Aqueducts Spring from Ancient Ingenuity
Before there was indoor plumbing, there were aqueducts. An aqueduct is a structure designed to channel a water supply, carrying it to a nearby town. Ancient Roman civilizations were the first to take advantage of this system. With limited tools, ancient civilizations relied on their ingenuity to supply their farms and cities with water. The Romans constructed aqueducts to bring water into their cities for public baths, fountains and other everyday uses. Aqueduct systems were also used for agriculture, mining, and manufacturing. Springs and streams were the main water sources.
How It Works
Original aqueducts relied on gravity to move the water. A slight downward slope would allow the water to flow freely through conduits. Conduit is another word for the channel or tube that carried the water. These channels were typically constructed from clay tiles and buried underground, following the earth’s natural terrain. Where there were valleys or obstructions, stone bridges were constructed to carry the water without interruption. The elevated arches that created these bridges remain recognizable symbols of aqueducts around the world. People continue to study these arches for their architectural importance and structural durability.
The conduits were regularly inspected for illegal breaching or accidental damage. Maintenance patrols would remove debris and clear hard water buildup. After the fall of the Roman Empire, many roman aqueducts fell into disrepair without regular maintenance. However, Roman aqueducts were constructed with such expert craftsmanship that some are still partially in use today.
Sedimentation tanks were an important part of an aqueduct’s construction. These tanks helped reduce debris and other foreign material that had been caught in the water’s flow. Distribution tanks and sluices were put in place to regulate the water supply. A sluice or flume controls water flow through a channel with a gate.
Once the water arrived through the aqueducts to the cities, it would be stored in large cisterns. A cistern is just another word for a tank used to store water. The cisterns were placed high enough to create water pressure for the fountains, similar to a modern water tower. Originally, fountains were purely functional structures. Townspeople would collect water from the fountains in buckets and use it for drinking or bathing. Once indoor plumbing became mainstream, fountains became purely decorative.
Greek and Mesopotamian Contributions
Although the Romans receive most of the recognition for their impressive aqueduct structures, Greek and Mesopotamian civilizations had similar systems. Athens, Samos and other ancient Greek cities received water for their public fountains from long-distance aqueducts. The Assyrian Empire managed their water supply with various tunnels. In addition to water channels, ancient Mesopotamians invented qanats. These large, underground irrigation systems were constructed to extract groundwater in dry areas.
Although indoor plumbing is a relatively new technology, people have been channeling water for more convenient access for centuries. Aqueducts are no longer an essential part of our daily lives but they maintain historical significance because of structural ingenuity and durable architecture.