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Rome and its 11 aqueducts

For details of the seperate aqueducts, see the relevant chapters in the left column

  1. Maps of Rome
  2. Short Introduction
  3. Basic Literature
  4. Useful websites
  5. The facts

Maps of Rome

2. Short introduction

to the 11 ancient aqueducts of Rome

Rome could boost on 11 aqueducts, built in the period 312 BCE - 226 CE. Every aqueduct had its own characteristics, in source area, architectural features, level, water quality etc. Given the time span of their construction dates, It is unlikely that all these systems were active in the same period.

In the early days Romans got their water from the river Tiber, wells and springs, until 312 BCE. In that year the first of Rome's aqueducts, the Aqua Appia, was finished. Its 16 km long course was - also for security reasons - completely subterranean and its underground (!) source area is uncertain. The Romans were not the first ones to build aqueducts, as the Greeks (see for example the famous Eupalinos aqueduct on Samos, 530 BCE) and even the Persians (1000 BCE) already had long distance water supply lines.
The second aqueduct, the Aqua Anio Vetus (269 BCE) was also mainly subterranean but was much longer (81 km) and took its water from the higher reaches of the Anio river. On its way to Rome, it was supported by bridges and arches.
The third one, the Aqua Marcia (144 - 140 BCE), was known for its famous water quality. It was the first one that could bring aqueduct water to the Palatine hill, as later was also the case by the Aqua Julia and the Aqua Claudia. Both Anio Vetus and Aqua Marcia were high capacity aqueducts.

One of the major bridges of the Marcia aqueduct (on top), the Ponte Lupo, south of Tivoli. A crossing of the Anio Vetus (left) and the Aqua Marcia on top of the 'bridge', close to Tivoli. Remains of the Aqua Virgo in the basement of the Rinascente store in the Via del Tritone in Rome.

From the original, small Aqua Tepula aqueduct (125 BCE) nothing remained. Its sources were in 33 BCE combined by Agrippa - son in law of Augustus - with those of the Aqua Julia (33 BCE). After Agrippa's reconstruction, the combined waters were separated in two channels at Capannelle, both piggybacking on the Aqua Marcia arches.

Agrippa also reorganized the office of the water supply (the Cura Aquarum). He was Rome's first water 'manager'. One of its successors - also called Curator Aquarum - was Sextus Julius Frontinus (around 100 CE) who wrote a famous book with all kinds of details of the 9 aqueducts of his time.

Agrippa was also the person who build the Baths of Agrippa on the Campus Martius, which was fed by another, new aqueduct: the Aqua Virgo (19 BCE), with only subterranean sources. The Virgo was upgraded and partly replaced by the Acqua Virgine Nuova (1937) and still feeds structures in the Campus Martius, like the Trevi fountain.

The Aqua Alsientina (2 BCE) - fed by the water from the Lake Alsietinus, present Lake Martignano - was famous because its poor quality; it was mainly used to fill the emperor's Naumachia (for mock sea-battles in a huge basin). For a long time, it was the only aqueduct that could guarantee bringing water to Transtiberim (present Trastevere), other aqueducts had to cross the Tiber.

The Aqua Anio Novus, just like the Anio Vetus fed by water from the Anio river, was also piggybacking from Capannelle to Rome, now on the Aqua Claudia. Both were begun by Caligula and finished during Claudius' reign in 52 CE, and both were high capacity aqueducts delivering water also to the higher grounds in the city. Nero decided to use Claudia water for its palaces near the Palatine, via the so-called Arcus Neroniani.

After Frontinus two new aqueducts were built: the Aqua Traiana (109 CE) took its water near the Lake Bracciano, feeding Transtiberim with better water, and crossed possibly the Tiber by a bridge to feed the Baths of Traian, NE of the Colosseum, although this is disputed by some scholars.

The destination of the Aqua Alexandrina (226 CE) is still unclear. It was built by Alexander Severus; some scholars think it fed the Baths of Alexander Severus, the nymphaeum of Alexander, and / or Carcalla's Baths. Despite its impressive arches, it was almost at the same level of the Anio Vetus: at Porta Maggiore both courses should also have been subterranean. The Alexandrina must have been 22 km long.
The Acqua Felice - built in 1589 - used the same sources as the ancient Aqua Alexandrina but took an other course. Only 1/3rd of the aqueduct ran above ground; from the present Aqueduct Park to the city it used the arches of the ancient ones, often at the expense of the latters.

Main characteristics

In the early days two low level / high capacity aqueducts brought water to the city: the Aqua Anio Vetus and the Aqua Marcia. In Imperial times two higher level / high capacity aqueducts were built: the Aqua Claudia and the Aqua Anio Novus. Each of these four had a length of over 70 km.
The other ones mainly brought water to particular areas and / or were for special purposes: the Virgo for the Baths of Agrippa and the Campus Martius, the Alsietina for the Naumachia in Transtiberim, the Traiana for Traian's baths and the Alexandrina for the baths of Alexander Severus or of Caracalla.

