HIGH upon a bill some fifteen hundred feet above the surrounding plain, on the borders of ancient Samnium and Campania, and almost midway between Rome and Naples,
That pauses on a mountain summit high,
Monte Cassino’s convent rears its proud
And venerable walls against the sky.”
The scene from the summit is one of incomparable beauty. To the south stretches an undulating plain far away toward the shores of the Mediterranean. Near by are Arpinum, the birthplace of Cicero, and Aquinum,
Where Juvenal was born, whose lurid light
Still hovers o’er his birthplace like the crown
Of splendor seen o’er cities in the night; ”
and where later
And dreamed perhaps the dreams that he repeats
In ponderous folios for scholastics made : ”
while to the westward lies that
Unheard the Garigliano glides along ; —
The Liris, nurse of rushes and of reeds,
The river taciturn of classic song.”
The monastery of Monte Cassino is now nearly fourteen centuries old. It was in 528 that St. Benedict, leaving behind him the rocky gorges of Subiaco where he had already devoted himself for thirty-five years to pious labors, journeyed with a few chosen disciples to the south, and founded the monastic home destined to become the most celebrated and influential in the Christian world. It was here that he wrote his famous Rule (Benedicti Regula), and here, fifteen years later, that he brought to a peaceful close the life so nobly spent in unselfish service.
The history of the monastery has been a stormy one in the years that have since passed. Lombard and Saracen, Norman and Frank, have in turn captured and plundered it. Convulsions of nature, too, have, as it were, vied with human forces in challenging its vitality. But it has survived every shock of nature and of man, and is to-day, under the direction of an abbot of American birth, serenely rounding out the fourteenth century of its existence.
To the student of general history, and particularly to the student of ecclesiastical affairs, this famous foundation must be primarily of interest for the religious associations that cluster about it, and especially because from this centre emanated the organizing and leavening forces which influenced so prodigiously the monastic life of the West.
To those, however, whose province is the narrower one of letters, Monte Cassino is hallowed because of its association with the humanistic revival of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was here, during the long intellectual night of the Middle Ages, that faithful monks kept alive, even though but dimly, the light of knowledge, if not of learning; it was here that were transcribed and preserved so many of the priceless treasures of ancient thought, — at times, to be sure, with a somewhat careless guardianship, yet in the main with a fidelity not to be disparaged. Hither about 1350 came Boccaccio, only to observe with pain the carelessness with which the manuscripts of the library, even then famous, were protected. The time was one of anarchy in the affairs of the monastery. No door or fastening guarded the books. Grass grew thick about the windows. The manuscripts were without custodian, and the books and shelves were covered with dust. Benvenuto da Imola tells us how Boccaccio began to open and turn over now this book and now that, and found there many and various volumes of rare and ancient works. From some of them, adds Benvenuto, whole sheets had been torn out, and in others the margins of the leaves were clipped, and so they were greatly defaced. Here and there illuminated manuscripts lay torn and neglected on the unswept floor. At last, full of pity that the labors and studies of so many illustrious minds should have fallen into the hands of such careless stewards, grieving and weeping, he withdrew. And coming into the cloister, he asked a monk whom he met why those most precious books were so vilely mutilated. The answer was that some of the monks, wishing to gain a few ducats, cut out a handful of leaves and made psalters, which they sold to boys ; and likewise of the margins they made breviaries, which they sold to women. The monk concluded his remarks to Boccaccio with this scornful irony : “Now, therefore, O scholar, go and rack thy brains in the making of books ! ”
This era of neglect, however, was presumably of brief duration, for fifty years later (about 1400), when Poggio Bracciolini visited the monastery, in his indefatigable search for the works of the ancient writers, he was rewarded by the discovery of numerous manuscripts of the greatest importance. Among these was one of Sextus Julius Frontinus, entitled De Aquis Urbis Romæ.
