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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.

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

      by siddesu (698447) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:17AM (#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.
      • Maybe it's one of those "You start dying as soon as you're born" philosophical things. Or before you're born.

      • 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 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 HBI (604924) <kparadine&gmail,com> 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.

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

              by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday April 28, 2014 @01:18PM (#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.

        • The article does not exactly explain itself honestly. It just says "Concrete did it!" and leaves it at that without providing any decent argument or evidence, save for vaguely referencing a selection of public works projects enacted by various roman leaders. I think that the idea the author is trying to promote is that various roman leaders sort of got into a sort of arms race trying to procure the favor of the public through the construction various public works, like a voting hall, bridges, harbors and wh
        • by quantaman (517394)

          Personally I've always suspected Christianity played a role as well. It seemed to me that pre-Christianity religion wasn't that big a deal in Rome, when the Roman's encountered a population with a different god the Roman's basically said a) everyone had to follow the Roman state religion, and b) your god is part of the big Roman pantheon, congrats you're following the Roman state religion!

          Emperor Elagabalus [wikipedia.org] even got away with replacing Jupiter with his god at the top of the pantheon and marrying the head of

          • The empire was having some pretty severe probls before the Edict of Milan. The divisionof the Empire, for instance, was first attempted by Diocletian, to try to reform serious administrative and political shortcomings, and he was seriously anti-Christian.

      • 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.

    • 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 TWX (665546)
        It didn't help that there were crazy people put into power (Caligula, Nero) and feckless people as well.

        I blame the crazy and feckless more than I blame the sedimentary medium used to construct things.
        • by chthon (580889)

          The victors always write history. Caligula and Nero were not so crazy as is often told. However, they both were contemptuous of the Roman Senate, which is what brought them down in the end, and which is why the historic writings about them paint them in the light of craziness.

      • Endless factional infighting combined with ever more rebellious provinces and incursions from surrounding regions did for the western roman empire.

        Sure. But one of the reasons for all that fighting and rebelliousness was stupid/insane leadership at the top, and a big reason for that was lead, which was used in pipes, cooking pots, cups and pitchers. Analysis of Roman bones has found sky high lead levels [wikipedia.org], especially among the upper classes. Rather than ONE cause, there were lots of interrelated causes.

        This "concrete" theory doesn't make sense to me. The Roman Empire lasted for centuries after their major monument building years, or more than a thou

        • 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.

          • Oh yeah? What did the Romans ever do for us?

            • A Monty Python reference for those who didn't know.
              From Life of Brian [imdb.com]; a fun movie.
              The quote is from a meeting of the People's Front of Judea where "Reg" the leader rhetorically asked "What did the Romans ever do for us?" Followed by some discussion of all the things the Romans did do...
              Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
              Attendee: Brought peace?
              Reg: Oh
    • Re:Economic reasons (Score:5, Informative)

      by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:26AM (#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....

      • I don't think it's inappropriate at all. First of all, the first steps towards a proper empire occurred during the Republic. And in the East, while Byzantium slowly became heavily Hellenized, there was no sharp dividing line. Byzantinium was the Eastern Roman Empire.

      • 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.
      • [...] the Byzantine Empire, which was what they called the eastern half of the Roman Empire after the Empire split).

        Common mistake. As it was ruled by direct succession of Emperors from Rome itself and under the same laws (though developing, of course), and much of the same society, peoples, etc., the peoples of Byzantium called their Empire...Rome. So did their eventual conquerors and the proto-states of Today's Turkey, and various languages call Greek-speaking Turks and Greeks "Rum" or "Roman". Colloquial Greek itself still calls Greek-speakers "Romeyka", meaning "Roman" since they are (or like to think of themselves a

    • 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.

      • Roman civilization persists to this day. The Romance languages, the civil code that is dominant in Europe, Latin America, Quebec and New Orleans, even the European Union itself, I would argue is the latest attempt by the Europeans to restore the Pax Romana.

