Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.05.22


Dora P. Crouch, Water Management in Ancient Greek Cities. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. Pp. xx + 380. ISBN 0-19-507280-4. $55.00.


Reviewed by Harry B. Evans, Fordham University.

The blurb on the dust jacket describes Crouch's study as "pioneering," and in many respects it is. Her book takes an interdisciplinary approach to the problem of how the ancient Greeks managed their water, applying the "protechnical" or "systemic" methods of geology, geography, and modern urban studies to archaeological data from Greek sites that have been traditionally examined in approaches Crouch describes as "episodic and object-oriented" (vii). This study of water management is therefore an attempt to pierce what Crouch describes as "an impenetrable membrane" (312) dividing classicists and their colleagues in the geological sciences, yet it is also directed primarily to us classicists, those most interested in the sites in question and the civilization they represent. Readers will therefore find her presentation innovative and provocative, and they will also learn much from it.

Crouch acknowledges at the beginning the problems in a cross-disciplinary approach to studying Greek water supplies and distribution. She correctly points out, however, that because water behaves today exactly as it always has, and certainly behaved in antiquity, understanding the geological bases of Greek settlements and the water resources they provided (and in many cases still provide) is crucial to understanding the urban growth and development of the sites themselves. Classicist readers should therefore expect to learn much about karst phenomena, the limestone terrane (using the specialized geological spelling Crouch prefers) of surface openings, pinnacles, blind valleys, and underground drainage that characterizes much of the geography of the Mediterranean basin. It was, after all, this terrain (or terrane) that the ancient Greeks tapped or exploited for settlement and urban development, and Crouch argues that cities such as Corinth, Syracuse, and Morgantina owe their basic form and urbanistic growth primarily to the karstic systems of the ground they occupy.

Crouch organizes her study primarily around the three sites just mentioned, Corinth, its colony Syracuse, and the Syracusan colony Morgantina, but she also includes shorter treatments of water management at Pergamum, Delphi, Akragas, Selinus, Priene, Miletus, Olynthos, Pompeii, and Athens. In some cases her discussions review and reassess earlier archaeological work, such as the systematic examination of Pompeii's water system by H. Eschebach, the studies of the fountains at Corinth by B. H. Hill and H. S. Robinson, the extensive work on Pergamene aqueducts by Fahlbusch and Garbrecht, and Camp's 1979 dissertation on the water system of Athens. For Syracuse and Morgantina, however, Crouch presents largely her own findings based on extensive exploration of the sites, particularly Morgantina. Some of her work on Morgantina appeared earlier in AJA 88 (1984), but much of it is published here for the first time, and with some highly significant, and even surprising, conclusions.

Crouch argues that it is impossible to understand the development of Syracuse (or its colony Morgantina) without assessing the karst phenomena at each site responsible both for the growth of each city as well as their significant geological features, such as the fresh water spring on Ortygia and underwater springs in Syracuse harbor. Morgantina receives the most detailed attention, since it is a well excavated site that Crouch knows intimately. Here the evidence of significant "redundancy" (314) in the town's water supply from different sources (running water from springs, supplies from wells, rainwater captured in cisterns, and drainage water channeled from the town into the surrounding countryside) leads her to new but quite sensible conclusions about the deliberately systematic water use at Morgantina: spring water was reserved for human consumption, rainwater from cisterns served for cooking and washing, and drainage water flushed latrines and fertilized nearby agricultural land. All this is eminently reasonable, since we know that the Romans also reused their water: Frontinus reports that run-off water from public fountains in Rome served to flush the city's sewers (Aq. 111.2). Unlike Rome, however, where a modern city overlies the archaeological evidence, Morgantina, which was abandoned in the early empire, provides ample physical documentation how available springs and water sources influenced the layout of the agora and development of residential quarters and how its citizens made highly economical use of an essential resource.

Even more telling are Crouch's conclusions about responsibility for water management at Morgantina: water storage (that collected in house cisterns) appears to have been a family responsibility, drainage was a joint task both for individual families and the larger community, and the water flowing for public fountains was a municipal responsibility. The evidence therefore suggests that the Greeks at Morgantina and elsewhere made far more intelligent use and reuse of water than they have been given credit for. Indeed, Crouch argues, their ecological sensitivity deserves much more attention in evaluating Hellenic achievements in urban planning and development, and we can learn much from their allocation of water of different qualities for most effective use.

None of these facts seems particularly earthshaking in itself, but Crouch presents them in a new way, making news out of old data. In addition to examining specific sites as "containers for water systems and made up of people who designed, built, maintained and used water systems" (340), she also discusses in considerable detail more general topics like laundry and dishwashing in Hellenic cities, bathing facilities, the design of toilets and latrines, drainage and soil enrichment, and the social impact of community fountains and taps, all of which reveal much about Greek ideas about water conservation and control. There is a vast amount of information here based on twenty years of careful observation and study, and considerable collaboration with geologists, hydraulic engineers, and urban historians.

This is the primary value of Crouch's book, and it is no small one. How it says these things is, however, another matter. The book is richly illustrated with plates and maps, and there is an ample bibliography at the end, particularly valuable for the many geological and geographical sources it includes, but I found Crouch's methodological approach more than a bit repetitive from chapter to chapter, and her citation of primary and secondary sources uneven, at times almost sloppy. Frequently it is difficult to relate her text to the plates, tables, and maps, many of which have been redrawn for this study, but some, like the Frontispiece, are still too small to be read clearly. Some of the tables, like those documenting water elements at particular sites, appeared to be pointless, and there was too little discussion in the text to relate them to the subject at hand. All of this could have been fixed by a careful revision of the manuscript before it went to press.

Even more disappointing in a book selling for $55.00 is the large number of typographical errors, some of them real howlers (Eqypt, Cloacca Maxima, Acropoolis, Eschebach spelled two ways in the same paragraph, to name a few). Crouch indicates in the book her intention to explore further in a forthcoming second volume the relationships between geology and urban location influencing the development of Greek settlements. Classicists will certainly look forward to its appearance, but I for one hope that Oxford will do a better job in editing and producing it.