Handbook of Ancient Water Technology

By Örjan Wikander | Go to book overview
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III.3
LAND DRAINAGE

Andrew Wilson

Drainage and irrigation schemes are often superficially similar in that they rely on the transport of water through a network of channels. Irrigation schemes have tended to receive more attention in archaeological literature, perhaps because they may involve transport of water over longer distances than do drainage schemes and are frequently perceived as larger works. Nevertheless, many areas of the ancient world—not only in northern Europe but also in the Mediterranean—required drainage. Despite the early appearance of water management schemes in the Near East, there appear to be very few examples of securely identified early drainage schemes. This may, however, be as much due to lack of archaeological research aimed at identifying them as to any real absence of them in Antiquity in waterlogged areas. The following discussion therefore necessarily concentrates on major drainage projects of the late Bronze Age and classical Mediterranean, and on smaller drainage schemes of the Roman period; whilst this to some extent appears to reflect the chronological and geographical spread of important drainage works, it is undoubtedly also biased by patterns of modern scholarly attention,1 and this must be borne in mind when assessing the perceived development of land drainage technology from prehistory to the Middle Ages. This account is therefore very much a preliminary attempt at synthesising some of the main issues.2

Land drainage schemes might be undertaken for one or more of three principal reasons: the reclamation of marsh or wetlands; improvement of the agricultural potential of soils; or for health reasons, to reduce the potential for malarial or other infection. They will be analysed in this chapter under the following headings: lake drainage schemes, cuniculi, marsh and wetland reclamation, and land drainage projects for agricultural improvement.

1 Not least of all my own background in predominantly classical archaeology.

2 Useful summaries, focussing primarily on the Greek and Roman worlds, are
Argoud 1987b and Potter 1981. Important and more widely ranging material, but

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