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The Language of the Roman Empire (historytoday.com)
186 points by diodorus 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 114 comments

You can tell "rufus" is a loan because it contains medial -f-, and native Latin words don't contain medial -f-, except after prefixes. The only Latin sources for /f/ are Proto-Indo-European bh dh *gʷh in initial position; elsewhere, they generally become /b d v/, in a process that probably paralleled the rhotacism.

This sound change wasn't shared by Oscan, Umbrian, or Faliscan -- compare Faliscan "carefo" to Latin "carebo", and Oscan "mefiaí" to Latin "mediae".

Weiss's book is full of this kind of stuff. Actually, the whole point of the book is to list. Apparently there will be a new edition this year.

Michael Weiss, Outline of the Historical and Comparative Grammar of Latin. Beech Stave Pr Inc (December 31, 2009).


Your comment is amazing. I am from Umbria, by the way (Assisi), and I felt a bit special when you mentioned this (I know it's silly, but it worked).

You seem to know a lot about language and Latin in particular.

I studied Latin in school, and I am still a curious reader. Would you have online resources, or books, to recommend for someone like me who'd like to stay up to date with recent research?

It’s incredible to realize how foundational the Roman Empire was to what we now commonly consider Western civilization.

Rome certainly was a highly advanced society in its time, but what a shame to think that because of vast abundance of slaves the Roman society never pushed further with technological innovations, effectively preventing the human race from having mobile phones by the year 1000, if not earlier.

Some argue that with less slaves an industrial revolution might have triggered much earlier, and Roman society was certainly ingenious enough to push the boundaries if there ever was a need to do so.

Slavery overlaps with the Industrial Revolution by at least 100 years, and even longer in the colonies, such as India and Kenya. The resources needed for industrialism were dug up by slaves. It is tough to make the case that slavery impeded industrialism, when there are many cases where slavery seems to have helped industrialism. I think its best to look elsewhere for the roots of industrialism. Descartes and Newton helped form certain intellectual foundations, and the willingness of English peasants to fight and die for their religious beliefs lead to the end of the witch burning and heresy trials. That's important because a few years later Jethro Tull and Charles Townshend begin the Agricultural Revolution. Jethro Tull was 26 years old when he started working on his machines, in 1701. He was not necessarily smarter than all previous farmers, but he belonged to the first generation in history that had a guarantee that they could violate tradition and they would not be burned at the stake for it.

Location, geography, the availability of coal, lower water tables (a big deal in mining), climate, availability of harbours... the reasons behind the north industrializing before the south are far more complex than slavery.

Imho I think the use of coal for heat allowed colder climates to get going faster than those area where heat wasn't as needed. Shorter growing seasons may also have meant more available manpower. Scotland before England. New York before Mississippi. Europe before Africa.

>The resources needed for industrialism were dug up by slaves.

Not true, Britain had no slaves and it industrialized just fine. You have to feed,house and clothe slaves while "Free" people cost you nothing at all except the cost of labor. Room and board is a greater cost than just an hourly rate. Slavery inhibits industrialization, not enables it.

The term wage-slave doesn't appear to be in your lexicon. Child labor, too. Never mind slavery was officially abolished only half a century after the industrial evolution had started, which didn't even count for e.g. India. Never mind they owned India. I am sure the Irish will have a thing or two to say about the matter, anyway.

> It is tough to make the case that slavery impeded industrialism

Compare the free states of the Union vs the slave states of the Confederacy. The free states rapidly industrialized from 1800-1860, the slave states did not and pretty much did not advance economically at all.

If you read about the economics of this period you'll find that, as with most of history, the reality isn't this simple. A lot of Southern capital went into financing Northern industry, for example. It's difficult to neatly divide the nation's economy in this way as if they were two separate spheres, as much they as they may have want to think of themselves that way.

Not one southern city industrialized.

Investors tend to invest in things they know about and can keep an eye on, which tends to be local. Investment capital uniformly fleeing the slave states to the free ones suggests that investing in slave states was a bad investment.

In those days, different states were like different countries today.

> Not one southern city industrialized.

There's also the climate of the South to consider — until the invention of air-conditioning, factory work in the South would have been at a significant disadvantage. Malaria, too, was an issue within living memory.

People don't realise nowadays how very inhospitable warm climates can be.

And yet millions of people lived and worked there. Agricultural work is backbreaking.

The South didn't even have a shoe factory.

Really, how productive can a workforce be that can't read, that have to be forced to do anything, that will not contribute any improvements, that have to be guarded at all times, that will sabotage the work if they can get away with it, etc.?

How productive would you be if you were a slave?

Slavery is a terrible economic system when compared with free labor. It isn't remotely a surprise that free economies economically bury slave economies.

Right. Likewise with India and Kenya and a hundred other examples. It is the slavery in the colonies that allows the center to industrialize. The colonies send resources to the center. The center exports its goods to the colonies. The center also exports the unemployment it might otherwise face from rapidly increasing productivity. India was one of the wealthiest civilizations on Earth for thousands of years, but it is still recovering from what happened in the 1700s, when England industrialized and forced products into India at gunpoint.

Britain had no competition at the time. Slavery cannot compete with free labor.

> but it is still recovering from

I.e. slavery did not benefit the Indian economy, nor the Kenyan economy, etc. Neither industrialized.

