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Last night, I reviewed another video, Discovery Channel’s Seven Wonders of Ancient Roman. I also found it difficult to get to the primary literature so they are mostly Internet reference, sorry guys but time run out.
The impact of the Roman Empire on the environment and implication for conservation was even larger than I had previously thought based on this video other Internet references.


In this video they reported a staggering 288 000 km of roads were constructed in just 200 years. This would provide for more trade and a faster ability to respond to any local insurrections. The Roman roads were as straight as possibly - since this allowed for maximum speed and was the easiest to survey prior to road construction. Consequently hills and valleys were cut into or forded using their engineering expertise. Many of these roads still exist and are in regular use, such was their durability of construction. Essentially with their road network the Romans created the first "Global Village". Consequently routes for invasive plants would have also been opened up.
Culinary issues
The Romans were also adventurous in many walks of life including cooking (an Italian tradition?) so they used a huge variety of items to flavour and season their food. This meant both importing and growing of exotic plants for the kitchen, and they were notable gardeners with some 200 plant species being introduced to Britain, including cherries, plums, mulberries, vines, leeks, garlic, parsley, turnips, asparagus, cabbages and apples for consumption and ornamental flowers like lilies and that most English of the plants, the rose
Good infrastructure, lots of trade in exotic and luxury products is a good way to spread species and risk unwanted species invasions with a loss to local biodiversity.
Rome’s Water Supply


Ancient Roman was a big city (even by modern standards with 4,937,000 inhabitants in 14 AD) One of the most important requirements for a big city was a secure and safe water supply and the Romans built 11 immense aqueducts (with a total of 416 km in length) to get the water from the catchments to the city Wikipedia contributors. Aqueduct [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Aug 16, 10:42 UTC [cited 2006 Aug 22]. Available from:

Just one of these delivered 180 million liters a day (Discovery Channel’s Seven Wonders of Ancient Roman). The water was tested by evaporating and an analysis of any sediment left and was undertaken by the city water authorities. In such a city water was used in huge quantities since it had more than1 000 public baths.
No other civilization was as lavish with its use and abuse of water, especially the large quantities of fuel required to heat the water for their baths. While water quality was important, I have found no indication that any conservation efforts were considered. The massive translocation (inter-basin transfers) would definitely have impacted on the aquatic biodiversity and threatened any riverine specie endemics.
Health Centre
The infamous Emperor Caracalla built a public bath/hydro complex covering approximately 13 hectares requiring 9 million liters of heated water. The underground passages stored 2000 tons of wood used to heat the water. This complex had its own water supply, and for its construction employed 16 000 men (4500 bricklayers and 1800 decorators) and utilized 100 000 scaffolding poles and was completed within 4 years. Some of the heated pools were 35m long, and the central non-heated bath was 55.7 by 24 meter and could accommodate 1600 people. There were saunas, masseurs and retail outlets and library in the complex Wikipedia contributors. Baths of Caracalla [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Aug 22, 00:06 UTC [cited 2006 Aug 22]. Available from:
The raw materials that needed to be excavated for this construction would have been immense. While the Greeks and Egyptians also excavated rocks and marble/granites, the overall number of building was still small compared to the Roman Empire. Mesopotamians would have had the most eco-friendly building since they used sun-dried clay bricks for their monumental constructions, but sadly such eco-friendliness compromised their durability and for future generations to admire it. The fuel the Romans used would have been either wood requiring the cutting down of most of the local woodlands and mined coal. Their energy needs to support this lifestyle would have been immense and probably exceed most modern countries on a per capita consumption.

Waste Disposal

Rome also had its own sewage system (Cloaca Maxima), but this required that the local marshes were drained to carry the waste into the Tiber river. Since water supplied by the aqueducts could not be shut off, it ran through public and private property alike and into the drains, although taps existed they were not commonly used. Pollution/eutrophication would have been a major consideration for the Tiber river and adjacent coastline, and I would not have swum in the sea at that time!
Show Business

