19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World

The technologically advanced ancient Roman Empire has a rich history of inventions, some of which are still used today.

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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The Roman Empire was one of the greatest empires, and one of the most influential civilizations of all time. 

Such historical importance can be attributed to being the largest city in the world of its time.

Rome even made possible the Colosseum, a true engineering marvel.

The impact of the Roman Empire in shaping the world's history is nothing but significant.

The Roman empire was fierce at war but it was also a pioneer of technical development and many inventions.

Let’s have a look at the greatest inventions of ancient Rome!

1. The Roman Numerals

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
Source: Public Domain Pictures

The name gives it away, doesn’t it?

Roman numerals have survived the downfall of Roman Empire and are still in use today.

The modern educational institutions have a chapter dedicated to Roman Numerals and their modern day equivalent values.

A solid number system denotes the technical development of city or country.

The Romans designed a system to do just that, and rest of the world benefitted from this important Roman invention as much as the Roman citizens did.

2. The First Newspaper

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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It is incorrect to say that Romans were the ones to introduce the newspaper system because there was no paper in their early years.

But Romans had something very similar to the newspapers. They used to inscribe current affairs onto stones or metal slabs.

These were then placed in spots where people could read them. This publication was called Acta Diurna or 'daily acts'.

This Roman invention carried the same purpose of newspapers, giving the Roman citizens the information they need and the events of the day. 

3. Modern Plumbing and Sanitary Management

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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Romans were always excellent when it came to civil engineering. But it isn’t the colosseums or beautiful arches where they showed their complexity and knowledge in the trade.

You can see their engineering excellence in the way they have laid out their sewage and sanitary plumbing.

The drainage pipes were mostly connected and were flushed regularly with the water running off from streams.

They also had covered gutter systems that ensured that the streets stay without any form of contamination.

4. Using Arches to Build Structures

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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If you go deep into the history, you’ll find that Romans weren’t the ones who actually invented arch based structures.

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But Romans were the ones who actually used the properties of an arch to build great structures and buildings.

In engineering terms, arches are better at load carrying than horizontal beams.

The Romans made good use of their properties to build magnificent structures that leave onlookers in awe even today.

Not only that, the Romans added some design elements to transform a typical arch into a piece of art.

5. Air Conditioning

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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Romans were really particular about living conditions and always aimed for perfection. This is how they found the answer to curb the cold in winters.

It is really hard to keep a furnace lit 24/7 inside the home. So, the Romans came up with another engineering innovation.

The ancient engineers decided to circulate hot air around the building through hollow spaces in columns.

Since hot air always rises, the air is supplied from a furnace that is placed beneath the house or structure.

The air will then rise up through the hollow spaces in the building, heating the whole building in the process.

6. The Aqueducts: One of Most Advanced Construction of Their Time

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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The Roman Empire was blessed with more than adequate supply of water.

It would not have been possible if Romans hadn’t found a way to bring the water from the water resources into the city.

For this purpose, Romans created aqueducts, used to tap water from the downhill flowing streams.

The aqueducts were connected to a large water holding area, which would then supply it to public amenities. 

The whole process needed no external energy as it was achieved by the use of gravity!

It may seem easy to accomplish today, but in 312 BC, this was indeed a remarkable feat of engineering.

7. The Making of the First Surgical Tools 

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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Romans weren’t just about spears and dagger as they also pioneered in precision instruments that gave birth to many modern-day surgical tools.

To have a slight idea about the surgical skills of the Romans, know that the cesarean section was actually devised in Rome.

Roman emperors weren’t just keen on using such tool in hospitals or medical centers.

They were intrigued to know that such tools could also become helpful to soldiers who have been injured in battles there and then.

Hence, Roman armies had medics who were in use for any complications in the battlefield. Their prowess in the medical field doesn’t just end there, as they had also devised procedures that can considerably reduce blood loss and even aesthetical administrations.

8. Developing Concrete to Strengthen Roman Buildings

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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Don’t let the name deter you away because what we are talking about here is no alien stuff.

It is something that decorates the lands of the modern world. Yes, it is concrete.

Concrete was developed by the Romans to add structural integrity to their buildings.

Soon this substance gained widespread usage, and it is one of the reasons why most of the Roman buildings stand tall even today.

9. Roads That Can Withstand Time

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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Roads have been built by every other civilization, right?

Well, this is where you go wrong, as Romans built roads that weren’t just a mix of gravel and rocks.

The proof of their workmanship is evident as many of the old roads in Rome are being used even today.

The Romans used a combination of dirt and gravel with bricks that are made from hardened volcanic lava or granite. This combination made the roads immensely strong.

Come rain or any harsh weather; these roads were made to take some harsh beating.

They also constructed perfectly straight roads with slight banking to them. The banking ensured that water doesn’t clog up the road after it rains.

