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Ancient Roman Inventions

Ancient Roman inventions abound and many are still in use today. However, dealing with the subject of Roman inventions with any accuracy is difficult, primarily because we are dealing with a definition of:

  1. what is actually "Roman", for which we suggest a glimpse at what we mean by "Romans" and Roman society

  2. what may be defined an "invention"

What we consider to be Ancient Roman covers over 1000 years time span including a long early period under influence of the Etruscans. Furthermore the Roman world eventually covered a huge Outline map of the Roman Empire geographical area. Thirdly, Roman civilisation was multicultural, so that many important Roman jobs (and the innovations which ensued) were often undertaken by slaves, liberti and clients (free foreigners) who contributed their personal culture and traditional knowledge to the general melting pot.

It would therefore be quite normal for a good number of ancient "Roman" inventions to actually be innovations which were thought up by nationals of other countries, absorbed into Roman society, such as Greeks, Jews or Egyptians (say). The social and cultural stability (and concentration of financial wealth) brought about by Roman dominion created ideal surroundings for progress and innovation in a huge variety of vocational areas. A particularly singular example of the influence of diverse cultures and absorption by Rome of their inventions and knowledge was the marvelous city of Alexandria.

Another intriguing example of the benefits of the coming together of different cultures is the report we have from the Greek Athenaeus of Naucratis who worked in Egypt around the 3rd century AD, during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He tells us that in the 6th century BC the ancient southern Italian city of Sybaris had the first examples of patents for recipe inventions (Sybaris was a Greek colony).

Roman inventions: Introduction

Much  innovation was actually mass popularisation of what had hitherto been local customs. Thus, for example, wooden barrels were actually invented by the Gauls (now France) but the huge geographical reach of Roman trade routes allowed local goods and ideas to spread right across the empire. Nevertheless the use of barels for Roman transportation of goods such as Roman wine was a relatively late development in the empire where amphoras held their own for an extremely long time.

Certainly, the Romans were extremely practical and relatively uninterested in abstract thought such as pure mathematics or physics. Roman "inventions" and tecnical advances were by and large practical and utilitarian in nature: at odds with Greek attitude which tended to denigrate menial/practical work, we therefore find significant innovations in engineering and materials technology like public buildings, roads, hydraulics, glass, cement and metal production.

In an artistic and architectural context, history repeated itself during the Renaissance, spurred by the Counter Reformation: The churche's demand for art (demands of art) coupled with a concentration of wealth, attracted the best and most innovative artists of the time and produced the movement commonly referred to as the "Baroque". Similar circumstances are to be found today in various countries and cities of the world, such as London or New York for example. So too we can imagine much the same happening in ancient Rome when Greek art and artists from all over the mediterranean basin found themselves brought together to city's such as Rome or Pompeii to work on Roman art.

So we can see that Roman hegemony, wealth and the pax romana enabled innovation to proliferate and spread, but only to a degree: the social impact was always first and foremost within the minds of Roman rulers and the potentially negative socio-economic effects of revolutionary mechanisation were a frequent break.

A list of ancient Roman inventions or at least significant developments of existing tecnologies and ideas is given further below. To get a better context of roman inventions it is worth having a quick look at ancient roman technology and innovation in ancient Rome as well as the ancient Roman economy.

Share this roman inventions information and recognise our hard work for you.... be fare and post us a link reference from your social or school site.

A List of Ancient Roman Inventions

Having set the background and gained a glimpse of just how thorny the subject could be it seems easiest to change tack and take the loosest of definitions. Listing some of the many things for which Ancient Rome might justly be remembered for....in no particular order:

How's that for a start? Ancient Roman Inventions: Bibliography and further references

 

inventions in ancient romeFurther reading about Roman Construction and Technology:

Building and engineering in Ancient Rome |

ancient roman technology |

Building methods in Ancient Rome |

Building materials in Ancient Rome |

Ancient Rome Buildings |

bureaucracy of buildings in Ancient Rome |

roman architecture |

Ancient Roman Bridges |

roman aqueducts |

roman aqueducts structure |

water in Ancient Rome |

roman columns |

roman roads |

Arches in Ancient Rome |

Foundations and floors in ancient rome |

Constructing walls in Ancient Rome |

ancient roman inventions |

Fire and fire-fighting in ancient rome |

innovation in ancient rome |

Some good external links about Roman Inventions

Great video documentary of wacky technologies and inventions brought by the Romans to Britain

Fun quiz of ancient Roman inventions

The wikipedia angle on the inventions and technology of ancient Rome

BBC Primary history - Roman technology and inventions written for the younger population

 

Ancient Roman Inventions Forum

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Roman inventions comments and postings....

