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Archive for October 28th, 2008

The Art and Modern Importance Of Roman Cement

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

Cement is the most widely used building material in the world and has been for thousands of years. The historical record confirms that the ancient Persians, Assyrians and Babylonians used cement in the binding and affixing of mud bricks. The Egyptians also used cement in construction. It was the Romans, however, that perfected the production of slaked cement that made many construction advances possible.

The basic materials that the ancients used to make cement were readily available, then as now. Sand, water and rocks, the basic ingredients in cement, are essentially found anywhere in the world. The first great advance in the evolution of the production of cement was the Roman invention of the pozzalana technique. The Romans found that volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius, when mixed with slaked lime; sand and water produced an amazingly versatile type of cement. It was easier to work with and delivered much greater strength than previous blends.

Many of the monuments and buildings so gloriously built by the ancient Romans, standing to this day, benefited from the perfection of pozzalana cement. Hadrians Arch, the Forum, the Roman Baths, the Appian Way, the Church of Constantine and many more edifices were strengthened utilizing this simple, but essential construction product. The proof of the utility of pozzalana cement is on display every where you look in modern Rome. Ancient walls of pozzalana cement as thick as 12 feet have been discovered at a number of Roman archeological dig sites.

Amazingly, the secret of pozzalana cement was soon lost and was not re-discovered until the 18th century, when the scientific age of discovery was in full bloom. The lost recipe for Roman cement was re-invented and continued in use until Portland cement was perfected in the 19th century. Portland cement is the gold standard product for building material to this day.

For almost 1500 years builders were limited because an ancient method of improving simple cement was lost. We know that many of the inventions of the ancient world went extinct as well. Bathing and personal hygiene became rare, directly contributing to advance of disease and the great Plague.

Running water and sanitation systems, common in ancient Rome, were lost and did not reappear until the late middle ages. Agriculture techniques, brewing spirits, military organization and strategy, road building and trade routes were lost for centuries as well.

Today we take much for granted. We assume that things will always be convenient, food prevalent, choices abounding and affordable. The lesson of history is that this is not necessarily so. Societies do recede. Knowledge can be lost. We must protect and value our freedoms, knowledge, science and creativity.

Today, in a good portion of the world, the populace lives much as the most backward ‘burgher of the Dark Ages lived. Subsistence farming is prevalent. Clean water is not available. Hygiene is unknown. Basic medical care and drugs are not to be found. These populations do not choose this bleak existence, they have simply never known anything else but the horrid grate of endless poverty, ignorance and hunger.

In other areas of the world, owing to religious or societal mores, there is no desire to live a modern lifestyle. The whole goal is to live as if the year were 908 rather than 2008. In too many instances, unfortunately and dangerously, these populations not only wish to live lives of physical deprivation but they want the rest of us to be forced to accept their hatred of modernity and be forced to share their aversion of contemporary comforts.

The inventions that the Romans perfected and left for subsequent generations were soon lost. The world went into a period of darkness. Creativity and science went into torpor. It could happen again. It could happen to us if we let down our guard and allow our advances and knowledge base to wither and decline. It will happen if some fanatics have their way and can force their ideology on peoples not appreciative of their freedoms. Freedom isn’t free and gains can easily be lost.

The Origins of Modern Banking Are Inter-twined With an Ancient Military Order

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

The world is currently fixated on the international credit crisis and the role banking has played in this debacle. We take it for granted that commerce flows quickly and accurately across borders and frontiers. A resident of Maine can purchase a tank of gas at home, or in Italy with the same credit card. The purchase will be accurately debited to their account, their credit limit will be adjusted and the merchant will receive an electronic transfer of the charge into their account almost simultaneously. This type of commerce happens many millions of times each day and we take it’s simplicity for granted.

The history of the rise of organized banking is a bit more plodding and evolves from a most unlikely source. Today our knowledge of the Knights Templar is garnered mostly from popular culture such as the Indiana Jones movies. The history of this iconic fighting force, and their evolution into the first international commercial group of the middle ages is as amazing a tale as can be told in any fictional movie or novel.

The Knights Templar was formed after the initial Christian victory in the First Crusade to take Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099. Pilgrims from all over the Christian world wanted to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. However, travel at that time was exceedingly dangerous. The Knights Templar was first organized as a monastic order to protect the pilgrims as they traveled. They took a strict vow of poverty.

Over the next 200 years the order flourished and developed into a renowned fighting force. With their sturdy mounts, white hooded tunics displaying the Red Cross, and shiny armor, they lead the way into numerous battles against the enemies of Christendom. The vow of poverty was strictly enforced, but many royal and noble families delivered their sons to the Knights Templar to curry favor with the Papacy of the Catholic Church.

The Knights Templar enjoyed favored status with popes and archbishops from all over Europe and North Africa, for their reverence, gallantry and honesty. They were often rewarded with alms, farms, lands and livestock. Their power grew as the public recognized the special relationship they enjoyed with the clerical hierarchy of the Church.

Many pilgrimage makers came to depend on the Knights Templar to hold their valuables in safekeeping as they made the difficult journey. The order created secure safe storage facilities at strategic locations along the most used routes. They developed a type of written chit that verified that they held certain monies and valuables owned by the bearer. Upon arrival in the Holy Land, the bearer could visit a Knights Templar outpost, present their receipt and receive monies, bullion or goods in kind, the equivalent of that left behind in the order’s care.

This was the first form of bank cheque and was probably the earliest form of organized international banking. The system evolved as the Knights Templar gained vast new riches, even though they were still vowing to live a life of poverty. Previous to their development of rudimentary banking products most trade was accomplished by crude barter. They became the richest entity in the world at that time and began to suffer the increased scrutiny of their historic protectors in the Catholic Church.

By the 14th century, the church moved to disband the Knights Templar and martyred many that were captured. The order became a secretive underground society and rumors of their activities and continued existence are legend to this day. The locations of the lost gold, silver, jewels, art and religious artifacts that the Knights Templar acquired and hoarded in their many adventures is also the stuff of fables and lore. The lost Holy Grail, and all of the fabulous tales attached to this famed relic from the Last Supper, is often connected to the Knights Templar.

The commercial activity that the simple, novel creation of a system for verifying bank guarantees is actually the Knights Templar’s greatest contribution to mankind. This simple transactional device has proven far more valuable historically than their military conquests and reputation for living pious lives. It is certainly not what they are best known for. But it is an invention that has positively effected commerce and productivity to this very day.