Urban Sanitation in Roman Mirobriga (Santiago do Cacém, Portugal)

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


One of the greatest challenges any urban settlement, whatever its size, faces is that of keeping certain health standards. In Roman times, this concern is attested in cities founded all over the empire in the form of complex sewage systems designed with the cities themselves.
However, if the systems within major cities founded and created ex nihil or largely rebuilt upon their annexation to the roman territory are relatively well known, such is not the case of those found in medium and small sized urban centres, many of them ancient indigenous Iron Age settlements that offered several sorts of orographic and urbanistic constraints.
This presentation is the outcome of the investigation conducted in the site known as Mirobriga, in modern day Portugal. This Iron Age settlement, whose occupation dates back to, at least, the 9th or 8th century BC, was later fully converted into Roman City, in the course of the 1st century AD.
Although in Mirobriga the construction of the roman forum destroyed most of the original settlement, occupying almost the entire hill and forcing the settlement itself to move to the surrounding grounds, the overall terrain did not favour the creation of an orthogonal urban grid. This resulted in an organic design of paths, some probably adapting previously existent routes; insulae that embraced and adapted to the various hills comprised in the urban perimeter; and several topographic constraints that lead to the placement of some buildings in less-than-ideal locations.
The existence of some sort of sanitation mechanism in this ancient city had already been hinted previously due to the existence of two bath buildings, both with their own latrine. However, the further analysis of the several extant buildings revealed that despite the inexistence of an underground sewage system, most of the buildings had draining devices that flowed onto the various streets, denoting a close coexistence of people and wastewater at a street level that undoubtedly influenced the overall urban landscape.
Through the identification of the different sorts of wastewater that flowed from each building, we were able not only to assess some degree of specialization, given the recurring association of certain building techniques/materials used to construct the pipelines/channels to specific types of waste; but also to observe how the sloping terrain shaped the way wastewater flowed through the city and even the way some buildings were designed, revealing the existence of some level of concern about the way a heavy pour of both waste and rain water would take a toll on the structural stability and overall salubrity within the buildings themselves.
Period15 Oct 2020
Event titleEaux sales, eaux troubles, eaux de ruissellement:
: la gestion des eaux indésirables dans le monde romain.
Event typeSeminar
LocationMontpellier, FranceShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational