The Aqueduct of Constantinople: Managing the Longest Water Channel of the Ancient World
Jun 11, 2021
Double water channels may have been used to maintain the system while enabling constant operation
The late Roman aqueduct provided water for the population of Constantinople
Aqueducts were not a Roman invention, but in Roman hands these long-distance aqueducts developed further and extensively diffused throughout one of the largest empires in history.
Almost every city in the Roman Empire had an ample supply of fresh running water, in some cases actually with a larger volume than is the case today. "These aqueducts are mostly known for their impressive bridges, such as the Pont du Gard in southern France, which are still standing today after two millennia. But they are most impressive because of the way problems in their construction were solved, which would be daunting even for modern engineers," said JGU Professor Cees Passchier.
More than 2,000 long-distance Roman aqueducts are known to date, and many more are awaiting discovery. The study undertaken by Dr. Gül Sürmelihindi and her research team focuses on the most spectacular late-Roman aqueduct, the water supply lines of Constantinople, now Istanbul in present-day Turkey.
Carbonate deposits provide insights into Byzantine water management
As the city grew, this system was expanded in the 5th century to springs that lie even 120 kilometers from the city in a straight line. This gave the aqueduct a total length of at least 426 kilometers, making it the longest of the ancient world. The aqueduct consisted of vaulted masonry channels large enough to walk through, built of stone and concrete, 90 large bridges, and many tunnels up to 5 kilometers long.
Sürmelihindi and her team studied carbonate deposits from this aqueduct, i.e., the limescale that formed in the running water, which can be used to obtain important information about water management and the palaeoenvironment at that time. The researchers found that the entire aqueduct system only contained thin carbonate deposits, representing about 27 years of use.
Double construction over 50 kilometers was likely built for maintenance
They then found that 50 kilometers of the central part of the water system is constructed double, with one aqueduct channel above the other, crossing on two-story bridges. "It is very likely that this system was set up to allow for cleaning and maintenance operations," said Passchier. "It would have been a costly but practical solution."
Unfortunately for the research team, it is no longer possible to study the exact operation of the system. One of the most imposing bridges, that of Ballıgerme, was blown up with dynamite in 2020 by treasure hunters who erroneously believed they could find gold.
"The hydraulics of the world's first industrial plant: a unique construction in the Barbegal water mills" (13 Nov. 2020)
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