About the design

It was essential to find (a) water source(s) at the right level, of sufficient capacity and with good / excellent water quality. The level was important to serve also the higher areas of the city, the places where the rich and famous used to live, like the Palatine hill. Sufficient capacity was a must, given transportation losses, fraud, and a growing demand. In the early days most aqueducts were subsurface because of security reasons.

Why should one build an aqueduct?

Of course, to feed by means of public fountains the ever-growing population. But much water was used to feed public (and private) bathhouses. A third group of users were privati: private persons who got permission to get a paid connection to their dwellings, using the water to embellish their houses and gardens with fountains, as can be seen in Ostia, Herculaneum and Pompeii: a show of prestige, pride and power.

How an aqueduct was built?

To be frank: we do not know exactly. In ancient times there was a set of survey instruments available, but how to use these over 50 km? Some scholars think that often nearby roads and rivers were used as reference points.
Only some trunk lines for the distribution inside the city are known, see map. There must have been 247 castella (distribution stations), numerous lacus (street fountains), and many castra (reservoirs), attached to each other by means of lead pipes.

Inside the Aqua Claudia, just south of Vicovaro. Note the watertight plaster on walls and floor. The famous Porta Maggiore - close to Stazione termini - with the Aquae Claudia and Anio Novus on top. To the left - not visible - the start of the Arcus Neroniana to the Palatine. The Aqua Alexandrina in the Via degli Olmi in the area north of Centocelle.


Some repair of aqueducts took place in Late Antiquity, and even in the Middle Ages one or another line was partly kept in service. In the 16th c the Acqua Felice was built (see above) by pope Sixtus V using the Virgo springs; it was in use until the sixties. Pope Paul V was responsible for the Acqua Paola (1612), using the sources of the ancient Aqua Traiana. At the end of the 19th c the Acqua Marcia Pia was constructed. Above mention was made of the Acqua Vergine Nuova (1930s)

What can be seen?

The most impressive remains of these aqueducts are of course the arcades and bridges. Inside the city: the Porta Maggiore and the Arcus Neroniani. Just a bit further away: the arches in the Aqueduct Park / Capannelle and Aqua Alexandrina arches north of Centocelle. And in the area SE of Tivoli, a series of aqueduct bridges.
Highly recommended literature (also in this respect): P.J. Aicher: Guide to the Aqueducts of Ancient Rome (1995).
And of course, the relevant items on
this website.

Wilke D. Schram

3. Basic Literature

  • Hint 1: use 'Hodge' as a starter for aqueducts in general and 'Aicher' as an introduction into the 11 aqueducts of Rome.
  • Hint 2: if these books are not available, use the papers of this website: 'Historical introduction' for aqueducts in general and 'Dembskey' as an intro to Rome's aqueducts.
  • Hint 3: looking for a subject for a paper, report, treatise or thesis? Look at 'Some 16 (+2) intruiging questions'.

4. Useful websites

5. The facts

Facts about the 11 ancient aqueducts of Rome
Aqueduct Date of construction Volume m3 per day Total length (km) Length on arches (km) # Cas tellae I PC II Cm III I+S IV TP V Esq VI AS VII VL VIII FR IX CF X Pal XI CM XII PP XIII Av XIV Tt
Appia 312 bc 75.000 16 0.1 20 - x - - - - - x x - x x x x
Anio Vetus 272 bc 180.000 81 0 35 x - x x x x x x x - - x - x
Marcia 144 bc 190.000 91 10 51 x - x x x x x x x x - - (x) x
Tepula 125 bc 18.000 18 9 14 - - - x x x x - - - - - - -
Julia 33 bc 48.000 22 10 17 - (x) x - x x - x - x - x - -
Virgo 22 bc 100.000 21 1.2 18 - - - - - - x - x - - - - x
Alsietina 2 bc 16.000 33 0.5 -- - - - - - - - - - - - - - (-)
Claudia 38 ad 185.000 69 14 92)* - x - - - - - - - x - - x x
Anio Novus 38 ad 190.000 87 11 92)* x - x x x x x x x - x x - -
Traiana 109 ad - 55 - ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Alexandrina 226 ad - 22 2.4 ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
)* Aquae Claudia et Anio Novus together had 92 castellae

Regiones in ancient (and modern) Rome:

I PC Porta Capena VI AS Alta Semita XI CM Circus Maximus
II Cm Caelimontium VII VL Via Lata XII PP Piscina Publica
III I+S Isis et Serapis VIII FR Forum Romanum XIII Av Aventinus
IV TP Templum Pacis IX CF Circus Flaminius XIV Tt Transtiberim
V Esq Esquiliae X Pal Palatium      

Recommended literature : Guide to the Aqueducts of Ancient Rome, P.J. Aicher (1995)
Recommended website :
How to visit : See book of P.J. Aicher above

HOME More literature on more aqueducts Last modified: December, 2018 - Wilke D. Schram (W.D. Schram 'at'