Roman Structures > Roman Hydraulic Structures

Roman Hydraulic Structures

Background

One of the biggest issues with maintaining the massive urban population in Rome and some of the other major settlements throughout the Empire was supplying fresh water given the Italian peninsula was surrounded by salt water in the Mediterranean fed by the Atlantic. The Romans came up with many ingenious solutions to this problem including cisterns, water tanks known as impluvium and massive vaulted arch concrete structures known as an aqueducts which helped transport water over many miles.ImpluviumLocated in housing structures in the Roman settlement of Pompeii are individual water tanks known as impluvium which collected natural rain water that fell through a hole in the roof. These structures would help provide the basic water needs for the family of the house and often larger villas and houses would depend on private cisterns and other structures for water supply.CisternsWhile some cisterns were privately owned such as in villas and other aristocratic structures many others were publicly owned and essential to provide fresh water to entire communities. Some of these such as the cisterns located in Petra were essential for establishing settlements and civilization in the desert. However, these are simple compared to the cistern known as the Piscina Mirabilis which has over fifty square bays constructed of vaulted arches made from Roman concrete.AqueductsRoman aqueducts were technological marvels during classical antiquity and involved highly precise engineering which allowed for fresh water from the mountains to continually flow towards Rome and other settlements. Using scientific and engineering advances in concrete and vaulted arches the Romans were able to build structures that had a slightly angled incline that allowed melted water to flow over many miles simply through the use of gravity.Aqueducts in RomeThe first Roman aqueduct is known as the Aqua Appia and was constructed during the Roman Republic around 312 BC. Following this there would be nine aqueducts built in Rome alone before the second century AD which supplied one million cubic meters of water per day to the capital. In addition to being simply structures that carried water the Roman aqueducts could also doubled as bridges, arches and other structures such as the Porta Maggiore which carries the Aqua Claudia and Aqua Novus aqueducts over the major roads of the Via Labicana and the Via Praenestina in Rome.However, the Roman aqueducts did not just supply the capital of Rome with water but many other settlements as well. For example the impressive Pont du Gard aqueduct in modern day France which supplied the ancient settlement of Nemassus (Nimes) still stands as a testament to the innovation and technology the Romans brought to their outer provinces. Aqueducts were also constructed in other places such as Ephesus, Caria, Cilicia in Anatolia, along with the settlements of Caesarea Maritima in modern day Israel and Carthage in north Africa and many other locations throughout the provinces of the Roman Empire.Dams and ReservoirsWhile aqueducts were the preferred source of fresh water in the Roman Empire, the engineers in Rome also constructed massive dams and reservoirs which helped provided a source of fresh water. Examples of these include the dam built across the River of Rhyndacus near Aezene in Anatolia. Other hydraulic technologies that the Romans employed were siphons, water wheels and other ancient tools that all helped the empire meet the resource requirements to maintain political, social and economic order throughout the culturally diverse territories.

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