the grounding of Western Civilisation as an entirety.
A diffusionist story triple-tracks colonisation through Moses and
Abraham; then Isis, Cadmus and supplementation by Palamedes,
Simonides, Pythagoras; so to Latin, and the nymph Carmentis . . . as
Isidore steers us toward his most fundamental proposition concerning his
chosen Ô¬Āeld for disciplined performances of the etymologist‚Ä™s art. As his
net of categories tries to catch the essential properties of the alphabetic, we
Ô¬Ānd: ‚Ä˜nature dealt the sonority; volition accounts for positionality‚Ä™ (1.4.17).
Which is to say, that there is nothing to interpret about the constitutive
nature of vowel vs. consonant, etc. etc., whereas there is always a story
there for us to Ô¬Āgure out from the names given to letters by acts of will,
such as the motivated ‚Ä˜names and shapes‚Ä™ of letters. Our Ô¬Ārst lesson makes
history emerge as the efÔ¬Ācient logonomy for the organisation and delimita-
tion of linguistic knowledge. Etymologies thus promises to be a book about
book-culture as medium for considering, tracking, discussing, civilisation,
in so far as its genesis is open to its own inspection. As such it constitutes
(a) theory ‚Ä“ about theorisation.
Indeed Grammar claims its place at the head of the educational pro-
gramme that heads Etymologies by imposing its theory. The text soon crawls
with gerundives and gerunds, ensuring that writing is hedged around with
traps and pitfalls, in a world where ‚Ä˜we‚Ä™ (nos) have departed very slightly
from ‚Ä˜people of old‚Ä™ (ueteres) in a battle for validation that engaged even
the ‚Ä˜Greats of Antiquity‚Ä™ (antiqui).41 Eight modes of Analogy come to our
rescue with rules for generating correctness ‚Ä“ but they ‚Ä˜don‚Ä™t always apply‚Ä™
40 This traditional grammarians‚Ä™ lore was culled by Isidore from Diom. Ars grammatica (Maltby (1991)
343, s.v. littera).
41 For Isidore and ‚Ä˜Late Latin‚Ä™ cf. Maltby (1999), Banniard (1992) 182‚Ä“25; for Cassiodorus‚Ä™ De
orthographia, see Keil (1857‚Ä“80) VII: 126‚Ä“210.
170 j oh n h e nd e rson
(1.28.4, sed hoc non semper). Rule-bound as it may be, grammatical ortho-
doxy doesn‚Ä™t come so easy. And, note, this is the context where Etymology
nests within Etymologies.42 That is to say, in the ‚Ä˜narrative‚Ä™ of Bildung that
the book unrolls, here is a teletechnology to get us, wherever we may Ô¬Ānd
ourselves, into writing right.43
Drill takes us on page by page through the traditional seven-branched
curriculum, marooning us in interstellar overdrive across the universe as
Astronomy leaves us with the sting in its trail: school, we learn on grad-
uation, can warp as well as weave, for these heavens open into a fearful
starburst of drubbing for the pagan civilisation that taught the teaching of
all this integrated progressive curriculum (3.71.22‚Ä“36): it was superstitious
vanity, not mathematical science, that added monstrous Ô¬Āgments to the
number of stars. Astrology! Ye gods!
So to Medicine, positioned as the supplementary subject. At the death
here we learn that a doctor must have been through the full heptadic syl-
labus, and we need telling why, taking each in turn from Grammar through
in last place of all to Astronomy, too (4.13.4). ‚Ä˜Courses on the mind; course
on the body‚Ä™: check (4.13.5). But we are not yet done with reading up
on reading, wherever it takes readers and reading. Our Ô¬Ārst port of call,
now that we have mastered college education, is the institution of Law.