The US economy did industrialize (except for the slave states), and did not rely on slave labor from other countries, either, and it grew to economic dominance.

I know there's a theory that the northern economy depended on the southern slave economy, but when it was cut off from the southern economy in 1860, it prospered while the slave economy crashed.

> I know there's a theory that the northern economy depended on the southern slave economy, but when it was cut off from the southern economy in 1860, it prospered while the slave economy crashed.

The Confederacy crashed economically because they tried to pull a 19th century equivalent of the Arab Oil Embargo, cutting off their main export crop in the hopes of compelling Europe to intervene. The Confederacy suffered from what we'd call in modern times the resource curse--ironically, one enabled entirely by industrialization.

"slavery did not benefit the Indian economy, nor the Kenyan economy, etc."

Right, obviously. The reason why Britain invaded is because they wanted India and Kenya to work for Britain. Slavery benefited Britain.

Industrialism had lot of preconditions that had to be in place. The late 18th century europe was much more complex and developed place than the roman empire ever was in several ways.

1. Science (had been picking up steam for a few centuries)

2. Capital (wealth from the colonies had been piling up for centuries as well)

3. Public demand for goods (you're not just selling to the prince, you are selling to everyone).

4. Several countries with legal systems and professional courts that upheld the law and facilitated binding legal agreements.

5. Political system that did not overrule the courts just because the king needed a bit more money

After these preconditions were in place, I think one of the triggers in the industrialized age was the expanding market demand for goods. If the demand is low, there is very little incentive to move beyond human artisanal labour (ahem, artisanal mining, ahem).

The largest factor was simply population size largely from gradual improvements in farming.

Global population in year zero was estimated at 200-300 million. That jumpted to 700-800 million in 1700 and 900M to 1 billion in 1800.

Sure the city of Rome hit 1 million people early, but that took an empire to sustain. At the start of the industrial revolution several cities where about that large.

PS: The Roman Empire covered a lot of land, but it's population was somwere between modern day South Korea and Germany. And all that distance dramatically slowed down communication.

6. Development of more productive and less labour intensive agricultural methods which increased population and released labour to other endevours.


Thanks for the reminder!

Most of Rome's engineering achievements were not performed using slave labour though. They were largely executed by the army. Slaves worked in plantations and mines, but tended to die out after a generation because slaves having babies and raising children were unproductive, so the slave economy relied on a constant influx of new slaves from conquests. Once the Empire largely stabilised it's borders, the supply lines ran dry and the population of slaves dwindled away.

The idea of a Dark Ages is largely a north-western European one because we got largely cut off from Rome for a few centuries. In Italy and France, and especially in the Byzantine Empire there was no Dark Age. Technological progress didn't stop and slavery was no longer a major sociological or economic factor.

There was a Byzantine Dark Age in the 7th and 8th Centuries where perfume lived under the rubble of previous cities hiding from Arabic and other invaders. The Roman aqueducts went into disrepair and people went back to drinking from wells. There was a major population collapse. They did make some cool devices though like clocks and mechanical lions, as well as Greek fire. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2016/06/the-byzant...

I wasn't aware of that, thanks!

Oh, we had the Dark Ages in Italy too: roads became unsafe and eventually disappeared; there were constant wars, which resulted in people literally running for the hills, building towns in places that were easy to fortify rather than easy to reach (as it had happened in peaceful Roman times), which collapsed the economy even further; and aqueducts fell into disrepair (triggering epidemics). The population dropped, especially in locations hard to defend - Rome itself crumbled into ruins; aristocratic culture became predominantly martial, and artisanal classes shrunk dramatically because of the economic collapse. Manuscripts were burnt or locked up in monasteries, as the Church claimed exclusive rights to all cultural activity.

This only improved when the Mediterranean coastal cities managed to build up enough military strength to ensure a reasonable degree of safety over pirate-infested sea routes, "rebooting" the economic landscape. Their contacts with the now-consolidated Islamic states eventually resulted in the "rediscovery" of classical knowledge, that Islamic scholars had preserved (and built upon) in superior ways.

It's true that there was some technological progress even during the Middle Ages, but it was largely limited to immediately-practical purposes: agriculture and war.

Rome's population shrank from ~1 million to ~35 000: http://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/rome-populatio...

"slavery was no longer a major sociological or economic factor."

Slavery was still an important economic factor in the early middle ages ("Dark ages").

"By ...(741–752), Venice had established a thriving slave trade, buying in Italy, and selling to the Moors in Northern Africa. .. Caravans of slaves traveled from Eastern Europe, through Alpine passes in Austria, to reach Venice."


The Venetians in this were just traders, slavery was a business not a part of the society. Most of the unskilled labour was done by peasants who's rights were different across Europe. From being slaves in all but name (not allowed to leave the land, and the land could be bought and sold), through having to work, but otherwise having a decent amount of freedom, to owning a small plot of land.

Venetians, and especially the Genoese had large slave populations at the time. This source quotes up to 10% of the population being slaves around 1400:


Yeah, especially the Genoese. They dominated the Black Sea slave market all throughout the 1300s and the early 1400s, they used to buy them from the Mongols, on the Black Sea Northern shores, and ferry them (so to speak) down South to Pera (across the Golden Horn from Constantinople) where they were selling them.

Thanks! I'll take a look.

