Ruling the waters: managing the water supply of Constantinople, AD 330–1204

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Constantinople was the largest city in late antiquity, and in medieval Europe
until the thirteenth century. Over the first two centuries of the city’s life as a new imperial capital the eastern emperors created a water supply system to rival that of imperial Rome. This article summarises recent studies of the hydraulic system in Thrace in order to contextualise a discussion of imperial patronage and the methods used to finance the system’s upkeep. From the fourth to the sixth century collections of imperial legislation
provide important evidence for the control of abuse, the distribution of water within the city and the financing of the system. This evidence is discussed in the context of the known topography and archaeology of the water supply to provide a richer understanding of the urban history. After a period of decline the system was renovated as the city’s population recovered and there is extensive evidence for continuing maintenance until the twelfth
century. A number of senior Byzantine officials with specific responsibilities for the city’s water are discussed for the first time and provide important evidence for the continuing concerns necessary to sustain the developing urban population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-55
Number of pages21
JournalWater History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Aqueducts Constantinople Infrastructure Infrastructure legislation Hydraulic engineering Byzantine Water law Water supply


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