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Bill Thayer

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Frontinus: The Man and The Works

Sextus Julius Frontinus was an exceptional man, in whom a successful career was founded on a combination, as rare in Antiquity as it is in our own time, of personal honor and technical competence. A professional civil servant, he was one of the generals who reduced Britain to a Roman province; he set right the water system of the city of Rome, that the accumulated neglect and frauds of several centuries had rendered grossly inefficient and inequitable; he served as consul three times — sharing it once with the best emperor Rome ever had, a signal honor to both men.

For a standard treatment of the life of Frontinus, see the Loeb edition's introductory material, by Charles Bennett, which also includes a fairly detailed discussion of the authorship of both the De Aquis and the Strategemata; and for the manuscripts of Frontinus, see the separate section by the same author.

Frontinus' complete surviving output is onsite:

[image ALT: A diagram of a basin receiving water from an ascending pipe.]

[ complete Latin text, English and French translations ]

De Aqueductibus Urbis Romae (On the Water Supply of Rome): In the early 2c A.D. Frontinus was called on to administer the city's water, and methodically set out to discover and put an end to endemic theft of the resource, and prevent it in the future. Having done so, he wrote a very accurate and engagingly sober book about it, which is a mine of information for modern archaeologists and historians. The author's transparency as a writer and his forthrightness and honesty as a leader and administrator of the public weal make the "De Aquis" an intensely personal little book. Of everything Roman I've ever read, it is my favorite work.

In progress, if slowly: I'm linking each paragraph of the Latin to a photograph of it in the only surviving ancient manuscript, sometimes commented with a rudimentary apparatus: as of 3/15/99, 13 of these 130 paragraphs of the facsimile were online.

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[ complete Latin text and English translation ]

The Strategemata are a collection of over 500 examples of devices, ruses, ploys, creative ideas from history, intended by Frontinus as a sort of checklist for the military commander. The work is an appendix to his work on the Art of War, which has not survived; I suspect the interesting "stories" appealed far more to medieval copyists and readers than the deeper theoretical work: it is a great pity.

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Site updated: 28 Jul 13