Very interesting idea. But I am not sure the Roman's could have skipped 1,000 of slow technological progress.

I would say we might have reached mobile phones a little earlier if the Mongels had not laid waste to a lot of the world's population, specifically the very scientifically advanced Islamic world. But even then, how much could we have skipped?

The Roman's would probably never have had any desire to explore the sea leading to the invention of the naval chronometer, and all the important advances that brought about (edit: towards the end they could barely manage the land empire they had, and they were not seafarers)

Islamic civilization was never very curious about the outside world other than militarily. There is a famous story about Galileo's telescopes being sent as a gift to a Muslim ruler to observe the planets. They didn't see any point in this but were excited about being able to use them to spot and attack other ships.

Islamic culture did preserve some of the old Greek scholarship, but real science didn't get started until after their Golden age was past.

There were excellent scholars in the early Islamic culture (700 - 1000) before the religious dogmatists started dominating the intellectual sphere.




We who've read our history form western sources just aren't generally aware of them because we usually write the names of the most famous ones in latin form (e.g. Avicenna).

Was it in Islamic or, was it in Middle-Eastern culture? What particularly about Islam, or the particular individuals faith/religious practice made their science a part of religious development?

It's fascinating to see the interplay of science from different geographies - that Al-Kindi started by learning and translating Greek science and then that we primarily know him through others translation of his works to Latin. Al-Kwarizmi is a well known name in the West from the same Persian scientific community (I think he was perhaps head of the House of Wisdom whilst Al-Kindi was there).

It is referred to as Islamic science because:

a) Scientists came from a wide variety of backgrounds, but were usually of Muslim faith. For example, the term "Middle East" would not be accurate since many scholars were Persian and West Asian.

b) Scholars were typically funded by patrons who were associated with the Muslim empire/caliphate.

c) To a lesser extent, many of the prominent scholars first learned Islamic science and philosophy -- typically at a young age -- before delving into the natural sciences.

It's interesting we don't [in the UK nor in English language sources online] refer to the likes of Kepler as being part of Christian science, despite the characters often being trained priests in one denomination or another [Copernicus, say, was a doctor of canon law], often being funded by Church patrons. There's an interesting divergence in the perceptions; I'm interested in whether that's a modern issue or if it represents something inherent in the mode of the science being performed?

Wikipedia mentions scientists who were historically - and are elsewhere - known for their Christian faith, priests and such but without mentioning that they were Christian believers but with scientists who were living in Islamic countries [I don't know the history to know if they, for example were Imams or wrote religious treatise] they're flagged as Muslims. Copernicus/Kepler/Brahe [I didn't check further] aren't claimed to be Christian, Al-Kindi is claimed in the first sentence as a Muslim amongst Muslim scholars, in a Muslim World, etc..

Any input on historic differences, IYO, that lead to these different characterisations?

Interesting question! My guess is that a part of the difference was actually doctrinal - Christianity is largely a religion for revolutionary times, more concerned with overturning a corrupt order than administering a just one. I believe that despite many of the reformers of the enlightenment coming out of the church system, they were described as revolutionaries against the monarchic system and the church that supported it because that is the sort of person idealized by the Christian religion and embodied by its founder.

Islam on the other hand is not a religion concerned with changing the existing order - its founder was not a martyred revolutionary but a successful political entity. Where Christianity advocates separation of church and state, Islam sets forward a system for religious governance.

Therefore, while both Christian and Islamic scholars generally got their education in their respective religious traditions, I think Christian scholars were seen as breaking with the past in part because that kind of behavior is celebrated in Christianity, while Islamic scholars were seen as being involved in their political processes because that is celebrated in Islam.

> Christianity is largely a religion for revolutionary times, more concerned with overturning a corrupt order than administering a just one. I believe that despite many of the reformers of the enlightenment coming out of the church system, they were described as revolutionaries against the monarchic system and the church that supported it because that is the sort of person idealized by the Christian religion and embodied by its founder.

This is a hugely low-church protestant viewpoint. That 'monarchic system' you refer to was indeed intended to be the administration of the 'just order' which was founded by the 'revolutionary figure' of Jesus. Just because the protestants viewed the western Christian regime as corrupt, doesn't mean it wasn't at least philosophically aligned with such a viewpoint (see also "Holy Roman Empire", etc.). And although the reformers are happy to paint those adhering to this regieme as non-christian, it doesn't mean they actually were not so (either in reality or philosopically, according to ones analysis)

> Islam on the other hand is not a religion concerned with changing the existing order

Isn't a major tenet of islam restoring the people of god from the apostasy of the jews and of christians, etc?

> Where Christianity advocates separation of church and state,

Again, hugely post-enlightenment protestant viewpoint. Non-protestant Christianity, not just in the west under the roman pontiff (again, holy roman empire), but everywhere that it was not dominated by the islamic conquest viewed church and state as two distinct entities administering to the two different aspects of a single society (spiritual and temporal) in concert (see also 'holy russia', etc).

I think you're unfairly circumscribing the OP's viewpoint since many Catholics also view Christianity as overthrowing an old order (the headship of Adam, the violence of Rome, the rites of blood sacrifice). I don't think contemporary Catholics support the practices Luther rebelled against such as selling indulgences either.

