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Concrete, Fresh Water, and Trash

The Romans were borrowing from the Greeks, and they continued to improve the sewers they had inherited from the Etruscans. Sewage appeared as a pressing issue. People were pouring their waste into the street, getting sick or dying and unaware of the best approach to finding out why. Drinking water was being contaminated with sewage, which was unpleasant. The Romans had enough sense to build aqueducts to bring in fresh water from the hills outside of their towns – nothing new – aqueducts having been built elsewhere in the world centuries before, including more than a thousand years before in the Indus Valley. Rome's first aqueducts were underground. Its first aqueduct above ground was the Aqua Marcian, about 56 miles long, with a bridge section about ten miles long.

The Romans were also creating their Concrete Revolution. This was the use of a new material made with lime and powdered clay, to which water was added and fist-sized rock mixed in. It was a change from stone and mud brick and a turning point in the history of architecture, and it allowed new designs and structural complexity.

This was around the same time that the Romans were building public latrines and systems of sewage pipes to carry sewage out of the streets and into the river. In 33 BCE, Augustus had construction done that enclosed city's sewers. In 19 BCE, the construction of a new aqueduct was completed. Splendid new public baths were built. A ministry of transport was begun that built and maintained roads. From a city of sun-dried brick, Rome under Augustus was to become a city of marble as well as concrete, with new roads improving communications and trade.

The Roman philosopher, Pliny the Elder (CE 23 to 79), in his Naturalis Historia, remarked that of all the that Romans had accomplished, the sewers were “the most noteworthy." And around the year 100, sewer construction extended to the homes of the well-to-do.

Roman citizens came to expect high standards of hygiene. Aqueducts were used everywhere in the empire to supply not just drinking water for private houses, but for supplying other needs such as irrigation, public fountains and public baths.

But service for everybody was seen as hopeless. For common people there was no house-to-house garbage collection. People continued to dump their rubbish into the street, and the rubbish at times became so thick that stepping-stones were needed. Street levels were to rise as new buildings would be constructed on top of trash – while philosophers pondered what was and was not right or good character.


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