Saturday, October 30, 2021

How did the Roman aqueducts not have dirty, bug-infested water in them?

I knew that there was a reason for all that vinegar ration hande to roman soldiers.  It purified local drinking water.  We use iodine to do the same.

It was common household practise everywhere.  Today we all have salt at home.

All this is a practical response to generally a pretty problematic water supply and not enough for badly infected water.  Yet good enough for most.

How did the Roman aqueducts not have dirty, bug-infested water in them?

B.S. in Civil Engineering & Highway Engineering, Universidad La Gran Colombia (Graduated 1984)Updated Jul 20

Pick me, pick me!

Unlike other answers I know what I am talking about… ;)

Actually, I know how to build a modern aqueduct and I also know that Romans (and everybody for centuries) did have bug-infested water that probably would make sick any of the modern, soft people (me included) that you find around today, if we drank water straight from Roman fountains.

Romans (and people in rural parts without modern aqueducts) knew that aqueduct water cannot be drink “raw” without treatment because amoebas can kill you, even if water has no fecal matter and seems not turbid and is actually running water.

Your grandparents and great-grandparents did not have the luxury of clean water direct from faucets and filtered water from refrigerators that you have today, so the Romans did what people have done for centuries.

In short, they added alcohol, acetic acid or myrrh to the water after boiling it (when boiling was possible, which rarely was).

Actually, boiling was used but not to clean the water but to concentrate the sugar of the must in such a way that a good Roman wine, made of concentrated must full of fructose, could kick your ass in minutes.

You did NOT use such concentrated wine to get drunk at the orgy, task for what you had other less intense wines, but you carried it around or bought the concentrate to add to water at the nearest “taberna vinaria” (like Moe’s but with wine) in hopes of not kicking the bucket, figuratively speaking, ha, ha, by drinking the filthy water you encountered on your (kind of filthy) travels.

That is why beer and wine were invented and how civilization started in Memphis in Egypt, 6000 years ago or more and, as Hannah Madden points out in the comments, is also one of the reasons why tea was used as a medicinal beverage in China and more recently in Europe since 1610, give or take.

However, is not like if our ancestors were a collection of drunkards and beer and wine lovers.

Well, maybe some people in the Pabon family were actual drunkards, specially when you take in account that Pabón is an eminently gypsy last name and we, Roma, have a festive attitude and the occasional black sheep uncle, but I digress.

Is only that is very hard to become civilized while diarrhea (excuse my English) is killing you and your will to live.

We all know that you don’t make clean water by converting it into running water (as other answers state) but by killing germs, as Pasteur informed us.

Besides, what could be better than cleaning the water and getting feisty our Roman great-great-great-grandmothersaurius at the same time ?

Pompeii image of a wine tavern, to the right of the house entrance, version by Luigi Bazzani, included grandma at the door getting some flowers after water was treated to make it healthy. Tavern were the name for those spaces to left and right of the main door that were rented for different things, not only for selling wine

If you want to read a bit more, continue.

Roman water was treated but not like today, when you can drink water because it has chlorine added at the source but by adding vinegar or wine after collecting the water from the aqueduct.

Vinegar added water was common, even for poor people and it was called posca.Posca - Wikipedia
Ancient Roman drink Posca was an Ancient Roman drink, made by mixing vinegar , water, salt and perhaps herbs. It was the soldiers, the lower classes, and the slaves who drank posca, a drink despised by the upper class [ citation needed ] . The widespread use of posca is attested by numerous mentions by ancient sources ranging from the natural histories of Pliny the Elder to the comedies of Plautus . When on campaign, generals and emperors could show their solidarity with common soldiers by drinking posca, as did Cato the Elder (as recorded by Plutarch ) and the emperor Hadrian , who according to the Historia Augusta "actually led a soldier’s life…and, after the example of Scipio Aemilianus , Metellus , and his own adoptive father Trajan , cheerfully ate out of doors such camp-fare as bacon, cheese and vinegar." A decree of AD 360 ordered that lower ranks of the army should drink posca and wine on alternate days. [1] Girolamo Cardano , in his Encomium Neronis of 1562, attributed the superiority of the Roman armies to only three factors: the great quantities of levies, their sturdiness and ability to carry heavy weights due to training, and good foods such as salted pork, cheese, and the use of posca as a drink. [2] Etymology [ edit ] The word posca is derived from either the Latin potor ("to drink") or from the Greek epoxos ("very sharp"). [3] As the Greeks lacked a word for posca , sources written in Greek, such as Plutarch and the Gospels, use the word οξος ( oxos , "vinegar") in its place (translated as acetum in the Vulgate Bible). The word eventually migrated into Greek from about the 6th century AD onwards as the Byzantine army continued the Roman tradition of drinking what they termed phouska . Posca was composed of watered-down wine vinegar, but at times it could have included other herbs to improve the taste. For example, the Byzantine writers Aëtius of Amida and Paul of Aegina , from the 6th and 7th centuries, recorded a posca recipe used for laxative purposes that included cumin , fennel seed, celery seed, anise , thyme , and salt. [4] The Natural History by Pliny the Elder recounts a posca that was mixed with myrrh or gall. Myrrh was used in ancient times for general pleasure and as an analgesic . [5] See also [ edit ] References [ edit ] ^ Dalby, Andrew. "Posca" entry in Food in the Ancient World from A to Z , p. 270. Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0-415-23259-7 ^ Cardano, Girolamo. Emperor Nero: Son of Promise, Child of Hope (translated by Angelo Paratico) pp.185-6, Gingko Edizioni, Verona, 2019. ISBN 978-1689118538 ^ Roth, Jonathan. The Logistics of the Roman Army at War (264 B.C.-A.D. 235) , pp. 37-38. BRILL, 1999. ISBN 90-04-11271-5 ^ Dalby, Andrew. Tastes of Byzantium: The Cuisine of a Legendary Empire , page 90. I.B. Tauris, 2010. ^ Pliny the Elder [-79 CE], trans. John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley, "Wines Drunk by the Ancient Romans", The Natural History [c. 77 CE], book 14, ch. 15. London: H.G. Bohn, 1855. 253, available online at bo

