Engineering Rome

Water Structures and the Human Health


The Romans are known for being innovating engineers, even today we do not know how they built many

structures. Most architecture records and construction documents, if they existed at all, were lost or destroyed so we can only theorize how the structures were actually constructed. The Romans were also known for giving human hygiene a high priority in society through creating a sewer system in Rome, may aqueducts all over the empire with just as many public baths for the citizens to use. Although, Romans did not invent the aqueducts nor the sewer system, they improved the techniques and advanced those ideas by studying past civilizations like the Greeks. This can be related to today’s technology company, Apple. They did not invent the computer or the software but they took that software and knowledge from the people who first made it and made monumental improvements to it. When the Romans studied past civilizations, they also gathered knowledge about human health. Public health was an important concept to the Romans, even if they did not know much about bacteria and viruses (Amulee, 248). The overall concept of public health in Rome was that clean water was to enter and dirty water was to exit the city. Since public health was so vital in the Roman society, I will analyze the engineering and construction of structures for the common good of human health. The time period I will be focused on is during the Roman Empire, 31-500AD.

Roman Health and Water

The Romans greatest asset in forming and maintaining their civilization and power was their army. In order to have a strong army the warriors had to be healthy enough to fight battles. The idea that the government provided services to maintain such a strong army led to the thought of providing those services to all the citizens of Rome. In the beginning, all knowledge of human health came from military doctors so the health focus was on healing injuries from battle and not contracting certain diseases when traveling. However, it eventually extended to also focus on the health problems the citizens of Rome were dealing with (Hope, 24). This idea was how public health began in the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire incorporated public health through constructing public baths, aqueducts, and a sewer system for prevention and put in place hospitals for healing. But for this paper, I will focus more on the preventable measures of public health rather than the healing ones.

Figure 1: Battle wounds were common injuries in the military so the focused was on how to prevent infection and have minimal blood loss.

All of Rome’s doctors were of Greek origin, who were prisoners of war, which is why the Roman ideas on hygiene and health was so closely related to the Greeks. Cleanliness was very important to the Romans and they were known to hide the poor citizens who held bad hygiene with a grotesque smell away from the wealthy citizens as to not spread disease and discomfort to the wealthy.
The flow of water in Rome began with its aqueducts. Eleven aqueducts were made to lead to Rome in order to provide drinkable water to the people. Clean, fresh water is important to the health of living things because it provides a way to benefit the body but it can also harm it just as easily. Water is vulnerable to contamination specifically by bacteria and viruses on dead bodies and animal and human feces. These sources of contamination breeds deadly diseases such as the cholera outbreak in London in 1854 (Kerry Howe 6). That was well after the Roman Empire but they knew of the importance of clean water to humans without knowing about bacteria and viruses. (Amulee, 245) The aqueducts also served the purpose of providing a constant water supply for the public baths. Public baths were built for many reasons but, with respect to human health, to clean the citizens. Public baths also provided toilets to its citizens because rarely did a household have private plumbing with a toilet. The waste put in the toilets was flushed down and led to the Cloaca Maxima with water, from the aqueducts, already used once. The Cloaca Maxima then brought the sewage to the Tiber River. The health of its citizens benefitted from this system of sewers due to the sanitation and hygiene it brought. The Cloaca Maxima was viewed as one of Rome’s greatest achievements had it not been for the contents the sewer contained. In her article, Gowers (1995) related the human body to the city of Rome; its sewers were seen as the guts of Rome.

