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Lack of technological progress in late Roman Empire
#46
Hello,


I am looking for a specific passage in De Rebus Bellicus where the Anonymus proposes a paddle wheel ship with 6 paddle wheels powered by oxen. Unfortunately, there still exists no English online translation of the text. Perhaps someone is so kind as to search for the relevant passage in his archive and post it here. I really would appreciate it.
Stefan (Literary references to the discussed topics are always appreciated.)
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#47
Petronius described how: 'a flexible glass was invented, but the workshop of the inventor was completely destroyed by the Emperor Tiberius for fear that copper, silver and gold would lose value'.

Suetonius described how: 'An engineer devised a new machine which could haul large pillars at little expense. However the Emperor Vespasian rejected the invention and asked "who will take care of my poor?".'

It seems that the Romans had become so uncommercial that their rulers rejected increases in productivity. In such a world, advances in science were never going to be translated into technology. Interestingly, we can see that the government funding of ancient science was, in both economic and technological terms, a complete waste of money because the economy lacked the mechanism to exploit it.
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#48
Quote:It seems that the Romans had become so uncommercial that their rulers rejected increases in productivity.
Sounds more Soviet than the USSR Confusedhock:
TARBICvS/Jim Bowers
A A A DESEDO DESEDO!
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#49
Romans know too the tehodolithe
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#50
Peroni

Unfortunately the episodes in question don’t really suggest a Roman lack of interest in technology. Whatever his merits as an historian; M. I. Finnley should have had his knuckles rapped with a copy of the “Ancient Economyâ€
Paul Klos

\'One day when I fly with my hands -
up down the sky,
like a bird\'
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#51
Oh, oh, I have just finished reading an article on the medieval use of water power which deals a s-e-r-i-o-u-s blow to the notion of a medieval 'industrialization' through extensive use watermills. I do not know how much the article by Adam Lucas has been reveiced, but it looks like that medievalists in future will have to cover their own backs, instead of making bold assumptions about the Roman technological level. The author really did a major survey of the complete 20th century findings on medieval mills and categorized them according to type, date of first appeerance and location.

The article is:

Lucas, Adam Robert "Industrial Milling in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds: A Survey of the Evidence for an Industrial Revolution in Medieval Europe"
Technology and Culture - Volume 46, Number 1, January 2005, pp. 1-30

For anyone interested, let me know, I have a pdf.

Just his major points in brief:

1. The medieval mill technology was not particularly inventive. In fact, the major inventions had already been done by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Chinese.

2. Mills were not as widespread as some medievalists have suggested. In fact, today only exist evidence for 400 industrials mills concerning a time span of 700 years and one whole fourth of the cited mills in the literature have actually no documentary. The vast majority of medieval mills have been according to Lucas conventional grinding mills.

3. Mill technology in Europe was not nearly as widespread as medievalists talking about a European industrialization like to think of. In fact, over 80% of all European medieval mills are found in England, France and Italy.

4. Mill technology in England was not that developed as raw numbers may indicate. In fact, England is just the best researched area, nevertheless all major mill innovations came from France.

Excerpts:



Quote:If we look more generally at a list of the technological achievements of the Hellenic Greeks and Romans, it is far longer and more impressive than some scholars have suggested. These achievements include: the chain of pots and the compartmented waterwheel for raising water; the doughkneading machine; the olive-crushing mill; the vertical- and horizontalwheeled
water mills; new olive presses; the reaping machine; horizontal looms; the barrow; riverboats; a range of wheeled vehicles; more effective hoists; better aqueducts, with water towers and lead pipes; hydraulic pumps; the use of brick and concrete in construction; a considerable variety of war machines; and the mass production of tiles, molded pottery,and bread

All of this evidence suggests that, rather than being an autochthonous irruption in medieval Europe from the ninth or tenth century onward, industrial milling had clear precedents in earlier civilizations. The fact that there were such precedents makes claims for medieval European exceptionalism look increasingly implausible. While a systematic review of the existing research and a thorough examination of the extant manuscript sources remain to be done, it seems increasingly likely that it was through Islamic Spain and the Byzantine Empire that a number of Roman, Islamic, and possibly Chinese innovations in industrial milling technology were conveyed to Western Europe from the tenth or eleventh century onward, providing a foundation for the train of developments that characterized the application of waterpower to industry in the European Middle Ages.30

