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Ancient Ideas

Updated on March 7, 2015

Ancient Ideas and New Technology

Early technological advancements have paved the way for today’s creations and inventions. Romans, Chinese, Egyptians and Arabians have all contributed to some of today’s inventions that make our everyday life easier. Among them are roads, writing systems and language, educational institutions, water transportation and waste disposal systems. All civilizations, ancient and new age, have developed several things to make a life a little easier for everyday human existence but, if it weren’t for ancient ideas and inventions, would we have the inventions that we have today?

Romans, they are responsible for very many great inventions, but one of their most famous is the construction of roads. They were the first people to construct such a thing and they used them for the only logical things that Romans think of, war and money. “The Romans constructed most of the roads for military purposes, enabling soldiers to move quickly. This made the conquest and rule of Roman provinces easier. But the system of Roman roads also made it possible for ordinary travelers, particularly traders and merchants, to move about freely and to transport their goods easily.” (Academic World Book, 2013, Para. 2) Since the Romans have constructed them, the people of later eras came up with a better construction format for them, causing us to have the roads we have today. When they were first built, Romans built roads with a right angle rather than a curve when a corner needed to be made, as Romans had not yet perfected the idea of the curve. “Roman roads were remarkable for their straightness. The roads generally went over hills rather than around them.” (Academic World Book, 2013, Para. 3) Roman roads were famous for their strength and resistance to weather because they used a method where they mixed volcanic ash into the concrete. Some of the roads built in Roman time are incorporated into the highways and roads they have in Rome today. Among the most famous of Roman roads was Appian Way, probably because it was the first. “A Roman official named Appius Claudius Caecus ordered the building of the first Roman road in Italy in 312 B.C. This was the Via Appia (also called the Appian Way), which ran southeast from the city of Rome. It originally connected Rome to Tarentum (now Taranto). It was later extended as far as the Adriatic coastline. In the next 100 years, the Romans built the Via Aurelia, the Via Flaminia, the Via Valeria, and the Via Latina, all leading out from Rome. Other roads branched off these main highways. In time, a road network developed, centered on the empire's capital city and connecting it with its provinces. This gave rise to the proverb, "All roads lead to Rome."” (Academic World Book, 2013, Para. 4) Later on the Chinese came up with their own system of road that lead to Europe called the Silk Road. “The Silk Road got its name from the vast amount of Chinese silk carried along it. The Chinese learned to make silk thousands of years ago. They guarded the secrets of their processes. China was the only major supplier of silk until the A.D. 500's. At that time, European countries discovered how to make the fabric.” (Davis, 2013, Para. 2) Romans paved the way for the people of later eras, literally. Had Romans not come up with the idea first, we might be driving our cars around on dirt and gravel, maybe even grass, rather than asphalt. Now that there were roads, and trade was open with other cultures, a language was needed for everyone to be able to communicate.

Earlier people had to come up with a way to communicate with each other and keep records, not only for historical records or public records, but for personal issues as well. Sumerians were the first people to come up with a picture, or glyph, writing system. “Cuneiform was probably developed by the Sumerian people as a shortened form of picture writing. The earliest known cuneiform inscriptions were found in the lower Tigris-Euphrates Valley in what is now southeastern Iraq.” (Lesko, 2013, Para. 3) Egyptians later came up with a more efficient writing system than cuneiform. Several cultures were known to have used writing systems like the Egyptians did, called hieroglyphics, but the Egyptians are most famous for it. “Hieroglyphics usually refers to the writing of ancient Egypt. However, forms of picture writing were used in other ancient cultures as well, notably by the Hittites, who lived in the region that is now Turkey, and by the Maya and Aztec Indians of Central America.” (Lesko, 2103, Para. 1) The Egyptians actually borrowed the idea of hieroglyphics from the Mesopotamians but, they added glyphs and made it much clearer. Egyptians hieroglyphics were more than just a series of pictures to represent and object or person. There were glyphs in the Egyptian alphabet that represented sounds and letters rather than direct ideas, giving way to one of the world’s first actual alphabets. The Egyptians later ditched this form of writing to begin writing like the Greeks, whose alphabet was based off of the Phoenician writing style. “Most of the alphabets of modern Europe are modeled on the Greek alphabet. The Greek alphabet was itself adapted from the alphabet of the Phoenicians sometime before 800 B.C. There were two main forms of the ancient Greek alphabet, the Western and the Eastern. The modern English alphabet can be traced to the Western form. The Eastern alphabet was used in classical Greek and evolved into the Modern Greek alphabet still used today. The Eastern alphabet was also the ancestor of the Cyrillic alphabet. Forms of this alphabet are used in Russian and several other Slavic languages.” (Neumann, 2013, Para. 4) Now that a written language had been formed, a spoken language that could cause people of different cultures to communicate effectively needed to be created. Arabic was that language. Traders and merchants from other cities began to learn Arabic because it made communication and trade easier and it was a fairly easy language to learn. Efficient communication was therefore established. Language and writing opened up the idea of learning, and learning needed to be done in a controlled place where everyone learned the same things.

