Monday, October 13, 2014


Julian Richard, Water for the City, Fountains for the People: Monumental Fountains in the Roman East: An Archaeological Study of Water Management. Studies in eastern Mediterranean archaeology, 9. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2012. Pp. xvi, 307. ISBN 9782503534497. €95.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Benjamin Costello IV, University at Buffalo, SUNY (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Perhaps one of the greatest triumphs of the Roman world was the ability to provide a continuous water supply, sometimes over great distances, to support the needs of urban populations. While some elements of this infrastructure (aqueducts and baths) have been studied extensively, the third, and perhaps most vital element in this chain, public fountains, is only now gaining interest as an area of archaeological research. While recent work by scholars such as Gemma Jansen have begun exploring questions of public fountains and their role in the ancient city, it still remains a poorly understood aspect of an amenity critical for daily life in the ancient world. The monograph under review investigates the role monumental fountains in the urban water supply chain of the Roman East played. The work, based upon the author's doctoral dissertation, approaches the topic from a functional perspective, examining it from numerous and contrasting angles in an attempt to better understand the relational and technical aspects these structures used to supply water to the inhabitants of ancient cities.

Chapter 1 begins by addressing the lack of archaeological study of monumental fountains, with "traditional" approaches focusing on their art historical or hydraulic engineering aspects. Richard provides a comprehensive literature review, admirably distilling the vast body of previous scholarship into a manageable size. He largely rejects prior methodologies, instead advocating functional, utilitarian, and holistic approaches for studying these structures. As a follow up, Richard explores the use of ancient terminology in monumental fountain research, specifically the term nymphaeum. Despite convincingly arguing this term's misuse in the previous section, the author delves into a drawn-out philological examination of its use, ultimately concluding (as he did previously) that ancient terminology is not a reliable criterion for monumental fountain research. This section, while informative from an etymological perspective, does not contribute to the work's purported archaeological focus . From here the author seeks to define monumental fountains based on the archaeological evidence, differentiating between "monumental" and "non-monumental." While Richard successfully creates a working definition, in subsequent chapters it is not uniformly applied, with "monumental fountain" and "fountain" in some cases appearing to be used interchangeably.1

Chapter 2 provides an overview of different public fountain types found in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Greco-Roman period with examples of each. This discussion encapsulates their evolution, associated modern terminology, and geographic and chronological distribution. These typological classifications are presented diachronically as tables, spanning from the Greek Archaic to the Roman Imperial period.2 Overall, the chapter is effective, succinctly educating the reader regarding fountain chronology, typology, technology, and architectural diversity in the geographical areas under consideration.

Chapter 3 explores the functional relationship between monumental fountains and the urban water networks that supplied them from chronological, spatial, and technical perspectives. Richard's approach is functional, examining monumental fountains as integral water provisioning points for the urban population. As part of this, he proposes three relational chronological models for intra-urban water network components: joint construction of an aqueduct and monumental fountain; a unified building program involving the new construction of monumental fountains, public baths, and aqueducts; and integration of monumental fountains into pre-existing distribution networks. The author finds a chronological pattern among these three scenarios, with type one being the earliest and three being the latest; the latter likely reflecting augmentation of established infrastructure. The functional relationship between monumental fountains and their distribution network is analyzed using the "systems approach," with all components studied together rather than as isolated elements. Like the previous section, Richard proposes theoretical models (and variants) for these relationships: exclusive between aqueduct and monumental fountain; monumental fountain as privileged secondary consuming structure; and monumental fountain as secondary water-consuming structure. After discussing each model, the author examines their geographical distribution, which displays a distinct lack of uniformity throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, with clear regional accents in their application and complexity.

Chapter 4 investigates the functional properties of fountains (i.e. the provision, display, storage, use, and drainage of water) and how water was managed through their various components. Richard begins by discussing architectural configuration and its use as a means to assess the functional properties of monumental fountains. In the three regions examined by this study, Asia Minor demonstrates the greatest variety of dimensions and the Levant the most homogenous in terms of size and building typology. Greece presents the greatest variability in size and building types, reflecting the traditional functional aspects of its fountains. Richard asserts two factors are responsible for the size and/or type of monumental fountain chosen for a specific location: input (quantity and quality of water supplied); and environment, which includes natural and anthropogenic factors (e.g. climate, water availability, spring properties, architectural and technical traditions, socio-economic and socio-political factors, etc.). From here, the author explores the individual components that affected the function of monumental fountains (e.g. inlet(s); holding basin(s); castella; reservoirs; parapets, spouts; evacuation, recycling, cascades, etc.). These elements are examined diachronically with an eye towards how they evolved throughout the Roman east. In some cases, their modification drastically affected these structures so that they no longer functioned as monumental fountains. In others, efforts combined previously disparate elements into a hybridized monumental fountain that continued to function as originally intended.

The previous two chapters form the basis for Chapter 5, which considers the impact monumental fountains had on urban water supply networks. Since, according to the author, the preserved remains prevent rate of flow calculations, he proposes two theoretical models, high rate of flow and low rate of flow that are assigned based on each fountain's physical characteristics. However, Richard doesn't attempt to quantitatively define "high" versus "low" rate of flow to provide the reader with some idea of how much water each installation consumed. The results of this analysis indicate that Asia Minor and Greece generally favored larger, low-flow fountains, and the Levant smaller, higher-flow ones. Next, the author compares the hydraulic impact of monumental fountains and public baths on urban water systems. Richard refutes the traditional position that baths were the most voracious consumers of water, asserting that the overall system demands of both structure types were roughly equal. However, as before, he provides no definitive quantification to back up his conclusions, basing them instead on the hypothetical/perceived demands of each.