The De Aquis is an original manuscript in the sense that at the time of its discovery no other manuscript of the work was known, nor has any since come to light, excepting those derived from copies made by Poggio at the time. As the title of the work at once suggests, it is a treatise on the aqueducts of ancient Rome. Since the old aqueducts have practically disappeared, this treatise becomes of the greatest interest and value to the modern student, particularly so since Frontinus himself was water commissioner (curator aquarum) under Trajan, at a time when the aqueduct system of Rome had nearly reached its fullest expansion, embracing no fewer than nine aqueducts with over 240 miles of conduits bringing water to the city, to say nothing of the miles of distributing mains within the walls.
The work, as Frontinus tells us, was prepared at the beginning of his administration for his own guidance, in accordance with a custom which he had followed in the other offices he had filled. It stands almost alone as a systematic treatise on a definite field of archaic life and custom. How rarely any such compendium is found is sufficiently well known. As a rule, our knowledge of ancient institutions is gathered, not from any formal venerable treatise, but only by laboriously piecing together the isolated and often conflicting testimonies drawn from writers of different ages, different temperaments, different degrees of knowledge and of credibility. As a result, there is almost no department of historic institutions in which our knowledge does not now suffer and will not always suffer from serious lacunœ. What would we not give for a systematic treatise on ancient music, on the mode of reading ancient poetry, on the fashions of dress, with a few plates of some old-time Butterick, on the fine arts, to say nothing of political and religious institutions ?
But these old Romans evidently did not write many formal treatises on their common affairs. Even of the few they attempted scarcely one is adequate for us to-day. From Vitruvius’s work on architecture we should get no just conception of the Roman house were it not for the remains at Pompeii. Frontinus’s work is unique as almost the only exception to the general conditions just described. In brief compass, scarcely more than fifty printed 12mo pages, he tells what we most want to know, and what but for the survival of his little manual we probably should never know. With the genius of a born teacher, he is not afraid of being too elementary. He takes nothing for granted, but tells the whole story with substantial completeness.
Of the details of Frontinus’s life we are but scantily informed. His personality, as will be shown, stands out in his works in no ambiguous fashion ; but the events of his career, so far as we can glean them, are few, disjointed, and indefinite. Even the year of his birth is not known ; but since Tacitus speaks of him as prœtor urbanus in the year 70 A. D., under Vespasian, we may infer that he was born not far from 35. Three times he was elected consul, in 74, 98, and 100. After his first incumbency of this office he was dispatched to Britain as provincial governor. In this post, as Tacitus tells us in the Agricola, chap, xvii., Frontinus fully sustained the traditions established by an able predecessor, Cerialis, and proved himself equal to the difficult emergencies with which he was called upon to cope. He subdued the Silures, a powerful and warlike tribe of Wales, and, with the instinct for public improvements which dominated his whole career, at once began in the conquered district the construction of a highway, named for him the Via Julia, the course of which can still be made out, and some of whose ancient pavement, it is thought, may still be viewed.
From this provincial post he returned to Rome in 78, after which the next twenty years of his life are a blank, — from 78 to 97. But this age of terror was a blank to more than one Roman,— a time when, as Tacitus tells us, a man signed his own death warrant by his very eminence, and at the close of which those left alive are characterized as survivors, not merely of those who had perished, but even of themselves.
For Frontinus these were the best years of his life, — from his forty-third to his sixty-second year ; and it is all the more to be regretted that political conditions denied him opportunity and scope for continuing that career of public service which his earlier successes as well as his subsequent ones proved him so capable of pursuing with distinction. It was not until 97, in his sixty - second year, that he was appointed to the post of water commissioner, — the office whose management gives him probably his best title to eminence, and during the tenure of which he wrote the De Aquis. This office of water commissioner Frontinus held presumably till his death, some six or seven years later, in 103 or 104.
