Welcome to the New Orleans plumbing blog by Acadian Plumbing. In this blog, we’ll discuss plumbing in the ancient city of Babylon.
Babylon must have been a site to behold with its massive walled city, intricate network of canals, verdant crop lands, and of course the ziggurat temple city center. It was located about 50 miles south of Baghdad in what is now Iraq and below the soils beneath mounds or “tells” lies the evidence a past civilizations and crumbled foundations.
Between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers around 6000 and 3000 BC, a civilization began to develop under the peoples of Assyria who reigned over the Sumerian and Babylon cultures. Systems of writing and communications, along with literature and even a set of laws and a calendar system were all developed. Most importantly, a water management system evolved that included irrigation dams, drains, basins, and even personal bathrooms.
Under the Rule of King Nebuchadnezzer (605-562 BC), the economy grew wink and flew spreading over 500 acres on both sides of the Euphrates River. Houses rose in the air up to three stories with buttressed roofs and even the poor could afford luxury wood for their homes. As the technology continued to grow, the beginnings of plumbing also began to develop. The plumbers used a clay mixed with finely chopped straw to create pipes which later went to copper and bronze and even tin and lead.
The rich households and the palaces had separate bath rooms; that is, rooms in which to “bathe” or refresh oneself with water or anointing of oil. The ordinary folk used the banks of the canals or the cisterns in the courtyards. A Bathroom was about 15 feet square and was located at the south end of the house. The lower parts of the wall were lined with baked brink and so was the floor. The floor was overlaid with a bitumen composition and powered limestone that sloped to the center of the room where the water drained off in small runnels by baked and glazed earthenware tiles.
There were no bathtubs as we would consider them today but more like a shower. King Nebuchadnezzar had a shower where slaves would pour water over him. Private bathroom toilets may have existed but it most likely was a hole in the floor with a cesspool underneath. However, more elaborate toilets were described in the palace of Sargon the Great. These toilets are suppose to have had high seats which brought the latrine off the floor in the style that we are accustomed to in modern times. Archaeologists say that have found drains which discharged into a main sewer which ran along the outer wall of the palace and sloped downward. Archaeologists have also found traces of drains that were used for the sacrifice of live animals to gods.
The most famous plumbing engineering had to be the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon,” which utilized and elaborate irrigation method to maintain the beautiful gardens in the desert. The Hanging Gardens were built on a foundation of arched vaults and they rose up to 75 feet. They were waterproofed with bitumen, baked brick, and lead to keep the under vaults dry. King Nebuchadnezzar covered the terraced structure with enough dirt that support large trees and irrigation machines to keep them watered. Traces of wells have been discovered, which suggests that the wheel of buckets technique or Doria was used here to raise the water to the highest point of the terrace. Water cascaded down from a reservoir-lake over the vegetation beneath. Troughs and channels were built into the irrigation system, and lined with non-rusting metals such as lead and bronze. The terraces contained an extremely advanced system of internal drainage, which ensured that all moisture was led off into large sewers of baked brick. The sewers were roofed with slightly ogival or pointed vaulting. They consisted of a series of slanting courses each resting on the one below, compensating for the lack of wood or scaffolding in the design. This amazing structure and gardens would later be called one of the famous wonders of the world.
There is very little rainfall in Mesopotamia, but if the ground is moistened, the desert can be covered with vegetation and are perfectly fertile. From the earliest times, the rulers of Mesopotamia regarded it as both a duty and act of piety to improve the canal system. In fact, the digging of a canal was regarded equally in importance to a ruler as a victory in war. Both kinds of enterprises were inscribed on clay tablets as boasts of their accomplishments. The Kings and rulers understood that water was the key to survival in the desert.
Ancient Mesopotamia declined due to a series of weak kings who followed Nebuchadnezzar. The city of Babylon in 539 fell into the hands of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire. As the land became sparsely populated, the canals were neglected and gradually silted up. And the land returned to desert.