Marcus Vitruvius Pollio
Little is known about Vitruvius’ life. Most inferences about him are extracted from his only surviving work De Architectura. His first name Marcus and his cognomen Pollio are uncertain. He was possibly a praefectus fabrum during military service or praefect architectus armamentarius of the apparitor status group. Cetius Faventinus speaks of “Vitruvius Polio aliique auctores” in his epitome; it is possible that the cognomen derives from this mention by Cetius, meaning Vitruvius, Polio, and others – further confusing the cognomen, an inscription in Verona names Lucius Vitruvius Cordo and an inscription from Thilbilis North Africa (near Guelma) names Marcus Vitruvius Mamurra. From this inscription the archaeologist Dr. G. Q. Giglioli nearly concludes that Vitruvius and Mamurra are from the same family; his argument is presented by Ettore Pais:
Likely born a free Roman citizen, by his own account Vitruvius served the Roman army under Julius Caesar with the otherwise poorly identified Marcus Aurelius, Publius Minidius, and Gnaeus Cornelius. These names vary depending on the edition of De architectura. Publius Minidius is also written as Publius Numidicus and Publius Numidius, speculated as the same Publius Numisius inscribed on the Roman Theatre at Heraclea. As an army engineer he specialized in the construction of ballista and scorpio artillery war machines for sieges. It is speculated that Vitruvius served with Julius Caesar’s Chief Engineer Lucius Cornelius Balbus. The locations where he served can be reconstructed from, for example, descriptions of the building methods of various “foreign tribes”. Although he describes places throughout De Architectura, he does not say he was present. His service likely included north Africa, Hispania, Gaul (including Aquitaine) and Pontus.
To place the role of Vitruvius the military engineer in context, a description of “The Praefect of the camp” or army engineer is quoted here as given by Flavius Vegetius Renatus in The Military Institutions of the Romans:
The Praefect of the camp, though inferior in rank to the [Praefect], had a post of no small importance. The position of the camp, the direction of the entrenchments, the inspection of the tents or huts of the soldiers and the baggage were comprehended in his province. His authority extended over the sick, and the physicians who had the care of them; and he regulated the expenses relative thereto. He had the charge of providing carriages, bathhouses and the proper tools for sawing and cutting wood, digging trenches, raising parapets, sinking wells and bringing water into the camp. He likewise had the care of furnishing the troops with wood and straw, as well as the rams, onagri, balistae and all the other engines of war under his direction. This post was always conferred on an officer of great skill, experience and long service, and who consequently was capable of instructing others in those branches of the profession in which he had distinguished himself.
At various locations described by Vitruvius, battles and sieges occurred. He is the only source for the siege of Larignum 56 BC. Of the battlegrounds of the Gallic War there are references to: The siege and massacre of the 40,000 residents at Avaricum 52 BC; Vercingetorix commented that “the Romans did not conquer by valor nor in the field, but by a kind of art and skill in assault, with which they [Gauls] themselves were unacquainted.” The broken siege at Gergovia 52 BC. The circumvallation and Battle of Alesia 52 BC; the women and children of the encircled city were evicted to conserve food, where they starved to death between the opposing walls of the defenders and besiegers. And the siege of Uxellodunum 51 BC. These are all sieges of large Gallic oppida. Of the sites involved in Caesar’s civil war, we find the Siege of Massilia 49 BC, the Battle of Dyrrhachium of 48 BC (modern Albania), the Battle of Pharsalus 48 BC (Hellas – Greece), the Battle of Zela of 47 BC (modern Turkey) and the Battle of Thapsus 46 BC in Caesar’s African campaign. A legion that fits the same sequence of locations is the Legio VI Ferrata, of which ballista would be an auxilia unit.
Mainly known for his writings, Vitruvius was himself an architect. In Roman times architecture was a broader subject than at present including the modern fields of architecture, construction management, construction engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, materials engineering, mechanical engineering, military engineering and urban planning. Frontinus mentions him in connection with the standard sizes of pipes. He is often credited as father of architectural acoustics for describing technique of echeas placement in theaters. The only building, however, that we know Vitruvius to have worked on is one he tells us about, a basilica completed in 19 BC. It was built at Fanum Fortunae, now the modern town of Fano.
From: The Wikipedia.
Photo by Matthias Heiderich (Copyright Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.)