Roman Aqueduct


The journey of water begins at the aqueducts to first enter the city of Rome. Before the Roman Empire the people living in Rome and surrounding areas collected fresh water through several means including straight from the Tiber River (before the Cloaca Maxima), nearby springs, and creating wells to tap into the groundwater. These methods were sustainable for the people because the city was not highly populated. Due to this lack of abundance in people, it has been argued that the creation of aqueducts was not out of necessity but to provide for lavish gardens, fountains, and public baths (Rabun A. Taylor). Another explanation as to why the Romans put in place aqueducts was because the water from the Tiber River and wells became so polluted that the people had to find alternative sources for water (F. E. Turneaure 8). Nevertheless, the first aqueduct was built in 312BC, during the Roman Republic (352-31BC). As the Roman Empire began, more people flocked to Rome and increased the need for aqueducts, especially once Cloaca Maxima was in operation. Without the aqueducts, the city could not have expanded as much as it did nor become as industrialized as it was.
The role of aqueducts was to transport water from springs to its cities or towns. Springs provided the cleanest water in terms of containing the least amount the particles, lime, and other harmful pollutants. River water was not as clean because the substances at the ground floor of rivers are soft and can easily be picked up and carried along by the water. A major way people relied on knowing what water was safe to drink was that if people drinking water from a source and they looked healthy then that water was safe to drink, if they looked sickly then that water was unsafe. Rome created rules for the different qualities of water used for different purposes. The best water quality was used for cooking and drinking, the next highest water quality was used for bathing and the public purposes, and the worst quality of water was given to water the crops in the fields. The criteria for water quality was based on taste, temperature, smell, and appearance (Amulee, 247). It was a remedial criteria at best but it did help maintain human health. Where water was not the best they had filtration systems within the aqueducts structure.
In order to discuss how the water provided by the aqueducts provided health benefits to its citizens, the structure and process the water takes to reach its destination must first be analyzed. The way the aqueducts worked was that at the spring or river there would be an intake to catch the water and carry to the aqueduct where it can alternate between above the ground and below it. Then usually towards the end of the aqueduct, near the city destination, there is a storage tank called a castellum where water can be stored to help manage the water flow. Near the castellum, or near the intake, there is a settling tank that helps purify the water. This step was important in providing clean water the people to maintain health. Through the aqueduct, there is a another tank where larger particles can accumulate at the bottom then flow out, away from the water in the aqueduct. Once the water hits the city, it branches off to smaller channels, usually by way of underground lead pipes. These underground pipes give the water pressure in order for the output of water people see in fountains, baths, or toilets is abundant.
The Romans knew a few very basic yet important concepts of constructing an aqueduct. One concept was that the source of the water must be at a higher elevation than the destination of the water in order to incorporate gravity and make that water transportation possible. Another important concept was that within the structure of an aqueduct required as few corners and curves as possible. Aqueducts made by the Romans were, for the most part, one line at a linear slope. This gave maximum benefit to the designers, laborers, and citizens. If there were sharp corners and turns the force of the water hit that part of the channel would be so continuous and great that it would damage, and with enough time destroy, the structure and slow the flow of water to its people. If there must be turns and transitions, they must be smooth and with little curvature. The aqueduct also needs to be at the correct linear slope. At the time, Vitruvius wrote that the ideal slope would be 0.50%. However, with today’s technology a man named Trevor Hodge in 1992 disagreed with Vitruvius’s claim and stated that the ideal slope is 0.15-0.30%. That difference of 0.2% does not seem to be great at first glance but over a stretch of many kilometers that is the difference of getting the water to the right location.

Pic of concrete texture by Steve Muench.jpg
Figure 2: An example of concrete and the inner part of structures; notice the large pieces are bits of broken pottery, broken down rocks, and other debris.

As mentioned above, every aqueduct consists of above-ground and below-ground sections. The above ground parts of the aqueduct have arches made of opus reticulatum (brick), mortar, Tuff, and opus caementicium (concrete). Tuff is stone set from volcanic deposits, to know more about Tuff go to (Jackson, 486).
Due to the design of arches, skilled engineers and stone-cutters were employed therefore the process was slow and expensive. Stone-cutters were necessary because the each stone a part of the aqueduct needed to fit perfectly so the structure did not need mortar and could remain standing. This required skill and precision. One way of constructing the above ground aqueducts is by using Tuff and employing stone-cutters, I will discuss this method more in the section of Aqua Claudia. Within many of the aqueducts and wall structures, the bulk of it consists of concrete which is made of a mixture of sand and mortar with various types of rumble from other structures like broken pottery to give it volume. By using this type of concrete it could form a uniform mass that arches could be made from using wooden frameworks to help center the stone. The framework is then taken out once the structure is complete (Wilson, 227). The use of concrete allowed for faster construction time, cheaper materials, and unskilled labor could be used. Concrete has good compressive strength but poor tensile strength, which is why arches were common do to the fact that arches help convert tension to compression by having a curved top instead of a flat one. Today, if you see parts of structures, especially arches, in Rome you’ll probably also see steel reinforcements to keep the structure standing.

