I found a gem of a writeup about these two ancient empires by Hoang Nghiem (严黄)
The Roman Empire at its heights in 117 AD, with a land area of 5 million km^2:
Honestly speaking though, how is it possible to truly even answer this question? What defines “more” technologically advanced anyway? The number of inventions? Probably not. Then there is the matter of potential: could the runner up society have defeated the current technological hegemon, should it have been convenient for them to? Perhaps. “Necessity is the mother of invention” after all according to the Ancient Greek Philosopher, Plato.
Then there is the matter of accuracy with regards to bias. Is there a tendency to exaggerate a particular number in order to fulfil a hidden agenda? After all, when comparing two great fathers of civilization together, things inevitably tend to get a little… heated let’s just say, at least from personal experience. It is a matter of cultural, civilizational and perhaps even national pride after all – completely understandable.
Territories of the Han Dynasty at its heights in 100 AD, with a land area of 6.5 million km^2:
Which is not to say that this author will be biased, even despite the fact that he is of a Han Chinese ancestral composition, for he considers personal prejudices (of which he has many) to be a blatant insult against “good” history writing. So rest assured, he will certainly try (the keyword here being “try”) to keep it impartial throughout the course of the entire analysis.
Now, the way this works is simple, the author will attempt to compare both Chinese and Roman endeavors together, throughout a variety of different technological areas. He will however, leave it primarily up to you; his audience to objectively decide based on the presented facts below, as to who was truly more advanced between the two civilizations in a particular area.
But of course to keep things fair, as he does not completely trust in his audience to do so, will also offer up his own verdicts on who was probably technologically “superior” with regards to the aforementioned matters, at the end of each comparison. Speaking of which, here are the areas of technology which shall be compared throughout the following analysis (some of which do overlap it should be noted):
- Hydraulics and Mechanics
- Naval Technology
- Materials Engineering
- Civil and Structural Engineering
- Military Technology
With all that said and out of the way however, it’s time to finally begin the comparison.
Warning: Long answer dead ahead of 18,900 words.
Roman Metallurgy was known to be unbelievably advanced for its time. At the peak of its production around 150 AD, Roman Silver production had already been estimated to have been 5–10 times larger than both “Dark Ages” Europe, and the mighty Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258 AD)’s Silver production combined at the dawn of the 9th Century AD.
Roman productions also of both Copper and Bronze meanwhile, remained unsurpassed anywhere in the world until the Industrial Revolution of the mid 19th Century. Lead on the other hand, was produced on a scale so large, that some Historians have even gone so far as to claim that its production led to, “the oldest large-scale hemispheric pollution ever reported” in the History of Man.
Case in point, based on the projections of many different sources alike, here is a table below comparing the Han Chinese, and Roman Metal Productions in metric tonnes; (Source:):
In saying that on the other hand, Roman production of coins was far surpassed by its Han counterparts.
By the mid 3nd Century AD, the Romans had managed to produce roughly 98 million coins annually by one academic estimate. This greatly contrasted with the Han Chinese, who at its peak from 118 BC to 5 AD, managed to produce on average a magnitude of 220 million coins per year, or roughly 2.24 times more than the Romans did.
The difference however between the two civilizations; was the composition of which their currencies were made of. Han coins for one, were either made out of Copper, or Bronze Alloy (Copper mixed with Tin). Roman coins on the other hand often varied between not just Copper, but Bronze, Silver and Gold alike. This suggests that Han production of Copper, whilst presently unknown at an official level, would most likely have outclassed their Roman counterparts by a significant margin.
The different types of coins which existed under the Roman Empire:
A Chinese “Wuzhu” coin dating back to the Era of the “Martial Emperor”, Han Wudi (reigned 141–87 BC):
The Roman Empire at this point in time, had also just independently innovated the concept of “Cast Iron Tools”. Archaeological evidence however maintains, that this was done quite late in their history during the Imperial Era; sometime within the 4th-5th Centuries AD.
The Han meanwhile did not invent cast iron tools themselves, but had had it by that point in time for roughly 500 years already; an entire 1,000 years before the Romans did, and therefore presumably outclassed the latter in cast iron based objects, with regards to not only quantity, but even quality as well.
This is an understatement really, since Cast Iron production was actually perfected during the 426 year long reign of the Han Dynasty, through the use of specialist furnaces which converted Iron ore into “Pig Iron”, and from there into “Cast Iron”, greatly improving civil and military tools alike.
Evidence meanwhile, for large scale mining operations and processing establishments, have to this day been discovered en masse throughout the former territories of Roman Iberia.
Roman ingots of lead from the mines of Cartagena, Spain:
It was a similar case also for the former domains of Britannia in addition, which was likewise overflowing with natural wealth at the time. Gold for example has been discovered to have been mined at Dolaucothi in Wales, Copper and Tin in Cornwall, and Lead in Pennines and the Mandip Hills. Britannia’s Iron Production alone in fact, was 2,250 tonnes annually, or already 50% of Han China’s total Iron production at a national level.
Italian steel meanwhile, limited as it was due to the fact that Roman furnaces had a limit of roughly 1300°C, roughly 240°C short of the ability to melt “pure” iron, still to this day is widely considered by Historians all over the world alike, to have remained unrivalled at its peak. Indeed, even in the face of the aforementioned limitations, they were still able to forge “Wrought Iron”, from which a form of steel known as “Wootz” was derived.
Verdict: The Roman Empire would appear to have been more advanced with regards to Metallurgy. The quantity of Roman produced metals, unrivalled until the advent of the Industrial Revolution nearly 1,850 years later gives them a decisive edge over the Han, despite the fact that the Chinese had some notable advantages also. Rome: 1; Han: 0.
The dominance of Roman over Han Agriculture however, is not as clear as was the case previously for Metallurgy.
Roman Agriculture which of course peaked during the course of the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty (96–180 AD), greatly varied by region. But based on sources which have been ascertained from Wikipedia via, state that for every average sowing of 135 kg of seed per hectare, the following numbers are returned as alphabetically ordered by province (chart is self-created so no source available):
Self-evidently, the annual output of wheat varied by region, which when averaged, returns a number amounting to 848 kg/ha, for the entire Roman Empire, which is surprisingly comparable to levels finally attained by the countries of a “Least Developed” status in 1963, which today still accounts for roughly 25% of all nations in the world as of 2018.
From Egypt alone in fact, the most agriculturally productive region in the Roman Empire, 20 million modii (or approximately 174.6 million kg) of wheat were produced, allowing for at least 2/3 of the city of Rome to have been fed alone, or 670,000 individuals roughly. If this number is constant for the population as a whole, then based on the derived calculations resultant, would amount to an annual national production figure of 15.714 billion kg of grain per year, or 225 kg of wheat per person.
The Roman Empire was also quite fortunate to have been able to partly “mechanize” their Agricultural productions most notably in addition. To this extent, the Romans used a form of automatic harvester, primarily Oxen powered, allowing them to have harvested ears of wheat as much as required, whilst also simultaneously rejecting its body at a parallel level.
The aforementioned Gallo-Roman Harvesting Machine, an original Roman invention:
The Romans also used extensively utilized mills (found all over Modern France and Italy), to grind wheat into flour. The most impressive remains of these Roman innovations can be seen today in Barbegal, France, in which 16 overshot water wheels arranged into 2 equal columns were purposefully positioned in order to be fed by the main Roman aqueduct. The water would pour down into a certain mill, which then also acted as the supply for the next one down in the series also.
Operating for approximately 200 years on end, it was estimated to have aided in the production of 4.5 kg of flour per day; more than enough to supply bread for the nearby town of Arelate, which had a population of 12,500 individuals.
Rome’s Agricultural production however falls slightly short of their rivals’ supposed numbers, which has previously once been claimed before to have fallen somewhere in the vicinity of 16 billion kg of wheat per year, or merely 1.8% more than Rome. Said to have led both the world in annual grain yields at a absolute and per capita level, this would have amounted to approximately 280 kg of wheat per person, or roughly 11% more than their Roman counterparts.
Abetted by the perfection also of Cast Iron tools from before, the Han saw major advances in Agricultural technology with regards to the Chinese invention of the “Multi-Tube Seed Drill”, pictured down below as follows:
It was a revolutionary tool which made the sowing of seeds quicker, more efficient, and less time consuming. And it was directly as a result of this innovation, that production yields were maximized thus acting to sustain population growth henceforth.
The Han Dynasty however, did not only invent the Multi Tube Seed Drill to help them in the areas concerning Agricultural production, but likewise also innovated the concept of the “Replacement/Alternating Field” or “Daitianfa” (代田法) Method of Farming, in which fields were divided into multiple long narrow trenches, making it easy for the various seeds to be placed into those said trenches.
In addition, the soil that fell from the mountain tops on which the trenches were placed, supported the stalks of the various new plants. As a result, this method also made it easier to water. It was a development which allowed Intensive Farming to emerge first in China, before it did in the Roman Empire. The Chinese invention of the Wheelbarrow around 100 AD likewise, further acted to make Han Agricultural productions more efficient, by making it easier to travel back and forth during in the intervals between each individual harvest.
A reconstruction of the Chinese invention of the wheelbarrow, originating back to the Early Han Era:
An all new plough was also invented during the Han Era which required only 1 man to control it, 2 oxen to pull it, and was complemented with 3 plowshares, a seed box to collect the drills, and a tool which turned down the soil. This new discovery hypothetically allowed the Chinese to sow a potential 45,730 m^2 in a single day.
Verdict: Tough call, but a point should probably be awarded to the foremostly agriculture centric society of Han, which had also even went so far as to place the farmer near the top of the social hierarchy, second only to Imperial Official. Furthermore, it should already be self evident that the Han made several more important discoveries to the fields to Agriculture than their Western counterparts did. Rome and Han: 1 all.
Hydraulics and Mechanics
The Hierapolis Sawmill was probably one of Imperial Rome’s greatest innovations in the realm of Mechanical Engineering. The sawmill, located in Asia Minor, was water powered and considered still to this day to be the earliest machine in the world to feature a “Crank and Connecting Rod” mechanism. It greatly assisted the Romans in converting wood, into lumber.
An artist’s impression of the Hierapolis Sawmill, another original Roman Invention:
It was precisely due to the invention of a Crank and Connecting Rod mechanism, which in time would also lead to the creation also of Steam Power. Created by a Greek Mathematician known today as Hero of Alexandria, his invention; the Aeolipile, was considered to be far ahead of its time, as proper Steam Power wasn’t invented until at least 1698, with the advent of the Steam Engine.
The way in which it worked, was that a bladeless turbine would spin, when the central water container was heated. Torque as a result, was produced by the resulting steam which exited from the turbine, reflecting a phenomena still evident today with Jet engines.
An illustration of Hero’s Aeolipile:
Though the Romans didn’t invent the Steam Engine themselves, they did however most notably already had the means to construct one regardless.
Apart from the earlier innovations of the Hierapolis Sawmill’s Crank and Connecting Rod Mechanism, and now also Steam Power derived from the Aeolipile, the Romans also had intimate knowledge regarding the existence of a Cylinder and Piston (used by metal force pumps), aside from non-return valves (utilized by water pumps) and gearing also (which water mills and clocks used).
