Greek and Roman Technology

Greek and Roman technology comprises a diverse body of theories and practical skills that were harnessed to intervene in the material environment, alleviate its uncertainties and make it more amenable to human habitation. Technology improved food supply, shelter, clothing, mobility and the pleasures of entertainment. Although technological innovations fundamentally altered the material conditions of ancient life, and a considerable proportion of any city’s population earned its livelihood through craft and manufacturing, ancient Mediterranean societies are generally interpreted through the lens of elite texts, written by landowners who despised “base technicians.” Technology was perceived as a threat to traditional class structures since practical training was unregulated, highly mobile, and potentially lucrative. In this course we will explore the locales, devices, and recipes of different technologies, ranging from food processing, healing practices, craft production in households and specialized workshops to quarrying, metallurgy, and construction. Particular focus will be on the production and reception of ancient art and architecture as a component of contemporary technological systems. Alongside the material legacies of ancient technology, we will look at key issues arising from textual discourses about knowledge, such as theories of human origins and progress, ideas of creativity and agency, and attitudes to labor and economic risk. We will also examine how the reception of ancient technological writings has shaped early modern art traditions, especially the enduring distinctions between fine art and vernacular craft. 3 Credits. Satisfies the pre-1800 requirement.