To many people the words “Roman aqueduct” conjure up an image of huge arched monuments striding across a landscape and is one often used in pictures to portray the Romans.
But to a Roman citizen an aqueductus meant literally “water that’s lead from one place to another” or “water duct” and so the word was used for the whole length of piping or channels that carried water from source (often a spring) to a city or an industrial site. They could run great distances; one supplying Carthage in Tunisia was 132km long!
The earliest known Roman aqueduct was the Aqua Appia in Rome, built in 312BC. The Aqua Claudia also took water to Rome, but only 15km of its 68km length was raised on arches. We know quite a bit about the ones that supplied Rome as one of the men in charge of them (the curator aquarum!), called Frontinus, wrote a book on the subject.
|Vallon Des Arcs, Barbegal|
In Barbegal, southern France an aqueduct fed water to 16 water wheels which operated flour mills.
Most of the aqueducts relied on gravity: the water flowed from higher ground to low ground and followed a carefully surveyed gradient around a hillside. The aqueduct supplying Nimes in southern France had a gradient change of only 34cm per kilometre.
Sometimes to keep the route of the water flow at the right height, Roman engineers tunnelled through hills, and even ran siphons in watertight pipes up hill.
In Britain we have little evidence of Roman aqueducts. The best example is near Dorchester, in Dorset, where channels along hillsides have been found that fed water to the Roman town of Durnovaria And every town and fort must have been the same, Bath included. Although the Roman town of Aquae Sulis had its hot water springs it needed cold water for the cold plunge baths, latrines (toilets), domestic supplies and perhaps even street fountains, the only source of clean water for most people. Unfortunately with all the later developments in the city nobody’s found any evidence …yet!
|Pont du Gard|