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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Water Management and Conflict in the Ancient World Conference

27-28 November 2009

Kenworthy Hall, St Mary's College

The relationship between water and power is now seen to be a key factor in the political economy of the modern world, but this is a relationship with a long history. This project examines ancient water systems of the Mediterranean, the Middle East and South Asia and the role they played in the deployment of political power. Whereas earlier models were based on the idea that the need to manage water distribution was a causal factor in the development of the state, there is now an increasing consensus to indicate that the early state actually preceded the construction of major water distribution systems. Indeed, there is accumulating evidence to suggest that the later empires allowed and encouraged the spread of water systems throughout the Old World, perhaps as a means of maintaining and strengthening their power.

This conference will explore how the development of large territorial empires in the 1st millennium BC and AD allowed major systems of water supply and land drainage to develop and spread. It will focus on three themes in the development and spread of water systems in the Mediterranean, Middle East and NW Europe: legal and traditional practices of water management; the distribution of ancient systems of irrigation and how they relate to the later empires; and infrastructures of water supply, their use and spread.

The workshop will bring together leading international scholars from a wide range of disciplines, including Professor Christer Bruun (University of Toronto & IAS fellow) a leading specialist in legislation and water management; Dr Julia Shaw (UCL) a specialist in water systems of South Asia; Dr Maurits Ertsen (Delft University) editor of the journal Water History and an engineer and expert on systems of water management and distribution; Professor Andrew Wilson, a leading scholar on Roman systems of water supply; Professor Vernon Scarborough (University of Cincinnati) author of a global perspective on water and power; Professor Stephen Rippon (University of Exeter), a leading figure in the study of water, drainage and landscape in NW Europe; Dr Zena Kamash (Oxford University) a specialist in water use in the Middle East; Professor Frank Braemer (CNRS) a leading investigator of systems of water management in ancient Syria; and Dr Rebecca Foote (Reading University) an expert on water management in Nabatean, Jordan.

The conference will be complemented by a photographic exhibition illustrating ancient water systems of the Near East and Mediterranean.

The conference is free and open to all. For more information please contact Dr Anna Leone (, Professor Tony Wilkinson (, or Dr Edmund Thomas (