A "New" Translation of Frontinus

De Aquaeductu Urbis Romae

by R. H. Rodgers
The University of Vermont

The present translation is meant to complement in some way the critical edition and commentary which is soon to appear in the Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries series (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). The Latin text and translation from the Loeb edition (1925) is accessible at Bill Thayer's Lacus Curtius website, and at the same site photographic images of some portions of the unique manuscript can be seen.

For further information about Frontinus and the hydrology of Rome, including bibliography, one should visit the Waters of Rome, being developed by Katharine Wentworth Rinne.

The Text and Translation

The Latin text of Frontinus' booklet has survived for us in a single manuscript copy, written at Monte Cassino about the year 1130 and still preserved in that abbey library. The copyist, as it happens, was no ordinary scribe: he was Peter the Deacon, an enigmatic but remarkable monk whose own erratic career left an indelible impression on the history of that venerable monastery. Peter's copy was discovered three centuries later by Poggio Bracciolini, an indefatigable student of the reawakening interest in classical antiquity. To his friend Niccolo Niccoli on 9 July 1429 Poggio writes (of a visit to Monte Cassino), "I found a book containing Julius Frontinus' De aquaeductu urbis. ... I carried the volume away with me to copy the work of Frontinus, although it is so full of mistakes and so badly written that I can hardly read it."[1] This was--and is--an excellent description of the manuscript's quality and condition. Errors, of course, are normally to be expected in a text that has been copied and recopied over the centuries. But in this manuscript they are unusually frequent, and there are in addition numerous spaces left blank where the copyist seems to have been unable to decipher the exemplar from which he was transcribing. Readers, beginning with Poggio himself, have been faced with rather serious editorial problems--merely to achieve a modest coherence of grammar and sense. Scholarly landmarks in this critical study are the editions of Giovanni Poleni (Padua 1722) and Franz Buecheler (Leipzig 1858). While many difficulties have been removed, a large number still remain either apparently beyond hope or admitting of no straightforward solution. In most cases, happily, we can be reasonably confident of the general meaning.

The first English version of this treatise was that published in 1899 by Clemens Herschel, a hydraulic engineer. Lamenting that a work which deserved wider appreciation had been unavailable to the general reader, Mr. Herschel wrote, "We laymen have been waiting for a long time for Latin scholars to do this for us, and they have not responded." But Herschel found in Cornell Professor Charles E. Bennett a welcome ally and able assistant,[2] and in the Frontinus volume of the Loeb Classical Library (1925) the translation of "The Aqueducts" is rightly labelled as Bennett's revision of Herschel's pioneering work.

The present translation is my own, based upon a new edition of the Latin text which I have prepared from a minute study of the Monte Cassino manuscript. That I owe not a little to Herschel and Bennett will be apparent, for I have no more deliberately avoided their work than I have slavishly adhered to it. A first draft of my translation was prepared before the publication of a full translation of the De Aquaeductu by Harry Evans, but from his labors too I have profited.[3]

For those who may use this translation with an edition of the Latin text other than my own, the following should perhaps be specially noted.

ADDITIONS TO THE LATIN AS TRANSMITTED (pointed brackets indicate Latin words added):
3.1 and through what distances each is carried; how much of the course: <quot passus ductus cuiusque efficiat, et ex eo> quantum
3.2 an explanation of pipe sizes, what supply each appeared to have and how much it distributed, what (distributions): modulorumque <rationes, quem modum quaeque aqua habere visa sit quantumque erogaverit, quaeque> erogationes
6.5 on the Valerian Road:<via Valeria>
9.3 8,426 paces of underground channel: <rivo subterraneo passuum octo milium quadringentorum viginti sex>
11.4 21,814 paces of underground channel: <rivo subterraneo passuum viginti milium et mille octingentorum decem et quattuor>

SUPPRESSION OF THE LATIN AS TRANSMITTED (braces indicate Latin words not translated):
3.2 in the name of Caesar: nomine {Iulii} Caesaris
5.1 by the censor Appius Claudius: ab Appio Claudio {Crasso} censore
8.2 and 9.1 a side-road ... to the right: deverticulo {euntibus ab Roma} dextrosus
13.4 {haec bonitatis proxima est Marciae.}
13.5 to be called Anio Novus {alia omnes praecedit}
29.2 with an area {id est luminis in rotundum coacti}
31.2 records of the {invictissimi et piissimi} emperor
64.1 (of the most conscientious emperor): {optimi} diligentissimi{que} principis
66.5 is encountered {id quod ex ea manat}
88.1 care {imperatoris piissimi} of her Emperor Nerva
88.1 mistress of the world {quae terrarum dea consistit, cui par nihil et nihil secundum}
89.4 Marcia and Claudia {ac reliquae}
93.4 Nerva {Traianum} Augustus
97.7 {oletato videtur esse olidam facito.}
129.9 The words DELIMITED ALONG THE SPRINGS AND ARCHES AND WALLS AND CHANNELS AND TUNNELS have been transposed; in the manuscript they appear later in the sentence after WATER COMMISSIONERS.

Notes within the translation are intended for the reader's convenience; they include details of historical context and a few illustrative remarks. I have purposely omitted discussion of problems in the Latin text, excepting occasionally to reveal an egregious uncertainty. There is also no attempt to comment upon topics of more general breadth--hydraulic engineering, for instance, or administrative organization. Those who study matters of this sort rely upon Frontinus as a primary source, and thus it is perhaps best to let the author's own statements stand with only the translator's prejudices of interpretation.


1. Letter No.73 in the translation by Phyllis W. Goodhart Gordan, Two Renaissance Book Hunters (New York 1974).


2. "Professor Charles E. Bennett gave me active aid, countenance and encouragement at every stage of this work, and ended off by reading the proofs and correcting the copy of the translation to an extent that makes the translation fairly his own."


3. Harry B. Evans, Water Distribution in Ancient Rome (Ann Arbor 1993), 13-52. Translations of the legal chapters (100, 104, 106, 108, 125, 126, 129) appear in Ancient Roman Statutes, by A.C. Johnson, P.R. Coleman-Norton, and F.C. Bourne (Austin, Texas, 1961). A critical edition of the Lex Quinctia (Chapter 129) appears in Michael Crawford et al., Roman Statutes (London 1996), 793-800.