Romans’ disruptive technology

GLADIATORS and gladiatrices of the Great Southern, now is your time to appreciate the ground-breaking technology of the ancient Romans.

Ancient Rome: The Empire that Shaped the World is on display at the Museum of the Great Southern for the next three months, until July 21.

The exhibition gives visitors the chanceto admire innovations that held the Roman Empire together for centuries, and marvel at the technology used to build Rome.

“Our artisans have meticulously reconstructed ancient Roman technology to scale from drawings using the same materials and techniques that the Romans used thousands of years ago,” says Thomas Rizzo, exhibition director for tour company The Artisans of Florence.

Ancient Rome: The Empire that Shaped the World
Thomas Rizzo and Catherine Salmaggi with two of their Roman buddies. Photo: Chris Thomson

Ancient Romeis touring Western Australia after showing in Rome, Hong Kong, China, Taipei, Macao, Korea and New Zealand.

“We’ve got the exhibition split into themes,” Rizzo says, showing The Voice of the South around on what is the first media tour of the exhibition in situ in Albany.

“This is the military prowess, the ‘we came, we saw, we conquered’ area, with different siege machines, naval war vessels, and of course this great diorama of the soldiers in action.”

From here, Rizzo steps upstairs via an emperors’ walk of fame that culminates in a bust of Julius Caesar.

 “He’s often portrayed as a bit of a villain in the Anglo-Saxon world, and I suppose Shakespeare probably had a hand in that, but over in Europe and Italy in particular he has always been seen as a bit of a hero,” Rizzo says.

Moving on to the ‘constructing Rome’ segment of the exhibition, which displays the machines and technology used to build the empire, Rizzo reveals it was the Romans who invented the zebra crossing.

“To cross a Roman road, you would have these stepping stones going across so the gentry could cross without getting muck and dirt on their feet,” he expands.

“There was a lot of horse-driven carts, and these stepping stones needed to have holes between them because they needed the wheels of the wagons to run between the cobble stones and because of that they had to standardise every axel in the empire.”

Thus, the stepping stones inspired both the visual representation that became the zebra crossing, and the standard gauge that never quite caught on in Australia until much, much later.

Moving on to the exhibition’s ‘entertainment’ area, Rizzo relays some under-appreciated facts about gladiators: they were vegetarians, and there were women gladiators known as gladiatrices.

Museum Manager Catherine Salmaggi pops by to proffer two fascinating facts of her own – that the Romans used urine to brush their teeth, and the most expensive urine emanated from Portugal.

“It was supposedly the strongest urine in the world and the best choice for whitening your teeth,” she explains.

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