Within the scope of this research project, technical and legal water management structures on the Iberian Peninsula that have survived from the Roman and Moorish periods were systematically collected, categorized and chronologized.


The Iberian Peninsula constitutes an ideal research area for water management studies. Here, evidence of terrace structures dating as far back as the Bronze Age have been found in Upper Andalusia and elsewhere, suggesting that surface runoff was already being managed for agricultural purposes in prehistoric times. By antiquity, water distribution and (long-distance) transport measures had been implemented as a result of shifting cultural influences, thus allowing central places – up to and including urban settlements – to be established in the arid interior as well. Ground water has been systematically extracted since the Roman times, using not only wells, but also qanats. Furthermore, since Roman times, extensive aqueducts have been installed for long-distance transport of drinking water from mountainous regions with higher amounts of precipitation. With the Arab colonization of the Iberian Peninsula and the introduction of diverse water-consuming crops (e.g. citrus fruits, apricots, almonds, rice, etc.), the introduction of complex system of water management whose technical installations, fundamental legal framework and economic framework remain well documented to this day – at least for several regions on the Iberian Peninsula.

Throughout the changing course of the Reconquista, led by los Reis Catolicos, these measures were preserved in central and eastern Iberia to varying degrees; the Moorish legacy was destroyed to the greatest extent in central Spain, present-day Castilla y la Manca, while in the modern-day provinces of Catalonia, Valencia and Murcia, both the technical structures and the legal and social framework are most fully preserved. Andalusia, which includes large portions of what was ultimately established by the Reconquista as the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, contains the best preserved water catchment, transport and distribution structures from the Roman and Moorish periods; these structures remain partly in use today, having been maintained and adapted to new requirements over the centuries – this applies, among other things, to the social and legal framework.

This research was conducted on the basis of archival studies and supplementary field studies in which data on extant technical water management structures was collected and evaluated through integration with climate data from hindcast modeling to determine how effective these structures were during implementation and exploitation. This data was used in comparative analyses involving parallel research conducted in the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean Regions, and also allows researchers to determine where technical innovations in water management first emerged, and how they spread from their places of origin.

Related Publications

Jonas Berking (Ed.), Water Management in Ancient Civilizations, Berlin: Edition Topoi, 2018

Dietmar Roth, Brian Beckers, Jonas Berking, Sarah Isselhorst and Brigitta Schütt, “A short history of the water and society in the region of Vélez Blanco, East Andalusia”, in: Water History, 8 (2015), 59–73