> Where Christianity advocates separation of church and state,

Christianity, as a body, does not do this. Christianity, until very recently, has usually—whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant—either been or sought to be established, and even in places where separation of church and state is established principle of civil law large bbodiesof Christianity often fairly overtly rejects that separation except to the extent it is being applied to protect their community from the dictate of a government inclined towards other preferences.

But even when a Christian church is the official church of the State, they are still distinct entities, as opposed to the Islamic model.

> But even when a Christian church is the official church of the State, they are still distinct entities, as opposed to the Islamic model.

Sometimes, sometimes not. Clearly not the case in late imperial Russia, or in the Papal States, or in much of pre-Gregorian western Christianity where local bishops were effectively appointed by and subordinate to local lay rulers, etc.

I understand, but even when a bishop is appointed by a secular ruler (or vice versa), it's still a separate religious office. Taxation and jurisprudence are mundane matters, even if the same cabal is running both sides. "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Islam doesn't distinguish between mundane rules and spiritual rules; it's all part of "Sharia".

"Christianity is largely a religion for revolutionary times, more concerned with overturning a corrupt order than administering a just one"

Mostly disagree with this characterization of christianity. Christianity was first a small cultish endeavour amalgamizing judaistic and greek cultures. Then it suddenly replaced roman state religion, with church fathers taking strong political leadership within the religions domain. The roman state religion was always a part of keeping the empire in cohesion. This same political intent was laid onto christianity.

So, where Islam gained prominence as the administrative creed of an arabian trade town, christianity rose to prominence as part of the administrative structure of an empire.

Only after a millenia protestants started to question the papal authority. Martin Luther and his ideas survived because the german princes wanted to undermine catholic churches authority. While definetly NOT toppling their own. Luther was vehemently anti-revolutionary, saying rebelious peasants should be severely punished.

Most flavors of christianity are not about toppling old regimes but supporting them. The rebelious sects like the huguenots were vehemently persecuted.

The more rebellious sects only started thriving in the american colonies.

Two problems with this analysis. Christianity was rapidly growing before its adoption by Constantine, specifically among slaves and the underclass as it offered hope to the downtrodden. Resemblance to Hellenistic cults are superficial. Second, Islam was spread by conquest, it had nothing to do with being from a trading town.

It seems I wrote a fairly long reply.

Religions have two aspects - the literary context, and the context of the religion as it is practiced. When we look at these combined, Christianity at the large is a religion that supports and co-exists with the existing power structure rather than is overtly "rebellious". In the historical, and the modern context both. With the exception of North America and various evangelical sects spread through the globe.

To my understanding, in Islam the literary and the practical context match pretty well, as Quran was written as a sort of mystical field manual of administration and religious practice, in a very specific political situation. While the ideas expressed in the text are partly ancient, the body of work itself is only as old as the religion [0]. I agree up to a point - Islam is more like an administrators device than Christianity.

Christianity, on the other hand, in its' holy book combines a selected collection of ancient Judaistic texts with the content of the new testament. The tradition of religious practice evolved only after the texts were compiled [1] - which was upheld to be critical part of the religion for a millenia. Protestants seemingly denied the importance of tradition but actually just replaced it with their own culture of practice [2].

As for the protestants' "rebellious nature" - that really wasn't. Unless protestantianism existed harmoniously with the existing power structrure it was crushed. One of the culminations of this tension was the 30 years war [3].

Yes, the ideas of protestantianism rose from deep conviction and the moral impetus to overthrow old concepts. But practically it could only succeed when it co-existed and co-operated with the earthly power structure. (Hence, we get the protestant state churches in various countries [4].)

Or it could escape the old society all together ... to the new world.

Christianity in the North-America is quite a different thing than as practiced in the old world. The various sects that were persecuted in europe found home there and could thrive in relative freedom.

The critical part about this is that there was no state church. You could choose your religious community based on your conscience. Hence, I presume the evangelical aspects of Christianity can be more highlighed there. A considerable portion of the progenitors of North American christianity were the rebels, with no deep ties to the political power structure.

In Europe, the Church and the State ruled hand in hand for over a millenia, and only now this co-operation is starting to fragment. First the Catholic church with it's blood ties to the aristocracy, and then the protestant state churches herded the masses.

Especially in the first millenia, to large extent the church and state officers came from the same families. First sons of noble houses inherited the land, while the some of the later sons became priests. The main reason for the vows of selibacy was to stop a secondary church-based hereditary power structure from rising next to the feudal aristocracy.

"Resemblance to Hellenistic cults are superficial."

I was mainly referring to the philosophical and literary content of the new testament as it matches fairly well with the ethics of the greek philosophers.

As for the mystical content - I would claim the resemblance to older non-judaistic tradition is far deeper than superficial. For example for the worship of Virgin Mary, the image of the mother goddess was already powerfull and ancient [4]. I know later theologians integrated Mary to the church canon but I presume this was only after she was popular with the masses.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quran#Compilation

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_tradition

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_scriptura

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_wars_of_religion

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_religion#Established_chu...

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybele

In theory the Christian leadership is supposed to be leading the people out of Egypt, but in practice they're usually playing golf with the Pharaohs.

The aping of Greek mystical forms such as virgin worship I believe is a ploy to make the religion more palatable to the surrounding culture. The deeper principles of total forgiveness and relinquishing of individual claims to righteousness are the core, in my view; if not globally unique, at least a radical departure from classical cultural values and Islam.