For the whole of Europe between circa 770 and 1600, no more than four hundred industrial mills cited by proponents of the industrial revolution thesis could be authenticated.31 As these four hundred examples spread over a period of more than eight hundred years and more than dozen countries, the data clearly do not constitute a very large or representative sample. Furthermore, over 80 percent of the four hundred mills from French and English sources. If one includes the German and Italian kingdoms, 94 percent of the evidence comes from these four regions.While this is not necessarily a problem, for reasons that will be outlined shortly, none of the scholars who have tried to demonstrate that a pan-European technological revolution was taking place in the Middle Ages has ever noted
the biases in their data.32

Although it is historians of technology who have been the main advocates
for the medieval industrial revolution thesis, over 70 percent of documented examples of industrial mills cited by them have been drawn from the research of three social and economic historians.33 Only a little more than one hundred of the nearly four hundred mills were identified historians of technology, and of these the vast majority (90 percent) were identified by a single author, Bradford Blaine (table 1). This was surprising in view of the rhetorical importance attached to this thesis in the history
technology literature.

The medieval mills included in the table (over 1500 mills) were applied to almost thirty different processes, although, as with the smaller sample compiled by proponents of the revolution thesis, the majority of them (about 60 percent) are fulling mills.

By far the most abundant types of industrial mill in the sample for medieval Europe are fulling mills and forge mills, which account for 80 percent of the sample (table 3), with tanning mills, sawmills, and toolsharpening mills contributing another 12 percent of the total.38

Langdon found that only fifty-five of the 1,647 powered mills identified, or less than 3.5 percent, were industrial mills, and all were fulling mills.49

My own exhaustive analysis of the manuscript sources pertaining to more than thirty medieval English religious houses tends to support the findings of Langdon’s West Midlands study. On six English Benedictine estates between the late thirteenth and mid-fourteenth centuries, 10 percent of the mills were industrial mills.52 On five English Cistercian estates, more than 14 percent of the total number of mills were industrial.53 On the other hand, ten Augustinian houses recorded no industrial mills before 1348. It thus seems clear that while the Benedictines and Cistercians may not have been as keen on applying water mills to industrial uses as historians of technology have tended to claim, they were undoubtedly more involved in industrial milling than most of their religious brethren, and certainly more so than lay lords, at least up until the early fourteenth century

With respect to the earliest reliably documented industrial mills of various types (table 2) and the regions in which they were located (table 4): the earliest documented malt mill in medieval Europe dates to the second half of the eighth century in France, the earliest fulling mill to the middle of the
eleventh century in France,43 the tanning mill to early-twelfth-century France, the (waterpowered) hemp mill and the tool-sharpening mill to early-thirteenth-century France, the forge mill to the early thirteenth century in France, England, and Sweden,44 and the sawmill to the beginning of the fourteenth century in France.45 Other processes, such as cutting and slitting metal and minting coins, also appear to have been first adapted to waterpower by the French.46 The earliest evidence of blast furnaces similarly comes from France.47

I am no expert, but this looks seriously like a major reevaluation in the field of medieval water power. Now I am anxious to hear the opinions of our medievalists. What to make of this new survey?
Stefan (Literary references to the discussed topics are always appreciated.)
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#52
Quote:Oh, oh, I have just finished reading an article on the medieval use of water power which deals a s-e-r-i-o-u-s blow to the notion of a medieval 'industrialization' through extensive use watermills. I do not know how much the article by Adam Lucas has been reveiced, but it looks like that medievalists in future will have to cover their own backs, instead of making bold assumptions about the Roman technological level. The author really did a major survey of the complete 20th century findings on medieval mills and categorized them according to type, date of first appeerance and location.

The article is:

Lucas, Adam Robert "Industrial Milling in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds: A Survey of the Evidence for an Industrial Revolution in Medieval Europe"
Technology and Culture - Volume 46, Number 1, January 2005, pp. 1-30

For anyone interested, let me know, I have a pdf.

Just his major points in brief:

1. The medieval mill technology was not particularly inventive. In fact, the major inventions had already been done by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Chinese.

