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What the Romans taught us about Aqueducts

written by: Baby Rani•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 9/17/2010

The Romans greatly shaped the civil engineering of today. They were the first ones to realize what can be done with water. Building aqueducts to transport water was their extraordinary engineering feat that is used even today.

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    All human colonies, be they a village, town or city, require water for drinking, agriculture, and sanitation. But the amount of water required depends on three elements:

    1. The population size of the inhabitants
    2. The purposes for which the water is used
    3. The competence of the water transportation and distribution arrangement

    During imperial times Rome used enormous amount of water for amusements like baths which were found to have a natural leakage problem in the distribution system. Even the Tiber and the local springs could not fulfill the demand for water in Rome. Thus the people of Rome felt that they should have a better means of solving their water problem. Ultimately water from the volcanic highlands of the Alban Hills was diverted to the southeast, from the Sabatini volcanoes to the northwest, and from the Apennine Mountains in the north. Thus the hydraulic engineering skills of Roman engineers were able to create aqueducts, meaning "conveyance of water."

    No monument can be compared with the hydraulic engineering wonder of the Roman aqueducts in terms of complete density, engineering, and social and ecological impact. The entire length of the most important aqueducts is between 448 and 502 kilometers. Appia is the shortest one and is only 16 kilometers, whereas Marcia is the longest one at about 91 kilometers.

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    Roman Aqueduct Photo

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    How to build a Roman Aqueduct

    In reality the aqueducts needed cautious designing before constructing, particularly to find the source of water to be used, the length of the aqueduct required, and its dimensions. A lot of skill was required to make sure a normal grade helped the flow of water smoothly from its source. Great care had to be taken in order to prevent the walls of the channel from damage due to the weight and the flow of water.

    Many surveying tools were utilized in the building of Roman aqueducts. An example was the chorobates, which was a type of water level used to flatten the ground before construction, as well as to level the aqueducts. A chorobates was a wooden structure backed by four legs with an even board fixed with a water level and wooden curves to hold up the vaults. The groma was yet another instrument used to construct an aqueduct. Right angles were measured with the help of gromas. Vertical angles were measured with the help of the dioptra.

    The first civilization that discovered mortar that did not collapse when it came into contact with water was the Romans. Their mortar was formed with the help of natural cement found near Pozzuoli and then blended with lime, sand, and water. The Roman Engineers used this mortar in aqueducts, as a ligature in wharves and curves, and in bases. Stones in the arch were fastened with the mortar. The arch was seated on a rock-solid base and the stones were piled up and mortared jointly so the axial powers between the stones would transmit the load onto the base. Consequently the archway could resist a huge amount of power. The upper side of the aqueduct was lined with cement and wrapped up by stone walls to guard the aqueduct from pollution and poisoning from rival troops.

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    How Aqueducts Work

    People are still captivated by how Roman aqueducts work. Actually the water in the aqueducts ran smoothly through concrete channels. Several tiers of bridges were built up by Roman engineers to traverse low areas. Water from the aqueducts passed on to huge, enclosed catch-sinks or underground basins in Rome. Free-running canals and lead and terra-cotta pipes were used to distribute the water from the catch-basins to storage reservoirs. From these reservoirs, via lead pipes known as fistulae, water was diverted to the people in the city of Rome. A waste-water accumulation arrangement released the waste into the drainages or cloacae system. The major opening of the primary drainage system was the Tiber River.


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