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A Plan For a Small Roman City

When planning a brand new town where there had not been a city before, Roman civil engineers used a plan similar to the one below when laying out the streets and public facilities of the new community. Two main streets were laid out at right angles to each other, forming an intersection right in the middle of the town. Both of these streets extended outside the town through the four fortified gates in the outer defensive wall. Aqueducts provided water to fill the city's cisterns and feed the public fountains at one corner of each block or insula. The Romans did have pipes supplying water to private homes and they did pay water bills to the city water commissioner, The engineers could actually calculate water usage by measuring the diameter of the pipes tapping into the city water supply and knowing the number of feet the private water service pipe was below the level of the cistern.

Of course, every city had to have its public entertainments, so a theater, an amphitheater, and public baths were an important part of the original planning and later expansion of Roman cities. These communities and the organized way they were planned seem so modern to many students of Roman history that it is a wonder that modern civic planners don't use more principles discovered by Roman civil engineers today. One almost forgets that these were still dangerous times and most cities, especially those near the frontiers, could be attacked by hostile barbarian raiders or rebel army generals at any time. Because of this, each Roman city had a stout outer defensive wall guarded by strong gates. The symbolic and spiritual wall or outer limit of a Roman city was called the pomerium. This was the strip of land going all the way around the city just inside the walls. Traditionally, the pomerium was a furrow marked out by by a priest plowing with two oxen. Plowing the pomerium was the first act of construction in the building of any new Roman town. David Macaulay goes into more of the details of constructing a Roman town in his excellently written and illustrated book, City: A Story of Roman Planning and Engineering

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