Ancient Rome: Epic Innovators and Engineers

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.
For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” ~ Cicero, orator, 46 BC

The Imperial Gallic-style helmet, with its distinctive ear guards, sloped neck guard and brass trim, was worn by Roman centurions.

The Museum of Science & History (MOSH) strives to bring both science and history to life in its mission to stimulate the joy of lifelong learning, and this fall the museum is hosting a traveling exhibition that brings both disciplines together: Ancient Rome: Epic Innovators and Engineers will be on view from September 23, 2017 through January 28, 2018. The show explores an epic period during which Rome conquered much of the ancient world through military ingenuity, oversaw significant feats of construction and pioneered technological innovations that affect our lives today.

Ancient Rome is the life work of three generations of expert Italian artisans, the award-winning Artisans of Florence, who specialize in the reconstruction of the world’s ancient and lost technology. Because of the ravages of time, very few pieces of Roman technology and machinery have survived in their entirety: most of the materials used, such as regional timber, ropes, canvas and primitive metals have deteriorated significantly since the golden age of the Roman Empire nearly two-thousand years ago. By reconstructing ancient Roman technology using the same materials and techniques that the Romans used thousands of years ago, we can learn so much that would not have been possible solely by studying archeological finds and original texts. Reconstructing the ancient and lost technology also gives museum guests the opportunity to use and interact with some of these incredible inventions and machines, which is a wonderful way to understand how they function.

The onager was a type of Roman catapult that had one arm and used torsion to hurl projectiles at the enemy.

There are more than two dozen such replicas on display, as well as numerous models and hands-on, interactive elements that allow guests to be directly involved in operating the many mechanisms that testify to Roman ingenuity. These engaging experiences not only help guests understand history, but also key concepts of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). MOSH embraces this learning-by-doing approach, especially when it comes to exploring principles of physics, which are in no short supply in this exhibition.

When we think of ancient Rome, we usually think of extensive roads, massive aqueducts and ground-breaking architecture. Ancient Rome: Epic Innovators and Engineers certainly covers those topics, but it also explores many other fascinating innovations. Few may realize that the Romans’ military ambitions led to the invention of the book. Records indicate that while on campaigns, Julius Caesar required a format for written documentation that was less cumbersome than scrolls, which needed to be unraveled to be read. Add to the list of accomplishments glass windows, long-lasting cement, the abacus, the water clock, milling wheels for making flour, Vitruvian mills for harnessing water power, and the Archimedes’ screw for pumping water into irrigation ditches.

The noria, a wheel several meters in diameter, was driven by water current and used to lift water from its course.

The creation of roads and aqueducts, accomplishments in and of themselves, depended on a plethora of ingenious devices that exhibit guests will see, including: an odometer for measuring distances; a groma for drawing straight lines on the ground; a chorobates, a spirit level for measuring horizontal planes; and a noria for lifting water. Likewise, the erection of massive buildings relied on the ingenious Roman arch, with its distinctive keystone, as well as pulleys and cranes, and ingenious pile drivers helped the Romans build bridges.

Read MoreBy Paul Bourcier

Author: Arbus

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