LLR Books

Roman Water

"Although not famed for their technological originality, Romans did use water to make one transformational innovation - concrete - around 200 BC that helped galvanize their rise as a great power. Light, strong, and waterproof, concrete was derived from a process that exploited water's catalytic properties at several stages by adding it to highly heated limestone. When skillfully produced, the end process yielded a putty adhesive strong enough to bind sand, stone chips, brick dust, and volcanic ash. Before hardening, inexpensive concrete could be poured into molds to produce Rome's hallmark giant construction projects. One peerless application was the extensive network of aqueducts that enabled Rome to access, convey, and manage prodigious supplies of wholesome freshwater for drinking, bathing, cleaning, and sanitation on a scale exceeding anything realized before in history and without which its giant metropolis would not have been possible. ...
"Yet nowhere was Rome's public water system more influential than in Rome itself. Indeed, Rome's rapid growth to a grand, astonishingly clean imperial metropolis corresponded closely with its building its 11 aqueducts over five centuries to AD 226, extending 306 miles in total length and delivering a continuous, abundant flow of fresh countryside water from as far away as 57 miles. The aqueducts funneled their mostly spring-fed water through purifying settling and distribution tanks to sustain an urban water network that included 1,352 fountains and basins for drinking, cooking and cleaning, 11 huge imperial baths, 856 free or inexpensive public baths plus numerous, variously priced private ones, and ultimately to underground sewers that constantly flushed the wastewater into the Tiber. ...
"Sustaining and housing a population of I million may not seem like much of an accomplishment from the vantage point of the twenty-first century with its megacities. Yet for most of human history cities were unsanitary human death traps of inadequate sewerage and fetid water that bred germs and disease-carrying insects. Athens at its peak was about one-fifth the size of Rome, and heaped with filth and refus at its perimeter. In 1800, only six cities in the world had more than half a million people - London, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Istanbul, Canton. Despite Rome's hygienic shortcomings - incomplete urban waste disposal, overcrowded and unsanitary tenements, malaria-infested, surrounding lowlands - the city's provision of copious amounts of fresh, clean public water washed away so much filth and disease as to constitute an urban sanitary breakthrough unsurpassed until the nineteenth century's great sanitary awakening in the industrialized West.
"Although there are no precise figures in ancient records on how much freshwater was delivered daily, it is widely believed that Roman water availability was stunning by ancient standards and even compared favorably with leading urban centers until modern times - perhaps as much as an average of 150 to 200 gallons per day for each Roman. Moreover, the high quality of the water - the Roman countryside offered some of the best water quality in all Europe, and still does so today - was an easily overlooked historical factor in explaining Rome's rise and endurance."

Author: Steven Solomon
Water, Publihsed by Harper


Ambrosial (IE Worthy of the gods; divine/.Exceptionally pleasing to taste or smell; especially delicious or fragrant.) comes from the Greek ambrosios, "of the Gods." Ambrosia refers to the food or drink consumed by the Greek pantheon


"Spartans, ... the Dorian invaders who conquered the southern Greek city of Messenia in the eighth century BCE, set up a rigid class system separating a tiny group of 'citizens' from a giant population of native 'helots' who worked

in slavery-like conditions. The system became even more brutal after the helots tried to revolt in the seventh century BCE. By the fifth century BCE, there were about ten thousand citizens versus perhaps two hundred thousand helots. The Spartan hierarchy was incredibly strict: helots had no political rights or freedom of movement, and gave up half of every harvest to the Spartan overlords.

"The Spartans were equally hard on themselves, creating a military society with one goal: training invincible soldiers to control the helots. Spartan life centered on military preparation. Weak and deformed newborn children were exposed to the elements and left to die by order of the state. Boys entered military school at the age of seven, where their first task was to weave a mat of coarse river reeds they would sleep on for the rest of their lives. They were forced to run for miles while older boys flogged them, sometimes during of exhaustion, and were encouraged to kill helots as part of a rite of passage. At age twenty, after thirteen years of training, the surviving young men finally became soldiers. They served in the Spartan army until age sixty, living in communal barracks, where they shared meals and bunked together.

"They were allowed to marry bur rarely saw their wives until they 'graduated' to 'equals,' at age thirty. Ironically, this gender separation helped Spartan women accumulate property and power. Women are believed to have owned about 40 percent of Sparta's agricultural land and were at least sometimes responsible for managing the labor of helots, making them far more 'liberated' than other Greek women.

"The Spartans created one of history's more unusual governments. Somewhat like in Athens, all male citizens age thirty and up formed an assembly. But that's where the similarities ended. In Sparta, the assembly picked a council of twenty-eight nobles, all over the age of sixty, to advise not one but two kings. This dual-kingship was hereditary, but if the rulers were incompetent, they, could be deposed by the real bosses of Sparta - a group of five powerful men called ephors, who were elected annually by the assembly, leading it in wartime, when the kings were away"

Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand, Mental Floss History of the World