Image by Clarisse Meyer

Archeology History

039 Engineering Ancient Rome 


High school students are interested in learning about history and architecture. This is also an excellent course to prepare for college writing and the kinds of literary analyses performed in college classrooms.  


Why did ancient Rome invest so heavily in big building projects? From monumental structures and urban layouts to artificial watercourses and terraformed landscapes, the Roman Empire created any pre-modern state's most extensive engineering program. We see this most clearly in its many ruined (and some standing) marble and concrete monuments. But archaeology also preserves traces of proportional design systems, material innovations, and water management practices that provide new insights into engineering and the Roman world that produced them. This workshop introduces students to core theories and technologies employed by Roman engineers and their impact on ancient society from the emperor and elites who commissioned them to the workers who built them and the citizens and peasants who lived with them. We will focus mainly on the golden age of Roman building (approximately 30 BCE – 220 CE). By examining the processes of design, engineering, and construction, we can understand the logistics behind impressive achievements like the Pantheon, Colosseum, or Pont du Gard. At the same time, we can explore the vital role of such projects as political, economic, and social tools in building an empire.


【Sample research topics】

  • Temple: employ the principles of proportion and optical refinements to design, organize labor, and model a monument fit for a particular Roman divinity  

  • Groma: experiment to determine the limits of precision and accuracy of Roman surveyors using a reconstruction of their fundamental tool

  • Aqueduct siphon: put into practice Roman knowledge of how to create water pressure and maximize the efficiency of supply systems

  • Ballista/catapult: recreate the calibrated machine that supported Rome's expansion, examining its technology alongside broader design and proportional systems