Educational institutions are some of ancient civilizations greatest inventions and can be seen still today. We have public, private and religious schools, schools where you can learn one certain trade and colleges, some of which cost a couple thousand a year and others that cost hundreds of thousands each year. Point being, without these ancient educational institutions we never would have had the idea for schools. Through time, there has been evidence of higher learning facilities. Some places of learning only catered to the upper class or men. In some cultures women were allowed to learn at an elementary level but not higher unless taught by a private tutor in their own home. Charlemagne realized that education was a very important thing and very necessary to advance culture and bring other cultures together. He created a palace school and urged scholars from everywhere all over Europe to attend. “The palace school had two purposes. The first was to train the children of vassals in the traditional liberal arts, which the Greeks and Romans had regarded as the minimum skills necessary for an effective administrator. The second purpose was to standardize and preserve learning. The palace school did a great deal of important work.” (Mahdavi. 2013. Para. 13) Charlemagne loved education so much that “the whole system was funded by land captured in war and granted to Charlemagne's counts in return for service.” (Mahdavi. 2013. Para. 14) The Abbasid also came up with their own educational learning places. After Arabic became the language of traders and merchants they needed place of learning to teach people and to keep record of things. “Thus, the desire to read and write in Arabic produced a surge in education. The Islamic world divided education distinctively into elementary education and institutions of higher learning.” (Mahdavi. 2013. Para. 19) The Abbasid is the culture who allowed their females to learn an elementary education, but if they wanted to further their education they had to have private at home tutors. “Elementary education took place either in a mosque or at home. The focus was on learning to read and memorize, not to analyze the Qur'an. Students also learned Arabic grammar, writing, stories about prophets, elementary principles of arithmetic, and poetry. Education was primarily for boys. Girls were welcome to attend religious instruction in the lower grades, but those who wished to continue were expected to study with private tutors.” (Mahdavi. 2013. Para. 20) The Abbasid came up with institutions of higher learning and even though only men were allowed to attend these public institutions at the time, they became some of the leading institutions to teach medicine, astronomy and mathematics. “The creation of institutions of higher learning began with the opening of the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma) in 830 CE, founded by the Abbasid ruler Mamun. It was a combination of a library, an academy, and a translation bureau. Scholars from every known language were recruited to translate work and conduct research. Other government-sponsored higher learning institutions soon followed. Nizamiyah, founded by Prime Minister Nizam al-Mulk (1065–1067 CE), was a theological institution recognized by the state and had branches in most major cities. Al Mustansiriyah, founded by Caliph al-Mustansir in Cairo, Egypt, in 1234, was an institution for teaching and learning about Islamic law. There were also institutions of higher learning for astronomy, with attached observatories.” (Mahdavi. 2013. Para. 21) The development of institutions of higher learning have basically taught humans in our time that education is a needed thing, even as early as ancient times. These institutions are what have contributed to the idea of all of our colleges and trade schools, and the need to gain education all through life, not just while we are young. Had these places not ever been created how smart could humans have possibly gotten? But there was something before educational institutions, something that is probably one of the most important ideas of our existence today.