Aqua Claudia.jpg
Figure 3: Apart from me getting excited over seeing a portion of Aqua Claudia, notice how there metal bars are supporting the arches to keep it standing.

After the concrete forms the internal structure of the arch on the aqueduct, brick is then laid on the exterior part of the wall with mortar, made of pozzolan, lime and water, used to hold them in place. Bricks were not used often before the Roman Empire because there was no demand for a quick timeline and standardized shapes. The age of stone masons were in demand to create art instead of designing the functionality of a wall. Once the Roman Empire started the civilization grew dramatically and required quick timelines for necessary structures like houses, aqueducts, and public baths. The use of standardized brick increased as many contractors could work on a project and use many different suppliers. There were sun dried and fired bricks. However, once fired bricks became easier to make it replaced sun dried bricks because they were more durable and had a greater load-bearing capacity (Wilson, 227). If the brick cannot sustain the structure, the aqueduct will collapse and the people would not be able to receive the necessary fresh water. Before the Roman Empire, brick-like objects were used called opus reticulatum (reticulated work). These faux bricks were made of tuff and in the shape of a pyramid. These pyramid bricks, along with concrete, were used in Ostia Antica. To form a wall they were placed at a 40 degree angle downward in the concrete with the point facing into the wall. What we see today is the square bottom of the pyramid. However, the walls were not structurally sound built this way and often developed cracks along the concrete that held the pyramid bricks together.

Side note on bricks at Ostia Antica.jpg
Figure 4: A wall in a public bath in Ostia Antica with a mixture of fired bricks and pyramid bricks.

Today, you usually can only see the concrete interior because the brick facade has weathered away over the years. At the top of the aqueduct, water is flowing which is covered by a concrete top to help protect it from the sun evaporating all the water and various birds and other creatures contaminating the water with their wastes. Within the aqueduct, a hydraulic plaster was put in place on the bottom interior half of the channel in order for the water to pass without deteriorating the aqueducts structure. However, when water continuously flows through the aqueduct, lime, calcium, and other particles begin to build up and this changes the shape of the channel. With enough build up the aqueduct can overflow but because the cover of the aqueduct is so heavy and high, maintenance on the above-ground part of the aqueduct is difficult and expensive so it happened very infrequently (Owens, 42).
Maintenance is also a problem with below-ground aqueducts and other structures connecting with the aqueduct. One example of these other structures is called a siphon. These are made when the valleys are too deep, there are marsh lands, etc. Pressurized pipes are put in place and the builders must be careful as to make sure that they are watertight. Because of this cleaning the aqueduct from sinter buildup is difficult. However, the parts of the aqueducts built below the ground are better than above-ground sections for many reasons. The first and most important reason is that the aqueducts were easier to build. It does not take expensive engineers and stone-cutters to dig in the ground and carve a channel. Workers on below-ground aqueducts were usually cheap, unskilled workers and, sometimes, slaves (however slaves were expensive to feed, clothe, shelter, and maintain their health). With many unskilled workers the building process was quick. Every 25 to 50 feet the workers would build a shaft in order for easy access during construction and for continuous maintenance of the channel. Like in the above-ground sections, they applied a hydraulic mortar for water to pass without hurting the structure but build up was a problem. Maintenance workers would go through the shafts, that usually had wood or rock blocking the entrance to detract curious animal, to clear the lime build up away. The second reason that below-ground aqueducts were good was because they helped give military advantage. One military strategy to attack a city was to cut of their food and water supply, this will weaken the city to its core. So by having the aqueducts under the ground many soldiers could not find them and knock them down to cut off the supply of fresh, drinking water. One drawback to having an under-ground aqueduct, specifically the Aqua Claudia, is that there were many cave ins and workers must dig a new path, a bypass, quick in order to restore the water flow. Another negative is that the underground usually went the same path, or followed the same path, as a nearby river so it wasn’t always straight.
The eleven aqueducts brought about 50 million gallons of water to the City of Rome and surrounding areas per day (Turneaure, 7). The water was used for public fountains, publics baths, and private baths for wealthy residents. If the water was taken from a spring the water was very clean and remained clean through the channels of the aqueduct. However, within the city of Rome along with many surrounding cities, lead pipping was used in the transportation of water.

