Roman Suez Canal - Was it Possible?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Timmy811, Dec 23, 2018.

  1. Timmy811 Member

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    There was no need for locks since the Mediterranean and the Red Sea are level, so if an Emperor like Augustus or Trajan ordered one built and had 20,000 men put to work on it, it would be finished eventually wouldn't it, even if it fell to one of their successors to finish it?

    This analysis I found is rather speculative, but indicates it could have been finished in 5-11 years and made oodles of money in toll revenue.

    http://alternatehistoryweeklyupdate.blogspot.com/2012/06/economics-of-roman-suez-canal.html

    EDIT: I don't want to hear about the canal of the Pharaohs, that linked the Nile to the Red Sea, and how Trajan had it dredged and reopened. It is not nearly as good as a true canal through the Suez would be.
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2018
  2. Kuno long time lurker

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    It took the French 10 years to build the canal even with modern machinery and 1.5 million emloyees. 20,000 slaves would be nowhere enough to build it in any reasonable amount of time.
     
  3. Timmy811 Member

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    It's the 30,000 in this number that looks germane to the situation. What does 1.5 million employed even mean in this context? Even the Panama canal only took 75,000 workers.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suez_Canal#Construction_by_the_Suez_Canal_Company
     
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  4. RMcD94 Well-Known Member

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    Depends how big you want it.

    Definitely physically possible. Politically? Economically? Maybe not
     
  5. LordKalvan Member

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    There less than scarce interest (to be kind) in building a Roman Suez canal, most likely the notion itself was never raised and most assuredly it was never considered politically.
    The Indian trade was managed well enough by using Berenice port on the Red sea, overland caravans from there to the Nile and down the Nile to the Mediterranean; in alternative there were caravans from Jeddah or the Persian gulf trade route, then by caravan to Syria.
     
  6. Lord_Vespasian The Breslau Bus Can't Be Stopped Banned

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    It would possible for the Romans to build a canal that is smaller since their ships are smaller. It'd extremely difficult and politically and economically unliked but if some entered Emperor wanted it as a vanity project it would find a way, being finished after he was dead probably. The problem isn't that rome doesn't have any interst in a canal, they gave a massive interest in not building a canal. A big issue with Rome's economy was that much of it's mineral wealth, especially gold, was being sapped away to the Eastern lands, mostly China, as they had goods Romans desired greatly while the inverse was not true, funny how some things repeat themselves.

    I believe Pliny or some other Roman historian urged Romans to give up things like silk, jade, and other exotic Eastern goods. By creating a canal, your opening Rome to even more of an imbalance that will severely hurt the economy as it will drive inflation even more than otl. This Suez, or rather Janus Canal, wouldn't be relatively useless to Rome, it would detrimental to it. I don't even think they could break even by having some toll for rowing through it
     
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  7. Timmy811 Member

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    I thought taxes on the Indian trade were already a significant fraction of Roman tax revenue.

    Wikipedia has Roman taxes on the provinces bringing in 420 million. The taxes on trade from and to India brought in a total of 275 million.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_economy#State_revenues

    A Seuz canal would be open year round and much easier to traverse compared to going through Egypt and would lead to a great increase in trade and thus tax revenue.

    The opening of the canal in OTL saw trade expand five fold in a decade. Different times of course, but even a paltry 50% increase would see state revenues explode through the roof. A doubling or tripling would seem more likely, especially as the Roman navy would be able to clear out the pirates in the Red Sea that were a big constraint on Roman trade with India.

    Edit:
    This would allow the state to muster Augustan sized armies and carry out Augustan sized infrastructure programs on a constant basis.

    The canal would simply logistics enough to allow the Romans to campaign on both sides of the Red Sea down to the Strait of Bab al-Mandab between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, potentially conquering Arabia Felix and Aethiopia.
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2018
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  8. DominusNovus Humbled by Fate

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    My ears are burning...

    That line of thinking is flawed. Given how much of the cost of such luxury goods was in transportation, it would actually behoove the Romans to reduce those costs.

    Assuming such concerns about ‘wealth leaving the nation’ were well founded. I can’t help but notice how rich maritime European countries got by trading for Chinese luxury goods.
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2018
  9. Hegemon of words and thoughts

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    IIRC there was a canal of Pharaohs, which was built by the Egyptians before being refined and maintained by the Persians, Greeks, Romans, and even early Muslims before falling into disuse. It’s the closest I can think of to what you were asking of.

