How the Romans built the Aqueducts and how it led to the collapse of Rome


The erection of the famous ancient Aqueducts by the Romans, some of which operate today, ranks the country high in terms of its engineering capabilities.

In its simplest definition, an aqueduct refers to a sophisticated water system invented by Romans. The work has remained one of the supreme achievements in the ancient Roman. The aqueducts so constructed provided secure ways for running water. They also assisted in carrying both solid and liquid sewages. They also provided some indoor plumbing that served the population abundantly.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

This therefore, assisted much in shunning diseases especially the waterborne ones, like typhoid among many others. However, the evident increase in population and the collapse of the aqueducts, as explained later in the paper has surpassed the capacity of the water systems. Although some of the ancient aqueducts have collapsed, some operate even today providing a testimony of the engineering levels of the Romans of then. The science applied then still finds its use today though with more contemporary materials.

The “aqueducts were constructed to serve the cities, both small and big, and industrial sites” (Clopedia 2004, Para. 4). Rome had the highest number of aqueducts in the ancient times, which served the cities with supplies of water and collection of sewage into the sewerage system. The earliest distinguished aqueduct of the Romans was known as aqua appia constructed in 312 BC. However, one might want to know how the criterion followed to construct such famous water systems.

How the Romans built the Aqueducts

A thorough consideration of factors, ranging from the location of the main source of the water to the magnitude and span of the expected aqueduct, preceded the construction process. Construction of the aqueducts required a number of things and equipments for its effectiveness and durability: the most crucial goal of the constructors.

They constructed them by mixing blocks, rocks, and an exceptional volcanic reinforcement by the name pozzuolana in a prescribed ratio to ensure the targeted durability of the aqueducts after their construction. The waterway systems were constructed underground by sinking them through rocks to ensure an effective distribution of the water to the required point of destination (Pollio 2003, Chap. 4).

However, there also existed some cases where the Romans constructed the channels above the ground to carry water on the surface in a convenient manner. “Most of the aqueducts were constructed in valleys where burrowing, digging or where surface graded proved difficult” (Smith, and William 1875, 32) to ensure free flow of water.

For appealing results and achievement of the purpose intended for the aqueducts, engineers had to employ their skills to ensure. For instance, the gravity and area gradients mattered a lot when it came to the construction process.

The engineers had to all these in during the construction process to ensure a continuous flow of water and sewer to the specific targeted places. Therefore, the aqueducts provided a good leeway in which water could flow from one given place to another without any objection or problem whatsoever. When it came to the construction of the aqueducts, a careful planning was required before any commencement of the building was done (Bennett 1925, Para.9).

This information and measurements played a vital role in the planning stage as it provided estimates of the amount of resources that was to be required for the successful completion of the whole construction. Furthermore, the personnel required thorough training and possession of great skills, which assisted in the maintenance of water pressures coming from the main source to avoid damaging the walls of the constructed aqueducts.

During the construction process, surveys also played a very crucial role in ensuring proper choices of where the aqueducts could pass as well as where they could not. This then employed a lot of inspection of the levelness of the aqueducts to ensure the achievements of the right measurements, which made use of some reviewing tools for example, chrobates.

To achieve this further, the constructors used timber outlines, which they fitted strategically in the water channels to determine the capacity of the water flowing through them. Furthermore, the engineers had to examine the slope and courses plotting them by means of a gadget referred to as groma, which seemed a little bit simpler compared to dioptra, the complicated machine.

The erection of industrial aqueducts also took place. Such aqueducts consisted of very big holes dug underground. A clay lining then followed in the constructed process serving to prevent unwarranted water loss as it flowed through it. “Sometimes, the aqueducts were lined by wooden shutters, which served the same purpose as clay” (Heaton, and Posratching 1992, Para. 6).

While erecting such aqueducts, the engineers had to position slightly at a higher inclination, as opposed to the normal masonry structures to ensure the fetching of a larger capacity of water required by the mining industries, which on the other hand ensured a quick operation of the industry.

The aqueducts so constructed called for a thorough maintenance to ensure their durability also preventing them from being overused. Curator aquariums then assumed the task of supervising the maintenance in the entire province. Among the people involved in the erection process included, the captives, legions as well as other paid workers. These servants and workers offered a considerable human capital in the course of the construction of the water systems.

Therefore, without their participation, the construction process as well as the current fame of Rome would not have appeared anywhere in today’s history. Earthenware piping also served a big deal in the distribution of water around the Roman territories. The connections done on the pipes seemed strongly fitted with Joints, which connected the pipes together with the joint smoothened with lubricants and calcium oxide such that the water flowed strictly within the pipes without any evident leakages.

This was done especially when water was driven to the tunnels. In such cases, there came in an allowance of a vent hole of every two actus made to cater for the free flow. Lead pipes further served much in the formation of water jets, once required. In cases of water coming from a long distance, pipes were sunk deeper up and down to allow a momentum flow of water which otherwise could prove a waste incase of the failure to implement the step.

“The measurement of the piece of pinning of these pipes needed to be ten feet; the five finger lengths needed to weigh 60 pounds, eight finger lengths needed to weigh 100 pounds, while the ten finger length needed to weigh 120 pounds” (Platner 1929, 54). When constructing the aqueducts, strength was a major factor to bear in mind, especially in the bends of the pipes, which required the five-finger pipes, which served the role perfectly.

In the course of the construction, experienced constructors were required to ensure the carrying out of a good viability study to determine the areas fit for the erection of aqueducts. This proved important because, it enhanced the construction of durable aqueducts in Rome. However, good as they seemed, the famous Roman aqueducts have proved the major fuel behind the witnessed fall of Rome.

