What danger users of the antique aqueducts were exposed to?

23.06.2020 | 15:29

After analyzing part of the city water supply, chemists of the University of Southern Denmark came to the unexpected conclusion that the pipes contained high levels of the toxic chemical element - minium. The concentration was so high that it clearly created problems for the ancient Romans.

In fairness, archaeologists have previously considered the Roman water pipes dangerous because they were made of lead: heavy metal accumulates in the body and eventually causes damage to the nervous system and the internal organs. However, the lead pipe is quickly calcined, thus preventing lead from getting into drinking water. That is, the water could be dangerous only from a new or only repaired pipeline, the rest of the time everything was fine.

Vesuvius is guilty again

Unlike lead, minium is very toxic. In other words, after drinking poisoned water, the reaction occurs immediately. This element is especially irritating to the intestines, which leads to deterioration and dehydration. In severe cases, minium can also affect the liver and kidneys, and in the worst case, cause cardiac arrest.

A small piece of metal weighing 40 mg from the Pompeii aqueduct was the first step in learning more about what water really was like in ancient Rome. But we can already say that the concentration of minium in drinking water in the city was even higher than in other parts of the Roman Empire. After all, the city was located next to the infamous volcano Vesuvius, which increased the concentration of antimony in groundwater.

What damage was from the water supply system in Olbia (the territory of modern Ukraine, the Mykolaiv area)?

Excavations at the Olbia necropolis revealed that there was an excess of calcium in the joints of the buried Olviopolitans. It is believed that by the age of 35, locals already had problems with joints, especially with the knees. The well-water itself, which was the basis of the Olbia water supply system, had an excess of calcium. Excessive doses of calcium and vitamin D can cause hypercalcemia, after which intensive calcification of bones and tissues is needed (mainly affecting the urinary system).

As we see the ancient Romans and Greeks may have had a problem with water quality. However, it should not be forgotten that the lack of water supply and sewerage leads to more serious consequences in the form of epidemics. What we can observe in the next ages, in the Middle Ages.