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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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  • Economic reasons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:05AM (#46859365)

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:09AM (#46859403)

    I am now dumber having read that article. Nowhere does it explain how concrete may have caused the downfall of the Roman empire.

  • What a load (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pharmboy (216950) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:10AM (#46859423) Journal

    ...of bullshit. How this poorly written piece of crap got on Slashdot, I have no idea.

  • Err, no really (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Viol8 (599362) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:21AM (#46859559)

    Endless factional infighting combined with ever more rebellious provinces and incursions from surrounding regions did for the western roman empire. It managed quite nicely for hundreds of years without permanent growth - in the sense of territory - so that had nothing to do with it.

    Besides, the eastern roman empire - otherwise known as Bytzantium - continued until the 15th century when the ottomans finally conquered constantinople. Thats almost 2000 years. The british empire barely managed 200, the soviets 70 and the 3rd reich about 10. Give credit where its due!

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:35AM (#46859733) Journal

    Indeed. Haven't read the article, but if the premise is that Julius Caesar began having a bit too regally and that lead to Rome's fall, then it was a pretty odd collapse, that had this whole three century middle period where Rome reigned supreme in most of Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa. Rome didn't even reach its greatest extent, geographically, until two centuries after Caesar's death.

    There are as many theories as to why Rome fell as there are as to why WWI started. At the end of the day, it was a combination of economic collapse (in particular, the debasement of coinage), bad government, poor succession rules that meant the military played too much of a role in an Emperor's rise and fall, climactic changes in Eurasia that meant lots of angry hoards of people from the Asian Steppe began their first major incursions over the Urals, and finally, in a last ditch effort, the later Emperors cutting the empire to pieces and hiring a bunch of unreliable and upwardly mobile German mercenaries to fill out their dwindling legions.

    It should also be reminded that Rome did persist for a thousand years after Romulus Augustulus was deposed in the West; in the form of the Byzantine Empire.

  • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:36AM (#46859743) Homepage Journal

    Phantoms are chasing phantoms - with credit.

  • by jandersen (462034) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:37AM (#46859761)

    Planned obsolescence and subscription services that didn't exist for most people 30 years ago are helping to keep things afloat

    They certainly give the illusion of markets growing. In real terms, I don't think the economy is growing; we are still living in a closed ecosystem, so at some point we will hit the ceiling and experience a catastrophic breakdown, unless we learn to curb our delusions about unlimited growth. The question is only when it will happen - but there is still an absurd reluctance to even consider the question, so we don't know if it might be tomorrow or perhaps in 500 years.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:49AM (#46859919) Journal

    I'm not sure I even buy that. The Republic had always been an unstable form of government, and I'd argue the real collapse of the Republic came about because of the expansion of Rome (remember here, Rome as a major imperial power began with the Punic Wars, over a century before Caesar's death). As Rome absorbed the Carthaginian empire, it grew very rapidly and the political structure of the Republic was never very good and dealing with this. Caesar was ultimately the symptom of the disease that had plagued the Republic for decades. If he hadn't tried to seize power, someone else would have, and let us remember that his attempt ultimately failed, but did pave the way for his nephew Octavius to push the whole way.

  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:59AM (#46860025)

    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.

  • by ruir (2709173) on Monday April 28, 2014 @12:12PM (#46860169)
    I would argue Rome persists to this day, and you mail know it as a global corporation residing in a small country called the Vatican.
  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Monday April 28, 2014 @12:18PM (#46860211) Homepage

    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.

    Yes, now that I look at the article more critically, the actual claim was "One could even say that it [concrete] played a significant role in bringing down the Republic."

    The writer apparently confused the fall of the Roman Republic with the fall of the empire.

  • by donscarletti (569232) on Monday April 28, 2014 @12:48PM (#46860449)

    The article itself quotes historians saying "One could even say that [concrete] played a significant role in bringing down the [Roman] Republic" due to concrete being used in Pompey and Caesar's civic building programs, then starts the title of the article "Downfall of the Roman Empire", which was a completely different sequence events that started centuries later.

    The awkward truth of the matter here is, at the time she wrote the article, the author didn't realise that the historians quoted were describing the events that lead to the birth of the Roman Empire and not the death.

  • by HBI (604924) <kparadine@gma i l . c om> on Monday April 28, 2014 @12:51PM (#46860465) Homepage Journal

    Hmm. I suppose you could say that the Pope is the actual descendant of the Pontifex Maximus due to the title being ascribed to the Pope, but in all other ways the Papacy has no relationship to the Roman Emperors and does not (and never did) claim their powers or titles. The Pontifex Maximus was entirely spiritual and imperium was quite separate from the (limited) powers of the Pontifex. It was a mostly ceremonial role in any event.

