Health in Ancient Rome

Alexis Elinkowski

Blog Post #2: Roman Technology and Practices

Some of the greatest technological advancements the Romans built came from an issue they had. The issue was poor sanitation. To help alleviate this problem, the Romans built an efficient, extensive aqueduct system. Today there is evidence of around 200 aqueducts from Spain to Syria and also from Northern Europe to North Africa. From the 13 aqueducts that delivered water to Rome, it is estimated that total capacity was 222 million gallons every two hours. It is incredible that an aqueduct system from thousands of years ago was able to deliver that much water to Rome every single day. Even at the peak of the Roman Empire, this was enough water to provide every Roman citizen with at least 40 gallons of fresh water every day. Measures were taken to make sure the water stayed clean and pure. Along the aqueduct, there were settling basins, where sediment could be deposited (Cottrell).


Roman Aqueduct. Retrieved from

The aqueducts provided water for drinking, bathing, and other needs. “A system of eleven aqueducts supplied the city with water from as far away the river Anio” (“Roman aqueduct”). The biggest systems were called Anio Novus and Aqua Claudia. All wastewater would drain into a sewage system called the Cloaca Maxima. During the end of the first century A.D., the emperor Nerva appointed a man named Frontius to be the water commissioner. Some of his duties included surveying and mapping the entire system, and investigating abuses of the water supply. An example of an abuse would be tapping into the pipes illegally. He also organized workmen for maintenance of the system. He tried to make sure that the best water went to drinking and cooking, while the lower quality water went to fountains, baths, and sewers- in that order (“Roman aqueduct”). Frontius wrote about his work in a two-book official report called De aquaeductu, which was published near the end of the first century A.D. (“De aquaeductu”).

Another technological advancement that stemmed from poor sanitation was underground sewers. These sewers carried away water and sewage. The main sewer in Rome emptied into the Tiber River. This sewer was 10 feet wide and 12 feet high, and during the 20th century, it was still being used as part of the sewer system in Rome (Cottrell).

While the issue of sanitation had been improved with aqueducts and underground sewers, it was still a problem because of improper garbage disposal. House-to-house garbage collection was not practiced. Garbage was left to collect in alleys between buildings in the poor sections of Rome. At times it was so thick, that stepping-stones were needed to walk through the alleys (“Roman aqueduct”).

The ancient Romans also made health advancements besides those linked to the poor sanitation issue. They observed the consequences of occupational hazards on health. They were also the first to build hospitals. The first hospitals will later be explained in detail in the next blog post called “First Hospitals”. By the 2nd Century A.D. a public medical service had been organized. Physicians were appointed to different towns and establishments. A system of private medical practice was also organized in ancient Rome (Cottrell).

Furthering the work of the Greeks, the Romans studied human anatomy and surgery. Unfortunately, some of the Roman anatomists dissected living human beings as a way to learn more about the human body. After getting royal permission, they would dissect prisoners. Some opposed the practice and others supported it. The people who supported these live dissections made the argument that because the people being dissected were prisoners, the practice was somehow acceptable. They also thought that the knowledge that came from dissections could help many people (Cottrell).

          Works Cited

Cottrell, Randall R., James T. Girvan, and James F. McKenzie. Principles & Foundations of Health Promotion and Education. San Francisco: Pearson/Benjamin Cummings, 2009. Print. 15 Dec. 2016.

“De aquaeductu.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

“Roman aqueduct.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

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