Did you know that modern plumbing in Phoenix owes a lot to the ancient Romans?
The lowly modern flush toilet may be a comparatively recent invention, but plumbing has been in existence, since as early as 2700 B.C., for the peoples of the Indus Valley. However, it was the Romans who perfected the use of plumbing and toilets into a kind of obsession. A modern person in Ancient Rome would find all plumbing familiar and in good order, even if the lack of privacy might be unnerving at first. Yes, it’s the Plumbers of the Ancient Roman Empire that the modern world owes its plumbing legacy. The glory of the Romans was not only in the roads they built and the systems of law and order they perfected. It was also their plumbing engineering genius, and the skill of their craftsmen, that enabled them to erect great baths & sewers with the water supplied by aqueducts from sources miles away.
The Romans, as is well-known, had a kind of love affair with aqueducts and baths. Because of this, plumbing became a skilled profession in and of itself, with the ancient Plumbers dubbed “Plumbarius”. As mentioned above, the water supply was provided by aqueducts, the 1st one built in 312 B.C. This was named in honor of its Inventor, Appius Claudius, and spanned a total of eleven miles. Miles from the source, water ran through a series of aqueducts, flowing by gravity along the contours of the land. As Rome became more populous, and the Roman leaders more decadent and demanding, the engineering feats in plumbing systems became increasingly monumental.
Private toilets were popular in Pompeii, and Archaeologists have located ancient “water closets” in the backs of dwellings, including cisterns to flush water to the various seats. They also discovered “arched” recess. Although the original wood had long disappeared, Archaeologists said they could still see outlines of the hinges for the toilet seats.
This toilet design was lost for thousands of years among the rubble of volcano and decay. Not until the Sixteenth Century would Sir John Harington invent the “washout” closet again, similar in principle. And it would be another two hundred years before another Englishman, Alexander Cumming, would invent the forerunner of the toilets in use today.
Water flowed continuously in homes through nozzles, with each homeowner paying the water bill according to the nozzle size. At the reservoir where the main pipe was attached, the Plumbarius installed a type of ball float, looking much like the modern type, to make for a reasonable steady flow of water. Every length of service pipe carried the subscriber’s name to prevent any non-paying moochers from tapping into their neighbor’s pipe. The works the ancient Plumbers weave through the ruins of rudimentary drains, in giant aqueducts and lesser water systems of the empire buried so long ago.
Like modern plumbing in Phoenix, the sewage from latrines, along with drain water that came out of private homes, was collected into a giant sewage system called Cloaca Maxima. Originally built by Etruscan engineers, it was constantly improved by the Romans. The main drain channel was so large, that a chariot with four horses could be run through it. At some point, the Romans decided to cover up their sewers with discs made of stone, to block the awful smell. Probably, Cloaca Maxima was not constructed with sewage removal in mind, but to help drain standing water from cities.
The Plumbarius of Rome created a flourishing trade which included creating gutters of lead. This is how they made plumbing pipe; they poured molten lead into various sheets of thickness and size, allowing them to cool. Then they hammered the sheets around a core of wood, fashioning a V-shaped opening where the ends met. They connecting joints in a similar manner; by flaring one end of the pipe into a circular shape, and fit the adjoining piece of pipe into it. These were then soldered together with hot lead. According to modern experts, the Plumbarius’ efforts were crude, but workable.
The ruination of the Roman Empire was complete by the sixth century A.D. As Rome pulled back and regressed, the art of sanitary design went with them. Replacing the Romans were the Barbarians, destroying cities and leveling populations as they sacked and plundered their way across Europe. Sanitation technology reverted to its most primitive forms. The Dark Ages had begun.
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