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Roman Aqueducts “The relevance of water to the social political climate of the Roman” Research Paper


An aqueduct is a passageway for liquids or fluids. In this context, an aqueduct is a passageway or a channel built specifically for conveying water from one area to another. Aqueducts were built to allow water to move to areas that were preferred. This technology relied heavily on gravity. In this case, aqueducts were built in such a way that the water flow was facilitated by gravity.

Aqueducts were built in the form of a canal allowing water to pass to the low grounds. Aqueducts are not new phenomena, and they have been in existence for quite some time (Van, 2004). Water is a critical resource within the human society. In ancient Rome, this was not different, and aqueducts were built to serve various purposes in the Roman society.

They were most notable in ancient civilizations and served social, political, and economic purposes. In ancient Rome, aqueducts were very prominent. The main question in this paper is: what were the names and functions of the aqueducts in ancient Rome? This paper will look at the various Roman aqueducts and their relevance to the Roman society during the ancient times.

The Roman Aqueducts

The earliest origin of aqueducts can be traced in Rome. They were not the first to build aqueducts, but they developed aqueducts of higher complexity than those that were in existence at the time. The need to build aqueducts in Rome was prompted by the need for mass supply of water to the population.

The Romans were well known for their mass consumption of water. They used water for public baths and fountains among other uses (Wells, 1995). The Roman engineers first constructed an aqueduct in 312 BC. Before this, the people of Rome relied on water from springs and the river Tiber. However, the supply of water was not clean and safe for drinking due to pollution (Van, 2004).

There were eleven aqueducts in total. They supplied water in large quantities of gallons. The gallons were estimated to be in the hundreds of millions. The aqueducts were up to sixty miles long. The first of the eleven aqueducts was built underground. This was done for security reasons. It was called the Aqua Apia. This aqueduct got its source of water mainly from springs. It was used for about 150 years before it was rendered useless (Ashby, 1973).

The Anio Vetus was the second aqueduct that was constructed 272-269 BC sourced. Its water came from a river that was above Tivoli. This was also an underground construction. The finances to build this second aqueduct came from the spoils of a won war. The third aqueduct was called the Aqua Marcia and was financed with the spoils of the Roman victory over Corinth.

By this time, the Romans were not concerned about their enemies poisoning the water supply. However, a portion of Aqua Marcia still ran underground. It is considered to be the longest aqueduct to be built. It was constructed between the years 144 and140 BC (Aicher, 1995).

The Aqua Tepula was another aqueduct. It was constructed in 126 BC. It is one of the smallest aqueducts to be built. Its waters were lukewarm and tepid. For this reason, it was unfit for human consumption. The waters still remain lukewarm to date. The Aqua Julia was the fifth aqueduct to be built.

Its waters were mixed with those of the Aqua Tepula. It was built on top of the Aqua Marcia. The Aqua Julia was built during a time when the other four aqueducts needed renovation and reconstruction because they were becoming expensive to maintain due to their deteriorated condition (Aicher, 1995). Aqua Julia was built around 33 BC. The next aqueduct to be built was the Aqua Virgo. It was constructed during the 19 BC.

It is one of the aqueducts that are still in use today although its waters are unsafe for consumption. It was built to supply water for use in public baths. Its waters were cold and pure. It was once used as a route for the Goths during their plan to attack Rome (Fagan, 2002). Aqua Alstietina was built in 2 BC. The reasons for its construction were questionable because it did not have water fit for consumption (Frontinus, 1925; Gabucci, Hartmann and Peccatori, 2002).

However, it is suggested that the water from Alstietina were used for irrigation of gardens and other uses. It was also useful when other aqueducts built earlier on were closed for maintenance. The course of Alstietina is widely unknown because only five hundred meters of its three hundred kilometers were above the earth’s surface (Aicher, 1995).

The Aqua Claudia was built over a long period believed to be between AD 38 and AD 52. It took a break for about nine years. The maintenance of Aqua Claudia was perhaps one of the most difficult. This is attributed to its initial low cost of construction. The repair of the Aqua Claudia also took quite a long time.

Some reasons have been put forward to explain the delayed repairs. One of the reasons was that there was an earthquake that affected Rome during the time. In addition, this was due to political unrest at around AD 69. Another possible cause was the fire in AD 69 that lasted for a whole week. Despite all the challenges, the Aqua Claudia served the largest population. It served fourteen of Rome’s districts and was famed for its pure waters (Hodge, 2002).

