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extraordinary thoroughness, in other words, Frontinus includes material
which he himself labels as being ˜of no practical value™, and thus prompts
us to wonder if some of his details are in fact ˜tri¬‚ing™ and ˜inconsequential™
and not nearly as valuable as his double bluff with the word ˜leviora™ has
perhaps suggested.70
At the same time as ¬‚agging up the importance of detailed knowledge,
then, Frontinus™ inclusion of some apparently redundant material also ques-
tions it; and questions are raised too in his On aqueducts about the link
which he draws between exhaustive knowledge and his ability to combat
fraud. The ¬nal section of the On aqueducts (chapters 94“130) moves away
from technical facts and ¬gures and combines a potted history of the man-
agement of Rome™s aqueduct network with the recitation of a number of
laws connected with it. Along the way, Frontinus discusses the problems
posed by fraud and decay more fully than he has done anywhere else: from
On aqueducts 112 in particular, the illegal tapping of the system becomes an
especially frequent topic.71 Some of this fraud is talked of as being in the
past, but most appears to be a problem which Frontinus and his men have
to guard against in the present, and indeed the ¬nal chapter of his treatise

69 See Aq. 41; 44; 47; 49; 51; 53; 55; 57; 59; 61, where ˜in usu non est™ concludes each chapter.
70 In addition to hinting at the potential redundancy of some of the data at the end of his digression,
Frontinus teases us with some super¬‚uous information also at the beginning: the discussion which
takes up Aq. 25), for example (where Frontinus debates the inventor and etymology of the quinaria),
might strike us as not entirely necessary.
71 See Aq. 112, 113, 114, 115, 120, 126, 128 and 130.
200 a lic e k on ig
anticipates that it will continue into the future.72 Following on from his
glowing praise of Nerva for the wonderful transformation which Rome has
undergone thanks to his care, in other words, we get a picture of the city™s
water supply system that is more in tune with the ¬rst image which his
treatise conjures up: that of a network which is impressive on the surface
but which has all sorts of cracks and defects if one begins to look closely.73
In spite of his corrective and controlling rhetoric throughout the whole
treatise, in other words, not even Frontinus™ extraordinary cura (let alone
Nerva™s) or the vast body of knowledge which he has accumulated by the
end are able to bung all the leaks and make the system watertight.
It is telling, too, that as he nears the close of his treatise Frontinus
begins to lean on another type of authority as well as his own knowledge.
In some ways his listing of the various laws which had been passed in
connection with the maintenance of the aqueducts amounts to yet another
display of his thorough command of the whole subject, yet another area
which he has researched diligently and another body of data to add to
the material which has been presented thus far. Legal knowledge, however,
is slightly different from some of the other types of knowledge which
Frontinus has been dealing with in his On aqueducts, for legal knowledge
tends to borrow authority from other people; that is to say, while the
authority which Frontinus derives from the calculations which he makes at
On aqueducts 65“76 is entirely his own, since he alone did the research which
underpins it, the authority which he acquires by quoting, for example, the
resolution passed in the consulship of Quintus Aelius Tubero and Paulus
Fabius Maximus about access to conduits which lie in private land74 is
on loan from the Senate, who enacted the law. Towards the end of his
treatise, in other words, Frontinus begins to rely not just on his own actions
but also on other authorities in his ¬ght against physical rot and moral
Moreover, it is not just earlier legislators on whom we see him relying,
for we also see him turning to contemporaries for support. In spite of his
occasional reliance on laws enacted in the past, Frontinus does spend much