Ancient Roman Inventions Forum

This following comment is worth a debate of its own:
"In reality, the Romans invented one thing with which we still live today. Propaganda!  They loved to maintain the status quo and tell people about their advances, when in fact they stole much of their innovations from those they conquered. It has been proven that, for instance the fast drying cement was in use by the Etruscans, the celts etc. well before the Romans did.  Scoks, thought that was from the northern tribes as well, not roman. I think that as we learn at how Rome suppressed development on political and functional levels to maintain "status quo" and rob from others to maintain their lifestyles at the cost of other nations, inventions, and ideals.  YOu have a good site, however, isn't it time that we all review history and start to really understand what the Romans really did? its a more powerful lesson for now and the future.

Eric"

 

Eric, yours is a perfectly reasonable point of view but then you're left with the problem of invention versus innovation. I believe I myself point out how much of what Rome made its own was in fact imported from the peoples they controlled. What can be said is that Rome provided the fertile ground, environment and economic situation for these inventions to be found, applied and further developed. Hence the cement of which you speak was employed to the best of its material capabilities in the construction of world record buildings and applications such as the Pantheon for example.

 

As to the point regarding propaganda: I think you're mixing political propaganda (at which they were great, starting with Caesar and in particular Augustus) with a tendency for winners to rewrite history. Roman propaganda shows through in items such as coins for example and there you can see the message is quite different from suggesting the invention of concrete (per se) but rather more focused on events or great buildings for the people, such as construction of the colosseum - in the case of Rome I don't believe they had much need to hark on about their tecnical inventions: they simply used them. Perhaps your words could be best directed at those of us who today ascribe to Rome what Rome merely popularised of those they controlled.

 

And so the debate starts: couldn't much the same be said of other conquering/rich countries such as France, Britain, the US and others? For example, the Italians will tell you that the telephone was actually invented by an Italian called Meucci who was too poor to patent the invention but who's remembered for such an invention? A similar story is valid for the invention of the telescope.... It's all about popularization and ability of taking an idea and actually applying it to the best advantage.
 


We are building models of Roman inventions in our learning center. It is a hive of activity. Thanks for the site Drouin Sec College Australia


 

pretty good but i didn't really find what i was look'in 4!TYHANKS
 ANYWAY! P.S. put more kids stuff on here.


damn this site is the sh** it helped alot thx O_o. Answer: well you know how to show gratitude for free....!


A few pictures maybe, xx - answer: ah, perhaps you'd like our ancient Rome pictures page!


ummm..... its awesome and thanks for your work .. but a bit hard to read....i cant really understand

Answer: we're sorry to hear comments like this: your comment is noted, it's not the only one so as soon as we have a second we'll see to some reorg. Thanks for the feedback.


THIS IS THE BEST ANCIENT ROMAN INVENTIONS PAGE EVER!!!!!! ITS AMAZING AND FABULOUS AND I HOPE IT NEVER DIES!!!!! ITS THE BEST! YES!

 

Answer: thanks for the appreciation! A great way to thank us is: to make our sponsors happy by browsing a couple of their sites for a second - like the info on this site, it's free to browse! Or simply feel free to get your friends to come in and visit. The more the merrier. Perhaps you could then organise a Toga Party!


this is a great website everyone should use this!!!!!!!!!

Ed. a similar comment: Rawr! Excellent! I got a report done on this!

My thanks! Answer: see comment above if you want to show appreciation for free....


they invented fire station's,and the modern lock.

so if you want to maybe list those,because I could use some more info on them
:D if you havent already,i may have missed them.