The Aqua Anio Novus was the other aqueduct to be built, and was the highest aqueduct ever built. Its beauty paralleled that of Aqua Claudia, and even surpassed it. Apart from being used for the baths and consumption, it was also used for luxurious uses such as decoration (Hodge, 2002).

Aqua Traiana was the built in 109 AD. There is limited information concerning this aqueduct because it was built after the demise of Frontinus. It provided clean spring water to the inhabitants of fourteen of Rome’s districts. Its waters were also used in the new baths (Frontinus, 1925).

Numerous repairs were done on this aqueduct and the construction of aAqua Paola with its remains. The last of the eleven largest aqueducts of ancient Rome was the Aqua Alexandrina. It was constructed in AD 226, and little is known about it as it was also constructed after the death of Frontinus. It was mainly constructed to supply water to the baths that were constructed by Alexander Severus (Ashby, 1973).

By 410 AD, the eleventh aqueducts supplied water to one thousand and twelve fountains, as well as nine hundred and twenty six births. They also fed water to eleven imperial thermae. Most of the physical evidence of this was destroyed during the numerous invasions. For example, the water supply was cut by vitages. Constatine also took away the engineers, artisans, and patricians among other professionals to prevent further work being done on the aqueducts.

Belisarius repaired the aqueducts after Rome gained imperial victory (Van, 2004; Gabucci, Hartmann and Peccatori, 2002). Many of the aqueducts continued supplying water until the 10th century after which only Aqua Virgo supplied water well into mid ages. By the 8th century, there were attempts by the pope to restore some of the aqueducts such as the Aqua Traiana, which supplied water to Basilicas. Claudia was also repaired. A section of Claudia was next to the Roman church and thus got its water from Claudia (Ashby, 1973).

Some of the other smaller aqueducts include Aquas Annia, Atica and Attica, Antoniniani, Agusta, Aurelia, Cauerulea, Cernens, Ciminia, Conclusa, Damnata, Dorashiana, Drusia, Hetculea, Mercurii, Pinciana, and Severiana. These were built in between and after the construction of the major aqueducts. Some of the people responsible for the successful construction of the aqueducts in Rome include Appius Claudius, Manius Curius, Lucius papirius, Agrippa, Augustus, Alexander Severus, Caligula, cassius Longinus, and Servilius Caepio (Van, 2004).

The relevance of water to the social political climate of the Roman

The aqueducts of Rome had many implications on the social and political aspects in Rome. The aqueducts provided clean water for consumption, generation of hydro power, and for other purposes. It enabled the people in Rome to live lives that were considered luxurious at that point in time (Fagan, 2002).

The Romans had a fresh supply of water at all times. In fact, it is argued that the water supplied by the aqueducts was much more than that supplied by any system during the time. Consistent water supply enabled the Romans to advance in areas such as construction, which required water. The Romans could do anything without experiencing the problem of insufficient water supply. This made them a strong monarch, one which had many enemies (Squatriti, 2002).

Experts have submitted that the building of many cities was highly influenced by the existing aqueducts. Essentially, it is argued that they would not be in existence if the aqueducts did not exist. Statistics indicate that almost two hundred of the cities were served by water from the aqueducts (Aicher, 1995).

The aqueducts were also built in a manner that they were concealed from the enemies. The water supply was protected from their enemies. The aqueducts also protected the land from soil erosion and the pollution that came with it. The aqueducts were also a brilliant design because they were not disruptive to people above the ground, which is attributed to their underground construction (Evans, 1997).

This study will concentrate mainly on the basic uses of water in ancient Rome, and the effects it had on the social welfare of the people of Rome. The most common use of water from the aqueducts was in the baths (Bird, 2007). The baths have been a huge part of Roman culture and were in existence from the second century before Christ.

The baths were intended for men only at first. Thus, in ancient Rome, it was only the men who had the privilege of using baths (Toner, 1995). Balneum was considered to be among the very first baths in Rome and was owned privately. Only the rich folk of that time were able to access it.

Thus, the women together with those who were not wealthy enough were not able to use the Balneum. With time, the towns in Rome got bigger, and the demand for baths also increased (Squatriti, 2002). People saw it as an opportunity to generate income. In addition, very few people owned baths in their homes, and it was almost a necessity to build additional baths.

The construction was a much welcomed project especially because they provided water for the baths that were needed. The Roman aqueducts provided water for about nine hundred and twenty six private baths and eleven public baths (Evans, 1997).

