Running Water's Effect on Roman Society

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Running Water’s Effect on Past and Present Society

One of the greatest civilizations of all time was Ancient Rome. They conquered most of the known world, which influenced most of the ancient and modern cultures. Their achievements in architecture rendered modern observers speechless, and brought great wealth to the Roman Empire. By far the greatest achievement in Roman history came in the form of running water. The three part system, which was developed by early Etruscans, kept diseases away and saved time. This system included the entrance, use, and exit of ancient Roman water. According to numerous historical texts, ancient Romans relied upon the water from the Tiber River, small springs, and shallow wells. Said water had to be carried in buckets to the city in many grueling passages. Over time, the water became insufficient for the growing population of Rome, and to rectify this problem, aqueducts were built. Most of the information on the aqueducts in ancient Rome comes from Sextus Julius Frontius, the water commissioner in the 1st century A.D. He described in proud detail the sources, length, and function of each of Rome's aqueducts, and he believed that the Roman achievements in water management were more important than anything else. ". . . With such an array of indispensable structures carrying so many waters, compare if you will, the idle Pyramids or the useless, though famous works of the Greek" (Frontius, trans. By Bennet, 1961). Here, Frontius shows he cares little about the beauty of a monument, for his appreciation lies with the function it is created for: to carry potable water to the cities of the Empire, especially in the case of Frontius, to ancient Rome. The aqueduct system began at the source: a spring or river that looked to be suitable for the citizens of Rome, and ran at a slight decrease in altitude to the walls of the city. For example, the Aqua Appia, constructed by Appius Cladius Caesus in the year 312 B.C., was 16,445 meters in length, but it only dropped 10 meters in altitude from the source to its level in Rome (Lanciani, 1897). Modern engineers marvel at the miniscule percent error of Appius Cladius Caesus’ famous aqueduct. The way the Romans built these lines so perfectly was very simple. If the workers came to a valley that interrupted the flow of gravity, they would build a tiered viaduct to keep the elevation in the same style; if they came upon a depression that was deemed impractical to build a viaduct, they would build an inverted siphon to move the water to and from its original height; and, lastly, if the workers fell upon a mountain or hill that obstructed the flow of the water, they would tunnel through the earth to ensure that the water reached its destination (Smith, 1978). I thought that Aqueducts only consisted of the two tiered bridges; sadly Norman Smith has proved me wrong. “The popular but inaccurate image is that Roman aqueducts were elevated throughout their entire length on lines of arches… The system of aqueducts serving Rome had only 5 percent of its total distance supported by viaducts or bridges” (Smith, 1978). This shows that modern archaeologists have deceived many people. Their findings only include the wondrous two tiered bridges that are deceivably named, Aqueducts, whereas these structures are called viaducts, and Aqueducts are a name for the system that brings water from the source to the city. After the water arrived in the city, it served a purpose depending on its quality.

“Roman water quality standards were remedial, taking into consideration only such factors as taste, temperature, smell, and appearance. Since the quality of water from the nine aqueducts varied, the worst waters were used for artificial lakes and irrigation, and the best for drinking. The aqueducts carrying water to Rome were covered to prevent the water from being contaminated by dust, dirt, and other impurities and from being heated by the sun. The best...
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