Most of us would have trouble coping if we suddenly had to do without plumbing. However, it has really only been the past century that brought good plumbing to the masses. That does not mean that the history of plumbing is short because there has been evidence of this art being around for thousands of years. It just was not something that was available to most people or most places.
Ancient History Of Plumbing
Empires that rose and fell long ago left evidence of very clever plumbing. This is usually in the great cities, and even more commonly, it is around the palaces and villas of the wealthy.
For example, the Minoan Palace of Knossos, from almost 4,000 years in the base, had at least four distinct drainage systems. This was from 1700 BC on the Isle of Crete. The drainage systems led to great sewers that were built with stone.
The ancient pipes were made from terra cotta, the material that is used today for planters. These pipes were laid and buried under the floor of the palace, so they were out of sight. These pipes transported water to a number of faucets and fountains that were made of gold, silver, and marble. They are believed to have supplied both cold and hot water.
In the ancient Roman empire were the most famous examples of plumbing of this lost world. It is this example that allowed modern inventors to come up with the ideas for modern plumbing in the Western World. Very brilliant engineers and skilled craftsmen figured out how to erect the great aqueducts that supplied water to cities from lakes and rivers that were many miles away. This water fed to villas, fountains, and of course, the very famous Roman bath houses.
The bad thing about the Romans is that they used a lot of lead in their plumbing. In fact, the term, plumbing, comes from the Roman term for lead. Sadly, this could be toxic over time. Today, scholars believe that lead poisoning of the people may have led to the decline of the Roman history and some of the worst examples of Roman leaders.
The Romans may have declined, but before they did, their influence spread far. It is, in fact, in the English location of “Bath,” the site of Roman baths, that plumbing was lost and then reemerged. But sadly, after the Romans pulled back and lost their great empire, the habit of bathing almost fell into disrepute.
Surprising, it was bathing, not the need for drinking water, that really had encouraged plumbing in the first place. During the early years, the habit of bathing became associated with wanton behavior, and it was not a habit that early Christians cared for. However, a nobleman in 16th century England revived much of the habit of bathing. With bathing, came a need for plumbing, of course.
Of course, London was just awful at this time. In ancient times, people could actually catch fish in the Thames. But it had become the place dispose of waste from the city’s growing population, and the water smelled awful and wasn’t really suitable for use.
Sir John Harrington build a water closet in England for his Queen Elizabeth I, his godmother. She was known as the queen who bathed only one time a month. Apparently, this first toilet was constructed inside Richmond Palace, but the Queen never actually used it and the inventor was actually ridiculed for it.
This really demonstrates how people’s attitudes have changed. It would be hard to imagine living without toilets today, but they were something that sophisticated people made fun of a few hundred years ago.