9

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 '15 at 1:24
  • @Alex: it was Tiberius (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexible_glass). – user438 Aug 21 '15 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 '15 at 22:37
  • My next comment is longer isn allowed here: math.purdue.edu/~eremenko/dvi/comment.pdf – Alex Aug 21 '15 at 22:56
7

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 '15 at 23:20
  • Does this source mean it's a true story? – user6591 Aug 21 '15 at 0:13
  • @user438 I'd say that's close enough to illustrate with good accuracy the concept behind the story. – Ghaag Aug 21 '15 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. – Tyler Durden Aug 21 '15 at 5:35

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