Water for the Queen of Cities: A review of recent research in the Byzantine and early Ottoman water supply of Constantinople

James Crow, Richard Bayliss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article revises an earlier conference paper (2004) and provides a radical new interpretation of the water supply and distribution system within and outside the city based on the extensive surveys carried out in the region since 1994. It provides a short historical introduction and considers the structural evidence outside the city. For the first time it shows that there were two seperate channels belonging to the early Byzantine aqueduct line from different and distant sources, in addition to the earlier aqueduct of Hadrian. This system was the longest known in the Roman world. Entering the city were two levels of channel, the higher level crossing the great bridge, the Aqueduct of Valens, and the lower representing the earlier line for the Byzantium. The evidence is clearly illustrated by new maps and diagrams showing the projected line of the channels and how they can be associated with the major cisterns within the city. The paper goes on to review how the system was maintained under Justinian, identifying for the first time a major programme of repair within Thrace. Studies of the city in the early medieval period have interpretted the cutting of the Valens Aqueduct at the Avar siege in 626 as the beginning of a period of major decline in urban life. However from our new model for water distribution we have been able to demonstrate that only a part of the system was abandonned and that urban life was able to continue, until the major restoration under Constantine V in 765.Although it is not yet possible to correlate known structural repairs with this event the recognition of multiple phases extending into the 12th century reveals the continuing technical resources of the Byzantine state. All these themes will be considered in greater detail in the forthcoming monongraph.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-49
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2004


  • Aqueduct
  • Constantinople
  • cistern


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