Scholia Reviews ns 5 (1996) 18.

Peter J. Aicher, Guide to the Aqueducts of Ancient Rome. Wauconda: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1995. Pp. xiii + 183. ISBN 0-86516-282-4. US$25.00.

Alfonso Burgers
University of Leicester

Guides are usually much more general in the subject matter they present of archaeological remains than the present one, which treats a specific type: aqueducts, the life blood of an ancient city, already proclaimed by a number of ancient writers as amongst the greatest monuments of the Romans (Strab. 5.3.8; Pliny HN 26.23; Dion. Hal. 3.67.3). Today also, those aqueducts are considered to be some of the greatest works of the Roman Empire.[[1]] Aicher has revealed the greatness of Rome's eleven aqueducts as extant monuments with extraordinary clarity. He gives just sufficient historical information and anecdote in the first part to make the reader realize that there was a long time-span during which these structures were built and maintained.

The guide is the first one I have discovered which does not treat its prospective readers as unintelligent tourists. It presents a well-balanced description of sites, remains and topographical background, with enough backup to encourage readers to investigate them with greater curiosity. Too often guides will mention a site and give its position on a map and leave the reader to find it on the ground. Aicher very skillfully provides all the necessary information about a site, but also takes pains to describe in words how to locate it as an added aid to the plans.

The maps indicate particular sites very well and so do the two overview maps (pp. 32-33 and 48-49--the latter being a repeat of the map at pp. xii-xiii). It would have been nice if this last mentioned map could have been reproduced from a standard topographical map showing grid-lines and some contours. The reason for this is that more technically inclined tourists would like to have a better visualization of the topography of the localities. Maps 3 (p. 50) and 4 (p. 51) would have appeared more complete if the Viminal and Quirinal hills could also have been indicated, as most people would probably have heard that Rome was built on seven hills. So frustrating not to find the last two! A pity too that hills on some of the other maps (pp. xii-xiii, 32-33, 48-49) are indicated by such fanciful radiating lines, which give no indication of their real positions or extent. Otherwise the maps are clear and should not make finding the sites a problem. I suspect that there is a map lacking to give a guide to the discussion Aicher gives of the Aqua Claudia (pp. 80-92).

The guide would also have been of greater use if a glossary of some of the more unusual terms were defined. The word 'order' referring to the position of a multi-arched aqueduct is used to refer to either first or second orders. A word of explanation would have been welcome. In several places the word 'cement' is used as a structural layer. This is misleading, because cement is the binding powder in mortar, (made from fine aggregate such as sand and 'cement'), or concrete (which generally is made with sand and coarser aggregate and 'cement'). But cement as we know did not exist in antiquity. The binding material was calcined lime, which hardens when mixed with water and then allowed to dry. Cement is a modern product made from calcined ground lime and ground dehydrated sodium-type clay, mixed and calcined together at a high temperature and then ground to a fine powder. It hardens quicker and acquires its high strength earlier than the calcined lime alone. This may be one of the reasons why the specus (channel) of some of the aqueducts needed regular repairs, though there are other technical factors which contributed to their distress and ultimate deterioration and disuse.

Many treatises have been written on the aqueducts of Rome and a number are referred to in this guide. The early detailed studies of Thomas Ashby and Esther van Denam will probably remain as the major specialist archaeological investigations of the eleven aqueducts of Rome for a long time.[[2]] But much new material has come to light since the nineteen-thirties when the pioneer work was done. Aicher does not pretend to have produced a specialist guide, but he has produced a remarkably concise statement of many aspects of the remains, which are now proclaimed monuments. This has been done in a most readable form with many illustrations of the remaining structures and plans.

His 'historical perspective' (Part I.A, pp. 2-6) is sufficient to give the general reader some background and to encourage the more interested person to search for more. The section on 'parts of the ancient aqueduct' (Part 1.B, pp. 7- 23) is a good concise description of some of the technical aspects of aqueducts, but it would have added to the interests of readers if some information had been given on some aspects of the actual construction. The modern reader and tourist are often familiar with the amazing motorised and mechanical equipment used today for construction of buildings, bridges, roads and modern aqueducts. Few can imagine the circumstances under which ancients were able to construct structures which have stood the test of time for almost two millennia. Some of these ancient Roman structures still perform their original function, such as part of the Köln Roman aqueduct in Germany and the Roman aqueduct at Segovia in Spain (until the 17th century). There are not many structures both modern and ancient which can aspire to such a period of continuous service. The remaining sections on 'administration' (pp. 23-26), 'financing' (pp. 26-27), 'aqueducts and baths' (pp. 27-28) and 'aqueducts in Christian antiquity' (pp. 23-29) form useful background to understand the magnificence of these monumental remains.

The inclusion in the guide of some of Thomas Ashby's definitive drawings of his early investigations of the aqueduct remains is a superb stroke as it will familiarise the general reader with some of the remarkable work that was done by that pioneer. His work must have contributed greatly to the ultimate decision to preserve the extant remains, which have often, even in recent times, suffered at the hands of man's greed for 'development'. Also useful is the inclusion of the minor branch aqueducts which take water to the villas Vignance and Bassi (map 7, p. 94) and Quintilli (map 8, p. 103). The details (pp. 104-112) of the Alexandrina (maps 9 & 10, pp. 105 & 110) constitute one of the most interesting parts of the guide, because it is so seldom seen by visitors to Rome.

The aqueduct bridges of the Campagna (pp. 113-32) show the remarkable ingenuity of the Roman engineers in dealing with problematic sites, again enhanced by the drawings of Ashby. To appreciate the full implications of such structures it is necessary to know something about the problems that are associated with foundations of bridges at river crossings. Again one can only marvel at the fact that some of these buildings have survived the ravages of nature and the torrents of floods which must have attacked them during the passage of time. The concluding section of the guide covers the last lengths of the major aqueducts, the Marcia, Claudia and Anio Novus, which have their sources high up in the Anio valley. The engineering that was involved and the 'precision' surveying referred to in the introduction, attest to the ability of those ancient surveyors. It is instructive to read Vitruvius' opening paragraph of book 8 on how the Roman engineers located a water source. The dams of Sabiaco are probably some of the most outstanding dam structures surviving from antiquity. What I have found most interesting is how Aicher has treated the hydraulic aspects of each branch--he has given just sufficient information for the average tourist to feel he is learning something new and enough to make the specialist want to investigate the specialist literature to learn more about those remarkable structures.

Finally, there is a table of standard statistics of the eleven aqueducts of Rome (Appendix A, p. 165--here the discharge volume should read 'cubic metres per day') which provides one further espousal of what must be one of the most remarkable assemblages of ancient monuments known today. This then is topped with a discussion of the nine inscriptions (pp. 167-168) so important to the understanding of the times when the ancient aqueducts provided Rome with some of her greatest structures and now some of her greatest monuments.


[[1]] Cf, e.g., T.A. Hodge, Roman Aqueducts and Water Supply (London 1992).

[[2]] Cf. T. Ashby, `The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome', (Oxford 1935); E.B. Van Deman, `The Building of the Roman Aqueducts', (Washington 1934).