The Fortifications and Water Supply Systems of Constantinople

Article excerpt

An archaeological survey of the Thracian hinterland of Constantinople led by James Crow (Newcastle University) began in 1994 and its first stage is due for completion this year (2000). The main focus of the project over the past five years has been the Anastasian Wall, a 6th-century monumental linear fortification stretching some 56 km from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and situated c. 65 km from the city itself. In places the Wall survives up to 5 m high, but for the most part it lies obscured deep within the forests of central and northern Thrace, together with its associated forts, an outer ditch and a complement of massive towers.

Fifteen kilometres of the wall have now been recorded in detail on a single co-ordinate system, using a combination of GPS and terrestrial (Total Station) survey techniques. Detailed topographical survey has been carried out on a number of sites, including one of the wall forts, which was recorded after undertaking an extensive clearance operation (FIGURE 1). Our approach has been to target the most accessible areas, which are by their nature the most endangered by increasing human activity in the area.


In 2000 the project enters a new phase with the commencement of a 3-year programme sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust, to investigate the water supply of Constantinople in the Byzantine period. The principal component of the system is a 250-km long supply line of aqueducts and underground channels built primarily in the 4th century, which stands claim as the longest water supply line known from antiquity. Within the city, the great Aqueduct of Valens survives as the most enigmatic reminder of this endeavour, yet the city also boasts nearly 100 known cisterns of substantial scale. This includes four open-air reservoirs, the sizes of which are best represented by their present-day use as football grounds and recreation centres. …