Lead pipes in Ostia Antica.jpg
Figure 5: The remains of lead pipes from ancient Rome in Ostia Antica.

In a collection of 10 books titled De Architectura written by a man who went by the name of Vitruvius, he stated that lead pipping brought ill health to humans because it was observed that people who worked with the lead construction all began to have poor health. However, it was believed that the lead pipes brought little to no harm to the citizens who drank the water from the pipes because the water was constantly flowing through them. Whereas today where we have plumbing and pumps they stop the water flowing through the pipes when we turn off the water. When the water stops flowing it sits in the pipes and can pick up the harmful lead particles. This is when the lead pipes become harmful to humans and that is why we no longer use lead pipes in our plumbing.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 10.36.13 PM.png
Figure 6: A Table showing the eleven aqueducts from Ancient Rome.Source- K., Heta

I will further discuss the construction of Aqua Claudia and the type of water flowing through it. I chose Aqua Claudia because it was one of the largest aqueducts constructed, as seen above, and carried some of the cleanest water to its citizens. I will also briefly discuss Aqua Anio Novus in the same manner because as Aqua Claudia and Aqua Anio Novus enter the city they merge together.

Aqua Claudia

Aqua Claudia was built in 52AD with the length of 68.977 kilometers and had a flow rate of 184,280 m3 d−1 (De Feo, 2010). The construction of Aqua Claudia was different than the general building techniques stated in the background section. The bulk of the above ground aqueduct that consisted of arches was made out of Tuff. Tuff is a rock made of volcanic ash, usually formed by a volcanic eruption. It has good compression strength which is a reason why the rock was used so much during the Roman Empire. Skilled stone-cutters were required to cut the rock into perfectly shaped squares in order for them to be used. Concerning the Aqua Claudia, no mortar was used to hold the blocks of tuff together so each block needed to be precise. The keystones were especially difficult to place. The channels built in the ground followed the contours of the land and had winding paths (though smooth enough to not create too much damage). During the construction of the channels in the ground the workers mainly followed the outskirts of hills and small mountains in order to dig in shafts. Many channels collapsed during the construction of this area and had to make bypasses to maintain an open channel.

Inside Aqua Claudia.JPG
Figure 7: A portion of a channel in Aqua Claudia. Notice the discoloration of the sides of the tunnel that is due to the waterproofing and the sinter build up.

Lime, calcium, and other paticles build up in Aqua Claudia.JPG
Figure 8: A more extreme example of calcium build up in Aqua Claudia.

Aqua Anio Novus

Aqua Anio Novus was constructed in 52AD with a length of 86.876 kilometers long and had a flow rate of 189,520 m3 d−1 (De Feo, 2010). What is special about Aqua Anio Novus is that the source of its water is from a river that also holds a dam. The water source is from the Anine River just east of Rome. Because the water came from a river it was not very clean and therefore would be used as either bathing water or, more likely, water for irrigation. Also Aqua Anio Novus went through high mountain areas and required a construction technique of digging one long channel from two sides of the mountain until they met. Usually the workers would follow the contour of the land and build shafts every 25 feet or so but in high mountain regions that type of construction was too difficult to do. Aqua Anio Novus was partially constructed on top of Aqua Claudia along the above ground aqueduct. The materials used, to build the section where Aqua Anio is attached to Aqua Claudia, were brick and concrete, even though Aqua Claudia was made by tuff blocks.

Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus by Steve Muench.jpg
Figure 9: Aqua Claudia and Aqua Anio Novus. Aqua Claudia is built from large cut tuff stones while Anio Novus is made of brick and concrete.

Since the Romans were known to consume large amounts of water, Aqua Anio Novus, along with all the other aqueducts, needed to be maintained or the lime and calcium build up will block the channel and cause damage and an overflow of water. Below are my calculations of how often the channel should be maintained before it overflows:

My work for volume of water in Aqua Anio Novus 2.JPG
Figure 10: Conclusion: Aqua Anio Novus will overflow, without maintenance, every 91.6 years. Therefore, it should be maintained around every 75 years.

