Sextus Julius Frontinus

Sextus Julius Frontinus

Sextus Julius Frontinus (ca. 40-103 AD) was one of the most distinguished Roman aristocrats of the late first century AD, but is best known to the post-Classical world as an author of technical treatises, especially one dealing with the aqueducts of Rome.

In 70 he was praetor, and five years later was sent into Britain to succeed Quintus Petillius Cerialis as governor of that island. He subdued the Silures and other hostile tribes of Wales, establishing a new base at Caerleon or Isca Augusta for Legio II "Augusta" and a network of smaller forts fifteen to twenty kilometres apart for his auxiliary units. One of these would have been the fort at Luentinum where it controlled the gold mine of Dolaucothi, and was worked by numerous aqueducts. He was succeeded by Gnaeus Julius Agricola in 78.

In 95 he was appointed Water Commissioner of the aqueducts ("curator aquarum") at Rome by the emperor Nerva, an office only conferred upon persons of very high standing. He was also a member of the College of Augurs. He produced an official report on the state of the aqueducts serving the city of Rome towards the end of the first century AD, the first official report of an investigation about engineering works ever to have been published.

In this capacity he followed another distinguished Roman statesman, Agrippa, who organised in 34 BC a campaign of public repairs and improvements, including renovation of the aqueduct Aqua Marcia and an extension of its pipes to cover more of the city. Through his actions after being elected in 33 BC as one of the aediles (officials responsible for Rome's buildings and festivals), the streets were repaired and the sewers were cleaned and renovated. Agrippa signalized his tenure of office by enlarging and restoring the Cloaca Maxima, the main sewer in Rome, constructing thermae, porticos, and laying out gardens.

The Aqueducts of Rome

His chief work is "De aquaeductu", in two books, an official report to the emperor on the state of the aqueducts of Rome. It presents a history and description of the water-supply of Rome, including the laws relating to its use and maintenance. The history of all the aqueducts of Rome is described including details of the sizes of the channels and discharge rates, such as Aqua Appia, Aqua Alsietina, Aqua Tepula, Anio Novus, Aqua Virgo, Aqua Claudia and Aqua Traiana. He also describes the quality of water delivered by each, mainly depending on their source, be it river, lake or spring.One of the first jobs he undertook when appointed water commissioner was to prepare maps of the system so that he could assess their condition before undertaking their maintenance. He says that many had been neglected and were not working at their full capacity. He was especially concerned by diversion of the supply by unscrupulous farmers and tradesmen, amongst many others. They would insert pipes into the channel of the aqueducts to tap the supply. He therefore made a meticulous survey of the intake and the supply of each line, and then investigated the discrepancies. He was well aware of the seminal work De Architectura by Vitruvius which mentions aqueduct construction and maintenance published in the previous century, classing him at one point with "the plumbers".

Distribution system

Distribution of the water depended in a complex way on its height entering the city, the quality of the water and its rate of discharge. Thus poor quality water would be sent for irrigation, gardens, or flushing, while only the best would be reserved for potable use. Intermediate quality water would be used for the many baths and fountains. However, Frontinus criticises the practice of mixing supplies from different sources, and one of his first decisions was to separate the waters from each system.


He was very concerned by leaks in the system, especially those in the underground conduits, which were difficult to locate and mend, a problem still faced by water engineers today. The aqueducts above ground needed care to ensure that the masonry was kept in good condition, especially those running on arched superstructures. It was, he said, essential to keep trees at a distance so that their roots would not damage the structures. He reviewed the existing law governing the state aqueducts, as well as the need for enforcement of those statutes.

Military Tactics

Frontinus also wrote a theoretical treatise on military science, which is lost. His extant work on military matters, the "Strategemata", is a collection of examples of military stratagems from Greek and Roman history, ostensibly for the use of generals. It was presumably based on his experiences as a fighting general with the army in Britain and elsewhere in the Empire.