Rome having such a large population, required control and the Emperors used the provision of free entertainment for this and to stimulate business which in turn generated more income. The Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Coliseum was built with the express purpose of entertainment on an even grander scale than any previous civilization, it was a staggering stadium of 16 stories (50 meters) that accommodated up to 80 000 spectators (more conservative estimates put it at 50 000) . To the Romans this was Hollywood on an even bigger scale, for its opening the floor was flooded to create a lake to re-enact a victories Roman sea battle (naumachia), such productions were lavish affairs. Unlike today, if the show had hitches, the scenery designers and stage technicians could have found themselves as the next attraction for audience by being the next meal for the hungry Lions (Emperor Claudius did exactly that). The construction required 300 tons of iron just to re-enforcement the masonry and brick. For the stonework 100,000m3 of travertine was use. This was a microcosm of a clearly demarcated society, with the Emperor and the Senators occupying the first rows (podium and closest to the action), noblemen the rows above (maenianum primum), then wealthy citizens, soldiers, general public and slaves (maenianum secundum) organized into three layers –( immum, summum and maenianum secundum in legneis ) and topmost section being made from wood and provided standing room for women spectators (equal gender rights was unheard of in Roman society). An awning (velarium) covered the spectators and was so large (covered 2/3s of the arena or 110 000 m2) that 1000 sailors were stationed in Rome to erect it for events. It was designed for efficiency in stage production and audience management and with it 80 entrances (76 for the people) it could be filled within 15 minutes and evacuated within 5 minutes! Its oval shape, high banked seating arrangement and two floors of underground storage (in this case for animal holding pens and removal of dead bodies) is a blueprint for the design of arenas and “super bowls” to this day, and yet it was constructed in a little over 5 years! On opening the Emperor Titus had 100 days of slaughtering animals (9000 large animals were slaughtered for this celebration), as well as executions and gladiator battles – it was killer entertainment on an industrial scale. The wild animals (lions, tigers, elephants, bears, crocodiles) were sacrificed at a rate that brought some to the brink of extinction and in human cost it is estimated that 700 000 people died during its operational life. Although large the Coliseum was no match for Cicus Maximus the largest stadium ever built and could accommodate 350 000 people and the main attraction was the Chariot Races with ten times the number of spectators that a modern Formula One race attracts.

Since the largest of all Rome’s buildings were for leisure and pleasure (assuming you were not either a slave or prisoner). The purpose of these were both egotistical (top better than your predecessor) and a means to control and manage the public. The entertainment and facilities appeared to be free (even access to Caracalla’s fabulous Health Spa complex), and this hides their real purpose to control the population and to keep their minds on this rather than to examine any human rights issues. The pleasure the public got out of such shows was possibly also designed to de-sensitize the public to brutality so it will not question state brutality and rise up against the state. Essentially the Emperors were buying their public support and the worse the emperor the more they used this tactic on the population. Caracalla was with Caligula as bad as you get in human right issues
One of the secretes to the incredible building operations of the Roman emperor was their invention of concrete, the Romans had lots of different types of concrete mixes, re-enforced concrete with iron locking pins, water-proof concrete, concrete that sets underwater and a super-light concrete mix for domed ceilings like the Pantheon. Concrete was the basis of almost everything, and then brick, marble, granite, travertine, and ceramic mosaics was used to face the concrete, in the case of the Pantheon 5000 tons of concrete of different types was mixed for its construction. In this way lavish building were built for an opulent lifestyle if you were fortunate enough to be a wealthy Roman citizen. They were the first in the world to build the “Shopping Mall” Wikipedia contributors. Trajan's Market [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Aug 20, 08:34 UTC [cited 2006 Aug 22]. Available from:

., it was arranged on five levels in an arrangement of semi circles and with 150 shops all open fronted with wide passage under high vaulted arches, it also had two halls for entertainment and concerts - its total floor area is as big as Cape Town’s largest center today. The construction was excavated out of the hillside to height of 40m and designed by the well known (at that time) architect Apollodorus of Damascus. While concrete was used extensively, bricks were made to size specific dimensions and cranes with pulleys were used extensively to hoist the material up while erecting. The entrance was polished travertine with an immense arch. The upper portions were offices, while the lower sections were shops with different levels have different types of shops, e.g. grocery shops on one level, wine oil, seeds and nuts on another level and there were taverns and “fast food” outlets. The market also had clothing and jewelry dealers, it all sound so familiar, but where were the ATMs to be found?

Despite all of the construction and engineering that the Romans undertook, their economy was still based on agriculture and husbandry which employed 35% and 5% of the labour force respectively and this translates into some 10 million farmers. Cereal production was significantly more important than other produce such as olives and vines, which wer about equally important. Roman agricultural productivity was not bettered until the 18th century. Nevertheless to keep such a large number of farmers on the land would have required an enormous amount of land transformation.
How big was their Ecological Footprint?
I simply cannot think how much natural resources and biodiversity was lost in the building the Roman Empire, but in terms of its Ecological Footprint it was the USA of the ancient civilizations. When it comes to the spread of invasive species, the Romans would have exceeded any other ancient civilization. Their trading, manufacturing and construction make them the only industrial giant of the ancient world and that would have been at an enormous environmental cost. One can admire such a large empire that for almost 800 years was administered without any major wars, and as a superpower it had and maintained such a cosmopolitan lifestyle that you did ot need be a citizen of Rome to become its Emperor (they came from Gaul, Spain, Greece etc, rather like Popes do today). It was civilization modern in mind and body, but its heart and soul still lusted for unbridled cruelty that has exceeded anything before or since.








Wikipedia contributors. Colosseum [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 Aug 22, 00:03 UTC [cited 2006 Aug 22]. Available from:

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