Water Management


Water collection was an important part of ancient Pompeii. Sources of water included wells, cisterns, reservoirs, and a water supply line. Many dwellings collected their own rainwater and supplemented with the city’s water. While the main objective of the city’s supplied water from the Castellum Aquae was to supply public fountains throughout the city, pipes fed water to various were used to meet the demands of dwellings, businesses, and public bath houses. (Crouch, 1993)



The building was situated in the northern region at the highest point (42 m) of the city at Porta Vesuvio. It was utilized as a roofed reservoir to distribute incoming water from the Augustan aqueduct (Aqua Augusta) of Serino to the pipelines into the city.

Castellum Aquae with three openings for distribution of water. The middle opening is raised while the left and right opening are at the same height. (Source: Pompeiisites.org)

It is believed that ancient hydraulic engineering techniques were achieved by a circular basin within the building which split into three channels with a gate system to control water flow. This would allow for them to appropriate and prioritize the water supply (via water rationing) to the outgoing pipelines. The drop pressure would transport the water the Castellum Aquae towards the designated pipelines into the city (Olsson, 2015)(Archaeological Park of Pompeii, n.d.). Water would be transported from the pipelines to secondary water towers (Castella Secundaria). To ensure equal pressure throughout the city, water towers were built with top containers which established the pressure to serve the local needs (Wilkinson, 2019).


The city of Pompeii was served by an aqueduct system called Aqua Augusta. The aqueduct was built to connect cities along the Bay of Naples to Serino’s springs. Quality water travelled 96 kilometers to Pompeii from 370 meters above sea level (Olsson, 2015). Roman engineers created a downward slope from start to finish, relying on gravity for the movement of water.


Water towers, large elevated tanks, were used to hold water and reduce water pressure. The water was supplied to the top containers of the water tower and were distributed throughout town by designated pipelines (street fountains, public baths, private homes, workshops, et al.). The towers were a series of linked siphons that were managed (Crouch, 1993). Fourteen have been identified (by excavation). In addition to the major water source provided. The Romans also relied on additional water sources for their potable needs, rainwater and groundwater.


Groundwater was another water source for Pompeii. Wells were utilized for both public and private use. It served as the most reliable source of water as rainwater catchment was dependent on rain and the aqueduct had to partition the water to serve multiple purposes. With 22 groundwater wells identified, a journal by Lorenz and Wolfram suggested that more may be in existence with further excavation. The water table was deep and estimated at 20 m (65 ft) below the surface (Wilkinson, 2019). (Lorenz & Wolfram, 2014) Public wells were situated throughout the city in Vico di Narciso, Via del Foro, the Forum, the Stabian Baths, the Triangular Forum, and the Vesuvius Gate (Wilkinson, 2019).


An additional source of water for households was the rainwater collected from the roofs. Buildings were designed to capture and collect the rainwater. Some buildings had large open-roofed rooms called atriums. Atriums were constructed with inward-sloping roofs with rectangular openings, compluviums, to allow water to shed off the roof and into a basin, impluvium, below.

An impluvium located in the atrium which collected rainwater. (Source: Jim Park)

The impluviumThe impluvium, constructed with two drains, allowed for regulation of the rainwater by closing one of the two drains. Rainwater which was not-potable and dirty from roof debris and dust after long periods of drought were directed to flow into the street. When rainwater ran clear and deemed potable, the rainwater catchment would be directed into the subterranean cisterns. (Lorenz & Wolfram, 2014) (Schram, 2019)

  1. Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Pompeii Sites, http://pompeiisites.org/en/.
  2. Eschebach 1996, 3 and n. 9, indicating oral information from A. Casale and M. Pagano.
  3. Crouch, D. P. (1993). Water management in ancient Greek cities. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (https://tinyurl.com/y6tag2w6)
  4. Lorenz, Wayne, and Edward Wolfram. The Wells of Pompeii. Ground Water, 20 June 2014, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Wayne_Lorenz/publication/262931943_The_Wells_of_Pompeii/links/5768001a08ae421c448df128/The-Wells-of-Pompeii.pdf.
  5. Schram, W. D., Van Opstal, D., & Passchier, C. (2019, January). Pompeii (Italy). Retrieved from http://www.romanaqueducts.info/aquasite/pompeii/index.html.
  6. Wilkinson, Paul. Pompeii: an Archaeological Guide. Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.

Catalina Rivas, Graduate Student
Fall 2019