One incentive for wealthy Romans to finance construction of aqueducts was, of course, glory. One's name would go up on the wall somewhere, and down in history, too.

However, there was more to aqueducts than just delivering water to cities for drinking, washing, cooking, and lavatory needs. For instance, hydraulic mining was all the rage in some places. One would run a spur from the existing aqueduct to indulge in a bit of ruina mortium, or hushing, to use water to bare up a gold or nickel vein.

Perhaps a prospector looking for funds might approach me, offering a contract and promising a sizable cut. Or I could hire someone to do some research to see if there were any areas that had growth potential, and the one obstacle was the lack of water.

Or, perhaps, the governor, or the Emperor himself, might send his agents to me, and I would promise, for a fee, to provide engineers, foremen, and slaves for an aqueduct project?

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In other words: were there wealthy people in the Empire not personally involved in aqueduct construction who could invest in it on the chance they might turn a profit?

  • 5
    As it stands this is very vague, you're asking about the plausibility of a supposition (in a large empire over a span of many centuries) and it reads more like a world-building question than a history one.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 7:46
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    I think people are being quite mean here. It is a very interesting question. Does anyone know how major engineering projects were financed in ancient Rome? That it is what the question is about, and fascinating it would be to know the answer.
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 8:56
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    I believe the picture is of the Pont du Gard in the South of France. My children as teenagers walked across the top structure. There are no barriers at the side (although it is very wide), and I could not have coped with the sense of vertigo!
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 9:00
  • 4
    I have to agree with @MarkC.Wallace here. Downvoting is a core design of the Stackexchange sites. I do not like downvoting either, but if you detest it to the point of finding it disgusting, then a site designed around the concept of upvoting and downvoting might not be the best place for you.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 13:07
  • 3
    While I usually agree with @RISwampYankee, in this case I cannot. Downvoting is a privilege; anyone can downvote for any reason. Downvotes are not "mean" and they do not require justification. I refuse to submit my downvotes to anyone else's approval. I think this discussion has gone on too long, so I invite anyone else to have the final word.
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 16:16

3 Answers 3


According to A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic, and a citation of antiquities scholar Ph. Leveau in particular, Roman aqueducts were mostly publicly funded, and although some may have had private funding, it was not for-profit.

Aqueducts were very costly to construct. So why and how did the Romans do it? Under the Empire, aqueducts were usually built and financed by the emperor, often to serve one of the monster bath complexes, themselves a product of imperial beneficence. Under the Republic these criteria did not exist and the decision to build an aqueduct rested with the Senate, apparently spurred on either by the personal initiative of an individual senator or by the ready availability of abundant funding; maintenance was under the care of censors or aediles. As an authority on financing, Ph. Leveau, has put it:

Aqueducts, being public works serving the public, did not attract private investment, and private citizens, contributing to their construction, did not in principle look for any profit in return. It has therefore been pointed out, and rightly, that the utility of an aqueduct did not lie in the field of economics, for while it promoted the health (salubritas) and quality of life (amoenitas) in the city, it did nothing for its commercial development. (Leveau, 2001: 86)

If you were a well-to-do ancient Roman funding the construction of an aqueduct, it would probably be called philanthropy.

  • 2
    Just a comment, but I believe the senatorial classes were forbidden from engaging in "trade" - their wealth (at least theoretically) came from landholdings. Of course, there were wealthy non-senatorial Romans.
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 16:09
  • @TheHonRose: To be fair, they weren't forbidden to do anything, and not all trades were equal, either. Owning a ludus (i.e. a gladiator school) was frowned upon, and the owner wouldn't dare show his face in polite society, or if he did, he'd be shunned, but there was no law against it.
    – Ricky
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 2:11
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    @Ricky "In the later Republican period, Roman Senators and their offspring became an unofficial elite within the equestrian order. As senators' ability to engage in commerce was strictly limited by law, the bulk of non-agricultural activities were in the hands of non-senatorial equites. As well as holding large landed estates, equites came to dominate mining, shipping and manufacturing industry. In particular, tax farming companies (publicani) were almost all in the hands of equites." Wikipedia: Equites
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 3:13
  • @TheHonRose: That's pretty good, actually. There's plenty of room for maneuver right there. Thank you. My next question will have to be about financial transactions (IOU's, receipts, the physical aspect of transferring large sums of money, etc.
    – Ricky
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 3:26
  • @Ricky Just reread the title of your question, and found myself wondering - how ancient an ancient Roman would you be?
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 3:31

Yes, but this was a rare exception rather than a rule. The Roman aqueduct-bridge of Pont d'Ael (which not only allowed water to cross, but also people) was funded privately by Caius Avillius Caimus. He charged a toll for everyone who wanted to cross the bridge (so admittedly the profit did not come from the aqueduct bit, at least as far as I know).

I visited the site some three year ago while it was in the middle of the reconstruction work and the archaeologist supervising the work was kind enough to show us around; she actually claimed that this was the only privately funded aqueduct known.


There is additional sources, although I can't recall at the moment, about rich romans paying for their homes to be connected to the system so that they have running water in their homes. I believe aqueducts were generally public works (Defense and sanitation projects) local delivery to rich peoples homes could be a private endeavor as wealthy romans did pay a connection charge.

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