Saturday, December 19, 2020

Water distribution in the ancient world

The Mesopotamians introduced the world to clay sewer pipes around 4000 BCE, with the earliest examples found in the Temple of Bel at Nippur and at Eshnunna.  They were utilized to remove wastewater from sites, and capture rainwater in cisterns. The city of Uruk also contains one of the first examples of brick constructed latrines, dated from about 3200 BCE. Clay piped plumbing has also been found in the Hittite city of Hattusa, founded in the 6th millennium and abandoned about 1200 BCE.

The Indus Valley Civilization also developed public water supplies with a number of advanced features.  In the Indus city of Lothal (c. 2350 BCE), archaeologists discovered houses with their own private toilets connected to a covered sewer network constructed of brickwork held together with a gypsum-based mortar.  Many of the buildings at Mohenjo-daro collected water from roofs and upper story bathrooms that was channeled through terracotta pipes to street drains. There were also public and private baths.

The Minoan capital of Knossos on Crete had a well-organized water system for bringing in clean water, taking out waste water, and storm sewage canals for overflow when there was heavy rain. It was also one of the first to use a flush toilet, dating back to the 18th century BCE.

The later Greeks on the mainland enjoyed pressurized showers.  The famous Greek inventor Heron of Alexandria, developed a system of pressurized piping for fire fighting purposes there.

By the 1st century CE, the  Roman consul Sextus Julius Frontinus, curator aquarium of the city's water supply, reports Rome had nine aqueducts which fed 39 monumental fountains and 591 public basins, not counting the water supplied to the Imperial household, baths, and owners of private villas. Each of the major fountains was connected to two different aqueducts, in case one was shut down for service.

Bronze water spouts in the form of lion masks, ca. 100 BCE–100 CE, Greek or Roman, from Cyprus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When I was researching the House of Sallust in Pompeii, I noticed that the rainwater from the roof was channeled through water spouts shaped like lion heads like these into the impluvium there.

Waterspout in the form of a hound, early 1st century C.E., Roman, Terracotta courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum

Waterspout in the form of a bear, Roman, Bronze, 2nd century CE courtesy of Christies

Waterspout in the form of a wolf, Roman, Bronze, 1st-2nd century CE, courtesy of Christies,

"Cupid with goose" (detail) - bronze fountain (1st century BCE-1st century CE) from the Exhibition "Herculaneum and Pompeii: Vision of Discovery" at the Archaeological Museum of Naples by Carlo Raso (PD)

Child with fruit, fountain ornament (1st century CE) from Pompeii - Exhibition "Myth and Nature" at Archaeological Museum of Naples by Carlo Raso (PD)

Bronze fountain sculpture of a viper found in the peristyle garden at the House of the Citharist Pompeii 1st century BCE that I photographed at Pompeii: The Exhibition" at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon.

A Roman fountain on a street corner that I photographed in Pompeii in 2005.
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