All the five elements necessary to create a full, working Steam Engine as such, were already in existence by this point in time, long before such a status quo was replicated by their Chinese rivals, on the far side of the world, many hundreds of years later.
Rome’s utilization of the Crane meanwhile, also reached its heyday in the Imperial Era, an image of which can be seen below in this particular case of a “Pentaspastos”, or Five Pulley medium sized Crane, which could carry a 450 kg load:
Even the simplest Roman Crane however, the Trispastos had a mechanical advantage of 3:1 as it came equipped with three pulleys. Assuming that the average fully matured adult man could lift say 50 kg, then this is to say that the aforementioned pulley could help him displace a weight amounting to 150 kg.
The largest of the Roman Cranes however, the 10.4 metre high Polyspastos, had 5 pulleys and needed to be crewed by 4 different individuals, which would then allow them to lift a potential 3,000 kg. It could have even lifted up to 6 tonnes however if the appropriate adjustments were made.
A photo below depicting the large Roman crane known as the Polyspastos:
When compared to say Ancient Egypt for example, where 50 men were required to lift a 2,500 kg load up a ramp, the Polyspastos allowed one individual to quickly and easily lift 3 tonnes worth of materials, greatly increasing efficiency when it came to matters of construction.
In the East meanwhile at this point in time, the Han Chinese were also quite busy at work with their own contributions in the areas of Mechanics and Hydraulics.
The mechanical Belt Drive for example, was first introduced to Humanity by the Han Dynasty of China. The belt was an important innovation, as it was then used to assist in the wounding of silk fibres, onto the bobbins of weaver shuttles.
Speaking of which, the “Loom” had also first appeared onto the stage of the world by this point in time. Imminently, it would sooner rather than later be used to create the exotic material known as Silk, en masse. Silk would of course later go on to contribute to the vast wealth of China for thousands of years to come.
A historical depiction of the Han invention of the loom:
The Seismoscope meanwhile, was probably one of the greatest inventions of the Han Dynasty during China’s Early Imperial Era. Earthquakes, which had long plagued Sino civilization for time immemorial, often (as Earthquakes do) strike without warning, and were always highly catastrophic whenever they decided to arbitrarily strike.
Naturally in response to such an annoying threat, a Chinese Astronomer known as Zhang Heng invented the Seismoscope in order to detect which direction an Earthquake had, or was currently occurring in, in order to quickly direct relief efforts to the affected areas immediately. In 132 BC for example, it successfully detected and identified an Earthquake which was occuring 500 km in a specific direction, despite the fact that no tremors could be felt at the time.
A photo depicting Zhang’s device below (equipped with a “Crank and Catch” Mechanism, whenever an Earthquake was detected from afar, an inverted pendulum would swing to 1 of 8 directions. In response, a metal ball would then drop into a frog’s mouth, to indicate the direction in which an Earthquake was currently occurring):
Both the Romans and Han however, shared two things in common with regards to the field of Mechanical and Hydraulic Engineering: they both used water mills and chain pumps throughout the duration of their respective empires. In the case of the Roman Empire, the set of aforementioned Water Mills which were introduced back in the previous chapter, has been aptly described by 21st Century Historians to be, “the greatest known concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world”.
The Han however, took Hydraulic developments one step further, by inventing both a waterwheel powered Mechanical Puppet Theatre which featured many self moving automatons, and also the water clock. The water clock functioned in that it measured the passing of time, based on the regulated flow of liquid into, or out of a container.
The Han Era Water Clock, used by the Imperial Chinese to measure the passing of time and was made out of Bronze:
The creator of the Seismoscope, Zhang Heng was also the first to address the problem of the falling pressure head, with regards to the inflow water clock (which gradually slowed the timekeeping process over time) by setting up an additional tank between the reservoir and inflow vessel.
An primitive form of Air-conditioning likewise in the Han Era, was also developed and fully implemented to suit the elites of China. Large manually operated rotary fans, were complemented by water wheels which acted to occasionally soak the inhabitants of a hall in which it was placed.
Rotary fans most notably also led to the invention of the Winnowing machine, where they were actively also utilized, to separate grain from the casing of their seeds. A crank handle and tilt hammer was used to achieve this. Ideally, a cranked fan was to produce an airstream in order to power the utilized rotary fan, which in turn would be used on the harvested grain afterwards.
The winnowing machine as can be seen below in the form of a model which existed under the Han Era:
Verdict: Although the Han definitely made more contributions in this particular area, the Romans made quite a couple of highly important developments also, and thus their capabilities can be considered to have been equal. The steam powered machine for example; unbelievably advanced for its time. Still, the same could technically be said for China’s contributions in these fields also. Rome: and Han: 2 all.
Because the Romans were not so expertly skilled at Medicine themselves, they often had to borrow experts and field knowledge based on the workings of the Ancient Greeks. Nonetheless, they were still able to produce some prominent figureheads such as Galen, or Celsus.
Roman Medicine at its heights, was characterized by an ever expanding knowledge on the fields of practical medicine, and saw great advances with regards to the field of Surgery. From the second century AD, literary texts contributed to by many physicians known as the “Medici”, allowed the Rome to assist in their understanding of which herbs were appropriate for a specific ailment.
Ippomarathron or Fennel for example was known to cure cases of painful urination, internal disorders such as stomach pains were meanwhile suppressed using Ra (Rhubarb), Aristolochia (Birthwort) was used to ease birthing pains, Aloe for wounds and Glikoriza (Liquorice) for calming internal organs.
Reliefs from well preserved archaeological sites such as Pompeii, have been known to have provided experts with tangible evidence, regarding the use of forceps, tweezers, wound retractors, collecting cups, needles and various sized scalpels to assist Roman doctors in surgery.
Roman Surgery tools, commonly used during the first and second centuries during the Early Roman Empire:
Using such tools, Roman doctors could perform a wide variety of surgeries, including but certainly not limited to: cataract removal, draining of fluids, trephination, and sometimes even the reversals of circumcision. It should be noted however, that like in most other societies at the time, Surgery was considered to be a last resort, due to the risks involved in such a dangerous and unsanitary practice at the time, giving rise to infections post-operation.
The first hospitals to appear in Italy were also introduced during the course of the Roman Empire, alas they were usually only reserved for slaves and soldiers however. Valetudinaria as they were called, were mainly rectangular and accompanied with 4 wings at any given time. Their maximum carrying capacity could accommodate up to 500 men, or 10% of an Imperial Legion.
A plan of a Roman Valetudinarium, near Düsseldorf, Germany, dating back to the late 1st century AD:
Roman physicians by this point in time, were also self-aware of their own limitations however, with regards to the treatment of certain wounds. Serious injuries to the brain, heart, liver, spine, intestines, kidneys and arteries for example, were widely considered by many at the time to have been beyond the expertise of many physicians alike.
Roman Medicine, often defined by common sense and supreme practicality, was sometimes also negated by a lot of pseudoscience at best, and obsolete practices at worst. Doctors would for example interpret a patient’s dreams in order to decide on what treatments a sick person would receive. Furthermore, was the Roman belief that drinking blood fresh from a recently slain Gladiator, would cure epilepsy. Needless to say, these treatments were usually redundant.
On the bright side however, the Romans did also correctly hypothesize (based on Greek knowledge retrieved from renowned Hellenic physician, Hippocrates) that the key to living longer lay at the base of a well balanced diet. Thanks to the efforts of Galen meanwhile, bandages were sterilized in wine first before being applied onto an injury.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) meanwhile, used still to this very day in certain parts of the world, was also used during the Han Dynasty 2,000 years ago. Whether there is or is not evidence for the effectiveness of TCM of course remains highly controversial even to this day.
Acupuncture (the inserting of needles in order to accelerate the body’s natural healing processes) was and still is one of these aforementioned controversial practices (practitioners of Acupuncture today have claimed that many physical and mental illnesses, can be cured by such a practice. Naturally, many others are quite sceptical of such claims, but it presumably would have also acted well as a placebo, which has been scientifically proven to sometimes be just as effective as the genuine cure), an acupuncture chart depicting the whereabouts of an individual’s “Meridian” lines, are seen below as follows:
But apart from these possible trivialities, the Han Chinese also made many notable practical contributions to the fields of Medicine however. Pulse diagnosis for one, was practiced by the physicians of the Han Dynasty which understood that an individual’s health could be ascertained merely by measuring their heart rate.
Because of this discovery, it allowed them to recognize that a healthy person was one who had a low resting heart rate for example. Not only that, but this also allowed them to often guess which treatments were required to nurse an individual of poor health, back to optimal standards with regards to physical condition.
Practical advice meanwhile, was given in regards to the act of “Clinical Lancing”, in order to remove an abscess. A Medical text known as the “Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon” (黃帝內經) meanwhile, recognized the medical phenomena of the Circadian Rhythm; a biological clock known to have repeated itself every 24 hours or so. The text also noted the symptoms and reactions of people with various diseases of the liver, heart, spleen, lung, or kidneys in that aforementioned 24-hour period.
Aside from these practical treatments however, other more questionable cures which were said to have allowed for the better flow of blood throughout the Human body, also existed at the time, chief amongst which was the practice of Moxibustion (a process where dried plants are burnt near the surface of the body, with the intention to also dispel certain pathogenic influences):
Still, it was through the efforts of a Chinese physician, Zhang Zhongjing who much like his Roman counterparts also notably suggested that poor health was as a result of bad dieting, and in followed up in his medical text, the “Essential Medical Treasures of the Golden Chamber” (金匱要略) with advice on which foods were rich in which vitamins, in order to treat illnesses naturally with the resources of nature.
Another Chinese physician known as Hua Tuo, who had studied the Yellow Emperor’ Inner Canon, used it to develop a form of anesthesia, which he then applied to be used for surgical purposes. In addition to that development however, he also innovated a very particular type of cream which was recorded as having the ability to heal surgical wounds within a month’s time. And yet in another recorded example, he correctly identified a premature fetal death, which he then removed, curing the mother of her ailments.
Physical exercise meanwhile, was upheld by the Han (much like the Romans) as a way to stay naturally fit and healthy. Calisthenics were upheld in the Han Dynasty, as mentioned in the Chinese philosophical books, the “Mawangdui Silk Texts” (馬王堆帛書), which originally had many detailed images depicting the most appropriate forms of exercise to incorporate into one’s daily routine, in order live by a healthy lifestyle. Both Qigong and Taichi to this day, are considered to have been derived from Han Era Calisthenics.
Verdict: When the nonsense half from both civilizations’ understanding of Medicine is taken away, it would appear at first that the two were roughly equal. But due to the existence of hospitals, and a seemingly superior surgery knowledge, Rome slight edges out the Han Empire here. Which is not to say that the Chinese were necessarily inferior however, it would seem that Chinese understanding of natural medicine, often studied at an official level, edges out their Western counterparts. Rome: 3; Han: 2.
As the oldest of the natural sciences, Astronomy has a had a long a varied history in both the Roman and Han Empires alike.
