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Floods of the Tiber in Ancient Rome

Gregory S. Aldrete

Publication Year: 2007

While the remains of its massive aqueducts serve as tangible reminders of Rome’s efforts to control its supply of drinking water, there are scant physical reminders that other waters sometimes raged out of control. In fact, floods were simply a part of life in ancient Rome, where proximity to the Tiber left a substantial part of the city vulnerable to the river's occasional transgressions. Here, in the first book-length treatment of the impact of floods on an ancient city, Gregory S. Aldrete draws upon a diverse range of scientific and cultural data to develop a rich and detailed account of flooding in Rome throughout the classical period. Aldrete explores in detail the overflowing river’s destructive effects, drawing from ancient and modern written records and literary accounts, analyses of the topography and hydrology of the Tiber drainage basin, visible evidence on surviving structures, and the known engineering methods devised to limit the reach of rising water. He discusses the strategies the Romans employed to alleviate or prevent flooding, their social and religious attitudes toward floods, and how the threat of inundation influenced the development of the city's physical and economic landscapes.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Ancient Society and History


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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Figures and Tables

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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. xvii-xx

Researching and writing this book were made possible by financial support from several sources. Most prominent among these was the National Endowment for the Humanities, which offered crucial support both at the beginning and end stages of the project.This work had its...

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pp. 1-9

Floods and civilization have always been companions. The earliest civilizations, such as those in Mesopotamia, arose along rivers in floodplains. The reasons for settling in such hazardous regions were obvious; rivers offer routes of communication, and the floods themselves can deposit and renew the soil, increasing agricultural yields...

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One: Floods in Ancient Rome: Sources and Topography

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pp. 10-50

...city of Rome. The famous legend of its foundation focuses on thetwins, Romulus and Remus, descended from Aeneas through his son,Iulus. According to the well-known tale, Amulius, one of the descen-dants of Iulus, became king of Alba Longa by expelling his brother,Numitor, and murdering his brother’s sons. His brother’s daughter,...

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Two: Characteristics of Floods

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pp. 51-90

Before proceeding to a discussion of the duration, seasonality, frequency, and magnitude of Tiber floods, it will be useful to describe some of the basic hydrological processes of floods in general. A flood can be defined as a high streamflow that exceeds the natural or artificial banks of the stream. Floods are often schematized by their cause...

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Three: Immediate Effects of Floods

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pp. 91-128

The goal of this chapter and the next is to examine both the immediate and the delayed physical effects of floods on the ancient city of Rome and its inhabitants. This task poses a considerable challenge because there is very little in the primary sources about these consequences beyond...

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Four: Delayed Effects of Floods

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pp. 129-165

Long after the immediate crisis of a flood had passed, the waters had largely receded, and the cleanup process had begun, floods would have continued to have serious consequences for the inhabitants of the city. These delayed effects of a flood could in many cases prove more severe and could...

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Five: Methods of Flood Control

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pp. 166-203

Floods can be prevented or mitigated by a wide variety of methods. Historically, the emphasis has been on structural flood control involving works of engineering such as levees and dams, but more recently it has been realized that modifications in land use and vegetation cover can have equally...

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Six: Roman Attitudes Toward Floods

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pp. 204-231

In evaluating the Romans’ attitudes toward floods, one of the most basic questions is how the flood-prone nature of the city’s location affected the way that the physical city developed. Was flooding a significant factor in determining where the Romans chose to build various types of structures? Can we detect patterns in the manmade...

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pp. 232-240

Floods were indeed a serious problem for ancient Rome. Rome eventually grew into an enormous, architecturally complex city, but this densely populated, man-made urban landscape was situated on ground that was inherently marshy. Even worse, the city was located squarely in a flood plain and, in fact, had the...

Appendix I

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pp. 241-246

Appendix II

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pp. 247-252

Appendix III

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pp. 253-256


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pp. 257-302


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pp. 303-324


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pp. 325-340

E-ISBN-13: 9780801891885
E-ISBN-10: 0801891884
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801884054
Print-ISBN-10: 0801884055

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 23 halftones, 14 line drawings
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Ancient Society and History
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OCLC Number: 646769548
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Floods of the Tiber in Ancient Rome

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Subject Headings

  • Rome (Italy) -- History -- To 476.
  • Tiber River (Italy) -- History.
  • Floods -- Italy -- Rome -- History.
  • Floods -- Italy -- Tiber River -- History.
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