2. Mills were not as widespread as some medievalists have suggested. In fact, today only exist evidence for 400 industrials mills concerning a time span of 700 years and one whole fourth of the cited mills in the literature have actually no documentary. The vast majority of medieval mills have been according to Lucas conventional grinding mills.

3. Mill technology in Europe was not nearly as widespread as medievalists talking about a European industrialization like to think of. In fact, over 80% of all European medieval mills are found in England, France and Italy.

4. Mill technology in England was not that developed as raw numbers may indicate. In fact, England is just the best researched area, nevertheless all major mill innovations came from France.

I have to admit to not being terribly surprised. The medieval 'industrial revolution' has been overhyped to a ridiculous extent lately, just like Islamic medieval medicine was in the 80s or Inka agriculture in the 90s. THat kind of treatment does it no good at all. We have to remember that initially, nobody was talking about an 'industrial revolution'. The impressive thing (and it is impressive) is medieval 'machine culture'. Academics (or Dioscovery Channel sriptwriters) building up expectations of a water-driven 12th century proto-Manchester are just inviting disappointmet.

Regarding the details:

- I don't recall eer reading the claiom that industrial mills were a widespread phenomenon prior to the 15th century. So I'm not really surprised to hear they were not.

- Milling technmology is not something that *can* be particularly inventive once it exists. Again, I'm not sure anyone was talking about an invention boom. It is nearly impossible to find out when and where anything was, in fact, invented prior to 1700, so such statements need tzo be taken with a grain of salt anyway.

- Grain milling was the one thing that mills were universally needed for. Everything else was a localised application. Not really surpriosing - today, I would think far more than 80% of our internal combustion engines are used for propulsion. It just makes sense.

- Italy, France and England are also by far the best-researched countries in terms of technological archeology, so - no surprise?

I don't think this is a huge blow to received wisdom, though it is certainly a welcome dose of reality and hopefully will receive wide dissemination before more silly books make the bestseller lists.
Der Kessel ist voll Bärks!

Volker Bach
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#53
One thing that seems to accompany the lack of technological innovation in the 'dark ages' is the issue of depopulation. The books I'm reading say that Europe in the dark ages were little single family farms interspersed in vast tracks of wilderness. What happened to the horde's of Gauls? Is there evidence of population decline in the old Roman cities as well? I wonder if there was some terrible plague that nobody lived to write about, because it really seems that a simple lack of central authority wouldn't cause what I think I'm seeing. Empty unused land in abundance. How can that be?
Rich Marinaccio
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#54
I very much agree with Volker's comments about the article cited by eleatic guest. Most medieval historical writing about any subject tends to concentrate on the happenings in England, France, Italy, and Germany, and the Low Countries, unless the subject is very specifically geographic (i.e. Iberia, Ireland, Scandinavia, Hungary). The author wrote in English, so it is not surprising his analysis of the English language sources is detailed. I would suspect his command of Spanish or Magyar language sources (for example) might not be so good. (nota bene he refers to the Italian "kingdom" ??) The list of inventions is impressive, but it is the culture of their use that makes the social differences, not the intellectual credit for their invention.

In regards to population, cities did not sustain large populations until modern times - cities absorbed rural population. The relatively unhealthful urban conditions did not make for large breeding excesses of people; instead cities grew (to a considerable degree) by attracting people from the hinterland. Rural depopulation can be driven by economics, without massive plagues. The American Great Plains states are being depopulated, purely for economic reasons as the small farmers go under, the eastern seaboard used to be densely sprinkled with small towns and farms, but the farms disappeared over a century ago and large swaths of second growth forest can be seen in New England; and such a thing seems to have happened in Roman Italy as slave-powered latifundia spread across the countryside. Of course, the Empire did see centuries of warring armies roaming the countryside, either barbarians or competing would-be emperors - and armies are great spreaders of disease and economic wastage.
Felix Wang
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#55
Quote:Lucas, Adam Robert "Industrial Milling in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds: A Survey of the Evidence for an Industrial Revolution in Medieval Europe"
Technology and Culture - Volume 46, Number 1, January 2005, pp. 1-30

For anyone interested, let me know, I have a pdf.