72 Frontinus™ ¬nal sentence at Aq. 130 begins In reliquum . . . (˜As for the future . . .™), and though he
˜hopes™ that he will not need to prosecute any more people for water fraud, he indicates that he is
perfectly prepared to should that become necessary.
73 Although Frontinus ends Aq. 4“16 by comparing Rome™s aqueduct network favourably with the
˜luxurious pyramids™ and the ˜useless but well-renowned works of the Greeks™ (Aq. 16), in the chapters
immediately preceding this he has made it clear that several of the aqueducts are plagued by leaks
and muddy waters (see esp. Aq. 11“15). Problems like those listed at Aq. 119, for example, therefore
feel horribly familiar.
74 Aq. 125.
Knowledge and power in Frontinus™ On aqueducts 201
of this ¬nal section, as ever, insisting on both his independence and his
unmatched excellence. After he has ¬nished describing some of the new
powers and privileges conferred by the senate on curatores aquarum at On
aqueducts 99“101, for example, he asserts his own superiority, claiming not
to need any attendants himself, for when he goes out on his rounds he can
trust simply to himself and to the authority given him by his emperor.75 At
On aqueducts 119, however, a slightly different picture emerges:
For that reason, the Curator Aquarum ought to be furnished not only with the
wisdom of experienced people but also with his own experience, and he ought to
make use not only of architects of his rank but also call upon the trustworthiness and
skill of many others, so that he might decide what must be done (repraesentanda)
immediately, what must be postponed (differenda), and also what ought to be
carried out by contractors and what by his own workmen.
The gerundives (repraesentanda and differenda) recall those at On aqueducts
2 (facienda and vitanda), and therefore invite comparison, but the message
of this later passage is entirely at odds with Frontinus™ earlier statement,
for here Frontinus is positively encouraging a certain amount of reliance
on the expertise of assistants. By the end of his treatise, in other words,
the direct link between his own personal research and his ensuing power,
which so much of his rhetoric has relied on, has not just been complicated;
it has been revised and potentially overturned. With his ambiguous use
of the word leviora, Frontinus has already eroded our con¬dence in the
absolute necessity and value of some of his data; additionally, the continuing
problems of fraud and dilapidation prompt us to question the idea that
thorough knowledge equates to full control of Rome™s waters; and now,
¬nally, we begin to see Frontinus turning away from his newly acquired
expertise to the wisdom and experience of others, and indeed promoting
the latter.

con clusi on s
This chapter has taken only a brief look at just one aspect of Frontinus™
On aqueducts, but I hope that it is clear even from this that his account of
Rome™s aqueduct network is far more than a ˜simple and truthful narration
of the facts™. Further, and more importantly, I hope it has also become clear
that it is neither straightforwardly supportive of Nerva, as several schol-
ars argue, nor a simple self-promotion exercise. Rather, in my view, it is

75 Aq. 101.4: ˜As for me, when I do my rounds, my trustworthiness (¬des) and the authority (auctoritas)
given to me by my emperor will serve instead of attendants™.
202 a lic e k on ig
fundamentally an exploratory text, which puts several things to the test
without fully resolving the questions which it raises about any of them. Of
course, it raises questions about many more issues than I have had the space
to discuss here,76 but in particular I have been keen to show how Fron-
tinus interweaves his own authority as a knowledge-orderer with images
of imperial authority and virtue in ways which do not ¬nally determine
but which rather interrogate the power of knowledge itself, the nature of
Nerva™s principate, and Frontinus™ own position within it.
In some ways, as we have seen, Frontinus comes across as a model rep-
resentative, perhaps even a mouthpiece, of the post-Domitianic era. At the
same time, however, his treatise raises some doubts about it: for, although
sections of the On aqueducts re¬‚ect the hope that under Nerva the cor-
ruption characteristic of Domitian™s principate has become a thing of the
past, we also learn what is risked when transparency and accountability
become government aspirations. We see what it is like to lay open one of
Rome™s most important institutions to scrutiny: on the one hand, we may
marvel at its size and complexity (as Christer Bruun suggests we will);77
on the other, we may be a little discouraged by its ongoing problems with
fraud and decay, and perhaps even begin to wonder how much really has
changed. In addition, we have to contend with the problem that Frontinus
ultimately withholds the most vital data from us. In other words, in spite
of his very public demonstration of transparent accounting, we still have
not got full transparency by the end of his treatise. This is not to say that
Frontinus™ account is necessarily subversive; the suggestion that it is either
supportive or subversive is too crude a dichotomy. What we do see, how-
ever, is Frontinus not just re¬‚ecting but also re¬‚ecting upon several ideals
central to the new administration.
This re¬‚ection is directed more introspectively too. As I noted earlier,
Hodge believes that one speci¬c reform which Frontinus is particularly
interested in is the reappointment of senators to positions of authority.
At times, we have seen Frontinus appearing to endorse this reform by
taking his new responsibilities as Curator aquarum seriously and putting
himself forward as a paradigm for others to follow. However, I think that
we do not just see him prescribing but can also see him wondering how
newly re-empowered senators should act. His play on the word leviora

