The Romans were excellent engineers. They weren’t interested in humdrum designs either; they wanted elegant, refined structures; structures that would dazzle the masses, structures that implicitly embodied the intellectual and technological superiority of the Romans. That’s what they set out to achieve with their aqueduct in Segovia, Spain.
Who built the aqueduct at Segovia?
The Romans built the aqueduct; that much is unequivocal. But precisely which Roman emperor ordered its construction is unknown and the subject of debate.
Archaeologists estimate that the aqueduct at Segovia was completed around the end of the 1st Century CE, which places it in the reign one of three Roman emperors: 1) Emperor Domitian (who ruled Rome between 81 and 96 CE); 2) Emperor Nerva (96 – 98 CE); and, 3) Emperor Trajan (98 – 117 CE).
Emperor Domitian is known for fighting wars in Caledonia (Scotland) and Dacia (Romania), and for being so widely disliked he was eventually assassinated by members of his own court.
His successor, Nerva, ruled Rome for just two years, which more or less puts him out of the running.
And then there’s Emperor Trajan, who is remembered as one of the greatest Roman military campaigners of all; with victories in Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Dacia. Combined with the annexation of Nabataea (the lands of Petra), Trajan was responsible for expanding the Roman Empire to its greatest ever territorial extent.
Trajan was also a prodigious builder; he built several structures in Rome, some of which still exist today, including Trajan’s Baths, Trajan’s Column (beneath which his ashes are buried), and Trajan’s Forum.
Further afield he also built Trajan’s Bridge over the Danube River – which was the longest arch bridge in the world for more than 1,000 years – and the equally impressive Alcántara Bridge in Spain.
It’s Trajan, then, that has the best credentials. But the reality is that it could have be any one of the three emperors. We don’t know who ordered the construction of the aqueduct at Segovia, and we probably never will.
What did the aqueduct at Segovia do?
The aqueduct brought a supply of fresh water to the city from a mountain stream over 17 kilometres away.
Prior to reaching Segovia, the channel passed through two tanks, within which the water was momentarily stilled, a process that allowed entrained silt to drop out of suspension, and thus performing a basic level of water purification.
The water continued along a rocky ridge until it reached the centre of Segovia. At Plaza Azoguejo the aqueduct reaches its maximum height, a staggering 28 metres.
Roman engineers wanted to dazzle the masses with the aqueduct they built in Segovia.
I don’t know if the masses were dazzled at the time of completion – i.e. some 2,000 years ago – but they are certainly dazzled today.
Practical information and how to reach Segovia:
Segovia is 90 km from Madrid. There are regular trains and buses travelling between the two cities. More transport info here.
Read more on the Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.