I think politics is as critical part of group of people as breathing. I don't think you can separate the practical tradition from the theological one, as most practicing religion are familiar with only the practical aspects.

The more people respect and believe you, the more political force you can amass. Hence, a popular religion weilds quite a lot of political force. As such it would be totally misguided to pretend this political context would not exist, or worse, use it in catastrophic ways. There's a good reason churches did not approve of heretics when people were uneducated and easy to arouse into a mass hysteria. There's also a good reason to co-operate with the state so that the political interest of the church and the state are aligned - as opposing large political factions have an almost natural tendency to create turmoil and chaos, like hydrogen and oxygen, even if their leaders werent terribly ambitious (there are always easily exitable factions on both sides).

The fact that bible survives, and is at it is, for example, is the result of a political process as much as anything else. Thus the interpretations as well are mostly done within a political context.

I agree from the philosophical point of view - "meek shall inherit the earth" is pretty much as revolutionary concept as it can get - but from practical point of view this has most of the time meant that you must meakly obey your landlord.

If we understand revolution as a practical political concept - I don't think there has been much revolutionary about christianity en masse, as I wrote in my previous reply.

I think for the most parts the historical inheritance of christianity is net positive, especially when we get to the literary tradition spurred by protestantianism.

"The deeper principles of total forgiveness and relinquishing of individual claims to righteousness are the core, in my view; if not globally unique"

I might be totally off base, but I understood one could claim those principles to be at the core buddhism as well.

Regarding the subject at hand, then, why did Christians invent science rather than pagans, Muslims, or Buddhists? We don't know for sure but we could argue that pagans did not have a notion of progress; Muslims were obsessed with their in-group versus various out-groups and believed violence was the solution; and Buddhists, while perhaps spiritually closest to the mark, decided the way to end suffering was to renounce desire altogether, rather than, like the Christians, transmute their desire into an aspiration for a God's-eye view of the universe.

"why did Christians invent science rather than pagans, Muslims, or Buddhists? "

Given that the philosophical basis of science had deep roots in both pagan and muslim thought I'm not sure if that's a completely sensible assessment.

I think one needs to take a larger view of the society as a whole, to try to find answers to why science rose, when it did.

Yes. Other religious orders tend to solve problems by inflicting organised violence on a victim. Christianity did this for a while until they realized their faith is based on a sacrificial victim. It's also rooted in a deep distrust of material power.

> Any input on historic differences, IYO, that lead to these different characterisations?

Not OP, but I wouldn't be so sure the differences aren't a result of characterizations both originating in the west.. Our dominant philosophical lens (enlightenment rationalism) tends to downplay any religious belief within science as something 'cultural', etc - therefore Kepler, etc, were not 'christian' in anything other than a historical footnote.. since these 'islamic scientists' were outside of the western scientific lineage, they were labelled accordingly - and we can't label 'our own' lineage as 'christian' since it would be to some extent anti-enlightenment to do so (after all it was the church which 'held back' science in the enlightenment view)...

A lot of the ‘priests’ were quasi landed gentry who inherited church titles and lands and read a couple sermons from a book per week. Hey had incomes from local farms and lots and lots of education and free time.

A good introductory to this and the history of western science is Bill Bryson’s ‘a brief history of everything’and the one he edited on the Royal Society.

Some of course were deeply religious, it I think it’s correct to treat their Christianity as incidental. I dont know if it’s the same with the ‘islamic’ scholars. I’d like to think so and I’d like to know more about them.

Anyone recommend any laymen focused books on Islamic scholarship in antiquity?

I would recommend checking out George Saliba's work. He is a Professor of Islamic Science at Columbia. I only read one of his books -- Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance -- and it was an eye-opener for me.

Church offices aren't hereditary and church lands don't belong to individual clergy. Time and money are necessary to scholarship, but not sufficient.

Indeed. I bet you have time and money. bazinga


> Da er zu wenig Geld für den Bau der Burg hatte, bat Radbot seinen Bruder, Bischof Werner von Strassburg, um Unterstützung

> Because of insufficient funds to construct the castle, Radbot begged his brother, Bischop Werner of Strassburg for support.

Whether or not that's a legend, it was not unbelievable, which is the whole point.

That castle was situated at an impasse of a river, where they likely extorted money, I mean "took taxes". The rest is convoluted history. I guess you heard the name.

If you're interested in more examples of worldly clergymen check out Thomas Wolsey in the novel "Wolf Hall", Thomas a Becket in the movie "Becket" (1964), and of course Cardinal Richelieu https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardinal_Richelieu

I can't think of a western scientist being labeled as a christian scientist. However, if we talk about western thinkers we have Augustine of Hippo, usually known as St. Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas, know as St. Thomas Aquinas. They played a major role shaping the Church as we know, but they were also highly influential in western society and philosophy as a whole. Descartes jesuit education is constantly brought up when talking about his work, at least when comes to philosophy.

