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securing Nerva™s adoption of Trajan “ for, as Robert Rodgers points out,
Trajan disappeared back to the provinces after he was made co-emperor and
remained absent from Rome for at least a year after Nerva™s death, leaving

18 At Ag. 3 Tacitus characterises Nerva™s reign as the beginning of a blessed new era, and then tells
us that Trajan is building on the start made by Nerva by ˜daily increasing the happiness of the
times™. At Hist. 1.1 he reinforces the sense that Trajan™s reign was a natural continuation of Nerva™s,
characterising them together as ˜a time of rare good fortune™.
19 See, for example, Plin. Pan. 1.5, where he claims that Trajan was divinely chosen; 5.3“4, where Rome™s
citizens predicted his succession as emperor; and 8.5, where Pliny tells us that as soon as Trajan was
adopted ˜every disturbance died away at once™.
20 See, e.g., Pan. 5.6, where Pliny says that Trajan was only persuaded to assume imperial power because
he saw that Rome was ˜in danger™; and 6.4, where he describes the empire as ˜stricken™ and ˜tottering™.
21 Plin. Pan. 6.1“2. Eck (2002) supports this suggestion that Nerva was forced to adopt Trajan by
Trajan™s supporters; see also Bennett (1997) 46.
22 Consider, for example, the coins issued by Nerva at the start of his reign ˜to emphasise the dawn of
a new age in which the peace-loving citizen could be at ease again™ (Bennett (1997) 37).
23 For further analysis of this, see esp. Berriman and Todd (2001), who characterise Nerva™s reign as
˜a period of great political instability at Rome and abroad™ and describe Trajan as ˜a usurper, who
conspired against an aged and insecure emperor, welding an alliance with his peers at the head of
the armies and provoking disquiet and disorder at Rome to wrest from Nerva, in all but name, the
succession to Domitian™s throne™.
Knowledge and power in Frontinus™ On aqueducts 181
a small circle of senators (which included Frontinus) ˜[in] control of the
state™s constitutional helm™.24
In view of this one might expect Frontinus™ On aqueducts to re¬‚ect some
of the change and uncertainty that marked the period of its composition,
and, indeed, it is my argument that it does, more fully than scholars have
so far appreciated. For while there have been several readings of the trea-
tise which have explored its engagement with the political developments
of 97/98, on the whole they have tended to overlook the tension of the
times just as Tacitus did at the beginning of his Agricola. A. Trevor Hodge,
for example, reads the On aqueducts as a text which supports and in fact
embodies some of the positive reforms typically associated with Nerva and
Rome was at the time facing a dilemma . . . Is management essentially a profes-
sion in itself, so that a competent manager can run any enterprise, irrespective of
its product, or, especially in technical ¬elds, is ¬rst-hand experience of the trade
essential to run the business properly? Hitherto, under the Julio-Claudian and Fla-
vian emperors, Rome had preferred the second answer. Senior technical positions
went to imperial freedmen . . . But now Nerva and Trajan changed the policy,
appointing distinguished public servants from the senatorial ranks . . . Frontinus
was one of the ¬rst representatives of this new order of things . . . no doubt there
were many at Rome who looked forward with both pleasure and con¬dence to
watching Frontinus, out of his depth in this highly technical quagmire, foundering
ignominiously and dragging down with him into obloquy the whole new of¬cial
policy. But Frontinus did master his hydraulics, did reform the Water Of¬ce . . .
and what better way to prove the point “ and so defend Trajan, the emperor who
appointed him “ than to publish a detailed and technical treatise on the Roman

In this analysis, Nerva and Trajan are at one, busy restoring power to the
senatorial classes as well as reforming the general administration of the
state, and Frontinus is ¬rmly behind them supporting their efforts with
the publication of his treatise. This is also the view taken by Harry Evans,
who argues that Frontinus ˜presents . . . himself as a loyal lieutenant of an
enlightened princeps determined to correct the abuses of the past™26 and
sums up the On aqueducts as ˜a document presented to celebrate its author

