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How Concrete Contributed To the Downfall of the Roman Empire 384

Posted by samzenpus
from the huff-and-puff-and-blow-your-civilization-down dept.
concertina226 (2447056) writes "The real reason behind the downfall of the Roman Empire might not have been lead contaminating in the water, which is the most popular theory, but the use of concrete as a building material. Dr Penelope Davies, a historian with the University of Texas believes that the rise of concrete as a building material may have weakened ancient Rome's entire political system as Pompey and Julius Caesar began 'thinking like kings'. Concrete was used to build many of Rome's finest monuments, such as the Pantheon, the Colosseum and the Tabularium, which have lasted the test of time and are still standing today."
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How Concrete Contributed To the Downfall of the Roman Empire

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  • by JMZero (449047) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:13AM (#46859445) Homepage

    The article says:

    "One could even say that it played a significant role in bringing down the Republic."

    The Roman Republic preceded the Roman Empire. The historically literate person is saying that concrete helped in the transition from the Republic - which was controlled by the senate and consuls with limited terms, to the Empire, which was ruled by a single emperor for long stretches.

    Concrete helped start the Empire, not end it.

    The empire wouldn't end in Rome for another 600 years. It wouldn't end in general for another 1600 or so. It lasted so long, at least partly, because of all its durable buildings and bridges.

  • Re:Economic reasons (Score:5, Informative)

    by siddesu (698447) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:17AM (#46859507)
    Actually, the premise that the Roman Empire fell because Julius Caesar began thinking like a king seems a bit wrong. The Empire was established after he died, after all, and lasted for hundreds of years after his death.
  • Re:Economic reasons (Score:5, Informative)

    by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:26AM (#46859627)

    The Romans lasted from 400 BC to (arguably) 1400+ AD (given that you include the Byzantine Empire, which was what they called the eastern half of the Roman Empire after the Empire split).

    If you don't want to include the Byzantines as Roman, then the Romans last from about 400 BC to 400 AD (when the Empire split).

    When the USA gets a couple centuries older, we'll be HALF as old as the Romans were when they split into East and West. And one fifth as old as they were when they finally disappeared.

    Note that I'm combining the Republic and Empire and East/West Empires into a single "Roman" label. Some people might think that innappropriate or misleading....

  • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:36AM (#46859741)

    I love the charmingly simplistic explanations of why the Western Roman Empire fell (the Eastern Empire survived for another thousand years). FTA:

    The real reason behind the downfall of the Roman Empire might not have been lead contaminating in the water, which is the most popular theory

    Most popular theory amongst whom? Certainly not historians. Romans had been been using lead for centuries. Why did it suddenly become a major issue? And why didn't it affect the Eastern Empire, which also used lots of lead? Now they're blaming concrete, without any real explanation. They're also confusing the Republic and the Empire, which would get you a failing grade on a HS history test (ok, probably lower grades too).

    The fall of the Western Empire is an incredibly complex thing, with many causes. If you want an overview of what actual historians think, try here [reddit.com]. If you want to post in that subreddit though, be aware that they do not tolerate Slashdot style bullshit, or the sort of crap that the usual subreddit does. They're serious, which is what makes that subreddit so good. Answers must be from somebody who really knows the subject, explanatory, and backed by references. Otherwise you will have your comment deleted, and a third offense will get you completely banned. The complete rules are here [reddit.com].

    If you just want to shoot the breeze and engage in idle speculation and name calling, there are other history subreddits here [reddit.com].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:47AM (#46859891)

    The real reason behind the downfall of the Roman Empire might not have been lead contaminating in the water, which is the most popular theory

    As a one-time historian, I can assure you that is NOT and never has been the "most popular theory." It's one of those old fringe theories that most historians regard as little more credible than "aliens did it."

    The Roman Empire "fell" for the same reasons that every other empire has peaked and eventually declined--because empires inevitably overextend; run into military, economic, and social problems; and decline. There was nothing fucking magical about it.

  • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:05AM (#46860079)

    Let me correct several points, some of which have already been pointed out by other posters:

    1) Davies, who is an excellent scholar and shouldn't have to be associated with bizarre out of context fundamentally broken articles like the one linked from the summary, says that construction of public concrete buildings was a political tool used by Pompey and Julius in an escalating bid for political power. She points out that this was a factor in the end of the Roman REPUBLIC because Julius and later Augustus eventually collected enough power to bring about the establishment of the Roman EMPIRE. So while TFS, and indeed the terrible article in the ridiculously trashy "International Business Times," state that concrete led to the downfall of the empire, their source instead says that concrete was one of many factors that led to the FORMATION of the empire. In otherwords, TFS and TFA both state exactly the opposite of what the source stated.

