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Upper-crust Romans disdained practical engineering, and since it has beenwrongly assumed that classical Greece and Rome were in effect a single culturalenterprise, it has often been asserted that the Greeks thought the same. In thenineteenth century there were growing doubts in some quarters about whetherthe Greeks had really been so smart. If they were so clever, why hadn't theydiscovered the mechanical science that led to Europe's industrial revolution?16The answer was a magnificent put-down to these philistines: the ancient Greeks,very properly, had left practical and experimental matters to their slaves andservants.The authority usually cited for this was Plutarch, an entirely Romanized Greekwriting in the early second century AD.He pushed the Roman contempt for meremechanics back on to the ancient Greeks, deducing that Plato's criticism ofexperiment meant that 'mechanics came to be separated from geometry, andrepudiated and neglected by philosophers'.17Plutarch projected his own distastefor the subject on to the Greek Archimedes: 'He viewed the work of theengineer and every single art connected with everyday need as ignoble and fitonly for an artisan.' Archimedes, having been dead for 300 years, was in noposition to argue – a shame, since given the amount of time, energy and pride heinvested in making machines, this assertion is obvious nonsense.
When Plutarch's Liveswas rediscovered at the start of the Renaissance, itstimulated a new respect for the classics. Greek literature, philosophy andtheoretical mathematics have been treated ever since with reverent awe. Butclassically educated scholars imitated what they thought to be a Greek contemptfor practical engineering and technology. Surviving Greek texts on these subjectswere either totally ignored or dismissed as impossibly fanciful by scholarsstudiously ignorant of engineering.But this was a Roman mind-set, not a Greek one. Greek mechanical sciencewas based on very highly developed practical and theoretical scientificinvestigation. It was killed off by the Romans, who were not interested andneeded a society that changed as little as possible. Rome has triumphed over ourunderstanding of the history of technology as thoroughly as it has in other areas.Romans lived behind frontiers, and what lay beyond was dangerous. Thatapplied as much to their mental world as to their geography.WAR MACHINESRoman literary sources don't say much about the technological sophistication ofthe Hellenes. The first revelations about ancient Greek science were made whena German artillery officer of the First World War, Erwin Schramm, beganbuilding his own reconstructions of ancient artillery.18His work has been takenmuch further by the British historian Eric Marsden.