THE ROMAN EMPIRE
The advances of Hellenistic science, particularly during the third century B.C., had laid a basis for further development that brought ancient water technology to unprecedented heights. Towards the end of the first century B.C., it had already reached its acme in most fields (cf. Oleson p. 217).
Mastering the practical use of technology also involved detailed knowledge of materials. Different kinds of wood were utilized where most efficient, more expensive materials such as bronze and terracotta could be replaced with wood, and so on (Oleson pp. 283–5, 296–7). In northern Europe, wells were lined with planks or old wine-barrels (Hodge pp. 30–1), and timber aqueducts played an important part for urban water-supply.1 The most serious weakness in this respect was the limited supply of iron. Only with the new processing techniques of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were the necessary conditions created for a general exploitation of iron.
While water technology in the Roman Empire appears so much more comprehensive than that of the Hellenistic period, this is the result of a quantitative rather than a qualitative change. Hydrotechnological infringements on nature became more numerous, but also more detrimental and demanding greater effort. Aristotle's idea of a contrast between technology, on the one hand, and nature, on the other, was accepted by many. To all appearances, most Romans received technological progress with enthusiasm, but there are critical voices to be heard, too—particularly in the poems of Horace (65–8 B.C.), who was active precisely at the time when the expansion of the city of Rome reached its climax and wealthy Romans constructed villas, larger and more luxurious than ever, in its surroundings.
More than anything, Horace criticized the intense building activities. The bragging upper classes did not even hesitate to “extend
1 Wilson 1996, 21–3.