A slave created a revolutionary weaving machine which needed many less slaves to produce fabrics. The machine was so amazing that it was presented to the Emperor of Rome himself. That emperor was very impressed by the prototype and its potential. So much so that he granted freedom to the inventor and destroyed the machine.

He explained that the machine as wonderful as it was represented a risk for Rome since it would make so many slave idle.

What is the origin of this story, or the name of the Emperor?

  • I recently read a story on the same topic: a guy came to a Roman emperor and showed him unbreakable glass he invented. The emperor replied "If it continues this way, soon gold itself will be worthless". The guy was executed. Can someone remind me who this emperor was? I just forgot where I read it but it was some ancient historian.
    – Alex
    Aug 21, 2015 at 1:24
  • @Alex: it was Tiberius (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexible_glass).
    – user438
    Aug 21, 2015 at 2:59
  • @user438: Thanks a lot. I must have read it in Cassius Dio. Which does not prove that it is true, of course. And it is not clear to me whether "flexible glass" with described properties really exists.
    – Alex
    Aug 21, 2015 at 22:37
  • My next comment is longer isn allowed here: math.purdue.edu/~eremenko/dvi/comment.pdf
    – Alex
    Aug 21, 2015 at 22:56

1 Answer 1


It is Vespasian. In the Life of Vespasian from Chapter 18 of Book 8 of The Twelve Cesars by Suetonius, it says:

Some one offering to convey some immense columns into the Capitol at a small expense by a mechanical contrivance, he rewarded him very handsomely for his invention, but would not accept his service, saying, "Suffer me to find maintenance for the poor people."

  • 3
    Columns != weaving; slaves != poor people.
    – user438
    Aug 20, 2015 at 23:20
  • Does this source mean it's a true story?
    – user6591
    Aug 21, 2015 at 0:13
  • @user438 I'd say that's close enough to illustrate with good accuracy the concept behind the story.
    – Ghaag
    Aug 21, 2015 at 2:30
  • @user6591 It's just an anecdote. It's definitely consistent with Vespasian's personality and Suetonius has a reputation as a historian given to accuracy and reliability. I know of nothing in Suetonius where he has later been proved to be lying. The anecdote is somewhat famous, by the way, and has been paraphrased and misreported innumerable times by literally hundreds of different authors. You can find garbled versions of the anecdote littered throughout the history of western literature. Aug 21, 2015 at 5:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.