Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Question: Water flow dynamics in Pompeii

A student question I am unable to answer ... Can anyone else help?

How did rainwater and water from the overflows behave in the streets? Were there structural attempts to keep flowing water from developing into torrents? For example, how could water coming down Via del Mercurio into Via del Foro be kept from flooding the forum proper before slamming into the three administrative buildings at its southern end? Or if in the forum, how could it be channeled out? Or was this never a problem? Has anybody ever studied the dynamics of water in the streets? Do you know of a diagram or map which would allow for a visual impression of the gradients in the city?


Miko Flohr said...

There have been various studies of the dynamics of water in the streets, I think the best survey so far is by Gemma Jansen, but I do not know whether it has been published in English.
Yet, walking through Pompeii one can see several points where the water was redirected to avoid it from ending up in the wrong place. Actually, the north side of the forum is such a place, as the sidewalk forms a rim that prevents the water from flooding the forum. Another interesting point is between insulae VII 12 and VII 1, near the lupanare, where a raised sidewalk prevents the water from entering the narrow road between the two insulae, and, of course, the area in front of the Stabian Baths, which has a raised street surface and a drain underneath it. There are a couple of more places where one can see that money has been invested in keeping certain streets free from excess rainwater, but the best way to discover these is by walking through the streets, though they may be traceable on the Eschebach map.

Virginia Campbell said...

I am sure I came across something that mentioned drains in the Forum and perhaps some along the Via dell'Abbondanza. I think the general suggestion was that actual drains/sewers were fairly limited to the area of the Aldstadt. It might have been in something as basic as Hodge's book on aqueducts, although I am not sure how accurate that is in comparison to more specific Pompeian work.

Jo Berry said...

Thank you, Miko and Virginia!

Kevin Cole said...

A few good starting points: Jansen, G. (2000). “Systems for the Disposal of Waste and Excreta in Roman Cities. The
Situation in Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia.” In Sordis Urbis: La Eliminacion de
Residuos en la Ciudad Romana edited by X. Dupre Raventos & J.-A. Remola
Vallverdú. Rome: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider, 37-49.

Jansen, G. (2007). “The Water System Supply and Drainage.” In World of Pompeii edited
by J. Dobbins and P. Foss. New York: Routledge, 257-266;

At the south end of the forum the drain holes set into the caserta stone steps can still be seen. These appear to drain into a purpose built sewer (see Cozzi, S. & Sogliano, A. (1900). “La Fognatura di Pompei.” NSc, 587-599).

According to Arthur (Arthur, P. (1986). “Problems of the Urbanization of Pompeii: Excavations 1980-1981”
The Antiquities Journal 66, 29-44), at some point during the
later Republic the forum was equipped with a central sewer and subordinate culverts.
He also stated that the main sewer is a large vaulted structure, while the culverts varied in nature.

For the most part streets were used for channeling off rain water and aqueduct overflow, which as Miko pointed out, were designed or specifically modified to intentionally direct run-off to various exit points from the city (e.g. some of the gates [Porta Stabia has a purpose built channel for this] and possibly other exit points built into the the city walls). There is evidence for underground sewer lines, such as the one that runs from the Stabian Baths, across Abbondanza and toward the Triangular Forum, a small channel along vicolo del Balcone pensile, and the Forum latrine sewer that ran behind the 'Granaio'.

Jo Berry said...

That is great, Kevin! Thank you!

Eric Poehler said...


One more (self-serving) reference:


This is a paper I gave to the AIA in 2004 that has relevance to your student's question. Its short, but hey'll have to weed through the traffic discussion as well.

Duncan Keenan-Jones said...

To the previous excellent summaries, I can only belatedly add this reference:

Koga, M. (1991). "The surface drainage system of Pompeii." Opuscula Pompeiana 1: 57-72.

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