Thursday, August 09, 2007


While traveling during the past week, I reread much of a book that, many years ago, sparked a personal interest in the history of knowledge. An interesting fact I'd forgotten is Heron's Aeolipile (Wikipedia).

Invented by Heron (aka "Hero") around 60 A.D., it's generally credited as being the first recorded steam engine. Boiling water in the lower chamber resulted in steam expelled through jets perpendicular to the sphere's axis of rotation.

Sadly, the device was regarded as merely an object of amusement. This was centuries before the collapse of the Roman Empire. The conception of steam power wasn't a great leap, but in the hundreds of years following, the leap was never made.

Given the Roman capacity for massive engineering projects, it's mind-numbing to think what the Romans might have done with steam power and how radically such a technological innovation could have changed the course of human history.

It would have enabled the Romans, for example, to more effectively deal with the management of problems that were difficult for them to handle given the vastness of the empire--problems such as famines, for example.

Had the empire never fell, European might have remained a unified nation of Latin speaking citizens.


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