The Roman astronomer Ptolemy, was said to have not only studied the motions of the heavenly bodies in depth, but had also mapped out roughly 1,000 different unique stars. Throughout the duration of Imperial Rome, Sundials were already being used to measure the passing of time, and could usually be found in most major towns. From the volcanic ashes of Pompeii alone for example, 35 sundials have been retrieved in modern times by archaeologists excavating at the site.
A photograph depicting a Roman Sundial as can be seen below:
Although he wrongly insisted that the Earth stood still, whilst the Sun moved around it, Ptolemy did however understand the conceptual notions of “Retrograde Motion”, the observation that despite the fact that planets in the night sky only rotated around the Earth in one direction, occasionally they would also appear to journey backwards.
He also subsequently followed up such observations with a plethora of complicated mathematical equations, in order to predict when each planet would go into retrograde motion. The Roman historian Cassius Dio meanwhile, records the observations of Halley’s Comet by Roman astronomers.
Most notably, the Romans also knew that the Earth was round. Sailors were already using the stars to navigate the High Seas, and contrary to Ptolemy’s own beliefs, certain Roman astronomers had already correctly hypothesized, that the Earth went around the Sun, rather than vice-versa. The Julian Calendar meanwhile recorded a year as being 365.25 days long, divided into 12 months in a year.
A later European Star Chart based on Ptolemy’s work:
Han Chinese achievements meanwhile in the realm of the Astronomy, were at least as equal to their Western counterparts. The Chinese astronomical text, the “Miscellaneous Readings of Cosmic Patterns and Pneuma Images” (天文氣象雜占), made many detailed, visual depictions of roughly 300 different climatic and astronomical features including clouds, rainbows, stars, constellations, and comets.
A comet which was observed in the Parthian Empire (247 BC–228 AD) at the time of the birth of Mithradates II (the same one which the Republican Romans had also observed prior to the assassination of Julius Caesar), was also likewise spotted by Chinese Astronomers in 135 BC.
The Han much like their Roman counterparts were also known to have used the Armillary Sphere (having invented the water powered variant themselves), in order to be used as a model for the Heavens above, the lines around the spheres represented the notions of Longitude and Latitude. Shown below is the variant designed by Astronomer Zhang Heng (who also invented the Seismoscope mentioned previously):
Halley’s comet, mentioned before as being accounted for by Cassius Dio, was likewise spotted by the Han Chinese, roughly 25 years before their Roman contemporaries back in 12 BC. What is now known to be a Supernova , was also likewise known to have been observed by Han astronomers in 185 BC.
Various comets were also discussed with regards to their positions in the sky, and which direction they were then currently moving, along with their colour, size, and for how long a period of time they were visible; all of which were recorded by the Chinese Historian, Sima Qian in his text, the “Records of the Grand Historian” (史记).
Zhang Heng’s works in accounting for the stars, allowed him to account for 2,500 different stars (as opposed to Ptolemy’s 1,000 observed stars), along with 124 constellations, an effort which had been aided by Sima Qian in his text, “A Monograph on Celestial Officials” (天官書).
And as for official Taichu Calendar (太初历) which was used officially by the Han Chinese meanwhile, whilst not as accurate as the Julian Calendar, still manage to calculate the tropical year, approximating it to 365. 385/1539 days, whilst asserting that the duration of the lunar month was 29. 43/81 days. Before long however, the former Sifen Calendar (古四分历), which had been introduced roughly 600 years prior by that point in time, was re-adopted by the Chinese, which made the same estimates as its Julian counterpart had done in the West, with regards to the length of a specific month and year.
Like their Roman counterparts, the Han Chinese also made full use of Sundials as well (this particular one was retrieved from Inner Mongolia, dating back to the 2nd Century AD):
Similar to Ptolemy however, the Han believed incorrectly to a Geocentric Model of the Solar System. Though the Chinese did not know that the Earth was round unlike their Roman counterparts, thanks to the efforts of Jing Fang, a musical theorist, it was quickly understood that the Moon was only bright since it reflected the light emanating from the Sun, a belief which was also shared by Zhang Heng.
Zhang in addition noted that sunlight didn’t always reach the Earth, a phenomenon due to the fact that the planet would obstruct the rays during a Lunar eclipse. Solar eclipses, were also observed by the said Han astronomer, whereby sunlight was prevented from reaching the Earth.
A common thought during the Han Dynasty that rain came from the areas beyond the Earth, were also disproved during this point in time, when an astronomer called Wang Chong argued in favour of an evaporation process, where rain came from water retrieved from the oceans instead, in his book, “Balanced Discourse” (论衡).
Verdict: Due to the overwhelming number of quality discoveries made by the the Middle Kingdom, this next point by far goes to Han China. The Chinese would not have “steamrolled” the Romans, however there can be no doubt that it would be they which should emerge victorious in the end. It seems very self-evident that the Chinese was a Space oriented society, with a detailed knowledge of celestial mechanics. Rome and Han: 3 all.
Roman civilization by the time of the Empire had already had quite a long and proud maritime tradition, even despite the fact that the Romans were often fairly suspicious of travelling by the sea, since they thought that it was always infested with ocean going monsters at any given time. As a result, they often preferred to travel by land instead.
Nonetheless, Roman achievements with regards to Naval Technology can neither be ignored nor underplayed. Shipbuilding to the Ancient Romans was more than just a mere science as it often perceived to be today, rather it was an art first and foremost.
During the Imperial Era, the Romans abandoned their traditional methods of building the outer hull first, and instead replaced it with one used still to this day; constructing the frame of an ocean going vessel, before proceeding onto its hull and other crucial yet “secondary” components. Described to be a more systematic type of method, it dramatically shortened the time required to adequately construct a solitary ship.
A reconstruction of a Roman anchor:
Warships meanwhile, were designed to be light, yet inhumanly quick (due to the fact that it operated both on wind power and human labour) and better still, highly maneuverable. Each war vessel came equipped with a bronze ram, which was used to smash into an opposing enemy ship, severely acting to cripple or even if the damage was extensive enough, wholly sink it. Underwater halls meanwhile often came equipped with a ratio of 6:1 or 7:1.
The Trireme, traditionally the main war vessel of the Republican Era (509–27 BC), during Imperial Rome was largely superseded with the vastly superior Quadrireme and Quinquereme class warships of the Imperial Navy. In contrast to the Trireme before which was merely crewed by 50 rowers, the Roman Quinquereme had the capabilities to house a crew of 300 rowers, accompanied by 90 oars on each side.
A graphic below depicting the Quadrime Class Battleship, with its two distinctive “forts” located at the vessel’s bow and stern:
Speaking of which, the crew contrary to popular beliefs, was not made of slaves, rather they were formed from the ranks of Roman citizens who had signed up for the Legions, just like any other “normal” enlisted man. This deeply serves to imply the professionalized nature of the Imperial Navy as a whole also in addition.
Anyways, with a length of 45 m, and a width of 5 m, it was able to easily displace 100 tons of water, and was superior to the Republican Era Trireme with regards both to speed and the ability to perform to an excellent standard in only the most treacherous of seas.
A mosaic from Tunisia depicting a Trireme Class Battleship, which was still used during the Imperial Era:
Roman military ships in addition were greatly aided in maritime battles by a boarding device which was used to board hostile ships known as the Corvus. It was a movable bridge which could attach itself to an enemy ship, allowing the Romans to transfer their military experience on land, to their martial endeavours at sea. Naturally, this acted only to assure Roman superiority on the High Seas all throughout the Imperial Era.
Merchant class vessels on the other hand, was just as likely to be as advanced as their military cousins. Their underwater hulls were usually significantly shorter, with a ratio in some instances of 3:1, speaking of which were also usually alot deeper than the vessels of the military, disallowing them often to sail close to the coastal regions. Merchants ships were also “Marathon” runners, they were built to be efficient over long distances, hence neither speed nor manoeuvrability were a priority when it came to the construction of merchant vessels.
They also usually came equipped with two huge side rudders located off the stern, the likes of such which were controlled by a small tiller bar linked to a system of connecting cables. And depending on the size of these said vessels, often possessed between 1–3 square shaped sails, complemented also by a smaller triangular variant known as the “Supparum” at the vessel’s bow.
Carrying capacities often oscillated between 100–150 tonnes of cargo, with the maximum limit allowing some vessels to have been able to hold up to 3,000 amphorae (liquid holding containers). Roman merchant vessels have been known to be able to carry up to 600 tonnes of cargo though it should be noted, or to put it another way; the rough equivalent of carrying on board 12,000 amphorae. Such behemoths were estimated to be 46 metres in length, besting even the Quinquereme class battleship, which was 1 metre shorter.
A model of a Roman Merchant Ship:
Chinese Naval Technology on the other hand compared to their Western counterparts was relatively non-existent. The Romans, had already had a national standing Navy previously established in the year 311 BC, but it wouldn’t be for another 1,300 years during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) until a similar maritime force was created by the Chinese to defend their coasts from foreign invasions, and ruthless pirates.
Though the Han Chinese didn’t fear ocean travel as the Romans did, they were mainly a landpower however and as such saw few improvements in the realm of Naval Technology. An Early Han Era shipyard discovered back in 1975 was said to be capable of producing ships for both the Merchant and Military navies, each of which was up to 30 metres long, 8 metres wide, and weighed 60 tonnes each. And yet another shipyard meanwhile was discovered to have existed in Anhui province, which focused specifically on the creation of military vessels.
The “Junk” for the first time in Chinese history was meanwhile introduced during the Han Era by the end of the 1st Century AD, and still to this day is considered to be China’s earliest seaworthy naval vessel. The Han Era Junk had a square ended bow and stern (forcing them to sail in the direction of the winds), a hull which was flat bottomed, and solid transverse bulkheads as a replacement for the structural ribs often found in Roman vessels.
The Junk, which most notably lacked a sternpost, attached the newly invented rudder to the back of their ships instead. The following Han Era Merchant ship model visually depicts such a notable detail down below as follows (where the rudder is mounted at the back of the boat):
Because of the new Chinese invention of the “Stern-Mounted Rudder” during this point in time meanwhile, which replaced the previously used Steering Oar, allowed Chinese ships much like their Roman counterparts to be quite capable of travelling unto the high seas at will, in order to exchange domestically produced goods and services, for their internationally produced counterparts.
A Han contemporary, Wan Chen, in his book, “On Strange Things of the South” meanwhile, notes that the Han had merchant ships which could carry crews of up to 700 individuals (twice as much as the largest Roman ships), vessels which could complement a cargo with weights of up to 260 tonnes (far short of Rome’s largest naval ships, which could carry up to 600 tonnes worth of cargo or 2.3 times more than a “Large” Han ship).
Wang explains with regards to the capabilities of such ships, as follows below:
“… these ships sail without avoiding strong winds and dashing waves, by the aid of which they can make great speed because their oblique rig, which permits the sails to receive from one another the breath of the wind, obviates the anxiety attendant upon having high masts.”
Though China did not have a standing navy, they did however maintain a reserve military force which was capable of waging war at sea, should the occasion have called for it (such forces were used in the invasions of Vietnam for example back in 111 BC, where Han Marines disembarked on the Eastern coasts of the Nam Viet Kingdom (204–111 BC), quickly routing the defending native forces).
