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« Update 2 | Main | Materialism and the moral argument Part 3 »

October 23, 2007


Vince C

As a fireman, I do find this humorous.

However, I'm wondering where they found fire "engines" in 151 AD? Hand pumps, perhaps?:)

Mark Scott Abeln

The Romans used hand pumps, similar to those used here in the 19th century. I think that our firefighting system is superior to the old days: I recall reading about rival firefighting companies getting into brawls over who would get to put out a fire!

In my neighborhood, the fire station is next door to a Masonic Hall. Coincidence?


"Secret societies" perhaps isn't the best translation, but it's close enough. I still remember the hilarity when we first read those letters back in school.

One of the best bits is the way--not included in your linked translations for obvious reasons--Pliny begins his correspondence (on this and to other disasters under his purview, like a city wasting buckets of cash on several uncompleted aqueducts) by making it clear that he was in another part of the province doing important things at the time of the fire, and the catastrophe is therefore totally in no way his fault.

Heck of a job, Pliny.

May God bless and protect fire fighters.

Not have an organized, publicly-funded fire fighting service seems like madness to us today. But it was not always so.
I saw this history of fire fighting in London since Roman times. Apart from the technology, the biggest difference which struck me was that after the 1666 Great Fire of London

Insurance companies were granted charters to provide fire assurances and they realised it was in their own interests to hire men to put out fires in buildings under their cover. They introduced new fire engines, some of them designed on the continent, and firefighters were recruited from the watermen who plied the Thames.
Every policy holder was issued with a metal badge or fire mark which was fixed to the outside of a building. When a fire broke out it was not unusual for more than one company's 'brigade' to arrive at the scene. If the fire mark was not their own, they would leave the building, quite often to burn.

sorry, the above London fire history was by me.


An interesting post on the subject by another blogger I enjoy.

(The linked post is linguistically safe. However, the rest of the blog is not. Be warned.)

Go back about 200 years before Trajan and read upn Marcus Licinius Crassus (Julius Caesar's triumvirate partner along with Pompey). Crassus was a Roman real estate mogul who also happened to own a private fire fighting company. Funny thing is that whenever there was a piece of property that Crassus wanted to buy it would "mysteriously" catch fire. Crassus fire company would show up, but you had to pay for the service. Shortly thereafter Crassus would show up and make an offer to the owner for the wreckage.


Crassus: "I'm just a businessman, pally."


Oops, the original Crassus comment was by me.


bill912 is really arthur?


I remember an even shadier version of the story: Crassus's firefighters would show up at every fire that broke out in the city, but they would do absolutely nothing. An agent of Crassus's would offer to buy the still-burning building - an offer the owner couldn't refuse, since the alternative was zilch.

Then the firefighters would douse the fire.


nope, I'm me and bill912 is someone else. I meant that I accidentally posted anonymously about Crassus' fire department scheme.


Hmm..how do we know that current day fire fighters have not been plotting to take over the world?


@stevel: we have been. watch for news soon. :)

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