Rome, as we know, did not become an imperial power in one day. Years of combat and military triumph made them strong; from a small settlement around River Tiber in Central Italy to one of the biggest empires of the ancient world, the Romans excelled in their inventive and artistic ventures. Considering the time period when technology was not so advanced, one of their many engineering brilliance includes the Roman Aqueducts, which still stand the test of time and will always remain an architectural marvel in history.
Keep on reading because here are 10 interesting facts about the Roman aqueducts that I bet you never knew!
1. Under and Over | Aqueducts
Did you know that the Roman aqueducts ran for miles both below and above the grounds and carried millions of gallons of fresh water every day!? It is remarkable to see that a structure created hundreds of years back could carry such enormous loads and are still here standing the tests of time. The first Roman aqueduct Aqua Appia carried around 75,500 cubic meters of water every day!
2. Solution to a growing population
The first Roman aqueduct was commissioned by a senate member called Appius Claudius when Rome was not an empire but only a republic. The main function of the aqueduct was to cater to the high demand for water due to the growing population as a result of the growing economy and trade routes of Rome.
3. Not created in a day!
These architectural marvels were constructed by thousands of Romans not in a day or a year but over a span of 500 years from 312 BC. They built around 11 aqueducts and did not use a water pumping system for it; the downward gradient with a slope of 10 feet for every 3,200 feet of length of the aqueduct carried the water to its destination letting gravity do its job. However, in places of undulations, the water used to pass through pressurized pipelines called inverted siphons which aided the water to go uphill.
4. Inscriptions | Aqueducts
Roman aqueduct pipes were mostly made of lead and had inscriptions on them with the names of the manufacturer, the fitter, the subscriber with his entitlement. Private users of the aqueduct had to have a license for connecting pipes directly from the aqueduct to their property in exchange for a monetary value based on the length of the pipe. Some wealthy Romans even had their own aqueducts which were connected to a spring mostly!
The roman aqueducts were not only used in homes or for public baths, but also in agriculture and irrigation. In case the farmers had no access to the rivers or lakes, they had to have a special license to tap the water from the aqueduct legally which also helped them in watering the livestock. In the case of illegal tapping, the authorities used to put the tax on the products of the farm.
6. Industrial use
Do you remember movies where we were introduced to the water-powered wheel and how these water-operated machines were proof of technological advancements in the ancient world! Back in the Roman days, the aqueducts carried huge gallons of water and channels were cut from them in the ground with gradients which led water to move in high pressure and wash off the rocks and expose the ores of the metals thereby helping in mining. Evidence of such mines can be found in Rome, Athens, Spain.
7. The design
To build the aqueducts, the Romans used to survey selected mountains or high terrains to find the appropriate site with instruments like Chorobates, Groma, Dioptra, Libella, etc. These aqueducts also had to be maintained as they leaked over the years or debris accumulated in the conduits. Access points were found at regular intervals on the underground conduits for such maintenance purposes.
8. Materials | Aqueducts
The aqueducts were made of stones, bricks, and Pozzolana. They used stones to construct the masonry channels while concrete was used to line the aqueducts. Now the question comes: how did the Romans get concrete? Well, to make their version of concrete they used to mix stone, sand, lime, and water. To make the pipes they used to lead; however, later understanding the toxic aftereffects of lead, they turned towards clay pipes and masonry channels. They even had two supplies of water; a high-quality one for drinking and a low-quality one for bathing!
9. Fall of the great Roman Empire
Once engineering marvels, these aqueducts were the major reason behind the empire’s greatest achievements, both economically and politically. The enemies were clear about their targets and they deliberately cut off the principal water sources of the city leaving the entire city in chaos thereby leading to the gradual decline of the Great Roman empire around the 4th and the 5th century!
10. The numbers
The Romans built over 200 aqueducts in Italy, North Africa, France, Spain, the Middle East, and Turkey. They were necessary to keep water flowing into the Roman baths and fountains. When Rome was at its peak the city had around 1,200 public fountains, 11 great baths, 867 lesser baths, 15 nymphaea, two artificial lakes for mock naval battles, all kept in operation by around 38 million gallons of water per day brought in by the 11 aqueducts!
Tom Kington in the Los Angeles Times wrote that “Rome’s emperors had the aqueducts built quickly, employing thousands of slave laborers. In the 1st century, Claudius completed his 60-mile effort in two years. The structures are unusually solid, with cement and crushed pottery used as a building material. One of the aqueducts, the Aqua Virgo, is still in use today, keeping Rome parks and even the Trevi fountain supplied. Others were damaged by invading German tribes in the waning days of the empire. The ingenious use of gravity and siphons to accelerate water up slopes has stood the test of time: Aqueducts built in the 20th century to supply Los Angeles with water relied on the same methods.” [Source: Los Angeles Times, January 01, 2014]