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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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  • Rediculous (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dwheeler (321049) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:14AM (#46859473) Homepage Journal
    This referenced article is rediculous. First of all, the title says "Downfall of the Roman Empire", but Caesar FOUNDED the Roman Empire, so clearly it did not cause the empire's fall. I suspect they meant the fall of the Roman REPUBLIC, which preceded the empire. But it's still garbage. What most emperors wanted was power, not concrete buildings. The article doesn't even begin to make a connection between the two. If you want more about the history of the (Western) Roman republic and empire, listen to AWESOME "The History of Rome" podcast: http://thehistoryofrome.typepa... [typepad.com] It's fantastic.
  • by Sockatume (732728) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:23AM (#46859589)

    In fact it looks like they have it exactly backwards. What the academic actually said is that it led to the political downfall of the Republic, which was replaced by the Empire.

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

    by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:26AM (#46859633)

    The Romans found out that when you build a society on the assumption of permanent growth, when you stop growing... you stop existing. And today's business leaders, who don't pay attention to history unless it makes them money, are repeating the same mistake.

    For some reason people are obsessed with finding a single reason for the disintegration of the Roman empire but the truth is that there were many causes: the incompetence of emperors, the decline of the Roman military, the increasing military sophistication of the barbarian tribes, separatism among those barbarians that were absorbed, the fact that the influx of barbarians became to great for the empire to absorb, pandemics and warfare that destroyed the tax base which in turn magnified the military problems and it also caused governmental organizations and institutions to collapse, the list goes on and on. Another point is that much of the Roman world never really disappeared, it just came under new management. Although you saw urban decline in many parts of what used to be the empire a lot of Roman culture survived. A whole lot of stuff went up in flames but many of the barbarian kings that took over the various parts of the western empire often went out of their way to make sure to preserve as much as possible of the Roman governmental bureaucracy, industry, trade and educational institutions as they could. The more archaeologists research the 'dark ages' the more clear it becomes that they weren't actually as dark as we used to be taught in school.

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

    by MickLinux (579158) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:32AM (#46859705) Journal

    I don't know that anyone thinks lead caused the downfall of the Roman Empire. I think it is attributed as 'one of many factors'. I think the more immediate cause of the downfall of the Roman Empire, was the invasion of the Huns, who conquered one germanic tribe, took their land, and promised them freedom if they would then conquer the next tribe over, for them. This triggered a cascade of refugees, of which the Vandals came to Northern Italy, starving. The Senate voted to tell them 'come halfway to Rome, stop, and we will give you humanitarian aid' [food]. They then gave the contract for the food to a senator who was expected to embezzle most of the money. He embezzled it all, and the Vandals went through the whole Roman empire looking for food, and picking up slaves who walked away from their jobs to join the Vandals. Thus, the Empire lost its labor force. After that, since it still was the crown jewel for despots, it got conquered continuously.

    Kindof like Iraq, kindof like Poland, Kindof like Lithuania, kindof like what'll happen to Russia, kindof like what's happening to the US.

    oh, and ---- almost forgot.

    No, monuments weren't first introduced to later Rome with concrete. Nor were big buildings. Come to think of it, nor were concrete buildings. All of that long predated Rome.

    Horrible article. Fine slashdot fare, if I ever saw it.

    It would be better to say, "the fall of Rome was caused by the introduction of Slashdot. Polling shows that..."

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

    by afidel (530433) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:40AM (#46859801)

    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.

  • Re:Err, no really (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Viol8 (599362) on Monday April 28, 2014 @12:08PM (#46860109)

    Better military technology and practice and the ability to bring together greater manpower than the enemy. That and the fact that once people were living under roman rule it was actually quite nice so long as you didn't do anything stupid like raise a rebellion. To build an empire you need a strong military - to keep it you need to keep the citizens well fed and well off by allowing free trade. And the romans managed both.

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

    by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Monday April 28, 2014 @12:14PM (#46860187)

    And the individuals bugaboos. Everyone wants to see the empire's fall as due to their own personal dislikes. Ask the libertarians, they'll blame overregulation. Ask the conservatives, they'll blame socialism. Ask the liberals, they'll blame polluted water or corruption.

