As the supply of water to large populations is one of the most important subjects in connection with sanitary matters, and one upon which the health of the populations to a very large extent depends, I propose to give a short account of some of the more important works carried out for this purpose by the ancient Romans - the great sanitary engineers of antiquity - more especially as I have had exceptional opportunities of examining many of those great works in Italy, in France, and along the north coast of Africa. Of the aqueducts constructed for the supply of Rome itself we have an excellent detailed account in the work of Frontinus, who was the controller of the aqueducts under the emperor Nerva, and who wrote his admirable work on them about A.D. 97.
It may be interesting in passing to mention that Frontinus was a patrician, who had commanded with distinction in Britain under the emperor Vespasian, before he was appointed by the emperor Nerva as controller (or, we should say, surveyor) of the aqueducts. He was also an antiquarian, and in his work he not only describes the aqueducts as they were in this time, but also gives a very interesting history of them. He begins by telling us that for 441 years after the building of the city - that is to say, B.C. 312 - there was no systematic supply of water to the city; that the water was got direct from the Tiber, from shallow wells, and from natural springs; but that these sources were found no longer to be sufficient, and the construction of the first aqueduct was undertaken during the consulship of Appius Claudius Crassus, from whom it took the name of the Appian aqueduct. This was, as may be expected from its being the first aqueduct, not a very long one; the source was about eight miles to the east of Rome, and the length of the aqueduct itself rather more than eleven miles, according to Mr. James Parker, to whose paper on the "Water Supply of Ancient Rome" I am indebted for many of the facts concerning the aqueducts of Rome itself.
This aqueduct was carried underground throughout its whole length, winding round the heads of the valleys in its course, and not crossing them, supported on arches, after the manner of more recent constructions; it was thus invisible until it got inside the city itself, a very important matter when we consider how liable Rome was, in these early times, to hostile attacks.
It was soon found that more water was required than was brought by this aqueduct, and it was no doubt considered desirable to have tanks at a higher level in the city than those supplied by the Appian aqueduct. It was determined, therefore, to bring water from a greater height, and from a greater distance, and the river Anio, above the falls at Tivoli, was selected for this purpose. The second aqueduct, the Anio Vetus, was no less than 42 miles in length, and was, like the Appian, entirely under the surface of the ground, except at its entrance into Rome at a point about 60 ft. higher than the level of the Appian aqueduct.
Little search has been made for the remains of this aqueduct, and its exact course is not known; but during my examination of the remains of the subsequent aqueducts at a place called the Porta Furba, near Rome, where the ruins of five aqueducts are seen together, and at, or close to, which point the Anio Vetus must also have passed underground, I was rewarded for my search by discovering a hole, something like a fox's hole, leading into the ground; and on clearing away a few loose stones which had apparently been thrown into it, and putting my arm in, I found that it led into the specus or channel of an underground aqueduct; and on relating this incident to the late Mr. John Henry Parker, the antiquarian, who was then in Rome, and showing him a sketch of the place, he said that he had no doubt that I had been fortunate enough to discover the exact position of the veritable Anio Vetus at that spot. These two aqueducts sufficed for the supply of Rome with water for about 120 years, for Frontinus tells us that 127 years after the date at which the construction of the Anio Vetus was undertaken - that is to say, the 608th year after the foundation of the city - the increase of the city necessitated a more ample supply of water, and it was determined to bring it from a still greater distance.
It was no longer considered necessary to conceal the aqueduct underground during the whole of its course, and so it was in part carried above ground on embankments or supported upon arches of masonry. The water was brought from some pools in one of the valleys on the eastern side of the Anio, some miles farther up than the point from which the Anio Vetus was supplied; and the new aqueduct, which was 54 miles in length, was called the Marcian, after the Praetor Marcius, to whom the work was intrusted. Frontinus also tells us the history of the other six aqueducts which were in existence in his time, viz., the Tepulan, the Julian, the Virgo, the Alsietine or Augustan, the Claudian, and the Anio Novus; the last two being commenced by the Emperor Caligula, and finished by Claudius, because "seven aqueducts seemed scarcely sufficient for public purposes and private amusements;" but it is not necessary for our purpose to give any detailed account of the course of these aqueducts; it is only necessary to mention one or two very interesting points in connection with them. In order to allow of the deposit of suspended matters, piscinae, or settling reservoirs, were constructed in a very ingenious manner.
