A Glossary of Agrimensorial Terms

A glossary of terms used in Roman land surveying

actus : unit of linear land measurement, 120 Roman feet (pedes monetales). This was equivalent to 35.1-35.6 metres. The value in common use during the empire was around 35.5m, giving a value of 710m for the side of a century of 20 actus.

arca (-ae) : a quadrangular landmark (see terminus). The primary meaning of arca (ark) is "box", so it may be supposed that arcae were hollow. It is possible that they were in the ground, since Faustus and Valerius report the burial of other objects as hidden landmarks.

Cadastre : a land information system and, in the case of ancient landscapes, its physical remains. In Roman cadastres these are often seen as minor roads, ditches and other modern boundaries conforming to the limites. The establishment of a formal Roman cadastre was preceded by surveying (limitatio) and the establishment of survey markers (terminatio). Not all such surveys were centuriations. It is thus technically incorrect to use that word to signify all types of Roman land planning and allotment. For this reason, and because it embraces all aspects of the system, the term "cadastre" is to be preferred.

Centuriation : a form of surveying (limitatio) in which the limites divide the surveyed land into squares, or, occasionally, rectangles. Centuriations are known of various sizes from 10x10 to 20x20 actus. During the late republic and empire the centuriation of 20x20 actus appears to have been normal.

Century : a square of a centuriation.

CK: citra kardinem , on this side of the kardo maximus (KM).

colonia (-ae) : (in the republic and early Empire) a legally established settlement of veterans, who received an allotment of land on discharge from the Roman army. The allotments were not necessarily contiguous and might be separated by land not allocated to veterans. The settlement might be totally new, but this was not necessarily so.

DD: dextra decumani , to the right of the decumanus maximus (DM).

decumanus (-i) : a limes parallel to the decumanus maximus.

decumanus maximus (DM): one of the two orthogonal principal axes of a centuriation. In the case of the Orange B cadastre the stone tablets (tabulae) shows it running east-west (depicted vertically). By convention, the decumanus maximus is assumed to be the axis more nearly oriented in this direction, but counter-examples exist in reality. For further details, see diagram.

forma (-ae) : the base map of a Roman cadastre; also (possibly) the base map of a survey which was not followed by allotment and recording of land holdings. A map or plan, in general.

iugerum (-a) : a measure of land. 1 x 2 actus.

kardo (-ines) : a limes parallel to the kardo maximus.

kardo maximus (KM): one of the two orthogonal principal axes of a centuriation, at right angles to the decumanus maximus. For further details, see diagram.

limes (-ites) : lines of division (axes) of a Roman cadastre: an area was divided with limites and assigned "within the limites", i.e. within the framework of these cadastral lines, using them to record the operation both on the ground and on the forma. These lines often, but not invariably, were followed by road- or pathways whose breadth and surface treatment varied according their status and function.

limites maritimi : limites which "look towards the sea".

limes quintarius : normally a limes at a multiple of 5 centuries from one of the major axes of a centuriation. It is also possible that quintarii could have been spaced at 2 or 4 centuries.

Local Parcelling : a local reorganisation of a cadastre. Such reorganisations are frequently based upon Roman main roads or other straight linear features. Local parcellings are not necessarily Roman.

novercae : literally "step-mothers" - ditches used as boundaries which drain off the water imperfectly and slowly. Their existence implies that ditches conforming to limites would not necessarily conform well to local axes of natural drainage. See also a passage from Siculus Flaccus on ditches as cadastral boundaries.

quintarius (-i) : see limes quintarius.

SD: sinistra decumani , to the left of the decumanus maximus (DM).

subsecivum (-a) : land initially unallocated. Such areas would occur in different locations such as (i) on the margin of natural obstacles, (ii) at the border of the cadastre or in the gaps between cadastres at different orientations, or (iii) within the centuries in land divided but not assigned, as shown on the Orange tablets.

terminus (-i): for the Roman land surveyor this was a survey marker, or (more specifically) a stone inscribed with coordinates within the framework defined by the KM and DM. The term may also be used to refer to the supposed position of a terminus, at the corners of the centuries or subdividing the sides.

territorium (-a): the area of land controlled by a Roman town, whether registered in a formal cadastre or not.

VK: ultra kardinem , beyond the kardo maximus (KM).

Ancient Landscapes, Information Systems and Computers

Last updated on 13 August 2009 by John Peterson

Suggestions for changes to this glossary would be very welcome by e-mail to j.peterson@uea.ac.uk