What Roman Aqueducts Can Reveal

The Roman Aqueducts were symbols of great power and innovation at the height of the Roman Empire. Constant access to fresh, potable water for such a large number of people had never been seen at this scale and was the result of highly complex and methodical planning and construction that has fascinated archaeologists and historians. 

The discovery of these aqueducts provides archaeologists with far more details on the amount of water Romas required for their day to day activities, including drinking and cooking but also large lavish baths and fountains enjoyed by the wealthier members of society. By analysing the differences in Aqueducts built a different time periods we can see how building methods evolved, such as the difference between the Aqua Traiana and Acqua Paola aqueducts. These two ducts were built centuries apart with the Traiana being created in 109 C.E. and the Paola beginning construction in the early 1600s; but they intersected in many areas due to their common water source. (Cartwright 2012, Taylor 2012) Researchers have found that diagonal brickwork and opus signinum cement, typical components of 2nd century Roman building, are present in certain areas of the Acqua Paola, providing evidence that the ancient Aqua Traiana system served as the base for the newer aqueduct of the 16th century.  (Taylor 2012) 

Image 1: The interior of the Aqua Traiana Aqueduct

The Aqueducts were sources of enormous pride for Romans, in fact they were often used to compare Rome to other famous societies, as civil engineer Frontinus once said in a treatise, “With such an array of indispensable structures carrying so much water, compare, if you will, the idle Pyramids or the useless, though famous, works of the Greeks!” (Rodà 2016) The elaborate decorations and grandiose architecture of the external sections of many of these aqueducts indicates that while they were important sources of water for the city, they also stood as public testaments to Roman ingenuity.  

Image 2: An elaborate Aqueduct at Pont du Gard, France

Roman aqueducts transformed Roman culture in a plethora of ways, but one of the most important was how waste was dealt with. Before aqueducts all waste was primarily dumped in the street, but as water systems became more and more intricate, public latrines became commonplace, where waste was pumped into massive sewers with water from the aqueducts. (Gill 2018) Although water was available to everyone in Rome, it was generally only the wealthiest who had running water in their homes, generally coming from a lead pipe connected to an aqueduct. Archaeologists have found that many of these pipes have specific inscriptions or designs on them to prove that they were legally installed- indicating the widespread presence of illegal Aqueduct tapping. (Rodà 2016)

Image 3: A water pipe with an inscription on it indicating the legality of its manufacture and installment.

Water is known as a necessity for human life, but it is often forgotten how influential water is in so many facets of so many different cultures. Much of Roman society was built around their aqueduct system, and it carried as much symbolic meaning as it did functional purpose. Much can be revealed about a society’s culture and structure by studying how it gets its water. 


This website provides a short history of water and health systems in Ancient Societieshttp://www.romanaqueducts.info/aquasite/romavirgo/ 

This video shows the processes of finding and documenting the remains of the Aqua Traiana Aqueduct- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82__BJQ6h-Q

This writing is a translation of Sextus Julius Frontinus’s, a water commissioner in the first century A.D., account of Rome’s water system- http://www.uvm.edu/~rrodgers/Frontinus.html



        Cartwright, Mark. “Aqueduct.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 9 Nov. 2019, www.ancient.eu/aqueduct/.

        Gill, N.S. “Ancient Rome’s Futuristic Water Systems.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 1 Sept. 2018, www.thoughtco.com/aqueducts-water-supply-sewers-ancient-rome-117076.

        Richter/GTRES, Juergen, et al. “Aqueducts: Quenching Rome’s Thirst.” National Geographic, 15 Nov. 2016, www.nationalgeographic.com/history/magazine/2016/11-12/roman-aqueducts-engineering-innovation/#close.

        Taylor, Rabun. “Rome’s Lost Aqueduct.” Rome’s Lost Aqueduct – Archaeology Magazine Archive, Apr. 2012, archive.archaeology.org/1203/features/rome_aqua_traiana_aqueduct_carestia.html.



