Athens (Greece)

Roman aqueducts: Athens (Greece) Athens - ATHENAE
For the photo's, see below
For the complete website

The aqueducts of Athens (Greece)

The history of the water supply of Athens is difficult to survey, although there are beautiful monographs available like the ones from John McK. Camp (1977), Renate Tolle - Kastenbein (1994), and of Shawna Leigh (1998). And when it comes to the hydraulics in the Athenian Agora the situation is really confusing.

The rescue operations during the construction of the metro system have shed new light on Athens water supply, but also brought up new questions too.
The authorities made a beautiful job by exposing some findings in the hall of the metro stations Evangelismos, Syntagma (in- and outside) and Monastiraki, see photo's below. For a short description, see Chiotis 2011a, 172.
In relation to the oldest known collective water system John Camp (1977, 73) gave a clear warning "... against an uncritical acceptance of a single integrated supply system (in the sixth century BCE)". Eustathios Chiotis (2011a, 174) underlined the existing uncertainties: "Apart from the Hadrianic aqueduct ... the course of the other aqueducts is only roughly known ... Poorly defined too are the ancient distribution nets of all the aqueducts in the city".

Athens always have been a city with little rainfall and consequently, water has always been a scarce commodity. It was primarily supplied with water from local wells and springs. To solve these problems aqueducts were built. Here follows an overview.

The Peisistratid aqueduct

This aqueduct, built in the seconds half of the 6th c BCE, was an underground tunnel with vertical shafts with pipes at the bottom. Typical dimension of the pipes: length 64 - 74 cm, bore 19 - 24 cm, and external diameters between 21 and 25 cm. Many but not all pipe segments had round, oval or square access holes on top of about 10 x 10 cm.
Its sources were likely at the slopes of Mount Hymettos and along the Ilissos river, supplying among other structures, the fountain house in the SE corner of the Agora, but it had a number of branches. In the 4th century BCE it was replaced by a system of terracotta pipes in a stone-built underground channel, sometimes called the Hymettos aqueduct.
Please bear in mind that this system was in operation during several centuries and might have been locally replaced, extended and repaired quite a few times. Some pipe segments of this system are at display at the Metro stations Evangelismos and Syntagma (in a corner of the lower square).
For more information: John McK. Camp (1977, 64 - 73) and Renate Tolle - Kastenbein (1994) in particular.

The Academy or Kimonian aqueduct

In the area of the Poikile Stoa (north side of the Agora) a pipeline has been excavated leading towards the Dipylon gate (and fountain) and beyond, probably to Plato's Academy in the NW suburbs of Athens. It is a 5th c BCE construction, possibly fed by the Peisistratid aqueduct.
For more information: Renate Tolle - Kastenbein (1994, 21) in particular.

The Acharnian aqueduct

In the 1960's VanderPool found four inscriptions in the area of Menidi (see map below, N of Athens) describing the acquisition of property rights in order to construct a water supply system, probably for the city of Athens. After VanderPools article was published, sections of U-shaped tiles - joined together to form an elliptical conduit - have been found underground, which were later linked to this 4th c BCE Acharnian aqueduct. Some scholars suppose that this system is the same as the so-called Poros-aqueduct in the Athenian Agora (Camp 1977, 132). It also might have replaced the Peisistratid aqueduct in serving the SE fountain house.
For more information: VanderPool (1965).

Hadrian's aqueduct

This almost 20 km long subterranean aqueduct was built with financial support of emperor Hadrian between 125 and 140 CE; it was a closed channel with a vaulted roof, made of bricks. After many reworks some parts were in use even in the 20th century. Its main source was an aquifer in the Parnitha mountains and the water was brought to the so-called Lykabettos reservoir in Athens. Most parts of the channel were under the water table and shafts, some 20 - 30 m deep - captured water adding extra volumes to the Hadrian aqueduct.
For detailed description, see the separate entry on this website, and Athens123 (R. Horne)
For more information: Leigh (1998).

The Long Walls aqueduct

There is not much known about the course of this aqueduct, probably constructed in the time of Hadrian and partly built on top of the northern Long Wall which protected the road between Athens and its harbour in Piraeus / Peireus. Its source might have been a series of shafts along the Ilissos riverbed. Lols (1997, 305) opt for an alternative: a natural spring near the modern town of Varympompi, 9 km SW of Menidi.
For the remains of the Piraeus aqueduct, see Leigh(1997, 92) and Grogoropoulos 2005, 102 ff)
For more information: Ziller 1877.