        • by cusco (717999)

          the civil code that is dominant in Europe, Latin America, Quebec and New Orleans

          Institutionalized bribery was a Roman invention?

      • For some reason people are obsessed with finding a single reason for the disintegration of the Roman empire

        Part of it is our increasing addiction to soundbites. Part of it is finding a soundbite cause that (just by chance mind you) matches current political/philosophical bugaboos.

        • 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.

      • by westlake (615356)

        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

        and by Roman empire they mean the western empire.

        The eastern empire survived in more or less recognizable form into the fifteenth century.

    • 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..."

      • Leading researchers now believe the fall of Rome was caused by Slashdot Beta.

        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..."

    • Economic growth was from the deposiling of conquered peoples. By the 2nd century there were just poor, wild peoles beyond borders. Not much incentive to conquer.
    • by rahvin112 (446269)

      It wasn't permanent growth that did the Romans in economically. It was an economy based on and entirely dependent on slavery. The Romans themselves did nothing, everything important was done by slaves including some of the most famous engineers. You can't sustain an economy forever based on slavery, at some point it's going to collapse because you don't know how to do anything anymore.

      • The (economic) problem with slavery is not that you don't know how to do anything, it's that you create an imbalance between producers and consumers. Someone using slaves can produce things more cheaply than someone using free labour, because his costs are lower. He consumes less, because his slaves are paid less. Who buys his products? Only other slave owners, so you end up with a very small market. Many of the same problems appear in a modern setting due to wage inequality.
    • by srmalloy (263556)

      "Nal komerex, khesterex".

      --- John M. Ford, The Final Reflection

    • There is a good argument that the Roman Empire succumbed to an energy crises: They couldn't get enough firewood to even keep their cookfires going. Those famous Roman Roads were hauling firewood from as far away as Northern Gaul and the Danish coast. It was expensive and not the least timely. The hills around Rome were denuded of trees, and Romans spread out. Soon there was a lack of cohesiveness in Roman Society.

      Pompey and Caesar were not the only rulers to make the mistake of thinking that public works co

  • 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.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:22AM (#46859579)

      Pocket watches became very popular in the british empire late 1800's... by a century later the empire was a tiny vestige of it's former glory. Therefore pocket watches caused the downfall of the british empire!

      • Curse you (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        You have foiled my plan to bring down the Western world through the introduction of Smart watches!
    • 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.

      • by Dr. Spork (142693)
        Exactly. Whoever wrote that article didn't catch on to this. And neither did the submitter and Slashdot editors, so now we have complete nonsense on the front page. Oh, another Slasdot Monday!
    • by mattb47 (85083)

      I think this is a case of the ignorant editors at IBT slapping a title on this. The text of the article doesn't claim the Roman *EMPIRE* fell because of concrete, it claims that the fall of the *REPUBLIC* was hastened by concrete.

      BIG difference.
       

    • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday April 28, 2014 @12:03PM (#46860053) Homepage Journal

      Nowhere does it explain how concrete may have caused the downfall of the Roman empire.

      In other words, we didn't get a concrete answer.
       

  • I see projects being built with concrete every day!

    I'm going to start accosting random people in the street, "We have to stop them! We have to stop them from using concrete!!!"

    I think I will dress as a clown to more effectively get their attention!

    Thanks, Slashdot, for my new summer project!

  • Be relieved, with everything built from two-by-fours and drywall sheets, decline is averted.
  • 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.

  • Oil? Drones? Junk food? We are heading in pretty much the same direction, and for the same reasons. Political infighting and disrespect for constitution (like Julius Caesar becoming a dictator) do it every time.

  • by JMZero (449047) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:13AM (#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.

    • by putaro (235078)

      Thank you!

    • by Rob Riggs (6418)

      The historically literate person is saying that concrete helped in the transition from the Republic ... to the Empire.

      Take your fancy liberal arts trivia to some other site. We don't need your kind around here. This is "News for Nerds" -- history was an elective.