    2) This statement about concrete contributing to the founding of the Roman Empire has been present in high school textbooks for at least a hundred years. It's not news.

    3) The real news that prompted the article is also misrepresented. French scholars recently published a paper pointing out that the level of lead in Roman drinking water wouldn't have had significant side effects. Both TFS and TFA state that the previous theory on the fall of the Roman Empire was that it was due to lead poisoning. This isn't even remotely accurate. Yes, crackpots have published claims that lead poisoning led to degenerate Romans. In no way has it ever, not even for a moment, been accepted by scholars as "the cause" of the Roman Empire's fall. There is no single cause of the fall of the Roman Empire. It wasn't an asteroid or aliens or disease - it lasted for a ridiculously long time and eventually fell apart over the course of about 1500 years. The number of scholars who believed that the Roman Empire "fell" because of lead poisoning was similar to the number of paleontologists who believe the dinosaurs died out because of Noah's flood.

    It's too bad that the simple debunking of this crackpot theory in the study published by the French team was reported in the International Business Times by such an unintelligent reporter, and even worse that Slashdot picked the story up without recognizing the inaccuracies that any 8 year old with a 100 IQ would be able to detect.

    A couple months ago Slashdot went through a transition. It became useless for awhile because every article was flooded with complaints about the new site design, but I think that there was a simultaneous shift toward poorer editing and lower quality story submissions. Maybe the cleverer Slashdot posters did what I have and mostly stopped paying attention. I've spent 10 years laughing at the people who post about how Slashdot declined since the good old days, but recent evidence shows that the decline is real and undoubtable. Perhaps the editors suffer from lead poisoning.

    Or concrete.

  • Re:Economic reasons (Score:5, Informative)

    by jeffmeden (135043) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:54AM (#46860491) Homepage Journal

    Top that with the degradation of quality in what use to be considered durable goods

    I'm not buying that model. Cars, which are the second most expensive purchase after a house, are lasting longer than ever. Sure, some durable goods are lasting less time then previously, but they also cost significantly fewer hours of labor to purchase so their hours of labor to useful life ratio is probably in the same ballpark.

    In 1974 you could buy a decent car for $2,500. A minimum wage job at the time got you $4,160 and a professional job $10,000. Back then a good car cost 1/2 of what a minimum wage worker made and 1/4 of a professional job. Compared to today, where minimum wage gets you $15,080 and a profession job $50,000, a price of a car should be $7,500 to $12,500.

    There is no doubt that cars are more "durable" than before, but it's only because, compared to wages, we are paying 2 to 3 times as much for the same product.

    Those boundaries (a minimum wage job vs a professional job) have changed a lot so its a lot more meaningful to look at median household or median individual income. In those numbers, in 1970 it was $6,670 and in 2004 it was $30,513 Average car price in 1970 was $3,900.00 and today it's just over $20,000. Thats a move from 58% of annual income (another misnomer because required expenses from that income have changed so much in the past 30-40 years, food, housing, taxes, etc have all shifted) to 66% of annual income, not a huge move.

    Even if you took those numbers at face value and said "cars are definitely more expensive now" you have to also look at average car age rates, which reflect how much *per year* each person is spending on having a new car (or a used car if you prefer). That number has gone up from 5.7 years in 1970 to 9.0 in 2000 and its well over 10 as of 2011. So, each car purchased is basically lasting twice as long (taking into account just the time the cars are kept, not how reliable they are) as they were "back then". Even if the cars are 10% to 25% more expensive in real dollars or income fractions or whatever, we are definitely coming out ahead thanks to improvements in reliability, serviceability and quality.

  • Re:Economic reasons (Score:4, Informative)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday April 28, 2014 @12:18PM (#46860771) Journal

    The closest the Papacy ever came to recreating Rome was apparently the idea being thrown around of the Pope becoming a temporal head of a renewed Roman empire, since the bulk of Western and Central Europe had been Christianized by the 8th century. In the end, Charlemagne came along, and it seemed more supportable to make him the King of the Romans.

  • Re:Economic reasons (Score:3, Informative)

    by operagost (62405) on Monday April 28, 2014 @03:08PM (#46862463) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, except that Jesus' name in Greek starts with an "I" and in Hebrew and Aramaic with a "Y".

    Weird AC post, for sure. Every day, a new conspiracy theory.

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