It also allowed so much of what was Rome to survive the erosion of the ages so that we can still gain an excellent idea of what it was like.
Roman construction techniques were so advanced as to act as inspiration during the Renaissance. The dome of the Pantheon was the largest dome in the known world for over a thousand years until the Renaissance and under certain aspects was only surpassed during the 20th century in Paris. The Renaissance architects who were to build competing structures came to Rome in order to study and learn the techniques of the ancients. In this manner, the Florentine architect Brunelleschi came to Rome for a number of years. He studied and learned the secrets of a number of Roman structures such as the dome of the Pantheon and the vaults of the Basilica of Maxentius. The manner of construction and trussing of the vault of the Pantheon is still under discussion to this day.
Achievement of such a high level of precision on such a monumental scale clearly required the appropriate instrumentation. So when we consider the grandiosity of Roman construction we should not forget the role of the theory, technique and measurement instrumentation they were capable of developing in order to achieve the final results. Specialist “surveyors” formed part of any such engineering project.
These instruments were generally constructed out of wood and metal. Plumb lines (weighted strings) were used to set perfect vertical alignment. From here perfect horizontals could be obtained and from there any infinity of angles and sections. Metal graduated disks with sights mounted on a stand allowed angles to be measured rather like a sextant is used to measure the elevation of the sun above the horizon.
The Romans had a profound knowledge of their building materials and of how to best employ them in order to maximise their natural characteristics. Coupling this knowledge with their experience in statics allowed them to contain the thickness and weight of walls and ceilings without impairing their solidity and durability. In so doing they managed to achieve walls, vaults, arches and domes of impressive dimensions.
Two of the most important fields of Roman construction were the Roman roads and Roman aqueducts. Both of these infrastructures were vastly expensive to build but their importance to the progress of Roman civilisation is unquestionable. Understanding something of what lies behind them allows us to understand some of the genius behind the construction techniques which permitted them to build more complex structures such as the Pantheon, Colosseum, Basilicas and Baths.