The standard edition in Latin, with extensive commentary in English, is now R.H. Rodgers, "Frontinus: De aquaeductu urbis Romae" (Cambridge, 2004). An English translation (together with one of the "Strategemata") has been published in the Loeb Classical Library (1925). A translation by Herschel is useful for his commentary on the engineering underlying the work of Frontinus.

The latest edition of the "Stratagems" is by R. I. Ireland, Teubner, 1990; English translation in Loeb Classical Library, 1925. Extracts from a treatise on land surveying ascribed to Frontinus are preserved in B. Campbell, The writings of the Roman land surveyors: introduction, text, translation and commentary (London, 2000).

ee also

*Cloaca Maxima
*De aquaeductu
*De Architectura
*List of aqueducts in the city of Rome
*List of aqueducts in the Roman Empire
*List of Roman aqueducts by date
*Roman aqueducts
*Roman conquest of Britain
*Aggenus Urbicus


He appears as a fictionalised character in the Marcus Didius Falco novels "Three Hands in the Fountain" and "The Jupiter Myth".

External links

* [ Frontinus at LacusCurtius] : full texts of "De aquis" and "Strategemata" in Latin and English; illustrated with some of the Monscassinensis manuscript from the Herschel edition.
* [ Sextus Iulius Frontinus] (fr)
* [ Models of Various Aqueducts of Ancient Rome]
* [ Routes of Various Aqueducts of Ancient Rome]
* [ Famous Fountains of Rome]
* [ The Fountains of Rome (by Region)]
* [ Spanish site dedicated to Roman technology, especially aqueducts and mines]

prev=Quintus Petillius Cerialis
next=Gnaeus Julius Agricola
list=Roman governors of Britain


*Herschel, C, "The Two Books on The Water Supply of the City of Rome of Frontinus", (trans with explanatory chapters) New England Water Works Association (1973).
*Ashby, Thomas., "The Aqueducts of Rome", Oxford, 1934.
*Hodge, A.T. (2001). "Roman Aqueducts & Water Supply", 2nd ed. London: Duckworth.


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  • Frontinus, Sextus Julius — born AD 35 died 103 Roman governor of Britain and author of a work on the waters of the city of Rome. He was praetor in Rome in 70; later made governor of Britain, he subdued the Silures in southeastern Wales (75) and held other tribes in check.… …   Universalium

  • Sextus — (abbreviated as Sex. , the feminine form is Sexta , not to be confused with Sixtus) is a common ancient Roman praenomen. It probably means sixth (cf. Latin sextus , sixth ). Parallel praenomina are Secundus, Tertius, Quintus, Septimus, and… …   Wikipedia

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  • Frontīnus — Frontīnus, Sextus Julius, 71 n. Chr. Prätor in Rom, nahm dann unter Petilius Cerialis Theil am Britannischen Kriege u. führte nach des Oberfeldherrn Tode die Armee zum Siege über die Siluren; er wurde später, 97, unter Nerva Curator aquarum, 102… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Frontīnus — Frontīnus, Sextus Julius, röm. Schriftsteller, um 40–103 n. Chr., dreimal Konsul, 76–78 m Britannien mit großem Erfolg tätig, war unter Nerva 97 Curator aquarum (Aufseher über die Wasserleitungen in Rom). Dieser Tätigkeit verdanken wir die für… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Frontinus — Frontīnus, Sextus Julius, röm. Schriftsteller, Konsul und Feldherr in Britannien, gest. um 106; schrieb: »De aquis urbis Romae« (hg. von Herschel, 1900), »Strategematicon libri IV« (hg. von Gundermann, 1888) …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

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  • Julius — /joohl yeuhs/, n. a male given name: a Roman family name. * * * (as used in expressions) Agricola Gnaeus Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Cohn Ferdinand Julius Cohnheim Julius Friedrich Erving Julius Winfield Frontinus Sextus Julius Fuchs Emil Klaus… …   Universalium

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