The Imperial Navy itself meanwhile was said to be quite varied. There were 4 major classes of warships during the reign of the Han Dynasty, including the Wing, Stomach Striker, Bridge, and Spire Class battleships.
The “Stomach Striker” Class Warship for one was described to be what was essentially a huge mobile battering ram, smashing and decimating other ships on impact both from speed and sheer weight alone despite lacking a ram – a mistake which the Romans would and did not ever make historically during the same time period. They are depicted below:
Then there were also “Spire” Class Battleships, which were essentially oversized floating fortresses; the naval equivalent of siege towers. They could house up to countless hundreds of men equipped with siege engines, allowing them to easily overwhelm a fort or city’s defences once they got up “close and personal”. That was supposing that they ever got there however, as their large size often meant that they were also highly impractical to field, and an easy target to destroy via the launching of many flaming projectiles en masse and in unison at a single concentrated area.
Their inhumanly large sizes, made for what was essentially “shooting fish in a barrel”; often the foremost priorities of enemy fireships (as self-evident below in this artist’s impression):
If compared to land based military units in fact, the Wing Class was the equivalent of chariots, Stomach Strikers to battering rams, Spire Ships to mobile assault towers and Bridge ships to the Imperial Cavalry.
Verdict: As fanciful and exotic as Chinese Naval technology may appear to some, when objectively viewed from an impartial third party point of view, it becomes fairly apparent that Roman ships were usually qualitatively better than their Chinese counterparts. The fact also that Rome possessed a standing Navy whilst Han China did not, deeply implies their superiority in the fields of Naval Technology, an expertise which they also partially acquired from the Phoenicians and Greeks. Still, the Chinese made some outstanding contributions themselves in this field. Rome: 4; Han: 3.
The Romans appeared to not have been all too enthusiastic when it came to the fields of Aeronautical Engineering, and presumably would have borrowed off the achievements of the Greeks. Although the records available for scholarly use today seldom mention anything with regards to an Imperial Roman “Flying Machine”, we do know that roughly 2,400 years ago, a Greek by the name of Archytas had already been known to have introduced the notion of a “Steam Powered Pigeon”.
Considered to be the world’s first artificial, self-propelled flying device, Archytas’ Pigeon was hollow on the inside, made out of wood and was shaped cylindrically with wings projected out to both sides of its body. The front meanwhile, was pointed in the shape of an actual pigeon’s beak. It was described to be quite aerodynamic, allowing it to reach maximum potential with regards both to velocity and flying distance.
Concept drawings for the original Flying Pigeon, as first invented by Archytas:
The opening of Archytas’ Pigeon was then connected to a boiler, which, as it begun to heat up, acted to create more and more steam, eventually exceeded the mechanical resistance of the connection, prompting the Pigeon to take flight along a suspended and lengthy wire, for roughly 200 metres before coming to a halt. Though thoroughly a Ancient Greek invention, it is quite likely that the Romans which eventually conquered Greece in its entirety, would eventually have come to also be quite familiar with such a concept themselves.
Roughly around the times Archytas in the East meanwhile, the Chinese had also been conducting flight experiments themselves, which saw the first introductions of a “Bamboo Helicopter”, debuting originally as a child’s toy. The bamboo helicopter flew, when a stick attached to its rotor was spun, creating the lift needed to fly when released from the appropriate heights.
An artist’s impression of Ancient Chinese children playing with these so called “Bamboo Helicopters”:
As for Aeronautical innovations made during the course of the Han Dynasty itself meanwhile, in great contrast to their Roman counterparts, the Han Chinese were able to make quite a few native developments and inventions themselves.
The Chinese kite, was one of these many aforementioned developments. The kite (whilst invented prior to the Han Era, was meanwhile significantly improved during it) was not only created as a means to transport messages to far off locations, but was also used to scare the enemies of the Chinese by mere appearance, as gravity defying objects were not a common sight, equally for all of China’s citizens alike.
In this respect, Kites were thus also made out of bamboo, because the sounds it was reported to make resembled the Chinese words of “fu, fu” (“beware, beware”), acting to further intimidate the soldiers of the opposition. Bamboo also made for a strong, light framework. A kite’s flying line meanwhile was made of Silk, for added tenacity.
A modern day Chinese Kite, which still partly resembles kites from the Han Era:
An early version meanwhile, of the Hot Air Balloon known as the “Sky Lantern” was meanwhile invented during the last years of the Chinese Han Dynasty, by a strategist known as Zhuge Liang.
The Ancient Chinese, for hundreds of years had already understood that as the temperature in a certain enclosure accelerated, the resulting heated air subsequently rose to the top, because it was less dense than the air surrounding it. Using this knowledge, they applied these ideas to create a Sky Lantern. A paper balloon to this extent was created to engulf a small lamp which was placed inside it, allowing the lantern to defy gravity altogether.
Zhuge Liang was the inventor of the aforementioned product, which he used to scare the enemies of his commander-in-chief, Liu Bei away. Aside from such a major development however, there is also evidence in support of the notion that the Han Chinese “solved the problem of aerial navigation” using said balloons, hundreds of years before the rest of the world did 1,500 years later.
A Modern Chinese “Sky Lantern” (which has changed very little since the times of the Han Dynasty):
Verdict: As the Romans have not really been recorded as having had many native innovations in the fields of Aeronautics themselves, their Han Chinese counterparts automatically win by default. Even with the Greek invention of the Flying Pigeon however, Rome’s innovations in this particular area, certainly fall short of the Chinese developments of the Kite and Hot Air Balloon during the Han Era. Rome and Han: 4 all.
Both the Han and Roman Empires had many unique materials which their respective counterparts did not get around to using in the same time period.
The Romans for one were known to have greatly excelled at producing Glass derived objects, the likes of such were considered to be vastly superior to other comparable wares, which were alternatively made from precious metals such as silver or gold. They did not just exist to be used by the Roman Upper Class, but were also mass produced to such an extent by the end of the Early Imperial Era, that glassware was often also used as cups, bowls, plates, bottles, and other everyday containers.
An example of Roman glassware, as commonly encountered in the Imperial Era:
Both the Roman Vitriarii (glass makers) and his complement; the Diatretarii (glass cutters) alike, by the times of the Imperial Era, could already use a variety of techniques to transform simple glass vessels into highly decorative pieces. Though initially Republican Roman glass was often opaque, glass making throughout the reign of the Empire had begun to progress steadily to such an extent, that by the end of the Flavian Dynasty (69–96 AD), colourless glass had begun to emerge for the first time in the History of Man.
During the Imperial Era in addition, Roman glass was also able to be artificially manipulated to such an extent, that glasses of colour could also be produced simply by increasing or decreasing the amount of present oxygen, whilst the glass was still in production within the furnace itself. But later on yet still, the Romans had imminently found a better way to produce coloured glass, and from then on simply added small amounts of metal to the mix, in order to achieve a certain shade or tint.
They discovered for example, that the adding of Lead, would lead to a yellowish colour. Copper equalled blue, green and red, Cobalt to dark blue and while, whilst adding Manganese to the mix returned the colours of pink and red.
In this way, they were also able to invent “Cameo” Glass, by mixing and experimenting with different types of colours, all infused into one. Such a development in time lead them to create the famous Portland Vase, a cameo glass object which was produced in the initial years of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty (14–68 AD), and can be seen below:
Apart from the Portland Vase however, the most famous of object with regards to Roman Glassware would had to have been the “Lycurgus Cup”, forged sometime in the 4th Century AD. Created from combining red and green coloured glass together, the thick layers of the said material which was used to forge the cup, were take away altogether, to leave behind a figure attached to the main body of the vessel only by the use of a solitary hidden bridge of glass.
Most notably, the cup was made from “Dichroic Glass”, which was special because it actually changed colours based on the presence or absence of light. It is depicted below, it was green when it was placed in the shadows, but red when it was placed in the light (which is why it is often regarded today as one of the earliest examples of nanoengineering in history):
Apart from innovations made in the fields of glass, the Romans also came up with the concept of Roman Concrete (likewise also not used by the Chinese), better remembered in antiquity by its proper name: “Opus Caementicium”. Forged through a combination of quicklime, pozzolana, and pumice, Roman Concrete came to be used in a variety of different structures.
For 700 years in fact, concrete was one of the primary materials used by the Romans to construct their buildings. Not only did it act to liberate the Romans from the use of just stone and brick materials, but it also enabled the Romans to come up with entirely new yet extremely complex design features.
Historian Donald Robertson recounts the effects of this newly introduced phenomenon as follows:
“Concrete, as the Romans knew it, was a new and revolutionary material. Laid in the shape of arches, vaults and domes, it quickly hardened into a rigid mass, free from many of the internal thrusts and strains that troubled the builders of similar structures in stone or brick.”
Modern tests, seeking to evaluate the tenacity of Opus Caementicium have concluded it to be as strong in certain areas as Portland Concrete, with a compressive (rather than tensile) strength of 200 kg/cm^2. Such a trait acted to make Rome’s buildings, materially resistant to such an extent, that even 2,000 years later, there are still many well preserved Roman ruins littered all across Europe, North Africa, and the Levant.
A photo depicting the Roman invention of the Arch as follows (a concept which was only made possible due to Roman concrete):
The Han Dynasty on the other hand, also likewise saw some interesting developments in the fields of Materials Engineering. Though neither the glass nor concrete were known to Chinese civilization at this point in time, the Han did have a few native contributions which the Romans likewise did not produce for whatever reason that may be.
Paper was first invented during the times of the Late Han Dynasty, supposedly by a Eunuch called Cai Lun. The raw materials which Chinese paper was said to have been produced with, namely worn fishnet, bark and cloth, were extremely easy to get a hold of, allowing it to have been produced both cheaply and en masse.
Paper was a vast improvement to the writing materials which had preceded it, during the Warring States Period before (476–221 BC). Back then, bamboo slips were used to write on, but due to the amounts which one would require in order to write a book, was often highly impractical and or inconvenient to use. Books as a consequence prior to the Han Era, tended to not just be confusing to read (for certain topics), but physically difficult for a potential reader to carry.
A page from the oldest surviving book in the world, written merely 30 years after the usurpation of the Han Dynasty (in 220 AD) during the succeeding civil war era of the Three Kingdoms Period (220–80 AD):
The introduction of paper meanwhile, eliminated such an innate disadvantage, and was naturally as such adopted throughout the lands of the “Celestial Empire”.
Porcelain was also another material which was discovered during the Han Era by Chinese scientists, one which was also not used by the Romans on the Western end of the Eurasian Continent. The oldest extant “Blast Furnaces” were of course invented by Chinese civilization prior to the reign of the Han Dynasty by hundreds of years. With temperatures going up to at least 1200°C by the times of the Han Empire however, this was what permitted the Chinese to create a new type material for the first time ever, in its history remembered today as Porcelain.
Porcelain, was a type of dust which had bonding and waterproof qualities making it highly appropriate to use as the basis to make bowls, jugs and dishes. The importance of China’s porcelain advancements cannot be overstated. Even during the Han Dynasty, the Chinese had already developed the abilities make their porcelain wares so durable to such an extent, that even to this day, the porcelain that is retrieved still retains much of its original paint from 2,000 years ago.
