Roman Aqueducts

Aqueducts of Rome
Years built: 312 B.C.-226 A.D.
Artist: Ancient Roman Architects
Location: Rome, Italy
Medium: Lead Pipes/Stone outer wall
Dimensions: 500 miles (29 miles above ground)

The Roman aqueducts have stood for nearly 2000 years and are a testament to Ancient Roman engineers. It is difficult for people to fully comprehend and appreciate the fact that these massive structures were built so long ago, and yet still function today. Since the time of Ancient Rome, these aqueducts have not only given the Romans drinking water, but they have supplied them with baths as well as a sewer system that carries water away from the city. The word “aqueduct” is derived from the latin words aqua (water) and ducere (to lead). Because of the Tiber river and natural streams that ran through Rome, the city needed no other source of water and was, for a time, self-sufficient without aqueducts. However, the population of Rome grew rapidly, and they eventually needed a better system to produce water in order to satisfy the demands of the masses. This problem was solved by Roman engineers when they developed the idea of the aqueduct. Within a 500 year period the Romans constructed eleven aqueducts. The first recorded aqueduct in Ancient Rome was the Aqua Appia, which was said to be built in 312 B.C. The Romans completed their 11th aqueduct, Aqua Alexandria, in 226 A.D. Rome has over 359 miles of aqueducts that lead into the city. Each day, more than fifty million gallons of water are poured into Rome. The way these aqueducts work is through the use and manipulation of gravity. They were built mostly at ground level, and, in certain circumstances, underground. The aqueducts have a gradual slope of 1/200 or less. When large valleys needed to be crossed, the Romans constructed arcades in order to maintain the height needed for the aqueducts to work. The arcade is a remarkable invention used in aqueducts; it’s also known as the inverted siphon. “An inverted siphon consisted of a closed pipe laid along the valley floor; the water at one end of the pipe was at a higher elevation than the water at the other end. A pressure difference forced the water through the pipe to the lower end, enabling the flow to continue uninterrupted, and relieving the need to build an arcade(Smith)” This system helped keep the water flow consistent. All the pipes were made out of lead, which brings up the possibility of lead poisoning. However, water only gets contaminated with lead poisoning when it is sitting in lead pipes. The Romans, of course, rarely allowed their water to lie stagnant, and on the rare occasion that it did lie stagnant, it was deemed safe because it consisted mostly of dissolved minerals, called “hard water.” These minerals would “form encrustations along the pipes,” thus providing a coat between the water and the pipe that protected the water from poisoning. The aqueducts were and still are a brilliant piece of architecture. The way the Romans mathematically constructed a system to disperse water to their city is remarkable. Even though this might not be a beautiful piece of artwork, it represents how beautiful the human mind is. To create something so big but at the same time so intricate and detailed is an astonishing feat.
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