Which appears in the form of a combinatoire of religious-cum-social his-
tory, where the story of human civilisation is drummed in. Chronology
ensues, not just an educational worry, but a writing project, climaxing with
a fresh genre of ‚Ä˜diagrammatic‚Ä™ text that showcases the power of tabular
writing to order knowledge: the laws of Chronography (De descriptione
temporum). This manifests as a spectacular excursus in note-form, cap-
turing the six Ages of the World, from the Creation to our Sixth Age
Readers here run through the blessings of the trinity of Hebrew-Greek-
Roman culture: they alone have the gift of letters ‚Ä“ of the grounding in
Grammar that world culture has taught Isidore to teach us. Which is where
42 This chapter has, very likely, been read more intently than the whole of the rest of Etymologiae
put together: see esp. Codoňú er (1994), rigorously excavating the ‚Ä˜theory‚Ä™ discoverable in 1.29; cf.
Fontaine (1988) essays iv, v, x, Magall¬ī n Garc¬īa (1996) 277‚Ä“87. For Isidoran etymology within
ancient etymology, cf. Opelt (1965), Fontaine (1988) essay xi, Fresina (1991), and best of all Magall¬ī n
43 In the Donatan list of topics posted in Cassiodorus‚Ä™ summary, schemata precede the climactic pairing
of etymology and orthography (Inst. 2.1.2).
44 The insert bodily re-cycles Isidore‚Ä™s Chronica mundi (Migne PL 83: 1017‚Ä“58), dated for Sisebut in
615/6, or 626 for King Svinthila.
The creation of Isidore‚Ä™s Etymologies or Origins 171
we came in (5.39.9‚Ä“11 ‚ąľ 1.3.4‚Ä“6, 1.4.1, with the Latin word litterae embracing
‚Ä˜literacy, literature, and letter(s)):
Hebrews began literacy . . . Cadmus gave Greece literacy . . . Carmentis discovered
Hebraei litteras habere coeperunt . . . Cadmus litteras Graecis dedit . . . Carmentis
Latinas litteras repperit.
The vista of History lifts our schooling to a still higher level, and we
abide with the painstakingly revealed truth of the eternal Bible and the
universal Church until . . . we subside into gushing pagan nonsense in the
course of book 8. By then we shall be educated ready to attune correctly
to maps of mundanity to come. We get there through contextualising the
Bible as itself a library, an archive, a history; and the history of its writing
is another, sacred, way to write the history of the chain between Moses to
Christendom. Church history then enshrines every facet of the institution,
not least the Council decisions that inform and stabilise every word of
the Etymologies ‚Ä“ and all the doctrines that council covenants will ever
authorise, from the delegates at Toledo onwards (6.16.5, 10):45
Among the rest of the councils, there are 4 worshipful synods that enfold the whole
of primary Faith, just like the 4 gospels, or the same count of rivers of Paradise.
. . . These are the 4 prime Councils, most fully preaching the orthodox Faith; but
any Councils that are held as sanctioned by the Holy Fathers Ô¬Ālled with the spirit
of God, after this quartet‚Ä™s authorization, they abide fortiÔ¬Āed by all strength, and
their Proceedings are comprehended in the storehouse of this very Thesaurus.
inter cetera autem concilia quattuor esse uenerabiles synodos, quae totam principaliter
Ô¬Ādem complectunt, quasi quattuor euangelia, uel totidem paradisi Ô¬‚umina.
. . . haec sunt quattuor synodi principales, Ô¬Ādei doctrinam plenissime praedicantes;
sed et si qua sunt concilia quae sancti Patres spiritu Dei pleni sanxerunt, post istorum
quattuor auctoritatem omni manent stabilita uigore, quorum gesta in hoc opere
Isidore‚Ä™s hymn of praise to God, book 7, begins from the role of Hebrew
language, from Amen and Hosanna, in inaugurating all subsequent acts
of worship. To catalogue ‚Ä˜God, the Angels, the Saints‚Ä™ is to narrate,
describe/prescribe, and do homage. And to know God is to read another
book. More Jerome, most erudite multilingual and Ô¬Ārst translator of Hebrew
45 A complete account of all the general councils of Christendom, area by area across the Mediterranean
from Greece to ultimate Spain, is given as part of the Collectio Canonum S. Isidoro Hispalensi Ascripta
(at Migne PL 84).
