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530Roman Water-Engineers #3

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  • James Mathews
    Feb 26, 2014
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      >>>> Roman Water-Engineers #3 <<<<

      The lead pipes were made in lengths of ten Roman feet, i.e. 9 ft. 8 1/2 in, or 2.95 m.  There were ten standard sizes, each named for the width of the sheet used -- that is, the circumferance plus the overlap, not the diameter as specified nowadays.  The sizes are measured in ‘digits’, this unit being 1/16th of a Roman foot -- 0.73 in. or 1.85 cm.  From the weight of lead which Vitruvius specifies for one length of pipe, it can be seen (according to him) the lead sheet ought to be cast, or cast and rolled, to a standard thickness of just under 1/4 in. (0.247 in. or 6.27 mm) regardless of the pipe diameter, which is a little surprising.  The lengths were joined together either by butting them end-to-end and soldering a collar around, or by flaring one end and tapering down the other, inserting the taper into the flare, and sweating the joint together by the application of heat, but how this was done is not clear.

      Eathenware pipes (tubuli fictiles) were made in shorter lengths, but with much thicker walls -- Vitruvius recommends ‘not less than two digits’ (1.46 in. or 3.7 cm).  Each section had to be ‘tongued’ -- that is, drawn to a smaller diameter at one end.  This was probably done on a potter’s wheel, in which case the length of each section would be limited to about 3-4 ft. (1-1.2m).  To seal the joints ,Vitruvius suggests ‘quicklime worked up with olive oil’.  He concludes with a characteristically Roman tip -- crude but practical.  When the pipeline is complete, and the water is first let into it, some wood ash shoud be thrown into the tank at the supply end.  This will find its way into any cracks or leaks in the system, and help clogging them up (‘grouting’ is the technical term).  Some modern preparations for curing leaks in car radiators work on exactly the same principal.

      In the Pergamon water system some or all of the joints between pipe sections were enclosed in retangular stone blocks, the pipes passing through a round hole just above the middle of each block.


      >> L. Sprague de Camp, “The Ancient Engineers,” (Ballentine Books, 1974);

      >> L. and R. Adkins, “Handbook to Life In Ancient Rome,” (Oxford Univ. Press, 1998);

      >> Frontinius, C.E. Bennett (trans.), “Aqueducts of Rome,” (Harvard University Press, 1997);

      >> J. G. Landels, “Engineering In the Ancient World,” (Univ. of California Press, 1981). 

      Respectfully Submitted;

      Marcus Audens