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Roman land-surveyors. They were more commonly called mensores or agrimensores, gromatici being a late term derived from the groma, which was the most important of the surveyor's instruments, used to survey straight lines, squares, and rectangles. It consisted of a wooden pole, on top of which was attached a cross; plumb-lines hung from each arm of the cross. Recent analysis suggests that the traditional reconstruction of a curved angle-bracket to connect the pole to the cross does not tally with the remains found in a surveyor's workshop in Pompeii in 1912, and may be unnecessary.

The primary objective of the land surveyor was to establish limites, roadways or baulks intersecting at right angles and dividing the land into squares or rectangles (centuriae, hence limitatio, centuriatio (see centuriation)). He first plotted the two basic limites (decumanus maximus and cardo maximus), and then more limites were established parallel to these and designated ‘first limes to the right or left of the decumanus maximus’, and ‘first limes on the near or far side of the cardo maximus’, and so on.

Civilian surveyors were often freedmen and constituted a professional group whose activities were well known in Roman life (e.g. Plaut. Poen. 49; Ov. Met. 1. 135); they were in great demand at the end of the republic and in the early Principate when vast amounts of land were distributed to soldiers (see veterans). In the later empire they were absorbed into the imperial bureaucracy. They established boundaries on private estates, assessed land for the census and land-tax, and most importantly measured and divided public land (ager publicus) for the establishment of colonies; when they had taken the colonists to their allocations and completed a map of the settlement and a register of each holding, the founder signed the records, copies of which were kept in the colony and in Rome. Surveyors also advised in all kinds of land dispute. They were expected to master not only practical implementation, but also law and jurisdiction relating to land-holding. Under the empire, army camps and forts were laid out by military surveyors attached to each legion, who could also advise on land disputes in the provinces or construction projects (e.g. ILS 5795). The work of surveyors is strikingly illustrated by fragments of a stone record of the land survey instituted at Arausio (mod. Orange) in 77 ce. Part of a plan (forma) of the territory round the river Ana in Lusitania has also been discovered.

Many technical treatises on land surveying were collected in an edition of the 6th cent. ce, including works ascribed to Iulius Frontinus, Hyginus (2), cf. (4), Siculus Flaccus, Iunius Nipsus, Innocentius, and the anonymous libri coloniarum. Furthermore, the Arcerianus and Palatine manuscripts of the texts contain many colour illustrations, dating from the 6th–7th and 9th cents., of surveying techniques and settlements mentioned by the authors. The works in the collection, although badly corrupted in transmission and sometimes obscurely expressed, are of unique historical importance for their detailed description of the nature and practice of land settlement, and the role of emperors, especially Augustus, in regulating urban centres in a rural environment.



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    C. Thulin, ed. Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum 1/1. Leipzig: Teubner, 1913; repr. 1971.Find this resource:

      J. Bouma, Marcus Iunius Nipsus–Fluminis Varatio, Limitis Repositio (1993).Find this resource:

        M. Clavel-Lévêque and others, Siculus Flaccus (1993).Find this resource:

          M. Clavel-Lévêque and others, Hygin l’Arpenteur (1996).Find this resource:

            O. Behrends and others, Frontin. L’Oeuvre gromatique (1998).Find this resource:

              O. Behrends and others, Hygin, L’Oeuvre gromatique (2000).Find this resource:

                B. Campbell, The Writings of the Roman Land Surveyors (2000).Find this resource:


                  J. Bradford, Ancient Landscapes (1957).Find this resource:

                    F. Castagnoli, Le ricerche sui resti della centuriazione (1958).Find this resource:

                      A. Piganiol, Les Documents cadastraux de la colonie romaine d'Orange, Gallia, Suppl. 16 (1962).Find this resource:

                        O. A. W. Dilke, Imago Mundi 1967, 9.Find this resource:

                          The Roman Land Surveyors (1971).Find this resource:

                            F. T. Hinrichs, Die Geschichte der gromatischen Institutionen (1974).Find this resource:

                              M. Clavel-Lévêque and others, Cadastres et espace rural: Approches et réalités antiques (1983).Find this resource:

                                G. Chouquer and others, Structures agraires en Italie centro-méridionale (1987).Find this resource:

                                  P. Sáez Fernández, Habis 1990, 205.Find this resource:

                                    O. Behrends and L. Capogrossi Colognesi (eds.), Die römische Feldmesskunst (1992).Find this resource:

                                      D. J. Gargola, Land, Laws and Gods (1995).Find this resource:

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