76 In particular, it raises important questions also about genre boundaries and ideals of Roman identity
and imperium, as I explain in Weeks (2004).
77 Bruun (1991) 18 argues that Frontinus™ Aq. ˜belongs, in part, to the same tradition as the De architectura
of Vitruvius or even the Natural history of the Elder Pliny, in the sense that what these writers did
was to present “Marvels of the World and of Roman Civilisation”.™
Knowledge and power in Frontinus™ On aqueducts 203
and the questions which are subsequently raised about the relevance and
currency of some of his knowledge, for example, prompt us to wonder
if it is absolutely necessary to research one™s ¬eld of work thoroughly, or
if senators can operate much as they did in the past and rely on a circle
of advisors to guide them in their post. Further, as well as considering the
ideal conduct of such senators, we also see Frontinus exploring the extent of
their reinstated powers. More speci¬cally, his treatise prompts us to think
about how senator-emperor relations in the new administration may be
de¬ned. Can prominent senators ever really be ˜colleagues™ of their emperor
(as Frontinus™ text occasionally suggests), or do they inevitably remain
merely ˜lieutenants™? And how far can one push the idea of partnership and
collaboration before it begins to threaten the princeps™ authority?78 To put
it another way, is the emperor still summus and Frontinus levior, and are
those categories as straightforward as they seem?79
Ultimately, Frontinus leaves these questions unanswered, as his ¬nal
chapter demonstrates. As I have mentioned, he ends his On aqueducts by
explaining that in the past he sought the emperor™s pardon for those who
transgressed the laws but in future he will not be so lenient:
As for the future, I hope that it will not be necessary for me to go to law, but I
will guard the trustworthiness (¬des) of my of¬ce even at the risk of giving offence.
(Aq. 130)
In working Nerva (or possibly Trajan)80 into his closing statements he
implies that he is (and always has been) acting at the behest and on behalf
of his emperor; at the same time, however, his mention of ¬des recalls his
use of that word at the end of On aqueducts 101 (¬des nostra) where (as we
have just seen) he reasserted his relative independence. His ¬nal chapter
thus draws attention both to the powers vested in him by his emperor and
to his own (knowledge-based) authority, leaving us uncertain about their
correspondence. On the one hand, much of his treatise (including this
¬nal chapter) teases us with the possibility that Frontinus™ own authority
outstrips that of his princeps, and even makes us wonder how close to being
˜emperor™ this curator might be. Although he hints that the answer is ˜very™,
78 It is worth recalling that Frontinus was Trajan™s consular colleage at some point during the compo-
sition of his treatise.
79 In view not only of Nerva™s elevation from the senate to the principate but also of Frontinus™ and
other important senators™ probable roles both in Trajan™s adoption and in the running of things at
Rome after Nerva had died, the categories of emperor and senator, summus and levior must have
seemed rather blurred at times.
80 The imperator mentioned at this point is not named, but since Frontinus is discussing the future
here it might make more sense to understand him as referring to Trajan, for even if Nerva had not
yet died, Trajan was probably already co-emperor when Frontinus wrote this.
204 a lic e k on ig
he also positions himself ostentatiously from beginning to end as subor-
dinate as well as similar and potentially superior, thereby underlining the
