Roman aqueducts (aquaeductus), or literally the “waterways”, were waterworks supplying water from sources to cities Roman, using the principle of permanent run-off. Water was then delivered to numerous fountains, baths and public toilets for richer homes.
Aqueducts were known before, but it was the Romans who popularized them. In the 2nd century CE Rome, which had about a million inhabitants, was supplied by 11 aqueducts totalling 420 km, of which only 47 km ran above the surface. This network provided one million cubic meters of spring water per day.
The success of Roman aqueducts lay in the technique of building arcades, which allowed the Romans to move waterworks over valleys and uneven terrain, significantly shortening the length of their route. The drop in Roman aqueducts was only a few dozen cm per kilometre.
Water was carried out in terracotta or lead pipes. The pipes were laid underground and above the ground in a brick structure, two or three storeys. The construction of an underground water supply made it possible to protect the constant supply of water against the opponent’s army and to secure clean and safe drinking water against any pollution. The Romans sometimes drained the area near the aqueduct to reduce the possibility of contamination by groundwater. When choosing sources, besides examining the state of water, they also observed the health status of the natives.
The first Roman aqueduct was built in 312 BCE Aqua Appia, mostly underground water supply. He supplied water from the Albanian Hills over 16 km away. The second aqueduct erected was Anio Vetus, erected in 272 BCE. He supplied water from a distance of 63.5 km, and the over 300-meter section was led on arcades.
One of the most impressive aqueducts, and also the best-preserved to our time is the Pont du Gard near Nimes, erected in about 50 CE.
In turn, the longest Roman aqueduct was the one built in Constantinople. Right behind him was the Zaghouan Aqueduct, built in the 2nd century CE, which supplied Carthage. It was 92.5 km long.
The durability of Roman aqueducts is impressive, as some of them, such as from the year 144 BCE Aqua Marcia, from 20 BCE Aqua Virgo or from CE 111 Aqua Traiana are open to this day. Many waterworks also arose outside the centre of the Empire, in numerous Roman provinces.
Examples of Roman aqueducts
- an aqueduct built for Diocletian, near Split
- Pont du Gard near Nîmes in France – it was built in around 40-60 CE
- Barbegal aqueduct
- aqueduct in Nicopolis in Epirus from the time of Octavian Augustus
- El Pont del Diable in Tarragona, Spain from the 1st century BCE
- Segovia aqueduct from the 2nd century CE, built during Emperor Trajan.
- aqueduct in Los Milagros near Merida from the time of Hadrian.
- Aqueduct in Almunécar
- an aqueduct from Mount Carmel to Caesarea Maritima – built between the first century BCE and II century CE
- Eiffel aqueduct – supplying Cologne was 95 km, and including branches up to 150 km. It was used in the years 80-250 CE
- Aqua Appia (312 BCE) – the initiator of the construction was Appius Claudius Caecus.
- Anio Vetus (272 – 269 BCE) – the initiator of the construction was Manius Kuriusz Dentatus.
- Aqua Marcia (144 – 140 BCE) – the initiator of the construction was Quintus Marcius Rex.
- Aqua Tepula (126 BCE) – the initiators of the construction were censors: G. Servilius Caepio and L. Cassius Longinus.
- Aqua Julia (33 BCE) – the initiator of the construction was Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa.
- Aqua Virgo (19 BCE) – the initiator of the construction was Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa.
- Aqua Alsietina (around 2 BCE) – the initiator of the construction was the emperor Octavian Augustus.
- Aqua Claudia (38-52 CE) – the initiator of the construction was the emperor Caligula.
- Anio Novus (38-52 CE) – the initiator of the construction was the emperor Caligula.
- Aqua Traiana (109 CE) – the initiator of the construction was the emperor Trajan.
- Arcus Alexandriana (226 CE) – the initiator of the construction was the emperor Alexander Severus.
- aqueduct created under Hadrian
- aqueduct created during the reign of Valens in Istanbul
- aqueduct in Aspendos
Water in the Roman world
A Roman architect and war engineer living in the 1st century BCE, Vitruvius in his work “De architectura” devotes an entire eighth book to water.
Thales, the Milesian, one of the seven wise men, taught that water was the original cause of all things […]. Water is of infinite utility to us, not only as affording drink, but for a great number of purposes in life; and it is furnished to us gratuitously.
Hence the priests of the Egyptian worship teach, that all things are composed of water; and when they cover the vase with water, which is borne to the temple with the most solemn reverence, kneeling on the earth, with their hands raised to heaven, they return thanks to divine goodness for its creation.
For such is the nature of all animals, that if they do not receive a supply of grain, they can subsist on fruits, flesh, or fish, or something of those sorts; but without water, neither the body of an animal, nor even food itself can be raised, preserved, nor provided. The utmost diligence and labour, therefore, should be used in choosing springs, on which the health of mankind depends.
– Vitruvius, De architectura, VIII
The Roman engineer also takes into account the location of sources, the type of water depending on the terrain, the soil through which water flows, also gives various ways of detecting it. He advises, among others to dig a pit in the ground and put a lead or bronze bowl into it under the sunset. The prepared dish is lubricated from the inside with oil and placed upside down. Then the hole is covered with reeds or leaves and covered with soil. The next day the vessel is unveiled; if it is wet and covered with drops, there will be water here.
In addition, Vitruvius raises a very important issue – water supply from sources. The Roman not only touches on the subject of ways of obtaining water but also sets the levels in detail when carrying water to settlements and cities.
Water is conducted in three ways, either in streams by means of channels built to convey it, in leaden pipes or in earthen tubes.
– Vitruvius, De architectura, VIII
In Book VIII of Vitruvius’ work, there are many interesting facts and testimonies to the Romans’ vast knowledge of engineering. The rules given by Vitruvius to supply water to cities and settlements formed the basis for the construction of the magnificent, famous Roman aqueducts, which impressed not only with their efficiency but also with their size and durability. These objects have also become decorative elements of cities and surrounding areas through the use of high arcades.