Each had four compartments, two upper and two lower; the water was conducted into one of the upper compartments, and from this passed, probably by what we should call a standing waste or overflow pipe, into the one below; from this it passed (probably through a grating) into the third compartment at the same level, and thence rose through a hole in the roof of this compartment into the fourth, which was above it, and in which the water, of course, attained the same level as in the first compartment, thence passing on along the aqueduct, having deposited a good deal of its suspended matter in the two lower compartments of the piscinae. Arrangements were made by which these two lower compartments should be cleaned out from time to time. The specus or channel itself was, of course, constructed of masonry, generally of blocks of stone cemented together, and it was frequently, though not, it would appear always, lined with cement inside. It was roofed over, and ventilating shafts were constructed at intervals; in order to encourage the aeration of the water, irregularities were occasionally introduced in the bed of the channel.
The water supplied by the different aqueducts was of various qualities; thus, for instance, that of the Alsietine, which was taken from a lake about 18 miles from Rome, was of an inferior quality, and was chiefly used to supply a large naumachia, or reservoir, in which imitation sea fights were performed; while, on the other hand, the water of the Marcian was very clear and good, and was therefore used for domestic purposes. Frontinus gives the most accurate details as to the measurements of the amount of water supplied by the various aqueducts, and the quantities used for different purposes. From these details Mr. Parker computes the sectional area of the water at about 120 square feet, and says: "We can form some opinion of the vast quantity if we picture to ourselves a stream 20 ft. wide by 6 ft. deep constantly pouring into Rome at a fall six times as rapid as that of the river Thames." He considers that the amount was equivalent to about 332 million gallons a day, or 332 gallons per head per day, assuming the population of the city to be a million.
When we consider that we in London have only 30 gallons a head daily, and that many other towns have less, we get some idea of the profusion with which water was supplied to ancient Rome. But the remains of Roman aqueducts are not only to be found near Rome. Almost every Roman city, whether in Italy or in the south of France, or along the north coast of Africa, can show the remains of its aqueduct, and almost the only things that are to be seen on the site of Carthage are the remains of the Roman water tanks and the ruins of the aqueduct which supplied them. The most beautiful aqueduct bridge in the world, on the course of the aqueduct which supplied the ancient Nemaucus, now Nismes, still stands, and is called, from the name of the department in which it is, the Pont du Gard. It consists of a row of large arches crossing the valley over which the water had to be carried, surmounted by a series of smaller arches, and these again by a series of still smaller ones, carrying the specus of the aqueduct. This splendid bridge still stands perfect, so that one can walk through the channel along which the water flowed, and it might be again used for its original purpose.
There was, however, one city which, from the fact that a great part of it was situated upon a hill, was more difficult to supply with water than any of the rest, and which, at the same time, from its size, its great importance, and the fact that it was the favorite summer residence of several of the Roman emperors, and notably of Claudius, who was born there, and who had a palace on the top of the hill, must of necessity be supplied with plenty of water, and that too from a considerable height. I refer to Ludgunum (now Lyons), then the capital of Southern Gaul. This city was built by Lucius Munatius Plaucus, by order of the Senate in A.U.C. 711. Augustus went there in A.U.C. 738, and afterward lived there from 741 to 744. It was he who raised it to a very high rank among Roman cities. It had its forum near the top of the hill now called Fourvieres (probably a corruption of Forum Vetus), an imperial place on the summit of the same hill, public baths, an amphitheater, a circus, and temples.