    The thing is that, once a canal is built, it would make sense for future projects of canal-building would look to restoring an existing canal if they could do so before moving to create a new one... unless restoring the old one became more costly than the planned one, or for some reason became implausible.

    All I can say is that the situation, internal and external, of the Empire changes constantly over time, so the will to build and implications of the canal will be different at different times, if it could even be done.
     
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  10. Legofan4 American Nationalist

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    Except the price can be anything the merchant wants because they know that there is no way to get those products in the Empire. It is basically a monopoly so the prices are outrageous because they can't go to the source to reduce costs or create a different source. This is just like when the Portuguese first created the trade routes around the Cape of Good Hope.
     
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  11. Timmy811 Member

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    Have you written on this topic before? A quick search didn't come up with any threads on this topic, but maybe I looked via title search? EDIT: Or did your write that article?

    Lol. Yeah, the concern over hard currency leaving the country is one the ancients would have had, but it's misguided. Economic growth would have trumped that problem.

    The canal of the pharaohs was only used part of the year, because of the annual fluctuations in the level of the Nile. A real Suez canal would have been usable year round. It would have been much more efficient, allowing a great deal more volume.

    Really think there are only two OTL Emperors would could have successfully pulled it off. Augustus, who could have probably paid for the thing himself, and reigned long enough that it could have been completed within his lifetime, or would have been well enough along that Tiberius would have seen completion in sight and finished it. The other is Trajan, flush with loot from the east. Hadrian would have been the one to finish it, but he was farsighted about infrastructure so I think he would have continued it.
     
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2018
  12. DominusNovus Humbled by Fate

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    Why assume there’s only one group of merchants?
    All I’ll say is that the author of that piece is a very handsome man who probably was very bored when his fiancee was out of town with her parents.
     
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  13. Lord_Vespasian The Breslau Bus Can't Be Stopped Banned

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    You do realize what the Opium Wars were about right? Britain, and other European nations, held a huge trade imbalance as they lacked anything good that they could leverage against China, until they found Opium, something that the Romans could not grow as the British did. The Chinese then cracked down on it, the British, and later other Europeans, moved in with advanced ships that travel from Europe to East Asia, something the Romans most definitely could not do, and then beat them due to obsolete weapons, ships, tactics, and strategies for the Chinese, Opium addiction crippling the soldiers, and advanced weapons, ships, tactics, and strategies for the British, things the Romans would not have versus the Chinese if they could somehow make it there, and a declining government, something China didn't have. In trying to debunk me you debunk yourself. Trust me, I wrote a TL on another site in which Rome builds the canal. It was torn to shreds, rightfully so, and I've since changed my perspective
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2018
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  14. Timmy811 Member

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    Britain and the Dutch got quite rich off the trade with East Indies and China in the 16th and 17th century without the Opium trade.

    Look at the tax revenue I posted. 27.5 % of Roman revenue was gained from taxing the trade from and to India. Any policy that would significantly increase such trade would be a huge boon to the Roman state.
     
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  15. Legofan4 American Nationalist

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    Why couldn't they do the incredibly obvious thing of saying "Hey why don't all of us merchants running this same route get together and set a high price so we can make even more money. It's not like they can go anywhere else other than our group if we all cooperate."
     
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  16. Timmy811 Member

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    They're from different states with different interests, they have their own interests, they speak different languages, different cultures, they have little contact with each other and are basically independent actors spread out across territories covering thousands of kilometers.
     
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  17. Pangur The Cat Donor

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    I`m not sure how much this would change peoples idea however the ancient Egyptians had a canal (after a fashion) I think I read somewhere that the issue with an end to end canal like we have now would be the need to have lock gates. Doable maybe and the Romans did know about concrete
     
  18. Timmy811 Member

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    Actually, the canal of the Pharaohs that linked with the Nile needed locks.

    A Suez canal from the Red Sea to the Med wouldn't need one. Their elevation is equal.
     
  19. Pangur The Cat Donor

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    so they use locks? Thanks for adding to my body of knowledge Any idea how they worked?
     
  20. Timmy811 Member

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