172 j oh n h e nd e rson
names to Latin.46 The Catholic Church operates in a hermeneutic world
that straddles both Greek interpretation of Hebrew foundations and Chris-
tian re-orientation and Latin interpretation of both prior traditions, beliefs
and languages. It is one uniÔ¬Āed faith, that has spread worldwide (8.1.1).
Once our education in the faith is far advanced, we are risked to exposure
to the fully inspected version of the horror show of human folly, as preserved
for memory in the books of every school, library and curriculum through-
out Isidore‚Ä™s empire of Latin. Ready or not, time to read rotten Rome. Via
the covens of pagan philosophy to the world of idolatry, demons, devilry,
Satan, Antichrist, Baal, Beelzebub, Belial, Behemoth, Leviathan . . . Where,
too, poets fake allegorised Nature ‚Ä“ but only to doll the spooks up with
metaphor, though their stories admit that the gods involved are notoriously
bankrupt and disgraced (8.11.29):47
Empty space for Ô¬Āctional folly opens up in the absence of Truth.
omnino enim Ô¬Āngendi locus uacat, ubi ueritas abest.
Take a deep breath and plunge into Olympus: the Ô¬‚ood of absurdities
whoops it up to climax the book. There‚Ä™s Rome and then there‚Ä™s Rome,
and catholic schools must learn the difference.
Protected by religion, we can go track the (hi)story of humanity. The
founding postulate will be that the trio of Sacred Tongues (Hebrew-Greek-
Latin) give intelligible access to the story (9.1.3 <- 1.3.4). ‚Ä˜Languages were
prior to tribes‚Ä™, and ‚Ä˜tribes originated from languages, not vice versa‚Ä™, so
we move ‚Ä˜from propositions about languages to propositions about tribes‚Ä™
(9.1.1, 14).48 The founding moment of cultural diversiÔ¬Ācation in this tale
was, therefore, that world event, the Tower of Babel (9.1.1 <-> 5.39.6). In
the predestined narrative to come, Isidore‚Ä™s Spain is, re-iteratively, where
language completes its generative journey through the history of world
(1) At point of departure, the pure naming system of Hebrew dynastics,
etymologising semantics were hors de combat: the proper names functioned
as patronymic markers, not signiÔ¬Āers, they were buried by later distortion,
displacement and oblivion, and they are beyond the competence of all
but the most learned of scholars in bilingual Rome‚Ä™s empire of Greek and
Latin. (2) Greek found its geopolitical way through the epochs into every
46 The Holy Ghost will soon chime in accord with this theme (7.3.24): propterea autem diuersarum
linguarum gratiam apostolis dedit, ut idonei efÔ¬Ācerentur Ô¬Ādelium eruditioni populorum (‚Ä˜The reason
why He gave the apostles the grace of different languages was to render them suitable for the
education of the peoples of the faithful‚Ä™).
47 This section of scorn for poetic Ô¬Āction is probably Isidore‚Ä™s own creation: Macfarlane (1980) 17.
48 Reydellet (1984) 5.
The creation of Isidore‚Ä™s Etymologies or Origins 173
corner of the globe, invading and invaded, always likely to surprise us with
enlightenment on any kind of linguistic challenge, anytime, anywhere. (3)
Latin is a layered history of multicultural waves of invasion by imperial
incorporation of tongues-and-tribes. The mission to hold the three-ply lin-
guistic line open between God‚Ä™s Creation and Vizigoth-Catholic orthodoxy
means a never-ending, always mounting, battle for truth against the oblivi-
ation of the record of the past inscribed in the words of the present. In the
Etymologiae‚Ä™s key to Correct Speech, the ruin of the Plain stews mainly in
That books book what we know, teach, learn is by now established for the
duration (of this book). We have begun to get used to looking through
the words to the world without explicit waymarking of the archive, as the
peoples of the earth divide into social-political groups, into categories of
kin, into genealogies of self, when we run smack into the distinctive cen-
trepiece of the whole work, where the ordering of knowledge is founded on
a completely different, non-disciplinary, non-canonic and non-thematic,
taxonomy: the alphabetised dictionary. Isidore does not come out and say
so. Rather, the modest prefatory paragraph announces a gesture towards
accessing an illustrative subset of data for the ordinary reader on the bus
ON EPITHETS. The origin of some names, i.e. where they come from, is not
apparent to everybody. I have therefore inserted some into this work in order to
make them known.