Just his major points in brief:

1. The medieval mill technology was not particularly inventive. In fact, the major inventions had already been done by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Chinese.

2. Mills were not as widespread as some medievalists have suggested. In fact, today only exist evidence for 400 industrials mills concerning a time span of 700 years and one whole fourth of the cited mills in the literature have actually no documentary. The vast majority of medieval mills have been according to Lucas conventional grinding mills.

3. Mill technology in Europe was not nearly as widespread as medievalists talking about a European industrialization like to think of. In fact, over 80% of all European medieval mills are found in England, France and Italy.

4. Mill technology in England was not that developed as raw numbers may indicate. In fact, England is just the best researched area, nevertheless all major mill innovations came from France.

Interesting. The very article (and current book - Wind, Water, Work: Ancient And Medieval Milling Technology (Technology and Change in History) - ISBN 9004146490) by Lucas was what discouraged me the most in recent years in the studies of comparisons between medieval and ancient waterpower, despite about the current well of interesting articles and research on water power in antiquity, and especially what I view as not the overhyping of medieval hydropower but the underhyping of ancient hydropower. Lucas' argument is very problematic for several reasons.

The first main point has been well known for years, and is not related to his main theory. Few big developments had appeared for millenia in the hydropower field since the first overshot wheels appeared - the issue was primarily the widespreadness of hydropower, and some minor practical developments like the crank. It is rather odd to disparage someone for adapting a practical mechanism rather than inventing it themselves, when the subject is the use, rather than the appearance of, the mechanism - much like the writers of "Black Athena" attempted to argue that greek civilization "stole" technology from the perceived black african egypt they wrote about, as if it was possible to actually remove technology from another culture by starting to use it yourself. Also, as Bach notes, few real claims of a really big growth in industrial uses of waterpower pre-15th century (although most studies tend to connect the rise of it with the groundwork of the commerical "revolution"(a tired word Big Grin ) of the 13-14th centuries) have been made - so partly, we are looking at a strawman argument.

Lucas' way of treating number of documented "industrial" wheels in medieval europe is highly contrived. For example, he decides that fulling mills are not examples of medieval industry - despite the fact that the first documented fulling mills appear in the 10th century and that the textile industry always was the most widespread and important industry in medieval and modern times - and the first to gain from the benefits of the real industrial revolution. He also has a serious problem of an apparent lack of access to articles treating the german, scandinavian, eastern european and spanish medieval "industrial" waterpower phenomenon - not including several important and well-documented areas in his survey - most especially those (excepting parts of spain) that went from a tribal cultural area to a developed quasi-urbanized area during the middle ages, as opposed to the areas where romano-greek civilization and urbanization was established during roman times. His attempt to thoroughly study the waterpower phenomenon in medieval europe, and to sort the solidly documented "industrial" sites from the possible sites, is laudable, but his methodology is questionable and far from complete (something he partially admits himself).

He then does something I regard as the most serious flaw in his article (and book) - he compares the medieval world (excepting again, for some reason, the contemporary muslim and greek-orthodox sources from the latin western ones, as if they did not exist at the same time in the same region) to the ancient world, after having made his perhaps too heavily censured study on the medieval period, without applying the same kind of filter to the ancient sources. This is extremely problematic and a severe methodological flaw - in his comparison, he includes every archaeological and historical (even from poetry and similar sources) record he can get his hands on from the ancient world (including recent enthusiastic but still completely circumstantial articles on roman-era tidal mills and metallurgically related waterpower - it is not that it may not have existed, it is just that under the standards Lucas himself applies to his medieval material, they would have not even been considered for inclusion), without questioning their authenticity the same way he questions the medieval examples. This more or less makes his comparison meaningless, or at least set up in such a way as to make his conclusions irrelevant.

