Cities of Vesuvius

- Syllabus Content -

Everyday life: leisure activities, food and dining, clothing, health, baths, water supply and sanitation

Exterior of the castellum acquae, Pompeii
Water Supply and Sanitation

"Service areas" p116; "Water Supply" p117

Water supply

Before they were connected to the aqueduct, Pompeii and Herculaneum relied on wells for drawing up ground water, and cisterns under the impluvium which stored collected rainwater.

From the Augustan period, Pompeii and Herculaneum were both serviced by an aqueduct from the Acquaro springs. At Pompeii, the water flowed into the castellum acquae, at the highest point of the town, from where it was directed by three mains and branch lines throughout the town. Water pressure was reduced by water towers throughout the town. Water pipes were made of lead.

Water tower, Cardo IV Herculaneum

The water supplied the fountains, gardens and service areas of some houses, as well as public baths, latrines and the many public fountains. 42 public fountains have been found in Pompeii and three in Herculaneum. Water was used by some industries, e.g., fullers and wool-dyers.

The water flowed continuously.
Fountain of Abbundance, Via dell'Abbondanza, Pompeii

Lead water distributor, under garden in House of the Little Bronze Bull, Pompeii


The latrine in a house was next to the kitchen (because of the common water supply). It was flushed by piped water or kitchen waste.

In Pompeii, some houses had a cesspit. These would have overflowed into the street in heavy rain. Chamber pots were also used, with the contents emptied in the street or onto public dung heaps. Three public dung heaps have been found.
It is probable that fullers left containers for urine collection outside their workshops.

There were some drains under the forum area, though mostly the streets were the stormwater and sewerage system. Overflow from cisterns and fountains constantly flushed the waste from the streets. The lower gates (Nola, Stabia and Nuceria) had gutters for the sewage to flow out and into the Sarno river.
There were public toilets near the forum, in the baths and the palaestra. There was no toilet paper: they used a sponge on a stick!

In Herculaneum, overflow from cisterns and fountains flushed out the streets. However, there was an underground sewerage system. Three main lines have been found, aligned with the three excavated cardini. They flowed downhill and into the sea. The photo below (Cardo V) shows the street sloping down to the sea. Also there is no need for the stepping stones which were prevalent in Pompeii.


A public notice at the corner of Cardo IV and Decumanus Maximus (see photo below) indicates that the streets of Herculaneum were not flowing with waster as in Pompeii, and that they wanted to keep it that way:
If anyone wishes to dispose of dung in this place, he is advised that it is not permitted. If anyone acts contrary to this notice, free persons will be fined, slaves will be punished by beatings to their rears. (CIL IV 10488)