Item Details

Sustainable Practices? A Story from Roman Cosa (Central Italy)

Issue: Vol 31 No. 1 (2018)

Journal: Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology

Subject Areas: Ancient History Archaeology

DOI: 10.1558/jma.36807


The thermal complex at the site of Cosa in Tuscany offers a clear example of how a Roman community, though crippled by the lack of springs or aqueducts, was nevertheless able to secure and husband sufficient water to operate a public bath, thanks to ingenious architectural adaptations and a unique strategy of water conservation. Regulated by the annual oscillation from wet to dry season and plausibly framed by institutional and social norms, this water supply system seemingly served the local community for at least three centuries. The results of excavation thus far show, in particular, that a still imperfectly known predecessor was superseded and upscaled by a substantial bath complex dating to the mid-second century ad. Attesting to a locally adaptive tradition, this overhaul ultimately wedded the reconfiguration of reservoirs and cisterns of the Republican period to a newly engineered supply system that sought to minimize leaks. Overall, this research affords an opportunity to gain insights into the vision and forethought of an ancient society as it dealt with the most precious of its natural resources and managed to allocate a sizable portion of it to the supply of an amenity. More fundamentally though, it describes Cosa's hydraulic achievements and the questions at stake: how they were integrated, formed a water system that underpinned the growth of the town, and ultimately informed the socio-ecological realities of the site.

Author: Andrea U. De Giorgi

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