Roman Aqueducts

In today’s age people are often completed amazed at the surprising amount of technology that has evolved long ago from the Romans and Greeks. Often times it gets to the point where we are not even thinking of them as actual people, but a lesser species that was unable to make amazing strides in the areas of science and math. However, this is a very wrong thought. Obviously people 2,000 years ago were people just like us. The exception, however, is the fact that they had little technology to begin their new discoveries with.

Romans stand out as the creators of a lot, but one of their main accomplishments was their architecture. They built fabulous cities equipped with colosseums, amphitheaters, and aqueducts. They made sure they looked as powerful as they were. 

The aqueducts that the Romans created were not only a smart and useful invention, but they looked glorious at the same time. Like many structures built 2,000 years ago, parts of these aqueducts were made of complete stone while other parts consisted of long tunnels underground. Not only that, but they stretched for miles to bring water to the most arid regions in the Mediterranean world. 

Compared to the modern day transportation of water, these aqueducts used similar methods. Once a spring was located the water was collected and flowed into the aqueducts. These aqueducts slowly, and I mean slowly, sloped downward so that the force of gravity took them all the way to the city. “Pont du Gard, the aqueduct spanning the Gardon River north of Nimes, France, is one of the best surviving examples of Roman aqueduct construction. It transported water from a spring 20 km from the city center and only 14.6 meters above the point of delivery. In a straight line, this would have been a slope of a yard and a half per mile, but the route was far from straight. Because of the circuitous route, the channel’s actual length was more than 50 km” (woods).

The obvious question arises: How in the world did the Romans get this slant to be so small and so perfect over such a long stretch of land? That question remains to be answered… I did however, do a little math to make the question even more mind blowing. 

So to figure out how much the Romans had to make the slop ever meter I changed 50km into meters (50,000) and did 14.6/50000 = .000292 meters. This is equivalent to .292 millimeters which means that for every one meter or aqueducts there would have to be a slope of .292 millimeters going down (less than a fingernail!) for the whole 50 kilometers for the aqueduct to work.

I’d say the Romans were a pretty smart group of people…

Izaac A.


Sources: Academic OneFile, All sources peer reviewed

Dembskey, E.J. “The Aqua Claudia interruption.” Acta Classica 52 (2009): 73+.Academic   OneFile. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.

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Woods, Robert O. “Finite elements, roman-style: a very professional corps of ancient engineers made a lasting contribution to Western civilization.” Mechanical Engineering-CIME Sept. 2003: 58+. Academic OneFile. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.

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3 thoughts on “Roman Aqueducts

  1. Steve Maiullo

    If you are interested in aqueducts, I think you can study these in even further depth and detail for your next post. I’d say select one and give us a brief ‘history’ of it.

  2. hopeadvancedlatin Post author

    I think its pretty impressive that the slope was that little and that they would be able to keep that slope nearly the same for the entire 50 km. I would be interested to know how long it would take something to float the entire 50 km. Since the slope is so little I would imagine that it would take a very long time since the water will not be flowing very fast. I also can’t imagine the time it would take to build the aqueducts, they look huge and since they have to be so precise and that fact that one was 50 km, I’m sure it would take over a year of labor. So if I was starting a city, I would build right next to a fresh water source. Very interesting post about aqueducts, I’m looking forward to reading more in the next one.
    – Skylar H.

  3. hopeadvancedlatin Post author

    Ahhh! Aqueducts are awesome and so are the smart Roman engineers and surveyors! I loved your post. The first time I read about the accuracy required in the aqueducts by the topography of the land, I was floored. I think that it is interesting to think about the development of settlements and the aqueducts together. There was not some council who decided that the next big metropolis would be built “HERE.” Rather, it was likely a small settlement that expanded over many years. This expansion at some point surpassed the existing civil infrastructure of the town (wells, for example), and required some developments for the town to thrive. This is where the aqueduct, the roads, the drainage, and the bridges come into play. The needs of the town had to be met so that it could remain in existence, and the Romans knew exactly how to do that.

    The best part about the Romans is that they knew water needed to be one of their top priorities. (They would probably employ the passive periphrastic with inrigo, inrigare, inrigavi, inrigatus = water/irrigate; inundate/flood; refresh; wet/moisten; diffuse). This is why they were so darn good at getting water places-they knew it was essential to urban sanitation, agriculture, and the general welfare of the empire (cue Life of Brian scene: “What have the Roman’s done for us”).

    Anyway, for another really cool ancient accuracy project, check out the Tunnel of Eupalinos (or Samos):
    This also looks like a pretty sweet source:

    Thanks for letting me get all excited about your post! -Isabel


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