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May 21, 2024 7 mins

We think the world just keeps evolving. But what happens when a civilization like Rome collapses and all that technology disappears? 

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
You know what I'm talking about. There's like this attitude
that the world will just keep progressing technological and social
developments will keep evolving. But think again. Two thousand years ago,
ancient Rome had central heat, thousands of miles of paved roads,
clean safe running water, and toilets hooked up to effective sewers.

(00:21):
Five hundred years later, it had all vanished, not to
return for over a thousand years. I'm Patty Steele. What
happens when the world stops advancing? That's next on the backstory.
The backstory is back. Most of us take for granted

(00:41):
that things like central heat, a postal service, clean, clear,
safe running water, as well as toilets hooked up to
sewers that keep our towns in city water supply fresh
are always going to be there. Now, imagine living in
ancient Rome two thousand years ago and having all those
things as well. What central heat sewer systems in ancient Rome. Yeah,

(01:04):
and it went beyond that. You live in a busy
Roman city. You're walking on a well paved street, past
towering aqueducts and grand temples. You decide to drop by
the local forum, which is the heart of public life.
It's a market place where people get together to shop, socialize, gossip,

(01:24):
and keep in touch with the news of the day.
There are even public libraries and places that are sort
of like modern day shopping centers, like Trajan's Market, often
called the oldest shopping mall in the world in Rome,
with stores, offices and a vibrant market place. Roman roads
were all over the empire, stretching more than two hundred

(01:45):
and fifty thousand miles. They were meticulously built, paved with
stone and with ditches on either side to channel water away.
The Via Appia was one of the most famous, connecting
Rome to southern Italy, and it's still in use today.
One of Rome's most amazing inventions, it's aqueducts. So it's

(02:05):
a hot summer day in ancient Rome and you're thirsty.
You go to the public fountain, You turn the spout
and outflows crystal clear water from more than fifty miles
away out of the city. How did he get there? Aqueducts,
these impressive structures, many of them still standing, were designed
to bring water into the cities and towns so everybody

(02:26):
had access to fresh water. Researchers say they were able
to bring in twice as much water per person as
most modern American cities supply for residents today. All that
clean water allowed the population to grow exponentially because they
didn't get sick from bad water. But where did all
those people do their business? Well, Romans weren't exactly shy.

(02:49):
They used public toilets with lots of seats lined up,
sitting right next to one another. They had hike up
their togas, sit down and have a chat. Underneath all
those seats was running water that carried everything away. Another
amazing invention they had with central heating. Hot water would
be channeled through passageways under thick plates of stone flooring,

(03:13):
warming homes during winter months. Radiant heating two thousand years ago. Yeah,
they had it. And if you really wanted to scrub
down and get social at the same time, you headed
to the thermi or Roman baths. They were social hubs with
hot and cold baths, saunas, exercise areas, even libraries. Some

(03:35):
of them could handle up to sixteen hundred bathers at
a time. Then there's Roman architecture, Oh, spectacularly beautiful, and
much of it two thousand years later is still standing,
at least in some way. It involved feats of engineering
that to this day are hard to duplicate. There's the Colisseum,
a massive amphitheater which could hold up to eighty thousand spectators,

(04:00):
and grand temples like the Pantheon with its onspiring dome
that had no central support and is the world's largest
unreinforced concrete dome still there today. So here's the question,
what the heck happened after the fall of Rome in

(04:21):
four ten AD. Did their incredible innovations just disappear? Well
for a thousand years. The Dark Ages and Medieval times
not only saw lack of technological and scientific progress for
all sorts of reasons. A lot of the advancements in
plumbing and other inventions from earlier civilizations were basically lost

(04:43):
or forgotten. It was back to nasty, basic outdoor plumbing,
which was dirty and inefficient, and that led to major
plagues and virus outbreaks. There were reasons for the loss
of all that knowledge and innovation. First, there was the
loss of the Life Library in Alexandria, Egypt. In forty
eight BC. Julius Caesar accidentally burned it and suddenly all

(05:07):
the written knowledge of medicine, engineering, science, geography, history, and
the arts was gone. Then the collapse of the Roman
Empire a few centuries later, along with attacks by barbarian tribes,
led to a huge decline in engineering capabilities in Europe,
and the focus on religion with the Catholic Church dominating

(05:29):
society meant scientific and technological pursuits were viewed with suspicion
and even hostility. The Church believed that knowledge distracted from
your quest for spiritual enlightenment, so massive libraries full of
scrolls were burned to the ground. Experts now say that
ninety percent of Greek and Roman knowledge was lost forever

(05:52):
during the Dark Ages. In simple terms, that meant no
central heat, no running water or toilets, no clean water,
lots of disease, no great architecture. People went back to
living in huts. So you got to ask yourself, can
that decline in knowledge and tech happen again? Where would
that leave us? It's pretty clear that ancient Romans in

(06:16):
their heyday never suspected their way of life would soon
disappear for a thousand years or more, and that begs
the question what's ahead for us? Hope you're enjoying the

(06:36):
backstory with Patty Steele as much as I enjoyed putting
it together. Please subscribe, and if you have a story
that you'd like me to look into and share, just
dm me on Facebook at Patty Steele or on Instagram
at Real Patty Steele. I'm Patty Steele. The Backstories a
production of iHeartMedia, Premiere Networks, the Elvis Duran Group, and

(06:58):
Steel Trap Productions. Our producer is Doug Fraser. Our writer
Jake Kushner. We have new episodes every Tuesday and Friday.
Feel free to reach out to me with comments and
even story suggestions on Instagram at Real Patty Steele and
on Facebook at Patty Steele. Thanks for listening to the
back Story with Patty Steele, the pieces of history you

(07:19):
didn't know you needed to know.
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