This little work has been mentioned as a valuable repository of information concerning the aqueducts of Rome. But it is much more than that. It gives us a picture of the faithful public servant, charged with immense responsibility, called suddenly to an office that had long been a sinecure and wretchedly mismanaged, confronted with abuses and corruption of long standing, and yet administering his charge with an eye only to the public service and an economical use of the public funds. It is this aspect of the De Aquis which lends it, despite its generally technical nature and its absolute lack of stylistic charm, a certain literary character. It depicts a man ; it depicts motives and ideals, the springs of conduct.
The administration of which Frontinus was a part was essentially one of municipal reform. Nerva and Trajan alike aimed to correct the abuses and favoritism of the preceding régime. They not only chose able and devoted assistants in their new policy ; they themselves set good examples for imitation.
Hence we find Frontinus, at the outset of his work, expressing his loyalty to his chief, and his sense of the importance of his office as one contributing not only to the convenience and health, but even to the safety of the city. In view of this, the first and most necessary thing to be done is to familiarize himself with the duties of his post. His immediate predecessors, he intimates, had, in their ignorance, depended upon the practical knowledge of their subordinates. This Frontinus declares to be a debasing course for any man to pursue. For himself, he will learn all that can be learned of his office and his duties. He will be the directing head in its management. His subordinates are to be but the tools that make his policy effective. With this spirit and with this purpose, at the very outset of his administration, as he tells us in the opening lines of the De Aquis, he has written his little manual. The outline of the work, as given in the closing section of Frontinus’s Introduction, is as follows: —
“ That I may not by chance omit anything which is necessary for the understanding of the whole matter, I will first put down the names of the waters which are brought to the city of Rome ; then by what persons and under what consuls, and in what year since the founding of the city, each of them was brought in ; then at what places and at what milestones their aqueducts commence ; how far they are carried in underground channels, how far on masonry substructures, and how far on arches ; then the height of each of them, and the size and number of taps and what uses are dependent upon them; how much each aqueduct brings to each ward without the city, and how much within the city ; how many public reservoirs there are, and how much is delivered from these to places of public amusement, how much to fountains, how much to basins, how much for state uses, how much for private uses by way of grant from the sovereign; furthermore, what is the law with regard to the maintenance of the aqueducts ; what penalties enforce it under the laws, the resolutions of the Senate, and the edicts of the Emperor.”
This programme is faithfully carried out in the two books of the treatise. What is recorded, too, Frontinus tells us, is not based on hearsay. He has made a personal examination of every detail. Not satisfied even with a record of measurements, he has had plans and profiles drawn, that he may, as it were, have the aqueducts directly before him and consider them as though standing by their side.
In this study of details he proceeded with the spirit of the true investigator. One of the most serious abuses proved to be connected with the size of the pipes used by owners of water rights in receiving and distributing water. These owners of water rights we may, for convenience, call watermen. The Roman name was aquarii. Now these watermen had, prior to Frontinus’s day, long successfully practiced the most barefaced frauds upon the state, from which they received water, and the consumers whom they in turn supplied. Their scheme was this : They received their water chiefly through pipes of two sizes. Not to trouble the reader with their technical Latin names, it may be stated that one was a seven-inch pipe, the other an eightinch pipe. They supplied their consumers through pipes that were nominally four inches in diameter; but Frontinus’s searching examination soon discovered that it had long been a traditional trick of the trade for these watermen to enlarge the seven-inch pipe by ten per cent of its capacity, the eight-inch pipe by over fifty per cent, while, on the other hand, they diminished the size of the four-inch pipe, with which they supplied their consumers, by twenty per cent of its capacity. Thus, while nominally receiving no more water than they distributed to their customers, these watermen were in effect, in some cases, receiving over seventy per cent more than they supplied. Such an abuse evidently pointed to corruption somewhere, and it took no long time for Frontinus’s vigilance to put a stop to this form of defrauding both the state and the public.
