What the Romans Left Behind: The Aqueducts

Roman Aqueducts

One of the chief challenges of the Roman Empire was how to provide for the continued extravagant lifestyles of the rich and famous in Rome and in other large cities that might otherwise have suffered a water shortage. The Romans’ answer was the aqueduct.

The first aqueduct was built in 312 B.C. by Appius Claudius. It brought water to Rome from the nearby Sabine Hills. As the frontier of Rome, expanded, so did the network of aqueducts.

The Romans were quite good at conquering other peoples and territories, and they were also quite good at using those conquered peoples and territories to Rome’s own advantage.

In the case of the aqueducts, the mountain springs of the newly conquered territories supplied the water that was transported back to Rome and other needy population centers and the conquered people were used to build the massive aqueducts that would carry the water there.

Large water wheels carried water high in the air to the top of a (usually) two-story structure that sloped downward slightly from the water source to the water destination. Roman engineers made precise calculations so the water would not stall on its way. They also designed beautiful, stable structures.

Thus, the Roman aqueduct has the unique appeal of being both a practical invention and one that is equally interesting to look at and admire. The Roman invention of concrete and the availability of marble made building of the aqueducts possible.

With all kinds of water flowing into the larger cities, Romans could continue to take their daily baths, upkeep of their massive estates and public fountains, and other such “needs.”

The Roman presence endures, in Britain, and elsewhere. The aqueduct at Segovia, Spain, carried water until the 1980s.