A porcelain pillow dating back to the Han Dynasty, assumed nowadays to still be intact with its original paint:
The last Chinese material which the Romans did not have meanwhile, but was used extensively by Sino civilization during the course of the Han Dynasty, was of course silk. Silk had of course already been around for hundreds of years by this point in time, but during the Han Dynasty especially was further advanced by Chinese scientists with regards to objects which derived from the aforementioned material.
Highly desired by all the empires of Eurasia alike, silk was not just used as clothing material by the Han Chinese, but also as fans, wall hangings and when paper was not available, writing material. Sericulture was already around for 3,400 years by the start of Han Era China, allowing the Han to have had hundreds of life times worth of experience in every matter of relating to silk.
More specifically, during the course of the Han Empire, silk as a material evolved to be finer and stronger, the former was specifically evident in one example where 220 warp threads/cm were woven in a particular set of clothes. Different breeds of silkworms meanwhile, were used to crossbred to produce many different types of new silkworms, who were multi-talented to such a degree that they could produce threads with different qualities useful to the weavers.
Not produced anywhere else in the world at the time, the Chinese jealously guarded their secrets from all of Eurasia for the next 200 years after the Han Era ended. Seen below was a Han Era silk brocade:
Verdict: This is where things get difficult. The issue is that both civilizations were highly advanced with regards to Materials Engineering, but they both excelled at different things and therefore non comparable aspects of civilization. Thus, it would neither be wise, nor fair, nor even productive to nominate a winner at the clear expense of the other. The point shall go both to Imperial Rome and China. Both made several indispensable innovations. Rome and Han: 5 all.
Roman advances in the realm of the Mathematical sciences were disappointingly few, going so far as to even be next to minimal (to put it bluntly). Few figures of prominence arose during the reign of the Empire, and fewer advances still were made with regards to mathematical theory.
And the reason for this was simple, the Romans; a supremely pragmatic peoples with little need for the notions of “Pure” Mathematics, concentrated instead on Applied Mathematics, which they frequently used in matters pertaining to Economy and Engineering. And not only that, but the most mathematically inclined region of the Empire (Greece), had already been ruthlessly suppressed by the former Republic halfway into the 1st Century BC.
The most notable exception to Rome’s issues in this field however came with the adoption of Roman numerals. The aforementioned system was extremely complex, but for hundreds of years still allowed Roman society to function without issue. Therefore, the author is forced to conclude that the system wasn’t really as inefficient as some have made it out to be.
The Roman numerals “LII” (52) on the crown of the entrance to the Colosseum:
Still, because the system was inherently difficult to grasp however, this often acted to further discourage Roman mathematicians from making crucial advances in the fields of advanced arithmetic, by ensuring that all such developments were highly improbable if not outright impossible. It was a base 10 system, but did not appear to have a concept representing notions of the “0” (neither did Han China however).
The numerals also followed an additive system. This simply refers to the fact that in the event that certain values are either reached, or surpassed, a new symbol would then be prompted into the mix. Sometime later during the reign of the Roman Empire, subtractive notations were also introduced to lessen the complexities of the Roman numerals system. For example, VIIII was transformed into just IX (X-I=IX) to represent “nine”.
Now, this did act to simplify the system a little, but also had the effect of further making calculations difficult, since numbers would need to be converted out of a subtractive notion, before undoing such an effort after the calculations were completed (seen below as follows)
There is evidence however that like their Eastern counterparts on the far side of the Eurasian continent, they did use the abacus to a somewhat high degree.
The Han Dynasty by stark contrast meanwhile, was considered to be one of China’s many “Golden Ages” with regards to the field of theoretical mathematics.
Though the Chinese, much like their Roman counterparts didn’t have a concept for zero either, they did however leave it blank in their calculations. Mathematical proof for the Gougu’s/Pythagoras’ Theorem (勾股定理) was discovered and recorded in the Han Chinese treatise, “The Arithmetic Classic of the Gnomon and the Circular Paths of Heaven” (周髀算經).
The text for one, asserted that the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle, was equal to the square of the other two sides combined (C^2= A^2 +B^2). This is depicted below as follows:
Using these instructions, the Chinese mathematician Chen Zi, and his “apprentice” Rong Fang were able to calculate the “height” of the Sun from the Earth, or at least attempt a calculation anyway as it ended up being extremely off by millions of kilometres.
Another mathematical book which not only held records of Han Era mathematics, but also for those as far back as the 10th Century BC, called the “Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art” (九章算術), was the first in the world meanwhile to reference the use by the Chinese of negative numbers, apart from right angled triangles, square roots, cube roots and even methods for matrices.
The Chinese counting system referenced the use of negative numbers via the use of counting rods. Numbers below “blank” were represented with black counting rods, whilst their positive counterparts by red rods in stark contrast. And although decimals had already been in use since the times of the Bronze age Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC), the text was also the first to reference the existence of decimal fractions as a means to solve equations, and represent measurements.
A page from the Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art:
Similarly, the Gaussian Elimination was also mentioned in the text, recorded under the title of the “Array Rule”. Pi, which was thought to exactly equal 3 up until the dawn of the Han Dynasty was meanwhile bombarded with many alternate suggestions including 3.1497, 3.1590, and 3.1670.
Dissatisfied with such efforts, the inventor of the Seismoscope, and Han astronomer Zhang Heng attempted to improve such efforts with his own estimates. He had noted that the area of a square as opposed to the area of its inscribed circle, would have a ratio of 4:3. Its hypothetical volume as such would be 4^2 : 3^2. And if D represents diameter, whilst V is taken to be volume, Zhang came up with the following formula:
D^3 : V = 16:9 or V = 9/16 * D^3
Noting that his formula was still wrong however with regards to the diameter, he added an extra 1/16 * D^3 onto the equation, correcting down below as follows:
V = 3/8 * D^3
Now, since he had previously discovered the volume of the cube to the inscribed sphere at 8:5, the square area’s ratio to the inscribed circle, had to be 8^1/2 : 5^1/2. And therefore, Pi was 10^1/2 or 3.162, which was still inaccurate however, it was only immediately after the Han by a few years when another Chinese mathematician, Liu Hui correctly approximated π at 3.14159.
The Han Chinese numeral system:
Mathematical progress was also made in the fields of Music. 12 tones originally, were thought to have existed on the musical scale, but were improved during the Han Era to cover 60 tonnes, a number 5 times greater than previously. Jing Fang, the Chinese mathematician responsible for such a discovery also realized that 53 perfect fifths (a musical interval corresponding to a pair of pitches with a frequency ratio of 3:2), was roughly equal to 31 octaves.
By calculating the difference to be 177,147 / 176,776, Jing reached the same value for the “53 Equal Temperament” duly as discovered in Europe roughly 1,650 years later by German mathematician Nicholas Mercator.
Verdict: By default, the Chinese win a point here simply due to the number of important discoveries they historically made, relative to their Roman counterparts. Which is not to say that the number of discoveries attained implies that is one is definitely more advanced than the other, but it was rather the lack of any Roman innovations in the fields of Mathematics, which really condemned them in this round. Rome: 5; Han: 6.
Civil and Structural Engineering
The Romans were the undisputed masters of Civil Engineering with regards to the Western half of Eurasia, unchallenged to such an extent that a huge portion of their former buildings still stand strong to this day relatively intact.
The Romans had 400,000 km of roads in total running through the entirety of their empire. Of this aforementioned number, roughly 85,000 km was fully paved or roughly 21.25% of the total amount of roads. Even a thousand years after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire (395–476 AD), Rome’s former highways were still being used by the Medieval Europeans up until the 1500s possibly.
Way stations meanwhile, were maintained all along this intricate system of travel infrastructure, to provide refreshments for weary travelers in need of a good break after a long day’s travel. Officials and couriers in service to the rich and powerful, often also had their own changing stations. All in all, on a good day, Roman citizens who were fortunate enough to use these highways were able to move up to 800 km for every 24 hours worth of travel.
The renowned (and also infamous) Via Appia for example spanned 563 km in total, and was one of these many said roads which were utilized by during the course of the Roman Empire:
Romans roads have been claimed to have been the most advanced for its time, until the dawn of the 19th Century merely 100 years ago. They were constructed by digging a pit along the length of a designated course. The pit was then filled with rocks, gravel or sand before finally also being topped off with a layer of concrete. And at last, when the aforementioned had been completed, the process was then concluded by being paved over with the use of polygonal rock slabs.
The Romans were also known to be avid builders of dams. In the former territories of Roman Iberia for example, 72 large scale water barriers were discovered in that particular region alone. Roman dams were so expertly crafted in fact, and so well organized to such an extent that some of them are still being used all across Europe to this very day. Several earthen dams have also been discovered in Britain in recent times.
The Cornalvo Dam in Spain today is still in use to this very day (its walls at least), and was built sometime in the 1st-2nd centuries AD (it has been in operation continuously for nearly 2,000 years), it measures 194 m long, 20 m high, and 8 m wide:
The Romans also built bridges throughout their empire. A total of 931 bridges in fact (most of which were Arch bridges) were built throughout Imperial Rome, prior to the fall of its Western half in 476 AD. Roman bridges were amongst the first large scale, and long lasting overpasses built in history.
Built with either stone, concrete or both, Roman wayovers often actively utilized the newly invented notions of the Roman Arch, both to decorate and strengthen the edifice as a whole. Arches acted to evenly distribute the weight of a bridge making them stronger and longer. Directly as a consequence of such an innovation therefore, the Romans managed to construct some incredibly lengthy bridges, far ahead of its time by hundreds of years.
A Roman bridge in Ponte da Vila Formosa, Portugal today, seen below:
For roughly 1,000 years for example, the Romans were privileged enough to hold the world’s record for longest overpass with regards to overall and span length. Built by a Greco-Syrian engineer called Apollodorus of Damascus, “Trajan’s bridge” as it was called, was the structure fortunate enough to hold this honour.
It was usually suspended above 18 m of water for the vast majority of the time. It had a total length of 1,135 metres long. There were of course other lengthy bridges which the Romans were fortunate enough to utilize, including the 135 metre Pons Aemilius in Rome, or even the 182 metre Alcántara bridge.
Pontoon bridges in addition (horizontally inclined ships stacked side by side to form an overpass), whilst first invented by the Chinese over 1,000 years earlier during the Iron age Zhou Dynasty (De facto rule: 1046–771 BC; Nominal rule: 771–256 BC), was also recorded as having been actively utilized by the Romans during the Imperial Era.
In one particular story for example, the Emperor Caligula (37–41 AD), had had a pontoon bridge built just in order to walk across the bay from one side to the other, in order to prove a seer wrong about an earlier prophecy, which had insisted that he certainly had no more chance of becoming the Emperor of Rome than he did of riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae. Naturally, he had to prove her wrong of course, and had a bridge built across it to prove his point.
A depiction of a Roman Pontoon Bridge on the column of Marcus Aurelius:
Sometimes whilst building such complex infrastructure, the Romans would be forced to come to a halt due to the cruel terrain of Europe, which actively obstructed their efforts with many annoying geographical features such as hills or mountains.