The particular form of fraud just described had to do with the supply within the city. Another form of dishonesty was conducted on even a larger scale outside the walls. The way in which Frontinus detected it was this : In examining whether the amount of water received in the city from all the aqueducts tallied with their recorded total capacity as determined by gauging at their intakes, he met with a startling state of affairs. Being aware of certain fraudulent practices and suspecting the existence of others, he had been prepared to find that the actual supply was much less than the theoretical capacity of the aqueducts. Imagine, then, his surprise at discovering that whereas the aggregate capacity of the nine aqueducts was only 12,700 quinariœ, the city was receiving daily over 14,000 quinariæ. In other words, the city was receiving some 1300 quinariæ in excess of its supposed supply, and that, too, in the face of the moral certainty that much of the supply was fraudulently diverted. Clearly something was wrong, and our conscientious commissioner at once began a searching investigation to account for the discrepancy. The quinaria, it may be said in passing, the unit by which the Romans measured water, was a measure not of volume, but of capacity. The quinaria was as much water as would flow through a pipe one and a quarter inches in diameter constantly discharging under pressure. The name (literally “ a fiver ; ” that is, five quarters) had primarily applied only to the pipe itself, but soon became a unit of measure. Where the supply was actually brought, as was often the case, in larger pipes, the measurement was uniformly reduced to terms of quinariæ.
Frontinus’s first examination had apparently revealed the anomalous condition of the city’s receiving more water than was supposed really to be available for use. In determining the available supply, Frontinus had relied upon the recorded gaugings of the different aqueducts, taken by his predecessors and kept on file in the archives of his office. Evidently these must be inaccurate, and our commissioner accordingly decided upon making new gaugings. Each aqueduct was remeasured at its intake, and in every one, without exception, the actual supply was found to be much larger than stated in the records. In some cases the amount received at Rome was less than half of what entered the aqueduct at its beginning. In the aggregate, he found that the gaugings recorded by his predecessors and on file in the office were smaller by over 10,000 quinariæ than the amount of water that entered the aqueducts : so that, instead of receiving 1300 quinariæ more than might fairly be expected, the city was in fact receiving nearly 9000 quinariæ less. In other words, 40 per cent of the city’s supply was found to be either wasted, lost, or stolen. It took but a short time to reveal the fact that systematic fraud accounted for most of this enormous discrepancy. Everywhere along the line of almost every aqueduct were disclosed evidences of systematic robbery of the public supply. Proprietors whose estates bordered upon the conduits deliberately tapped them at will for their own purposes. Even in the city the mains were freely tapped by unscrupulous consumers who wished to secure water without payment. “ Far away in all directions,” writes Frontinus, “ run these pipes under the pavements.” So much water was taken in this way that often an insufficient quantity reached the places of public supply. “The amount of water gained by suppressing this evil may be measured,” he says, “ by the enormous quantities of lead pipe we have dug up where we have discovered these illicit practices.”
Other abuses demanding correction were connected with the workmen employed in the maintenance and repair of the aqueducts. Naturally the number of such laborers was large. Frontinus describes two gangs aggregating seven hundred men, including overseers, reservoir keepers, levelers, pavers, plasterers, etc. The services of these men were supposed to be confined to the needs of the state, but, by the exercise of favoritism or the neglect of their foremen, they were often put upon private work. Frontinus tells us that he resolved at once to bring these men back to sound discipline and to the service of the state by writing down day by day what each was to do, and by putting in the records what the members of each gang had accomplished when the day’s work was ended. Nothing, apparently, escaped his watchful eye ; no detail was too trivial for his conscientious attention. A characteristic passage describes how he summarily dispensed with the services of a number of superfluous employees, who had evidently been appointed for the purpose of making patronage, and whose posts had long been sinecures. By a resolution of the Senate, passed in 10 B. c., it had been provided that the water commissioner should have two lictors, three personal attendants, an architect; also a number of secretaries, clerks, assistants, and criers. For over a century these supernumeraries had been regularly appointed, and had as regularly drawn their pay from the public treasury; but according to Frontinus they had long ceased to perform any visible duties. For himself, he proudly adds, he will have no lictors. “ My sense of honesty and the confidence imposed in me by the Emperor will stand in place of the lictors.”