This is a very Orientalist view of history, and is factually wrong. Islamic scholars advanced not only in medicine, astronomy and physics but also geography, history, journalism etc... Not only this, but also if you think from Kuhn-ian perspective it would be wrong to expect Islamic science to converge to the same point Western science converged (and if you disagree, I'd like to hear how you argue against Kuhn). So "anything outside of military" is a very wide range not even Westerners were curious of e.g. the whole computational way of thinking was only developed in early 20th centuries even though some really cool algorithms (leasy squares/Gauss/Newton's algorithm, graph theory, sieve of Erathotenes etc...) hinted computation could be fun. Why didn't Western world invent computer science until Turing/Church/Godel? I don't know, but it's certainly not strange Muslims didn't invent that too.

The West was also not very interested in the rest of the world except to conquer, prior to the development of the modern worldview between Bacon and Newton. This was a singular event that marks the sudden rise of the West in power and knowledge.

This statement seems very ignorant to me. Medieval Islamic developments were manifold. Off the top of my head, the preeminence of Islamic ideas are fossilized in words like algebra, algorithm and alchemy.

A cursory visit to Wikipedia reveals a good list of them. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Golden_Age

I'm as excited about the achievements of the Islamic Golden Age as the next guy. It certainly helped lay the foundation for the scientific method, just as the achievements of Classical Greeks did. It's just that it was over before the scientific revolution started.

There are a number of theories for why science flourished in the Muslim world, but this is not one of them.

The number of slaves steadily decreased as the Rome stopped expanding. Additionally, by the time Rome turned into an empire, freeing of slaves became a show of magnanimousity and so frequent, Augustus (= around 0AD) had to put extra laws limiting it. Thus, the Roman empire had a shortage of slaves and couldn't just "count on the slaves" for everything.

I don't think there are that many examples of roman technical innovations or scientific development. They were ultimately practical, but not overtly imaginative. They adapted, what they found practical, and could scale up what worked due to their organizational skill.

I think the main impediment to progress in the ancient world was the tendency not to share discoveries but to keep them secret. No patents, but your schoolmates will kill you if you share the discoveries taught to you. Academies were not universities - more like a dude with a few disciples. If your disciples just don't get your invention it will just be forgotten. I'm sure greek went past Euclid in all sort of ways but we just never heard from them.

I think the biggest reason was the fall of the imperial.

Outside what is now known Italy, many Roman outposts only had a glimpse of Roman technology and as they got conquered by their enemies, everything got destroyed and the knowledge was lost in that part of Europe.

It is impressive to read books like Herodotus and realizing Greek students that could afford it where doing "internships" in Egypt, where the idea of specialized doctors was already a thing.

Rome had slaves but it wasn't the cornerstone of their economy. The idea that the life in each generation should be more advanced and efficient than in the previous simply hadn't been invented then.

Slaves were the cornerstone of the Roman economy, especially between 100bce and 100ce. The impact of all of the slaves from the conquest of Gaul was what Ceaser used as a platform for his politics.

You are right on your second point. There was an account of a person coming up with a labour saving device for cleaning streets. However they were not allowed to use it as it was taking needed jobs away from people in the city.

You could get a big surprise if you think that the romans get stagnated about technology.




What pushed or stagnated tech development not was slavery. What push us quickly since the modern age, was the free movement of ideas and knowledge (thanks to the printing press and paper making the books affordable) and the scientific method.

Classical antiquity, along with Judaeo-Christian tradition and the Enlightenment, form the foundation for the Western civilization. You could throw in others but those three are the big ones, I think. The Greeks and the Romans have had a huge influence on what we have become.

Just curious, was Rome even at its peak bigger than the contemporary Chinese empire? Now if only the Chinese empire wasn't so self sufficient.

not really. in 117 AD, the roman empire controlled about half the total area of contemporary china (5 million km^2 vs 9.6 million km^2). the estimated population at this time was 70 million, two orders of magnitude off china's 1.4 billion today. the only way you could consider rome to have been "bigger" is to consider what fraction of the world's population fell within its borders. about 21% of the world's population lived in the roman empire versus china's 18.4% share today. [1][2]

edit: or did you mean china contemporary to rome haha? most relevant figures are for the han dynasty. area was 6.5 million km^2 in 100 AD, and population was 57.6 million in 2 AD, making the two empires roughly comparable in size.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Empire [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_dynasty

I think in the long view we are either still in or have just recently left the first era of human civilization, so it isn't surprising that there would be echoes of an early empire.

The demarcation can be technical or social (How long has it been that we've had a shared global knowledge of history? That's a significant transition.).

Foundational as well is the printing press. Rome didn't have one, and perhaps went as far as it could without it.

While the printing press is probably required for industrialization, it is not sufficient. Your point about slavery holding it back is a good one.

Part of what made the printing press work was the metallurgy required. You needed quality iron and steel for the screws and the typefaces, brass and bronze would not endure the stresses. Those metallurgic advancements largely came out of war and the need for metals that could handle black-powder explosions.

Even Gutenberg's primitive press, which was built out of a wooden wine press, was revolutionary. It used cast lead type. The Romans had lead technology.

Thanks for the clarification!

Further support for this notion comes from the fact that in the southern US slave states, it was illegal to teach the slaves to read.

It would be pretty hard to industrialize when the workforce is forcibly kept ignorant.

You might enjoy the alternate history novel "Kingdom of the Wicked" by Helen Dale. It takes place in the Roman Empire where the industrial revolution arrived 2000 years early partly due to abolishing slavery.


Not slavery so much. As with many large scale trends there are many large scale reasons.

