I am working with Babylonian math and some word problems mention an object called a cistern. I looked this up and it seems it can be any tank of water. Some are cylindrical, others rectangular, and others hemispherical.

In the first problem it says "a [rectangular] cistern" so that solves that but in the other it just says a cistern. Should I be assuming a cylindrical shape? I'm not sure what a standard cistern was to the Babylonians.

  • Here is an article on the matter, i am not sure how scholarly it is though - bible-history.com/biblestudy/cisterns.html – ed.hank Nov 29 '16 at 23:49
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    Is it the same shape as the first one described? If not, ask your professor. – Aaron Brick Nov 30 '16 at 2:12
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    @AaronBrick That addresses the OP's situation, but does not answer the question, which is valid. – called2voyage Nov 30 '16 at 16:43
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    Not babylon but some great ancient cistern photos here: ancientwatertechnologies.com/2014/03/24/… – AllInOne Nov 30 '16 at 16:54
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    @TheOneBobby That is actually a good idea. The translator could be indicating on the first "By the way, cisterns are rectangular", and then on the rest you are just supposed to assume that is still the case. – called2voyage Nov 30 '16 at 20:55

Babylonian/Iranian Cisterns have not Fundamentally Changed across the Millenia

A cistern (Persian: āb-anbār) was intended as a large, waterproof reservoir which also allows ventilation and access. The site was chosen as an optimal location to maximize the collection of underground moisture and/or rainwater. The excavation was lined with oven-fired brick set into a sand and clay mixture. It was then covered with a layer (about 3 cm) of waterproof mortar (sārūǰ). Larger cisterns were often lined with an additional double layer of bricks, covered with another layer of sārūǰ of slightly different composition, and finished with a hard plaster coat. The cistern was covered to prevent evaporation and protect the water supply from contamination.

Babylon existed in what is modern day Iran, so Iranian cisterns and Iranian archaeological sites are referenced here. The early history of covered cisterns in Iran has not been studied, although it is possible that a major elaboration of construction techniques may have taken place during the Parthiann and Sasanian periods, when water management constructions (dams, weirs, qanāts) were built extensively.

The above facts are paraphrased from the Encyclopaedia Iranica. Read the full article at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ab-anbar-i-history

As stated in the OP, the cisterns' water volume could take the shape of a rectangular cuboid (like a rectangular tank), a cylinder (like a traditional water well), or other various shapes. The volume of a cistern constructed on a natural aquifer (cave reservoir) would be difficult to calculate. I am not aware of any illustrations/photos of spherical cisterns.

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