Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Source of the Aqua Traiana Found

Aqueducts are among Ancient Rome's most famous engineering achievements. Today, many impressive ruins can be seen throughout the Roman world, including in Rome itself. In fact some Roman aqueducts are still used today, including the restored Aqua Virgo and Aqua Traiana, which feed the Trevi Fountain and Fontana dell'Acqua Paoa respectively. Famous as they are, some Roman aqueducts have also held an air of mystery. The source of one aqueduct in particular, the Aqua Traiana, has long been a secret. Lake Bracciano has fed the aqueduct since ancient times, but the Aqua Traiana's exact starting point has been unknown until now. On the shore of Lake Bracciano, a pair of amateur archaeologists have discovered underground chambers, beneath a 13th century church, which they believe is the source of the aqueduct. The chambers exhibit typicall Roman opus reticulatum masonry and vaulted ceilings. The team's findings have yet to be confirmed by professional archaeologists, but if this is the true source of the Aqua Traiana, it would be an amazing find.

Aqueducts were common not only in the city of Rome, but were an instrument of 'Romanization' throughout the Mediterranean. The first aqueduct built in Rome was the Aqua Appia, built in 312 BCE. Aqueducts were usually named for the person responsible for building them, in this case the Appius Claudius Caecus the Censor. Many aqueducts were constructed during the Republic, and once emperors came to power, aqueducts were often named after them: the Aqua Claudia, finished by Claudius and the Aqua Traiana, built by Trajan. By the time the Aqua Alexandrina was built in 226 BCE, there were 11 aqueducts feeding Rome. The fresh water brought into Rome by these engineering feats greatly helped sanitary conditions in Rome and after the fall of the empire, such measures would be neglected for centuries. In the provinces, aqueducts helped spread sanitation and Roman culture. Some famous examples are the Nimes aqueduct (known for the Pont du Gard) and the aqueduct in Segovia, Spain.
Aqueducts in general are more impressive to an engineer than anyone else. Most are simply masonry channels that carry water from one point to another, with a very slight gradients. What is most impressive today are the massive structures built to compensate for terrain. Valleys and gorges had to be tamed in order to keep gravity working in the aqueduct's favor. The Pont du Gard in France is probably the most famous example of this type of architecture, which is synonymous with Rome itself. These structure are what people think of when they hear the word aqueduct, but in reality these bridges only represent tiny stretches of aqueducts, which are usually tens of miles long.


Nathan Elkins said...

Very interesting. I had not heard about this!

Trajan also struck sestertii, dupondii, and asses showing a nude figure beneath an arched grotto and leaning against an urn spilling out water. The reverse legend is AQVA TRAIANA. Some authors believe that this was a schematic representation of the castellum or source of the aqueduct, which might have been surmounted by a similar statue personifying the aqueduct and its waters.

I think that the coins were probably targeted to an urban audience in Rome.

I look forward to hearing more about the discovery.


Anonymous said...

Well reported in the new Archaeology magazine.