Myrrh was also added as an antiseptic.

Both methods produced a bitter water.

Myrrh means “bitter” and posca means, literally, “potable”.

Myrrh tincture. Myrrh was one of the gifts the Wise Men gave to baby Jesus.

A third alternative is to add “young wine” made from must (crushed grapes).

The first possibility (posca water or water with vinegar) was relatively cheap while myrrh and wine were for richer people.

Boiling water (like in teas and infusions) were not practical for city dwellers, because wood, as myrrh and wine, were relatively expensive.

You can read about Roman methods to make potable water in the ancient sources, directly.

Pliny’s Natural History, Chapter 15, written in the year 77 CE, mentions myrrh and barley added to wine

Posca was drunk by people with less money, notice that barley and water makes what we call nowadays “beer”.

Pliny mentions what he calls “artificial wines” that do not include grapes but things like boiled must, millet plus must, palm wine and others, up to 66 varieties.

This is “must” used to make “young wine” even today.

In white must, mentioned by Pliny, you take the grape skin away or use white grapes

When you use must to make Roman or Greek wine which, incidentally, is unfiltered, because filtering is a fancy thing we do today but Romans usually did not, you get a thick beverage with seeds and grape skins, brown or purple.

Romans boiled must in bronze cauldrons.

Cooked wine or vino cotto boiling in a cauldron

I quote the Wikipedia article on grape syrup used by Greeks and Romans:

“One of the earliest mentions of grape syrup comes from the fifth-century BC Greek physician Hippocrates, who refers to hépsēma (ἕψημα), the Greek name for the condiment.

The fifth-century BC Athenian playwright Aristophanes also makes a reference to it, as does Roman-era Greek physician Galen.

Grape syrup was known by different names in Ancient Roman cuisine depending on the boiling procedure.

Defrutum, carenum, and sapa were reductions of must.

They were made by boiling down grape juice or must in large kettles until it had been reduced to two-thirds of the original volume, carenum; half the original volume, defrutum; or one-third, sapa. Roman general Pliny the Elder states that grape syrup was also referred to as siraion (Greek: "σίραιον")”

The main culinary use of defrutum was to help preserve and sweeten wine”.

Grape syrup - Wikipedia
Eight flavor syrup dispenser including grape syrup Jallab syrup made from carob, dates, grape molasses and rose water; used to make jallab tea Churchkhela , a snack made from nuts (walnuts or hazelnuts, usually) dipped in grape syrup Grape syrup is a condiment made with concentrated grape juice. It is thick and sweet because of its high ratio of sugar to water. Grape syrup is made by boiling grapes, removing their skins, squeezing them through a sieve to extract the juice, and adding sugar. Like other fruit syrups , a common use of grape syrup is as a topping to sweet cakes, such as pancakes or waffles . Names and etymology [ edit ] The ancient Greek name for grape syrup is siraios (σιραίος), in the general category of hepsema (ἕψημα), which translates to 'boiled'. [1] The Greek name was used in Crete and, in modern times, in Cyprus . [2] Petimezi is the name for a type of Mediterranean grape syrup. The word comes from the Turkish pekmez , which usually refers to grape syrup, but is also used to refer to mulberry and other fruit syrups. [3] [4] Vincotto (not to be confused with vino cotto ) is the southern Italian term for grape syrup. It is made only from cooked wine grape must (mosto cotto), with no fermentation involved. There is no alcohol or vinegar content, and no additives, preservatives or sweeteners are added. It is both a condiment and ingredient used in either sweet or savory dishes. History [ edit ] Greco-Roman [ edit ] One of the earliest mentions of grape syrup comes from the fifth-century BC Greek physician Hippocrates , who refers to hépsēma (ἕψημα), the Greek name for the condiment. [5] The fifth-century BC Athenian playwright Aristophanes also makes a reference to it, as does Roman-era Greek physician Galen . [5] Grape syrup was known by different names in Ancient Roman cuisine depending on the boiling procedure. Defrutum , carenum , and sapa were reductions of must . They were made by boiling down grape juice or must in large kettles until it had been reduced to two-thirds of the original volume, carenum ; half the original volume, defrutum ; or one-third, sapa . The Greek name for this variant of grape syrup was siraion (Greek: "σίραιον"). [6] The main culinary use of defrutum was to help preserve and sweeten wine , but it was also added to fruit and meat dishes as a sweetening and souring agent and even given to food animals such as ducks and suckling pigs to improve the taste of their flesh. Defrutum was mixed with garum to make the popular condiment oenogarum. Quince and melon were preserved in defrutum and honey through the winter, and some Roman women used defrutum or sapa as a cosmetic . Defrutum was often used as a food preservative in provisions for Roman troops. [7] There is some confusion as the amount of reduction for sapa and defrutum. As James Grout explains in its Encyclopedia Romana , [8] authors informed different reductions, as follows: "The elder Cato, Columella, and Pliny all describe how unfermented grape