gulf that lies between agent and emperor at the same time as interrogating
and appearing to challenge it.
Frontinus™ frequently ambitious self-positioning, then, explores the
nature and extent of his authority without necessarily undermining his
emperor™s. He toys with the potential similarities between himself and his
princeps in ways which prompt re¬‚ection not only on their collaboration
and correspondence but also on what it is that sets them apart; and in
so doing, he both draws on and invites reconsideration of the power and
values that may be invested in certain types of knowledge. Among other
things, we are left wondering what weight technical expertise really carries “
what exactly its currency is, and what kind of authority it can confer
(compared to authority from other sources). By showing others adding
up incorrectly or deceitfully, and by failing to provide us with his own ¬nal
calculations, Frontinus™ account also threatens to undermine some of the
qualities “ speci¬cally transparency and reliability “ often associated with
mathematics.81 And though his organisation of facts and ¬gures may be
impressive on paper, we also discover (as we continue to encounter leaks
and fraud) that highly systematised knowledge can sometimes be more
rhetorically than actually effective.
A longer analysis would tease out some of these arguments further by
looking at the different ways in which Frontinus™ Strategemata and gro-
matic treatise explore, represent and order knowledge; for I have argued
elsewhere that the exploration of knowledge is a guiding thread for his
whole oeuvre. I have con¬ned myself to his On aqueducts, however, to give
just one illustration of how politicised as well as ˜technical™ Frontinus™ writ-
ing can be, and how the ordering of knowledge within a text can be used
to re¬‚ect on and take part in the ordering of self and society. Of course, I
have only begun to peel back the layers of the complex relationship which
Frontinus constructs in his On aqueducts between himself and Nerva, and
also “ if only implicitly “ between himself and Trajan, who though not
directly addressed hovers in the background.82 I hope, though, that one
important thing has become clear: that far from being an unambiguous
81 On the association between mathematics and transparency and reliability in connection with Fron-
tinus™ Aq. speci¬cally, see Cuomo (2000) 194, who argues that ˜the emphasis put on measurement,
and the overall mathematical outlook, provide Frontinus with a rhetoric of objectivity and accuracy
in which to embed his presentation of himself as an honest and competent administrator™. My
argument is that, while he exploits these associations at times, his treatise also undermines them.
82 And I think that his relations with these two emperors need to be studied separately, not lumped
together as they have been previously.
Knowledge and power in Frontinus™ On aqueducts 205
endorsement of the kinds of ideals we saw mentioned at the beginning of
Tacitus™ Agricola, Frontinus™ On aqueducts is much more re¬‚ective than has
been previously acknowledged of the uncertainty and political manoeu-
vring that characterised much of Nerva™s brief principate. As I argued at
the start, it was written not so much at the beginning of a ˜glorious new
era™ as in a period of uncertain transition, when much might have changed,
but quite what and how much was still being decided; as it tries out the
new imperial rhetoric for size, and ¬‚exes Frontinus™ muscles along the way,
I think the On aqueducts is busy grappling with, and trying to shape, the
answer to precisely those questions.
chapter 9

