Water Management and Infrastructure in Ancient Cities of Rome

by james

By Hor Keomayourado

          The unique attractions of the waterfront, many famous cities around the world are generally located at the confluence of rivers or seas. The latter two features allow for easy access to transportation and multicultural integration, giving these cities an attractive message and importance to the local economy and society. Since ancient times, the population of cities and the demand for land has increased steadily. Many riverside towns were occupied, resulting in deteriorating water quality. Later, with changes, technological improvements and structural adjustments provided many opportunities for the redevelopment of the waterside area.

Roman people in ancient time, require a constant supply of fresh water. However, in a city, it is difficult for each person to be responsible for finding and maintaining his own water supply. The Romans solved this problem by building an amazing system called “Aqueducts” which carried water to their cities from areas many miles away. (Source: Roman Roads and Aqueduct, page 41)



The aqueducts were mainly built for the purpose of providing water to the public baths and the provision of cities with drinking water, but this could also be obtained from wells. More than 1500 Roman aqueducts are presently known from the literature and these show a large number of different types. Each aqueduct has a number of characteristic elements such as a spring, the main channel, bridges, tunnels, inverted siphons, basins, and a terminal distribution station, from where water was distributed to different parts of a city, and to different types of users.(Qanats, the mother of all aqueducts, 2015)

Actually, Aqueducts were not only used in ancient Rome, but also in ancient Greece and ancient Egypt, but they were technically improved by Romans. The first aqueduct serving the city of Rome, the Aqua Appia, was erected in 312 BCE. The channel’s length is 11,190 paces, which in modern terms translates to 10.5 miles (16.9 km). Some of the water was carried above ground on stone supports that raised 60 paces, or 300 feet (91 m), in the air.

Aqueducts moved the water through gravity alone, which was being built at a slightly lower angle in the masonry network. Some were buried underground and, following their outline, obstructions to the top of the mountain were avoided, or less so as tunnels. Where there are valleys or lowlands, the channel is taken to make a bridge or its contents into a high pressure ceramic pipe. Most pumping systems include sludge tanks and tank discharges to control supply as needed. Locations that require more flexibility and less gravity require permanent experts to maintain and repair them.

Figure 1: Part of an Aqueduct (Source: Roman Roads and Aqueduct, page 50)


Water Fountains

Nowadays, Fountain, generally in landscape architecture, they controlled or contained primarily for purposes of decoration, especially an artificially produced of water or the structure from which it rises.

However, Fountains have been an important element in the design of gardens and public squares since ancient times. Plenty of the water piped into Rome went to the city’s many public fountains. In creativity, the function of the fountains is not just a decoration of the city, but also provides water for drinking, washing and cooking.

But the most important function of erecting many fountains in cities is to prevent water pressure to build up (stuck) in the side. It means that the upward-moving water was going against gravity. This action provides excellent benefits to the system because the water will slow down and the pressure inside the pipes will decrease.

Figure 2: Artwork from a later era depicts women washing clothes at Rome’s Fountain of Minerva (Source: Roman Roads and Aqueduct, page 63)

Figure 3: Trevi Fountain, the city’s most famous water feature (Source: citywonders.com)


Managing Water Distribution

The way water was administered in ancient Rome was truly astonishing. It could be a model to the present day that every citizen needs a license to be able to use the states clean water. In Rome cities, not all people traveled on foot to carry their water their home, because there is a system that can bring the water from “Distribution Center” to any direction of water source.

The system is also capable of delivering water to sinks and faucets in individual homes or building as same as in the present time. Yet, the system just has been with lower ability than at present, especially the way to bring water to higher building or structure. For this reason, most people do not like to live on the high floors of buildings.

Ordinary people were not allowed to have private licenses to run the pipe directly from the aqueduct, as it was against the law because the government would like to place its burden on full control over the water system.

Those who could be licensed included the wealthy aristocracies, the famous people, the imperials families, the military generals, most of who lived directly on the ground floor. They were allowed to have their own private water supply. Most of these pipes they used equipped with bronze faucets or taps, similar to today’s kitchen and bathroom equipment.

However, although there were strict rules against illegal water thieves, but there were still cases and loopholes in the law. This case is due to corruption on one or more maintenance men by some people who failed to obtain a license to run the pipes for private purpose. They regularly receive bribes from people who steal water without reporting what is happening to their superiors.

Figure 4: Ancient Roman faucets from Pompeii (Source: reddit.com)

Roman water system was not only a large amount of importance to modern day society, but they also were a tremendous importance to the ancient Roman cities. The aqueducts that used in ancient Rome were especially essential because they allowed the cities within the Roman Empire to process and develop. The Ancient Romans might not have built cities as big as they did without a great infrastructure as aqueducts.

Roman aqueducts have not only provided a large number of values beyond what people thought when there were so many people in a particular area, rarely a specific area could supply water for many people. The aqueducts helped solve the problems by allowing the people of Rome to live happily and with sufficient water. We can address that the aqueduct system that Rome created was not only for the purpose of bringing clean water into the cities. However, all the clean water that was flown into Rome there was the same amount of dirty water that also left the city.



  1. Kai Wellbrock (2017) CURA AQUARUM IN GREECE: Qanats, the mother of all aqueducts, Proceedings of the 16th International Conference, DOI: ISBN 978-3-86948-602-4


  1. Don Nado (2015), Roman Roads and Aqueducts, Chapter 3: Providing life Giving Water & Chapter 4: Flowing from Fountains and faucets, DOI: ISBN-13: 978-1-60152-635-9


  1. Rabun Taylor (2002), The water of Rome, Tiber River Bridges and the Development of the Ancient City of Rome

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