Why did so much technology that was common in the Roman Empire did not make it into the medieval age?


Examples like aquaducts, sewage, advanced architecture, etcetera

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16 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

A lot of those things require large scale planning and resources. Western Europe kind of imploded into a bunch of relatively smaller nations, which were unable to support such projects. They were still built in the Eastern Roman Empire in the middle ages, so they weren’t really lost.

Anonymous 0 Comments

What you’re talking about isn’t technological ability as much as economic power.

The Roman economy functioned by concentrating wealth from vast agricultural areas into a handful of highly centralized cities. Living in a rural part of the Roman Empire was not a particularly fun thing to do – the vast majority of people in those areas were serfs that lived a lifestyle that was similar to what we would refer to today as a slave.

The fact that the Romans were able to divert so much economic productivity from the rural areas of the Empire into the cities was what allowed them to construct massive public works. The technology to create those works wasn’t lost following the Roman collapse. Rather, what happened was that the economic machinery necessary to fund those projects disappeared.

One of the things that Christianity brought to the Empire was a basic concept of human rights – having the vast majority of the population enslaved into abject poverty began to be viewed as a moral wrong. While the lifestyle of a medieval serf certainly wasn’t one of wild excess, it was *significantly* better than the lifestyle they would have had under the Roman Empire.

What enabled medieval serfs to live that better lifestyle was that they were able to retain more of the wealth that they produced. Following the fall of the Empire, rural areas became wealthier while urban wealth plummeted. As a result, the people living in cities couldn’t afford to fund the same types of massive publics works projects that they had during Imperial times.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Many of the peoples of the Roman Empire were illiterate (certainly this was the case for a lot of Anglo-Saxon Britain). Thus when the Romans left, a lot of what happened was lost (hence being known as the Dark Ages). Britain is possibly also something of an outlier as it was so far from Rome that a lot of the advancements wouldn’t have made it there.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Resources to make complex technologies or items may come from widely separated areas.
The knowledge to maintain or create advanced items may require what we’d consider extensive secondary education.
Building monumental architecture also requires many years of stability in an area with an abundance of resources even if a culture has the know-how.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s nothing to do with technology. It has a LOT to do with conquering other cultures and not integrating themselves with those cultures, or vice versa… Essentially it was their way or no way.

Compare that to the vikings, which had a different attitude, letting people to continue worshiping their own gods etc…and you see why the viking’s legacy is more widespread in places like the UK etc.

There are many more factors, but this is a huge factor in their demise.

Anonymous 0 Comments

large scale civil works funded by a centralized governing body usually don’t mesh well with what are practically regional warlords who want to keep as much wealth in their and their underlings control.

Anonymous 0 Comments

One explanation I saw once was how we’re very non-descriptive when writing stuff down and that things change to affect our preconceptions.

Take food for an example. A cake recipe requires eggs. We, today, know that “eggs” mean chicken eggs, but imagine 1000 years in the future, chicken eggs may not be that common anymore. Maybe the common egg is quail. Our recipes just say “eggs” so if someone from this future finds the recipe, tries to make it, and sees “add 3 eggs”, they’re probably going to assume quail eggs, not chicken eggs. And they won’t know where they went wrong when it doesn’t turn out properly.

Roman Concrete was a victim of this. We knew it required water. We kept trying to use fresh water over and over to no avail. That’s because what the Romans meant by “water” was actually seawater. In modern times we assume “water” as fresh water; the opposite was true during the Roman era.

This may have, over time, cause certain technologies to get lost because preconceptions change, and our lack of detail would firce people to use THEIR preconceptions, slowly making certain technologies no longer work.

Anonymous 0 Comments


Anonymous 0 Comments

Part of it was the Romans could utilize their armies to build roads, aquaducts, etc. Part of it was that large cities collapsed. Part of it was the motivation of the elites changed ($ went to building cathedrals instead of theaters for instance). Other comments address other factors.

Anonymous 0 Comments

When you live in a city you need large building projects like aqueducts to supply enough water to the people. You need larger buildings like basilicas and amphitheaters for very large groups of people. You need sewage to remove the waste large groups can produce.

When you live in little rural villages and manors, these things aren’t necessary. You settle near fresh water, you make latrines, you need the manor hall and the church to accommodate the small local population.

But medieval people also developed new technologies the Romans didn’t have, like windmills, ploughing for harder soil, yokes for ox and horses. Spurs so knights could fight on horseback, and flying buttresses so stone walls could be both tall and light enough to have massive windows.

Edit: stirrups! I should have typed stirrups not spurs. Very silly mistake on my part.