The Aqueducts of Rome


Although the Roman Aqueducts are much newer than the Roman Sewers (the first appearing at approximately 312 B.C.E.), they are much more elaborate. There are aqueducts in other areas of the world that predate the ones built in Rome, such as those in Ancient Greece and Ancient Assyria. The Romans, however, created the most elaborate system of water distribution of the ancient world.

An aqueduct is a series of channels and tunnels that direct water from one source, such as a river, stream, or spring, and carries it to a common reservoir or even directly into a home or building (like the Roman Baths). Many of Rome's Aqueducts were composed entirely, or at least partially, of underground tunnels or tubes (which were constructed of lead[!]). Some aqueducts had huge above land bridge-like channels (many still tower above the streets of Rome), as well as channels upon large arches. This was to address the serious problem of Roman geography.

Rome and the surrounding area is very hilly - there were people living high on hilltops and way down in valleys. Since the Aqueducts operated entirely upon gravity, the people in the valleys had no problems getting water. The people on higher ground, however, seemed to be out of luck. Roman engineers countered this problem at around 144 B.C.E., with the implementation of the above ground channel. The Aqua Marcia had 7,463 sections that were above the ground, and 6,935 that were on arches.

The water provided by Rome's aqueducts was not only used for drinking. The Roman Baths were very popular meeting places. People would go to relax, catch up on politics, and discuss old times with friends. The popularity of the baths made a very high demand for water. There were aqueducts that supplied only baths - these were usually from sources that were not the best for drinking. The sources for the aqueducts were many different rivers, streams, underground springs, and lakes, so some were cleaner than others. Discretion was used when deciding where the outlet of the aqueduct would be, but there was still bad water going into stores of drinking water. Primitive filtration systems were also used in the form of settling tanks. This removed some larger debris from the water, and helped purify it slightly.

Roman customers that were privileged enough to have their own taps from the aqueducts paid for the water the same way that people today pay gas or electric bills. The pipes that lead from the aqueducts were labeled with the customer's name to ensure that people didn't tap in and 'steal' water. Water flow into the home was constant, and customers paid by the size of the spigot inside (bigger spigot=more water, smaller spigot=less water). The privy (toilet) was located as near to the spigot as possible (usually in the kitchen) due to the convenience of having both waste and fresh water disposal/retrieval in one spot (unfortunately the Romans didn't have too large a grasp on cleanliness).

Water is something that people need to survive, and in Rome it was also a recreational device. The growing empire created demands for more and more water, so aqueducts were built, restored, and added to over time. Some of the larger aqueducts moved as much as 190,000 cubic meters of water per day! There were public supplies at the outlets of the aqueducts, and there were even private feeds to some of the richer and more powerful Romans. Unfortunately, some of the materials used in the aqueducts led to problems....


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