All About Aqueducts

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All About Aqueducts

Covered Trench
Roughly four of every five miles of Rome's aqueducts run underground, many in covered trenches. Trenches are used when the aqueduct follows the contours of the land. They are quick and easy to build for they require neither the construction of arches nor the burrowing of tunnels.
Romans built underground to hide and protect water from enemies. Even after the Empire expanded, creating a safe buffer around our aqueducts, they built underground trenches and tunnels because they protected from the stresses of wind and erosion while underground.
Covered trenches and tunnels are also less disruptive to life on the surface than are walls and arcades, which divide neighborhoods and farmers' fields.

Sometimes, aqueduct engineers should carve a tunnel through a mountain rather than build a trench around one. When not too deep, shafts are dug down vertically from above to intersect with the proposed path of the tunnel.
By using shafts, more than one crew can work on a tunnel at a time. The shaft also serves another purpose: Once the tunnel is finished, slaves can crawl down stone steps to clean the tunnel. They can fill buckets with silt or chipped-out calcium deposits left behind from hard water and then haul the buckets out.

Pressurized pipe (inverted siphon)
When faced with a deep valley, Roman engineers should use pressurized pipes that are inverted siphons. Roman water engineers build these rather than arcades because tall arcades are too unstable when built too tall.
With siphons, water travels down one side of the valley in watertight pipes. Water pressure forces water up the other side. Water exits the pipes at nearly the same height as it entered. The pipes are usually built of lead, which is costly, but the material can handle strong water pressure.

When aqueduct engineers have to cross shallow depressions in the landscape, they should build the aqueduct on a wall. Simple to construct, walls are easier to build than arcades, although walls can impede the natural flow of water and people.
When engineers need to raise the aqueduct's channel more than approximately five feet above the ground, they should resort to arcades, which allow people and water to move freely beneath them.

In a valley, water engineers should use arcades rather than aqueduct trenches. Arcades, of course, are the bridges built with a series of arches, and one of the grandest monuments of the Empire.

When the aqueduct must flow higher than about five feet, Roman engineers should use an arcade rather than a wall. The arched arcades require less material than walls and don't interfere with the passage of water or people through the environment.

Roman Aqueducts
The great and highly advanced Roman waterway system known as the Aqueducts, are among the greatest achievements in the ancient world. The running water, indoor plumbing and sewer system carrying away disease from the population within the Empire wasn't surpassed in capability until very modern times. The Aqueducts, being the most visible and glorious piece of the ancient water system, stand as a testament to Roman engineering. Some of these ancient structures are still in use today in various capacities.

The aqueducts were built from a combination of stone, brick and the special volcanic cement pozzuolana. While their visible remains leave a definite impression, the great bulk of the Roman waterway system ran below ground. Channels bored through rock, or dug below the surface carried water where it was convenient and possible. Of the approximately 260 miles in the aqueduct system, only 30 miles consisted of the visible, mammoth arched structures. The aqueducts were built only to carry the flow of water in areas where digging, burrowing, or surface grades presented problems, such as valleys. The entire system relied upon various gradients and the use of gravity to maintain a continuous flow; and the engineering at the time was remarkable. Without the aqueducts it would've been impossible to maintain the flow of water at the proper grades required.basic design of a roman aqueduct, showing on inverted siphon on the left and an arcade on the right. photo courtesy

When water reached Rome it flowed into enormous cisterns (castella) maintained on the highest ground. These large reservoirs held the water supply for the city and were connected to a vast network of lead pipes. Everything from public fountains, baths and private villas could tap into the network, sometimes provided a fee was paid. The water system was as politically motivated as any other massive public works project. Providing additional sources of incoming flow, feeding the baths or simply providing water access to more of the populace could grant great prestige.

Maintenance of the water system was a continuous task, and the Romans assigned a Curator Aquarum to oversee this undertaking. Paid laborers, slaves and the legions all had parts in building parts of the water system. The Curator Aquarum maintained the aqueducts of Rome, while similar curators oversaw those in the provinces. The legions however, when building new colonies or forts, were responsible for providing their own water supply. Just as they were the great road builders of the Empire, they most assuredly took part in the aqueduct construction of outlying areas.

11 separate aqueducts supplied the city of Rome and were built over a span of 500 years. The first, the Aqua Appia, was built in conjunction with the great southern road the Via Appia in 312 BC. Aqua Novus stretched the farthest from the city, reaching approximately 59 miles away. At its largest extant, nearly 200 cities within the empire were supplied buy aqueducts, far surpassing the capability of any civilization before or after for nearly another 2 millenia. The last Roman aqueduct built was the Aqua Alexandrina built in 226 AD. In the waning days of the western empire, invading Germanic tribes cut the supply of water into Rome and only the Aqua Virgo, which ran completely underground, continued to deliver water. During the middle ages, a couple of the lines were restored, but full access to running water wasn't re-established until the Renaissance. At the height of the ancient city's population of approximately 1,000,000 inhabitants, the water system was capable of delivering up to 1 cubic meter of water per person in the city, more than what is commonly available in most cities today.

Roman Aqueducts

As Roman towns got bigger, in the course of the Roman Republic, it got too hard for the people who lived in the towns to get drinking and washing water. Because raw sewage was draining into the rivers, people who drank river water often got very sick or died. Local governments, first in the city of Rome and then elsewhere in the growing Empire, decided to build long stone channels to carry clean water from nearby hills to the towns.

These were called aqueducts , from the Latin word for water (aqua) and the Latin word for channel (ductus). By the time of the Empire, most Roman towns had at least one aqueduct to bring in fresh water, and big cities like Rome had ten or more.

These aqueducts were quite a challenge to build. The engineering had to be just right in order to get the water to run through the channels and get to the city without stagnating in the channel or coming too fast into the city. They had to keep the slope the same all the time, so sometimes the aqueducts had to run on high arches, and other times along the ground in stone channels, or even under the ground in tunnels. pont du gard

Roman engineers built aqueducts all over the Roman Empire, from Syria to England. All Roman towns pretty much got clean drinking water from these aqueducts. But in villages, where most Roman people lived, there were no aqueducts, and people often drank dirty water from the nearest river, and many women and children spent hours every day carrying water from the river or the nearest well in clay pots.

The aqueducts continued to be used until the 400s AD, when the fall of the Roman Empire in Western Europe meant that most towns became much smaller, and were able to get enough water from wells.

By the 400s AD in the Roman town of Ostia, the town had gotten so much smaller that they didn't need to keep this street clear anymore, and they put their well right in the middle of the street!

Draw a design of your own aqueduct here:

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