Roman Empire’s Eastern-most Aqueduct Found Half Finished in Armenia
“The most easterly arched aqueduct of the Roman Empire” was found in the Hellenistic royal city of Artashat-Artaxata, the large, commercial capital of ancient Armenia between the 2nd century BC and the 2nd century AD. The excavations which took place, under the aegis of the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität (WWU) Münster and the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, date back to 2019. The findings of the mapping out of Armenia’s half-finished Roman aqueduct have been published in the German journal, Archäologischer Anzeiger .
In the background of the Roman aqueduct excavation on Armenia’s Ararat plain stands legendary Mount Ararat. ( Armenian-German Artaxata Project )
The Half-finished Roman Aqueduct of a Defeated Province
"The monumental foundations are evidence of an unfinished aqueduct bridge built by the Roman army between 114 and 117 CE. At that time, Artaxata was destined to become the capital of a Roman province in Armenia,” explains author Professor Achim Lichtenberger from the Institute of Classical Archaeology and Christian Archaeology at the University of Münster. Incidentally, the Romans under Trajan (emperor of Rome between 98-117 AD), had tried to incorporate Armenia into the swollen empire’s eastward expansion.
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The researchers took an interesting route to arrive at their most important conclusion: that Roman imperialism failed in Armenia. Clearly the aqueduct is an indication that Artashat was supposed to become the capital of a Roman province , with evidence of great planning and architecture that went into its construction, reports Heritage Daily .
"The planned, and partially completed, construction of the aqueduct in Artaxata shows just how much effort was made, in a very short space of time, to integrate the infrastructure of the capital of the province into the Empire," said co-author Torben Schreiber from the Institute of Classical Archaeology and Christian Archaeology at the University of Münster. "The aqueduct remained unfinished because after Trajan's death, in 117 CE, his successor Hadrian relinquished the province of Armenia before the aqueduct was completed."
A model of the acropolis of Artaxata and the large buildings on top are clearly influenced by Roman and Hellenistic styles. If finished, the Roman aqueduct would have reached this ancient city. (Franck devedjian / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
How The Aqueduct Was Discovered and Mapped
The team used a multidisciplinary combination of methods from the fields of archaeology, geophysics, geochemistry, archaeoinformatics, and geomagnetism in their quest to map the Roman aqueduct across the Ararat Plain . The results were documented three-dimensionally from geomagnetic images. Then, additional drillings were carried out where evidence of unfinished and destroyed pillars of the aqueduct were located.
"We used satellite pictures and infrared images from a drone to visualize the course of the aqueduct's pillars," says co-author Dr. Mkrtich Zardaryan from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography at the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia. "We reconstructed the planned course of the aqueduct by means of a computer-assisted path analysis between the possible sources of the water and its destination."
Finally, scientific analysis and soil sample studies dated the aqueduct to between 60 and 460 AD, making the reign of Emperor Trajan the most likely, considering his past history with constructing aqueducts, like Italy’s famed Aqua Traiana, built in 109 AD. It channeled water from sources near Lake Bracciano, 40 kms (25 miles) north-west of Rome, and was one of the big achievements of Trajan’s reign.
The multiple arches of the Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct in modern-day southern France. The upper tier encloses an aqueduct that carried water to Nimes in Roman times; its lower tier was expanded in the 1740s to carry a wide road across the river. (Benh LIEU SONG / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The History of Roman Aqueducts
Roman aqueducts are one of the most visible features and achievements of the Roman civilization. Literally a water conduit, it was a channel used to transport fresh water to highly populated areas, akin to a canal of sorts in modern-day terminology. Ancient Egypt and India too had developed such mechanisms, but it was really the Romans who were able to improve upon these designs and create something even more effective.
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All across the Roman Empire’s expanse there were these arched aqueducts with bridges constructed using rounded stone arches. They are found even today in France (the most famous one is Pont du Gard in Roman Gaul), Spain, Greece, Jordan, and Turkey, to name a few.
They were built, painstakingly, over a period of 500 years, i.e., roughly from the early 4th century BC to the middle of the 3rd century AD. Roman aqueduct projects were commissioned by high-ranking rulers like Augustus, and Trajan. Sometimes, the fresh water carried by a Roman aqueduct came from sources as far away as 100 kilometers (62 miles).
Top image: An excavation trench showing a pillar of the unfinished Roman aqueduct now mapped out in Armenia by researchers from the Armenian-German Artaxata Project hosted at University of Münster. Source: Armenian-German Artaxata Project
By Sahir Pandey
Heritage Daily. 2021. Roman aqueduct discovered in Armenia . Available at: https://www.heritagedaily.com/2021/11/roman-aqueduct-discovered-in-armenia/142015
Smith, Philip. 2021. Aquaeductus. Available at: https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Aquaeductus.html
University of Munster. 2021. Easternmost Roman aqueduct discovered in Armenia . Available at: https://www.uni-muenster.de/news/view.php?cmdid=12171