Notice that wine is mentioned not by “wine connoisseurs” but by physicians like Galen and Hippocrates, which recommend watered wine not because of its taste but because it was healthier to drink water mixed with wine as a method to make water potable.

Sapa, made of boiled must, still being sold for the wise chef, is the “soul of the grape”

I have heard people nowadays theorizing about Romans and Greeks mixing this wine, made from concentrated juices like sapa, with water to make it less alcoholic (and that may be true) because young wine made with must has a stronger taste and is more alcoholic than modern wine.

(Note: I thank Pedro Rocha for making me notice that the concentration in cauldrons was not of alcohol but of sugars.

That sugary concentrate or sapa created stronger wines than the ones we make today by meekly using only the filtered grape juice with no concentration of sugar.)

However, Roman and Greek watered wine, even if stronger than modern wine, is also less bitter than vinegar added posca, although posca gave you potable water at a cheaper price, while both beverages are way, way, way healthier than raw water from the aqueduct.

Once you get a water that has 5 percent or more alcohol, like modern beer or watered modern wine, such water lasts a few days being potable, like modern chlorinated water, even without refrigeration.

Pliny also mentions palm wine made of the Palmyra palm when desert conditions do not allow you to grow grapes to make wine or vinegar.

I have drank different palm wines and pineapple wines common among peasants in Colombia, like the one in the following image.

They are slightly alcoholic and you can drink them without getting sick from “bug ridden” fermented water.

My Spaniard guts, not used at all to these concoctions when I arrived to Latin America, can attest this is potable water, that resist to be stored in hot conditions without becoming bug-ridden but becoming alcoholic during three or four days before it cannot be used

Palm wine

Pineapple “guarapo”, marvelously healthy and tasty, notice you can do it by boiling the pineapple rinds (as shown in the jug to the right), tastes differently from pineapple juice. You can conserve it in the refrigerator, but if you do not have one, guarapo ferments nicely if left at air temperature

Sugarcane guarapo being made in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas in Ecuador

Guarapo is a quechua word and tepache is the nahuatl word (thanks to Alden Luna for the comment about that) for the same fermented water that can be drank without killing you like Roman watered wine.

In that marvelous book that is “Food in the ancient world, by Andrew Dalby, we found this:

Food in the Ancient World from A to Z
Food in the Ancient World from A to Z By Andrew Dalby, Professor Andrew Dalby

Notice that Dalby mentions the “health benefits” stated by Oribasius in his “Medical Collections” that you get by adding herbs and spices to wine or water so you get a fermented, slightly bitter beverage.

What all those wines have in common is that they are antiseptic, because must from grapes as well as alcoholic beverages from fruits, firstly, include alcohol, which is a mild antiseptic, and secondly, include acetic acid when fermented as is done today with traditional balsamic vinegar.

Bottle of Modena’s traditional aceto balsamico, still being made in Emilia-Romagna after 2000 years at least.

Vinegar was the basis of the Roman “posca” mentioned in the life of Trajan, an emperor that shared the simple life of his soldiers.

Posca was even mandatory in the Marian rules that transformed the Roman army, rules that mention specifically that legionaries had to be given wine one day and posca the following day.

Posca and myrrh was even given to Jesus on the Calvary:

“They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink”. —Matthew 27:34

“And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not”. — Mark 15:23 —

So, that was the trick: you added alcohol or acetic acid, diluted, even for kids.

I still remember being raised in Spain drinking wine with water (for the kids) and pure wine for the adults.

We did it because it was fun and because of traditions that believed watered wine to be healthy.

So, if you ever travel to more southern latitudes and are afraid of the water, now you know what to do: drink only tequila, aguardiente and cerveza and be healthy.

Leave the raw water for the horses, they are used to it.

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