There was a major invention, way before roads, language, writing and education. Without this invention humans may never have survived to see what we call modern times and if they had they would be a lot less comfortable with their living situations. This invention that I speak of, of course, is irrigation and waste disposal systems. Irrigation goes as far back as when nomadic people began to settle themselves into tribes rather than travelling around constantly. Once people started to settle they realized that fresh water was scare and hard to come by. “Where water was relatively scarce, communities learned to divert streams and build canals, creating systems of irrigation. These irrigation efforts were especially important in arid regions with excellent soils such as Mesopotamia, Egypt along the Nile, northern India, northern China, and the Andes lowlands.” (Mahdavi. 2013. Para. 33) Romans greatly improved the irrigation systems of the people before them, as well as a few other cultures, Romans were just the most famous for it as they came up with a solid, strong form of aqueduct. An aqueduct is “is an artificial channel through which water is conducted to the place where it is used. The materials used for aqueduct construction may be masonry, concrete, cast iron, steel, or wood. Some aqueducts are tunnels dug through rocks, and others are canals in the earth. In many aqueducts, the outlet is so much lower than the water source that gravity alone carries the water. Where gravity is insufficient, the water is forced through the aqueduct by pumps.” (Bix. 2013. Para. 1) “It is not known when or where the first aqueducts were built. In ancient times, Jerusalem used a leaky aqueduct made of a series of limestone blocks in which 15-inch (38-centimeter) holes had been drilled by hand. The Greeks built masonry conduits to bring water to their cities, and even bored tunnels by hand. One of these tunnels, 4,200 feet (1,280 meters) long, was built by Athens 2,500 years ago.” (Bix. 2013. Para. 2) Even though it was not known where aqueducts were originated, people clearly showed the need to have water flowing to the city. As their cities grew more water was needed. Being a relatively large culture, Romans perfected the aqueducts to sufficiently supply their many citizens in their many cities. Even though their other cities were sufficiently supplied, they stilled experienced shortages from time to time, all of their cities except for Rome itself. “The city of Rome had many aqueducts and was the only ancient city reasonably supplied with water. The first person in charge of the Roman waterworks was Marcus Agrippa, who was appointed water commissioner in 33 B.C. By A.D. 97, nine aqueducts brought about 85 million gallons (322 million liters) of water a day from mountain springs. Later, five additional aqueducts were built. About 200 cities in the Roman colonies had aqueducts. One famous Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, still stands across a river near Nimes, France.” (Bix. 2013. Para. 3) Some of these aqueducts still stand today, even though most cultures use an advanced tunnel and sewage system to run water. Speaking of sewage systems, Romans came up with the first one of those as well.

The Cloaca Maxima is an amazing idea that Romans came up with to remove waste and run-off water from the city. “The Cloaca Maxima ("greatest sewer") is one of the oldest monuments of Rome. It was built as a canal through the Forum Romanum in the sixth century BCE and its construction is generally attributed to king Tarquinius Priscus. In the second century BCE, the canal was covered, so it became an underground sewer. There were extensive repairs during the reign of the emperor Augustus, executed by his right-hand man Agrippa (33 BCE). It is often stated that the Cloaca Maxima is still in use; this is not untrue, but the whole truth is that only a trickle of water flows through the age-old sewer.” (Lendering. 2008. Para. 1) So, not only did Romans come up with the idea of efficiently bringing water into the city, but leading water and waste out of the city. Without this wonderful invention where do you think that we would be today? Toilets probably would not be what they are today because they would have no need to flush, as they would have nothing to flush into. We would most likely be emptying chamber pots into the streets still. Basically, without the inventions of yesteryears, would we have the things that we have today?

Early technological advancements have paved the way for today’s creations and inventions. Romans, Chinese, Egyptians and Arabians have all contributed to some of today’s inventions that make our everyday life easier. Where would we be without their ancient inventions? Would we be able to communicate efficiently? Would there be books or public records? How would we get from place to place smoothly, quickly and safely? It is time to look at the facts, without the ideas and inventions from ancient people, we would be living much more uncomfortably then most of us live today.


Cloaca Maxima






Bix, A. (2013). Aqueduct. In Academic World Book. Retrieved from:

Davis, R. L. (2013). Silk Road. In Academic World Book. Retrieved from:

Hallett, R. W. (2013). Arabic language. In Academic World Book. Retrieved from:
Lendering, J. (2008). Cloaca Maxima. Retrived from:

Lesko, L. H. (2013). Cuneiform. In Academic World Book. Retrieved from:

Lesko, L. H. (2013). Hieroglyphics. In Academic World Book. Retrieved from:

Mahdavi, F. (2013). World History: The Human Experience to 1500. Retrieved from:

Neumann, J. M. (2013). Greek language. In Academic World Book. Retrieved from

Roman roads. (2013). In Academic World Book. Retrieved from:

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