Technology and labour in the Roman world

Posted on Aug 25, 2022

I am reading Robert M. Grant’s Augustus to Constantine: The Rise and Triumph of Christianity in the Roman World

A superb quote from the book, that links directly to how we conceive technology today is the following:

Generally speaking, technology either military or civil did not flourish in antiquity. Perhaps the existence of slavery blocked technological advance. Another cause is suggested by a story about Vespasian. Offered an invention for lifting stone columns at Rome, he rewarded the inventor but refused to use the device, stating that he had to “feed the poor” by providing employment.

We see labour as something desirable, so we cannot imagine just paying these labourers to do nothing (and it’s not easy to find ideas on what to do them to keep them productive). Capitalism was far more dynamic than that in its peak (at a great human cost) and real existing socialism never managed to get away from the trap of “digging holes to fill them up”. More capitalism (and the removal of regulatory regimes) was the answer to “who is going to create the good jobs”, which brought us to our current predicament were everyone is a real estate speculator.