Are there any attested texts where a Roman comments on some new technology? The modern world sees a constant flux of them, but technological advancement was slower in antiquity and I do not recall ever seeing a mention in Roman literature about new tools or ways to process materials. The arrival of the iron age in Italy is prehistoric, but there must have been some advances — or perhaps observations of technologies of other cultures.

If there are several such mentions, what would you consider most significant, regarding either literary value or the impact of the technology itself?

Note that I am not looking for descriptions of technology (as one might find in Vitruvius, I imagine), but reactions to new technologies. This could be like praising how the new tablet makes it so easy to speak with relatives or complaining that the youth no longer appreciate good old stone tools.

  • Are you also interested in Greek sources? Plato had quite a lot to say about this newfangled "writing" thing.
    – Draconis
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 17:56
  • @Draconis I prefer to keep this question about Romans. It'd be nice to have a Greek counterpart to this question, though. If you write up a question and an answer (which is encouraged anyway on the site), I'll be happy to vote both up. (That said, I'm sure people won't mind an answer with an interesting find in Greek instead of Latin.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 18:14

1 Answer 1


The Roman aqueduct is considered one of the greatest inventions of the ancient world. Commenting on this technology, Cicero had the following to say:

Adde ductus aquarum, derivationes fluminum, agrorum irrigationes, moles oppositas fluctibus, portus manu factos, quae unde sine hominum opere habere possemus? Ex quibus multisque aliis perspicuum est, qui fructus quaeque utilitates ex rebus iis,quae sint inanimae,percipiantur,eas nosnullo modo sine hominum manu atque opera capere potuisse. (De Officiis 2.14)


Think of the aqueducts, canals, irrigation works, breakwaters, artificial harbours; how should we have these without the work of man? From these and many other illustrations it is obvious that we could not in any way, without the work of man's hands, have received the profits and the benefits accruing from inanimate things.

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