  • 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 DeathToBill (601486) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:27AM (#46859639) Journal

      What made the concrete rediculous is the concentration of iron phosphates in the limestone used as a raw material for the concrete. At least some of this survived into the finished concrete, lending it a reddish colour, especially when it got wet. Modern concrete is prepared by a different process that effectively removes the iron phosphates, meaning modern concrete is no longer rediculous.

      Honestly, get a spelling checker.

    • by beheaderaswp (549877) * on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:36AM (#46859747)

      Not a lot of hard evidence around to make a concrete conclusion. Were there more information it would cement my thoughts. What I see is a conglomerate of issues.

      • Not a lot of hard evidence around to make a concrete conclusion. Were there more information it would cement my thoughts. What I see is a conglomerate of issues.

        Now that's some stone-cold, solid reasoning.

    • Technically, Augustus founded the Empire, though he used his status as a Julian to pull it off; that and the fact that he was smarter and better connected than the other members of the Second Triumvirate.

    • Better yet read this:

      Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J.B. Bury with an Introduction by W.E.H. Lecky (New York: Fred de Fau and Co., 1906), in 12 vols. Vol. 1. Monday

      Gibbon's classic work, still the greatest prose work in the English language IMHO, was originally published in 1776.

      It is available, free of charge, at the Online Library of Liberty Website at this URL [libertyfund.org].

      They have several different formats including: an HTML version converted from the original text, EBoo

  • by OzPeter (195038)

    Maybe the crazy desire to continually expand and build everything under the sun with concrete resulted from drinking all that water from the lead lined pipes!

  • by Sique (173459) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:23AM (#46859597) Homepage
    The article talks about the fall of the Roman Republic, while the subject talks about the Roman Empire. The article argues that the ability to build large structures cheaply and fast enabled figures like Julius Ceasar and Pompey to bribe the population by building theatres and new harbours and a new bed for the Tiber river, thus creating work for many people. and fastly improving the infrastructure without much taxation or other means to raise the necessary funds. Normally such a process would be long, and expensive, so no single person could force it through. But with the cheap construction means thanks to the concrete, it was possible, and it convinced the population of Rome that an ongoing dictatorship might actually be useful to them, and thus they didn't revolt when the power was taken from the Senate and the tribuns and given first to dictator Caesar, then to the Triumvirate of Octavianus, Mark Antony and Lepidus, and then to Octavianus as new Emperor.

    So concrete allowed to end the Republic and start the actual Roman Empire.

    • 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.

  • Ignoring the Republic vs Empire issue, the core article is at heart foolish.

    The professor did not make that claim that concreted contributed to the end of the Republic/Empire. Instead she claimed that the use of Concrete demonstrated a psychological weakness - arrogance and that that weakness caused the end of Rome.

    At heart, it is a "They became rich, fat and spoiled" argument. Never that convincing, as I have seen many rich, fat, spoiled people go on to do amazing things.

    The thing is if you are rich,

  • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Monday April 28, 2014 @11:36AM (#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].

  • "What [Caesar] was counting on is concrete," said Davies, who mentioned that the people of ancient Rome became used to politicians erecting buildings to show off their power, similar to the building projects of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt. "One could even say that it played a significant role in bringing down the Republic."

    OK they invented concrete. Concrete was cheap. It was durable, 1000 years of rain would not wash it away. They gave it a Latin name meaning ash-rock or something. So the rulers embarked on grandiose projects. Then? Why did it fall? Why did the Empire survive for 400 years after they started these grandiose projects? It makes no sense.

  • I understood the Colosseum was built out of large stone blocks, held together with huge iron clamps, with maybe a dab of mortar her and there. It was in use by the church for years, although not for religious purposes.

    The only reason the Pantheon survives to this day is because it was converted into a church in the 7th Century. Plenty of other buildings both postdate the Pantheon and were made of concrete didn't survive.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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 @12:05PM (#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.

  • 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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