Roman Public Baths


As the aqueducts brought water into the city a portion went to supplying the public baths with a steady supply of water. The Roman Empire had a large focus on public baths because they believed the health of its citizens was important to managing an empire. All public baths were free or cost very little to the public, making cleanliness easily accessible and a priority to the people. Since there are too many to discuss all of them I will focus on the Baths of Caracalla. The importance of public toilets located in the baths will also be examined due to that provides a good example of Romans’ hygiene.

Baths of Caracalla

Figure 11: An illustration of what the Baths of Caracalla would look like in use during the Roman Empire. The ground floor is opened up to see how the baths were heated.

The Baths of Caracalla were built in 212-217AD in Rome and it was the largest structure made in a hundred years. The Baths of Caracalla are also the best preserved thermal complexes and can tell us a lot about how health was treated during the Roman Empire. Even though the project was completed in such a short time it was a massive undertaking. The total cost was around 1,400,000,000 denarii (~ $7 billion today) in order to build the actual complex, the roads leading to the complex, and the branch of a major aqueduct in order for the baths to maintain water. Aqua Marcia was the aqueduct they made a branch off of in order to provide the water to the baths. Over 9,000 laborers worked daily for those five years. Many different types of materials were used in creating the thermal complex including brick, rock, concrete, metal, timber, and marble. Marble was very expensive because it was a luxury rock and it had to be shipped from far outside Rome. Marble was used for decorative purposes and to show prosperity. The bath complex is something similar to today’s luxurious spa and gym. There were two workout stations on both sides of the bath and an olympic-sized swimming pool at the main entrance. In the center, there are the cold baths (frigidarium) leading to the room temperature baths (tepidarium) that end in the hot baths (calidarium).

Layout of Baths of Caracalla.JPG
Figure 12: A diagram of the Baths of Caracalla portraying the size of the baths and to visually show the array of services the baths provided to the public.

Arches in Baths of Caracalla.JPG
Figure 13: To show the monumental scale of this bath structure.

To give a more descriptive view of visiting the baths, the frigidarium was measured at 58 by 24 meters with eight colossal, granite columns holding up the vaulted ceiling. The floors were covered with marble in many intricate and colorful patterns. There were four large cold baths on each wall where one was attached to the olympic-sized pool through a waterfall. In order to maintain the proper temperatures throughout the complex, especially in the hot baths, good wall insulation was needed through the use of concrete and brick because it retained heat and cool air. The overall importance for the baths was that they would stay at the right temperature and provide comfort to the people in the rooms. In order for that to occur there was a mixture of using geothermal energy, solar energy, and combining it with engineering.Within one of them the engineer set it up to have an expansive wall of double-glazed, double-paned, windows facing the south in order to maximize the sun’s heat. This section of the bath was good especially during the winter where citizens could easily get into a warm space because the windows and few brick columns, placed to the support the structure, brought in the heat from the sun and trapped it inside. Along that wall contained the sauna and the Calidarium, where the hot baths are located. The solar energy was not the only energy used to heat the baths, slaves and other workers set fires underneath the baths which heated the floors to provide comfort for the guests and along the walls in each room there were hollow bricks channeling the heat directly into the room.

Hot baths in Ostia Antica (vent at the bottom of the bath).jpg
Figure 14: Another way heat travelled directly into the hot baths in Ostia Antica.

Heating system in Ostia Antica.jpg
Figure 15: The heating system in the baths in Ostia Antica. The heat from the fires underneath travelled to the floor where the hot baths were located.

The Baths of Caracalla were in use until 537AD when an enemy destroyed the above ground portions of the aqueducts leading to Rome, cutting off all fresh water supplied there. Only the very wealthy citizens had their own plumbing which meant having the use of toilets in the home. The middle and lower classes went to public baths when they had to use the It is unclear if they used their own moss and stick or if they were provided in the latrines. If they were provided at the facility then after only a few uses, and it only being washed with water, many diseases contaminated the moss and could easily spread disease to anyone using it. It was believed that there was a large pot that was continuously filled with the fresh water from the aqueducts where the guests could wash their hands. There was no soap in combination with the fresh water because it was understood that the water was enough to prevent the spread of diseases. toilets (using a public toilet in Italy was free then). The toilets in the baths offered little privacy to the people.

