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13.4: Data Dive- Aqueducts of Rome

  • Page ID
    46712
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    Overview

    All drinking water sources are subject to contamination that require appropriate treatment to eliminate disease-causing pathogens. Sources of water contamination can originate from naturally occurring chemicals and minerals (arsenic, radon, uranium), local land use practices (fertilizers, pesticides), manufacturing processes, and sewage. If left untreated, the presence of contaminants in water can lead to adverse health effects, both acute and chronic. This is why the achievement of the aqueducts of Rome are so astounding! Not only did they water to the residents of Rome, but somehow the Romans were able to identify the cleanest water sources for drinking without the most basic testing equipment. In 1995 Peter Aicher published a book titled, “Guide to the aqueducts of ancient Rome.” The book discusses a lot of the history surrounding the 11 aqueducts while also integrating a more modern analysis of the quality of the water based on where it was sourced. The table below provides a brief overview of the aqueducts along with several notes about their use:

    Table \(\PageIndex{a}\): Aqueduct characteristics and notes about water volume, source, quality and use. Table by Rachel Schleiger (CC-BY-NC) modified from data in Aicher PJ 1995.

    Aqueduct Construction Complete Volume (units) Water Source Water Quality Notes
    Appia 312 BC 31 Springs Good

    All underground except inside walls

    70% for civic/imperial uses

    Anio Vetus 272-269 BC 74 River Poor Used for baths, gardens, and industry
    Marcia 144-240 BC 78 Springs Best

    Pure/cold/hard water

    Supplied baths

    Tepula 126-125 BC 7 Streams Good Warm water (60F)
    Julia 33 BC 20 Springs Good N/A
    Virgo 22-19 BC 41 Marsh Good

    Almost all underground, some along channel

    Supplied baths

    Alsietina 2 BC 7 Lake Poor Build to supply basin for mock sea battles
    Claudia 38-52 AD 76 Springs Good Built several branches in the city
    Anio Novus 38-52 AD 78 River Okay Quality was poor until later improved
    Traiana 109 AD 47 Springs Good N/A
    Alexandria 226 AD 9 Springs Good Served baths

     

    Questions

    1. How many of the 11 aqueducts do you think have drinkable water?
    2. Does the above answer surprise you? Why/why not?
    3. How many of the aqueducts with drinkable water come from a higher volume aqueduct?
    4. Based on what you can observe in the notes, what did the Romans do when water wasn’t drinkable?
    5. What is the most surprising thing to you about the data presented in the above table? Why?

     

    Attribution

    Rachel Schleiger (CC-BY-NC)


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