Massive income and wealth inequality kicked in around a hundred BC or so and poverty prevents a mass production consumer economy so right there you're limited to mass production of industrial goods, meanwhile if you have millions of times the wealth of a peasant there's nothing to spend the money on so you don't care about 0.1% rate of return vs 10% rate of return if there's not enough cool stuff to spend even 0.001% rate of return on. Their financial capital markets, nascent as they were, were essentially non-functional. If you know how to make a nationwide railroad, thats nice, but theres simply no way to finance it. There were no business/financial paths to wealth and anyone who became wealthy or powerful via trade was noteworthy and extremely rare; essentially all the people with money got it by sophistry or military skill, not by being intelligent stewards of their wealth, so expecting intelligent investment is overly optimistic.

(edited in, lack of existing transport infrastructure means no commodities market, so flooding the local tin market just means you sell more tin for the same total revenue...)

So in England at the start of the industrial revolution you had professional-ish mine managers who saw their only way to squeeze out that next percent of revenue was crazy coal powered steam engine water pumps... If a tin mine owning Roman wanted more tin, he'd just take over another province with some legions or legally wheel and deal his way into stealing a mine from a fellow Roman.

Later on Diocletian codified central economic control, communist style, see the link. If you could make a steam locomotive engine, thats nice, but it would be illegal for anyone to work for you, especially the skilled craftsmen you'd need to assemble your locomotive. Have a small economic collapse now, or patch over things to produce a much bigger one later. Guess what option we selected this century for the last couple decades, LOL, the future for us is going to be almost as exciting as the Romans declining years...


Making a handwavy argument their civilization had reached and exceeded the scaling limit of an operational empire even for the most skilled emperors, and of course most emperors were not skilled. The point of that is increasing complexity increases fragility; a ridiculously complex economy based on silicon refined semiconductor computer technology would have collapsed much sooner, not later, and certainly not result in mobile phones in 1000 AD or whatever. If you thought Aurelian had problems with currency reform, imagine if that poor bastard had additional challenges of fractional reserve banking, high frequency trading, derivatives markets, financial alchemy such as mortgage based securities, if he had to put up with all that the poor guy would never have even tried...

>Rome certainly was a highly advanced society in its time, but what a shame to think that because of vast abundance of slaves the Roman society never pushed further with technological innovations, effectively preventing the human race from having mobile phones by the year 1000, if not earlier.

Thank god for that!

Fun fact: celtic runes were created on the lakes region by the border between Switzerland and Italy, inspired by Etruscan (coming from Phoenician), probably a Roman invention to get celtic troops to write reports


I was going to raise an eyebrow at the use of the word "runes" in that context, but that really does show similarities to futhark.

Futhark is occasionally said to have developed from a variant of Old Italic. Another hypothesis is that it's descended directly from Phoenician: http://www.academia.edu/20097046/Origins_of_runic_writing_A_...

Etruscan being a Phoenician derivate I don't understand the difference between the two thesis

Latin and Cyrillic are both descended from Greek, but Latin isn't descended from Cyrillic, nor vice versa.

For descent from Phoenician, we should expect that the futhark developed relatively early, and was transmitted to the Proto-Germanic urheimat (almost certainly Denmark) by sea; for descent from Greek or Etruscan, we should expect that it developed relatively late, and may have been transmitted by land.

Vennemann's argument in favor of descent of the futhark directly from Phoenician is that there are features preserved by the futhark that were lost by the Old Italic alphabets, and that there are features of the futhark that are best explained by an early date of development.

For example, Vennemann considers the ansuz rune to have developed from Phoenician hē; but we'd expect a descendant of hē to represent /e/, not /a/. As it happens, Proto-Germanic ē shifted to ā in the descendant of all Germanic languages but Gothic. In a Greek or Etruscan descent theory, ansuz would likely have developed from some descendant of aleph, since by that time the shift would have already occurred. Unfortunately, hē and aleph are equally plausible as sources for the letterform.

And the runes are named by appellative acrophony, like the letters in Phoenician, but unlike the letters in Greek (where the Phoenician names were borrowed as otherwise meaningless lexical units) or Latin (a, be, ce...). If the runes developed from Etruscan, where would appellative acrophony have come from? Then again, Glagolitic also uses appellative acrophony...

Much more than a similarity, Elder Futhark is derived from Lepontic, Raetic and Etruscan.

I find it so surprising that Greek was once the language spoken by scarcely educated people in a big part of the ancient world. I am Greek and I can manage koine (I can read it, though I wouldn't be able to, you know, speak it), mostly thanks to my exposure to the new testament when I was young, but I find Latin a much easier language to learn.

I guess that's saying something about the ability of humans to learn language at any age, or about the misconceptions we have about what is an "easy" or a "hard" language to learn. Still, I can't shake this feeling that if there was one language that it made sense for so many people to learn so they could easily speak simple things to each other, that should have been Latin, not Greek- the English of the ancient world, not its German.

> I can manage koine (I can read it, though I wouldn't be able to, you know, speak it)

We don't really know what Koine Greek sounded like but it certainly doesn't sound anything close to modern Greek. Having several years of academic Koine Greek and Classical Greek I am almost able to make out quite a bit of modern Greek. I swear modern Greek and Konie are closer then Shakespeare and modern English.

Classical Greek possibly how it sounded - https://www.npr.org/2016/08/25/491389975/the-sound-of-ancien...

