Both claims rely on the word ‘modern’ – in fact if you look back in history to the methods employed by the Chinese in building the Great Wall and the Romans in their major construction works, you can see, at least in terms of construction projects they matched those who came after them.
In fact, both the Romans and Chinese are antedated by the Carthaginians.
During the Punic Wars, a Carthaginian warship ran aground and was captured by the Romans. The crew were enslaved and the galley hauled up on shore and examined. This was how the Romans learned the secret of Carthaginian shipbuilding. Each piece of the galley was marked, and could be used as a template for duplication. In essence, every galley was identical, and could be rebuilt or used to rebuild itself.
Following this discovery the Romans used their own project management skills and copied the galley, not once, or twice but incredibly they build 225 galleys. It took them only 45 days! No more than a month and a half to build a fleet which rivalled the size of the Carthaginians, and in terms of material matched them perfectly.
The stage was set for potentially the naval battle to eclipse Salamis, and win a decisive victory for one side or the other.
In my series, Episode 17 tells this story, and indeed the battle does take place.
In our world, this didn’t happen, the Romans knew they had the match of the Carthaginians in terms of ships, but didn’t have the experienced crews to man and sail them, let alone fight a naval action. The fleet was parcelled into small units and used to defend Roman merchantmen from the depravations of the Carthaginian Navy. The one big battle that like Jutland could have “lost the war in an afternoon” never happened.
For the thousands of sailors who would have fought and died there, that’s probably a good thing. For us though, it poses a mighty “what if” question.