The Ancient Romans were fond of “collecting stuff”. From weapons types and technologies, to the odd queen or prince, to exotic animals to put in the arena (lions and tigers and bears, Oh My!) to big rocks.
It’s the big rocks that I think say an unexpected thing.
Rome has more Obelisks than Egypt. Many of them from Egypt. This list:
Says there are 8 from ancient Egypt.
The city of Rome harbours the most obelisks in the world. There are eight ancient Egyptian and five ancient Roman obelisks in Rome, together with a number of more modern obelisks; there was also formerly (until 2005) an ancient Ethiopian obelisk in Rome.
For transport down the Nile to Alexandria and from there across the Mediterranean Sea to the capital Rome, special heavy cargo carriers, the Obelisk ships, were used by the Romans. On site, large Roman cranes were employed to erect the monoliths.
What I find of interest is the size and date of one of the large Egyptian ones:
Tallest obelisk in Rome, and the largest standing ancient Egyptian obelisk in the world, weighing over 230 tons. Originally from the temple of Amun in Karnak.map Brought to Alexandria with another obelisk by Constantius II, and brought on its own from there to Rome in 357 to decorate the spina of the Circus Maximus.map Found in three pieces in 1587, restored approximately 4 m shorter by Pope Sixtus V, and erected near the Lateran Palace and basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in 1588 in the place of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which was moved to the Capitoline Hill.
The picture at the top shows it being moved again in 1588 A.D. but that earlier move was in 357 A.D.
Frequently on shows looking at megalithic structures the presenter will moan and fret about it being ‘impossible’ to move some large stone or another ‘even with modern equipment’. Typical weights causing such bleating range from about 20 Tons to 200 tons. Here we have a stone of 230 Tons being moved. Twice. In two very different eras. Neither one with “modern” equipment.
What did it take?
Ropes. Rollers. Windlass. Some wood beams. Bunch of people. Boat for the water parts (itself made of wood).
Things that people have had since the dawn of history.
Now, for most of the megalithic structures that have near zero gap ‘joins’ between the stones, I believe they were formed in place as plasticized stone via some kind of oxalic or citric acid (or related) softening of the silicates. But for others, like Stonehenge and the Obelisks, the need to move them remains. As does the bleating that it was just too hard to do.
But here we have an existence proof that it is not too hard to do.
I’m sure some folks will want to assert that the Roman Engineers were better than anyone else and had invented new things, like the Roman Crane, and so the mystery remains. I don’t buy that. It is an argument from ignorance. We just don’t know all the technology of ancient Egypt. We do have an eye witness report of the construction of one of the great pyramids using some kind of machines. That we don’t know what kind of machine was used, or how large a crane they could make, doesn’t change that it existed and was being used to move large stones on the pyramid. As ropes and wood beams are valuable, we would not expect to find them abandoned in the desert or left at a work site. When taken apart for relocation, they become a pile of wood and rope. Not the kind of thing to make an archeologist take note. (They seem fixated on things that can be branded with priests and ceremony and largely ignore simple practical arts and explanations – for reasons only they can explain…)
An Aside On Rowing
Just as an aside, I saw a demonstration on a TV show about Stonehenge where a clever person worked out an easy way to move large stones. They made a concrete slab of representative size and proceeded to move it with about a couple of dozen people. How? They “rowed” it. As all the ancient folks had oars and boats, they knew rowing. So put a log each side of the stone. Take a dozen poles (oars) and poke the ends under the edges of the stone. Put your crew on the oars. Pull them down (you have about a 10:1 mechanical advantage due to the ground pole fulcrum) and that lifts the stone, now walk the ends backwards and the stone moves forward. Let the poles up (stone down) and reset the poles to the front. Repeat.
The folks doing that moved a large (something like a dozen tons) stone at a slow “few miles a day” over open ground. More than fast enough for most practical purposes.
While I’m pretty sure this isn’t the same group, this guy does a similar thing with a smaller stone (only 4 Tons ;-):
There are several other examples that come up with a web search on “stonehenge lever fulcrum row stone”; but I’m not feeling ambitious enough to wade through them all right now and find the one with folks rowing a larger stone across the UK countryside.
It is very clear to me that moving big honking stones is not nearly as hard as many “modern” folks, and especially academics and intellectuals, make it out to be. (It is far far easier than the Space Alien Admirers claim ;-)
Folks were up to their eyeballs in stone working technology until the 1700s or so. The industrial revolution moved us more into using steel, glass, metals in general. In older times, reaching back to the dawn of the Stone Age, we used a lot of stone. People were just as intelligent then, as now. (There is some evidence they were smarter – brain sizes were larger, for example). If you have a culture that has spent 10,000 years working with stone, I think they will have figured out how to move it most easily. That we have forgotten how is not a limit on them. That we depend on hydraulics does not mean levers stopped working.
In particular, take that “stone on rowing poles” method. Right off the top, I thought of adding a bag of rocks to the end of each pole as a counter weight. Done right, with, say, a 10:1 leverage; a 24 Ton stone on 2 dozen poles (12 each side) has 2000 pounds on each pole. That takes a 200 lb weight on the end. One person can load that bag very rapidly. Now the stone is neutral. In practice, I’d likely just put 100 lbs in the bag. So you have 1/2 the ‘lift force’ but also 1/2 the ‘hold up while repositioning poles’ force. With 4 people per pole, that’s only 25 lbs each. Not hard at all. I expect that moving a real stone would take even fewer people, and that there are other ways to improve the process.
An interesting aspect of the ‘rowing’ method is that it does not require any ground preparation. You do not need a flat surface for rollers. With some cribbing and repeated lifts, you can ‘row’ over modest height obstructions as well, so if a nice flat approach has a stone ‘sill’ in the middle, you don’t need to cut a trench in the stone sill, nor build ramps up and down. Just crib, lift, and go.
So there are a lot of opportunities to move stones, using nothing fancy or difficult. We even have an existence proof in the Roman Obelisks that moving large stones (even long awkward ones) can be done with ‘primitive’ methods.