24 Rodgers (ed.) (2004) 8.
25 Hodge (2002) 16; for a similar argument, see also Blackman and Hodge (2001) 141. Hodge™s analysis
develops arguments put forward by Ashby (1935) 26“7 and Grimal (1944) xv, who also took the view
that Nerva and Trajan were keen to restore some privileges and positions to the senatorial ranks.
26 Evans (1994) 61.
182 a lic e k on ig
and the policies of the emperor who appointed him™.27 And Michael Peachin
also argues that the treatise was designed to support positive reforms pushed
through by Nerva and Trajan:
Frontinus was composing in the midst of, and precisely for, a very speci¬c political
situation . . . Nerva, followed by Trajan, had decided that private use of water
from the aqueducts, properly a bene¬cium Caesaris, would be monitored, as would
the well-being generally of these structures; and Frontinus, the newly appointed
Curator aquarum, was the man charged to oversee this action. However, since
many of the private ¬sh sure to be caught illicitly enjoying publicly owned waters
would be strong, and potentially vicious, ¬nesse was an urgent necessity for the
anglers. I will argue, then, that the On aqueducts was meant primarily to inform
the wealthy and powerful about the new water policy, and that the book aimed,
in several ways, to mollify them with regard to it. In short, I want to suggest that
Frontinus hoped to persuade his elite peers that this was an administrative action
unlike many undertaken during a previous reign: Domitian, and his way of doing
things, was dead. The book was designed not to praise, but to justify and explain
a particular moment in Roman imperial administrative history.28

Readings of the text which have examined its political interests have tended,
in other words, to buy into certain ideals about Nerva™s and Trajan™s prin-
cipates, and to assume that Frontinus does too.
I will argue in what follows that in some ways this is right “ that the
On aqueducts does, at times, appear to enshrine and promote the kinds of
policies and ideals identi¬ed by Hodge, Evans and Peachin. It is also my
view, however, that it is more complicated than that, and I will be bringing
some of the more ˜technical™ aspects of his treatise into dialogue with the
political ones to explain how. In short, I will be suggesting that Frontinus
organises and orders knowledge in his On aqueducts in ways which do not
straightforwardly support Nerva or Trajan but which re¬‚ect on the new era
which they claim to usher in, and in particular on the role of senators within
it (clearly a subject close to Frontinus™ heart).

in trodu c ing fron ti nu s ™ o n a q u e d u c t s
Looking ¬rst at his preface, we can see that Frontinus™ opening paragraph
might support the view that his treatise demonstrates wholehearted support

