The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome and God’s Common Grace

Roman technology in the Ancient world was second to none. Think of the aqueduct system that fed the heart of the Empire, Rome itself. There were eleven aqueducts that daily delivered 1.2 million cubic metres of water (nearly 300 million gallons)—yes daily!—to the city. One of the superintendents of the aqueduct system for the city, Sextus Julius Frontinus, the curator aquarum, penned a fabulous treatise De aquaeductu (97ad) at the close of the first century during the reign of Nerva. Comparing the system of aqueducts to other architectural marvels of the ancient world, he asked:

“I ask you! Just compare those useless pyramids, or the good-for-nothing tourist attractions of the Greeks with the vast monuments of this vital aqueduct network.”

When the Apostle Paul arrived in Rome for the first time (Acts 28), he would have seen these architectural marvels, and when he stayed in the city for those two years under house arrest, the water he drank and bathed in would have come through this remarkable system of aqueducts. How thankful we should be for the common grace that surrounds us.

Here, in the West, I am deeply grateful for the architectural web of institutions that grace our world—the freedoms of speech and movement that we enjoy because of them—and the freedom to preach the gospel and plant churches. These should never be taken for granted. There are others in this world—the old remnants of leftist ideological persuasion, radical Muslims, for instance—who would deprive us of such.

Daniel Johnson, in a disturbing article [“Allah’s England?”, Commentary, 122, no.4 (November 2006), 41-46] quotes a self-styled spokesperson for Islam in England, a certain Abu Izzadeen, a convert to Islam, dismissing free speech and our democratic way of life and saying over the British airwaves: Britain “doesn’t belong to you [the British], or to the Queen, or to the government, but to Allah. He has put us on earth to implement shari’a law” [page 46].

I, for one, am deeply thankful for the web of the Western culture—no, it is not Christian—but oh the freedoms it gives. In this we see the goodness of God designed to lead sinners to repentance!

Like the water the ancient Apostle drank in the city of Rome.