Water supply, sanitation and waste water disposal in ancient Ostia

This paper presented at the Ostia conference (November 1996) was divided into two parts. In the first part the methods for studying provisions of water supply, sanitation and waste water disposal were discussed. It was shown that one could gain more insights by a) realizing that all the different provisions of water supply and discharge are related, and b) by looking at the remains not as static archaeological artefacts, but as parts of a dynamic working system: once, these provisions delivered drinking water at the Ostian homes and carried away their waste water.

The second part concerned the impact of the natural surroundings on the lay-out and construction of Ostia's water and sanitation systems. It was shown that the high groundwater level made it easy to dig many wells on the one hand, but on the other hand made it impossible for cesspits to be used to collect faeces and urine from toilets. Therefore the inhabitants of Ostia were forced to install a sewer system which was expensive and required much maintenance.

The data for this research have been gathered in Ostia Antica from 1993-1995 and the results will be presented as a chapter in my dissertation 'Systems of water supply, sanitation and waste water disposal in Roman towns. The example of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia'. A brief preliminary report has been published as 'Die Wasserversorgung und Kanalisation in Ostia Antica; Die ersten Ergebnisse' in 'Mitteilungsheft der Frontinus-Gesellschaft' (1995) 19, page 111-123.

Gemma C.M. Jansen
Nijmegen University, The Netherlands