A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Tracking the ancient world's longest aqueduct, which sustained Constantinople for eight centuries
Armed with survey equipment and hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, a survey team from the University of Newcastle has spent the last four years tracing a route of collapsed water channels and ruined bridges that snakes some 150 miles from the western Turkish city of Vize to Istanbul.
Very little is known of how this system--at least two and one-half times longer than the longest recorded Roman aqueducts at Cologne and Carthage--was built or maintained, how it was protected, and how often it was attacked, or where precisely the water came from. It has been ignored in most of the literature on Roman hydraulic engineering, and the first systematic attempt to document the system, which sustained Constantinople from its rise as the center of eastern Christendom in the late fourth century to the beginning of its decline in the twelfth century, was published only six years ago. The inhospitable, near-inaccessible landscape that has preserved so much of the system for more than 1,500 years has also hampered its study, a point I quickly understood when I accompanied the archaeologists on their survey.
The Newcastle team has discovered how this long-distance aqueduct--sometimes referred to as the Aqueduct of Valens after the emperor most closely associated with it--was improved and extended over the 100 to 150 years following its inauguration, with narrow channels running over single-tier bridges replaced by wide channels carried over two- and three-tier "superaqueduct" bridges. They're beginning to understand how the system was affected by earthquakes and invaders, how and when it was repaired, and how it finally succumbed to the ravages of nature and man in the twelfth century A.D.
Kristin M. Romey is managing editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.