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Staff Writers
Updated March 24, 2021

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Five Greatest Accomplishments of Ancient Engineers

  • Great Wall of China
  • Parthenon
  • Aqueduct of Segovia
  • Roman Colosseum
  • Egyptian Pyramids

If you're pursuing an engineering degree, you may want to know a little bit about the wonders of ancient engineering. The most impressive feats of modern engineering tend to happen at the subatomic level, but ancient architects and builders were working in an era before theories of quantum mechanics and special relativity came to prominence. The top five examples of ancient innovation in engineering are all world-famous monuments that are still standing thousands of years after they were built.

See our ranking of the 30 Best Values for Aerospace Engineering.

1. Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China was originally conceived and built in the 3rd century BC. It was designed to be an impenetrable, fortress-like barrier protecting the Chinese from invaders entering China from the north. The size and scale of the wall are impressive to modern observers, and they were intended to demonstrate the cultural superiority of the Chinese to their barbaric northern competitors. It has stretched across 4,000 miles of hills and mountains in northern China for thousands of years, but much of it was rebuilt in the 14th century AD.

2. Parthenon

Like the Great Wall of China, the original version of the Parthenon was destroyed and rebuilt as a testament to the cultural superiority of Athens. When the Athenians fought the Persians in 480 BC, the original version of the Parthenon was destroyed, and it wasn't rebuilt until about 50 years later in 432 BC. The construction is an impressive feat of engineering because it covers the jagged, rocky terrain at the summit of the Acropolis. Although today it mostly lies in ruins, the fact that much of it is still standing goes to show how masterful ancient Athenian engineers were.

3. Aqueduct of Segovia

The Aqueduct of Segovia is one of the most impressive examples of classical engineering because it was so skillfully designed that Spanish villagers were still using the aqueduct in the early 20th century. It's a two-story stone structure designed to deliver water to towns and villages located on the rolling hills of Segovia, Spain. The aqueduct covers eight miles of hilly landscape and consists of 165 stone arcs that are 30 feet tall. Despite being constructed from plain granite blocks without mortar, the Aqueduct of Segovia did its job for about 1,850 years.

4. Roman Colosseum

In AD 80, most amphitheaters were modest in size and structurally supported by the hills they were built on. The Roman Colosseum, as its name suggests, was vastly larger and grander than the amphitheaters anyone had previously ever known. It was designed to be the first freestanding auditorium to seat 50,000 people, and it was so precisely constructed that it could be filled with water and used to stage aquatic spectacles. Today, the Colosseum lies mostly in ruins although it is still one of the most recognizable structures in Rome.

5. Egyptian Pyramids

By far the oldest and most mysterious structures on this list, the ancient Egyptian Pyramids are also the most instantly recognizable. Built around 2600 BC, the pyramids are the exterior housing of an intricate system of underground tombs that reflect the complex and fascinating religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. Bodies of kings and other powerful Egyptians were disemboweled and meticulously preserved for their expected descent into the underworld after death, according to Public Broadcasting Service.

The ancient world was a remarkable and often strange place, and ancient architecture often had purposes that would seem unnecessary to enlightened modern people. No matter what type of engineering degree you're pursuing, it's a good idea to have some knowledge of ancient engineering to guide you on your way.

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