Water management is an issue that weaves itself throughout Syrian and Mesopotamian history. Irrigation canals and water diversions have a long archaeological and historical record. As one example – royal inscriptions from 2500 to 2350 BC from Mesopotamia relate to how Eannatum the ruler of Lagash extended the Inun water canal and how disputes over canals and irrigated fields led to war between that state and the neighboring state of Umma.
The Romans were the great water engineers and managers of the ancient world. Throughout Syria there remain, sometimes in working order, examples of Roman water management. One type of Roman water work that is extremely abundant, and often still functional, is the Roman Cistern (Abar Romani). These are small excavated caverns, often lined with Roman hydraulic cement, that capture surface flow from the winter rains for use in the dry summer. They typically have a large stone cover to protect the water. There are at least 1115 of these cisterns in Syria. On a small road near Qatura northeast of Aleppo one such cistern sits beneath a set of Roman cave tombs and is still used by travelers.
Another fascinating technology used by the Romans was the water wheel (Noria) which is represented in 4th century AD mosaics from Syria. The noria is powered by the flow of a river and lifts water in buckets to fields or aqueducts. There remain a number of ancient Arabic water wheels along the Orontes River in and near Hama. These water works date back to medieval times and as late as 1985 there were about 80 in use along the river irrigating over 5000 ha. Today only a handful remain and those in Hama itself are tourist attractions for the city – ancient and elegant reminders of the long history of water management and transference in Syria.