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Water, Power, and Wealth

Public Health and Sanitation

Access to clean, fresh water is vital for maintaining public health and hygiene. Roman cities developed complex aqueducts, pipelines, and public fountains that supplied clean water to residents, helping reduce the spread of waterborne diseases and improving overall sanitation.


Water was essential for agriculture, forming the Roman economy's backbone. Aqueducts and irrigation systems provided water for crops, ensuring a stable food supply for the growing population. The Romans also constructed massive artificial lakes called "stagni" to store water for agricultural use.

Industrial and Commercial Activities

Water was used to power various industrial processes, such as milling grain and sawing wood using waterwheels. Additionally, it facilitated trade and commerce by enabling the operation of ports and shipping routes.


The reliable water supply allowed cities to grow and develop. Roman cities featured numerous public baths, which served as social and recreational centers, requiring vast amounts of water. Clean water also supported a higher population density in urban areas.

Public Works and Infrastructure

Water was crucial in Roman engineering and construction projects. Aqueducts and sewage systems allowed the construction of monumental structures, public buildings, and large-scale infrastructure like roads and bridges.

Roman Engineering Achievements

The Romans demonstrated exceptional engineering skills in building aqueducts that transported water long distances, often through hilly terrain. The Pont du Gard in France is a prime example of their aqueduct engineering, showcasing their ability to create gravity-fed water systems.

Quality of Life

The availability of clean water enhanced Roman citizens' overall quality of life. Fountains and public baths became central gathering places for social interaction and relaxation, contributing to a higher standard of living.

Symbol of Power and Prestige

The ability to provide an ample and reliable water supply symbolized a city's sophistication and power. It reflected positively on the rulers and administrators of a region and their capacity to manage resources effectively.

Water was indispensable to the Roman Empire for its role in public health, agriculture, industry, urban development, and engineering achievements. The Romans' mastery of water management and distribution systems significantly contributed to the success and longevity of their empire.

30 Roman Water Facts

  1. The Aqua Appia, constructed in 312 BCE, maintained a gradient of 0.1%, allowing it to deliver water from a spring in the Alban Hills to Rome, covering about 16 kilometers (10 miles) while only descending by about 1.6 meters (5 feet).

  2. The Roman Empire featured an extensive network of aqueducts that stretched over 800 kilometers (500 miles), with the city of Rome alone served by 11 aqueducts.

  3. The Aqua Virgo, built in 19 BCE, continues to provide water to fountains and historic landmarks in Rome, delivering an estimated 100,000 cubic meters (26 million gallons) of water annually.

  4. Romans employed a variety of materials, including concrete, stone, and lead pipes. Some lead pipes had diameters of up to 50 centimeters (20 inches), underscoring their engineering prowess.

  5. Roman engineers crafted siphons capable of lifting water vertically to heights up to 30 meters (98 feet), effectively overcoming challenging terrains.

  6. Roman hydraulic mining techniques could deliver staggering amounts of water, extracting up to 5 million cubic meters (1.3 billion gallons) of daily water for mining operations.

  7. Some aqueducts featured arches and bridges that reached heights of 50 meters (164 feet) and span lengths of several hundred meters.

  8. The Pont du Gard, one of the most iconic Roman aqueducts, stands 49 meters (161 feet) tall and spans 275 meters (902 feet) across the river Gardon.

  9. The cost of building 800 kilometers of aqueduct today would be €8 Billion.

  10. The primary form of taxation related to water was the "centesima rerum venalium," which translates to the "hundredth of sales." This tax was applied to the sale of various goods and commodities, including water. It was a sales tax of one percent (1%) imposed on the price of goods sold in markets.

  11. Today, aqueducts built by the Romans would fill 1,696 average-sized swimming pools daily.

  12. 20% of aqueducts were built above ground. The rest relied on tunnels carved through rock and natural caverns.

  13. The Baths of Caracalla in Rome had a capacity of 1,600 people at any time and stretched over 1 million square feet. The baths took six years to build in 212 AD, requiring over 2000 tones of building material daily.

  14. Vespasian imposed a urine tax on the distribution of urine from Rome's public urinals (the Roman lower classes urinated into pots, then emptied into cesspools). The urine collector sold urine as an ingredient for several chemical processes, such as cleaning fabric and tanning leather.

  15. During the Siege of Carthage (146 BC), the Roman forces besieged the city of Carthage. The Carthaginians are said to have poisoned their wells and attempted to contaminate the city's water supply to prevent the Romans from using it.

  16. In 70 AD, the Roman General Titus cut off the water supply to Jerusalem, leading to the eventual defeat of the city.

  17. Romans developed systems to clean the water via the aqueducts by filtering it through sand and running through settling chambers to improve water quality. Aqueducts were covered, and the pipes were regularly cleaned.

  18. Romans built aqueducts in many countries, including;
    Segovia (Spain), Pont du Gard (France), Ephesus (Turkey), Carthage (Tunisia), Jerash (Jordan), Algeria and Morocco, Britannia (United Kingdom) and other cities in Asia.

  19. The Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus aqueducts, constructed during the reigns of Emperor Caligula and Emperor Nero, were among the costliest aqueduct projects in Roman history.

  20. Emperor Hadrian ruled from 117 to 138 AD and is famous for constructing the grand Villa Adriana (Hadrian's Villa) served by the Aqua Hadriana or Aqua Alsietina, his private aqueduct.

  21. The Cloaca Maxima, meaning "Great Sewer," was one of the earliest Roman sewer systems, dating back to the 6th century BC.

  22. Public toilets in Rome featured individual seating arrangements, often with no partitions between seats. Each seat had its opening or hole.

  23. Emperor Claudius celebrated the tunnel's opening to drain Fucine Lake. It took 11 years and involved 30,000 workers, mostly slaves. The 6-kilometer tunnel remained the longest-ever tunnel until the Fréjus Rail Tunnel opened in 1871.

  24. The Trevi Fountain is relatively modern, designed by architect Nicola Salvi in the 18th century. However, its source is The Aqua Virgo, commissioned by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and completed in 21 BC.

  25. Romans didn’t need water bottles like people today. There were so many fountains in Rome a fresh drink was never far away.

  26. Many believe that, due to the lead present in the pipes, some Romans went crazy, while others lost their teeth.

  27. Within the Baths of Caracalla was an enormous central hall called the frigidarium, which housed a colossal swimming pool called the ‘Natatio.’ The pool measured 54 meters (177 feet) in length and 27 meters (89 feet) in width. It was one of the largest swimming pools in ancient Rome and larger than the Olympic-sized pools of modern times.

  28. Romans would bathe in the nude, and men and women were typically separated. They didn’t swim competitively, using the baths to relax and socialize. Bathhouses were also popular because people could discuss business, gossip and, most likely, politics.

  29. In Roman times, men often penetrated male slaves or younger boys for sexual pleasure - most commonly in public bathhouses.  This specific activity was considered acceptable if a Roman was not penetrated.

  30. Romans used hydraulic mining techniques to extract valuable minerals like gold from alluvial deposits. Water is channeled through elaborate systems to wash away dirt and gravel, leaving behind valuable minerals.

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