In Seminary we talked about the tonality of the language but we lost all that. Chinese for example is tonal.

This weird feeling, when I try to read ancient greek words on these pictures, it feels like just a broken cyrillic. Like seeing a newspaper, just a very old one...

>when I try to read ancient greek words on these pictures, it feels like just a broken cyrillic

Well, cyrillic and the earlier glagolitic was created by some byzantine Greeks and based on the Greek alphabet, so that's not that weird...

Right, I know, but it's still feels unusual, like adding some level of reality to these ancient times, making them seem closer. I'm not getting this impression seeing old latin, for example.

>like adding some level of reality to these ancient times, making them seem closer

In that vein it would be interesting to note that while Ancient Greek (from the times of 8-4th century BC as taught in humanities programs) are not spoken today, their simplified version from the times of Alexander the Great and his heirs, "koine" are more or less the same, and perfectly understandable by any modern Greek or Cypriot.

That's the language the Old Testament was translated into (Septuagint), which is 2300 years old -- and still understood (or at least 99% of it, spare some words that have fallen in disuse).

Well, I wouldn't say "perfectly" (I'm Greek). It helps if one has grown up with religious relatives and so was exposed to the language of the new testament for a few years. I was- I can read the new testament easily enough.

On the other hand, the further back texts go -Plutarch, Xenophon, Herodotus- it gets harder and harder to understand. Homer in particular is nigh-on incomprehensible to me. It's how I imagine Greek sounds to people who don't know any :)

Well cyrillic is indeed old greek + gliphs for slavic sounds, created by sains Cyril and Metodius

Interestingly there's a pretty good argument that Cyril and Methodius didn't create Cyrillic at all but instead were the creators of Glagolitic, a now-more-or-less-extinct script that was developed in what's now (roughly) the Czech Republic and was used in Croatia until the 20th Century: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glagolitic_script

Exactly how Cyril got credit for the script he didn't invent is unclear.

With 'Ш' taken from Aramaic/Hebrew.

For those interested I would recommend J. N. Adams, Bilingualism and the Latin Language. Cambridge University Press, 2003. It is more on the linguistic side with many examples in the old languages, but a really interesting book nonetheless.

Patrick Wyman has a great podcast on the fall of Rome (among others) and spends some time talking about the impact of regional dialects and the slow process of how those became romance foundations. Really neat stuff!

The Christian Liturgy in Rome was originally celebrated in Greek and was only later translated into the Latin language, which dominated the Church until modern times.


> But we cannot ignore that the majority of Italia’s coinage was bilingual, suggesting that Latin was already the lingua franca among its multilingual forces.

US coinage is bilingual but few Americans speak Latin.

Wow, the Oscan language had the letter "Я". I thought it exists in cyrillic alphabets only. I know they are different letters having (perhaps) different pronunciation but still. Interesting!

It's very common for writing systems of that time to mirror the letters when switching write direction. In some cases text used to be written as boustrophedon, i.e. switching direction each line (like an ox plowing a field).

Early Greek thus had not a fixed direction and derivative alphabets such as the Etruscan have settled to one direction of text flow and of letter shapes at random, namely right to left.

Latin has "forked" from the Greek alphabet at another point in time and thus has reversed direction of writing and reverse glyphs with respect to Etruscan and Oscan

Thanks for the explanation! Mirroring the letters is very unusial concept for me. I've tried to write down a mirrored word and it was not very difficult actually. It is definitely readable.

Yeah, people talk about Da Vinci writing backwards as a "code" but it's an easy trick if you want to write left-handed without smearing your ink (which was even worse with older inks with longer drying times). Our brains do really well with mirroring operations, especially if you switch hands when mirroring.

I've noticed this too, I think it has something to do with the fact that the two hands are "mirrored" in a sense, and operations like opening/closing arms are identical except for mirroring. Who knows, maybe they're even encoded like this somewhere in the brain.

After getting used to it it's not that hard to write mirrored text with the opposite hand. It's definitely a lot easier than doing it with the dominant one.

In fact, the LTR systems are the original mirroring; Greek script was a mirroring of the RTL Phoenician/Canaanite abjad.

Early Latin could also written right to left, e.g. in the Duenos inscription.

Interestingly, neither the order of letters in the alphabet nor the direction of writing (or even the orientation of letters themselves) was standardized until later times; in Greek, on the other hand, letters were used as numbers in such a way that the letter ordering was important.

The illustrated inscription was written from right to left, so it was a backwards letter. According to the caption, it was the letter D. It would usually have been written just as it is in Latin and English, and I'm not sure why it has a tail here. P and R in Oscan were written as they are in Greek (Π, Ρ) except mirrored.

Cyrillic Я is a variant of Old Cyrillic Yys (Ѧ).

I've never heard Ѧ called Yys, normally Yus - is that a typo or just terminology from a non-Russian Slavonic language? (genuine question, not trying to be a pedant)


Most italic scripts and etruscan were written RTL

They were written by the last generation of the city who could read and write Oscan: after the Social War, Latin-speaking Roman colonists were sent to settle in Pompeii and many of the other towns of Italy to prevent future rebellions.

Along with educational policies favoring the ruling language and other forms of cultural assimilation, the resettlement strategy has been effectively used in modern times, including the United States, China, and the Soviet Union.

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