This year’s debate has been inspired by the Life of Brian’s question: What have the Romans ever done for us? And the answer they supply mostly relates to infrastructure, the topic which I’m discussing ... in support of Greece.
I’m mostly a Roman historian, so why?
Because when it comes to infrastructure, the only thing the Romans have done is provided an example of complete disregard for intellectual property and bullying. They inform us that yes, you can conquer anything through plagiarism and destruction! Ask yourself, do you want this example?
We live in a digital world and we know how terrible these things are. Hell if the Romans were around today their digital footprint would be equal parts internet troll, Buzzfeed content and Islamic State’s You Tube videos.
The internet is the perfect lens through which to view this matter. I imagine most of you are familiar with the online argument that Thomas Edison was a great bullying “douchebag” to quote the Oatmeal, who ripped off everyone else’s ideas. The Romans were the Thomas Edison of the ancient world with the Greeks playing the role of Nikola Tesla, with an Etruscan support act.
Now consider Monty Python’s list: Medicine, public health, and education in the Roman world were all Greek. Need a doctor – he was Greek. Want higher education – you travel to Athens or Alexandria, or if you are that nonconformist Tiberius, you go to Rhodes to avoid the ancient version of the paparazzi and learn, – in Greek.
Consider the water related elements: the technology for which was based principally on the arch – an Etruscan, not Roman, invention.
In addition to arches, an aqueduct required it builders to be able to complete complicated mathematics to work out gradients so the water would run downhill over long distances. And we don’t see any mathematical treatises written in Latin. Why, because the brainiacs who worked this stuff out were Greek. Look at any Maths textbook: how often are the fancy formulae featuring the Greek alphabet? Personally I'm still traumatised by the sigma in high school statistics.
Sure, we are mostly Arts students here, but once again, the Romans were reliant on the Greeks! Hell, Roman soldiers were so stupid they killed Archimedes at Syracuse despite being expressly told not to. Why were they told to keep him alive? So they could rip off his intellectual property!
Seriously, the Romans had no original ideas. Put Roman culture through TurnItIn and they’d be thrown out of uni for plagiarism. If it were a song, every other Mediterranean culture would have a better case than the Marvin Gaye estate had against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams.
Romans couldn’t even plan a city without the assistance of the Greeks. I love it when you go to a town and you can figure out where you are going because everything is laid out in a grid pattern. You don’t get lost and you can get to places easily. Who created this system? The Greeks. Without the Greeks providing this excellent example, you have cities laid out like annoying Delphin housing estates like Forest Lake and North Lakes that are a rabbit warren which make no logical sense – much like the Subura – the oldest part of Rome. Sure the Romans finally got the idea that it was safer to use a grid city layout, but we know where they got it from.
Romans keep getting credit for everyone else’s work because they have no original ideas. They have no original ideas because they are better at destroying other people’s infrastructure than originally creating it.
Hell, they enjoyed destruction so much that in 146 BC they decided to flatten, not one, but two foreign cities – Carthage and the ancient Greek city of Corinth. And unlike Islamic State, they didn’t have the assistance of a bulldozer. But then, what do you truly expect from a people who responded to a simple fight for freedom by crucifying six thousand (6000) individuals along the Appian Way. Seriously, if the Romans had a You Tube channel only the wardrobe would distinguish it from that of IS.
Now I’ve finally mentioned the elephant in the room – a Roman road; that wonderful achievement which allowed the scourge of Roman intellectual property theft and IS inspiring acts to spread. However, how ingenious was this network really?
According to a study in the 2015 Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, the network is on a par with those created by Plasmodium polycephalum, a single celled amoeba more commonly known as slime mould.
So please, give a hand to the Romans: the Islamic State inspiring, single celled Thomas Edison slime of the ancient world, and consider what was truly theirs to give us.