Measures for an emperor: Volusius Maecianus™
monetary pamphlet for Marcus Aurelius
Sera¬na Cuomo

To the Greeks the Muse gave intellect and well-rounded speech; they
are greedy only for praise.
Roman children, with lengthy calculations, learn to divide the as into
(Horace, Ars Poetica 323“6)1
a hundred parts.

Like many clich´s, Horace™s sour depiction of Roman pragmatism has some
truth to it “ except that the Greeks were just as interested as the Romans
in correctly dividing currency into parts. Metrology, the knowledge of
measures of weight, length, volume and of money, was a major presence in
ancient education and ancient life. The excavations of the Athenian agora
have turned up some two hundred metrological objects.2 A great many
papyri from Hellenistic and Roman Egypt are accounts, bills, or contracts
stipulating sizes or weights of things. Texts such as the so-called Athenian
coinage decree3 or the bilingual tax decree from Palmyra4 are expressions
of political and economic decisions variously translated into metrological
The act of measuring creates a correspondence between things in the real
world and symbols, be they numbers, units of measurement, or signs repre-
senting numbers or units of measurement. For instance, the Palmyra decree
enforces a correspondence between, say, a sack of salt and two symbols: a
number expressing its volume, expressed in terms of modii (units of mea-
surement), and another number, tied by decree to the ¬rst one, expressing
the tax tariff in terms of duty per modius. In the speci¬c situation of the
tax payment, the sack of salt ˜becomes™ its volume, that is, it exists in the

1 This passage is mentioned in Dilke (1989) 50. Another locus classicus here is Cic. Tusc. 1.4. Translations
are mine unless otherwise indicated.
2 Lang and Crosby (1964).
3 Meiggs and Lewis (eds.) (1969) 45 (450“446 bce). See D. Lewis™s and H. Mattingly™s articles in
Carradice (1987).
4 CISem. 2.3.3913 (137 ce, in Greek and Palmyrene). See Matthews (1984).

Maecianus™ monetary pamphlet for Marcus 207
form of a certain number “ this translation is what makes the transaction
Metrological documents are ˜inscription devices™, in a sense of the term
which I adapt from Bruno Latour™s work.5 They are technologies that pro-
vide a representation of reality such that the representation becomes a nec-
essary medium for interacting with that reality, because it (the translation,
the ˜something standing for something else™) makes reality more manage-
able and more orderly. Examples of inscription devices include maps and
graphs. Maps today can be said to have substituted landmarks as a means
for orientation “ in the case of the London Underground map, for instance,
the coloured lines intersecting each other on paper are, for its users, by all
accounts much more real than the real world of tunnels that ˜are™ London,
underground. And graphs expressing, for instance, the outcome of a com-
plex biochemical experiment substitute recourse to the mass of data pro-
duced by the various stages of the experiment. Once the graph is accepted
by the scienti¬c community, the reality it stands for, the mass of data, will
in practice be obliterated. Inscription devices then write down (inscribe)
reality in such a way that from now on we shall look at the inscription
rather than at the reality it is supposed to represent. Indeed, according to
Latour, the representation ends up ˜being™ the reality.
In some contexts, once the device is in place, the process that produced
it disappears, like scaffolding, to the point that reality is now seen as always
having contained within itself the inscription or the representation, inde-
pendently from the human agents that produced it in the ¬rst place. What
originates as basically a matter of useful convention, of approximation,
of educated guess, is transformed into a law of nature. In a metrological
context, a sack of salt may ˜become™ a certain number of modii to such a
deep extent that one talks of a ˜natural™ or ˜universal™ system of measures, as
if the number of modii had somehow been lurking within the apparently
unordered mass of salt all along, waiting to be weighed and declared; just
as Michelangelo™s statues were said by the artist to be imprisoned in their
block of marble, waiting to be freed from the super¬‚uous matter in order
to reveal their true shape.
Thus metrological documents can be a powerful tool to create a certain
˜natural™ order, and to make knowledge of certain taxonomies, relations
and systems indispensable for correctly accessing reality. Both the Palmyra
decree and the Athenian coinage decree are good examples of how metrolo-
gies “ in particular metrologies having to do with money “ serve as political

