Water-supply--Its extent--The Aqueducts--Distribution in
city--Drainage--Disposal of the Dead--Cremation and
Burial--Catacombs--Public Health Regulations.
In ancient Greece, the cities were supplied with water from springs over
which beautiful fountains were erected. The Greek aqueducts were not on
the same grand scale as the Roman, but were usually
cut in the rock, or made of pipes or masonry. Great care was taken in
the supervision of these public works.
The first Roman aqueduct, according to Frontinus, dates from 312 B.C.
Pliny wrote of the Claudian aqueduct: "But if anyone will carefully
calculate the quantity of the public supply of water, for baths,
reservoirs, houses, trenches, gardens and suburban villas, and, along
the distance which it traverses, the arches built, the mountains
perforated, the valleys levelled, he will confess that there never was
anything more wonderful in the whole world."
Frontinus, who was controller of the aqueducts in the time of Nerva and
of Trajan, describes nine aqueducts, of which four belonged to the days
of the Republic, and five to the reigns of Augustus and Claudius.
"The total water-supply of Rome has been estimated at 332,306,624
gallons a day, or, taking the population at a million, 332 gallons a
head. Forty gallons a day is now considered sufficient."
The ancient Aqua Virgo at the present day supplies the magnificent
Fontana di Trevi, and the glorious fountains in the Piazzo di Spagna and
the Piazzo Navona.
The Romans not only provided great aqueducts for the Imperial City, but
also built them throughout various parts of the Empire. In Rome, the
aqueducts were built to supply both the low and the high levels of the
city. The reason why the Romans did not build underground aqueducts, as
is done at the present day, has been variously explained. Perhaps they
did not fully understand that water will find its own level over a great
distance. They also would have found great difficulty in overcoming the
high pressure of the water.
In their conduits they built shafts at frequent intervals designed to
relieve the pressure of compressed air in the pipes. The water from the
neighbourhood of Rome rapidly encrusted channels and pipes with
calcareous deposits. Probably the great advantage of accessibility to
leaks and defects gained by building unenclosed aqueducts appealed
strongly to the ancient Romans. They did not fully understand the
technical difficulties involved in the "hydraulic mean gradient." No
machinery was used to pump the water or raise it to an artificial level.
A strip of land 15 ft. wide was left on either side of the aqueducts,
and this land was defined at intervals by boundary stones. No trees were
grown near the aqueduct, to avoid the risk of injuring the foundations,
and any breach of the rules for the preservation of the aqueducts was
severely punished by fines.
Vitruvius gives rules for testing the water, and points out that water
led through earthen pipes is more wholesome than water coming from
leaden ones. He states that the "fall" of an aqueduct should be not less
than 1 in 200. A circuit was often made to prevent the too rapid flow of
the water, and intermediate reservoirs were constructed to avoid a
shortage of water in the case of a broken main. Reservoirs were also
used for irrigation.
The water from the aqueduct was received at the walls of the city in a
great reservoir called castellum aquarum, externally a beautiful
building and internally a vast chamber lined with hard cement and
covered with a vaulted roof supported on pillars. The water flowed
thence into three smaller reservoirs, the middle one filled by the
overflow of the two outer ones. The outer reservoirs supplied the public
baths and private houses, while the middle one supplied the public ponds
and fountains, so that, in the event of a shortage of water, the first
supply to fail was the least important. The amount of water provided for
private use could be checked, for purposes of revenue, by means of this
At first the aqueducts were not connected with private houses, but,
later, private persons were allowed to buy the water which escaped from
leaks in the aqueducts. Next, private connections were made with the
public mains, and, finally, reservoirs were built at the expense of
adjoining households, but these reservoirs, although built with private
money, were considered part of the public property. Water rights were
renewed with each change of occupant. The water-supply to a house was
measured by the size of the pipe through which it passed at the in-flow
and at the out-flow of the reservoir.
The curatores aquarum had very responsible duties. Under their orders,
in the time of Trajan, were 460 slaves who were subdivided into various
classes, each of which had its own particular duties to perform in
connection with the maintenance and control of the water-supply. A
supply of pure water and proper drainage are of first importance in
sanitation, and it is evident that the Romans understood these matters
The drains of Athens, built of brick and stone and provided with
air-shafts, ran into a basin from which pipes carried the sewage beneath
the surrounding plain which it helped to fertilize.
The chief drain of Rome was the Cloaca Maxima, and there was a great
network of smaller drains. The privy in private houses was usually
situated near the kitchen, and a common drain from the kitchen and the
privy discharged into the public cloaca. A pipe opened just above the
floor of the closet to supply water for flushing. Ruins of very small
rooms have been discovered in the Via Sacra of the Roman Forum, and it
has puzzled archaeologists to discover their use, but they are thought to
have been sanitary closets. The sewers of Rome drained into the Tiber.
DISPOSAL OF THE DEAD.
Both in Greece and Rome earth-burial and cremation were employed for the
disposal of the dead. Near the Temple of Faustina in the Roman Forum,
under the Via Sacra, have been found the graves of some of the dwellers
of the hills before Romulus founded the city. In Rome, burial within the
city was forbidden from the time of the Twelve Tables. Exceptions were
made in the case of emperors, vestal virgins, and famous men, such as
those who had been honoured with triumphs. The large cemetery for the
poor lay on the east side of the city and the tombs of the rich were
along the roadsides. The remains of some of these can now be seen along
the Appian Way. One of these tombs is the Tomb of the Scipios, which, as
Byron wrote, "contains no ashes now." Near the Tomb of the Scipios can
be seen a door with high steps which leads to the columbaria. These
are little rooms provided with pigeon-holes for the reception of the
ashes of the freedmen of notabilities. Inscriptions show that some of
these freedmen were physicians, and others musicians and silversmiths.
The shops of the perfumers stood in a part of the Forum on the Via
Sacra. Perfumes were much used at incinerations to disguise the smell of
decomposition before the fires were kindled. The Christians opposed
cremation and favoured earth burial, and in time the business of the
perfume-sellers failed, and Constantine bought their shops.
The Catacombs were used almost entirely by the Christians. If all the
passages of the Catacombs could be placed in line, it is said that they
would extend the whole length of Italy. They were hewn out of volcanic
soil very well suited for the purpose, and were probably extensions, in
the first place, of quarries made for the purpose of obtaining building
cement. They were used by the Christians, not only for the religious
rite of burial, but also as secluded meeting places. The bodies were
laid in loculi, sometimes in two or three tiers, the loculi being
filled in with earth and stone.
Many of our public health regulations had their counterpart in ancient
times, for instance, any factory or workshop in Rome which created a
public nuisance had to be removed outside the city. The spoliarium of
the Coliseum was an ancient morgue.
A detached building or room, valetudinarium, was provided in large
houses for sick slaves. This was for the purpose of preventing infection
as well as for convenient attendance on the sick.