Evolution of Water Supply Through the Millennia

Evolution of Water Supply Through the Millennia


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Evolution of Water Supply Through the Millennia presents the major achievements in the scientific fields of water supply technologies and management throughout the millennia. It provides valuable insights into ancient water supply technologies with their apparent characteristics of durability, adaptability to the environment, and sustainability.

A comparison of the water technological developments in several civilizations is undertaken. These technologies are the underpinning of modern achievements in water engineering and management practices. It is the best proof that “the past is the key for the future.” Rapid technological progress in the twentieth century created a disregard for past water technologies that were considered to be far behind the present ones.There are a great deal of unresolved problems related to the management principles, such as the decentralization of the processes, the durability of the water projects, the cost effectiveness, and sustainability issues such as protection from floods and droughts.In the developing world, such problems were intensified to an unprecedented degree. Moreover, new problems have arisen such as the contamination of surface and groundwater. Naturally, intensification of unresolved problems led societies to revisit the past and to reinvestigate the successful past achievements. To their surprise, those who attempted this retrospect, based on archaeological, historical, and technical evidence were impressed by two things: the similarity of principles with present ones and the advanced level of water engineering and management practices.

Evolution of Water Supply Through the Millennia is intended for engineers in water resources companies, hydraulic design companies, and water Institutes.It can be usedforall courses related to water resources.

Authors: Andreas N. Angelakis, Institute of Iraklion, National Foundation for Agricultural Research (N.AG.RE.F.), Greece, Larry W. Mays,School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University, USA, Demetris Koutsoyiannis,School of Civil Engineering, National Technical University of Athens,Greece, Nikos Manassis, School of Civil Engineering, National Technical University of Athens, Greece.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781843395409
Publisher: IWA Publishing
Publication date: 04/15/2012
Pages: 584
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.75(d)

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Ancient gods and goddesses of water

L. W. Mays and A. N. Angelakis


Water is the beginning of everything

Thales of Miletus (636–546 BC)

To ancient civilizations and cultures, water was considered as a potential destructive element, but also a necessity to life, next to food, safety and hygiene; usually some deity was associated with water. Also, water was important for purifying the body and for cleaning. Dieties associated with water or various bodies of water were important in almost all mythologies. Deities and religious beliefs prescribed its uses, collection and purification. Minoans, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and the American Indians all had gods and goddesses for water irrigation of crops as well as water purity. Temples water delivery systems were often built to honour these gods and certain elements were incorporated to honour the god. Also gods and/or goddesses were associated with making rain in order to face severe droughts (Haland, 2007). Water deities were usually more important among civilizations when a sea or an ocean, or a great river was important.

Gods and goddesses have had a significant influence on the human society since the ancient times. This Chapter explores some of the ancient gods and goddesses of rain, water, rivers, and sea. The gods are considered collectively as a "pantheon" of a particular mythology. Many ancient societies had a "Creator God" and many lower levels of gods and goddesses. Most ancient societies had a belief system that was "polytheistic," meaning they worshipped many gods. They believed that there was a god for every aspect (or element) of the Earth such as the sun, the moon, wind, lightning, rain, water, etc. In many ancient cultures the moon was seen as gentle and feminine in contrast to the sun which was seen as masculine. Ancient Egyptians believed that the gods and goddesses maintained the balance of chaos and order on earth. Some ancient gods and goddesses are still worshipped today, such as Chac, the Mayan god of rain. Gods and goddesses could be aspects of one another and could have shifting roles and levels of importance such as the Vedic gods in the Vedic religion in India.

Gods and goddesses have been depicted by various cultures in many different ways. For example ancient Indian gods and goddesses have been depicted with many arms showing a sign of great power, with multiple heads, and with combined human and animal characteristics. Sun gods were often depicted with attributes of wheels, while sky gods were depicted as hammers to symbolise thunder. Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses took on many human and animal forms. The gods of the ancient Greeks were almost all conceived of as being human in form. Other gods, such as those at the founding of Rome, were numina (divine manifestations, faceless, and formless) but no less powerful. For the Romans everything in nature was thought to be inhabited by numina, explaining the large number of deities in the Roman pantheon. Gods and goddesses of the Tibetan Buddhism take on a variety of forms ranging from the fierce to the peaceful. Goddesses, in some cultures, are associated with earth, motherhood, love, and the household, while in other cultures, they rule over war, death, and destruction as well as healing.