The Romans, a naturally adaptable peoples as such came up with the concept of tunnels. Tunnel construction was highly difficult for the Romans, and often took years to build since the measurements had to be precise (which was not helped in any part by the disadvantages of Roman numerals), in order to allow tunnels to meet in the middle (as they were dug out from both sides of the hill simultaneously during the Imperial Era).
Constructing tunnels during the Roman times was so arduous in fact, that a certain 5.6 km tunnel built in 41 AD by Emperor Claudius (reigned 41–54 AD) in order to drain the Fucine Lake, took 30,000 workers 11 years to build. Nonetheless, Roman tunnelling technology was still highly advanced for its time, especially since the aforementioned tunnel commissioned by Claudius, also had shafts which went up to 122 metres deep.
A Roman tunnel dating back to the Imperial Roman Era:
The greatest Roman innovations in the field of Civil Engineering however, would have to be with regards to the Aqueduct. Powered entire by the forces of gravity, Aqueducts were built to withstand the test of time to such an extent that it was literally not equalled until merely a few decades ago. The existence of such superstructures allowed for the flow of water to different parts of the Empire, with extreme efficiency.
At places with depressions deeper than 50 metres meanwhile, inverted siphons (pipes that must dip below an obstruction to form a “U” shaped flow path) were used to viciously force water uphill. Otherwise, the water which an aqueduct permitted to be transported, was allowed to flow naturally without human interference because of the slanted water channels which lay beneath it. The longest aqueduct meanwhile was said to be the one which supplied the former city of Carthage, described as being 178 km in length.
As for the Capital of Rome meanwhile, the existence of 11 aqueducts carrying 1,000,000 cubic metres of water each day allowed the city’s 1 million people to stay adequately hydrated. It should be noted however that given the combined productive capacities of Rome’s aqueducts, such a daily water supply would have been sufficient even for 3.5 million people hypothetically.
The Segovia Aqueduct which can still be seen today in Spain, in pristine condition as should already be self-evident, due to its use of Roman concrete:
Defensive walls, much like their eastern counterparts were also a core feature of Roman Civil Engineering. Though wall building had declined significantly when compared to the times of the Roman Republic, they were still a force to be reckoned with during the Imperial Era.
The Romans rarely just built a wall across the open country for fortificaition purposes, rather they built them primarily to protect cities. They usually built with brick and Roman concrete during the Imperial Era; an improvement from the preceding Roman Kingdom (753–509 BC) which had used dry stone and sun dried bricks instead.
Thanks primarily to the Roman invention of opus caementicium, introduced previously, many Roman walls across the former territories of the Roman Empire are still standing to this very day. Though modern concrete has been found to erode after only 50 years of exposure to seawater, in contrast to Roman concrete (the primary material of Roman ports) meanwhile which has survived intact to this day nearly 2,000 years after it was introduced.
The most famous of the Roman fortifications meanwhile, Hadrian’s Wall in its heyday was 117.5 km long, 3-6 m thick and up to 6 m high. The wall had a fort every 7.5 km meanwhile and took 6 years from 122–28 AD to complete. Due to a lack of water however, it was not made out of concrete, but had a core rather of earth or clay complemented with stones. The ruins of which can be seen below:
Although the Romans did not invent the wastage disposal system themselves (an invention which was already around by 3,100 BC, invented by the Indus Valley Civilization (3300–1300 BC)), they did however have a very sophisticated sanitation system meanwhile.
Roman Sanitation is best remembered still to this day for widespread abundances of their Public Baths (Thermae). Roman Baths were purposefully designed to have 3 separate facilities for bathing. The first was Apodyterium (Changing Room), in which a Roman citizen would undress to get ready for the next stage of the bathing process.
From there, a bather would journey forth unto the “Warm Room”, a facility known as the Tepidarium, which had the sole purpose of preparing one for the next room which was to follow, by only making it moderately hot inside. The last enclosure meanwhile was a true sauna unlike the previous, and was known (and rightfully so) as the “Hot Room” or Caldarium, which was complemented with by a Labrum; a cold water fountain for self-evident reasons.
The Roman Baths at Bath, London:
Roman sanitation was also defined both by the Flush Toilet, and a highly sophisticated system of drains and sewage. Bath water was recycled by using it to dispose of excrement at the public toilets. The plumbing behind city drains meanwhile was made of terracotta. And water during the Imperial Era was even separated as to direct high quality variants to be used in drinking and cooking, whilst its inferior quality counterparts meanwhile was utilized only for fountains and baths.
Last but not least meanwhile, was the phenomenon of Roman Housing. Roman houses in general were supremely well built as a rule, but there was often quite a substantial difference between the rich and poor. The rich often inhabited single story houses called “Villas”, centered around a concept called the “Atrium”. The Atrium had no roof, and was as such vulnerable to turbulent weather, but was designed to be as such in order to collect rainwater in the troughs surrounding the house.
A reconstructed courtyard depicting the Atrium section of a Roman Villa:
The Atrium was succeeded by a second open courtyard known as the Peristylium, which included a garden and was interconnected with several adjoining rooms; a case which was true for the Atrium before it also. The houses of the rich were centrally heated by a “hypocaust” (underfloor heating) and was supplied with fresh water brought direct to them from lead pipes.
The poor meanwhile lived in run down apartment blocks known as “Insulae”. Most of these shabby apartments only had two rooms at best, lacked proper facilities with running water, and was often extremely cramped and uncomfortable to live in.
Insula buildings usually had on average 6–7 apartments with the ability to house over 40 separate unique individuals, despite being restricted to a land area of 330m^2. The upper floors were especially known to be both hazardous and poorly built however, hence most inhabitants preferred to live on the lower to middle floors instead.
Ruins of an insula dating to the early 2nd century AD in the Roman port town of Ostia Antica:
In stark contrast to the Roman Empire meanwhile, few buildings dating back to the Han Era have survived to this day for in depth study, because for the most part they were made primarily out of wood (timber deteriorates quickly). Which by itself does not mean contrary to popular belief that the Han Chinese were inferior to their Western counterparts however, civilization use the means available to them to construct their buildings.
Neither stone nor marble were naturally abundant in the traditional abodes of “China Proper”, wood by stark contrast was however hence most Chinese buildings even to the end of the Imperial Era in 1912, were made primarily out of wood. In saying that though, the Han Empire was able to make steady progress in the realms of Civil and Structural Engineering meanwhile.
The Chinese however, much unlike the Romans were not avid builders of bridges nor roads. Whilst the Romans built 400,000 km of roads (as mentioned before), 1/5 of which were paved, and also 931 bridges of which most were arched, the Chinese only had 2 arch variants out of a total of at least 628 bridges (at least 67% of Rome’s numbers), and 35,400 km of roads (17.7% of Roman total amount of roads), most of which were unpaved.
The Chinese during the Han Era, were however instead able to make steady progress in the fields of Imperial civil engineering meanwhile. The greatest palace ever in the History of Man by area was built during the Han Dynasty, the Weiyang “Endless” Palace, seen below:
Built primarily from timber in 200 BC at the personal request of Liu Bang, First Emperor of the Han Dynasty (reigned 202–195 BC), the Weiyang Palace was described to be 1,200 acres (4.8 km^2) in area, making it 11 times the size of Vatican City today, or 6.7 times larger than the existing Forbidden City in Beijing or approximately 72 times the area of the Versailles Palace in France, thus making it was one of Imperial China’s greatest engineering endeavours during the times of the Han Dynasty. It was also known to have reached 35 metres deep below ground level.
Outside the Weiyang palace meanwhile was the great city of Chang’an, the Capital of the Han Empire, and the second largest city of Eurasia after Rome, with regards to their population numbering approximately around 400,000 individuals. Despite the fact that the city had merely 40% of Rome’s 1 million people population, Chang’an, the city of “Eternal Peace” as it was called in Old Chinese was 4 times as large as Rome in terms of area.
And because the city of Rome had an area of 13.73 square kilometres with a population density of 72,833 individuals per km^2, the Chang’an derived area from this figure was 54.92 km^2 which gave it a population density meanwhile of 7,283 individuals per km^2, or almost exactly 10 times less dense than the “City of the Seven Hills” in Italy.
A reconstructed Han Era Palace at Hengdian World Studios for the sole purposes of filming:
Divided into 11 neighbourhoods, the rich and the aristocracy were located in the City’s south, whilst the common people (artisans and merchants) resided in the northeast. As for the city itself meanwhile, a 12 gated wall with 8 avenues surrounded the Han Capital, itself surrounded by an also 8 metre wide moat.
Each of the aforementioned avenues was roughly 45–55 metres wide, the walls were 12 metres high, whist its perimeter was 25.7 km long. Evidence for the use both of stone and brick has also been discovered from Han archaeological sites surrounding the modern city of Xi’an (as it is called today).
Speaking of walls however, though the Chinese like the Romans often built city barriers to the same extent in both quality and quantity, their “free roaming” fortifications on the other hand meanwhile was likely to have been much greater than their western counterparts, all due to the existence of the Great Wall of China.
Though the Great Wall has been built many times over – most recent of which was during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) – the longest version of the Wall was built over 2,000 years ago by the Han Chinese. The Chinese Wall was approximately 10,000 km across making it 85 times longer than Hadrian’s Wall, which to be fair was only so short because the width of Britain itself was not very wide across.
Remains of the Han Era section of the Great Wall of China today in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, consistently 2.5 metres in height all across:
As the Great Wall was primarily situated in places far from the traditional abodes of China Proper, wood could not be used to make it, and instead the Chinese had to adapt. To this extent, sand and gravel was used instead for certain sections of the wall. Using rose willows and reeds, the Chinese constructed the basic frames of the walls first, before piling them up in layers. Ground water with high salinity meanwhile, was used to consolidate said sand and gravel.
Much like Roman structures, despite experiencing erosion for over 2,000 years, because the wall was not made out of wood, it still stands to this very day. After the Great Wall was at last finished by the Han Chinese, it was also fortified with beacon towers placed apart for every 5 km of the Han Empire’s northern borders. As a result, 20,000 towers ended up being constructed all along the Wall just for this purpose.
Beacon towers helped the Chinese to sound off warning of a preeminent invasion from abroad since at any given time it was always manned with garrisons upon garrisons of soldiers, who were instructed to generate smoke during the day, and set alight torches at night (both of which can be seen up to 15 km away), in order to warn the Imperial Army of an imminent nomadic invasion from the hostile Turkic peoples known as the Xiongnu.
A Han Era beacon tower, “Yumen Pass”; one of merely 80 which were built during the Han Dynasty to act as countermeasure against possible invasion against the nomadic Xiongnu Empire:
Beacon towers during the Han Era were usually wide at the base and narrower at the top. Often also square-based and tapered, they were mainly located well inside the Great Wall for obvious reasons. Usually also built on higher terrain than the rest of the Wall which complemented it, some of the towers reached 10 metres in height, though on general they were more likely to be 7 metres with regards to the average structure.