The fall of Rome

The fall of the Roman Empire immediately followed the construction of the water passages. Failure of the aqueduct constructors to consider distributing the water throughout Rome resulted to some instances of regions going without water while others had plenty of the crucial resource.

The situation followed from the increase in population, which led to an overuse of water and destruction of the available aqueducts (William, and Smith, and William 1875, 43). Because of the recorded scarcity of the water coupled with the poor sanitation of the available one, it made it difficult for the empire to ensure a reliable supply of water to the people leading to their migration in rural areas for their own upkeep where they could get access to salient facilities. This significantly contributed to the collapse of the Roman Empire.

In addition, the fall in the rate of use of the already constructed largely explains the fall of Rome. For a long time, the aqueducts provided a lot of benefit to the people of Rome. The ancient Roman technology remains one of the most beneficial ever to exist for a long time. However, their durability followed the availability of people to use them, who would take care of them on a daily basis.

Despite their usefulness, most of them collapsed and rendered obsolete, as there was none, not only to look after them, but also to use them. Although there a few structures or aqueducts still exist, their number seems so small that it cannot serve any tangible purpose.

In fact, Platner (1929, 34) points out, “When the empire collapsed, there management and the administration functions that were being provided became void making the aqueducts collapse due to lack of proper use by the industries and the people”. The absence of an organized system in place to maintain the aqueducts hastened their collapse and consequently the collapse of Rome due to the lack of people to take care of the infrastructures so constructed.

They could not deliver water to the urban residents, a condition that affected the people living in urban centers negatively, which saw most of them go back to their rural areas. The occurrence of this followed the ineffectiveness of the aqueducts to serve its people based on the poor maintenance brought about by the collapse of the Roman Empire that initially provided leadership and control in the use and operations of the aqueducts.

The deliberate cutting or destruction of the aqueducts by enemies or ill-mannered people comes in as another reason for the collapse of the aqueducts and hence Rome in general. This to some extend contributed to the mentioned collapse, as the constructors could not transport water and sewerage effectively due to the distraction they got from the people.

Therefore, human actions were also among of the reasons that led to decline or the collapse of these aqueducts in Rome (Cole 1932, 489). Furthermore, many of the aqueducts were neglected by the administration of the day. The abandonment saw many of the aqueducts seize to function hence providing another contributing factor to their decline and hence the fall of Rome.

Theft, burglary, and fraud too contributed much towards the decline of the Roman aqueducts. Unscrupulous farmers and many other groups interfered with the aqueducts for instance, by diverting them, channeling the water in their farms using small pipes that were joined to the major pipes. This proved a major contributor to the collapse of aqueducts in Roman leading to the fall of Roman Empire.

People also believe that the presence of lead pipes largely used in the making the aqueducts led to the witnessed fall of the Roman Empire. The pipes are attributed to have some poisonous which affected the health of those people that used water that flowed or ran through them. Vitruvius stands out as the first person to notice the effects of the lead pipes (Pollio 2003, Chap. 6). He warned of their negative effects specifically their health implication.

This followed the evident number of workers who began falling sick with others succumbing to death. Therefore, he warned of the negative impacts the pipes had even suggesting for their replacement. In fact, a good number of the already used pipes contained this poisonous substance. For instance, a group of archeologists in the nineteenth century suffered health problems while in the course of their work only to realize the cause to be many lead pipes they could find underground in the process of their digging.

They encountered an almost “1750-meter long pipe, which contained roughly 232, 750 kilos of lead” (Bennett 1925, 43). This finding clearly showed the potential that the pipes had in declaring the Roman Empire vacant based on the good number of people who opted to escape the danger of succumbing to death out of a cause they could prevent. Their move largely points out a major cause of the decline of Rome.

Therefore, tracing the roots for the devastating state of the Roman Empire, its major reason to fall, as it happened narrows down to the aqueducts. Many sources have hypothesized that many people in Rome died after using the water that had already suffered contamination by lead whose contents cannot get out of the body once swallowed.

Instead, they just accumulate finally affecting the health of the victim with death as the only probable outcome. As a matter of concern, people have carried out studies of the remains of the bones of the people who died to find out whether the death resulted from the lead. Indeed, the findings have revealed lead poisoning as the cause of the witnessed death.

The finding is subject to debate as Cole (1932, 490) observes, as the pipes had an insulation of calcium disapproving the possibility of lead poisoning as the cause. Slavery also has a good share of the reasons behind the fall of the Roman Empire. Many slaves were employed as servants by Romans as well as in the construction of the aqueducts.

However, the number of slaves decreased with time as civilization gradually paved its way. As a result, labor force too was significantly affected. Therefore, with people dying, others migrating coupled with the decreasing number of slaves, Rome could not have had a chance to upgrade rather than falling, which was the only possible outcome that eventually happened.

Reference List

Bennett, Charles A. Loeb Edition, Loeb, 1925. Accessed 29 July 2011; available from*.ht ml; internet.

Clopedia, Aqua P. Roman Aqueducts, 2004. Accessed 29 July 2011; available from; Internet.

Cole, Ted T. Aqueduct Hunter, 1932. Accessed 29 July 2011; available from; internet.

Heaton, Caxton J., and Posratching, Chezbil, G. Roman Aqueducts, 1992. Accessed 29 July 2011; available from; internet.

Platner, Samuel F. A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Oxford University Press, 1929.

Pollio, Marcus V. De Architectura, Book VIII, 2003. Accessed 29 July 2011; available from*.html#1 .6; internet.

Smith, Philip G., and William, Smith M. D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: John Murray, 1875.


I'm Barry!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out