Answer: indeed they did: I'll see to collecting some info. Fire was a great problem in Rome and so the "vigiles" (firemen) were set up. They were largely composed of slaves/freedmen (liberti). They had their own quarters (like police stations) and patrolled the city in search of fires (which in the poor quarters were unfortunately very frequent and dangerous). The Vigiles station at the city of Ostia is particularly well preserved. Re locks there are some impressive ones found at Pompeii. Look extremely like early 19th century jobs.


What about the balista & the catapault?

Answer: I haven't proof or references to hand but I believe they were borrowed from the Greeks and improved upon by the Romans to the nth degree. I also believe there's a good description of them in Vitruvius' book about architecture (he was a military engineer for a while). For further info see Book Ten of Vitruvius' architecture. Or contact us about it.


what is the date this site was made and who was it made by??
i ned this info for my bibliography...

New Answer: We have created a new page (new set of pages actually) within which we are inserting major references.

Answer: if you'd included your email address I could have sent a personal response... in any case, the site is in continuous update, especially this page. You could go for 2005 for the ancient Rome information. Published by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia (BEng CDipAf, PCDMM ). The sources of individual pieces of information are extremely varied and collated in a rather haphazard way I'm afrain (that's the power/downside of sticking things on Internet in a continuous fashion!). Some of my favourites are: Jean-Pierre Adam "L'arte di Costruire Presso i Romani" (the art of construction in Roman times) published by Longanesi 1994, Pliny's Natural History is worth a read as it's packed with techniques and observations of contemporary life.

Last but not least you should get hold of a copy of "Roman Civilization" by Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold. Columbia Uni. Press. Third Ed. ISBN 0-231-07133-7: it's packed with inscriptions and papyrological documents. our references link gives link direct to Amazon's version of this book.


Your site is really great, so thanx alot. It was great help, especially  the part about public baths, The roman calendar and the lock and keys  for doors!

But if it is possible, do you suppose you could write  something about the: Horseshoe,Screw Press,Window Panes,Domes and Road Maps? I  know Im asking for alot, but I'm only 12, and no way as intelligent as  you, so I would really appreciate it if you could help me.  Thanks anyway!

Answer: excellent feedback. Aparently the horseshoe was invented by the Romans - it is mentioned in Roman literature somewhere around the 1st century BC. Personally I find it hard to believe that it was a Roman invention (but I have no proof!) The reason being that the Romans aren't exactly remembered as great horsemen - if they were you might have, for example, expected a brilliant cavalry forming part of their armies. Still they were certainly very practical and a donkey with horseshoes is probably far more efficient than one without! I wouldn't be surprised to find "modern" horseshoes first made in Asia, for example China, or possibly in the Middle East (for example the Parthians were great horsemen and great enemies of the Romans), but it's just a hunch.
Screw press - you've got me but judging by Vitruvius' writings and the continuous references to the Greeks for technology and machinery I have a feeling that it was probably a Greek (or at any rate East Mediterranean) invention, possibly improved to the nth degree by the Romans.
Window panes: I need to find a reference which justifies it being considered a Roman invention although I can believe it. In Ostia I've seen a house where double glazing looks like it may have been used ie they'd realised the benefits of double glazing!
Domes - already mentioned in this site. They built the largest single span dome at the Pantheon in Rome. Also see the ancient Roman arches page.
Road maps - possibly - there is certainly one in particular which is very famous: the Tabula Peutingeriana (qv in our page on Roman maps).


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 tatted
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Thanx for the info - really useful!  But is it possible (if you don't mind, that is) to state the dates of all the inventions? Thanx again!! Answer: I'll work on it next together with a general reorg to make it more easily read - where dates are possible I'll stick 'em in.


fabulous i love it!!!!! yer


you forgot public baths dumbass. Im an 11 year old girl and still smarter than you. Go read some books!!!!!!!!!

Answer: Wow, well if you had read a little more carefully you would have seen an entry which reads: "Showers (not to mention their development of great public buildings such as spas and heated pools, gymnasiums, public libraries etc)". It seems as if you could do with learning some manners as well as learning to read more carefully before casting objectionable (and possibly presumptious) abuse on those who are trying to help you.

The link "public buildings such as spas and heated pools" will take you directly to a short page on Roman baths.