Of course, not all the sections of the Wall were made out of sand and gravel however. “Rammed-Earth” was another material used to built certain sections of the Han Empire’s Great Wall, and was also used in a variety of different types of structures as well.
Rammed-Earth was a material used by the Early Imperial Chinese which was essentially hardened earth. Similar to stone in both durability and hardness, Rammed Earth was made by collecting a large amount of earth, gravel, sand, silt and clay before subsequently compressing it until it was extremely dense. Like Roman concrete, Rammed Earth was also extremely resistant to the deteriorations resultant of time. As such, most Han Era ruins that still exist to this day are often found to be those that were primarily made of Rammed Earth.
Ruins of the former Han Chinese rammed earth city of Gaochang today in Modern China:
In fact, in a place where there were minimal if not absolutely zero trees present, every Chinese structure virtually was made out of rammed earth, down to the last building.
As such, Han Era rammed earth granaries for example have been found to have survived to this day:
Along with Han Era Watchtowers as well, this one specifically is located in Western Gansu:
With regards to Chinese subterranean structural engineering meanwhile, so far a minimum of 10,000 Han Era underground tombs have been discovered in Modern China today.
The tombs were made out of brick, hence they they have also survived to this day apart from the fact that they were underground. The Han Era Chinese (possibly exclusively) were the most fond, and avid builders of underground Imperial tombs which were built for the rich, and powerful.
Brick Vaults and Domes were frequently used underground despite not being used on the surface level. Han tombs were usually built in several parts to contain 3 different enclosures: there was the front, side and rear chambers.
A Han Dynasty vaulted underground tomb:
The tomb of Prince Liu Shan for one, elder brother to Han Wudi, specifically had a front hall with window drapes and goods to accompany him in the afterlife, with regards to the front hall. Carriages along with artificially produced horses meanwhile were located in the side chamber, whilst the rear end contained storage goods.
Imperial tombs themselves were expertly crafted by cutting horizontally into the hillside of the mountains themselves, in order to forge these great resting places for the beloved deceased. As they were exclusively made for the rich, the tombs were also designed to have a shaft like corridor leading onwards to a suite of rooms, in order to reflect the former layout of the deceased’s palace, whilst they were still alive. Essentially, the tomb was to crafted like this as to be the dead individual’s home in the afterlife.
An Eastern Han (25–220 AD) tomb from the secondary Capital of Luoyang:
And of course, all the luxuries which had graced them would also be present upon their one’s burial, including fine treasures such as gold, silver, weapons, jewellery, lacquer but most importantly also, jade.
It was from these tombs primarily, that information with regards to the housing of the common Han people have also been discovered, in the form of ceramic and downsized replicas of real Han Era wooden architectures.
Within the areas of China Proper itself, timber was the primary construction material so of course we have exactly zero remaining civil structures from the Han Era, since they were made out of wood. Nonetheless, due to references in both literature and by the aid of the underground ceramic models, there has been evidence to support the contention that the Han built immensely tall spires in their cities, to serve as astronomical observatories.
The houses of the rich meanwhile, in contrast to their Roman counterparts were often multi-storied. They all usually had a courtyard at the bottom, private fortifications, a balcony with balustrades, windows for every floor, and roof tiles to conceal the ceiling rafters. Case in point, here is an aristocrat’s home, with all the aforementioned features along with in addition watchtowers and gatehouses:
The fact that Han Era homes were often multi-storied was a very impressive improvement from the periods which came before. Traditionally during the Feudal Era (2070–221 BC), Chinese architecture placed a strong emphasis on building horizontally due to the inherent weaknesses and instability of using wood.
And yet, by the Early Imperial Era during the 426 year long reign of the mighty Han Dynasty of China, buildings were expanded into multi-storied buildings despite these inherent weaknesses.
Another ceramic house belonging to a Han Era nobleman:
Which is not to say that there were not multi-storied building prior to the Han Era (there were), but they were usually limited to 3 stories at the absolute maximum. During the Han Era however, that was no longer the case, and houses for the rich especially often strove to surpass such a limitation as seen below in this particular Aristocrat’s home, with 2 residential towers joined by a covered bridge, interconnecting the manor (left) with its complementary watchtower (right):
On the other hand, we have minimal information with regards to the housing of the common people, as the ceramic models were often used to replicate the homes of the rich. However, what little we do know about them however from literary sources has forced sinologists to conclude that the poor on average lived in 1–2 story houses, made out of mud.
3 generations often dwelt under the same building together. Like their Roman counterparts – the Plebeians of Rome – the Nong of Han, despite being ranked second highest on the Chinese social hierarchy were often impoverished beyond belief. As such, no irrigation for washing or for matters relating to toiletries existed at the time, much like the Insula blocks in the Roman Capital.
An ordinary peasant family’s home dating back to the Han Era:
To a much lesser extent than the Romans, the Han Administration also oversaw the construction of many public infrastructures throughout the Han Empire. The Zhengguo Canal for one was restored under the wise guidance of the great Han Wudi, who reasoned that because silt had been building up over time at the bottom of the canal, it had caused flooding.
Naturally, he knew he had to make repairs to it and moved to do by ordering that an all new 100 km long extension was to be made following the contour line, above the original Zhengguo Canal. Beam, Arch and Suspension bridges were also built during the Han Era meanwhile. And roads as mentioned previously, whilst nowhere near as long as Rome’s, was built all over the Han Empire and wa made primarily out of rubble and gravel.
Dikes were maintained all over China meanwhile, to safeguard farmland from seasonal floods. And postal and relay stations were both introduced and repaired.
Verdict: This is probably the toughest decision yet so far in this analysis, but the author believes the Romans have just slightly edged out their Han Chinese counterparts here, by the tiniest margin possible. As such, they have not done enough to earn an exclusive point at the expense of their rivals. Therefore, a point must be awarded to both sides due to the complexities of such a status quo. Rome: 6; Han: 7.
The Roman Military still to this very day, was a world renowned, highly lethal and professional 28 Legions strong force, comprising of roughly 140–168,000 men; a given in order to defend the 5 million km^2 land area of the vast Roman Empire. Naturally as such, Roman innovations in the fields of the Military cannot be underestimated.
The Romans were known to have used a great variety of siege engines. Onagers for one, similar to catapults were torsion powered (twisting of an object due to applied torque) consisting of a single vertical beam thrust a thick horizontal skein of twisted cords. Its skein meanwhile was subsequently twisted tight by geared winches, the beam was then pulled down to assume a horizontal position. This acted to further twist the aforementioned skein, whilst also increasing its torsion in addition.
An artist’s impression of a Roman Onager:
A stone was then placed on the end of the an Onager’s sling, and hurled either into a city’s walls, or straight into the enemy’s ranks when the beam was freed of its restraint and rebounded violently back to its original vertical position.
Onagers were not the only siege weapons to be utilized by the Romans however, Ballistas or large scale bolt throwers were also used to a huge extent during the Imperial Era. The largest ballistas were quite accurate, and could hurl both huge and heavy projectiles up to 460 metres away. It could meanwhile even accommodate weights of up to 30 kg. Weights of up to 78 kg were not unheard of however.
Ballistas much like Onagers, were also torsion powered but had two sets of parallel skeins instead through which 2 separate arms joined at their ends by the cord that propelled the missile. Ballistas were also much smaller than Onagers usually, allowing them to be more readily operated. Repeating ballistas in addition also existed, but were used on a scale much smaller than any of their standard variants. On the rare occasions that they were used however, they could fire up to several bolts without having the need to reload.
A reconstruction of a large scale Roman Ballista:
A smaller projectile accelerator known as the Scorpion meanwhile, were also utilized during the Imperial Era. Functioning very similarly to a Roman Ballista, Scorpions were usually placed at the top of a hill on the sides of an accompanying Roman legion. When shot from an elevated position, distances of up to 400 metres could easily reached by the resulting fired bolts from a Scorpion.
With a fire rate of 4 bolts/minute, more often than not the Scorpion was also used for long range defence rather than offense as it was usually quite difficult to move. It was also extremely expensive in addition, and was said to be essentially an overly large crossbow. 60 Scorpions per Legion was the norm during the Late Republic and Early Empire Era.
A reconstruction of a Imperial Roman Scorpion:
And of course as mentioned earlier, the Romans had a very sophisticated system of military surgeries, and also actively utilized pontoon bridges to suppress their enemies.
Ships were tied together side by side to allow a temporary crossing for the army, to journey across a particular dangerous section of a river or lake. The speed at which such crossings were made, was also perfected during the Imperial Era allowing the Romans to often catch their enemies off guard. Rafts were however were usually used more than pontoon bridges though, since they were easier to construct and deconstruct.
Every Roman legion meanwhile at any given time was always accompanied with a battlefield surgery unit (an innovation first pioneered by the Romans).
The Romans were also well acquainted with fort building in addition, and due to the fact that every last single Roman Legionary was trained in the arts of structural engineering, could build high quality forts as required, in a supernaturally short amount of time.
Reconstruction of the gateway of Arbeia Fort:
What made the building of Roman forts (Castra) especially notable, was the fact that a Legion could build one from scratch even after a long day’s march, using the raw materials from their surroundings. Several specialist engineering units were formed just in order to concentrate on the construction of said structures, called “Immunes”, since they were excused from the normal duties usually required from an ordinary legionary.
Commandeered by an overseeing unit called the Architecti (Engineers), the immunes could even under the very worst of circumstances, have an emergency fort constructed in a matter of hours. Camp plans from textbooks written specifically to aid in the construction of forts, were given to the Architecti to continuously reference whilst building, and manual labour was mandatory amongst legionaries to assist in the establishment of forts.
As for the forts themselves, every legion had in its possession one which served as its de facto headquarters where they were repeatedly rendezvous back at after a certain period of time. Much more so than their temporary forts, these main Castrum were highly sophisticated with regards to their features.
A plan for a typical Roman Fort in Bavaria, Germany:
Castrums in any case always had a castellum (wall) of some sort, usually made out of stone if possible but apart from that were also aided by trenches (fossa) which were filled to the brim with stakes (sudes). Possessing a rectangular exterior, towers were placed at regular intervals all along these walls armed with scorpions and other siege weapons.
As for Legionaries themselves meanwhile during the Early Imperial Era, were fortunate enough to have in their possession 4 key Roman military innovations: the Pilum, the Scutum, Lorica Segmentata and of course, the Gladius.
Coming in to variants; thick and thin was the Roman Javelin. Both types of pilum were roughly 2 metres long, but the thick variant was attached to the shaft with a 5 cm wide tang. The tip of both versions however was pyramidal in shape, with a diameter of 7.5 mm, and was directly above a wooden block to not only secure the metal head, but also to protect one’s hand in melee combat.
Both types of pilums were carried by an average warring legionary. The way they operated however, was that the javelins would be tossed at the enemy prior to an infantry charge. If the javelins did not meet their targets, and landed on a hostile shield instead, the pilum’s tip was designed to break off, acting to substantially contribute to the weight of an enemy’s safeguard, forcing him to part with it, making him especially vulnerable to attack.