Image 1: https://archive.archaeology.org/1203/features/rome_aqua_traiana_aqueduct_carestia.html 

Image 2: https://hubpages.com/education/roman-sewer-and-aqueducts 

Image 3: https://www.romae-vitam.com/ancient-roman-aqueducts.html 


The Universality of Alcohol and What it Can Reveal

Alcohol production and consumption is present in almost every major culture in the world, with most societies cultivating their own unique alcoholic beverages. Alcohol can often reveal important information about the spiritual and social structure of an ancient society, as well as show how far the culture’s influence may have spread.

The oldest alcoholic beverage ever found was in Jiahu, a settlement in North-Eastern China dating back to around 7000 B.C. (McGovern 2019)  Archaeologists from The Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology have been excavating the site since the 1980s, and discovered- after performing chemical analysis of the residue on ceramic pots- trace amounts of a fermented beverage made from honey, rice, and fruit.  (McGovern 2019)

Image 1: Neolithic jars used to hold early alcoholic beverages, discovered at Jiahu. ca. 7000-6600 B.C. Photo: Z Juzhong, Z. Zhang, and Henan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

Image 2: Modern day beverage produced to mimic the alcohol found at Jiahu Photo: Dogfish Brewery

The alcohol discovered at Jiahu does not neatly fit into any of our modern day classifications such as beer or cider, however, wine has been in production for around 7,000 years, with the earliest examples being traced back to 5,400 in present day northwestern Iran. (Malin 2014)  Ancient Egypt is known as one of the biggest producers of wine and beer in the ancient world, connecting the highest and lowest on the social pyramid in the shared enjoyment of drinking. Models of breweries, often put alongside bakeries, have given valuable insight into the scale of the brewing operations of the time, as well as indicating the influential role played by women handling alcohol production. (Mark 2017)

Image 3: Model Bakery and Brewery found in the tomb of Ancient Egyption chancellor Meketre. ca. 1981-1975 B.C. Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

There was a good deal of disagreement concerning alcohol consumption in Ancient Greece, with philosophers like Aristotle and Zeno critiquing drunkness, and members of the Dionysian cult arguing that “intoxication brought them closer to their deity.” (Hanson 1997) Discovery of the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens indicates the importance of drinking in Greek Culture, especially in relation to religion. Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, winemaking, and wine was the subject of many festivals in which revelers would consume vast amounts of wine in a sort of frenzy to celebrate the god. (Taylor 2019) Alcohol was often seen as a way to connect with the gods and show piety through intoxication. Scenes depicted on greek pottery found in Athens indicate that the vessel was intended to hold beer or wine, showing gods, mythological beings, and humans consuming alcohol together. 

Image 4: Greek vase made to hold wine at events, showing Dionysus with a band of fellow drinkers and a satyr leading the way. ca. 440 B.C.E. Photo: The Walters Art Museum

Alcohol consumption is one of the clearest connections found between early societies and our modern day way of life. The consumption of alcohol has manifested itself differently over the ages and across the globe, but has allowed us to track advancements in science, technology, and communication between groups.   Archaeological discoveries relating to fermentation show the nature of scientific exploration at times was religion was highly influential, and the ways in which mythology was tied to drinking. 


Hanson, David J. 

1997  Alcohol among the Greeks and Romans: They Enjoyed Drinking. Alcohol Problems and Solutions 


Malin, Joshua

2014  10 Famous Ancient Archaeological Wine Discoveries. Vinepair


Mark, Joshua J. 

2017  Beer in Ancient Egypt. Ancient History Encyclopedia 


McGovern, Patrick 

2019  The Earliest Alcoholic Beverage in the World. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology


Taylor, Brian D. 

2019  The Festival of Dionysus: The Origins of Ancient Greek Theater. Bright Hub Education 

Additional Reading 

For more on alcohol’s long-lasting impact on human societies: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/02/alcohol-discovery-addiction-booze-human-culture/  

For more on the re-creation of ancient alcoholic drinks: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-beer-archaeologist-17016372/ 


Image 1: https://japanesemythology.wordpress.com/beer-was-brewed-in-jiahu-northern-china-9000-years-ago/   

Image 2: https://www.dogfish.com/brewery/beer/chateau-jiahu 

Image 3: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/20.3.12/  

Image 4: https://art.thewalters.org/detail/29124/red-figure-bell-krater/