Chapter 6 investigates the urban geography of monumental fountains and how their placement reflected the requirements of certain urban elements (e.g. agoras, streets, domestic quarters, etc.). Two categories of urban monumental fountain contexts are examined: sanctuaries, baths, theaters, and aqueducts; and streets and agoras. In the former, location largely depended upon site topography and supply conduit level. In the latter, where the majority of monumental fountains occur, they are confined to thoroughfares and public squares without preference towards domestic or economically-relevant parts of the city. From the 2nd c AD on, these monumental fountains become more spatially unbound either becoming fully autonomous or a metaphor for side porticoes by replacing them. Next, Richard investigates the spatial distribution of monumental fountains, specifically their relationship to the public spaces they occupied. He argues that the target-population of these fountains originated from their immediate context – the street, namely travelers, non-provisioned households, individual users of public installations, and economic activities, particularly macella.

The functional properties of monumental fountains during late antiquity are considered in Chapter 7 to investigate if changes made to them prolonged previous water management techniques, or were the result of a new Late Antique "water culture." The author presents case studies from Gortyn, Sagalassos, and Ephesos: the first two preserving the best maintenance evidence and adaptation of established systems; and the third a new orientation of fountains and overall water management. Richard identifies two types of functional adaptations: those not affecting a fountain's overall function; and those that did. At Gortyn and Sagalassos, older public fountains were maintained with their original architecture and decoration intact unless they were extensively damaged. When changes occurred, they were a specific response to alterations in their corresponding distribution networks. In new constructions, such as at Ephesos, old monumental fountain types continue until the 5th c AD, with some structures downsized and repurposed according to needs and conditions. This coincides with a new trend toward restricted-access, closed-off, richly-decorated fountain houses that Richard believes indicates a movement towards increased water storage and a more integrated spatial distribution of resources. While he asserts these changes indicate a new "water culture" characterized by a more diversified supply located nearby consumers and critical use areas developed during late antiquity, the relationship between water resources and the early Christian Church (arguably the most dominant change in Late Antique society) is not discussed. This is odd considering it was an era hallmarked by mass conversion, a process that often involved full immersion for which modified monumental fountains would be ideal. This seems like a major oversight, whose investigation could have provided deeper insights into the changes identified by the author.

Chapter 8 is the final chapter, in which, strangely, Richard introduces new material before summarizing the results of his research. He begins by arguing that the utilitarian and representative/abstract dimensions of monumental fountains were not contradictory to one another or to the purpose of the structure. Such consideration of the interpretational/iconographic aspects of monumental fountains, which the author previously eschewed as an undesirable methodology, is incongruous with his archaeological approach to the material so far. Next, he explores the question of whether aqueducts (and by extension monumental fountains) were perceived by those they served as a sign of technical progress. He asserts that the various hydraulic components would have been viewed positively, with the monumental fountains' architectural and decorative innovation being the most visible representation of this. Following a summary of his research, Richard provides a catalogue of monumental fountains discussed in the text that includes a brief architectural description, general dimensions, hydro-technical components, dating hypotheses, and relevant bibliography. While informative, the entries are not cross referenced to figure numbers and pages where particular fountains are discussed.

While Richard's work provides some interesting observations and insights, it is a herculean task for the reader to wrench them from the text. It is extremely challenging to read and was clearly translated verbatim into English without grammatical reorganization or editing, making key points and technical arguments difficult to grasp at times. A careful and thorough editing of the text could have easily corrected all of these problems, but such efforts by the author and, perhaps, more egregiously the publisher, appear non- existent. Virtually every page contains errors: run-on sentences, improper or missing punctuation, typos, and awkward wording. The most glaring are sections of missing text at the end/beginning of pages 47-48, 48-49, and the beginning of page 50, which cause a jarring disconnect for the reader.

Although Richard's functional approach is one of the best methodologies to explore the topic of monumental fountains from an archaeological perspective, theoretical modelling is no substitute for hard data upon which observations and conclusions are based. Despite its archaeological perspective, the author consistently cites a "lack of archaeological evidence" as a reason why concrete data cannot be provided and theoretical models must be used. , While the evidence may be sparse, enough exists to provide a foundation for extrapolation, particularly in vital sections that would greatly benefit from it (i.e. flow-rate calculations). In the end, this repeated justification dons the air of a convenient excuse with the reader having to accept Richard's conclusions without full knowledge of the evidence. Unfortunately, the final product does not leave the reader focused on the author's results, but leaves one wondering how many corners may have been cut during the research and review process.


1.   For example "We already pointed out that a fountain built at the end of an aqueduct...(p 157)" or "A fountain supplied by means of a high-discharge conduit...(p 160)." In these examples, which are only two of numerous that appear throughout the text, the reader cannot conclusively know if the author is referring to monumental fountains, public fountains, or is providing a comment on fountains in general.
2.   Unfortunately, the subjects of each column are not explained in the text or provided in the tables themselves, making them less "user-friendly" than they could be.

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