The ingenuity of this design also meant that pilums could not be retrieved and thrown back at the legionaries themselves. They are depicted below as follows:
Scutums on the other hand, were the standard rectangular shaped shields of utilized by the Roman Army all over the Mediterranean. Equipped with round edges that curved around the corners, the Scutum was a human sized shield allowing a Roman soldier to effectively knock out cold an enemy warrior in some potential cases, or severely put him off balance at least.
The iconic Roman shield was on average roughly 1 metre high, 40 cm across, and 0.6 cm thick. Light enough to be held in one hand also, it allowed the vast majority of the 1.6–1.8 m tall legionary. Scutums most notably also allowed the Legions to form a variety of different formations including but not limited to standard shield tactics such as the famous Testudo or Tortoise formation:
Lorica Segmentata on the other hand was considered to be Rome’s state of the art classed body armour. Naturally as such, it was sometimes substituted instead for its chainmail counterpart; the Lorica Hamata. In the still common cases however where they did don a suit of the iconic 2nd Century Roman armour, it allowed its wearer to have several inherent advantages when it came to matters of combat.
There were four sections to Lorica Segmentata, two for the shoulders and two for the torsos. Using a technique called “case hardening”, the Legionary’s standard armour simultaneously used soft iron on the inside whilst also utilizing several strips of steel from without, attached together via the use of leather straps. The strips were arranged horizontally on the body, overlapping downwards, and they surrounded the torso in two halves, being fastened at the front and back.
A suit of Lorica Segmentata:
The shoulders meanwhile were safeguarded by additional steel plates which allowed for additional protection. This was a major disadvantage however, as it often meant that the armour weighed at least over 9 kg which would certainly have drowned its wearer should he have been unfortunate enough to have fallen into a lake. It also corroded very easily.
Last but not least meanwhile was the Roman Gladius; a short sword essentially. Made from steel, and only 60–85 cm in length with a weight merely of 0.7–1 kg, the Gladius was a core part of the Imperial Roman Army.
The design was such that it was used to stab rather than slice, and was efficient especially when it came to fighting in close quartered formations with little room for free moving nor mistakes.
In great contrast to the Romans, the Han Chinese had fewer developments in the realms of military technology.
The Han Empire did however make good use of Crossbows. Crossbows had of course already been around since the 6th Century BC, having been invented by the Ancient Chinese during the Spring and Autumn Period (771–476 BC), but during the Han Empire saw new heights attained.
Crossbows during the Han Era were improved to such an extent that entire Imperial corps trained specifically in the aforementioned weapon were more than capable of completely (if not that, then at least mostly) decimating a group of mounted warriors, who had been charging from afar. Rows upon rows of Chinese crossbowman were formed, all properly trained to fire off a single volley before ducking to allow the supporting row behind them to fire off a another round of projectiles directly at the enemy.
A Han Era Crossbow:
One of the most common forms of Crossbowmen tactics was to split a division into two, in the form of two wings, in order to allow for crossfire to occur. Not only was it severely devastating to the opposition, it also acted indirectly as psychological warfare.
Not only did the Chinese use two types of crossbows (light and heavy), but they also took to mounted archery as well in addition, having been influenced by their wars with the Turkic Nomadic Xiongnu Empire (209 BC-439 AD). Single-handed crossbows in addition also existed during the time period, which allowed for mounted riders to be hold onto the reins of the horses whilst shooting also.
Crossbows ended up being mass produced to such an extent in fact, that in the city of Luoyang alone, a reported 11,181 crossbows and 34,625 arrows have been discovered in the former Han secondary Capital alone. Repeating crossbows meanwhile during the Han Era, had also just been introduced for the first time ever towards the end of Imperial China’s second dynasty.
The Chinese invention of the repeating crossbow, introduced during the Han Era:
Invented by a Han strategist named Zhuge Liang (who also invented the Kite as previously discussed), the Repeating Crossbow had a much higher rate of fire than its more normal variants, because the act of stringing the bow, placing a bolt and shooting it could all be done with one hand whilst keeping the weapon stationary.
To make it work, a “magazine” containing a number of bolts was loaded into the crossbow, and as the projectiles were being fired, it triggered a mechanism from within which would cause a rectangular level to oscillate backwards and forwards appropriately. Weighing merely 1.19 kg, 0.6 m in length, 0.44 m in width and also extremely easy to produce and operate, it gave the Han Chinese a massive edge on the battlefield.
Horse drawn, “Heavy Crossbows” (武刚车) were also known to be used in sieges, with one particular variant requiring the equivalent of 159 kg to even load. Apart from that however, the Chinese often used Traction Trebuchets instead, which was also first thought to have been invented by the Ancient Chinese. Roman style torsion powered weapons were not known to have existed in the Han Empire meanwhile.
The Han Dynasty being a Cavalry centric fighting force also during the Early Imperial had invented (disputed and controversial) the Stirrup, a new discovery which allowed the Imperial Cavalry to be more efficient in combat:
Han Era stirrup:
Attached to each side of a horse’s saddle, in the form of a loop with a flat base to support a rider’s foot, it allowed the already fierce Han Cavalry to fight yet even more effectively on horseback.
Although the advantages of the stirrup have been disputed, this is a rather unfair view of what was a moderately important addition to the fields of military technology. Stirrups in fact made it harder for a rider to be knocked off his feet, and allowed Chinese horse archers to stand up in order to fire an arrow, or strike with a melee weapon from a greater height and with greater force.
The Han Dynasty also built forts like the Romans, but they were nowhere near as advanced for sure (plus we know little of them anyway). But they did have gatehouses and watchtowers to protect these vast fortresses however, defended by thousands of soldiers, with walls which were tens of metres high up and armed to the teeth with siege defence weaponry.
A ceramic model of a fortress dating back to the Han Era:
The Han Chinese meanwhile were also known to have practiced Chemical Warfare amongst many other developments in the fields of military technology.
Around the year 178 AD for example in order to suppress a peasant rebellion, the Chinese had horse drawn chariots manoeuvre around the opposing enemy army carrying bellows (a device that furnishes blasts of air), which was then used to pump calcium oxide (CaO), or burnt lime at the said hostile forces.
The Imperial Army was also purported to have used incendiary rags to rout the enemy, by tying them to the tails of their stallions which then acted to terrify them into charging towards the enemy lines, subsequently disrupting their formations and in the process acting to make the rebels vulnerable to an Imperial charge.
With regards to siege equipment on the other hand, the Chinese were known to have used the Traction Trebuchet, and though they did not invent it themselves managed to develop it to unbelievable standards during the reign of the Han Empire.
Caltrops, were also known to have been utilized by the Han Chinese also in addition. Made from iron primarily, the caltraps or as they were known as in Chinese, the anti-cavalry pikes (拒馬鎗) were an array of long ranged weapons (not necessarily spears), which were put up together on a wooden rack and were deployed en masse all over the paths leading to and from gates, streets, paths and outside the walls of fortresses, in order to halt the advance of the an enemy cavalry force. They are seen below as follows:
The average Han Infantryman meanwhile, came equipped with four items which allowed him to emerge victorious on the battlefields: a Jian, a Ji, Fishscale or Lamellar armour (both were utilized at Han China’s heights equally), and was also accompanied with by a Gourd Shaped Shield for defensive measures.
The average Han Infantryman meanwhile, came equipped with four items which allowed him to emerge victorious on the battlefields: a Dao, a Ji, Fishscale or Lamellar armour (both were utilized at Han China’s heights equally), and was also accompanied with by a Gourd Shaped Shield for defensive measures.
The Dao was the average infantryman’s sword. Singled handed and single edged, was 1.12 m long and made of steel rather than bronze as swords were first made of in the earliest part of the Han Dynasty. The Dao was made through “folding and forging” techniques which acted to improve the quality and strength of the steel, by minimizing impurities and spreading the carbon content evenly throughout the aforementioned material.
Because of its length, the users of such weapons were forced to slice rather than stab, much unlike a Roman Gladius. Naturally, it was found to be more effective when used by the Imperial Cavalry, rather than with infantryman. It was also a vast improvement from the double-edged Jian which came before, and was said to have only taken a week to master, as opposed to the Jian which took months.
A reproduction of a Han Era Dao:
The Ji (Halberd), was a common infantry weapon meanwhile which combined a dagger axe with a spear (the cavalry used it as well). It was very effective. The Halberd was an especially long spear which came attached with a hook. You could thrust and stab whilst also using it to hook onto the enemy’s leg and pull back to dismember it completely or at least severely cripple it.
Because of the Ji’s length, you could safely kill dozens of enemies at a very safe distance. It could of course also be used as a long range double handed axe. Two variants of it are seen below as follows:
Lamellar Armour meanwhile, was made out of hundreds of small overlapping metal and or leather plates laced together, to make a flexible and light coat of armour. Coat of plates consisted of hundreds of small non-overlapping metal or leather plates stitched or riveted together. Though offering much less protection than the legionnaire’s Lorica Segmentata, the Han infantryman’s armour was much lighter allowing the soldier to move faster and tire out at a slower rate.
Lamellar armour dating back to the Han Wudi Era (141–87 BC) during China’s campaigns against the Xiongnu Empire (Source:):
Apart from Lamellar armour, Fish scale cuirasses were also utilized by the Han Chinese. Much like its Lamellar variants, Fish scale armour were also made up of many individual plates which were tied to one another, held by the backing of a cloth or leather in overlapping rows. This particular one below dated back to the Early Han Era:
And lastly was the Han Infantry’s Gourd Shaped Shield. Though it pales in comparison to the Roman Scutum, as is self-evident the shield was extremely small and offers minimal protection to its user. On the other hand, the small shield offered more maneuverability than the scutum whilst offering some form of protection against arrows. In addition, it was also much lighter than the scutum, thus you could use it to offset an enemy’s balance via a swift blow to the head.
A Gourd Shaped Shield as seen below, dated back to the Han Era:
Verdict: The Roman Empire would for sure have been much more advanced than their Han Chinese counterparts with regards to military technology. But it should be noted that military technologies were only made to fit with the circumstances of the time.
For example, whilst Lorica Segmentata was superior to the Lamellar armour of the Han, it would not have been wise for the Chinese to adopt a similar set of cuirasses, since they were up against the Horse Nomads of the North, who went to war on horseback and used bow and arrow to gain a comparative advantage over the Han Chinese. As such a 9kg suit of armour would be a liability to the Han, rather than an asset. Nonetheless, for the purposes of the comparison, the Romans win the last point. Rome and Han: 7 all.
As should be quite obvious by now, the Han and Romans were advanced on a similar scale to one another. At last, such a contention which has long been asserted all over the Internet has now (hopefully) been proven at last.
It would seem that the Romans were more advanced than their Chinese counterparts in the fields of Metallurgy, Medicine, Military Technology and also slightly when it came to Civil and Structural Engineering.
The Chinese in contrast were more advanced than their Roman counterparts when it came to the fields of Agriculture, Astronomy, Aeronautics and Mathematics.
The two peer empires meanwhile were equals in the fields of Hydraulics and Mechanics, and Materials Engineering.
The author is forced to conclude as such, that the two great fathers of Western and Chinese civilization, Rome and Han respectively were approximately equal with regards to technological advancement.