Lesson: Learn about Roman Engineering with Frank Lampard

Explore the fascinating history of Roman engineering and find out why the Roman Empire became so powerful.

Learn about Roman Engineering with Chelsea's Frank Lampard
Revision Notes

England and Chelsea football legend, Frank Lampard, has an interesting connection with ancient Rome. He was born in Romford Essex, just a long free kick from the great Roman Road from London to Colchester, Rome’s first capital in Britain.

Lampard has a reputation as a very clever man. His IQ has been tested at 150, almost genius level, and he got 12 GCSEs at A or A*, including Latin, the language of Ancient Rome, which the Romans spread around the known world.

Step back in time to learn the story of Roman engineering and why the Roman Empire has left us such a wonderful legacy!

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If you need to know more about Rome’s glorious past, you could ask Frank Lampard, he got an A* in GCSE History!

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Frank Lampard

Frank Lampard OBE was born in Romford Essex on June 20th, 1978. An English professional football manager, currently at Chelsea, and former player, he is widely regarded to have been one of the greatest midfielders of his generation.

Lampard began his career in 1995 at West Ham, the club where his father, also called Frank, played. He is best known for his time at London rivals Chelsea, after he signed for the club in 2001 for £11 million. A leading goalscorer, he won almost all the titles the game has to offer, including three Premier League titles and the UEFA Champions League and four FA Cup winners medals. He left Chelsea in 2014, after which he played for league rivals Manchester City and US Major League Soccer club, New York City, before retiring in 2017.

At international level, Lampard played 106 times for England and played at three FIFA World Cup tournaments. After retiring, Lampard moved into television presenting and football punditry. He also wrote several children’s books. He began his coaching career with Championship club Derby County in 2018 and led them to the final of the play-offs. He was appointed as Chelsea's head coach a year later.

Lampard’s intellectual prowess in well known. Before taking up a full-time football career, he achieved a remarkable haul of 12 GCSEs, including an A* in Latin. Also, in 2009, it was reported by Mensa (the society for people with a high IQ) that Lampard showed an unusually high IQ score during neurological research carried out by the Chelsea doctor, Bryan English. English said that, “Frank Lampard scored one of the highest set of marks ever recorded by the company doing the tests.”

Roman Engineering

The Romans are known for their remarkable engineering feats, be they roads, bridges, tunnels, or their impressive aqueducts. Their constructions, many of them still standing, are a testament to their superior engineering skills and ingenuity. Roman engineers improved upon older ideas and inventions to introduce a great number of innovations. They developed materials and techniques that revolutionized bridge and aqueducts’ construction, perfected ancient weapons and developed new ones, while inventing machines that harnessed the power of water. Roman Engineering accomplishments generated much wealth and prosperity, improving the daily lives of Romans and helping Rome maintain its dominance in Europe and the Mediterranean for centuries.


Aqueducts already existed in the Near East for centuries before the construction of Rome’s first aqueduct, the Aqua Appia in 312 BC. The Romans, however, introduced many innovations which allowed them to build aqueducts on an unprecedented scale. Aqueducts consisted of conduits, tunnels and pipelines bringing water from far-away springs and mountains into Cities and towns. They supplied water to the cities’ fountains, latrines, public baths, and houses of wealthy Romans. They were also used to power mills and other machines

Roman aqueducts used gravity, not pumps, with a slight downward inclination for the water to flow. Other innovations included the use of arcades to transport water over valleys and low-lying terrain, with the extensive use of concrete and waterproof cement linings. Another innovation was the use of settling tanks at regular intervals to regulate the water supply.

Aqueducts could be over 100 kilometres (62 miles) long. For example, the Aqua Marcia built in 144-140 BCE ran underground for about 91 km (57 miles) underground, and then 10 km (6 miles) above ground on substructures and arcades before it reached the city of Rome.

Aqueducts had to be regularly maintained, as debris accumulated in their conduits, and leaks developed over the years. By the middle of the Principate, Rome had a large and complex water network with aqueduct cross-links that ensured a continued delivery of water even if one aqueduct was under repair.


As soon as the second century BCE, the Romans built large and magnificent stone bridges such as the 135 meter (443 ft) long Pons Aemilius in Rome. The first stone bridges used stone blocks held together with iron clamps. By the mid-2nd century BCE, Romans made extensive use of concrete: bridges were often constructed with a concrete core and a stone-block facing. The use of concrete significantly increased the bridges’ strength and durability. Concrete was also used to build strong piers. When piers could not be built out of rock, the Romans used “cofferdams”, which were temporary enclosures made from wooden piles sealed with clay. The cofferdams were driven into the riverbed and filled with concrete, in order to make piers.

