Everybody today takes their water supply for granted. We never consider where the water comes from or where it takes the waste to. As far as we car, it just sort of happens. But this mindset is modern.
During the Dark Ages, many of the disease and plagues that wiped out thousands of people, most famously “The Black Death,” could be attributed to improper disposal of waste and contaminated drinking water. Proper piping systems could have prevented some of those deaths.
This makes it seem like plumbing is a new technology, but that is simply not the case. The true inventors of plumbing and architects of elaborate sewage systems were the Ancient Romans, tracing back as early as 800 BC.
So why did Middle Age citizens suffer from plagues? Because the empire’s collapse reversed most of the hard work and accomplishments, setting plumbing back for generations.
Roman Plumbing Technology
Unbelievably, Romans had plumbing technology that was similar to the systems we use in modern times, including sewers, latrines, and aqueducts.
The Roman Aqueducts were a system of eleven distribution tunnels that carried water throughout Rome. Latrines, which are ancient outhouses, became important places to socialize in Rome. They received recycled water to flush away bodily waste into nearby streams and rivers, while the best quality water was used for sanitary measures, like cooking.
The sewer systems began as public services, but were later developed as an integral component of private residences, although it is believed that Roman people threw rubbish from the windows of their houses onto the streets.
In reality, Roman citizens actually became accustomed to high standards of hygienic living, similar to what we have today. Unfortunately, the concept of plumbing never caught on during the Middle Ages…
Ancient Roman pipes were made of terra cotta and reinforced with concrete to prevent bursting. Luckily, modern pipes are more durable. But they still get clogged from time to time.
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