Over time, with aqueducts providing enough water for all the baths that had been constructed, the baths were open to the women too because they had gained financial advancement and stature. The poor were sometimes allowed to use the baths freely when a rich person was soliciting votes, and would thus pay for the entire bath for perhaps a whole afternoon keeping the bath open to even the poor. Slaves also went to the baths, but only to aid their masters in the bathing process because it was not a simple procedure (Bird, 2007).

Apart from being a place where people went to clean themselves up, the baths also presented themselves as a great place to socialize. People would meet there and interact. Businessmen would discuss business as they relaxed. However, the entrances to the baths were different for men, women and slaves.

The children were not allowed in the baths. The area allocated for women to a bath was small because the number of women who went to the baths was less than the number of men. They also went to the baths at different times with women being allocated less time than the men.

This can be attributed to the assumption that women had less to talk about in the baths and were also cleaner than men. However, the larger baths could accommodate men and women at the same time. The baths were kept open until around dusk. The women attended the baths during the earlier times from around dawn to 1 p.m. (Bird, 2007).

Most of the men and women in Rome visited the baths once a day as it was considered a social event for one to attend. The baths were of different sizes. The smaller ones could accommodate at least three hundred people while the larger ones could accommodate fifteen hundred people.

In some instances, hospitals in Rome had their own baths. Going to the baths was a very crucial and important part of the history of Rome in ancient times. The Roman baths and by extension the aqueducts contributed to the economy as people were charged to use the baths. The least expensive bath cost one quadran per hour of soaking, interacting, catch up with friends, and business partners. This provided one of the steadiest sources of income for ancient Rome.

The aqueducts supplied water to the baths through pipes made of lead. A tax was imposed on the pipes depending on their size with the larger pipes being taxed more. This meant that most people could not afford baths in their homes. Six hundred and forty kilometers of aqueducts were used to supply water to baths all over Rome (Gabucci, Hartmann and Peccatori, 2002).

As mentioned earlier, the Roman Aqueducts was not any ordinary process. First of all, a person went through many baths. However, there was no order in which one took the baths. The waters in different baths were heated to different temperatures. The hottest of the baths were called the caldarium. The coldest of them were called frigidarium or natatorium. They were reckoned to be very large swimming pools, probably the size of the YMCA swimming pools today.

The warm baths were called tepidariums. These were also big, but not large enough for swimming (De, 1997). In most cases, the bathing process started in the tepidarium that served as an area for soaking. The soaking opened up people’s pores after which one would go for a massage. Here, the oils were poured onto a person mostly olive and then scrapped off. The scrapped oil was believed to remove dead skin.

The caldarium, which was a warmer room, was the next to the baths. They were like the modern day hot tubs. Finally, one would visit the frigidarium to cool off and have a good swim. It is important to note that the people of Rome did not use soap. Instead, they used the olive oil in place of soap. It was believed to have a better cleaning effect than soap because it removed the dead skin (Toner, 1995).

The slaves stayed in the basement area. Their work was to put charcoal in the huge ovens for heating up the water that was used in the caldarium and saunas. There were also other activities in the baths. There were libraries, saunas, exercise rooms, gyms, cutting salons, stores, game rooms, gardens, galleries and libraries among other facilities (Bird, 2007).

The Caracalla bath is one of the most significant and famous baths. It was built in 217 AD during the Emperor Caracalla’s reign. Its waters were supplied by the aqueduct aqua Marcia. This bath was functioning well until the water supply was cut off from the aqua Marcia during the Goth invasion (De, 1997).

Baths were such an important part of ancient Rome. This culture spread to other parts of Europe. In France, they built baths in Aix and Vichy; in Germany, they built them in Wiesbaden and Aachen. They were also built in Hungary among other locations (Hodge, 2002).


The eleven Roman aqueducts were built between 312 BC and AD 226. The aqueducts contributed a great deal to the social aspects in ancient Rome. This saw the establishment of the baths, which were places of socializing. These baths were meant for certain individuals in the society.

Although the poor could use the baths, it is evident that they were used by the rich in the society. The poor were allowed to use the baths only when the rich had paid on their behalf. In this case, the poor depended on the mercies of the rich. In most instances, they were not allowed to use the baths and could only visit them to do some work for their bosses while they enjoyed the baths.

The aqueducts also affected the political scenes as enemies of Rome were interested in capturing and destroying the city in a quest to take control the aqueducts. Given that the aqueducts were of great importance in the society, they were a major target by enemies who either took control or destroyed them. The aqueducts were also economically important in the Roman society. The Romans built baths where they could charge individuals who wanted to use the baths services.


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