Rome and Recycling
I have been doing some studies in the history of the Roman Republic. And seeking to understand the dynamics of the class struggles in this period of Roman history. I have reached the second century (BCE) and the struggle between the Plebeian and Patrician classes as manifest in the fight of the Gracchi tribunes for land reform, etc. An understanding of the class struggles over land reform, and their origins, in the Roman Republic are fundamental to a grasp of the character of the whole period.
This was also the century in which Rome finally vanquished its long standing traditional enemy in the western Mediterranean, Carthage. According to accounts, the teenage Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was the first soldier over the walls of Carthage when they were breached in 146 BCE. The Romans completely destroyed the Punic culture of ancient Carthage. The people of ancient Carthage (as with the later Dacians in present day Romania) were subjected to one of Rome’s genocides. Those still alive and able to work were sold off as slaves. Rome improved and developed its agriculture and shipbuilding on the basis of the knowledge and techniques appropriated from the defeated Carthaginians. According to tradition, Carthage was founded in the ninth century BCE. The city was completely destroyed and dismantled after the Romans conquered it at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BCE. Trajan adopted the same approach to the Dacians at the beginning of the second century CE. Carthage itself was rebuilt by the Romans in later centuries and by the fourth century (CE) was one of the major cities of late Empire.
When cities were sacked in antiquity, they often constituted a readily available source of building materials such as stone blocks and columns, etc. It was sometimes easier to simply ‘recycle’ materials in new building projects rather than having to use labour to cut them out of a virgin rockface or mine. If destroyed cities were to be rebuilt on site, old serviceable materials could be reused in the foundations and new buildings. Some stone buildings erected in Britain after the Roman occupation often contained material taken from decaying Roman buildings such as villas and civic structures as evidenced by Latin inscriptions, etc, on the ‘recycled’ stonework. This can still be seen today, for example, in some churches and chapels in Britain built close to or within Roman towns.
Last night I was also listening to a radio programme on the ‘Throw Away Society’. Apparently, there are more metals and precious metals in an average ton of landfill refuse (as a percentage of mass) than there are in the actual ores which are mined. For example, a ton of landfill refuse contains more Aluminium than a ton of Bauxite. But this also applies to precious metals like Silver, Gold, Platinum and Rare Earth Metals which are important in the production of ICT devices, Mobile Phones, etc. Many companies are now mining landfill sites because it takes less labour time to recover the metals in these sites than it does to recover them from their natural ores. As long as the price of metals on the world market remains at levels which correspond to the labour time required to extract them from their natural ores, then these landfill mining activities will net the companies involved a surplus profit above the average.