Cloaca Maxima

Cloaca Maxima
Map of central Rome during the time of the Roman Empire, showing Cloaca Maxima in red

The Cloaca Maxima is one of the world's earliest sewage systems. Constructed in Ancient Rome in order to drain local marshes and remove the waste of one of the world's most populous cities, it carried an effluent to the River Tiber, which ran beside the city.[1]

The name literally means Greatest Sewer. According to tradition it may have been initially constructed around 600 BC under the orders of the king of Rome, Tarquinius Priscus.[2]

This public work was largely achieved through the use of Etruscan engineers and large amounts of semi-forced labour from the poorer classes of Roman citizens. Underground work is said to have been carried out on the sewer by Tarquinius Superbus, Rome's seventh and last king.[3]

Although Livy describes it as being tunnelled out beneath Rome, he was writing centuries after the event. From other writings and from the path that it takes, it seems more likely that it was originally an open drain, formed from streams from three of the neighbouring hills, that were channelled through the main Forum and then on to the Tiber.[2] This open drain would then have been gradually built over, as building space within the city became more valuable. It is possible that both theories are correct, and certainly some of the main lower parts of the system suggest that they would have been below ground level even at the time of the supposed construction.

The eleven aqueducts which supplied water to Rome by the first century AD were finally channelled into the sewers after having supplied the many public baths such as the Baths of Diocletian and the Baths of Trajan, the public fountains, imperial palaces and private houses.[4][5] The continuous supply of running water helped to remove wastes and keep the sewers clear of obstructions. The best waters were reserved for potable drinking supplies, and the second quality waters would be used by the baths, the outfalls of which connected to the sewer network under the streets of the city. The aqueduct system was investigated by the general Frontinus at the end of the first century AD, who published his report on its state direct to the emperor Nerva.


Distribution system

"The extraordinary greatness of the Roman Empire manifests itself above all in three things: the aqueducts, the paved roads, and the construction of the drains."

There were many branches off from the main sewer, but all seem to be 'official' drains that would have served public toilets, bath-houses and other public buildings. Private residences in Rome, even of the rich, would have relied on some sort of cess-pit arrangement for sewage.

The Cloaca Maxima was well maintained throughout the life of the Roman Empire and even today drains rainwater and debris from the center of town, below the ancient Forum, Velabro and Foro Boario. In 33 BC it is known to have received an inspection and overhaul from Agrippa, and archaeology reveals several building styles and material from various ages, suggesting that the systems received regular attention. In more recent times, the remaining passages have been connected to the modern-day sewage system, mainly to cope with problems of backwash from the river.

The Cloaca Maxima was thought to be presided over by the goddess Cloacina.

Outfall of Cloaca Maxima as it appears today.

The Romans are recorded — the veracity of the accounts depending on the case — to have dragged the bodies of a number of people to the sewers rather than give them proper burial, among them the emperor Elagabalus and Saint Sebastian: the latter scene is the subject of a well-known artwork by Lodovico Carracci.

The outfall of the Cloaca Maxima into the River Tiber is still visible today near the bridge Ponte Rotto, and near Ponte Palatino. There is a stairway going down to it visible next to the Basilica Julia at the Forum. (Some pictures here, and here.) Some of it is also visible from the surface opposite the church of San Giorgio al Velabro.

The Empire

The system of Roman sewers was much imitated throughout the Roman Empire, especially when combined with copious supplies of water from Roman aqueducts. The sewer system in Eboracum — the modern-day English city of York — was especially impressive and part of it still survives.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Aldrete, Gregory S. (2004). Daily life in the Roman city: Rome, Pompeii and Ostia. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313331749, pp.34-35.
  2. ^ a b Waters of Rome Journal - 4 - Hopkins.indd
  3. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1.56
  4. ^ Woods, Michael (2000). Ancient medicine: from sorcery to surgery. Twenty-First Century Books. ISBN 9780822529927, p.81.
  5. ^ Lançon, Bertrand (2000). Rome in late antiquity: everyday life and urban change, AD 312-609. Routledge. ISBN 9780415929752, p.13.
  6. ^ Quilici, Lorenzo (2008): "Land Transport, Part 1: Roads and Bridges", in: Oleson, John Peter (ed.): The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World, Oxford University Press, New York, ISBN 978-0-19-518731-1, pp. 551–579 (552)
  7. ^ Darvill, Timothy, Stamper, Paul and Timby, Jane (2002). England: an Oxford archaeological guide to sites from earliest times to AD 1600. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192841018, pp. 162-163.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Cloaca Maxima — Lieu de construction Rome Date de construction monarchie romaine Ordonné par Tarquin l Ancien Type de bâtiment Égout Le plan de R …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Cloaca maxima — Lieu de constructio …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Cloaca Maxima II — Compilation album by CMX Released 2004 …   Wikipedia

  • Cloaca maxima — Cloaca mạxima   [lateinisch] die, ältester und wichtigster Entwässerungskanal im antiken Rom, bereits im 6. Jahrhundert v. Chr. angelegt zur Trockenlegung der Sumpfgebiete zwischen den Hügeln, ausgebaut zur Zeit Sullas mit einer aus einem… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Cloāca maxĭma — Cloāca maxĭma, ein noch aus dem Altertum erhaltener unterirdischer Abzugskanal in Rom, s. Kloake …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Cloaca Máxima — La Cloaca Máxima (latín Cloaca Maxima) era una de las más antiguas redes de alcantarillado del mundo. Construida en la Antigua Roma con el fin de drenar los pantanos locales y eliminar los desperdicios de una de la ciudades más pobladas del mundo …   Wikipedia Español

  • Cloaca Maxima — Mündung der Cloaca Maxima in den Tiber …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Cloaca maxima — Clo|a|ca ma|xi|ma [klo a:ka ] die; <aus lat. cloaca maxima »Hauptkanal«> der älteste, vom 6. Jh. bis ins 1. Jh. v. Chr. gebaute, zugleich bedeutendste Entwässerungskanal Roms …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • Cloaca Maxima — …   Википедия

  • Cloaca Maxima — ▪ ancient structure, Rome, Italy       ancient Roman sewer, one of the oldest monuments in the Roman Forum. Originally an open channel constructed in the 6th century BC by lining an existing stream bed with stone, it was enclosed, beginning in… …   Universalium

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