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Did The Roman Empire Fall Due to Poor Plumbing?


May, 2018


There has been many controversial claims that the fall of the Roman Empire was due to poor plumbing, namely the use of lead pipes leading to lead poisoning. There are both written records and archaeological artefacts that demonstrate that the Romans used lead pipes. Geologists have also been able to determine that more layers of lead piping corresponded when there was prosperous economic growth. At the time, the plumbing systems installed in many Roman cities were engineering marvels and an analysis of soil samples has given experts new insight into how the sewage systems of the day worked and what the effects of it were.

 

The very existence of the pipe plumbing system was a sign of Rome's fantastic wealth and power and as the lead pipe system expanded, so did the empire, they received the lead form colonies in Europe, meaning they had to have an extensive trade network. Lead particles from the extensive plumbing network washed into the Tiber River, and then started sinking in the slower harbour waters.

 

During the middle of the third century, there was a strong drop in lead found by geologists and it was found that no more aqueducts were built, and plumbing maintenance was on a smaller scale. The decline of lead corresponds neatly with the overall fall in economic activity in the Roman Empire.

 

High-born and wealthy Roman’s drunk beverages and ate food that was cooked in lead instruments and channeled spring water into their homes through lead pipes. While some argue that lead poisoning plagued ancient Rome’s elite with diseases such as gout and hastened the empire's fall, that may not be the case. Even though tap-water from ancient Rome likely contained over 100 times more lead than local spring water, scientists report that while the lead contamination was substantial, it was unlikely to be high enough to be the major culprit of the fall of the Roman Empire.

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