The Late Roman aqueduct

Coordinates of the Neo Ionia bridges:
* Kapodistriou 38 02 00.77N 23 46 22.2E
* Perissos       38 02 20.89N 23 45 34.48E
This aqueduct is known from the excavations in the Agora where it supplied water for the operation of some 3 - 4 water mills. It is argued that it comprised both the Perissos and the Kapodistriou aqueduct bridges in Neo Ionia, which are dated in the 5th c CE. The course between both locations is only poorly known.

Aqueducts arriving in the AGORA

At least four different aqueducts supplied water to the Agora over a period from the 6th c BCE to the 5thc CE: the Peisistratid, the Poros, the Hadranic and the Late Roman aqueducts. All were brought into the Agora from the SE side, at a relative high elevation.
As the Athenian Agora was the social, commercial and juridical center of the city, the water from distant sources was mainly directed to its public fountains, and in Roman times to the bath houses.
For an overview see the map below, but we have to remember Chiotis' words: "Poorly defined too are the ancient distribution nets of all the aqueducts in the city".

The following ancient fountain houses are indicated on the map:

Wilke Schram


Athens - ATHENAE

Name aqueduct Period Type Length Remarks
Peisistratid 6th - 4 th c BCE Tunnel / shafts / pipes 6 km? in the 4th c renewed
Academy / Kimonian 5th c BCE Tunnel / shafts / pipes 2 km Extension of the Peisistratid aqueduct
Acharnian / Poros 4th c BCE Tunnel / shafts / pipes 15 - 20 km First knwon from inscriptions
Hadrian 125 - 140 AD Tunnel and shafts 19.8 km See separate entry
Long Walls 2nd c CE? Tunnel and shafts 9 km? Must is still unknown
Late Roman 5th c CE Channel near the surface 21 km Incl. two bridges, feeding mills

Mainly based on Chiotis 2012A,22


Recommended literature :
  • J. McK. Camp (1977): The water supply of Ancient Athens from 3000 to 86 BC (PhD thesis)
  • J. McK. Camp (2010): The Athenian Agora, site guide
  • E. D. Chiotis (2011a): Water supply and drainage works in the Agora of ancient Athens (in: Giannikouri (ed) The Agora in the Mediterranean from Homeric to Roman times (2011) pag 165 - 180)
  • E.D. Chiotis and L.E. Chioti (2011b): Productive activities in the ancient Agora of Athens in late Roman times (in: Giannikouri (ed) The Agora in the Mediterranean from Homeric to Roman times 2011 pag 181 - 196) (in Greek, with English summary)
  • E.D. Chiotis and G.P. Marinos (2012a): Geological aspects on the sustainability of ancient aqueducts of Athens (in: Bulletin of the Geological Society of Greece vol 46 (2012) pag 16 - 38) (with Greek summary)
  • E.D. Chiotis and L.E. Chioti (2012b): Water supply of Athens in the antiquity (in: A.N. Angelakis (ed) Evolution of Water supply through the millennia (2012) pag 407 - 442) -
  • D. Grigoropoulos (2005): After Sulla: study in ... Piraeus (PhD-thesis)
  • M. Lang (1968): Water works in the Athenian Agora, see http://www.agathe.gr/Icons/pdfs/AgoraPicBk-11.pdf
  • S. Leigh (1998): The aqueduct of Hadrian and the water supply of Roman Athens (PhD. thesis)
  • R. Tolle - Kastenbein (1994): Das archaische Wasserleitung fur Athen und seine spateren Bauphasen (in German)
  • Ziller 1877: Untersuchungen uber die antiken Wasserleitungen Athens (in: Mittheilungen Athen (=AM)) (in German)
Recommended websites   :
How to visit                  : see above

HOME More literature on more aqueducts Last modified: August, 2015 - (webmaster)



Ancient Athens

Major buildings

Course of the aqueduct

Peisistratid aqueduct

Pipes, holes and lids

Syntagma

Display in main hall

Male side

Pipeline

Static splitting

Protective roof

Peisistratidís

Academy aqueduct

Dipylon krene

Acharnian aqueduct

Four inscriptions

Poros aqueduct

Olympic Village

Lykabettos reservoir

Nymphaeum in the Agora

Piraeus aqueduct?

Late Roman aqueduct

Kapodistrias bridge

Downstream view

Upstream view

Perissos bridge

In state of preservation

Four pillars

Late Roman aqueduct

Water-driven floor mill

Aqueducts in the AGORA

Peisistratidís

Poros aqueduct

Late Roman aqueduct

Continuation

Mill-race

Southeast fountain house

Present state

Two modest basins

Southwest fountain house

Present state

The Great Drain

Drain to the Eridanos

Water clock

Alternations