In the mostly dry climate of the Mediterranean region, the ancient Greeks and Romans sought ways to use and preserve fresh water for drinking, sanitation, and washing. Various waterworks—including aqueducts*, wells, fountains, baths, and water tunnels—became common features of Greek and Roman life.

Greece. The ancient Greeks preferred natural springs as the source of their water supply because such springs were believed to have sacred powers. If necessary, the Greeks made clay pipes and cut channels in rock to transport spring water to where it was needed. However, natural springs were not always available or practical. In such cases, the Greeks dug wells and collected rainwater in cisterns*, which they lined with clay or cement to prevent the water from leaking into the surrounding earth. The Greeks also built fountain houses in which water flowed through spouts into basins.

Archaeological* evidence of waterworks survives throughout Greece. Among the earliest and most remarkable remains are those of a tunnel cut through a hill on the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea. Built in about 530 B.C., it was more than 3,000 feet long and nearly 3 feet wide. Its purpose was to carry water from a spring to the city of Samos. Ruins at the sanctuary* of Perachora include a stone conduit*, a large cistern, and deep shafts with devices that raised underground water to storage tanks at the surface.

As early as the 500s B.C., Greek engineering skills enabled builders to construct simple, ground-level aqueducts to transport water into cities from outlying springs. These aqueducts generally incorporated rock-hewn conduits or clay pipes. An aqueduct system built in the 100s B.C. at Pergamumin Asia Minor was one of the most complex ever built by the Greeks. It may have provided the inspiration for aqueduct building in Rome.

Rome. The two oldest major waterworks in the city of Rome were the Aqua Appia, built in 312 B.C., and the Aqua Anio Vetus, built in 272 B.C. Both were underground water tunnels, constructed beneath the surface of the earth to protect the city’s water supply from enemy attack. The Aqua Appia, about ten miles long, brought water to the southern section of the city. The Aqua Anio Vetus carried water a considerable distance from the Anio River.

Rome’s growing population and the increased popularity of fountains and public baths soon required additional waterworks to provide an adequate water supply. Roman engineers met this need by building aqueducts. The first important aqueduct in Rome, the Aqua Marcia, was built in 144 B.C.One of its innovative features was the use of mortar to hold the stone blocks in place. This made the aqueduct more stable and helped prevent serious leaks. Later engineers used concrete instead of stone blocks for the water channels of aqueducts. Unlike Greek aqueducts, which used closed pipes to transport water, Roman aqueducts usually had open channels.

Early aqueducts followed the contours of the land to maintain the flow of water from its source. This often required long detours to avoid mountains or deep valleys. As engineering techniques improved, however, Roman builders became more adventurous. They built aqueducts on a straighter line by cutting deeper tunnels through hills and constructing higher arched structures over valleys. Some of these aqueducts were marvels of engineering.

* aqueduct channel, often including bridges and tunnels, that brings water from a distant source to where it is needed

* cistern tank for storing rainwater

* archaeological referring to the study of past human cultures, usually by excavating ruins

* sanctuary place for worship

* conduit channel or pipe for carrying water long distances


The water that flowed into Rome through one of its aqueducts, the Aqua Marcia, exemplifies the way in which water was distributed among the Roman populace. About 10 percent of the total went to the emperor to be used in any way he wished. About 50 percent went to private customers who paid a tax for the water they received. The remaining 40 percent went to military camps, public baths and lavatories, public fountains, and large basins open to the public. The large public basins provided the main supply of water for the city's poor people, who came and filled their jugs and buckets at all hours of the day and night.

Most of the aqueducts that supplied water to Rome emptied into large basins several miles outside the city. The water then flowed through channels and emptied into brick-and-concrete tanks called castella, from which the water was distributed to fountains, baths, homes, public buildings, and other waterworks throughout the city.

By the time of the Roman Empire, aqueducts and the great arched bridges that carried them over valleys had become symbols of Roman wealth and power. The emperors supported ambitious construction projects to create elaborate aqueduct systems and other waterworks that could supply the inhabitants of Roman cities with abundant supplies of water.

The emperor Augustus and his assistant Agrippa built three aqueducts for the city of Rome and established a governmental administration to manage them. The emperor Claudius built aqueducts on a grand scale, and Trajan and Caracalla made important additions to Rome’s waterworks. Among Caracalla’s most notable projects were large and elaborate public baths. The Roman system of waterworks needed imperial support to operate. Citizens paid a fee for the use of water, but this money did not cover the cost of running the system.

Outside major Roman cities, waterworks remained relatively simple. Most people in rural sections of the empire obtained their water from wells, or perhaps springs. To raise water from wells, people usually used a bucket, rope, and pulley system. The development of simple water pumps in the 100s B.C. made the task easier. In addition to drawing water from wells, these pumps also were used to irrigate gardens and small fields and to pump water out of mines and ships. {See also Aqueducts; Cities, Greek; Cities, Roman; Construction Materials and Techniques; Technology.)

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