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The Water Supply of Byzantine Constantinople (Journal of Roman Studies Monograph)
The Water Supply of Byzantine Constantinople (Journal of Roman Studies Monograph)
by Jonathan Bardill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £50.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Academic but fascinating study of a breathtaking Roman engineering triumph, 23 May 2013
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This book reports on over ten years of fieldwork led by British archaeologists to discover and understand the remains of the 4th and 5th Century and later Roman aqueducts serving Constantinople. It also covers in less depth the earlier (Hadrianic) Roman water supply system, and the later Ottoman systems (which built in part at least on the Roman/Byzantine inheritance).

The scope of the Roman works is truly staggering. They collect water from a number of sources. The most distant is around 130km from Constantinople as the crow flies, and some 325km as the aqueduct winds round contours and over valleys. Adding in subsidiary channels collecting water from nearer springs, the total length of channels is at least 590km. The majority, as with all Roman systems, took the form of masonry water channels set into the ground. But there are also a large number of aqueduct bridges carrying the water channel across valleys, ravines and rivers. Some of these bridges are very large, with three tiers of arches and a total height of over 40m.

The book provides a detailed study of the system as it would have operated in Byzantine times and of what remains on or in the ground. It provides an overview of the whole system, its predecessors and successors in a historical context. It then covers in detail the water supply lines outside the city and the architecture and archaeology of the channels and bridges. Further chapters cover the water distribution system within the city and the substantial storage arrangements in the form of reservoirs and cisterns. Finally it details the symbols and inscriptions on the bridges and the masons' marks found throughout the system. An appendix provides translations of all the known major texts relating to the system from Roman/Byzantine sources and some from the Ottoman period.

The book is very well produced, with a large number of high-quality maps and architecural drawings, some of the them fold-out. My one note of criticim would be that the maps have no direct scale (though they are said to be 1:50,000) and crucially no latitude and longitude coordinates to help locate the various features. The text is equally lacking in any specific locational data, which seems a surprising omission given the many references in the book to detailed GPS surveying.

Be warned that this is an academic text and by no means a light read. That said, it is well written and full of fascinating material on a relatively unknown masterpiece of Roman water engineering (hardly mentioned, for example, in Roman Aqueducts and Water Supply by A Trevor Hodge). If that interests you, buy it!


Thirst: Water and Power in the Ancient World
Thirst: Water and Power in the Ancient World
by Prof Steven Mithen
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting introduction to pre-industrial water engineering, 19 Jan. 2013
This book covers the efforts of a range of pre-industrial communities to control and use water. Not all are strictly ancient: Steven Mithen's chapters deal with pre-history in the Levant; the Sumerians; the Minoans, Mycenaeans and Ancient Greeks; the Romans and Byzantines; the Chinese; the Kings of Angkor in Cambodia; the Hohokam in the American South West; the Maya; and finally the Incas. Given this very broad coverage, both geographically and culturally, his treatment of each area is inevitably fairly short, even superficial in parts. But he provides a very interesting introduction to what is known, from archaelogy mainly but also in some cases from other sources, about the control and use of water by each of these cultures. In some cases the purpose is clear - collection and storage of water for human use or irrigation for example. In other cases there is controversy - whether the water engineering at Angkor was primarily for irrigation, for flood prevention or simply for display for example. In these cases he provides a useful guide to the competing theories and attempts to resolve them as far as he can. He does the same for theories about the role of failures in water management (eg through drought or salination) in the decline of cultures as diverse as the Sumerians and the Maya.

Stephen Mithen is Professor of Early Prehistory at Reading University. His own area of interest academically seems to be the very early period in the Levant and Mespotamia. This makes the first two or three of his case studies the most interesting Elsewhere the lack of depth can be frustrating, particularly where it is clear he is just skimming the surface. That is most obvious in the case of Roman water engineering and its antecedents. If you reallly want to know about those, this book is a very poor relation to the masterpiece in the area - "Roman Aqueducts & Water Supply" by A Trevor Hodge (which I see has a uniform score of 5 stars in the three reviews on Amazon, a rating I would entirely endorse).

This is nevertheless an interesting read with a strong Bibliography to guide readers to further material and well worth 4 stars.


A History of Modern Computing (History of Computing)
A History of Modern Computing (History of Computing)
by Paul Ceruzzi
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent history of electronic computers 1945-95, 28 July 2012
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I read this in 2003, and I have just read it a second time. Paul Ceruzzi has written an excellent history of the mainstream of electronic computing from the end of the Second World War up to the date of his book (published in 1998). He brings out very well the way in which computers have evolved, with developments we might think of as "new" having deeper roots than we imagine and often building on the work and ideas of earlier generations of engineers (as in the link between personal computers and the earlier minicomputers). But he also shows how the development of computing has always been marked by the emergence of new entrants and disruptive innovation with astonishingly quick effects in challenging the seemingly unassailable positions of incumbents (as originally with IBM's entry into the market, and later the challenge to IBM from both minicomputers and personal computers).

Inevitably there are some reservations. The story here is almost exclusively American. There are references to early developments in Germany and the UK, and later to Japan. But they are only references - look elsewhere for any detailed coverage of the story outside the US. This is also a book which is essentially about commercial computing - machines which were offered to market customers rather than machines built for specialist customers like the armed forces. Finally it is better on hardware than software. Although it covers both, the essential narrative is about electronic engineering, not software engineering (although he has an amusing section about that as a contradiction in terms).

With those caveats, it is a very good book which is well worth reading.


The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt
The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt
by Toby Wilkinson
Edition: Hardcover

61 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A superficial romp through Ancient Egyptian history, 20 Nov. 2010
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I started this book thinking it was an interesting, detailed history of Ancient Egypt "from 300BC to Cleopatra". But perhaps that sub-title should have set alarm bells ringing. Why not "Narmer to Cleopatra; or 3000BC to 30BC? For the first few chapters I was thinking "That's interesting" or "How does anyone know that?". But then the doubts set in. In the attempt to provide an accessible narrative history, Toby Wilkinson has washed away nearly all the ambiguity and careful weighing of fragmentary evidence that's surely an ineveitable part of Egyptology. And for this reader at least, he seemed to lose any flavour of how the nature of Egyptian civilisation changed during the course of 3000 years. (As an example, I read several early parts of the text as implying a monetary economy surely much too early in the story.) Instead of this, read Barry Kemp's "Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization" (preferably the 2nd Edition), or if you must have narrative history, "The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt" (edited by Ian Shaw).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 25, 2012 12:30 PM BST


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