Some people may have noticed that the scientific/archaeological/historical community has gone a little crazy recently due to the discovery of a large amount of lead in the ground in an archaeological area of the city of Rome.
What does this mean?
Nothing at all. To be honest, this discovery only serves to confirm what we’ve known for a very long time. Life expectancy was very short in the time of the Roman Empire.
Much like the Second World War and asbestos, lead was used on everything during the time of the Ancient Romans. This was before science could have informed them of the unhealthy effects – like death. That’s why I am so unsurprised by the findings. Lead pipes were an essential building material back then, especially for aqueducts and their elaborate plumbing system.
It really reminds me of this :
The argument seems to be that this is a main reason for the fall of the Roman Empire. Although I’ve seen plenty of counter arguments, emphasizing that there is no indication of deterioration of mental or physical health as a result of leaded water.
Inbreeding within the senatorial elite took care of that.
This topic was of double interest to me because I’m currently reading the book Pompeii by Robert Harris. It’s about a young Aquarius, the engineer in charge of an aqueduct, and his quest to repair an aqueduct, while racing against the clock before Vesuvius erupts. The interesting part is the detailed description of how the plumbing system works.
Now, I know the book is fictional, but the research seems reasonably solid. I was struck by how impressive these structures were, but also how fragile the system was. One breach along an aqueduct and the whole thing goes down with a bang.
Quite a gamble!
The point is that everything back then was dangerous and finding extra lead in the ground is the not the Rosetta Stone to the fall of the Roman Empire.