Author Climbing in the Queyras, Summer 2013

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Epigraphic Evidence for Large-Scale Roman Mapping

What survives of their treatises [of the Roman surveyors] can appeal to few readers now, but so diverse are the manuscripts that preserve it, so many the names associated with its preservation, that no text opens the window wider on the transmission of Latin literature from Antiquity to print…
--L.D. Reynolds
Texts and Transmission

Besides the epigraphic cadastres from the colony of Orange in the South of France, a small fragment of which is shown in the figure below, there is other epigraphic evidence that the Romans actually made detailed maps of their territories. Although extremely rare, there are several examples of epigraphic inscriptions where explicit mention is made of the word "map'.

In the Corpus Agrimensorum, a compilation of Roman Surveying manuals from the 6th century, there are several words used for map. Writing in the text the surveyor Siculus Flaccus says,

The maps are given various names: some are set up on wooden tablets, others on bronze, still others on skins, although ‘map’ is their generic term, they are sometimes called ‘territory’, ‘centuriation,’ ‘demarcation,’ ‘limitation,’ ‘grid-pattern,’ figures…”
Hence Latin words such as Forma, tabula, pertica, typon, and metatio all appear to mean map.

Epigraphic evidence from Tunisia shows other examples of the word Forma being used in this fashion. In the Corpus Inscriptorum Latinarum (CIL) we find two examples in which maps are mentioned as having been made or that are being referred to. The figure below shows CIL 22788, an inscription from Henchir Chenah, that is carved on four sides of stone.

CIL 22788

The part of the inscription that we are interested in reads:

sec]undu(m) [f]orma(m) missa(m) sibi ab posu[it]

and records a boundary settlement made "in accordance with the map".

A second inscription from Henchir ez Zoubia, CIL 23910, shown below records a longer inscription referring to a boundary stone set up between the land of two communities.

The inscription reads:

positum sic [secum] dum forman [um mar]

This refers to the fact that the settlement was set up once again "according to the map". From the remainder of the inscription we might imply that this was done by a soldier (perhaps a surveyor) attached to the XIIi Urban cohort based in Carthage.

CIL 23910