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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
ectangular channels

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."[42]

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.


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.