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What The Ancients Did For Us - The Romans

Updated Tuesday, 11th January 2005

Find out more about The Romans programme, part of the BBC/OU's 'What the Ancients Did for Us' TV series

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The city of Rome was founded on the banks of the Tiber in 753 BC and for a thousand years the western world was ruled from within its walls. To support this vast Empire the Romans created complex infrastructure and used the techniques of mass production, centuries before the industrial revolution. In this programme Adam Hart-Davis will find out how the Romans managed to do so much, so long ago and discover just what the Romans did for us.

For a start they created the first professional, salaried army and invented fearsome war machines. To move around the Empire they constructed thousands of miles of roads – and we find out what it actually takes to build one of these.

They built amphitheatres and race tracks and in the process brought gladiatorial games and equine sport to every corner of their empire.

They pioneered the mass production of glass and double glazing, and created enormous aqueducts that fed water from distant sources into the heart of their cities and bath houses, created clever heating systems, and flushing toilets. They produced vast quantities of marble veneer to clad their cities and recent evidence suggests they cut the stone using multiple bladed water-powered saws. To move such heavy material they constructed cranes and invented the first ball-bearings.

But perhaps their one invention that has had the biggest impact on the modern world more than anything else is concrete, they used it everywhere from houses to bridges, (it would set hard under water), and without it they couldn't have built the Pantheon and its vast domed roof – unsurpassed in size until the 19th century.

First broadcast: Wednesday 16 Feb 2005 on BBC TWO

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