It was found out that by 200 AD, the Romans had built a total of 50,000 miles worth of road.

These roads were then completed with directions and stone marks.

10. The Codex: the First Bound Book Ordered by Caesar

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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During the Roman empire, people used to store text in rock or clay slabs, which was heavy to carry and also brittle in nature.

The use of papyrus or prehistoric paper was also limited to the problem of storing them.

This was when Julius Caesar decided to build the collection of papyrus to form a codex.

This provided a safer and more manageable way to keep the information secure.

This Roman invention was then widely used by the Christians to make codices of the bible.

11. Our Laws From Rome: the Habeas Corpus and Many More

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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Many of our modern laws actually aren't modern at all.

If we trace back time, we can see that many of our laws were already part of the Roman judicial system.

Many elements of modern law like the habeas corpus, pro bono publico, the affidavit document were all part of the Roman judicial system.

It was then taken into the modern system, because they proved to be efficient and most importantly, effective.

12. Better Living Standards for All

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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The Roman Empire didn’t always favor the rich and prosperous.

It was an empire that wanted to see the whole spectrum of its citizens to live a good life. Hence the system of welfare was brought in.

The first initiation was the Lex Frumentaria, and it was through such a regime that the Romans gave grains at a low price to the poor.

Such an act had a profound impact on the citizens who were on the low tier of the income group.

13. Developing the Julian Calendar

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
Source: The Roman Republic: Class handouts, Calendar of Numa, Vassar College/Wikimedia Commons

Before the introduction of a formal calendar system in Rome, it was really hard to keep a track of time and date.

Often the high officials altered the periods to make their working days seem more than what was achieved.

Such a practice made Julius Caesar introduce a new form of calendar system which relied on the solar year as opposed to the moon phases used in Rome.

It was called the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar was more accurate, and it was made to include a leap year every four years to correct the discrepancies.

14. The Use of Apartments

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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Since Roman Empire was very vast, the biggest in its time, there arose a problem.

The population was on the rise and people needed housing space to construct homes.  

This was the time when the architects thought of a brilliant way of stacking floors atop of buildings to create separate living spaces on the same foundation.

The result was apartments or insulae (islands) as they were called in Rome.

However, these apartments were reserved for medium to low-class citizens as the upper classes preferred their own separate housing spaces.

15. Postal Service

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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The sheer size of the Roman Empire was turning against it at a point.

The information transfer between the provinces became very troublesome, and a solution had to be devised.

This was when Emperor Augustus established a system that could help the situation.

It was a way by which messages and notices could be transferred between provinces with the help of vehicles such as the horse cart.

Hence the first postal service in Europe was formed.

16. Corvus: The Deadly Bridge

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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Corvus is an invention by Romans that applies to naval battles.

The Roman engineers invented the Corvus to have the upper hand in naval battles because, at that time, Rome was a novice in regards to waterborne warfare.

The Corvus is nothing but a boarding device used to attach itself to an enemy ship.

When attached, the Romans and the enemy ship joined in such a way that Roman soldiers could cross the border to get to the enemy ship.

Romans were known for their close combat skills, so this method proved to be very effective, particularly in the Battle of Cape Ecnomus that took place in 256 BCE.

17. Testudo: The Tortoise Approach

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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Roman army was well-known for the various battle formations. Testudo or tortoise in Latin is a formation that is effective against projectiles or missiles.

This formation required the Roman soldiers to position their shields in such a way that it formed a roof like a barrier above their heads. The front would use their shields to form a wall-like formation.

With this innovative formation, Roman soldiers were able to protect themselves from the front and top side.

Although this type of formation wasn’t used in every battle, they used this strategy according to the type of enemy that they faced.

18. Using Grid-based Layouts

19 Greatest Inventions of the Roman Empire That Helped Shape the Modern World
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Controlling a vast amount of land, housing and building would have been a problem, if these were not laid out correctly.

Romans found an innovative solution to this problem in grids. 

If you look at the way Romans settles were laid out, you will realize that they followed a grid-based system. Every road and path had an orderly structure.

This meant that segregating areas was easy and there were no clustered points. It brought about the orderly nature of the Roman rule.

19. Pioneers of Siege Warfare

Sixteenth Century Cannon
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Rome didn’t invent siege warfare as such, but their contribution towards broadening its scope and perfecting the techniques won’t go unnoticed.

They had weapons like the ballista (catapult) and the scorpion (long range crossbow), which were brilliantly engineered to bring down the toughest of enemies. But what made them even more deadly was the Romans ability to innovate.

They re-engineered the ballista and made a cost-effective version of it called the Onager. It was cheaper to make but deadly as its predecessor.

The Roman Empire was indeed ahead of its time and has significantly contributed to building a modern world.

Romans were always at the forefront of economy and aggression. Their engineering skills gave birth to numerous inventions, which served as a starting point to the development of many modern devices that we see today.