A Brief History of Ancient Plumbing and Sewer Systems

by Ameriserve RepipingDerived from the Latin word for “lead,” plumbing, as we know it, extends back to the urban environments of the Indus Valley Civilization of 2700 BCE. In its earliest inception, plumbing took the form of earthen piping that transported liquid water and waste by way of broad flanges, avoiding leaks through the application of asphalt. Later innovations in plumbing took place in ancient Greece, Persia, China, India, and Rome, where early engineers created the aqueduct, sewers, and lead piping systems for potable water.

Rough estimates place the development of the first Roman sewers in the eighth or ninth century BCE. They were initially used to drain storm runoff and marshes. Approximately 200 years later, the Cloaca Maxima (“Greatest Sewer”) built by Etruscan engineers flowed through Central Rome, draining the land surrounding the Forum and emptying into the Tiber River. The Cloaca Maxima eventually served as the main artery of the Roman sewage network, connecting individual houses and public facilities to the system. Covered in 33 B.C., the Cloaca Maxima became one of the first-known underground sewer systems in the world.

For potable water, the Ancient Romans used lead piping systems, which surprisingly resulted in infrequent cases of lead poisoning, as the rich calcium levels in the water created an internal plaque barrier, normally preventing contact with the lead itself. During the Dark Ages, much of the plumbing technology of Ancient Rome was forgotten and little modern advancement took place until the 19th century, in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.

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