD. Several other cities had more than one hundred thousands inhabitants and many between 20 a 100 thousands.
Ancient Rome

In the IV century AD about 30 % of the population of the empire lived in a city. That was an enormous number considering that the economy was based essentially on agriculture.
After the fall of the Western Empire, no European city reached the size of Rome before the XVIII century.
Civil engineering played an essential role in that because it allowed cities to grow and to be good places where to live.
The Egyptian pyramids are absolutely impressive, especially when we consider the available technologies, but they were simply the burial place of one person, the pharaoh. There is a pyramid in Rome too, but it was built by a private citizen, Caius Cestius.
The Colosseum, the symbol of Rome, was instead a place that was thought to be used everyday by thousands of normal people attending to the shows.
And most of what we see today was built for general use.

Via Aurelia Antica
Porta Maggiore
Via di San Gregorio
Via Turati
Walking in Rome it is possible, for example, to see the remains of ancient aqueducts (by the way, one is still in use, the Aqua Virgo), of to cross the Tiber over bridges built two thousands years ago. Other examples of great engineering are the baths, such as those of Caracalla.

(to be continued)

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