Water in the Roman World: engineering, trade, religion, and daily life

Review by Andrew Tibbs

In Roman times, water was an important resource, but also had symbolic importance. Waterways acted as arterial routes of the Empire, used by the military, traders, and civilians to move resources and people, while on dry land, it was a focus for religious and votive offerings, as well as playing a role in the social lives of those living within the Empire. But despite widespread usage of water, as well as of waterways and rivers in the Roman world, there has been a distinct lack of publications covering this area in recent years, with the exception of occasional articles in academic journals. This book therefore comes as a welcome change.

Water in the Roman World is an edited collection of essays focusing on different aspects of water usage in ancient times. The chapters are diverse and disparate, opening with a brief essay summarising the relevance of water and materiality within Roman studies, and followed by essays covering wide-ranging topics such as lighthouses in the Roman Mediterranean, military planning on the Lower Rhine, the social lives of wells, and votive river deposits in northern England.

Although written by academics, and primarily focused on that audience, each of the 11 chapters is well-written and -researched, and easily understandable by non-academic audiences. There is a slight leaning towards Roman activity in Britain, which is probably because in recent years there has been a significant increase in research concentrating on better understanding the relationship between materiality and water here. Similarly, there is an emphasis on the religious and symbolic aspects of the relationship with water. None of this distracts from the overall focus of the book, particularly as there are other chapters covering different geographical areas of the Empire.

Water in the Roman World is a strong addition to our understanding of both water and waterways under the Romans, and how they are analysed and interpreted by archaeologists and academics. It is an invaluable, accessible contribution to the topic, and would make an excellent addition to the collections both of scholars and of those with more general interests.

Water in the Roman World: engineering, trade, religion, and daily life
Martin Henig and Jason Lundock (eds)
Archaeopress, £38
ISBN 978-1803273006