Sul suo blog saggistico Acoup, Bret Devereaux risponde ad una domanda dei suoi lettori, diffusa nel pubblico non specialista: come mai Roma, nonostante il suo sviluppo, non conobbe una rivoluzione industriale?
That said this is a question that is not absurd a priori. As we’ll see, the Roman Empire was never close to an industrial revolution – a great many of the preconditions were missing – but the idea that it might have been on the cusp of being something like a modern economy did once have its day in the scholarship.
But the technology could not jump straight to railroads and steam ships because the first steam engines were nowhere near that powerful or efficient: creating steam engines that could drive trains and ships (and thus could move themselves) requires decades of development where existing technology and economic needs created very valuable niches for the technology at each stage. It is particularly remarkable here how much of these conditions are unique to Britain: it has to be coal, coal has to have massive economic demand (to create the demand for pumping water out of coal mines) and then there needs to be massive demand for spinning (so you need a huge textile export industry fueled both by domestic wool production and the cotton spoils of empire) and a device to manage the conversion of rotational energy into spun thread. I’ve left this bit out for space, but you also need a major incentive for the design of pressure-cylinders (which, in the event, was the demand for better siege cannon) because of how that dovetails with developing better cylinders for steam engines.