Although we won’t encounter the management of the waters of the Roman world until quite a bit later in the semester, I want to call your attention to an article that featured in the most recent issue of Archaeology magazine, a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America put out for a popular audience. It’s called “Rome’s Lost Aqueduct,” written by Professor Rabun Taylor from the University of Texas at Austin, and it explores the efforts of archaeologists and a pair of documentary filmmakers (especially appropriate, given this week’s case study!) to track down, identify and record the sources of the Aqua Traiana, an aqueduct constructed under the auspices of the Roman emperor Trajan in the early second century AD. The story is a fascinating one for a variety of reasons, but perhaps most surprising because it has led to “for the first time, a well-preserved, monumentalized aqueduct source associated with a Roman aqueduct has been identified” (Taylor 2012: 34).
Aqueducts are monumental features of the landscape and as such have attracted attention from scholars and antiquarians for centuries for an interesting read about the history of so-called ‘aqueduct hunting’ in the Italian countryside, I recommend, especially, Harry Evans’ 2002 book (Aqueduct Hunting in the Seventeenth Century) about the seventeenth-century Jesuit Raffaele Fabretti – now known affectionately as the ‘Aqueduct Hunter’. His three treatises, De aquis et aquaductibus veteris Romae dissertations tres, attempts to reconstruct elements of the hydraulic and architectural system of the Roman aqueducts. a section of which is worth quoting in its entirety for the (almost comical) picture it presents of the stereotypical gentleman-scholar traipsing through the landscape hunting for traces of (watery) antiquity:
“Among his Roman associates, Fabretti was well known for making long excursions into the Campagna in search of antiquities and inscriptions, always riding the same horse, which friends jokingly named Marco Polo; the horse was reported to have had a unique ability to detect ancient monuments and inscriptions, as if by smell, and to have stopped near them, indicating their location” (Evans 2002: 4).
Fabretti’s work demonstrated the appreciation that antiquaries held for the marvelous engineering feats undertaken in the name of water in the ancient world. Taylor’s article about the Aqua Traiana has a really helpful, easy to understand, and concise explanation of how a Roman aqueduct actually works (because really, who amongst us has not wondered how that happens?!), which shows just how much ingenious planning went in to bringing this water such long distances – sometimes up to 40 miles, as seen in the Aqua Claudia, substantial sections of which are still standing (Taylor 2012: 37). But what is most exciting – for me, at least – is the potential to tie together what we know (and have, for a long time!) about what happens to some of the water when it reaches Rome, as seen in this image from Fabretti’s treatise:
coupled with what we are now learning about the sources of that water outside of Rome proper, as seen in this article about the Aqua Traiana, as well as what happens to it in between – where does it go, who sees and uses it, what impact do these monumental stone features have on the landscape they travel through between spring and city? The detailed documentary history of the church commemorating Santa Fiora at the site of one of the spring’s, Pope Paul V’s thwarted efforts to acquire the property on which the sources sat from the powerful Orsini family (Taylor 2012: 39), read like a popular story of intrigue while also demonstrating that not only has the use of these water systems and sources between continuous over time – even while the modes of that use have changed – but the population’s interaction with those water sources have been important, in all its various manifestations, over that same amount of time. While being forgetten is portrayed as a significant chunk of this water source and channel’s history, doesn’t that have just as much to say about the local population’s relationship with their watery landscape as continuous exploitation would have?