Water Institutions in Ancient Athens

Various sources indicate that the management of water in the city of Athens during the Classical period was of significant importance.

From Plutarch (historian of  the 1st century AD) we learn that already in the beginning of the 5th century BC there was at least one public official commissioned with the waterworks. According to Plutarch, when Themistocles, the great general who had saved the Greeks from the Persians in 480 BC, was later exiled and visiting the city of Sardis,

“… he saw in the Temple of the Mother (as part of the Persian loot) the Water Carrier, a maiden of bronze which he himself had dedicated when he was water commissioner in Athens, having had her made from the fines he exacted from those who were caught piping off public water…”.

The political importance of water management during the 4th century BC is reflected in the administrational organisation. According to Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians

“…All magistrates having to do with the regular administration are chosen by lot with the exception of the Treasurer of the Military Funds, the Controllers of the Festival Fund and the Superintendent of the Fountains; these are elected by raising hands and serve a term of four years in between the Panathenaia”.

A contemporary decree (I.G., II2, 338) preserved on stone echoes Aristotle and proves that efficient water management was highly appreciated,

“…since Pitheas, having been elected to the superintendence of the fountains, is honourably released from his other duties and has now built a new fountain for the shrine of Ammon and has arranged for bringing water to it, it is agreed to honour Pytheas with a golden crown worth a thousand drachmas so that others elected to the charge of the fountains shall be ambitious on behalf of the people”.

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