In the following sections the major water gods and goddesses in several ancient civilizations and/or religions are presented and discussed. Emphasis is given to Mesopotamians and Egyptians, to the Bronze era, to Hellenistic and Roman civilizations, to the Celtic and Hindu mythologies and to the ancient Mesoamericans (e.g. Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas).


In Mesopotamia humans were created to alleviate the gods from the hard work they had to do. Mesopotamia, "the land between the rivers," that is the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, is in the Fertile Crescent. During the time of ancient Mesopotamia urban civilization grew, the wheel was invented, arts and sciences flourished, writing was pioneered, and humankind began to create a record of the past. All life originated with water for these people (Woolf, 2005).

Water was ever present in all aspects of Mesopotamian life, including religion, politics, law, economy, international affairs, war, etc. Enuma Elish is the Babylonian creation myth recorded on seven clay tablets in Old Babylonian. The Enuma Elish indicated that in the beginning water already existed, distinguishing between Apsu, conceived as a male god of freshwater (sweet) waters, and Tiamat, his spouse, a goddess of salt water. Also, Apsu denotes the freshwater upon which the earth floated. As underground waters, Apsu may be reached when laying the foundations of a temple, and also appears naturally in pools and marshes (Jacobsen, 1946). The Apsu is the domain of one of the most important gods in the Mesopotamian pantheon, Enki (Sumerian) and later Ea (Akkadian), who was depicted with cascade of water emanating from his shoulders, or holding a vase from where water emerges, as shown in Figure 1.1a. Enki, as master of the fresh water was a creator god, a wise god, always ready to help humans. The god Murdak (Figure 1.1b) was recognised as the son of Ea. His powers and attributes were passed to him from Ea and another god, Enlil.

Tablet I from the Atra-Hasis epic about the creation and early history of man begins: 'When the gods like men / bore the work and suffered the toil ...'. The heavy work included digging and maintenance of canals. But the lesser gods did not tolerate this state of affairs, and they rebelled (' ... they set fire to their tools, / fire to their spades they put / and flame to their hods ...'). As a result, mankind was created: '... Let the birth-goddess create offspring / and let man bear the toil of the gods ...'. And men 'with picks and spades they built the shrines, / they built the big canals' banks / for food of the peoples, for sustenance of the gods'. However, 'Twelve hundred years had not yet passed', the peoples multiplied and with their noise disturbed the gods who decided to exterminate mankind. At this point, Enki intervened and alerted one man, Atra-Hasis, who was instructed on how to escape from the plan of the gods and let mankind survive. Tablet II refers to one of the ways the gods attempted to eradicate mankind from the earth: '... Adad (god of weather) should withhold his rain, / and below, the flood should not come up from the abyss / . ... / let the fields diminish their yields ...'. Famine arose not only from the drought, but also because the soil became unsuitable for agriculture due to salinisation: '... the black fields became white, / the broad plain was choked with salt ...'. Not succeeding with famine (due to Enki's intervention), the gods decided on a devastating flood that 'tear up the mooring poles' and 'make the dykes overflow'. Tablet III describes that 'for seven days and seven nights / came the deluge, the storm, the flood'.

The Sumerian version of the flood (Lambert & Millard, 1999) explicitly says that construction and maintenance of water channels was a god's decision '... he (the god) did not stop the yearly flood, but dug the ground and brought the water, / he established the cleaning of the small canals and the irrigation ditches ...'.