  • by Sentrion (964745) on Monday April 28, 2014 @01:10PM (#46860691)

    If you want specifics, then how about just two possible scenarios:

    1. Major disruption in the supply of semiconductors. If war were to break out between China and N.Korea against S.Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, the entire world's production of semiconductors could be disrupted or shut off. Best case in such a scenario is that only critical equipment would be supplied until foundries could ramp up production in other countries. But ramping up semiconductor production isn't as quick or straight forward as hiring a few good managers, engineers, or production staff. It could take years to rebuild our semiconductor infrastructure, presuming we could afford the wait. Unlike many other technologies, this isn't one that we can throw together in a garage. The supply chain for semiconductors is incredibly complex, and given China's near domination of rare earth elements, any geopolitical standoff involving China could cause a major ripple effect across the global economy. Shortages of microchips could be weathered in the short term, but if dragged on for a year or more there could be real problems affecting any device that required a chip to function properly. These days, that's just about everything, from cars to home appliances to industrial automatic, ovens, furnaces, machine tools, etc. If our entire planet had to retool for analog controls and paper-based IT, it could lead to a long-term economic decline that could thrust us into a multi-century dark age, presuming civilization doesn't collapse entirely.

    2. Peak Oil. I don't think I need to elaborate on this scenario, as it has been extensively discussed elsewhere.

    More likely than not, a crisis in the supply of oil or microchips, rare earth elements, or oil could result in shortages of all three critical resources. I think that the OP's comment regarding our closed ecosystem is valid. If our population is sustainable and we are not too heavily dependent on technology or geopolitical stability, then we can weather a crisis and come through in tact. But if we are completely dependent oil, technology and a global supply chain just to feed our massive population, then we could be facing some serious trouble when the next big crisis hits. In this scenario a regional catastrophe could trigger a global catastrophe.

    We still live on a physical planet and have physical needs. Just because we have a growing economy in arts and entertainment, and new apps to help us manage our social lives does not mean we do not face serious growth risks in the physical economy (ie human ecology).

  • by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Monday April 28, 2014 @01:34PM (#46860957) Journal

    Stock market is a zero-sum game (wealth transfer vehicle).

    Economy is not a zero-sum game (you can definitely destroy things, so you can definitely create things).

    Most people somehow think that the stock market is the economy, and that the stock market reflects actual business performance. We live in a world of ignorance and bullshit.

  • by zugmeister (1050414) on Monday April 28, 2014 @02:37PM (#46861583)

    Anyone who ever argues with me otherwise (oh and there are loads of idiots that do) gets redirected to dev/null.

    While I happen to agree with you, I voraciously listen to NPR's intelligence squared [npr.org] because an intelligent debate is great to educate you on viewpoints other than your own. Maybe, for your own sake, you should reconsider?

  • by Sentrion (964745) on Monday April 28, 2014 @03:07PM (#46861887)

    The problem is that to an economist, the Second LIfe "Linden" is just as "real" as the fiat "US dollar", which is just as "real" as a gold certificate, which is just as "real" as a brick of gold, which is just a "real" as a hamburger, which is just as "real" as a tractor factory, which is just as "real" as a soybean farm.

    For an economist information is an exploitable resource, as is microprocessor capacity and memory capacity. As long as more trade can take place for digital resources it will be conceivably possible to continue economic growth for a long time to come, even while a huge portion of the planet's population dies off in mass starvation.

    For this reason I prefer to separate the concepts of "economy" from "physical economy" or "human ecology". What's good for the "economy" is not always good for the rest of us.

  • by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Monday April 28, 2014 @03:45PM (#46862229)

    Democracy or even Debate does not mean that someone else's ignorance is as good as my facts. There are some things there just isn't any intelligent debate ABOUT, and even pretending to listen offers a veneer of legitimacy they simply do not deserve. Like vaccines and autism. Vaccines do not cause autism, they have not, and never will cause autism. There is no possible legitimate thing anyone could ever say that supports the idea vaccines cause autism, and merely by listening you're legitimising their bullshit more than they deserve.

    Sometimes the proper response is to just tell people to sit down, shut the fuck up, and LISTEN to the facts.

  • by machineghost (622031) on Monday April 28, 2014 @04:30PM (#46862677)

    Sometimes the proper response is to just tell people to sit down, shut the fuck up, and LISTEN to the facts.

    And who gets to decide what "the facts" are? You're very language betrays the conceit that you are somehow omniscient, because how else can you know that someone else's knowledge is "ignorance" and your's are "facts".

    I too believe the anti-vaccine BS is ... well is exactly that, BS. But the moment anyone presents me with real evidence to the contrary I'll happily change my posisition, because I realize that any given human being only has a limited amount of knowledge available to them, and therefore that I must always be open to new knowledge.

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