Conspicuous consumption of water is a well-known feature of Roman villas and Roman Imperial palaces that were not only built close to or around water, but also equipped with all kinds of hydraulic amenities: e.g. ponds, pools and basins of different sizes and functions, nymphaea, fountains, grottoes, and bathing facilities. It is commonly assumed that these Roman palaces and villas were inspired by palaces of Hellenistic rulers in the eastern Mediterranean. This paper critically assesses, whether the eastern Hellenistic palaces also served as models for water luxury – a central question that has not yet been comprehensively investigated in scholarship.
While it is obvious that all palaces must have been provided with basic water management, comprising water supply and wastewater disposal, “water luxury” is defined more narrowly, including the above-mentioned features such as fountains, nymphaea, and bathing facilities that did not just serve basic needs. In a synthetic, comparative approach, it is analyzed whether the sufficiently preserved palaces of the various eastern royal dynasties provided clearly identifiable luxurious water amenities, and if so, when and where. Examples to be discussed include Vergina, Pella, Pergamon, Aï Khanoum, and the Hasmonean palaces at Jericho. If sufficiently known, each palace is evaluated within its local context in order to assess local standards and conditions.
It is argued that concepts and practices of water luxury were not yet standard of eastern Hellenistic palaces, and the conclusion discusses possible reasons for this phenomenon.