This is really sad, as the last few years of studies on ancient waterpower and technology in general have been highly interesting and illuminating. I eagerly await a book on the subject where the author includes a broader geographical region and a more meaningful comparison than Lucas has produced. I fear, however, that far more groundwork - especially in the middle east and north africa on medieval muslim/orthodox christian hydropower, and especially the byzantine terriories, plus a less enthusiastic and more thorough study on chinese technology and its diffusion westwards (and back) than Needham produced, is necessary before something like that can be produced. Also, if comparative studies in english on medieval society is going to have any real meaning in the future, the overconcentration on anglo-french and italian sources for medieval archaeology we've been suffering under for...well, forever, is going to have to be broken soon - as Volker and Felix also notes. This applies as much to archaeology and history in general as to technological history - some areas are more "popular" than others in ancient archaeology as well - just look at the vast amount of biblical archaeology going on.
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#56
Quote:It is rather odd to disparage someone for adapting a practical mechanism rather than inventing it themselves, when the subject is the use, rather than the appearance of the mechanism.


Agreed. The question is the scale of application, not the invention of water-milling processes, although I still feel that the inventors, that is the ancient Greeks, deserve special credit for that.


Quote:Lucas' way of treating number of documented "industrial" wheels in medieval europe is highly contrived. For example, he decides that fulling mills are not examples of medieval industry - despite the fact that the first documented fulling mills appear in the 10th century and that the textile industry always was the most widespread and important industry in medieval and modern times - and the first to gain from the benefits of the real industrial revolution.

I can't follow you here. Lucas specifically includes fulling mills into his count of medieval industrial mills, otherwise it would have been hardly enough material for a survey, because (quote from p.15) by far the most abundant types of industrial mill in the sample for medieval Europe are fulling mills and forge mills, which account for 80 percent of the sample (table 3), with tanning mills, sawmills, and toolsharpening mills contributing another 12 percent of the total.


Quote: He also has a serious problem of an apparent lack of access to articles treating the german, scandinavian, eastern european and spanish medieval "industrial" waterpower phenomenon


He certainly has, although I suspect that, while the overall number of medieval European water-mills will certainly rise significantly then, the proportion of industrial mills to agricultural mills may remain similar or could even decline, given the fact that the most advanced regions with presumbly the most industrial mills have already been fairly well researched.

If you have any sources in Spanish or German on watermills, please let me know, I would like to look into the matter further.

Quote:This is extremely problematic and a severe methodological flaw - in his comparison, he includes every archaeological and historical (even from poetry and similar sources) record he can get his hands on from the ancient world (including recent enthusiastic but still completely circumstantial articles on roman-era tidal mills and metallurgically related waterpower - it is not that it may not have existed, it is just that under the standards Lucas himself applies to his medieval material, they would have not even been considered for inclusion), without questioning their authenticity the same way he questions the medieval examples.


Did he do that in the book? In his article, he refrained from any attempts at quantifying ancient water mills and restricted himself on pointing out the inventiveness of the ancient world in water power technology.
Stefan (Literary references to the discussed topics are always appreciated.)
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#57
I have two question relating to M. Finley: Technical Innovation and Progress in the Ancient World. One thing is sure, he disses the economy of the Romans and Greeks and their 'rentier' mindset with the same passion and zeal a Reaganist would diss the Soviet system.

The first concers his definition of productivity:

Quote:Why did neither the Ptolemies nor the Sicilian tyrants nor the Roman emperors systematically (or even spasmodically) turn their engineers to the search for higher productivity, at least in those sectors of the economy which produced the royal revenues? Whatever the answer, it was not lack of capital (or lack of authority). Funds, manpower and technical skills were made available (and wasted) in vast and ever increasing amounts for roads, public buildings, water supply, drainage and other amenities, but not for production.

Now why does Finley think that measures to improve infrastructure are intrinsically less productive than measures to improve agriculture? Does he follow here a conventional economic wisdom, which I may have missed, or what?

My second question relates to his assertion that the level of the ancient banking system and of professional organization was so rudimentary that private capital could not have found its way to the promotion and utililization of technological innovations:

Quote:Wherever one turns in industry and commerce, the picture is the same and always negative: one of failure to take steps to overcome the limits of individual cash resources. There were no proper credit instruments - no negotiable paper, no book clearance, no credit payments. The desperate search of the 'modernizers' among economic historians of antiquity for something which they can hold up with pride against, say, fifteenth-century Toulouse or Lubeck, is sufficient proof. Barring some odd and dubious text here or there, the best they can produce is the giro system for corn payments in Hellenistic Egypt. There was money-lending in plenty, but it was concentrated on small usurious loans to peasants or consumers, and in large borrowings to enable men to meet the political or other conventional expenditures of the upper classes. Only the bottomry loan was in any sense productive, and it was invariably restricted in amount and usurious in rate, as much an insurance measure spreading the high risks of seaborne traffic as a proper credit instrument. Similarly in the field of business organization: there were no long-term partnerships or corporations, no brokers or agents, no guilds - again with the occasional and unimportant exception. In short, both the organizational and the operational devices were lacking for the mobilization of private capital resources.

