Sunday, July 30, 2017

Roman Draining of Fucine Lake

     
     One of the great wonders of ancient Rome was its ingenious strategy for bringing fresh water into the city.  With its stunning creation of aqueducts and underground system of lead pipes, it truly was called “regina aquarium, the queen of the waters.”  (Hughes, 64)  Visitors from afar must have been astonished at the abundance of clean running water within the city.  This abundance of water was a critical factor in enabling Rome’s population to expand so freely with each passing century.  According to Robert Hughes in Rome, A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History, maintaining this flow of fresh water into Rome was a complex and daunting task.

Before it could flow out of Rome, of course, the water had to flow in.  It did so mainly through aqueducts.  Eleven of these supplied the city with its drinking and washing water, eight entering by the region of the Esquiline Hill.  Four more were added after the popes replaced the emperors, two of them in the twentieth century.  No other ancient city had such a copious supply of water…  (Hughes, 64)

It is indeed strange and disturbing to pause a moment and consider that Rome’s water system before the time of Christ was arguably a better system than currently available today in impoverished areas of the United States—e.g. the Navajo of northwestern New Mexico.  (NPR, web)  Clean water, it seems, is something so quickly taken for granted by western civilization, but the development of a rich culture and learning is inseparably tied to its availability.

     One of the most impressive examples of aqueduct engineering in ancient Rome must be the draining of Fucine Lake in the time of Emperor Claudius (10 B.C.E-54 C.E.).  (Hughes. 102)  As visible in the map below, note the great distance between Rome and this lake to the northeast.  (Click for a larger view.)




Information available from NASA’s website reveals just how great a feat of engineering this truly was.

…Emperors Claudius and Hadrian achieved limited draining of the original lake—to control both flooding and malaria—by digging and then expanding a tunnel through the hills near Avezzano at the top of the image. Claudius used 30,000 workers over a span of ten years to dig the 5.6-kilometer-long tunnel. This engineering work reduced the size of the lake from an original area of about 140 square kilometers to about 57 square kilometers. (NASA, web)  


     The momentous act of tunneling these drainage lines through a mountain and hills, constantly having to be aware of complex issues such as slope and grade as well as natural barriers, and without the benefit of modern equipment is an awe-inspiring accomplishment.


The canal by which the water should be conveyed away, was to be formed in part by a deep cut, and partly by a tunnel through a mountain; and inasmuch as in those days the power now chiefly relied upon for making such excavations, namely, the explosive force of gunpowder, was not known, any extensive working in solid rock was an operation of immense labor.  (Abbott, 64)


     Of course, the loss of life in these public works projects must have been horrible—especially when one considers that most of the labor was done by slaves. Robert Hughes observed that the draining of Fucine Lake “almost proved a disaster; because of a miscalculation by the engineers, the lake waters came rushing out too soon and backed-up in a too-narrow sluice, nearly drowning Claudius and his party, for whom a great banquet had been prepared on the bank of the channel.” (Hughes, 103) If accidents like this happened even to the emperor, then one can only guess at how often death and permanent injury befell the exploited laborers upon these projects. Besides the gold and treasure required to fund immense public works projects such as this, it is also true to say that they were paid for in the blood, sweat, and tears of the workers and slaves who toiled each day to bring these grand visions to reality.



Cited Sources

Abbott, Jacob. History of Nero ... With Engravings. New York: n.p., 1867. Print.

Hughes, Robert. Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History. New York:
       Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.

"Lake Fucine, Italy: Image of the Day." NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 30 July 2017.

Morales, Laurel. "For Many Navajo, A Visit From The 'Water Lady' Is A
       Refreshing Sight." NPR. NPR, 06 Jan. 2015. Web. 30 July 2017.






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