Historical and Technical Notes on Aqueducts from Prehistoric to Medieval Times
By Giovanni De Feo, Andreas N. Angelakis, Georgios P. Antoniou, Fatma El-Gohary, Benoît Haut, Cees W. Passchier, and Xiao Yun Zheng
Abstract: The aim of this paper is to present the evolution of aqueduct technologies through the millennia, from prehistoric to medieval times. These hydraulic works were used by several civilizations to collect water from springs and to transport it to settlements, sanctuaries and other targets.
Several civilizations, in China and the Americas, developed water transport systems independently, and brought these to high levels of sophistication. For the Mediterranean civilizations, one of the salient characteristics of cultural development, since the Minoan Era (ca. 3200–1100 BC), is the architectural and hydraulic function of aqueducts used for the water supply in palaces and other settlements. The Minoan hydrologists and engineers were aware of some of the basic principles of water sciences and the construction and operation of aqueducts.
These technologies were further developed by subsequent civilizations. Advanced aqueducts were constructed by the Hellenes and, especially, by the Romans, who dramatically increased the application scale of these structures, in order to provide the extended quantities of water necessary for the Roman lifestyle of frequent bathing. The ancient practices and techniques were not improved but survived through Byzantine and early medieval times. Later, the Ottomans adapted older techniques, reintroducing large-scale aqueducts to supply their emerging towns with adequate water for religious and social needs.
The scientific approach to engineering matters during the Renaissance further improved aqueduct technology. Some of these improvements were apparently also implemented in Ottoman waterworks. Finally the industrial revolution established mechanized techniques in water acquisition. Water is a common need of mankind, and several ancient civilizations developed simple but practical techniques from which we can still learn. Their experience and knowledge could still play an important role for sustainable water supply, presently and in future, both in developed and developing countries.