Is he still correct here after another 40 years of research? Certainly, there was no ancient David Ricardo, but was the banking sector and business organization really that unsophisticated?
Stefan (Literary references to the discussed topics are always appreciated.)
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#58
Quote:I can't follow you here. Lucas specifically includes fulling mills into his count of medieval industrial mills, otherwise it would have been hardly enough material for a survey, because (quote from p.15) by far the most abundant types of industrial mill in the sample for medieval Europe are fulling mills and forge mills, which account for 80 percent of the sample (table 3), with tanning mills, sawmills, and toolsharpening mills contributing another 12 percent of the total.

Perhaps I put that a bit wrong. I was referring to the idea that there is a problem at all with putting fulling mills into the survey, which he implies when presenting the survey data with reservations for fulling mills.

Quote:
He certainly has, although I suspect that, while the overall number of medieval European water-mills will certainly rise significantly then, the [i]proportion of industrial mills to agricultural mills may remain similar or could even decline, given the fact that the most advanced regions with presumbly the most industrial mills have already been fairly well researched.


Since the spanish and german territories were considerably more advanced than the british isles (note, for example, the extreme lateness of the english adoption of the blast furnace), there is all good reason to suspect the opposite. We'll have to wait and see.

Quote:If you have any sources in Spanish or German on watermills, please let me know, I would like to look into the matter further.

There is an extensive bibliography in "Working with water in medieval Europe" (Technology and Change in history series). No scandinavian and little spanish material, but a good start.

Quote:
Did he do that in the book? In his article, he refrained from any attempts at quantifying ancient water mills and restricted himself on pointing out the inventiveness of the ancient world in water power technology.

There is definitely some sort of comparison going on in the article, although not directly empirically - he doesn't limit himself to remarking on the existence of them, but continually uses phrases (for roman era industrial milling) such as "widespread use", "widely used" and so on, even though the evidence on the ground is rather thin (if it is not entirely circumstantial). In the book, he doesn't make any direct comparisons either (that would be academic suicide) but still starts with an a priori assessment of a wide use of industrial water power in the ancient world that we still lack evidence for. This is a bit odd in itself - he needs something to compare with, or it would be a bit difficult to make any assessments on the widespreadness of industrial waterpower in the middle ages overall, but why he chooses antiquety rather than the far better documented early modern period is beyond me.
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#59
Quote:IIs he still correct here after another 40 years of research? Certainly, there was no ancient David Ricardo, but was the banking sector and business organization really that unsophisticated?

The main problem here is a lack of sources, I think. There is simply no, or too little, evidence for a roman civilian banking system or economic organization (a common problem in ancient history overall). Considering how decentralized civilian government in imperial times was, it doesn't lack precedent, of course, but that doesn't really prove anything.
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#60
Generally speaking....

I think I see a correlation between large, stable Empires and technological stagnation or slow-down. Look at China - the Roman Empire that never fell - and observe that no or few inventions have come from there out of the last 500 years. There's also the Turkish Empire - which was always buying Western military technology up until its destruction in the twentieth century.

When Roman authority collapsed in Western Europe I believe the dynamics created an environment that stimulated the need for new inventions. It took a while for the "ball" to get rolling but I see a constant rate of increase in the amount of technological innovations from the "fall" of Rome until the present day.

Quote:So the collapse of the Empire was, in many ways, a stimulus to innovation, rather than a retardant.

Exactly, I agree with Tim.

Quote:It seems that the Romans had become so uncommercial that their rulers rejected increases in productivity. In such a world, advances in science were never going to be translated into technology.

I agree, that's really the heart of it, Peroni. The Roman Empire was very socialistic in many ways and hindered innovation - as Tarbicus quite correctly observed, IMO.




Theo
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