Ancient Egyptian civilization was centred about its highly complex religion (Woolf, 2005). In ancient Egypt all aspects of human life were reflected in the divine world and the range of associations held by the deities and goddesses (Oakes & Gahlin, 2003). They believed that the balance of order and chaos in the universe could only be maintained by the gods and goddesses and their representative on earth (the king or the pharaoh). Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses took on many different human and animal different forms. For example Aker the earth god, appeared as two lions back-to-back on a tract of land with lion or human heads at either end. Anat, the goddess of war appeared as a woman with a lance, axe and shield. Many of the deities were worshipped in temples and shrines throughout Egypt. Hundreds of deities were in the Egyptian pantheon. Many of these originated as local gods who became the central focus of important cults and others borrowed from different cultures.

For thousands of years the people of Egypt have owed their very existence to a river that flowed mysteriously and inexplicably out of the greatest and most forbidding desert in the world (Hillel, 1994). The ancient Egyptians depended upon the Nile not only for their livelihoods, but they also considered the Nile to be a deific force of the universe, to be respected and honoured if they wanted it to treat them favourably. Its annual rise and fall were likened to the rise and fall of the sun, each cycle equally important to their lives, though both remaining a mystery. Since the Nile sources were unknown up until the 19th century, the ancient Egyptians believed it to be a part of the great celestial ocean, or the sea that surrounds the whole world. Shown in Figure 1.2 is Hapi – the Nile god, first shown as one god and then as two gods, portrayed with breasts to show his capacity to nurture.

Ancient Egyptians considered the sun (the dominant factor in Egyptian life) to be a potent life force along with the annual inundation of the Nile, which was responsible for the successful harvests. Re or Ra, meaning "the Sun," was the pre-eminent god of solar and appeared as a ram or falcon head with sun disc and cobra headdress. The cult centre for Re was in Heliopolis. For further reading on ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses refer to Wilkinson (2003).


The Minoan civilization (ca. 3200–1100 BC) was based on the island of Crete, a very fertile land. The importance of religion of the Cretans is somewhat sketchy because they built no great temples or carved statues of gods. However the Cretans did leave behind many other items such as small shrines, and representations of sacred birds, trees, bulls, and snakes. They also built lustral basins (rooms possibly set aside for cult worship), temple repositories, double-axes, and sacral horns. They also used sacred caves and shrines set aside on mountain peaks. Religious scenes are shown in Figure 1.3 and lustral basins are shown in Figure 1.4a.

Goddesses seem to have had the dominant role in Cretan religion as they played a dominant role in their society (Graham, 1987). A so-called Poppy goddess, with three incised poppy seeds on her head that was found at a small ritual shrine suggests that opium was used to induce religious ecstasy (Freeman, 2004). Referring to Figure 1.4b women had a dominant role as they had elaborate costumes indicating their importance. The colourful frescos of women found in palaces may indicate a more feminine influence than other societies of the ancient times. In fact archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes in her book, The Dawn of the Gods (London, 1968) argued that Minoan Crete was essentially a feminine society. Also Minoan ritual included the possible sacrificing of children (Freeman, 2004).


Hydros (or Hydrus) was the protogenos of the primordial waters. In the Orphic Theogonies Water was the first being to emerge at creation alongside Creation (Thesis, goddess of creation) and Mud. The primordial mud solidified into Gaia (Earth) and with Hydros produced Kronos (time) and Ananke (compulsion). These two in turn caught the early cosmos in the coils, and split it apart to form the god Phanes (creator of life), and the four ordered elements of Heaven (fire), Earth, Air and Sea (water). The Orphic Rhapsodies later discarded the figures the Kronos and Ananke, and have Phanes instead born directly from Hydros and Gaia [Homer, Iliad 14. 200 ff (trans. Lattimore) Greek epic C8th BC].

In Greek mythology the Twelve Olympians were the principal gods of the Greek pantheon, residing atop Mount Olympus. There were, at various times, fourteen different gods recognised as Olympians, though never more than twelve at one time. In Greek mythology, the twelve gods and goddesses ruled the universe from atop Greece's Mount Olympus. These Olympians, all related to one another, had come to power after their leader, Zeus, overthrew his father, Kronos, leader of the Titans. Later the Romans adopted most of these Greek gods and goddesses, but with new names.

