Activity: Do as the Romans: Construct an Aqueduct!



Aqueducts are one of the wonders of the Roman Empire. These graceful structures are not only majestic, but are engineering marvels that survive to this day. In this activity, students work with specified materials to create aqueduct components that will transport 2 liters of water across a short distance in their classroom. The goal is to build an aqueduct that will supply Aqueductis, a Roman city, with clean water for private homes, public baths, and glorious fountains.
By introducing various ideas and themes from the Social Studies curriculum on Ancient Rome and by an additional modeling project this could become a favorite interdisciplinary activity for middle schoolers.

LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY [1 = Least Difficult : 5 = Most Difficult]

4 difficult


Varies. Could take up to four 50-minute classes (including introductory lesson about Rome, demonstrations, project, and post-discussion/presentation).


$15-$20. Use of old paint buckets, soda bottles, and scrap wood keeps cost down.


5.1 Describe and explain parts of a structure (e.g. foundation, flooring, decking, wall, roofing systems)
6.1 Identify and compare examples of transportation systems and devices that operate on each of the following: land, air, sea, and space.
6.2 Given a transportation problem, explain a possible solution using the universal systems model.
6.3 Identify and describe three subsystems of a transportation vehicle (structural, propulsion, and control)

History of the Roman Empire
Building techniques that were used by the Romans.
Creative design methods.

An aqueduct is a pipeline specifically built to transport water.
A chorobate is a surveying instrument that was used by engineers when building an aqueduct. It is used to determine the profile of the land in order to determine where the water needs to flow to reach the city.
Different elements can be built along an aqueduct such as a covered trench, tunnel, pressurized pipe, wall, or arcade.
Macaulay, David. City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 1974. - good background information on aqueducts - some pictures and information on how aqueducts are used - provides a wide range of information on aqueducts

Thin plastic drop cloth
Empty 2-liter soda bottle and cap
Duct tape
Clear vinyl tubing (3/8" outside diameter)
2-3 tables
Blocks or books
2 liters water
Electric drill or screwdriver
Assemble materials
Copy worksheets
Drill 3/8" holes in the tops of 2-liter soda bottle caps for the tubing to fit into.
Set up the "course" that the water will be transported through. Such as from a table to a bucket on the floor 5 feet away, with an obstacle of books between them.


1. Set the mood by telling the students that they are Chief Water Engineer of the Roman Empire and that their job is to build an aqueduct that will supply the Roman city of Aqueductis with clean water to private homes, public baths, and glorious fountains. If they succeed, the citizens of Aqueductis will drink clean water and bathe happily. If they fail, there's no telling what the citizens will do. The best design will be one that uses minimal materials and delivers water continuously with no spills and little leftover water.
2. Assign the "Roman Aqueduct Manual" as homework reading.
3. Log on to the NOVA website, allowing each student to play "Construct a Roman Aqueduct" in the classroom.
4. Describe the challenge to the students and hand out materials.
5. Students must deliver the water from the bottle at point A to the "city" at point C. Neither the sheet plastic or the tubing is self-supporting, therefore the aqueduct must go through the point B, the bottom of the "valley" (the floor).
6. The water flow should go through the plastic tubing from the soda bottle to the bucket on the floor, with lost water represented by unsupported tubing. Water is precious, so any that escapes the system represents a mistake in engineering, construction, or operation.
7. After completion of the challenge, modifications may be made to the course to make it a little harder. For example, a line of blocks can be added across the table perpendicular to the flow as a hurdle or low hill that the water must be delivered over.

How did the Roman Empire manage to supply its urban citizens with water?
What techniques can be used if mountains and valleys exist between the water source and the city?
How is today's water system similar or different from that of the Romans?
From (, the
NOVA website "Secrets of Lost Empires," a special five-part NOVA series aired during February 2000, by Dennis Gaffney.

Portions of activity from Prentice Hall Science Explorer: Earth's Water by Barbara Brooks Simmon and Thomas R. Wellnitz. © 2000 by Pearson Education, Inc., publishing as Prentice Hall. Used by permission


See Associated Download.


See Associated Download.