Technology During Biblical Times: Construction

Often we hear that the Bible was written by dumb shepherds. I know when I think about the people of the Bible, I think about people in desolate towns with nothing but sand, and they’re wearing robes. In reality, Biblical times had more advance technology than we give them credit for. This first installment, we are going to look at construction. Were they just hanging out in tents?

Construction

Aqueducts

The Romans built aqueducts throughout their empire to carry water into towns or cities to fill their bath houses, mills, farms, and gardens. Their first aqueduct was built in 312 BC and by the 3rd century AD they had eleven of them that was supporting a population of over a million people.

By using gravity, these structures would carry water many miles, but using a slight decline from the water source to the destination. Most of their aqueducts were flat bottom arches that were buried around a meter below the surface. Along the way they would have access points every so often. The aqueducts could be tapped, but usually fed into collection areas where the public could get water.

Aqueducts allowed for cities not to have to be near a water source such as a river, ocean, or lake. They allowed for farmland to be irrigated, mills to power their water wheels, and supply water for the general use by they people. By the 3rd century AD, over 300 million gallons of water was being supplied a day (for comparison New York City uses 3 times that today). That’s more water supplied than some cities of 10 million today.

Roads

Roman roads were considered some of the best roads until the early 1900’s. They built around 53,000 miles of roads.  There best roads were constructed of multi layers of different size of rock, with a layer of cement. Then they would place large flat stones as the top layer. Many of these roads would then have a sidewalk raised up along the sides, so water would channel through the street.

The point of the roads were primarily for military reasons. The better the roads, the faster you could move troops and equipment. Also, the better your roads the less wear and tear on your equipment and people. These roads could also be used for commerce. Not all of the Roman roads were built to these standards. They had many roads that are equivalent to our dirt and gravel roads. The quality of the roads are exemplified by the fact that they have held up for nearly 2500 years.

What these roads did was help the empire grow. As a nation/empire grow, you need to be able to get materials (food and supplies), information and military personnel to the exterior of your empire quickly. Just like today, good roads allow you to travel faster. We’re able to travel faster on interstate highways compared to gravel roads.

Buildings

The Romans had central heating, called hypocausts. This is wear a building produces and circulates hot air underneath the floor and pushes that heat up through pipes in the walls. Most of the time, hypocausts were limited to public buildings and not to personal homes. The cost was quite hefty. Romans were using these around 10 BC. After some excavations, it has been found that hypocausts or a version of them, were being used in Korea and Pakistan a 1000 years earlier.

The Proserpina Dam which was built between the 1st and 2nd century AD is still in use today. Romans started building dams around 30 BC, mostly to control flooding, soil retention, irrigation, and river diversion. Opus caementicium, or Roman concrete aided in making their dams so impermeable.

Opus caementicium was used from the early beginnings of the Roman Empire to the end of it.  Roman concrete was durable due to the use of volcanic ash, which kept it from having cracks spread.  By mid-100 AD the material was used extensively.  The concrete revolution allowed for even more complicated buildings to be constructed, such as the Pantheon dome.  The Pantheon dome is the largest and also the oldest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.

Roman waste management has been admired for its innovation.  Waste from the latrines went through a central channel that then went into a main sewage system.  The first sewers were built around 750 BC.  Sewers started out as a way to drain marshes and to direct storm runoff.  Latrines basically had a wooden bench where holes were cut out, the bench sat over a ditch that had water running through it.  Many houses had water tanks, where water was delivered through the aqueducts.  Romans had running water.  Not quite like we do today, but still, running water.  Some were supposed to go into pots and then go to public latrines to dump their pots, that didn’t always happen.

There was a lot of innovativeness in Roman engineering.  Roman builders were the first to realize how to stabilize dams and the thrust of water by using arches and buttresses in the dam designs.  Dams were built for irrigation, to control flooding, route rivers, and create reservoirs for cities to have water.

Just to give an idea of what was built during the Biblical times, here are some dates of some famous architecture:

  • Colosseum was completed in 80 AD (Roman)
  • Verona Arena was built in 30 AD (Roman)
  • Parthenon completed in 438 BC (Greek)
  • Temple of Hephaestus completed in 415 BC (Greek)
  • Pyramids 2670-664 BC (Egypitans)

City Setup

Rome’s population is estimated to have reached up to 1 million people. Several other cities could have reached up to 200,000 people. Most of their cities were 5-15 thousand in population. To give a comparison, only 10 United States cities are larger in size today than what Rome was.

When Rome would create new cities, they would use the same general setup. Streets were set up on a grid like system. Through the center of the city you had the two widest roads, one heading east and west, then the other going north and south. Public buildings would then be in the center of the city. On the outside of the city, were city walls to protect from invasions.

There were two types of housing in Rome, insulae which are where the poor and middle class lived. These were like apartments. The rich lived in private housing.

Remains

Romans were well known for their engineering and construction. Some of their structures are still standing today, after several thousands of years. The pyramids of Egypt, as well as the ones from the Mayans and Incas. Granted, most of these structures are being preserved to keep them around, but still the techniques they used, have made those buildings out last many we build today. Until recently, there hasn’t been a good guess how the pyramids were actually constructed. People want to say that these people were just shepherds, but really these people were great engineers. There were populated cities, that rival ours today in size. I discussed Roman construction, because Jerusalem was part of the Roman Empire. Where there nomadic tribes around the Roman Empire . . . yes. However, we need to remember that during Jesus’s time, there was some great engineering that had occurred.

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