    You can see it in a more recent event too - the early troubles at the Jamestown colony. It's recent enough to be very well documented, but already we are seeing a number of disparate accounts circulating in popular awareness, one of which (Originating in a Fox column, now persisting as a circular email and blog post) claims that the colony was founded on a system of collective ownership and farmers didn't see any point in farming if the rest of the community would just steal their crop, so they starved to death until a panicked switch to a private-property system and free market economy brought about greatly increased production and prosperity. It's a bunch of lies with a hint of truth mixed in, Dan Brown style, and any real historian would laugh at it - but it still persists, because the myth tells people what they want to hear: A good morality tale, supporting their own particular morality.

  • Re:Economic reasons (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2014 @12:18PM (#46860215)

    I would argue is the latest attempt by the Europeans to restore the Pax Romana

    Don't tell the Italians (the Romans' closest descendants) that the EU is a sort of a new Roman Empire. Firstly, because they would feel insulted. Secondly, because the EU is driven by the barbarians, currently known as "germans".

  • by emil (695) on Monday April 28, 2014 @12:29PM (#46860307) Homepage
    I think that I remember reading in Livy that Rome was to last 1,300 years - 100 years for each eagle seen in a ceremony for Romulus. The Western empire continued for a time after the split that was sufficient to satisfy the prophesy.
  • Re:Economic reasons (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Monday April 28, 2014 @01:25PM (#46860859)

    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.

    I'm not sure that is right. There is no doubt that people are holding on to cars longer, but the question is whether or not it is because they want to or can't afford to get a new one. Most likely, this is an artifact of longer financing terms. In the 1970s car loans were two years, sometimes three. Today they are five to six years. If you go to sell the car before the loan, you will be upside down (owe more on the loan than you can get for the car). As such, people hold on to the car longer.

    It is true that the useful life of a vehicle is twice as long today as in the 1970s (say 200,000 miles vs 100,000), but that doesn't mean the original owner is driving it for those extra miles. One of the things that was an unintended (hopefully) consequences of the cash for clunkers is it wiped out the used car market. It isn't a coincidence that without late model used cars to hold down prices, new car prices escalated. What really happened was that the lower supply of good quality late model used cars caused those prices to rise (supply and demand) and that allowed the difference between new and used car prices to rise, too.

    They could make a car for $1M that had a useful live of 1M miles. Even if it is the only car you would need to ever buy, if it cost more than you could afford, it doesn't matter how long it lasts.

  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Monday April 28, 2014 @03:56PM (#46862347) Journal
    The Romans had devised an efficient method of acquiring resources. They would invade a neighbour and take everything of value. They spread in every direction for some distance except Northeast, because Poland / Russia / Scandanavia are big places that are very cold and, at the time, filled with crazy people. They couldn't afford an army big enough to go stomp them. Over-extended, they resorted to diluting the currency. This resulted in a brutal economic depression that lasted for most of the third century. At that point, the writing was on the wall - the West had nowhere to go. The smart and rich people moved east.

    It makes sense. North of Rome? Germanic crazy people. West? The Atlantic Ocean. South? A thin border on the mediterannean hard up against one giant fucking desert. North east? Britain, the north of which was inhabited by such a crazed bunch of assholes the Romans built a fucking WALL to keep them out. When Welsh tin production peaked in 320, there was no point in hanging around. East? Palestine, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, China - you know - REAL civilisations. REAL money to be made. Not these crazy Pict or Celt peasant fuckers. Societies with cities and gold and stuff.

    So, once they divided Roman around 310, it was basically like pulling the plug. The place drained pretty fast. If you had any money you got the fuck out and moved east. Roman didn't fall. It's method of acquiring resources met the law of diminishing returns. Its response was typical: increase the complexity of the society. Eventually, the centre collapses under its own weight. Tainter's book "Collapse of Copmlex Societies" spells it out pretty clearly. The rest is in the records. Rome didn't fall. It was sold out and abandoned.

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