27 Evans (1994) 63. See also Rodgers (1986) 353, who characterises it as ˜a personal notebook which
[Frontinus] compiled soon after he took of¬ce (subsequently revised and expanded for publication
as a kind of political statement of the Trajanic ideal of senatorial administration).™
28 Peachin (2004).
Knowledge and power in Frontinus™ On aqueducts 183
of his emperor(s).29 As I have already mentioned, Frontinus begins his On
aqueducts in a way very reminiscent of Vitruvius™ introduction to his De
architectura, though the effect in Frontinus™ case is rather more intense.
From his opening lines, Vitruvius insists on linking his literary endeavours
with Augustus™ political ones, arguing that his treatise will help his emperor
to erect buildings which will re¬‚ect the magnitude of his achievements:
But when I realised that you were concerned not only with the common life of
all people and the constitution of the state but also with the provision of public
buildings, so that the state might not only be increased by you with provinces
but also that the majesty of the empire might be seen in the eminent authority of
public buildings, I decided to wait no longer in publishing for you my ideas about
these things . . . I have therefore written an exhaustive set of rules, which you may
refer to when thinking both about buildings that are already complete and those
planned for the future. (Vitr. De arch. 2“3)
He also reminds his imperial patron of their long-standing acquaintance,30
and presents his treatise as a kind of (unexpected) return service to thank
Augustus for all the favours he has received.31
Frontinus, however, is able to lay claim to a much greater level of both
intimacy and importance, and does precisely that from the word go. His
opening sentence echoes Vitruvius™, but draws much closer connections
between himself, his treatise and his emperor than Vitruvius manages: for
while the latter™s opening words initially open up some distance between
his project and Augustus (instead of explaining why he published it, Vit-
ruvius tells us that he actually hesitated to do so, for fear of distracting his
addressee from his military operations),32 Frontinus™ opening lines establish
his composition as a direct “ and indeed the only proper “ response to a
speci¬c commission from the Emperor Nerva:
Since every assignment commissioned by the emperor demands particularly close
attention, and since both my natural concern and my industrious loyalty prompt
me to show not only diligence but also devotion in this matter, and since the of¬ce
of Curator aquarum has been conferred on me by Nerva Augustus (it is hard to say
29 The Aq. is addressed exclusively to Nerva, and Rodgers (ed.) (2004) in fact argues that no mention is
made of Trajan anywhere in it (where the name Traianus occurs in the manuscripts he puts it down
to copyists™ errors). Given the period in which it was written, however, I think we must assume that
Frontinus was partly addressing himself to and engaging in ˜dialogue™ with Trajan as well as Nerva.
30 See Vitr. De arch., where he reminds Augustus that he has enjoyed the patronage both of Julius
Caesar, his adoptive father, and his sister.
31 Vitr. De arch. ˜Since I am therefore obliged to your kindness, and need not fear poverty in
my old age™.
32 Vitr. De arch. ˜When your divine mind and spirit, Sovereign Caesar, was taking control over
the whole world . . . I did not dare, amid such great business, to publish my architectural writings . . .
fearing that, by interrupting you at an inappropriate time, I might disturb your mind.™
184 a lic e k on ig
whether he is more diligent or more devoted in his service to the state), an of¬ce
which is concerned not only with the health but even with the safety of the city,
and which has always been held by Rome™s foremost men, I think that the ¬rst and
most important thing to be done (which is what I have done in all previous posts)
is to ¬nd out about what I have undertaken. (Aq. 1)
He makes it clear that this response is also the result of his peculiar conscien-
tiousness, and as he explains this he takes care to talk his emperor™s language:
he not only uses words which echo some of the ideals of Nerva™s reign,33 he
even ends up sharing the same vocabulary with him, for in the space of a
few lines he matches his own ˜diligence™ and ˜love™ for the state (˜not only
diligence but also devotion™, non ad diligentiam modo verum ad amorem
quoque) exactly with Nerva™s (˜it is hard to say whether he is more diligent
or more devoted in his service to the state™, nescio diligentiore an amantiore
rei publicae imperatore . . .). In addition, he manages to make his new job
sound remarkably similar to his emperor™s role: aside from the fact that the
post of Curator aquarum was traditionally held by one of Rome™s chief men
(per principes . . . viros), it was concerned, he argues, with issues (like ˜the
very health and safety of the city™) which were presumably of paramount
importance to Rome™s main leading man “ the princeps (˜emperor™) himself.
In several ways, then, Frontinus makes Vitruvius™ attempts to ally himself
closely with Octavian seem feeble by comparison; by the end of his ¬rst
sentence we have been given the impression that his character, attitude,
concerns and even responsibilities are entirely in tune with those of his
This aligning of himself so closely with Nerva supports Evans™ view that
Frontinus is keen to be seen as ˜a loyal lieutenant™ of his commander-in-
chief. As his second paragraph develops, however, and Frontinus elaborates
on his reasons for writing, a slightly more complicated picture begins to
I think that the ¬rst and most important thing to be done . . . is to ¬nd out about
what I have undertaken. For I believe that there is no surer basis for any undertaking
than this, nor is it possible in any other way to decide what must be done and what
must be avoided; moreover, there is nothing so shameful for a capable man than to
perform an of¬ce delegated to him on the advice of assistants, which is necessary
when a man has to turn to their help because of his ignorance of the matter before
him; for although these people are necessary cogs in the administration, they are,
as it were, merely the hands and tools of the person in charge . . . Therefore, I have
gathered together all the information which I could ¬nd that relates to this post,

