Wednesday 11 August 2010

The Concrete Power of Roman Aqueducts

Quite a few people on my tours at Vindolanda ask me about Roman concrete. I've tried to find out about it as best I could. (Click on the "concrete link" for more information.) The video clip above describes the process briefly.

I got into discussion with one chap, a civil engineer, the other day, who has worked on a variety of civil engineering projects past and present. He is currently working on a project - something to do with the spire at Westminster Abbey. We had a chat about Roman methods of making concrete. I naturally talk about "opus signinum" which is a special waterproof concrete (broken up tiles mixed with lime mortar) which are still in evidence in the floors of the bathhouses. There is also the traditional Roman lime mortar concrete (the Romans were the first to invent concrete...which aided their imperial expansion plans massively). This film here shows that even their normal concrete, itself, is waterproof and goes on to show how the Romans built aqueducts and how they could bring in loads of water - 300 gallons per head per day in ancient Rome which is more than five or six times what modern day cities manage. So "what have the Romans ever done for us?" They gave us: concrete!

There are two bathhouses at Vindolanda. I show the visitors the more modern one (built c. AD213 for the Fourth Cohort of Gauls) and it is very near Stone Fort II...quite near part of an exposed aqueduct. So far so easy as to how they got the water to it. The big conundrum (maybe) is the older bath house at the far end of the site built for double the number of men (1000) c.AD100. It is not near a visible water source. It was demolished by the Romans themselves a bit later on. It had become outmoded and was too big for later garrisons. How did they get their water there? Well, having looked at this film where it talks about transporting water from 40/50 miles away, via aqueducts, into the heart of Rome.....then a few extra yards at Vindolanda isn't going to make a lot of difference quite frankly. Case closed. In fairness the archaeologists did find long alder pipes in 2003, fitted with oak pegs, where the water was still running through them almost two thousand years later. Maybe the water got to the bath house via a mixture of pipes and aqueducts. It definitely got there somehow as 100 men got to be clean all in one go!

A couple of years ago I read Robert Harris's superb novel, Pompeii, and its link is here. The whole premise of the book is built around the magnificent engineering of Roman aqueducts. The link, I've highlighted, is well worth the read as it is designed for book clubs. So now when I think of aqueducts I think of his book and the breath taking aqueduct at Segovia, Northern Spain. I can't remember whether I got my photo snapped there. I'll have to rootle around my old photo books. (Strawberry Jam Ann has just reminded me of a marvellous, world famous restaurant there where I was lucky enough to dine once - el meson de candido...The roast suckling pig is famed across Spain!)

I'm away from my computer over the next few weeks for a variety of reasons. I'll continue posting but may not be able to get back to you/your comments for a wee while. Happy Summer Hols everyone!

P.S.: Looks like an interesting programme on archaeology will be shown over the next month or so. It's called "Digging for Britain" and starts 9pm on Thursday 19th August on BBC2. It is shown at 10pm the same day on BBC HD for those of you with programme clashes! (Must admit that the silly but fab "Mistresses" is on at 9pm. !!)


Maggie May said...

Happy Summer, too.
Your posts are always very informative.

Nuts in May

Harry said...

I'm a sucker for a Roman watercourse. Maybe it's because, being groundlevel or below, they're one of more likely-to-still-exist remains. But I still think the Roman ability to cart in huge amounts of clean, fresh water -- and then effectively carry away waste -- is such a big part of why they thrived.

In '06 I had the thrill at Vindolanda of digging down to a mid-2nd C wooden sluice/drain system. Just seeing that woodwork intact, still pegged together and able to carry water on rainy days right through a hole in the side of the fort wall... really awesome.

Happy vacation!!

Nota Bene said...

Waterproof concrete...something I could use in my flat....

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Thank you, Maggie. I think it's because I'm curious. I'm not the world's most practical person but I like to have a rough idea of how things work.

I saw Griff Rhys Jones in his programme on Rome the other night and he went down into the Roman sewage system (the ancient one which still works). He came out of a door beside the Fountain of Trevi (which makes 80,000 euro a month in coins!). I reckon we need one per city to tackle the nation's debt. !!!

Hi Harry,

That must have been fantastic - finding that. Superb! I was watching a Time Team special programme on some digs in The City of London and they were finding wells with long shafts, even an intricate water wheel designed to bring water to the surface. You get the idea that stuff was built to last don't you?

I'm hoping that I might get my name down to dig at Vindolanda at the start of next season if I play my cards right. :)

NB: Yep. I reckon we need some of that at this house too. Comes in handy in the North East/West!

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

Had a look at Segovia aquaduct via your link and it looks amazing.
Have a great summer H and look forward to seeing you again, refreshed, in a few weeks. A x

Hadriana's Treasures said...

SJA, Ooh yes..if you can visit Segovia one day it is well worth it. I'd love to go back one day. I was lucky enough to be treated to roast suckling pig at the Meson de Candido in the town. The restaurant is world famous. This was a few (!) years ago now but the whole dining experience was marvellous. Gosh...I'd quite forgotten about that but you've triggered all those memories. Thank you, SJA :)

the fly in the web said...

There's a little bit of roman aqueduct near Luynes, not far from Tours.
I go and drool at it if I get the chance to be in the area.

Have a super've been so busy this year!

Sarah Cuthbertson said...

Great to see Vindolanda topping and tailing the first part of Digging for Britain. Hope it brings lots of visitors for you to guide!

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Fly...every time someone mentions something Roman to me. I long to go and see it! Your suggestion has just been added to my list.

Sarah: We've been away in Dorset and other places so I'm just catching up with everything now.

I haven't seen the programme as yet. I've got it recorded so I'm hoping to watch it tonight. I had heard that Vindolanda was covered in I am intrigued. Thank you for mentioning it to me.

I've just gone and bought "The Eagle of the Ninth" from Walltown Cafe today. It's high time I read it. Thank you for introducing me to her (Rosemary Sutcliff) nephew's blog via yours. :)