The Pressures That Were Rome

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The Pressures That Were Rome

Engineering was among the skills that allowed the Romans to expand and maintain their vast empire: the roads that led to Rome, Hadrian’s Wall that divided Britannia, the Coliseum, the Pantheon and aqueducts, the plumbing that brought water to the Seven Hills.

The Aqua Claudia, one of 11 aqueducts of Rome, channeled fresh water 46 miles into Rome (Unearthed: S7 E12, Seven Wonders of Rome) based on gravity alone without any additional pressure. To maintain a consistent gradient with minimal deterioration of the channel, the water flowed due to a drop of only 9 inches (0.3 psi) in 30 feet.

Roman Aqueducts - Aqua ClaudiaA mountain channel and portion of Aqua Claudia

According to legend, one of the more amazing water pressure feats in Rome was the flooding of the Coliseum to hold simulated sea battles. Archeologists believe a three-foot-wide tunnel running between the walls of the Coliseum may lead to a labyrinth of circular channels that flooded the floor in the center of the arena. The hydraulic system would have required significant pressure and produced a rapid flow of water to flood the arena to a depth of around 1 ½ meters with 3 ½ million gallons of water within a few hours. Water flowing directly from the aqueducts could not have produced these results.

Discovering the ruins of a monumental fountain uphill from the Coliseum, archeologists speculate that water from an aqueduct fed the fountain and was stored 6 meters (almost 20 feet) above the Coliseum. With a sufficiently steep grade, the hydraulic pressure from this height (8.7 psi) may have been enough to accomplish the flooding. After the sea spectacle, four huge drainage channels opened to flush the water away so the more well-known gladiator competitions could be held.

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