Rome:Yesterday and Today
Ancient Structures

The Ancient and the Modern

A Dead Thing

To most people, history is a dead thing, no more than something you read about in books and see on postcards. It is nothing more than a series of facts covered in dust and left to decay over time. The more ancient the history, the less important it becomes. However, it is quite the contrary. History is what defines the present.

Without history, human civilization would not be as it is today. Think of history like a skyscraper: you don't start construction in the middle. Instead you start from the ground up, building off what you already have. History is its own version of evolution, building off what has already occurred. Anything that we experience in the present is a product of time and the result of the past.

Roman Structures

You may be thinking, "Even if history is important, how do eroding Roman buildings affect me?" This is a valid question. At first glance, they have almost nothing to do with you. However, when you take the time to understand how and why an ancient structure was built, you can begin to understand how it connects to your life. We will explore a series of Roman structures and find how they related to today's modern world.

If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday. ~Pearl Buck

Cloaca Maxima

The first of Rome's great engineering achievements was the Cloaca Maxima, an extensive underground sewer system. It flushed run-off from the cities into the Tiber river. It was also used to drain marshlands from Rome's hilltop cities. The sewer system still functions today, 25,000 years after its construction. Although this may seem like an insignificant portion of Rome's history, it is plain to see that it has influenced today's culture. Every modern city has it's own version of the Cloaca Maxima. Simply judging by that fact that it still functions today, proves that it was a useful and influential invention.


Perhaps one of the more visible signs of Roman influence in modern culture is that of roads. Before Rome, roads as we know them today, did not exist. In ancient times there were two means of travel: one foot or horseback through the country, and ships. In order to connect the capitol to its minors cities and make travel easier, roads were built. The Via Appia, Rome's first national highway, stretched 32,000 miles from the capitol to Rome's southern province of Campania. The construction of these roads was careful and calculated. Measuring tools were used to make sure they were straight, regardless of terrain. Once a course was lain, tench was dug and lined with rocks. The trench was then filled with boulders and sand. Then came a layer of gravel compacted with clay. Finally, thick paving stones were lain, angled to allow water to run off the sides. These roads were incredibly efficient and connected Rome is a way that had been impossible before. When looking at the Via Appia, one is struck by the surprising resemblance it has to a modern road. The idea of paving a path from one place to another was not a modern idea, but has been around since ancient times. Whether they be cobblestone or asphalt, roads were a Roman idea that has shaped the way we travel today.


One of the most groundbreaking and influential achievements of Roman engineering are the Aqueducts. With the construction of the Aqueducts, Rome was able to cleanly and comfortably sustain the 1 million people living in the capitol city. Eleven lines carried a combined 200 million gallons of water into the city each day. The water began at mountaintop springs and make a 20, 30, sometimes 40 mile trek into the city. The aqueducts are simple in theory: water seeks its lowest point. With this theory in mind, the Romans built the lines on a gradient, declining several inches every 100ft. This slope was carefully calculated and could not deviate, no matter the landscape. If they met a mountain, a tunnel was dug, and if they reached a valley, they were elevated on stone walls. If you were to take off the roof of the Aqueduct, you could follow the water line from the mountain all the way into the city, where it emptied into three different holding tanks. The first, was for the public drinking fountains, the second for the public baths, and the third reserved for the emperor and other wealthy Romans who paid for their own running water. By the 1st or 2nd century AD, every home, no matter the means, had running water. This was an idea that was far beyond it's time. Today, we have running water in our homes, in our schools, and in our workplaces because the Romans did it first. The Aqueducts fostered a new, modern, and clean society that is parallel to ours today.


The most famous of Roman structures is the Colosseum. Nothing from Rome's long, impressive history is as memorable as the Colosseum. The 160ft entertainment center took eight years to built and is the grandest of all amphitheaters. Construction began in 72 AD under the rule of Emperor Vespasian, a practical military man that was not of royal blood. After the tyrant Nero committed suicide, Vespasian fought his way to power. His first order of business was to tear down Nero's palace built in honor of himself. Upon it, Vespasian would construct Rome's greatest public arena ever built. The design is achieved by putting two greek amphitheaters back to back to create a 360 degree theater in the round. It's 6,000 tons of concrete blocks were hauled into place by sophisticated wooden cranes. Inside, was an intricate network of staircases and corridors. Like stadiums today, each person had a ticket that corresponded to a number above an entryway. The theater could comfortably seat 7,000 Romans at a time, and contained 110 drinking fountains and two restrooms. It was even equipped with a retractable roof that was operated by sailors. On hot days, the canvas roof could be unfurled to shade spectators from the sun. The Colosseum hosted some of the most brutal, bloody, and barbaric games of the ancient world. Thousands of Roman flocked to the Colosseum to witness every sort of sport. Man vs. man, Man vs. animal, and the execution of prisoners were the most popular spectacles. However, evidence shows that naval battles also took place. The floor could be flooded by the aqueducts to accommodate full sized naval ships. While today our sports don't include the shedding of blood, our entertainment arenas are of much the same design. We gather in one central location, each with our own ticket, to be entertained. Rome influence hasn't just penetrated our society, but our culture. Entertainment as the center of our culture has been carried over from the Roman emphasis on sports and spectacles.

Yesterday Is Today

Today, we consider ourselves ahead of our time. We are constantly looking to the future in anticipation of what's to come. We hold ourselves to be wiser, more civilized, and more advanced than generations that came before us, when in all reality, we would be nothing of who we are today if those generations hadn't guided us in the right direction. Even our thirst for improvement can be traced to the Roman culture. Instead of looking forward, lets look back for a change. It's time we not just recognize, but appreciate our roots. While we can claim some inventions as genuine inspiration, most of what we do is created from what we know; we are copycats. The past is just as important as the future, and Rome is living proof of that.

Respice, adspice, prospice~Examine the past, examine the present, examine the future.

Made by Caroline Wulf

Last Updated January 24th, 2011