Well, the Ancient Romans did that!

Aug2017This post is by Nancy Jardine.

What Did The Ancient Romans Ever Do For Us? That phrase might bring to mind many different scenarios. For me growing up watching UK television in the 1960s and 1970s, the first image would be of an irreverently funny show called Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The weekly show had many spin offs, one of which was a definitely flippant feature film. In the film a character derisively asks “What have the Romans ever done for us?”  The answers from those assembled reply: err…sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system via aqueducts, public health…and our peace.” The list seemed endless.

In fact, Ancient Rome was an amazing place. It’s a city that I’m learning more about every day during my FutureLearn Course – Rome: A virtual Tour of the Ancient City which I mentioned in my blog post of a couple of weeks ago.  I wrote some posts on this blog in 2016 about making my first ever visit to Rome. I’d been to other Italian cities, but not Rome, and since I write about Roman Scotland it was well past time for me to learn more about the city that sent the Roman Legions to my part of Scotland back in AD 84.

Pietro Sassi 1834 to 1905
Aqua Claudia by Pietro Sassi 1834-1905 

It’s only Week 2 of my course and I’ve already learned about some of the list above. It’s incredible to think of how inventive the original engineers of Rome were back in 312 B.C. when the first short aqueduct of 16 km (c. 10 miles), the Aqua Appia, brought a constantly running supply of fresh water into the city of Rome. The Aqua Appia was an underground channel but by 140 B.C. the Aqua Marcia (55 miles) had a about 6 miles of its total running over arches. By the first century A.D. there were around 11 aqueducts feeding the city’s 1 million inhabitants with fresh water, many of those aqueducts with parts running above ground and over arches.

Aqua ClaudiaThe Aqua Claudia is the longest stretch of an above-ground aqueduct near Rome that remains unbroken, still at a length of 1375 m. It was completed by the Emperor Claudius in 52 A.D, though had been started by the Emperor Caligula.

This site has information on another ancient Roman aqueduct (in Catalonia, Spain) built in the first century A.D. which is in such good condition that tourists can still walk along it. https://www.tarragonaturisme.cat/en/monument/les-ferreres-aqueductpont-del-diable-bridge-mht

The Ancient Romans didn’t only appreciate the fresh water coming into their city for drinking purposes. They also used it for

  • continuous flushing out of their communal lavatories
  • supplying water to their communal bathhouses
  • for other domestic, trade and industry reasons
  • for sluicing down their streets and sewers

and for feeding the many fountains around the city.  

Trevi Fountain – Wikimedia Commons

3 coins in Trevi

The famous Trevi Fountain in Rome is still partly fed from the Aqua Virgo which was initially constructed in 19 B.C. during the time of the Emperor Augustus. The Aqua Virgo brought in the fresh water from hills and streams some 18 km (11 miles) away from the city and was used as a source for 400 years till it fell into disuse around the time of the Fall of Rome in approx 397 A.D.

Attempts were made at times to restore the aqueduct during the next 1000 years but it wasn’t till 1453 that it was restored to feed a fountain on the site of the present Trevi Fountain. By 1762 a fabulous new baroque fountain was created, the one we can view today in Rome known as the Trevi Fountain.

The Trevi is famous for various reasons, one of which is the 1954 film “Three coins in the Fountain” that title song sung by Frank Sinatra, though he got no credit for it.



BTW – I’ve also learned about the sewers of Rome but we can leave that topic for another day!

The architecture of the buildings of the Roman Forum are now holding my attention much more, although I confess to being fascinated that had the Ancient Romans settled in my part of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, my surroundings might have been very different from how they are now. Today, there are people who complain about the building of windfarms, designed to supply parts of Scotland with cheaply produced wind-generated electricity. They claim the wind mills spoil the beauty of the landscape. Whether or not they are correct, I wonder what the inhabitants of the countryside around Rome felt when they first saw the Aqua Appia arches!

Do you think any Ancient Romans complained about the arches spoiling the view, or do you think they were delighted with sparkling fresh water gushing out of a tap near their house?

Nancy Jardine writes: Historical Fiction; Time Travel Historical and Contemporary Mysteries. 

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14 thoughts on “Well, the Ancient Romans did that!

    1. No, Abbie, but it sounds as though I should definitely check it out! A little extra job for tomorrow, thank you. Some of my fellow students on the course might also be interested. 🙂


  1. Nancy, For me I’ve was in heaven as I read your post. Love this kind of history and thank you for sharing some of what you are learning. As to whether people complained about the arches spoiling their view…there’s always someone. *Smile*

    Thanks! Loved it. Doris


    1. Yes, indeed, Doris. Some people live to complain. Thankfully, there are also plenty who embrace technological changes. Glad you liked it.


    1. Yes, aren’t they, Kathy. There had to be a symmetry to them, and the strength had to be created in the form of the arch itself but they were quite stupendous constructions. When I see an aqueduct, or a long railway bridge with similar arches, it makes me think of Ancient Roman building technology. The sheer skill in making the stacked blocks of the supports fit so well using only stone, with no cementing together, followed by the insertion of the blocks forming the curves to complete the arch is incredible. That some of them have lasted more than 2,000 years is a salutary lesson for our current architects and builders who only think in terms of a 25/ 50 year lifespan of a building.


  2. I’ve always been fascinated by the technology of the Roman Empire. They had steam-power toys, but never thought to have their own industrial age — since slavery worked quite well. In my first fantasy novel, I based a village bath on a Roman one. Used it as the setting for a bit of romance.


    1. Barb -They did indeed go all the way to the UK but in my part of Scotland they didn’t stay long enough to build any of their fabulous structures. The Scottish nationalist part of me says I’m glad about that but the historical bit says that’s a pity! 😉


  3. It’s amazing how much things have changed and how some things have remained the same. With all the technology available to us sometimes the old ways are still the best.


    1. It’s how we use the basic old principles, i suppose, S.J. I think there was an issue with using materials that they knew would last for them, like stone and their concrete. though the Romans and Greeks really couldn’t have appreciated just how long they might last in terms of millennia. If the medieval Christian churches hadn’t been largely built from looted and purloined temple and forum marble and stone, then the fora of Rome might look much more like they did some 2,000 years ago. Our throwaway cultures nowadays don’t really think in the really long term but sadly it looks as though it will be our treatment and use of plastics and hydrocarbons that might be a bad legacy from us.


  4. Fascinating, they were very advanced. Much more than I would have thought. I remember the first time I drank water from a sink. I first drank cold water, and then I drank hot water. I loved it. We had to draw water from a cistern, and when my daughter was a baby I’d have to carry 2- 5-gallon buckets of water every day that I got from a spring on the hillside (a ways off) We used more than that, but I usually carried that much myself. I could never do that now. LOL Cher’ley


    1. I was seven before I lived in a house that had both cold and hot running taps at the sink. Lugging that water would have kept people fit, Cher’ley, but it would have been exhausting!


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