Guest Post : Water and Pompeii I of 2 by Caroline Brehaut / by Anthony Gibbins

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome Caroline Brehaut to Legonium. Caroline is a dear friend and a spectacular historian. She received an Australian Commonwealth Scholarship to study a Master’s Degree at Oxford University and was awarded the University Medal at Macquarie University in her home town of Sydney.

Roman hydraulic engineering is undeniably cool, whether you are looking at the self-flushing toilets at Housesteads (a fort on Hadrian’s Wall), or the Qanat Firaun, a 170 km long aqueduct that runs underground in Syria (aka the Gadara Aqueduct).

But it is a common misconception to imagine a town like Pompeii with clean sparkling streets, white marble, and well groomed, freshly bathed inhabitants. Rather, Roman cities would have more resembled 18th Century Paris: a breathtakingly cacophonous, odiferous, garish mess of colour and filth and wealth and poverty, all smooshed into one. (If you have ever seen the HBO mini-series Rome, you will know what I am talking about.) What impact could a piece of infrastructure, even one as splendid as an aqueduct, have had on such glorious squalor?

Nonetheless, aqueducts are amazing. Pompeii had fresh water piped in from the nearby springs at Acquaro, about 26 km from the town, from sometime in the late 1st century BC – mid 1st century AD. Until then, rain water was the citizens' only water supply. It would have collected in cisterns beneath the impluvia open roofs of many of the wealthier homes in town. Those less fortunate could collect water from public wells, or indeed make the walk to the bank of the River Sarno. The aqueduct improved matters, ensuring a fairly continuous supply of FRESH and FLOWING water, however tainted with lead from the piping.

The name, aqueduct, is apt. aqua water was ductus led down from the springs. This was done without the aid of a mechanised pump, instead relying on water pressure and gravity, via pipes above, below or at ground level (ductus comes from the Verb duco I lead, cognate with the Noun dux leader). The underlying principle was that water, given the opportunity, will of course flow downward. When an aqueduct carries water over a long distance, it must gradually slope down towards its destination, but not too steeply. The gradient has to be maintained with astonishing accuracy so that the water will continue to flow steadily, smoothly, and marginally downhill, over tens of kilometres.

Caroline’s piece will conclude tomorrow. If you or one of your students would like to write a Guest Post for Legonium, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached on

Soon we arrived at the baths. Today the baths are only ruins, but we were able to imagine in our mind(s) people washing themselves there.

The Lego model of Pompeii is housed in the Nicholson Museum of The University of Sydney, Australia. Entry to the museum is entirely free, and you may visit Monday to Friday between 10:00 and 4:30. The Nicholson is Australia’s oldest University museum and contains the largest collection of antiquities in the Southern Hemisphere. 

The Pompeii model was commissioned by the Nicholson and constructed by LEGO Professional Builder Ryan McNaught. It is the third such model the museum has exhibited, following the Colosseum and Acropolis.  The Colosseum was returned to McNaught and recently exhibited around Australia. The Acropolis was denoted by the Nicholson to the Acropolis Museum in Athens. The Pompeii model is estimated to include 190 000 bricks and took 420 hours to complete.