The Roman Sewer System “Cloaca Maxima”

As the public baths cycled the water through it ended in the sewers and out of Rome. In 768-264BC, before the Roman Empire, a civilization called the Etruscans built a canal to drain the low-lying regions of marshes and swampy areas located where Rome is today. It was constructed around 600BC and was originally an open canal. During the Roman Empire, the remains of the canal was still there and the Cloaca Maxima was built from using that layout already in place. One major difference between the canal used to drain the marsh and the Cloaca Maxima was that instead of an open canal the Cloaca Maxima was covered. This change was important because it not only concealed the contents and smell from the public but was also more hygienic. To illustrate how important it was to have an enclosed sewer system, a town outside of Rome, had a sewer system in the form of an open canal. The governor soon wrote to the emperor at the time, Trajan, describing the poor health of his people and pleading to have the open sewer that flows through the city paved over (Amulee, 247). Apart from the waste flowing through the Cloaca Maxima, rainwater was also flowing because the waste was so concentrated it would clog the sides of the channel and start to erode the interior walls. All that waste and water was then drained into the Tiber River.

Map with Cloaca Maxima.jpg
Figure 16: This map shows the main line of the Cloaca Maxima (the red line) through Rome during the Roman Empire.

Since Rome was not on the coast, the Tiber River had to flow downstream for miles before meeting the Tyrrhenian Sea. So the towns located the along the river south of Rome felt the effects of Cloaca Maxima draining there. The placement of Cloaca Maxima fell inline with the original layout of Rome. The Maxima began under the Argiletum, where there was an extensive book trade center, then collected waste from the forum, a large marketplace, and Subura, a area in the city containing many restaurants and other sorts of entertainment. The sewer continued on to Esquiline, Viminal, and Quuirnal before flowing directly into the Tiber River. Esquiline, Viminal and Quirinal are three of the seven hills in Rome, for more information about them click the link The Cloaca Maxima also extended to the Colosseum and the Baths of Caracalla. Since the canal foundation has been present since before Rome, large market places were strategically placed around each covered drain, or manhole, into the sewer. This benefits the health of the people by making the busiest, most crowded locations in the city close to the drains so those specific areas have quick drainage due to an overflow of activity.A sewer system in Rome was of great importance to the public in terms of their health because there was such a high population density that their waste needed a large, systematic way of leaving the city. Rome was the first city to contain that many people in such a small amount of land, no other city came close until London centuries later.
The Cloaca Maxima was originally over 100 meters long, 4.5 meters wide, 3.30 meters high, and located approximately 12 meters below today’s ground level. Laying a foundation with strong footing provides the foundation for building the side walls and arched ceiling. During the construction of the side walls and arch ceiling, the workers only used stone and brick with mortar to hold them together to make the structure of the channels. Covering the bottom and about half up the side walls hydraulic concrete is used to waterproof the interior. This concrete contains lime and pozzolan. Pozzolan is a substance that if ground into dust form and mixed with water creates a concrete-like form. During the Roman Empire it was found in volcanic ash from the Puteoli region (Wilson, 227). That combination of lime and pozzolan creates its own carbon dioxide, which is needed to set concrete which allows the hydraulic concrete to settle in wet conditions, even in water (Gotti, 577). This use of pozzolan allowed for faster construction because the workers did not have to wait for the concrete to set before submerging it in the water. Soon after the completion of Cloaca Maxima smaller drainage systems were made and connected to it, thus extending the system’s reach. Throughout the centuries of the sewer being in continuous use, many repairs have been made by different engineers using the techniques of their time. The end result is a rather “patchwork” of building styles (Lofrano, 5258).
Unfortunately, there was a lot of bad stigma surrounding the Cloaca Maxima because of the reason the people used it in the first place. The reason behind most of their stigma is when there were large storms passing through the sewer would frequently overflow into the streets. The citizens of Rome feared these occurrences and many chose not to use the sewer system and instead used chamberpots. In many works of literature, the Cloaca Maxima was never referenced in a positive manner. For example, in the satire Republic by Plato he relates Rome to the human body. “The senses are the gates, the veins are the aqueducts, the intestines are the sewers..” (Gowers, 27). Theater was a major source of entertainment and news to the citizens and propelled the distaste and distrust for the sewer system. Not many citizens wanted to know about what happened to the waste they made in their latrines. Since there was such distaste for the sewer system and it was expensive to install almost no private homes’ latrines were connected to the sewer line. Instead, many citizens of Rome used chamberpots in their private homes, which were then emptied in the street in the evening where slaves and other lower class men cleaned the streets while they slept (Gowers, 29). Today the Cloaca Maxima has a more positive look on it and even one section is still operational and flows into the Tiber River, with continuous repairs and upgrades to it. However, with heavy rains it will still overflow and flood the forum.

