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AGRIMENSO´RES The business or profession of a land-surveyor appears not to have had any special organization or state recognition, at any rate until late in the history of Rome. At first the augurs directed the laying out of a town or colony, but no doubt they had assistants for the mechanical duties. The older term specially for a surveyor was finitor, and is used by Plautus (Poen. 48), and Cicero (Cic. Agr. 2.13, 34; 2.20, 53). The latter also uses decempedator (Phil. 13.18, 37). The ordinary term in imperial times was mensor (Col. 5.1, 33; Dig. 10, 1, 4; 11, 6; Non. p. 63). Metator appears to have been applied only to military surveyors (Cic. Phil. 11.5, 12; 14.4; Front. Strat. 2.7.12). Vegetius (de Re Mil. 2.7) describes metator as one who selected the ground for the camp, mensor as one who measured out the ground. The real distinction meant was perhaps that between the skilled officer and the subordinate. But mensor, in general use, is certainly not confined to the lower ranks. Under the empire a body of official mensores existed to arrange quarters for the army on march. The Justinian Code has, in one place (Just. Cod. 12.40, 5), metator, where the Theodosian has mensor. The professors of the art were also called Gromatici (Hygin. Munit. Castr. 11), and the teachers geometrae (cf. Col. 5.1.4).

The state required surveyors chiefly for three purposes: laying out land for a colony, or other distributions of land among citizens or soldiers, measuring and registering the land for the census, and military operations, such as laying out a camp, or measuring the breadth of rivers and height of mountains. But their services were also required both by the state and by individuals to survey and mark the boundaries of estates, to re-discover lost boundaries, or give a decision or advice (judicare aut advocationem praestare, Grom. p. 35) in many questions of dispute. Soldiers were of course employed for camp purposes, and also frequently for other state-surveys (Grom. pp. 91 sq., 121, 244, 251). Rullus proposed to take with him for executing his agrarian law two hundred finitores from the equestrian order (Cic. Agr. 2.1. 3, 34).

Mensores, along with many other artificers and professional persons, were freed from the more burdensome civil duties (Dig. 50, 6, 7). And, as their work was regarded as of an honourable character, their payment was a honorarium, and the relation of hiring was not properly applicable to their services, so that the civil law gave no remedy for a false report, even though maliciously false, and the praetor had to give an action on the case (in factum). Neither want of skill nor negligence (unless gross negligence) was a ground of action (D. 11, 6, 1). Teachers of the art (geometrae) were freed by Constantius from civil duties generally (Cod. 10.66, 2), but not from acting as guardians, any more than were teachers of the civil law (Vat. Fr. 150; Dig. 27, 1, 22; Cod. Theod. 13.4, 3). The position was evidently regarded as of a lower rank. Some Constitutions of Theodosius contained in the Gromatical collection, assigning the surveyors large fees, and, if students, the rank of clarissimi, if professors that of spectabiles, are regarded by Rudorff, Mommsen, and others as forgeries. The surveyors do however appear to have had the rank of perfectissimi (Rudorff, Grom. Inst. p. 322).

The services of the land-surveyors were resorted to in disputes (jurgia in older language, controversiae in the Gromatici) about land, when the question turned primarily or incidentally on the boundary between neighbours, or on the position or size of pieces of land, which had been marked out by bounds and were the subject of a claim or liable to tax or duties. They had nothing to do with any questions of law which might be involved, but solely with the ascertainment by their technical knowledge of the true boundary, and with the interpretation of the official or private charts or records, or of the inscriptions, or of the symbolical meaning of the stones, posts, or other marks of boundaries (Grom. p. 281). The disputes which arose touching land, so far as the land-surveyors were concerned, belonged to one of two classes--de fine or de loco, i.e. they related to the boundary of the land only, or to a piece of the land itself. Under the former head came disputes whether boundary stones had been removed (de positione terminorum), or where ran the straight line indicated by certain posts (de rigore), or what trustworthy indication of the true boundary were to be found. Under the latter head (de loco, cf. Dig. 50, 16, 60) came questions as to ownership or possession, or the correspondence in acreage of the land occupied by a person with that registered or assigned to him or his predecessor (de. modo); or whether the land belonged wholly [p. 1.84]to the public, or was subject to a public right of road, or was an oddment, or was abandoned and shut out from the assignment, or belonged to some religious body or purpose, or to a tomb, or was within the jurisdiction of the contiguous community, or that of a more distant colony. To the same head belong also questions of accretion by the action of water (alluvio), and of damage caused by a neighbour's action in increasing the flow of rain-water on to the adjoining land (pp. 9-24, 37-58, 123-134). The two classes had this distinction in law, that questions of a boundary (de fine), if within five feet, were according to the Twelve Tables to be decided by three experts as arbiters, and any claim of usucapion was to be disregarded. Questions of a piece of land (de loco) were settled by the ordinary tribunals, with or without the aid of experts, as particular circumstances might require. A lex Mamilia, perhaps passed in Cicero's time (Cic. Leg. 1.2. 1, 55), substituted a single arbiter for the three. A Constitution of A.D. 385 removed the restriction of five feet, and committed all disputes of this class to the decision of an expert, provided they were capable of settlement by skilful ascertainment of the old boundary line (Cod. Th. 2.26, 4). A later Constitution of A.D. 392 restored the old distinction (ib. s. 5). Justinian again removed the distinction, and allowed, in all such cases, a prescription of thirty years (Cod. Just. 3.39, 5, 6). The collection of the Gromatici does not contain this change of Justinian's. Karlowa (Beitr. p. 141.1) takes a different view of these Constitutions from the above, which is the view generally taken.

The writings of the Gromatici which are extant contain short treatises of about the 2nd century after Christ, by Frontinus (embedded in a commentary of a later writer called Agennius Urbicus), by Siculus Flaccus, and by apparently two writers bearing the name of Hyginus; several short mathematical treatises of uncertain date by Balbus, Nipsus, a so-called Boethius, and others; extracts from official registers, probably of the 5th century, of the colonial and other surveys of lands, chiefly in Italy; lists and descriptions of different kinds of boundary stones; extracts from the Theodosian code, and one title (10.1) of Justinian's Digest; an obscure and barbarous tract (casae litterarum) by one Innocentius, supposed to be school exercises in land-surveying, and some other short pieces. The origin and date of the collection is unknown. The principal treatises are in two Wolfenbüttel MSS., viz. Codex Arcerianus of the 6th or 7th century, which, however, does not contain Siculus Flaccus, and Codex Gudianus of the 9th or 10th century. Niebuhr awakened modern interest in these writers (see the Appendix to his Rom. Hist. vol. ii. Eng. Tr.), and in 1848 Lachmann's critical edition (based partly on Blume's researches published in the Rhein. Mus. vols. v. vii.) appeared and superseded all earlier editions. In 1852 a second volume was published, containing essays on the MSS. by Blume, on the text by Lachmann, and on the list of colonies by Mommsen, as well as a careful and learned, though somewhat fanciful, treatise on the whole subject by Rudorff, who had previously published an essay on the action for regulating boundaries in the Zeits. Gesch. Rechtsw. vol. x.


hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Cicero, Philippics, 11.5
    • Cicero, Philippics, 14.4
    • Cicero, On the Agrarian Law, 2.1.3
    • Cicero, On the Agrarian Law, 2.13
    • Cicero, On the Agrarian Law, 2.1.34
    • Cicero, Philippics, 11.12
    • Cicero, De Legibus, 1.2
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 5.1
    • Columella, Res Rustica, 5.1.4
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