As examples, I have put some of them in this work.
DE VOCABVLIS. Origo quorundam nominum, id est unde ueniant, non paene
omnibus patet. proinde quaedam noscendi gratia huic operi interiecimus.
ex quibus exempli gratia quaedam in hoc opere posuimus.
But once we have starred the self (person, ego) with its range of descriptors,
we return to macroscopic range, and explore the species: ‚Ä˜Mankind and
Monsters‚Ä™, presented as panorama. Indeed the opening to Book 11 ushers
Etymologies into a bigger work ‚Ä“ a maius opus ‚Ä“ that will stretch over four
(of Braulio‚Ä™s) books.49 The very best way to re-start is (it must be) from The
Beginning. Hence the over-arching topic being born will be Nature (11.1.1):
Nature: named from creating nascence for things. Nature is mistress of generation
and creation. Some have said She is God, by whom all things were created and
49 On books (11‚Ä“)12 and the setting of 17: Andr¬ī (ed.) (1981) and (ed.) (1986).
174 j oh n h e nd e rson
Natura dicta ab eo quod nasci aliquid faciat. gignendi enim et faciendi potens est.
hanc quidam Deum esse dixerunt, a quo omnia creata sunt et existunt.
Reviews of Man and of Beast, of cosmic elements air-Ô¬Āre-water-earth, of
natural-historical earth and water, of geographical land and sea, contrive
to tread and Ô¬‚ow from Orient to Far East, all the way from God‚Ä™s cre-
ation of Man in the cradle of Mesopotamian Paradise to Spain‚Ä™s creation
of Isidore for Ô¬Ānale. ‚Ä˜Nature‚Ä™ unpacks still further, from dust and sand
through rock and stone to metal and money,50 which provides the stimulus
to invent, and now record, all measurement and measure. Curtain-raisers
on town and country have now preluded proper treatment of agriculture
and botany (according to nature) and its twin, the war and games of urban
man (given the full treatment of satire and sarcasm). For the Ô¬Ānal pairing
of (Braulio‚Ä™s 20) books, we race through the history of culture, to run into
civilisation as the product of art-and-craft, delivered by the invention of
tools and equipment that permit the creation of our world, of boats, build-
ings, clothes and personal adornment, and ultimately our domestic and
teletechnological mode of inhabitance therein, from the provision of food
and drink, through packaging and transport, to tools for making tools, and
equipage for accelerating culture: those gardens and horses‚Ä™ harness. Names,
objects, usage, specialisation, industry, life-form, habitus, culture . . . and
we have learned how to think about how to think about them all. How
to think through the nexus of the ‚Ä˜word-thing‚Ä™. And where such thinking
puts us, end-product of God‚Ä™s creation. These words ring true, they wind
up scarcely needing and rarely getting ‚Ä˜etymologisation‚Ä™, for they speak our
language. These words bespeak ‚Ä˜us‚Ä™.