This site helped me a lot thx and i am a year 7 and i got an A just cuz of ur site yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay

Answer: well I can't have a greater compliment. Especially when you've obviously taken the effort to come back into the site (bravo for bookmarking us!)  and write us your note of appreciation. We appreciate that because it's a heck of a lot of work (but we love it!)


Thanks this website was great help for my Ancient Romans contract. I needed the info desperately.
Could you please remove some ads from the text as it covers up part of the text.
Thanks!


um i wish if there isn't any trouble, can you put in what the romans improved on in their inventions?

Answer: I hate not to give answers but giving you a complete answer would be nigh on impossible. The first significant examples which spring to mind are:

- Etruscan hydraulic engineering and Etruscan arches technology were at the root of Roman aqueducts and networks of water distribution in cities.

- Etruscan arches became Roman domes, which with the addition of Roman concrete enabled huge single-span domes, eg the Pantheon (more on architecture below and then again further below).

- The Etruscan symbols of power (eg the purple colour of the robe, the fasces, the orb and the curule chair) were adopted and in many cases are still regarded as symbols of power around the world (I saw the fasces as part of the symbol of the Spanish police for example). Not sure if this counts as an invention huh?

- Greek medicine was highly developed in the romanised world and there are many collections of medical kits which are surprisingly similar to our own. Not sure if the "Romans" developed these instruments or rather Romanised Greeks but in any case they developed to a high degree of skill (especially as the operations were done with little proper anaesthetic so it had to be done quick before you died of bleeding and pain).

- Etruscan games, sacrifices and religious celebrations (as well as divining techniques) were developed further. The Circus Maximus was built by one of the early kings of Rome who was actually an Etruscan. The Gladiatorial games were developed from the Etruscan tradition of spilling enemy or slave blood at the grave of a loved one in order to satisfy the nether world's demons' hunger for blood (ie rather than having them feed on the deceased).

- A good one for debate: Christianity. In theory it all sprang from Christ and then spread throughout the Roman empire, using very Roman methods and organisation. But actually there were so many people moving in and out of various religions eg the Mithraic religion that a degree of cross-fertilisation seems likely (to me but I don't substantiate with references so believe at your own peril). It started off as a Jewish thing against the Romans, it was brought to Rome by St. Peter and the Roman citizens (including many slaves and citizens of different extracts, especially Jewish) turned it into something as big as the empire. The failing empire actually fed the need for something further where the pagan gods had failed and VOILA! We have a transformation in architecture as the very Roman triumphal arch (a Roman invention) was brought into the interior of the very Roman Basilica (big building generally used as a shopping mall-office block-public building) using Roman concrete and you have the basilica of today: Look towards the altar and you will see it just beyond a triumphal arch. Roman architecture invented for the needs of earthly triumph is reemployed to glorify spiritual triumph. I find that quite profound if viewed in the light of technology-architecture-religion-social transformation and politics all coming together. For a similar effect you definitely need to look at the Pantheon (which then acted as inspiration for buildings such as St. Peters basilica - many poignant comparisons to be made there too as the Pantheon was a building to glorify the Pagan gods, then used as a church but always seen as a symbol of Godly power coming together with earthly power: much like St. Peter's).

- Law: the first tablets of law were compiled by a specific council which collected them from the best laws they could find "abroad". These tablets continued to lay at the foundation of Roman law which as we all know still survives as the foundation of many legal systems nowadays.

- Gods and Goddesses.... difficult one as most of the gods and goddesses were actually inherited from the Indo-European forefathers which lay at the root of most populations of the West. In any case the Romans developed them their own way without shutting the others out (so long as they didn't interfere with the supremacy of the Roman ones). Hence the problems they had with Christianity and Judaism because these religions, being monotheist, could not accept paying any sort of tribute to the traditional gods (amongst which the Emperor eventually). So the Christians were viewed as traitors.

- The Senate. The word Senate comes from the latin word meaning "senex" meaning "old". Ie the council of the old wise guys.

- Better stop at this point but I recon you could go for "Shopping". I'm sure it's always been in human genes to go shopping but mega cities such as Rome was, with forums (markets) of various types must definitely have provided the ultimate shopping experience of the time.

 


wow you type alot in answers. do u think u could possibly supply a list
of inventions?

