Ancient Water Delivery

By 3000 BC, lead was discovered by the human race and it was in use as a method for water delivery systems.  The ancient Romans used lead for making water pipes and lining baths, and the plumber who joins and mends pipes takes his name from the Latin word plumbum, meaning lead.  Lead has been used in water piping in many cultures (Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt and Greece) since ancient times.  Greece had a system of aqueducts, but for the most part, few above-ground structural arches were incorporated; a lot of tunnels through hills, siphons under valley/rivers, etc.  Sewers in Athens delivered storm water and human wastes to a collection basin outside of town.  From the basin, the storm water and wastes were conveyed through brick-lined conduits to fields to irrigate fruit orchards and field crops.

Siphons are unique devices that allow water to defy gravity, so water can be raised higher than the supply elevation before eventually falling to the delivery elevation.  A siphon uses the differences in elevation and atmospheric pressure to make water flow.  If each end of the pipe is submerged and air is removed at the high point, then the pipe is primed, atmospheric pressure on the supply water surface will move water up the pipe to the high point, as long as this point is set at an appropriate elevation, and gravity will move the water from there down to the delivery point.

Around 1780 BC, during the time of Hammurabi, rain was sparse in Babylon and it usually only rained during the winter months.  The average annual rainfall was only 8 inches per year and having multiple years of drought was common.  During the reign of King Hammurabi the snow that melted in the spring from the Armenian Mountains was captured and diverted into lowlands near irrigated fields.  An elaborate system of dikes was maintained to channel these spring floodwaters into storage reservoirs and then into irrigation channels for delivery to the field.  When this was properly managed, irrigation water would be available through the dry summer months.

Around 960 BC, King Solomon (1018-978 BC) developed one of the most impressive ancient water systems in Judah.  Some of these facilities have been rehabilitated and have provided service to Jerusalem as they did many cen­turies ago.  The water source is in the hills southwest of the city.  Solomon’s system included a series of three reservoirs constructed in a valley among those hills.  The basins were shaped with essentially straight boundaries, each having four sides, with the lowest reservoir additionally divided into two chambers by a transverse wall.  Dimensions of the ponds vary from about 360 feet to 480 feet in length and from 27 feet to 63 feet in depth.  Part of the water supply came from springs at the reservoirs.  One of these fed a tank at the side of the uppermost impoundment, where flow was controlled so that delivery could be made either into storage or into the aqueduct extending to Jerusalem.  He also constructed a water system of pools for the purpose of securing a plentiful supply of water for the city.

Another great engineering feat of King Solomon was called the Pools of Solomon, the system of water supply for his capital, Jerusalem.  These pools were connected by covered aqueducts, the first known in history.  Solomon also provided for a sufficient water supply for the temple by hewing in the rocky hill vast cisterns, into which water was conveyed by channels from the pools near Bethlehem.  One of these cisterns, the ‘great sea’, was capable of containing three million gallons.  The overflow was led off by a conduit to the Kidron.

Solomon also built a watering pool in Megiddo in the middle of a large courtyard, surrounded by a stone wall.  To safeguard the city’s water supply in times of siege, a subterranean water system was hewn in the rock in the western part of the city, which made it possible to reach the spring at the foot of the hill outside the walls without being seen by the enemy.  This project required considerable engineering ingenuity and an enormous amount of hard labor.  The water system consists of a square, 80 foot deep vertical shaft and an 260 foot long horizontal tunnel.  In order to hide the source of water from the enemy and to protect the users of the water system, a particularly thick wall, camouflaged by a covering of earth, was constructed at the entrance to the cave from which the spring emanates, blocking access from the outside.  The Ecclesiastes section of the Bible which is said to contain the wisdom of Solomon states that: all the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

9 thoughts on “Ancient Water Delivery

  1. Nice, I was confused with dike. But than remembered oh! Dyke.. (American English use dike).. I have heard it is still used in Jerusalem today. But man that must have been some back breaking labour..

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