In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Land-Surveyors

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Religious Aspects
  • Mathematical Aspects
  • Illustrations
  • Practices
  • Practitioners
  • Material Evidence

Classics Land-Surveyors
Courtney Ann Roby
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0103


Land-surveyors (also referred to by the Latin terms agrimensores or gromatici, and less commonly as mensores) were responsible in antiquity for laying out, measuring, and setting boundaries on tracts of land, and largely oversaw the allotment of land to individuals, families, or colonies, as well as helping to adjudicate disputes over the land’s distribution or use. Surveyors were also in many cases responsible for the design and layout of large Roman infrastructure projects like roads and aqueducts. Most of the surviving evidence from the ancient Mediterranean is Roman, but there is evidence for surveying operations in Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia as well. This evidence consists of texts (above all the illustrated compendium of agrimensorial works in Latin known as the Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum); a few remnants of the cadastral maps in marble and bronze that the surveyors were responsible for creating and filing with the imperial record office; and of course the territories themselves, both urban and rural, where the marks of ancient surveying activity still survive. The work of the land-surveyor brought together legal, religious, mathematical, and practical considerations; they used texts, diagrams, and instruments; they marked out the territory for agricultural land, cities, roads, and aqueducts, and left their stamp on the land in many different ways. Each of these facets of land-surveying is covered in a section of this article.

Introductory Works

The most accessible works are collected in this section, while more detailed multifaceted works are collected under General Overviews. Dilke 1971 is the most accessible introduction in English to the Roman surveyors, and Toneatto 2002 provides a quick overview. Hinrichs 1974 is more detailed, but still suitable as an introductory work focused on the legal and historical context of surveying. The utility and versatility of Chouquer and Favory 2001 cannot be overstated: this is the most complete reference work on the subject, covering nearly every aspect of surveying concisely yet thoroughly, with copious explanatory material and illustrations. Campbell 2000 includes accessible explanatory material alongside texts and translations (listed under Texts, Translations, and Commentaries).

  • Campbell, J. B. 2000. The writings of the Roman land surveyors: Introduction, text, translation and commentary. London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.

    An accessible introduction to the texts, including biographical notes on the authors, plates of manuscript illustrations, reconstructions of the diagrams, and concise appendices on inscriptions (cadastral stones, boundaries, and territorial disputes), categories of land, and legal matters, among others. See also under Collected Editions.

  • Chouquer, Gérard, and François Favory. 2001. L’arpentage romain: Histoire des textes, droit, techniques. Paris: Errance.

    This single volume contains biographical and bibliographical introductions to the Roman surveyors, descriptions of the surviving texts and material evidence, the instruments and practices of surveying, its legal and administrative aspects, and the relationship between surveying and geometry (both the mathematical sources which informed the development of Roman surveying, and its own influence on later “fiscal geometry”). Extensive appendices include annotated reproductions of manuscript illustrations, diagrams and photographs of surveying instruments, and diagrams of surveying procedures.

  • Dilke, Oswald Ashton Wentworth. 1971. The Roman land surveyors: An introduction to the Agrimensores. Newton Abbot, UK: David and Charles.

    The most accessible introduction in English to the Roman surveyors, this book is an ideal starting-point for the study of surveying in the Roman world. Dilke provides an excellent introduction to the education and responsibilities of the surveyors, their practices, and the Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum, along with case studies of the archaeological evidence from Orange and Roman Britain. Roman maps and the illustrations in the manuscripts of the Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum are treated with particular care and detail here.

  • Hinrichs, Focke Tannen. 1974. Die Geschichte der gromatischen Institutionen: Untersuchungen zu Landverteilung, Landvermessung, Bodenverwaltung und Bodenrecht im römischen Reich. Wiesbaden, West Germany: F. Steiner.

    (More readily available in French translation as Histoire des institutions gromatiques. Paris: P. Geuthner, 1989.) A clear and careful guide to the historical and legal background of surveying practices from Republic to Empire. Particular attention is given to the legal and administrative roles played by surveyors, considered from a broad range of perspectives, from their relationship to Greek geometrical practices to a well-chosen sample of archaeological evidence.

  • Toneatto, Lucio. 2002. Agrimensura. In Letteratura scientifica e tecnica di Grecia e Roma. Edited by Ida Mastrorosa, Antonino Zumbo, and Carlo Santini, 1–28. Rome: Carocci.

    An excellent short introduction to the place of surveying within a broader context of ancient technical literature. A brief introduction to the history of the discipline and the Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum is followed by more detailed explorations of the practices and social status of the surveyors, the degree to which they might have relied on textual sources for training, and short summaries of the most prominent agrimensorial texts. Bibliographic suggestions throughout the chapter are complemented by a sizable bibliography at the end.

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