Answer: The ancient_roman_inventions.htm page is virtually a list already isn't it? In any case I'll bear the idea in mind: perhaps I could have a sort of index list subdivided by areas and then each item of the list pointing to further info on that particular ancient roman invention - sounds like reorganisation of the existing page. Thanks for getting back. Hope you found my quasi-list useful though.


best website ever thanks it helped alot!

Ans: glad it was of help. Not everyone seems as satisfied as you so every bit of feedback (with useful suggestions and no bad language) is welcome.


swwwwwweeeeeeeeeetnesss thanks


Thank you - we're having a toga party and I need some fun facts.

Ans. Hope you got them. Our Toga Party, Roman Costumes, Roman Clothing and Roman Entertainment pages might have been of interest to you too.


it doesn't make any sense at all

Ans: I'll have to find a way of organising the roman inventions list better. Point taken. Other areas which haven't been explored yet include the factors affecting the Romans' need and capability to invent and improve the technology about them. Invention is often driven by "need" and "experience".

For example, they are particularly known for their ability in civil engineering and that development could be viewed in the context of  their need for good logistics and infrastructure to support their geographical and demographic expansion as a people as well as their military needs (good communications and rapid movement of forces and supplies).

A question of "the chicken and the egg" of course, rather like saying that their innovation in a military context was both a result of learning from constant war (ie learning from experience and what worked for their enemies was quickly adopted) as well as being driven by the need for better wheaponry in view of future wars.

Another interesting driver can be seen for example in medicine: continuous war and perhaps a professional army which was expensive to train and maintain created a need to look after your soldiers and mend them when they got hurt. This extended to the Gladiatorial scene too as the gladiators themselves could be expensive to maintain - a little like a good race horse - Some of the greatest medics were involved in fixing up the gladiators.

Another factor of interest is "power"  or "energy" and its relative cost. When you have a relatively inefficient energy supply (burning wood and small coal resources) + plentiful supply of cheap slaves then there may be little demand for a combine harvester and hence little use in inventing one.

Having said that (and used that specific example it is interesting to note that a simple mule-driven harvester made with a cart and cutting blades was indeed invented (and was described by Pliny in the first century BC, a period during which much of Roman innovation came about). We can easily imagine the limitations of such a machine but it is interesting note that they did at least give it a shot and perhaps more interesting that it didn't progress much further than that: technology reached a level of improvement but there were hardly any significant "step changes". The reason for that can be attributed to a variety of reasons... eg what they had was already sufficient to their needs (not quite so when the empire got too large perhaps, hence splitting the empire in two and creating a new capital at Constantinople in the East), a lack of theoretical "scientific" approach and/or lack of (cheaply) available energy alternatives.


need a better font and bigger because it gets very hard to read so please get a bigger + better font =]


i neeed a LESS DETAILED site. Ans: Wow. Sorry I can't be of much help there as I would have to eliminate information!


add more things for kids to understand!!!!!!!!!1 please

Ans: I'll bear that in mind. Given the wide range of the student population coming into the site I think I would have to set up a separate "kids area". A whole new project....


bob loves information on the site fred hates it. Ans: Thanks Bob, Fred let me know what you would have liked to see more of or what information you couldn't find.


nice website. Ans: thanks, but it's got some way to go yet....


cant you have some more info on the stuff?

Ans: a little at a time I'm trying to build it up. If you guys give me good indications as to what is most interesting for your individual projects I can focus better: so let me know what your projects are asking you for.


it helped with my end of the year project!!
thaks so much


this site isn't that great were are trying to do a school project and this site is absolutly no help!!!!!

Answer: Thank you for taking some of your time to enter comments such as this but (including anyone who reads this): PLEASE SAY WHAT YOU WERE LOOKING FOR OR WHY IT WASN'T HELPFUL OR WHAT YOUR PROJECT REQUIRED. Otherwise I have no means of improving the Roman inventions for those who come after you with the same project. Thanks for the comment anyhow.


very nice site a lot of facts I didn't know.

Answer to your comment: thanks. Glad to hear it!


very nice. finished my research, but i needed a little more literature and less links.

