Plumbing in Ancient Civilizations

From ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia to the Indus Valley, civilizations have used plumbing in some form for thousands of years. It’s time to take a trip back in time!

First Civilizations with Plumbing

The ancient precursors to modern-day plumbing extend further back than you may think!

Water Gets Moving

The Bronze and early Iron Ages featured some of the first recorded instances of waterways, aqueducts, sanitation systems, and toilets!


Aqueduct is an umbrella term for anything carrying water from its source to another area far away from where it is used. Modern aqueducts include ditches, trenches, pipes, and canals, but the first aqueducts looked very different.

  • Ancient Peru utilized a system of underground aqueducts called ‘puquios’ to move freshwater into the desert.
  • The Minoan civilization of what is now Greece was the first civilization known to use subterranean clay pipes for water supply and sanitation purposes.
  • Water wheels known as ‘norias’ were used in ancient Egypt and Rome to move water from rivers to raised aqueducts.


Ancient sewage processes developed from simply dumping waste into local rivers and bodies of water into more sophisticated means.


Some of the earliest examples of clay sewer pipes were found in Mesopotamia at the Temple of Bel at Nippur. Experts believe the pipes were built around 4000 BCE and were used to move wastewater as well as capture rainwater.


The Pyramid of Sahure and its temple complex at Abusir were built in Egypt around 2400 BCE and featured a network of over 380 meters of copper drainage pipes used to remove rainwater and liquids from rituals from the buildings.

Indus Valley

The Indus Valley (modern-day Pakistan and India) civilizations of Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, and Rakhigarhi feature the world’s first examples of urban sanitization systems. Groups of homes within the cities got fresh water from wells. In a room thought to be designed as an early bathroom, used water could be directed to covered drains that lined major streets.