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Big data and the Roman census approach (2014) (tdan.com)
19 points by breck 1 day ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 16 comments

Love the historical tie-in. So many people are familiar with this story and I know that I will never forget about this after realising that I am "very familiar with the Roman census method and don’t know it":

You see there once was a story about two people – Mary and Joseph – who had to travel to a small city – Bethlehem – for the taking of a Roman census. On the way there Mary had a little baby boy – named Jesus – in a manger. And the shepherds flocked to see this baby boy. And Magi came and delivered gifts. Thus born was the religion many people are familiar with – Christianity. The Roman census approach is intimately entwined with the birth of Christianity.

The Roman Census never required people to travel to their homeland. That would be quite counterproductive as the practical purpose of census-taking was the calculation of taxes, which requires an enumeration of property.

The bible's account of Roman census' is seemingly not accurate.


Perhaps it required them to travel to a nearby town and this detail was dramatised greatly.

EDIT: Actually, no, the censors went from house to house: https://history.stackexchange.com/a/23980

Usual explanation is that doing census by place of birth was actually Jewish idea - because the "12 tribes of Israel" concept is so deeply ingrained in their culture, so whey Romans requested census Jewish leaders simply tried to kill two birds with one stone, and Romans didn't really care so they agreed.

The story seems at odds with the narrative. Why didn't the census take go to Mary?

This is crazy; 2000 years later and the Romans are still shaping our society. I think this goes in the face of modern intellectual elitism that says we're the smartest generation to have ever lived. NO, we're just have the most tech to work with because of the all the genius that came before us. We're just iterating. I really tilts when people would rather say aliens built the pyramids than to accept the Egyptians were as intelligent, if not more so than our generation.

Sorry for that rant, but this is pretty cool.

I doubt the Romans actually had any influence on the design of these systems. The reason the author says the concept is "unfamiliar" is because it's immediately obvious and doesn't warrant a name.

>> because of the all the genius that came before us. We're just iterating.

I'd say the last couple hundred years has been a little different than the previous several thousand. We are smarter. Agricultural improvement mean that far more of our population is free to deal with scientific or technical problems, as opposed to laboring in the fields to meet basic needs. A greater percentage of our people are literate. life expectancy is up. Our perspective on the world is greater.

Why does this matter? I often hear climate deniers (and similar people) claim that humans have been on earth building cities for thousands of years, that what we are doing now is iterative and therefore any exponential changes cannot be attributed to our impact. But we are new. Current generations are exceptional in almost every way. We need to understand that while we are linked to the past, we are definitely not a mere iteration of it. To quote Lord Dracula in the new BBC miniseries: "You seem to be accelerating."

> this goes in the face of modern intellectual elitism that says we're the smartest generation to have ever lived

We’re the most capable. “Smartest” is ambiguous. But we have more people working more productively on more problems than the Romans did. And we’re finding new solutions faster and more broadly.

Roman administration was ahead of its time. It serves as great precedent. But a single agency of modern bureaucracy outclasses the Roman Republic or Empire on almost every metric.

The impact of the raw number of people we have now should not be overlooked, either. Today, there are more people in the United States than there were in the entire world during Roman times.

We have efficiencies of scale that they could never realize just due to our population size. Or course, we also have new problems due to that scale. We'd have a lot less to worry about in terms of wild habitat loss and CO2 emissions in a world with in a world with 20x fewer people.

It is believed that the number of people at previous times was also limited by the energy available. See how the population graph looks like -- the real exponential growth starts at earliest around 300 years ago:


> two people – Mary and Joseph – who had to travel to a small city – Bethlehem – for the taking of a Roman census.

And today it is known that the story about anybody having to travel somewhere else to be counted for census was constructed to “explain” how somebody called “from Nazareth” could “fulfil the prophecy” that expected of the “messiah” to be born in Bethlehem. Even in these times it had no sense: people were counted there where they lived (i.e. “contributed to the economy”).

If you're proposing "hey, I think this would be a good idea", it doesn't really matter if the example you use is fictional.

Weirdly, the reference to the story of the birth of Jesus undermines the article's point. It's an example of the people going to the census taker to be counted, when the entire idea of the rest of the piece is that the census taker goes to the people instead.

The census taker got closer than Rome, but the method of census taking was still people walking through a gate to be counted.

That is not correct, it turns out: https://history.stackexchange.com/a/23980

Sct. Maria & Sct. Josephe orate pro nobis.

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