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p71 Agrimensores

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on pp71‑72 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

AGRIMENSORES. At the foundation of a colony and the assignation of lands the auspicia were taken, for which purpose the presence of the augur was necessary. But the business of the augur did not extend beyond the religious part of the ceremony: the division and measurement of the land were made by professional measurers. These were the Finitores mentioned in the early writers (Cic. c. Rullum, II.13; Plautus, Poenulus, Prolog. 49), who in the later periods were called Mensores and Agrimensores. The business of a Finitor could only be done by a free man, and the honourable nature of his office is indicated by the rule that there was no bargain for his services, but he received his pay in the form of a gift. These Finitores appear also to have acted as judices, under the name of arbitri, in those disputes about boundaries which were purely of a technical, not a legal, character.

Under the empire the observance of the auspices in the fixing of camps and the establishment of military colonies was less regarded, and the practice of the Agrimensores was reduced to a system by Julius Frontinus, Hyginus, Siculus Flaccus, and other Gromatic writers, as they are sometimes termed. As to the meaning of the term Groma, and the derived words, see Facciolati, Lexicon, and the Index to Goesius, Rei Agrariae Scriptores. The teachers of geometry in the large cities of the empire used to give practical instruction on the system of gromatice. This practical geometry was one of the liberalia studia (Dig. 50, tit. 13, s1); but the professors of geometry and the teachers of law were not exempted from the obligation of being tutores, and from other such burdens (Frag. Vat. § 150), a fact which shows the subordinate rank which the teachers of elementary science then held.

The Agrimensor could mark out the limits of the centuriae, and restore the boundaries where they were confused, but he could not assign (assignare) without a commission from the emperor. Military persons of various classes are also sometimes mentioned as practising surveying, and settling disputes about boundaries. The lower rank of the professional Agrimensor, as contrasted with the Finitor of earlier periods, is shown by the fact that in the imperial period there might be a contract with an Agrimensor for paying him for his services.

p72 The Agrimensor of the later period was merely employed in disputes as to the boundaries of properties. The foundation of colonies and the assignation of lands were now less common, though we read of colonies being established to a late period of the empire, and the boundaries of the lands must have been set out in due form (Hyginus, p177, ed. Goes). Those who marked out the ground in camps for the soldiers' tents are also called Mensores, but they were military men (Vegetius, De Re Militari, II.7). The functions of the Agrimensor are shown by a passage of Hyginus (De Controvers. p170): in all questions as to determining boundaries by means of the marks (signa), the area of surfaces, and explaining maps and plans, the services of the Agrimensor were required: in all questions that concerned property, right of road, enjoyment of water, and other easements (servitutes) they were not required, for these were either employed by the parties themselves to settle boundaries, or they received their instructions for that purpose from a judex. In this capacity they were advocati. But they also acted as judices, and could give a final decision in that class of smaller questions which concerned the quinque pedes of the Mamilia Lex [Lex Mamilia], as appears from Frontinus (pp63, 75, ed. Goes). Under the Christian emperors the name Mensores was changed into Agrimensores to distinguish them from another class of Mensores, who are mentioned in the codes of Theodosius and Justinian (VI.34, XII.28). By a rescript of Constantine and Constans (A.D. 344) the teachers and learners of geometry received immunity from civil burdens. According to a constitution of Theodosius and Valentinian (A.D. 440) as given in the collection of Goesius (p344), they received jurisdiction in questions of Alluvio; but Rudorff observes, "that the decisive words 'ut judicio agrimensoris finiatur,' and 'haec agrimensorum semper esse judicia' are a spurious addition, which is not found either in Nov. Theod. Tit. 20, nor in L. 3. C. De Alluv. (Cod. Just. VII. tit. 41)." According to another constitution of the same emperors, the Agrimensor was to receive an aureus from each of any three bordering proprietors whose boundaries he settled, and if he set a limes right between proprietors, he received an aureus for each twelfth part of the property through which he restored the limes. Further, by another constitution of the same emperors (Goesius, p343), the young Agrimensores were to be called "clarissimi" while they were students, and when they began to practise their profession, spectabiles. All this, which is repeated by modern writers, is utterly incredible (Rudorff, p420, &c., and the notes.)

(Rudorff, Ueber die Feldmesser, Zeitschrift für Geschicht. Rechtsw. vol. X. p412, a clear and exact exposition; Niebuhr, vol. II appendix 2; Dureau de la Malle, Economie Politique des Romains, vol. I p179; the few remarks of the last writer are of no value.)

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