1.5.1 Olympian gods and goddesses

Achelous (Figure 1.5), named after the Achelous River (largest river in Greece), was the chief of all river deities. The name is pre-Greek and the meaning unknown. Every river had its own river spirit. Tethys was a Greek deity who oversaw the fresh water rivers of the world and the mother and grandmother of thousands of other deities.

Tethys (Figure 1.6) was a goddess who most probably was a primordial deity in Archaic Greece, but who was seen in Classical myths as the deity responsible for the fresh water rivers of the world and the progenitor of thousands of water deities. Tethys was described in classical myths as the deity responsible for the fresh water rivers of the world and the progenitor of thousands of water deities. Tethys was considered as an embodiment of the waters of the worldmaking her also a counterpart of Thalassa, the embodiment of the sea.

Demeter (Figure 1.7), the goddess of earth, agriculture, water and fertility, was the second daughter of the major Titans Rhea and Cronus, after Hestia, the goddesses of the hearth. Demeter was a peace-loving deity and the source of all growth and life; she was the goddess who provided all nutrition on the earth and taught mortals how to cultivate the earth and ease life. Demeter was most appreciated for introducing wheat to mankind, making man different from animals.

1.5.2 Zeus or Poseidon of rain

The ancient Greeks worshipped Zeus or Poseidon (Figure 1.8) god of rain and in colloquial speech one can say "Zeus is raining" (Haland, 2007). Children in Ancient Greece sang: "Rain, rain, o dear Zeus, on the fields of the Athenians." According to the tradition, Zeus was the god of rain (Hes. Op. 488).

Fully-fledged rain-magic is found in the cult of Zeus Lykaios in Arkadia, where nevertheless one of the Nymphs who reared him also has something to say: if a severe drought lasts a long time the priest of Zeus will go to the spring of the Nymph Hagno, make a sacrifice, and let the blood run into the spring (Haland, 2007). Then, after prayer, he dips a branch from an oak (the sacred tree of Zeus) into the water, and forthwith a vapour will rise up from the spring like a mist, 'and a little way off the mist becomes a cloud, collects other clouds, and makes the rain drop on Arkadian land, (Haland, 2009).

Among the ancient Greeks, a king is often a magician in the service of the gods. Part of his duty is to be a weather-king. He is "making the weather", and this means that he is making rain, for example by shaking rattles or by other means trying to make thunder and lightning. In ancient Thessaly, when the land suffered from drought, they shook a bronze wagon by way of praying the god for rain, and it was said rain came. This was a traditional public ceremony for the making of rain (Haland, 2007).


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Table of Contents

Table of contents: Prolegomena, The Goddesses and the Gods of Water, Water for Human Consumption Through the History, History of Water and Health, Diachronic Climatic Changes Impact on Water Resources, The Impact of Climate Changes on the Evolution of Water Supply Works in the Region of Jerusalem, Water Supply Technologies in Ancient Crete, Greece, Urban Water Management in Ancient Greece, Historical Development of Water Supply in Cyprus, Water Supply in Pre-Columbian Civilizations in Ancient Peru and South America, Water Supply in Ancient Egypt, Contribution of the Greek and Roman Civilizations to the Evolution of Water Supply, History of Water Supply in Premodern China, Hydraulics Techniques in the Middle-east during Roman and Byzantine Periods, Water Services in Tenochtitlan and in Mexico City, Mexico, Water Supply Sustainability of Ancient Civilizations in Mesoamerica and the America Southwest, Water Supply of Barcelona City, Spain Throughout the Centuries, Water Supply of Athens city, Greece in Antiquity, History of the Water Supply of Rome, Italy, Analysis of the Water Supply System of the Ancient city of Apamea (Syria), during Roman and Byzantine Periods: A Case study, Water Supply in Modern Times in Relation to the Ancient Civilizations: Legacies and Lessons

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