Other illustrations of the scrupulous honesty and fidelity to duty which mark Frontinus’s character might be added, but the foregoing are sufficient to reveal to us the true nobility of the man. It is impossible, however, to neglect certain questions of engineering and hydraulics to which his work naturally gives rise.
First, it is important to correct the impression, still widely prevalent, that the entire courses of the ancient aqueducts were constructed upon arches. As a matter of fact, only a relatively small proportion of any aqueduct was so built. Frontinus himself gives us the clearest refutation of the current misconception ; for, with his painstaking accuracy, he tells us just how each aqueduct was constructed. Let us take Appia (built in 312 B. c.), for instance. From the intake of this aqueduct to the Porta Trigemina, where it crossed the city wall, it had a length, according to Frontinus, of 11,190 paces, of which 11,130 were carried in underground channels, and only 60 paces — less than 300 feet — rested upon masonry substructures and arches. Practically the same proportions hold for the Anio Vetus (273 B. C.), 43,000 paces in length,—42,779 underground, and only 221 on substructures above the surface. These two, to be sure, are early aqueducts. The later ones were carried for greater distances above ground on masonry substructures and arches ; yet Anio Novus, the latest of all the aqueducts existing in Frontinus’s day, has only 6000 paces of arches out of a total length of nearly 69,000 ; and the contemporary Claudia only 9000 paces on arches out of a total length of nearly 50,000 paces. When, therefore, we catch glimpses of the ruins of the Claudia and Anio Novus where they still traverse the otherwise almost desolate Campagna, we are not to think of the aqueducts as carried exclusively on these picturesque old arches. The larger part of every one was subterranean.
Another point on which error is common is the assumption that the Romans were ignorant of the elementary principle that water seeks its level. This ignorance is not infrequently alleged in explanation of the fact that they constructed their aqueducts on the principle of flow instead of pressure, conducting the water by a gradual fall in such circuitous detours that often the aqueduct was twice as long as the distance in a direct line from the intake of the water to the point of discharge in the city. The reason, however, why the Romans did not avail themselves of a pressure system in their aqueducts was not ignorance of elementary hydraulics ; it was lack of pipes strong enough to endure the strain of the head under which they would have had to work. Given our modern castiron pipes, there can be no doubt that the Romans would have wasted no material in bringing the water to the city on as straight a line as they built their magnificent highways. That they were entirely familiar with the hydraulic principle that water seeks its level is made sufficiently clear by the fact that, within the city, they distributed the water on the principle of pressure, using for this purpose heavy pipes of wrought iron, bronze, or lead. These, however, were expensive, and to construct larger pipes of the same materials for the aqueducts themselves would have been a practical impossibility. Hence they brought the water on the principle of flow (as is still done, for example, in the Croton Aqueduct), constructing solid masonry conduits lined with concrete, and capable of sustaining the very moderate pressure of water flowing under no appreciable head.
Another interesting question concerns the amount of water furnished by the Roman aqueducts. On this subject, again, there have prevailed the wildest misconceptions. Prony, a French engineer of the early part of the last century, estimated the amount supplied daily as about 400,000,000 gallons. We may get some notion of the significance of this amount when we consider that the old city of New York, until recent years, with its nearly 2,000,000 inhabitants, consumed only 100,000,000 gallons daily. As compared with that, the supply at Rome would, by Prony’s estimate, have been relatively eight times as great as was New York’s until within the last decade.
This enormous disparity between Rome and a typical wasteful modern city might seem to be sufficient cause for skepticism on the part of antiquarians as to the justness of Prony’s results. Yet for the last fifty years nearly all writers on the aqueducts have with singular unanimity accepted Prony’s figures of 400,000,000 gallons a day as the normal consumption of water in Rome. Herschel, an American engineer, has, however, recently shown conclusively that Prony’s estimate is unwarrantably large, and that 60,000,000 gallons probably covers the daily consumption of water at Rome in Frontinus’s time. This would allow each inhabitant an average of 60 gallons, — certainly a liberal amount.