Roman builders were also the first to fully understand the structural advantages of an arch. Bridges had arches consisting of individual arch stones (longer on one end than the other) called voussoirs, which efficiently distributed the bridges’ weight. Such arched structures made bridges stronger and allowed for much longer bridge spans. For example, the Alcántara bridge, still standing today, is 182 m (597 ft) long, with arches 29 m (95) wide and huge voussoirs weighing up to eight tons each. The hundreds of Roman bridges still in existence all around Europe are a testament to their incredible strength and reliability.


The Romans dug tunnels as well for their water aqueducts and roads whenever they encountered obstacles such as hills or mountains. Tunnel construction was challenging not only because excavation could take years, but also because surveyors had to make sure that both ends of a tunnel met correctly at the centre.

The most common tunnel construction method was the qanat method, developed by the Persians in the early first millennium BCE. The tunnel was made straight by using a line of posts laid over a hill and by digging vertical shafts at regular intervals. The shafts ensured that the tunnel did not deviate from its set trajectory and provided ventilation to the workers.

The 6 km long tunnel that emperor Claudius built in 41CE to drain the Fucine Lake took 11 years and 30,000 workers to build. The counter-excavation method was a method used to dig through high mountains. Workers dug the tunnel from both sides of a mountain and met at a central point. This method of construction required greater planning and a greater knowledge of surveying and geometry. Builders had to constantly check the tunnel’s advancing direction, for example, by looking back at the light that penetrated through the tunnel mouth. Ventilation, especially for long tunnels, was also an issue, as shafts could not easily be excavated down from the top of a mountain. The required construction times depended on the type of rock being excavated, and the tunnel’s construction. Tunnels involving shafts, for example, could be built much more quickly.

When the rock was hard, Romans employed a technique called fire-quenching. This consisted of heating the rock with fire, and then suddenly cooling it with cold water so that it would crack. Tunnels could take years, if not decades, to be built, even with thousands of slaves. For example, the 6 km (3.7 miles) long tunnel that emperor Claudius built in 41 CE to drain the Fucine Lake (Lacus Fucinus) took 11 years to build and used approximately 30,000 workers.


The Romans had an extended road network stretching from northern England to southern Egypt, with a total length of no less than 120,000 km (74,565 miles) during the Empire. Roman roads were made for travel, trade, and to maintain control over the Empire’s vast territories. They facilitated the rapid deployment of armies when needed.

A road’s main objective was to connect in as straight a path as possible two cities often hundreds of kilometres apart. The Via Appia built from 312 BCE, connected Rome to Capua (190 km apart or 118 miles) while important cities along its path were only accessed through branch roads. The construction of Roman roads involved colossal works of engineering because not only bridges and tunnels, but also viaducts, had to be built wherever roads encountered major obstacles. Road construction also involved massive land excavation, the transport of materials for backfill and levelling over long distances, and huge hydraulic projects for water drainage and land reclamation.

Roman roads were built by first setting the curb stones, digging a long pit between them that was the entire width of the road, and then covering it with rocks or gravel. The layer of gravel was compacted, and a layer of finer gravel was added. The road was then paved with large polygonal rock slabs. Because of the layer of gravel below, Roman roads were able to resist freezing and floods and required relatively little maintenance. Furthermore, the road surface had slight inclinations, so that rainwater could flow to the curbs on either side.

Milestones (from milia passum in Latin meaning 1,000 paces) were also placed along the road at intervals of one mile. They were 1.5 m (5 feet) high heavy columns which indicated the number of the mile, the distance to Rome, and names of the officials who built the road.


The Pantheon is the best-preserved building from ancient Rome and was completed in 125CE in the reign of Hadrian. Its magnificent dome is a lasting testimony to the genius of Roman architects and as the building stands virtually intact it offers a unique opportunity for the modern visitor to step back 2,000 years and experience the glory that was Rome.

The purpose of the building is not known for certain, but the name, porch and pediment decoration suggest a temple of some sort. However, no cult is known to all the gods and so the Pantheon may have been designed as a place where the emperor could make public appearances in a setting which reminded onlookers of his divine status, equal with the other gods of the Roman pantheon and his deified emperor predecessors. We are told, for example, by Pliny, the 1st century CE Roman author, that there were once statues of Venus (wearing a pearl once owned by Cleopatra), Mars, and Julius Caesar inside the Pantheon.

