by: Geoff Ficke

I recently visited the exciting, ancient city of Rome, Italy with my family. Of course, we all know that this city by the Tiber River is basically an open-air museum, with stunning historic relics every where one looks. The Forum, the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Borghese Gardens, Hadrians Arch, the catacombs, the Vatican and Sistine Chapel are only a few of the popular tourist destinations that all visitors feel compelled to visit.

We did visit these and many more beautiful, famously important spots. These antiquities are so completely inter-mingled with the modern metropolitan features of Rome that it seems as if the city of Romulus and Remus, Caesar and Nero, Mussolini and Berlusconi, is the result of some celestial urban planner’s mad genius. Streets, sewers, neighborhoods, electric grid and traffic swirl madly around ancient churches, villas, monuments and fountains. The result, especially at night, is an almost surreal, Felini-like aura.

In this maelstrom the city government is attempting to improve the transit infrastructure by building a subway. However, the effort is constantly being delayed. As digging progresses, the contractors are regularly running into more ancient artifacts and sites that have been built over many centuries ago. These places by law are excavated by the countries historic trust agency. Each site must be fully researched, cataloged, and blocked off from the subway construction. As a result the city has no idea when the system will be finished, or at what price.

This constant push/pull of the ancient versus the modern, of history versus contemporary society’s needs is a daily feature of life in all of Italy. However, one of ancient Rome’s greatest achievements, and there were many that still benefit Italy and much of Europe to this day, still works and is essential to contemporary daily Roman life: the aqueduct.

At the height of its power in the 1st century A.D., Rome supported a population of over one million people. Despite it’s setting on the banks of the Tiber River, the city was woefully dry. The Tiber is shallow, silted and often salty. The water is not potable. A growing, powerful city needs a dependable, constant source of water to support the population and the animals that such a society depended upon.

The Romans were the world’s greatest engineers at that time, and possibly of all time. Their success in war and conquest depended greatly on their ability to build roads, siege engines and extend supply lines by creatively engineering solutions to fit every situation they confronted. This craft is fully on display, still today, in the fully operational water Aqueduct that supplies fresh water to the metropolitan city of Rome in 2008.

For over 20 centuries the Roman Aqueduct has brought fresh water from the Appenine Mountains several hundred kilometers east to the city. The constant, uninterrupted flow of pure, fresh water enabled the city to prosper. The Romans were diligent bathers. They created a fully functional sewage system. Fountains, both public and privately built inside villas were a tribute to the creative might of the city. In the ancient world running water was considered miraculous.

Roman dedication to water and its hygienic importance can be seen in every conquered territory that they occupied and governed. North Africa, Gaul, Spain and England all benefited hugely from Roman water system engineering. The Roman Baths in Bath, England, over 2000 years old still function perfectly to this day. Millions of visitors annually marvel at the engineering that provided hot, tepid and cool running water to bathers in this ancient Roman market town in Southern England.

Nevertheless, despite the accumulated knowledge of Roman engineering and the acknowledged importance of fresh water to healthy living the world went dark. After the fall of Rome in the 5th century the world entered into a Dark Age. Plague, disease, famine and drought became regularly visitors to places that only generations earlier had been fertile, productive, and creative.

Hygiene became virtually non-existent. Human waste was simply thrown into streets and alleys. People lived in the same dwellings as farm animals. The world cooled slightly and this drove people and animals even closer together as they sought warmth and comfort. Of course, this became a perfect environment for rats to thrive. People died from the Black Death by the millions. Bodies were not properly disposed of, thus creating more opportunity for the grim reaper to plunder whole towns of their citizenry.

The loss of access to the most basic of commodities, fresh water, is one of history’s riddles. The Romans provided the wherewithal, aqueducts, pumps, wells and lead piping. And yet, for centuries, the civilized world lived without this most basic of elements.

Today we are fixated on a looming energy crisis. Energy powers our modern world in its many forms. Modern technology will be deployed to seek and perfect answers that satisfy the modern worlds thirst for energy in many new and old forms. The rewards for supplying abundant and cleaner energy are simply too huge for the marketplace of ideas not too respond.

The loss or lack of understanding, of the importance of water to life in the Dark Ages is a potentially sobering prospect for we moderns to consider. The Romans harvested water ingeniously 2000 years ago. Then, inexplicably, for many centuries this knowledge was lost. Along with energy, water availability is a real, intractable, worldwide problem. We need to apply modern technologies and Roman sensibilities to discovering, transporting and conserving the world’s most important resource.

Antiquities and transport seem to be colliding in modern Rome. Similarly, the form and function of the Roman Aqueduct would seem to offer perspective today as we seek to more fully hydrate a world that requires vast new sources of water.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.