posted on Oct, 31 2004 @ 08:35 PM
My appreciation for a truly interesting and intelligent thread. I suscribe to the belief that the fall of the Roman Empire wasn't wholly attributable
to the Germanic tribes, although they played an important role in reducing it. Don't forget, too, that the Eastern part of the Empire, the Byzantine
Empire, out lived the Rome-centered part for centuries, so in a real sense, it didn't actually end with the fall of Rome.
My take on it is that it simply grew too large and diverse to hold together. Communications technologies were too slow to exercize effective command
and control over such large territories, and the centrifugal forces of divergent cultures and economic interests could not be managed without the
command and control.
I also like the contributions to this thread that point out how the Roman Empire is still with us in many ways. You may be amused by the following
brief history of the railway guage. My apologies for not providing the source; I've lost track of where I got it, nor do I vouch for its
Romans Designed our Railways
Does the expression, "We've always done it that way" ring any bells? The North American standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4'
8.5". Now that's an exceedingly odd number. Why is it used? Because that's the way they built them in England and English expatriates built the US
Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways and that's
the gauge they used.
Why did the tram builders use that gauge? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons,
which used that wheel spacing.
And why did the wagons have that particular wheel spacing? Because if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the
old long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.
So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been
used ever since.
The initial ruts in the roads were formed by Roman war chariots, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the
chariots were made for, or by, Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.
So, the North American railroad gauge derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot.
Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's ass came up with it, you may
be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses.
There's an interesting extension to this story about railroad gauges and horse's behinds.
Notice the two big solid fuel booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank of the Space Shuttle. These rockets are made by Thiokol at
their factory in the state of Utah. The engineers who designed them might have preferred to make them a little fatter, but the rockets had to be
shipped by train from the factory in Utah to the launch site in Florida. The rail line from Utah to Florida happens to run through a tunnel in the
The rockets had to fit through the tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, which is about as wide as two horse's behinds.
So, a major design feature of what is, arguably, the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the
width of a horse's ass.