33 For example, at the start of his reign, Nerva issued coins with slogans like salus publica (˜Public
Health™ “ on this and other Nervan rhetoric, see Grainger (2003), 47 and 52“65).
Knowledge and power in Frontinus™ On aqueducts 185
and (just as I have done in previous jobs) I have set it in order and into a body of
material, if you like, and set it down in this account, which I will be able to turn
to as one might to an administrative handbook. (Aq. 2)
The sentiments expressed here are not ones we might expect to hear from a
typical Roman senator,34 though they are in keeping with Frontinus™ insis-
tence on his extraordinary diligence; but what is most interesting about
them for the present purposes of this chapter is the connection which they
make between knowledge and power. Frontinus does not simply suggest
that knowledge enables managers to take control “ he argues that it is
absolutely key. Further, he appears to be worried about the knowledge “
and, more particularly, the authority which might result from it “ of admin-
istrative inferiors, whose proper place (as ˜necessary cogs™, but not the people
in the driving seat) he is keen to underline.
This equation of knowledge and power may explain not only the exis-
tence of his On aqueducts but also its extraordinary thoroughness “ as we
will see, Frontinus goes into minute detail in his discussion of Rome™s
aqueduct network. At the same time, however, it raises questions about
Frontinus™ relationship to Nerva. On one level, as before, his arguments
may seem supportive of his princeps. At a time when his emperor may have
been replacing freedmen with senators in all sorts of administrative posts (as
Hodge argued above), Frontinus™ idealistic remarks set an impressive exam-
ple for others of his rank: they show one in¬‚uential senator recognising the
responsibility which comes with his recent appointment and explaining
how to maximise and protect the authority newly vested in him. The idea
of knowing thoroughly about the work of one™s administrative department
is also very much in keeping with the ideals of transparency and account-
ability which were ¬‚agged as hallmarks of the new era.35 However, as well as
offering further evidence of their unanimity, this second paragraph threat-
ens to throw relations between the pair slightly off-balance. It is striking, in
the ¬rst place, that the words which Frontinus uses to describe the relation-
ship between, say, a Curator aquarum (the manager) and the aquarii (the
˜water-men™) who work for him are ones which could as easily be applied
to the relationship between the emperor and his of¬cials. As well as putting

34 As Peachin (2004) points out, Frontinus™ peers do not seem to have shared his opinion: it was usual
practice for high-ranking of¬cials to rely on the support of much more knowledgeable subordinates.
35 That is not to say that transparency and accountability were hallmarks of Nerva™s reign, or Trajan™s
for that matter; but both emperors made intermittent efforts to suggest that this was so. Consider,
for example, the commission set up by Nerva in 97 ce to investigate imperial spending, which
Grainger (2003) 56, describes as ˜a public relations exercise™. Frontinus himself was in fact one of the
senators selected by Nerva to take part in this review of imperial ¬nances.
186 a lic e k on ig
himself on a par with his emperor, in other words, his discussion of the
hierarchy that should exist between managers and their minions reminds
us that Frontinus is himself a cog “ one of the many ˜hands™ or ˜tools™ “ in
the imperial administration. And since this is so, the purpose of his treatise
and quantity of knowledge which he goes on to gather might be sources
of concern for his emperor: for if power lies in knowledge, where does
Frontinus™ On aqueducts leave Nerva (or Trajan)? Does the princeps need to
apply the same principles as Frontinus to his own position? And if he does
not, is his own authority diminished?
It may be in part to avoid such questions that Frontinus takes so much
trouble in his ¬rst paragraph to underline parallels, not differences, between
himself and his princeps. As his treatise progresses, however, Frontinus does
expose important differences between them, which prompt reassessment
both of the connection which he makes between knowledge and power and
of his and his emperor™s respective authority.

empowerin g m i n u t i a e
Following on from his preface, Frontinus deluges his readers with a veritable
¬‚ood of aqueduct-related data, a ¬‚ood which sees narrative rapidly giving
way to bare facts and hundreds of ¬gures. First, he begins by sketching
the history of the network (On aqueducts 4“16), and each of the accounts
that he gives of the construction of Rome™s nine different aqueducts moves
relentlessly from historical story-lines into technicalities: his account of
the building of the Aqua Appia, for instance, begins dramatically with the
tale of Appius™ out-manoeuvring of Gaius Plautus, a story about political
intrigue and the lust for fame, but once that tale is told the narrative
slides immediately from high drama into detailed statistics;36 similarly, after
telling the story of how the Aqua Virgo got its name, Frontinus once again
follows it up with technical data,37 as he has done for all the aqueducts in
between and will do for all that follow. In moving repeatedly from historical

