The first Roman aqueduct

The first Roman aqueduct

Roman aqueducts

Ancient Romans constructed complex hydrological systems known as aqueducts which supplied Rome with massive amounts of water through a complex system of open channels, tunnels, and pipes. The aqueducts that are classified as the ancient Roman aqueducts were built over a five century time period. From BC 311 to AD 226, Romans built 11 of these bringing water from the northwestern springs found near Lake Bracciano, and the springs, lakes, and rivers of the east towards the Apennine mountain range.


The time period of the 11 aqueducts corresponds with the rise of the Roman Empire and its dominating power and growth throughout those five centuries. Beginning around the time of the construction of the Circus Maximus, aqueducts provided essential water for survival of Roman citizens, monuments and fountains. Sustaining a population of near a million within the city walls, constant water for survival and recreation was a sign of the power and ingenuity of the Roman civilization.

By the late fourth century, about thirty years after the beginning of the Samnite War (343 BC), water supply was to prove inadequate to meet the city’s growing commercial and private sectors. Most of the Roman well water would have been water from the Tiber that had percolated through. With the increased use of the Tiber and consequent increase in pollution, the quality of well water decreased.

Aqua Appia

In response to the growing need for water, the censor Appius Claudius Caecus built the first Roman aqueduct, Aqua Appia in 312 BC. The “censor” Gaius Plautius was entrusted with the task of finding a new water supply, which he did. To Appius Claudius was given the responsibility of building the aqueduct, as he was already busy with the Appian Way. The aqueduct had not been completed by the time the “censors” were to leave office.

The Appia’s source was approximately 24 meters above sea level (20 metres below ground level), at a series of springs discovered by Gaius Plautius Venox. There is no consensus as to the exact location of the source, as the springs were located 16 m. below ground level and have probably been covered over again. The intake is described by Frontinus as being 780 paces to the left of the Via Praenestina between the seventh and eighth miles, at a place called Ager Lucullanus. The location of the sources is unknown today.

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