In truth, I maintain, etymologisation has throughout played second Ô¬Āddle
to a project in cultural mnemonics according to which Isidore‚Ä™s reader is
installed in the undeniably God-given position of destination for the entire
thrust of geopolitical history and its authorised theorisation. There at his
world‚Ä™s end ‚Ä“ Toledo or Seville ‚Ä“ to receive the accumulated store of tech-
nologies of knowledge, together with the circuits of reasoning, aligning,
differentiating which operationalise them. If Isidore impresses one com-
prehensive lesson upon us, it must be the cosmogonic instrumentality of
wordpower. From Ô¬Ārst to last, the letters brand (and cauterise) cultural
50 See D¬īaz y D¬īaz (ed.) (1970).
pa rt ii i
Knowledge and social order
Knowledge and power in Frontinus‚Ä™ On aqueducts
int rodu cti on
During his lifetime, Sextus Julius Frontinus was ‚Ä˜one of the most important
Ô¬Āgures of the Flavio-Trajanic era‚Ä™.1 Little is known for certain about his early
career, but by the time of his death in 103/104 ce he had not only served
as Governor of Britain, Proconsul of Asia, Curator aquarum (Guardian of
the aqueducts) and Augur, but had also been made consul three times,
twice with Trajan himself as his colleague.2 Triple consulships were only
rarely bestowed on men outside the imperial family in this period,3 so
scholars have suggested that these singular distinctions may be proof that
Frontinus played a signiÔ¬Ācant role in Trajan‚Ä™s succession as emperor, and
perhaps even in Nerva‚Ä™s elevation to the ‚Ä˜post‚Ä™.4 indeed, it is tempting to
wonder if Frontinus was himself ever a candidate for Nerva‚Ä™s job.5 In spite of
having been ‚Ä˜one of the most successful and inÔ¬‚uential senators of the latter
1 Birley (1981) 69.
2 For more details on his career, see, e.g., Rodgers (ed.) (2004); Eck (1982) 47‚Ä“52; Birley (1981) 69‚Ä“81.
Frontinus and Trajan were consular colleagues in 98 and 100 ce (which marked the second and third
consulships for both men); for a breakdown of all the consuls in 98‚Ä“100, see Eck (2002) 217‚Ä“19.
3 Indeed, Eck (2002) 219 points out that it is not just the fact but also the speed of Frontinus‚Ä™ third
consulship which makes it so remarkable: ‚Ä˜Such a rapid succession of second and third consulates,
separated by only one year, is absolutely unique for a person not belonging to the imperial family.‚Ä™
On the ‚Ä˜supreme honour‚Ä™ of Frontinus‚Ä™ third consulship, see also Rodgers (ed.) (2004) 4; Grainger
(2003) 14 and 124; Bennett (1997) 109; and Plin. Pan. 60.4‚Ä“62.6.
4 Eck (2002) 219‚Ä“26 is in no doubt that Frontinus was one of the key players behind Nerva‚Ä™s adoption
of Trajan as his heir; see also Rodgers (ed.) (2004) 4; Bennett (1997) 46‚Ä“7; Birley (1981) 72. Dahm
(1997) 174 argues that Frontinus helped to secure the succession not only of Trajan but also of Nerva,
though this is more difÔ¬Ācult to establish.
5 Dio Cass. 67.15 makes it clear that Nerva was not the Ô¬Ārst man to be approached by the conspirators in
96 ce as they plotted Domitian‚Ä™s assassination ‚Ä“ several were offered the chance of becoming Rome‚Ä™s
new emperor. However, see Grainger (2003) 14‚Ä“21, who speculates on Frontinus‚Ä™ involvement in the
conspiracy, but does not consider him a potential candidate. Grainger later wonders if Frontinus
could have been in the running to succeed Nerva instead of Trajan (pp. 96‚Ä“7), but Eck (2002) 223
discounts this on account of his age and relatively humble origins (Frontinus was probably a novus
178 a lic e k on ig
part of the Ô¬Ārst century‚Ä™,6 however, Frontinus is best remembered today as
the author of a number of so-called ‚Ä˜technical‚Ä™ treatises and consequently
languishes, largely forgotten, at the margins of classical scholarship.