36 Aq. 5: ˜However, because Plautius resigned the censorship within a year and six months, having been
deceived by his colleague (Appius) that he was about to do the same, the honour of naming the
aqueduct was Appius™ alone, who through many manoeuverings is said to have extended the length
of his censorship until he could ¬nish both the Appian way and this aqueduct. The intake of the
Appia is in the Lucullan land, between the seventh and eighth milestones on the Via Praenestina,
on a turn-off 780 paces to the left. It stretches in length from its intake to the Salinae at the Porta
Trigemina, extending 11190 paces; 11130 of these paces run underground, while above ground it
travels for 60 paces on substructures and (near the Porta Capena) on arches.™
37 Aq. 10.
Knowledge and power in Frontinus™ On aqueducts 187
events to (what become formulaic) facts and ¬gures, Frontinus effectively
deconstructs each aqueduct as soon as it has been built, breaking it down
into its particulars. And the effect of this is to drive home the point that,
while the history of their induction is at times eventful, even momentous,
and while the cumulative effect of their build-up is perhaps as awe-inspiring
as Frontinus™ exclamation in On aqueducts 16 suggests,38 the story of Rome™s
aqueduct network is always going to involve “ and will perhaps always boil
down to “ technical minutiae.
This is something that the ensuing chapters go on to con¬rm: for the
second section of the treatise (On aqueducts 17“22) abandons anecdote
entirely in favour of yet more detailed speci¬cations, as Frontinus partic-
ularises each aqueduct™s topographical co-ordinates;39 and in the section
which follows (On aqueducts 23“64) prose eventually breaks down into a
list of numerical equations when we run into some systematised data of an
even more specialised nature:
The 35-pipe: diameter 6 97/144 digits; circumference 20 281/288 digits; capacity
28 49/96 quinariae. It is not in use.
The 40-pipe: diameter 7 13/96 digits; circumference 22 61/144 digits; capacity
32 7/12 quinariae.
The 45-pipe: diameter 7 41/72 digits; circumference 23 113/144 digits; capacity
36 47/72 quinariae. It is not in use. (Aq. 49“51)40
This list (which sets out the speci¬cations for a total of twenty-¬ve standard
pipes) comes at the end of a digression on the origins and proportions of
different types of gauges. The section begins more anecdotally at On aque-
ducts 24“5 with some speculation on etymology and possible inventors, but
gradually numbers and fractions proliferate as Frontinus sets out different
methods of measurement (On aqueducts 26“38) until the text is reduced
to this series of formulaic calculations (On aqueducts 39“63). As the trea-
tise proceeds, then, technical information not only abounds; it becomes