To those unfamiliar with the peculiarities of Roman arithmetic, the De Aquis also furnishes interesting material. Horace, in his De Arte Poetica, complains of the undue amount of time that the Roman boys in his day devoted to the study of arithmetic ; but if all practical computations among the Romans were like those given in the De Aquis, we can hardly wonder that the average Roman youth did not find time to write poetry as well as work fractions. In his first book Frontinus gives us a list of the different pipes used in the water service of his day. Not content with giving their names, he has, with his customary conscientious minuteness, left a record also of their diameters, circumferences, and the number of quinariæ they were capable of supplying. Naturally every number is a mixed one, and the peculiarity of the fractional parts is that they are expressed, not by a single fraction, but by the accumulation of several. These are all of the duodecimal order, — 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/6, 1/12, 1/36, 1/48, 1/72, 1/288. Each of these fractional parts had its own name, —semis, duella, sicilicus, sextula, scripulus, etc.; and the possibilities of common fractions seem to have been limited to the various combinations of the elements just enumerated. Thus of one pipe he says that its diameter was 5 inches + 1/2 + 2/12 + 1/24 + 5/288 ; its circumference, 17 inches + 1/2 + 2/12 + 1/24 + 7/288; its capacity, 20 quinariæ + 4/12 + 9/288. Scarcely one of the thirty or more pipes whose dimensions he gives us is described in less than a dozen of these duodecimal elements, which, however, Frontinus seems to keep track of and handle with perfect readiness and ease.
But enough of these details. After all, it is the personality of the writer of the De Aquis that one most loves to contemplate, rich and valuable as his treatise is in facts relating to the administration of the ancient aqueducts. One loves to contemplate his sturdy honesty ; his conscientious devotion to the duties of his office ; his patient attention to details ; his loyal attachment to the sovereign whom he delighted to serve ; his willing labors in behalf of the people whose convenience, comfort, and safety he aimed to promote. We sympathize with him in his proud boast that, by his reforms, he has not only made the city cleaner, but the air purer, and has removed the causes of pestilence that had formerly given the city such a bad repute ; and we can easily pardon the Roman Philistinism with which, after enumerating the lengths and courses of the several aqueducts, he inquires, in a burst of enthusiasm, “ Who will venture to compare with these mighty works the pyramids or the Parthenon ? ”
Were one asked to point out, in all Roman history, another such example of civic virtue and conscientious performance of simple duty, it would be difficult to know where to look to find it. Men of genius, courage, patriotism, are not lacking, but examples are few of men who labored with such wholesouled devotion in the performance of homely duty, the reward for which could certainly not be large, and might possibly not exceed the approval of one’s own conscience.
This paper has been entitled A Roman Waring, and it is hoped that the analogy does not seem far-fetched. The careers of the two men were singularly alike. Both had seen military service in their early years, and learned the hard discipline of the camp and field. Both were men of the greatest personal unselfishness and loftiness of purpose. Both were of scrupulous integrity. Both were called, at about the same time of life and under almost identical political conditions, to the administration of offices of similar character that had been wretchedly mismanaged by their predecessors, — offices, too, whose effective direction was fraught with an importance for the health of their respective municipalities little appreciated by the average man, and unlikely to win even the faintest popular applause. Both alike had to contend against the organized avarice and corruption of the very men whose comfort and health they had most at heart; and both alike succeeded, in the face of terrific obstacles, in securing their ends, while remaining true to their highest ideals.
Seneca tells us that the truly patient man is known, not by what he bears, but by the way he bears it. So the scholar is known, not by the extent of his attainments, but by the temper of his mind and the purpose of his life. The same is true of the patriot. He is the true patriot who makes an honest, efficient, and economical service of his fellows his ideal, whether the service in itself be great or small. It is not what he does, but the spirit in which the service is performed. And so, just as we admire the patriotic service of our own Waring, and feel a pride that he was our countryman, so must we also admire the patriotism of his old Roman prototype.
Charles E. Bennett .