Modern-day Cloaca Maxima drainage.JPG
Figure 17: The present day’s line of the Cloaca Maxima draining into the Tiber River.

Why these Structures and Concepts are Important Today

The Romans were great engineers and many structures, including the Pantheon in Rome and the Duomo in Florence, are a mystery today as to how they were constructed. We can only theorize how they were built using the knowledge we have accumulated over the centuries. When the Cloaca Maxima, aqueducts, and the Baths or Caracalla were being built the engineers did not use complex equations that engineers today can rely on. Trial and error was a strategy incorporated as well as studying past successful civilizations such as the Greeks. The structures still standing today are the few ones done correctly and are continuously being restored today and the structures that had flaws in the construction were destroyed by time. The Romans not only followed the Greeks with construction but with public health practices. The Roman Empire had little knowledge about how diseases were contracted and many other health information that we take for granted today. However, they knew that creating public health infrastructures that could be used by all people would make for a healthier society. Many ideas that the Romans had about public health are still being practiced today. Even public bathrooms were a new concept to Rome that had been observed to be beneficial to human health as today in the United States public restrooms are just about everywhere. In conclusion, the Romans built many structures that people are still studying and learn from them today. They helped give people the knowledge in building techniques and concepts still being used in today’s construction sitesalong with vital health and hygiene information. These ancient ruins are not just important to learn about the past but to be prepared and knowledge for the future.

Engineering in Rome 2015!

I am glad to have been a part of this and had an amazing time!


  • Amulree, L. “Hygienic Conditions in Ancient Rome and Modern London.” Medical History 17.3 (1973): 244-55. Web.
  • Angelakis, Andreas N., and Rose, Joan B. Evolution of Sanitation and Wastewater Technologies through the Centuries. London: IWA, 2014. Web.
  • Feo, Giovanni, Andreas Angelakis, Georgios Antoniou, Fatma El-Gohary, Benoît Haut, Cees Passchier, and Xiao Zheng. “Historical and Technical Notes on Aqueducts from Prehistoric to Medieval Times.” Water 5.4 (2013): 1996-2025. Web.
  • Gowers, Emily. “The Anatomy of Rome from Capitol to Cloaca.” Journal of Roman Studies 85 (1995): 23. Web.
  • Hope, Valerie M., and Marshall, Eireann. Death and Disease in the Ancient City. London: Routledge, 2000. Routledge Classical Monographs. Web.
  • Howe, Kerry J., John C. Crittenden, Hand, David W, Tchobanoglous, George, and Trussell, R. Rhodes. Principles of Water Treatment. Hoboken: Wiley, 2012. Print.
  • Jackson, MD, F. Marra, Rl Hay, C. Cawood, and Em Winkler. “The Judicious Selection and Preservation of Tuff and Travertine Building Stone in Ancient Rome.” Archaeometry 47 (2005): 485-510. Web.
  • Lofrano, Giusy, and Brown, Jeanette. “Wastewater Management through the Ages: A History of Mankind.” Science of the Total Environment 408.22 (2010): 5254-264. Web.
  • Owens, E. J. “The Kremna Aqueduct and Water Supply in Roman Cities.” Greece and Rome 38.1 (1991): 41-58. Web.
  • Taylor, Rabun M. Public Needs and Private Pleasures : Water Distribution, the Tiber River and the Urban Development of Ancient Rome. Roma: “L’Erma” Di Bretschneider, 2000. Studia Archaeologica (“Erma” Di Bretschneider) ; 109. Web.
  • Turneaure, F. E., Russell, H. L., and Nichols, M. Starr. Public Water Supplies; Requirements, Resources, and the Construction of Works. 4th Ed., Rev. ed. New York, London: J. Wiley & Sons; Chapman & Hall, 1940. Print.
  • Wilson, Andrew. The Economic Impact of Technological Advances in the Roman Construction Industry. 225-236. Print.

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.