5 Especially Latour (1987) 68“78.
208 s era fi n a cuom o
instruments, and, given their extension of a certain order from a centre issu-
ing the metrology over to a periphery, as instruments of empire.6
A thorough exploration of how these issues are articulated in the ancient
world would warrant much more time and space than I have at present.
Nevertheless, I shall attempt at least to whet the reader™s appetite by focusing
on one intriguing ancient metrological text, known as the Division, as
well as terms and signs of the parts in things which are reckoned by weight,
number and measure (Distributio item vocabula ac notae partium in rebus
quae constant pondere numero mensura), which I shall henceforth refer to as
the Distributio.7 Its author, Lucius Volusius Maecianus (110?“166? ce) was a
well-known and respected member of the Roman elite, widely appreciated
for his expertise in the law. In addition to the Distributio, he wrote (as far
as we know) sixteen books on legacies, fourteen books on criminal actions,
and a treatise on the Rhodian law of the sea.8 We have several inscriptions
relating to him, including a cursus honorum or account of his political career;
we know that he was a patron of the corporation of ferrymen, auxiliaries
and record-keepers; and that he was appointed to the post a libellis (in
charge of juridical petitions and co-ordinating responses to them) in 138
ce under Hadrian, and to two posts in the imperial bureaucracy (a studiis
and a bibliothecis) under Antoninus Pius in around 150.9 He taught law
to Marcus Aurelius.10 Between 159 and 161 ce he was prefect of Egypt; in
charge of the corn supply in Rome by 161; a consul in 166, the year in which,
according to some interpretations, he died. According to others, however,
he was killed in 175, during an uprising in Alexandria.11 It is abundantly
clear from this that Maecianus™ vicinity to three emperors, culminating
in what appears to have been a direct and close relationship with Marcus

6 See again Latour (1987) 215“57.
7 The main edition of the Distributio (Distrib.) is by Hultsch (ed.) (1866), vol. ii, vii, 17“22 and 61“71,
also available in Seckel and K¨ bler (eds.) (1908) 408“18, and based on Mommsen™s text (1857) 281“5
(non vidi).
8 Rohden and Dessau (1898) 3.481“2; Seckel and K¨ bler (eds.) (1908) 408; Casavola (1980) 328“32;
Fanizza (1982) 105; Kunkel (2001) 174“6.
9 CIL 14.250=ILS 6174, found in a church wall at Ostia. See also SHA Ant. Pius 12.1. For similar
examples of patronage of professional associations, see Clemente (1972); van Nijf (1997) 100“20.
10 SHA M. Ant. 3.6. Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus referred to Maecianus as ˜our friend™ in a
rescript (161“9 ce), Dig. 37.14.17. Marcus Aurelius also mentions Maecianus as someone close to
him in a letter to Fronto, dated to between 140“3 ce, now in Fronto Ep. 1.74“8 (Loeb edition
(1919), corresponding to 2.4 Naber). Marc. Aur. Med. 1.6, mentions a philosopher Marcianus that
he resolves to listen to “ the manuscript tradition is problematic, and some scholars think that
Marcianus could be emended to Maecianus.
11 A Maecianus is mentioned as having been killed by the army after conspiring against Marcus Aurelius
in SHA M. Ant. 25.6 and Avid. Cass. 7.4, but not all scholars agree that he is the same as the jurist.
For a death around 166 ce, see Fanizza (1982) 114.
Maecianus™ monetary pamphlet for Marcus 209
Aurelius, puts him in a privileged position to comment on issues of order
and knowledge, as indeed he appears to do in his work. We shall return
to these points presently. I shall begin by describing the contents of the
Distributio, and then tackling some of the issues arising from it.

the tre at i s e
The Distributio was written for Marcus Aurelius, probably in 146 ce when
he was not yet emperor. Maecianus starts:
I have often noticed, Caesar, that you are upset because you regard the subdivision
of the as, which is necessary for inheritances and for many other things, as unknown.
Thus, so that such a small thing does not impede your mind in any way, I have
assessed how to set out both those parts and their names and signs. You can grasp
then on the one hand the in¬nite subdivision of parts, on the other their utterly
small names and signs.12
The tone is familiar, and there is an assumption that Marcus Aurelius is
aware of Maecianus™ other ¬eld of expertise (inheritance law), which is here
hinted at, as if to bolster his credentials.13 One of the main themes of the
treatise is introduced: the relationship between various parts of the as (the
piece of money), and their number and name and sign, small things that,

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