38 Aq. 16 represents the climax of Frontinus™ account of the network™s construction, for here he suddenly
exclaims: ˜Compare, if you like, so many waters, being carried on so many indispensable structures,
with the luxurious pyramids or the useless but well-renowned works of the Greeks!™
39 At Aq. 18“22, Frontinus rearranges Rome™s aqueduct network from the chronological order of the
previous section into two new con¬gurations, ˜inducting™ the waters for a second time in height
order ¬rst (Aq. 18), and then rearranging them again by detailing the courses taken ¬rst by the
six aqueducts which ¬‚ow into ˜catch-basins™ (Aq. 19“21) and then by the three which do not (Aq.
22). These last two categories are subdivided in turn and the aqueducts reorganised once more,
in different height orders again, as Frontinus speci¬es the route which each of them takes. Each
conduit™s journey into and through the city is thus increasingly particularised.
40 Based on Robert Rodgers™ online translation (∼rrodgers/frontinus.html).
188 a lic e k on ig
increasingly detailed and increasingly prominent, as a barrage of minutiae
transform the very look of the text, taking it over entirely.
By the time we reach the fourth section (On aqueducts 65“76), in which
Frontinus lists the many discrepancies he has found between his own mea-
surements of discharge ¬gures and the system™s of¬cial records, one reason
for this level of detail has already been hinted at, namely fraud. Frontinus
hints that Rome™s water supply is being abused at the very end of his preface,
when he explains that the ¬nal topic which his On aqueducts will cover is
the law governing the building and maintenance of the network and the
˜penalties™ which have been established to protect it,41 and as his account
develops the fraudulent tapping of the water supply becomes a prominent
leitmotif, as does the administrative incompetence of his predecessors.42
When we see both at work early on in the treatise, Frontinus makes clear
instantly what his and his emperor™s attitude to both problems is, explaining
(at On aqueducts 9) that, on his emperor™s order, he immediately shut off
the channel which was being diverted and ˜restored™ the water to its right-
ful recipients. While detailed knowledge of the system™s ins and outs is not
linked explicitly here to his tackling of incompetent and devious water-men,
it is made much more explicit on the next occasion when error and fraud
turn up together, at On aqueducts 31“4, where the reason behind Frontinus™
intricate discussion of the methods of gauging pipe sizes suddenly becomes
The gauging of all the pipes from the 5-pipe to the 120-pipe is done just as I have
shown . . . But, although the aquarii conform to the obvious measurements in
most cases, they have altered them in four: in the 12-, the 20-, the 100- and the
120-pipes. (Aq. 31)43
The changes which water-men have made to the pipes are minute, but
Frontinus™ attention to detail has been able to detect them.
Both of these passages foreshadow what then follows at On aqueducts
65“76, where the technical nature of chapters 31“4 is combined with the
impressive reaction described at On aqueducts 9. Here yet again Frontinus
adopts a systematic approach, organising his material along the lines of
the ¬rst ˜map™ of the aqueduct network presented at On aqueducts 4“15: he
works his way one by one through each aqueduct in chronological order,
41 Aq. 3.
42 Fraud raises its ugly head again at Aq. 9 and 31“4; it becomes a constant undercurrent at 64“76; and
is then alluded to again at 97, 103, 111“15 and 128“30. Administrative incompetence also becomes a
recurrent theme, popping up in all sorts of places, including Aq. 7.1, 64“76, 91, 96“7 and 117.
43 Although Frontinus uses the word ˜error™ to describe one of these discrepancies at the beginning of
Aq. 32, it soon becomes clear that the water-men have altered these pipe sizes deliberately.
Knowledge and power in Frontinus™ On aqueducts 189
tackling the oldest ¬rst, and where possible he also traces their course from
intake to settling tanks or points of delivery, cataloguing at every step of the
way all of the errors which he has found in earlier accounts.44 The system-
atic and repetitive nature of this catalogue not only gives the impression
that the incompetence and corruption which he is tackling is widespread
but also underlines the thoroughness of Frontinus™ knowledge of the sys-
tem, and his framing of this section makes an even greater claim for his
industry and diligence. Back at On aqueducts 9, we discover that Frontinus™
swift action results in an amazing ˜abundance™ of water: the Tusculan peo-
ple, we are told, ˜wonder™ at the unexpected quantity which reaches them
after Frontinus has put a stop to illegal tapping.45 On a much greater level,
this is what Frontinus suggests he has done for the whole of Rome: for at On
aqueducts 64, after reminding us of his scrupulous attention to detail,46 he
announces the grand total of missing quinariae (units of water) which his
research has uncovered, a whopping 10,000 in total. Then, at On aqueducts
77, as he sums up this part of his account, he suggests that his ¬ndings
almost amount to the discovery of a whole new supply of water;47 and
several chapters further on he repeats this claim, arguing that the volume
of water now ¬‚owing through Rome™s pipes has been almost doubled:
Now . . . whatever was diverted through the fraud of water-men or lost through
negligence has been added, as if through the discovery of new sources. And the
supply has almost been doubled. (Aq. 87)
By the time we reach the end of Frontinus™ ¬fth set of data (On aqueducts
78“86, where he sets out the amounts of water distributed to different
parts of Rome), then, we have discovered that detailed knowledge of the
water supply system enables Frontinus not only to detect fraud (which is

44 See, e.g., Aq. 66: ˜Anio Vetus is credited in the records with 1541 quinariae. At its intake, I found
4398 quinariae . . . 2857 more than is stated in the records. A total of 262 quinariae were distributed
before the aqueduct gets to its settling tank. The total at the settling tank . . . was 2362, which means
that 1774 quinariae went missing between the intake and the settling tank. After the settling tank,
3408 quinariae were delivered, 69 quinariae more than than we have said was stated in the records,
but 1014 fewer than the amount which we showed was received into the conduit after the settling
tank. In total, the volume lost between the intake and the settling tank and afterwards came to 2788
quinariae, which I might have thought was due simply to errors of measurement if I had not found
out where it was being diverted.™

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