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Today, people around the world benefit from the science of civil engineering. Throughout history, civil engineers worked primarily as builders and architects. Dominated mainly in the past by men, today’s civil engineering departments at major universities actively seek to recruit women. Learn more about the impressive history of this vital line of work through the centuries.


Civil Engineering in the Ancient World

Ancient people never used the term “civil engineering” to describe major public works projects. However, cultures around the world produced talented builders who constructed monuments, dams, bridges, tunnels, aqueducts, cities, towers, massive buildings, and other structures civil engineers would feel proud to build today.


Listing all of these magnificent works in one brief article proves impossible. Just a small sample of important ancient civil engineering projects include ancient Egyptian pyramids, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Parthenon of ancient Athens, and the Great Wall of China. The works of early mathematicians like Archimedes, Brahmagupta, and countless unidentified ancient scholars likely laid an intellectual foundation for constructing many of these projects.


More recently, the world witnessed numerous other examples of skilled building projects. The mountaintop city of Machu Picchu, a complex series of catacombs beneath the cities of Rome and Paris, massive stone sculptures on Easter Island, and impressive religious monuments and sites of worship worldwide all testify to the practical value of Civil Engineering throughout recorded history.


The Enlightenment Gives Civil Engineering a Boost

Engineering as a tool of war held a prominent place in armies during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (and likely during ancient times). Yet the Enlightenment focused on the importance of Math, Science, and Architecture as knowledge capable of enhancing the quality of life. It eventually inspired the development of civil engineering as a field of formal study.


In 1747, The National School of Bridges and Highways opened in France. Early engineers helped construct the massive Erie Canal between 1817 and 1825. The Institution of Civil Engineers formed in London in 1818. By the Victorian Era, the field of civil engineering had become well-established as a formal science!