Thursday, June 13, 2024


Aqueducts transport water from one place to another, providing a regular and controlled supply. They were designed to meet the basic needs of human settlements in antiquity: agricultural and drinking water. Ever since humans started to live in communities and developed agriculture, water management has determined their well-being and prosperity. Originally, shafts had to be dug into underground water tables to make wells and cisterns were used to collect and store rainwater. Ancient aqueducts were later designed as tunnels, surface channels and canals, covered clay pipes and monumental bridges. These developments allowed communities to access clean, fresh water, to live far from a water source, and irrigate land which was previously uncultivable.

Where were the first aqueducts built?

The earliest aqueducts were made of inverted clay tiles or pipes which directed water over a short distance following land contours. The earliest of these date from the Minoan and Mesopotamian civilizations of the early 2nd millennium BC. Aqueducts were also important for Mycenaean settlements by the 14th century BC. These were the first steps along the road to modern water management systems, and a far cry from dealing with blocked drains in Sydney, for example.

Aqueducts in Mesopotamia.

The first long-distance canal systems were built in Assyria in C9th BC. They incorporated tunnels and could run for several kilometres. These canal systems allowed aqueducts to follow a direct line between the water source and the outlet. In the C8th BC, the Babylonians also built complex and extensive canal systems. In the 7th century BC, this technology delivered fresh water to Jerusalem for the first time.

Water management in ancient Greece.

The Greekā€™s first water management projects in the C7th BC were designed to supply communal drinking fountains. These were fed via tunnels and long-distance aqueducts and utilised ceramic pipes. By the C4th BC, Priene in Asia Minor was supplied by a system of underground pipes through an artificial ditch covered in stone slabs. C 3rd BC Syracuse was served by three aqueducts, and Pergamon had a highly sophisticated water management system by c. 200 BC.

The Romans.

It was, however, the Romans who became the expert aqueduct builders of the ancient World. Roman engineering mastered difficult terrain to supply towns with water not only for basic needs but also for large public baths, fountains, and private villas. The twin inventions of the arch, and waterproof cement, led to the construction of large-span structures which could channel water along the straightest possible route at a regular gradient. The C1st CE witnessed a massive growth in aqueduct construction to meet the water needs of growing urban population concentrations. During the following 200 years, the limits of architectural and engineering feasibility were repeatedly extended, and some of the largest Roman aqueducts were built in this period. Aqueducts constructed at this time were to employ two or three arcades of arches and soared to amazing heights. For example, the aqueduct of Segovia was 28m high and the Pont du Gard in southern France was 49m high. Both of these structures survive today as monuments to the genius of Roman engineering.

Lindsey Ertz
Lindsey Ertz
Lindsey, a curious soul from NY, is a technical, business writer, and journalist. Her passion lies in crafting well-researched, data-driven content that delivers authentic information to global audiences, fostering curiosity and inspiration.

Related Articles