Most of those who have had any contact with his surviving texts have
argued, or assumed, that they are straightforward, practical manuals, which
may be of interest to specialist historians but which have little to recommend
themselves to a wider readership.7 At Ô¬Ārst sight, they do perhaps give that
impression. Frontinus‚Ä™ Strategemata, for instance, brings together hundreds
of examples of successful military stratagems with the simple aim (so it
claims) of aiding future generals in their endeavours in the Ô¬Āeld.8 His
fragmentary essay on Roman land surveying not only sketches a brief history
of land measurement but also discusses some of the basic principles of the
‚Ä˜art‚Ä™, detailing (among other things) the different categories of land and
types of dispute which a surveyor might encounter.9 And his intricate
account of Rome‚Ä™s aqueduct network ‚Ä“ the De aquis (On aqueducts) ‚Ä“
appears similarly narrow in its scope and purpose, having been written
(Frontinus states in its preface) when he was appointed Curator aquarum
to help him familiarise himself with the system‚Ä™s many ‚Ä˜ins‚Ä™ and ‚Ä˜outs‚Ä™.10
In spite of their appearance of straightforward practicality, however, it has
begun to be recognised that all three are more complex than these Ô¬Ārst
impressions suggest;11 and this is in part (in my view) because all three
experiment with the ordering of knowledge in a variety of ways.12
This article is about just one of these texts ‚Ä“ the On aqueducts ‚Ä“ and,
indeed, it is about just one aspect of it, namely the relationship which it
6 Bruun (1991) 11. This is something which several of Pliny the Younger‚Ä™s letters underline: see, e.g.,
Ep. 5.1 (where Pliny describes Frontinus as one of the ‚Ä˜two most respected men of our era‚Ä™) and Ep.
4.8 and 9.19.
7 Frontinus‚Ä™ entry in the Ô¬Ārst edition of the OCD ((1949; repr. 1964) 371) is typical: ‚Ä˜Frontinus‚Ä™ writings
are essentially practical, dealing with professional subjects in a straightforward style admirably suited
to its purpose.‚Ä™ Indeed, Frontinus has not only been Ô¬Ārmly conÔ¬Āned to the ‚Ä˜Technical Writing‚Ä™ section
of most modern companions to Latin literature, he has even been singled out as one of the writers
who most clearly belongs in that category: ‚Ä˜If there was ever an author whose chief value was his
technical content, it is surely Frontinus‚Ä™ (Hodge (1991) 169).
8 See Str. 1, pr., where Frontinus says that his book aims to ‚Ä˜surround‚Ä™ generals with ‚Ä˜examples of
planning and foresight‚Ä™ in the hope that they might be both inspired and reassured when thinking
up their own tactical moves.
9 No programmatic statement for this treatise survives, but it is possible that it also had a didactic
purpose; on this point, see Campbell (ed.) (2000) xxx.
10 Thus it has been widely interpreted as ‚Ä˜a good concrete treatment of Rome‚Ä™s water supply system‚Ä™:
Conte (1994) 503; McElwain (ed.) (1925) xxvii (‚Ä˜a simple and truthful narration of the facts‚Ä™).
11 There has been a revolution in particular in thinking on On aqueducts with a Ô¬‚urry of books and
articles being published over the last decade which have challenged more straightforward readings
of the treatise ‚Ä“ see, e.g., DeLaine (1996); Cuomo (2000); Saastamoinen (2003); Peachin (2004).
12 I discuss the complexities of his Strategemata and gromatic treatise in a forthcoming longer study of
all these works based on my Cambridge PhD thesis (Weeks (2004)).