The Pantheon was built on the exact site of two earlier Pantheon buildings, one commissioned by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (27-25 BC) and the second by Domitian. The first was destroyed by fire in 80 BC and the second was struck by lightning in 110 BC and again burned down. The third Pantheon was probably begun in the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD) but not finally finished until around 125 CE when Hadrian was emperor. He often convened the Roman Senate there and it is this version which still stands today in central Rome.

The Pantheon’s dome is concrete & the external surface was originally covered in sheets of bronze. The whole building stands on a 1.3 metres high base which originally extended a further 7 metres in front of the colonnade. Steps in Numidian yellow marble extended from the outer ends of this base. The building consists of two principal parts – the porch, which is very Classical Greek in presentation, and the circular main building which is much more Roman in style and reminiscent of the architecture of the large Roman baths. The circular building is built using brick and concrete but was originally faced with white marble stucco to match the porch in appearance. The dome is concrete with the external surface originally covered in sheets of bronze, but these were removed by Constans III in 663 AD.

The porch measures 33.1 x 13.6 metres and presents a front colonnade of eight Corinthian columns 11.8 metres high. The monolithic column shafts are in Mons Claudianus and Aswan grey granite with the bases and capitals in white Pentelic marble. The pediment above the columns is now empty but drill holes suggest there was originally an emblem of some sort, possibly an eagle or wreath which would have been in gilded bronze and symbolised Jupiter. The porch was faced with white Pentelic marble and is decorated with reliefs showing objects used in religious sacrifices (such as dishes, boxes, and axes), garlands and candelabras. The interior of the porch measures 34 x 20 metres and has four rose-pink columns creating three aisles. The pavement is restored but reflects the original design with grey granite rectangles and circles in white marble. The interior of the porch was also panelled with marble, but this has since been lost, revealing the brickwork.

The Pantheon may well be the first building from Classical architecture where the interior is deliberately made to outshine the exterior. The circular part of the building or rotunda was entranced via two bronze doors measuring 12 x 7.5 metres (those of today are ancient but not original). The rotunda measures 43.2 metres in diameter which is exactly the maximum height of the dome, itself a perfect hemisphere. At the very top of the dome is an opening to the sky (oculus) which is 8.8 metres in diameter and has a decorative bronze sheet frieze. The dome is made from a light tufa and scoria (a type of pumice) mix of concrete (caementa) and its interior is further lightened by five rings of 28 coffers which reduce in size as they rise towards the centre of the dome. These may have been originally covered in bronze sheets.

The wall of the rotunda is 6 metres thick and has seven alcoves which are alternatively semi-circular (3 alcoves) and rectangular (4 alcoves). The alcove opposite the door is the most impressive and reaches the ceiling. It has a decorative red porphyry frieze and cornice and is flanked by two Corinthian marble columns of Phrygian purple. Each of the other alcoves has two marble columns in Phrygian purple (semi-circular) or Numidian yellow (rectangular). Each alcove also had three niches for statues and a small window with another seven windows placed around the rotunda walls. The pavement is the original and consists of a square pattern using grey granite, red porphyry, Numidian yellow and Phrygian purple marble.

The Pantheon, like all ancient monuments, has suffered a chequered history. Nevertheless, the building has survived remarkably well, probably because relatively early in its history it was converted into the church of St. Mary of the Martyrs in 608 CE. In 1270 CE a bell tower was added to the porch roof and later removed. Also, at some time in the Middle Ages the left side of the porch was damaged which necessitated the replacement of three columns. The first came from Domitian’s villa at Castelgandolfo and was added in 1626 CE. The other two columns came from the Baths of Nero and were added in 1666 CE. However, these additions were rose-pink in colour whilst originally the front eight columns of the porch were all grey and only the internal four were pink Aswan. Also, in 1626 CE Pope Urban VIII removed all the bronze girders from the porch roof and recast the metal into 80 canons for the city’s Castel Sant’Angelo. The presence of these girders suggests that the porch roof originally had heavy marble tiles.

Despite these changes, the Pantheon is one of the best-preserved ancient monuments in the world. Today, it still has an important function and status, as within it, are the tombs of the Italian monarchy from 1870-1946 and the tomb of the High Renaissance painter and architect, Raphael (1483-1520).

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