Ancient Romans had impressive technologies that got “lost” during the Dark Ages.While advances continued to be made, especially in architecture, during the Middle Ages, technologies that the Romans began to develop became dormant. Some of these were hydraulic power, the beginnings of the steam engine, science-based advances in medicine, the aqueduct system, indoor plumbing (yes, there was running water and flush toilets, at least for the wealthy), and even a mechanical computer.
But ancient Rome, like so many other great civilizations, including this one, became hubristic and militaristic, drunk on its own power. History shows that this kind of excess in a society never ends well, and Rome is a glaring example of what happens when a society becomes too big or too mighty. So Rome fell, and it took with it almost all technological advancement for a thousand or more years.
I wonder what would have happened if Rome never fell. I wonder if we’d be about a thousand years more advanced than we are today. Perhaps the steam engine would have been invented in 600 or 700, rail travel by 800, the discovery and harnessing of electricity by 900, the combustion engine (leading to cars) slightly later, space travel by 1000, modern computers (or their equivalents) by 1050, the Internet and Smartphones (or their equivalent) by 1100. By the time of the Renaissance, we’d probably be far more advanced than we are right now.
Would we now be colonizing other planets and traveling to distant stars? Would we be able to reverse aging or cure cancer? Would we now be immortal or have already self destructed? It’s sobering to think how powerful Rome would be by now if it hadn’t fallen. We might be living under a global dictatorship.
I think there’s a natural system of checks and balances that keep a society from gaining too much power, at least over any extended period of time. Societies that grow too powerful seem destined to fall (and are bad for its average citizens), but from the ashes of their ruins rise the seeds of the next great civilization. The Middle Ages, for all its backwardness and ignorance, spawned some of the greatest minds in history, bright lights keeping watch over the dark wilderness of a western world that was replenishing itself through a much needed long sleep.