Answer: this is the second time that I see a comment regarding literature. Why would you be looking for literature in a page regarding inventions? The closest association I can think of however is Satire: The name Satire comes from the word "satura" which was a kind of soup with loads of odds and ends. A sort of minestrone. It can be said that satire was a Roman invention (if indeed one can talk of inventions in literature!) I have written a separate page for those wanting to learn a little more about Roman Satire.


i coudnt find much literature (which i needed) but it's good enough. I got most of my research done.


ok


Wow! Great job! It helps a lot. I almost got all my research done =( but i needed more on literature. thx anyway


i cant believe they made up bikinis!

Answer: look in Google or Yahoo image search for "Piazza Armerina bikini". One of the results...

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:PiazzaArmerina-Mosaik-Bikini.jpg In the same work of mosaics there's one where the woman decidedly looks as if she's handling a couple of dumbbells,  making her look like a modern day jogger on the beach.


I think those web site was alot of help 4 me and my friend 4 our report!!!!!!!!!!!!


hello agian im still in acient rome just thought id write to you and say hello so HELLO

Helloooo to you too from Giovanni the webmaster. Glad you're still in here. By the way if any of you can think of ways of keeping this info Free like checking out one or two of the asdlfajsf's that are dotted here and there......


hello my name is smelly and im in ancient rome

this sight was realy helpful 4 my sose project

Thanks smelly, glad it was useful. Took me a while to piece together and it's still not over by the look of some of the comments!


It was really easy for me to find inventions! Thanks

do u know who invented road signs - 

WebM Ans: nope, I don't know. I would look to the UK though as they built the first steam engines so you'll probably find they came up with the first signs to keep mess off the rail track. The French made the first motor car (motor carriage) gears - Mr Renault won a bet up Montmartre hill I think - so I expect there's a good chance France may have had a shot. Anyhow, I'd give railroad signalling a shot as the forefather of road signs.


duznt hav info

you shold get sepret areas towith inventions put a list areas to with allof it on it.

Answer: Thanks for the suggestion. I've noted it down and will try to apply it as soon as I have a sec. Is it that you guys are looking for inventions by some sort of category?


great info


it has a lot of typos -

webmaster ans:  I'm not perfect so a typo here or there is probable. Maybe it's because it's written in English English rather than American?  Tell me the typo and I'll fix it.


omg thank you so much it helped me out a lot *sigh of releif* now I can relax lol I had a report due on Roman connections to modern day and this inventions thing helped me out a lot!!

Webmaster answer: glad you think so: several above think it lacks info....I'll try get more.


this site was ok.... there needs to be more dates in when the invention was created

Point taken but difficult as you can imagine as in many cases it was an improvement rather than an out and out invention. There wasn't a patent office where you recorded it as an invention either. In any case, if I find "earliest record" dates for these things I'll stick em in there. Stuff related to engineering and construction is nigh on impossible since it was really inherited (and improved) from the Etruscans who came well before Rome (remember several of the first kings of Rome were Etruscans).


poop - Webmaster answer: no probs but tell me what was poop and what can be improved otherwise the comment is utterly useless. If not, submit the essay you finally researched and wrote and if it's good I'll publish it for others to see and gain help from.


it helped a lot :]


this place is ok but not good enough for projects!!! :-) :0 :-( :-# Answer: see "poop" comment above. Thanks.


it needs to be more organized.......but it did help :) thanks. Pleasure. Make a suggestion and I'll be happy to oblige if it's sensible.


didn't help much well it kinda did okay it did!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


it didnt let me know what i wanted but thanks anyways. 

Answer: Tell me what you wanted to know so I can help those who come to read this after you!!!!


it helped me with my reserch :) -thanks. 

Wow - a happy reader. Thanks: it keeps my spirits up in spite of doing it for free.


love it!!!!!!!!!!!!! very helpful


Thanks, this really helped with my research paper ;)


sexy.

Wow.


This site helped my research. Thanks!


bad formation - webmaster answer: tell me what was bad or I can't improve it.


this site sucks REALLY REALLY BAD - see comment above. Thanks for your open contributions anyhow.


Thanx, this rely helpt my paper with its researcg?(


Thanks, this really helped with my research paper ;)


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Roman Construction and Technology:

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| roman aqueducts structure

| water in Ancient Rome

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