Knowledge and power in Frontinus‚Ä™ On aqueducts 179
constructs between Frontinus and his emperors, Nerva and Trajan. Clearly
the representation of emperors and exploration of the nature and rhetoric of
their reigns is an important feature of many different Imperial-period texts
‚Ä“ but there are signs that it is a particular issue for many knowledge-ordering
writers. Vitruvius‚Ä™ On architecture, for example, seems to spend as much
time exploring and exploiting the authority of the Emperor Augustus as
it does organising and elevating architectural knowledge. The explanation
which Vitruvius gives for writing his treatise is not dissimilar to some of
Frontinus‚Ä™ programmatic statements: as we will see below, he argues that
his treatise brings together every aspect of the architectural ‚Ä˜discipline‚Ä™ in
the hope that he might aid Augustus in his own building work.13 At the
beginning of his treatise, he portrays Augustus as omnipotent, and himself
as his humble servant. As his text progresses, however, he elevates architects
and architecture into all-conquering powers, simultaneously borrowing the
rhetoric of and posing a potential challenge to Augustus‚Ä™ imperium.14 Trevor
Murphy has pointed out that Pliny the Elder claims imperial power and
authority for his Natural history by dedicating it to the emperor Titus,
but also notes that he has something of a tightrope to walk, for Pliny‚Ä™s
knowledge-gathering activities could be seen not only to borrow but also to
encroach upon the emperor‚Ä™s prerogative as ultimate arbiter and controller
of knowledge.15 And if one is happy to read Petronius‚Ä™ Trimalchio as a
reÔ¬‚ection ‚Ä“ at least in part ‚Ä“ of Nero and his reign, it is possible to see the
Satyricon‚Ä™s meditations on knowledge and learning as meditations also on
the emperor‚Ä™s image and authority.16
In some ways, then, my study of Frontinus‚Ä™ engagement with the imperial
authorities in his On aqueducts might serve as a case study for a much wider
phenomenon. At the same time, however, I want to underline the very
speciÔ¬Āc context of this text‚Ä™s composition ‚Ä“ for the On aqueducts seems to
have been written during the period of transition between Nerva and Trajan,
a time of tension and uncertainty at Rome and in her empire.17 Tacitus
gives no hint of any tension or uncertainty when he lauds the principates
of Nerva and Trajan at the beginning of his Agricola and Histories; indeed,
13 See Vitr. De arch. 1.pr.; cf. below, pp. 184‚Ä“5.
14 I plan to discuss this more fully in a future article. On this topic, see McEwen (2003), who also
explores some of the parallels drawn by Vitruvius between architectural knowledge and imperial
15 16 On Petronius, see Rimell‚Ä™s chapter in this volume.
See esp. Murphy (2004) 204‚Ä“9.
17 Frontinus‚Ä™ preface suggests that he began his Aq. as soon as he was made Curator Aquarum, which
was in 97 ce while Nerva was still alive. References to Nerva as ‚Ä˜deiÔ¬Āed‚Ä™ at Aq. 102 and 118, however,
suggest that the text was Ô¬Ānished and published after his death in January 98. The composition
of the treatise thus seems to span the end of Nerva‚Ä™s principate and the beginning of Trajan‚Ä™s (see
Rodgers (ed.) (2004) 8).
180 a lic e k on ig
he gives the impression that all anxiety and trouble melted away as soon as
Nerva became emperor, and implies that Trajan‚Ä™s reign was then a natural
continuation of his predecessor‚Ä™s glorious rule.18 Pliny the Younger also
attempts to present Trajan‚Ä™s succession as natural and undisputed, but his
account in the Panegyricus also offers glimpses of the tension and even
violence that preceded and accompanied it: on the one hand, he claims
that Nerva‚Ä™s adoption of Trajan was written in the stars;19 on the other,
he suggests that prior to it Rome was on the brink of civil war,20 and also
implies that Trajan was forced upon Nerva in something of a coup:
But there was a great dishonour done in our age, a great wound inÔ¬‚icted on the
state: the emperor and father of the human race was besieged, captured and locked
up, and from this most gentle of old men was taken his power to save mankind, and
from this prince was removed that most blessed principle of his imperial power,
namely that a prince cannot be forced into doing anything. However, if this was
the only method which could move you [Trajan] to become captain of the state, I
can bring myself to say that it was worth it.21
Though the prevailing rhetoric may have been about fresh starts, new-
found freedom, peace and stability,22 it is clear that the months between
Nerva‚Ä™s accession and his death were full of uncertainty, disorder and back-
stage plotting (reminiscent even of the atmosphere of 69 ce);23 and, as I
have already indicated, Frontinus was probably heavily involved in all of
this. Indeed, his inÔ¬‚uence in Rome at this time may have gone beyond