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PISCI´NA (κολυμβήθρα, δεξαμενὴ) is properly a fish-pond, either of salt water or of fresh; see the passages in Forcellini and the Dictionaries. It denotes also any kind of reservoir, especially those connected with the aqueducts and the baths (AQUAEDUCTUS p. 149 a; BALNEAE [p. 2.430]p. 275 b, note). Conversely, the Greek κολυμβήθρα was by no means confined to its original meaning of a swimming-bath, but included the various senses of piscina.

Reservoirs were made, as in modern times, by damming up the lower end of a valley. One of the largest and finest was constructed at Agrigentum and is described by Diodorus (11.25), though in his time it had ceased to exist; it was seven stadia in circumference, twenty cubits deep, an ornamental sheet of water abounding with fish and swans: he calls it κολυμβήθρα, a good example of this use of the word. The hollow of the hill which this reservoir occupied is still plainly to be distinguished, especially from the Temple of Castor and Pollux (cf. EMISSARIUM).

The Romans, with their unbounded command of water-tight cement, were particularly successful in the excavation of underground reservoirs; and having to deal with the highly calcareous water from the Apennines, they had learnt how to get rid of the sedimentary deposits. In the so-called Sette Sale on the Esquiline, a still existing reservoir attached at first to the Golden House of Nero, afterwards to the Baths of Titus, the water was made to flow through no less than eighteen subdivisions, in as devious a course as possible, so that any sediment it contained might be deposited on the way (Middleton, Anc. Rome in 1885, p. 352).

An unrivalled work of this description is the Piscina Msirabile as it is now called, on the road between Baiae and the promontory of Misenum, and still in perfect preservation. This reservoir is excavated out of the tufa rocks on the seacoast, and was used for watering the fleet in days when the naval head-quarters were at Misenum; it is not mentioned by Pliny or any other Latin writer, but it is referred by Winckelmann with great probability to the time of Augustus, and to Agrippa as its constructor. It is 223 feet long and 83 broad, with a vaulted roof of massive masonry, supported by 48 large cruciform pilasters, arranged in regular lines of 12 each, and forming 5 distinct galleries or conpartments. It is entered at the two extremities by stairs of 40 steps each, one of which has been repaired and made accessible. In the middle of the piscina is a depression or sink, extending nearly from wall to wall, for collecting the sediment from the water. The roof is perforated by square openings, which probably served for ventilating the interior. The walls and pilasters are covered with a calcareous deposit as high as the spring of the arches. It was supplied by the Julian aqueduct from Lake Serino in the Apennines, whose waters have within the last few years been re-introduced into Naples; the traces of the aqueduct entering the piscina may be seen near the entrance.

(Murray's Handbook of Southern Italy, ed. 1883, p. 330; Handbook of Sicily, s. v. Agrigentum; personal observation.)


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