Pollio (/vɪˈtruːviəs ˈpɒlioʊ/; c. 80–70 BC
– after c. 15 BC), commonly known as Vitruvius, was a Roman
author, architect, civil engineer and military engineer during the 1st
century BC, known for his multi-volume work entitled De
architectura. His discussion of perfect proportion in architecture
and the human body led to the famous
Renaissance drawing by Da Vinci
of Vitruvian Man.
By his own description
Vitruvius served as an artilleryman, the
third class of arms in the military offices. He probably served as a
senior officer of artillery in charge of doctores ballistarum
(artillery experts) and libratores who actually operated the
1 Life and career
2 De architectura
2.2 Proportions of Man
2.3 Lists of names given in Book VII Introduction
2.5 Notable editions
3 Roman technology
3.4 Dewatering machines
3.5 Surveying instruments
3.6 Central heating
5 In popular culture
6 See also
9 External links
Life and career
Little is known about Vitruvius' life. Most inferences about him are
extracted from his only surviving work De Architectura. Even his first
name Marcus and his cognomen
Pollio are uncertain. Cetius Faventinus
writes of "
Vitruvius Polio aliique auctores"; this can be read as
Vitruvius Polio, and others" or, less likely, as "Vitruvius, Polio,
and others". An inscription in Verona, which names a Lucius Vitruvius
Cordo, and an inscription from Thilbilis in North Africa, which names
Mamurra have been suggested as evidence that
Mamurra (who was a military praefectus fabrum under
Julius Caesar) were from the same family; or were even the same
individual. Neither association, however, is borne out by De
Vitruvius dedicated to Augustus), nor by the
little that is known of Mamurra.
Vitruvius was a military engineer (praefectus fabrum), or a praefect
architectus armamentarius of the apparitor status group (a branch of
the Roman civil service). He is mentioned in Pliny the Elder's table
of contents for
Naturalis Historia (Natural History), in the heading
for mosaic techniques.
Frontinus refers to "
architect" in his late 1st-century work De aquaeductu.
Likely born a free Roman citizen, by his own account,
Roman army under 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
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 Caesar's chief engineer Lucius Cornelius
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,
Gaul (including Aquitaine) and Pontus.
To place the role of
Vitruvius the military engineer in context, a
description of "The
Prefect of the camp" or army engineer is quoted
here as given by
Flavius Vegetius Renatus
Flavius Vegetius Renatus in The Military Institutions
of the Romans:
Prefect of the camp, though inferior in rank to the [Prefect], 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
At various locations described by Vitruvius, battles
and sieges occurred. He is the only source for the siege of Larignum
in 56 BC. Of the battlegrounds of the
Gallic War there are
references to: the siege and massacre of the 40,000 residents at
Avaricum in 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 in 52 BC. The circumvallation and Battle
of Alesia in 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 in 51 BC. These are all sieges of large Gallic oppida. Of
the sites involved in Caesar's civil war, we find the
Massilia in 49 BC, the Battle of Dyrrhachium of 48 BC (modern
Battle of Pharsalus
Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC (Hellas – Greece), the
Battle of Zela of 47 BC (modern Turkey) and the
Battle of Thapsus
Battle of Thapsus in
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 auxiliary 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; architectural engineers consider him the first
of their discipline, a specialization previously known as technical
Frontinus mentions him in connection with the standard
sizes of pipes. He is often credited as father of architectural
acoustics for describing the technique of echeas placement in
theaters. The only building, however, that we know
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 (to give the building its Italian name) has
disappeared so completely that its very site is a matter of
conjecture, although various attempts have been made to visualise
it. The early Christian practice of converting Roman basilicae
(public buildings) into cathedrals implies the basilica may be
incorporated into the cathedral located in Fano.
In later years the emperor Augustus, through his sister Octavia Minor,
sponsored Vitruvius, entitling him with what may have been a pension
to guarantee financial independence. Whether
De architectura was
written by one author or is a compilation completed by subsequent
librarians and copyists, remains an open question. The date of his
death is unknown, which suggests that he had enjoyed only little
popularity during his lifetime.
Gerolamo Cardano, in his 1552 book De subtilitate rerum, ranks
Vitruvius as one of the 12 persons whom he supposes to have excelled
all men in the force of genius and invention; and would not have
scrupled to have given him the first place, if it could be imagined
that he had delivered nothing but his own discoveries.
Roman house plan after Vitruvius
Further information: Mathematics and architecture
Vitruvius is the author of De architectura, known today as The Ten
Books on Architecture, a treatise written in
architecture, dedicated to the emperor Augustus. In the preface of
Vitruvius dedicates his writings so as to give personal
knowledge of the quality of buildings to the emperor. Likely Vitruvius
is referring to Marcus Agrippa's campaign of public repairs and
improvements. This work is the only surviving major book on
architecture from classical antiquity. According to Petri Liukkonen,
this text "influenced deeply from the Early
artists, thinkers, and architects, among them Leon Battista Alberti
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), and Michelangelo
(1475–1564)." The next major book on architecture, Alberti's
reformulation of Ten Books, was not written until 1452.
Vitruvius is famous for asserting in his book
De architectura that a
structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas,
venustas – that is, it must be solid, useful, beautiful. These are
sometimes termed the Vitruvian virtues or the Vitruvian Triad.
According to Vitruvius, architecture is an imitation of nature. As
birds and bees built their nests, so humans constructed housing from
natural materials, that gave them shelter against the elements. When
perfecting this art of building, the Greeks invented the architectural
orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. It gave them a sense of
proportion, culminating in understanding the proportions of the
greatest work of art: the human body. This led
Vitruvius in defining
his Vitruvian Man, as drawn later by Leonardo da Vinci: the human body
inscribed in the circle and the square (the fundamental geometric
patterns of the cosmic order).
Vitruvius is sometimes loosely referred to as the first architect, but
it is more accurate to describe him as the first Roman architect to
have written surviving records of his field. He himself cites older
but less complete works. He was less an original thinker or creative
intellect than a codifier of existing architectural practice. It
should also be noted that
Vitruvius had a much wider scope than modern
architects. Roman architects practised a wide variety of disciplines;
in modern terms, they could be described as being engineers,
architects, landscape architects, surveyors, artists, and craftsmen
combined. Etymologically the word architect derives from Greek words
meaning 'master' and 'builder'. The first of the Ten Books deals with
many subjects which now come within the scope of landscape
In Book I, Chapter 1, titled The Education of the Architect, Vitruvius
1. Architecture is a science arising out of many other sciences, and
adorned with much and varied learning; by the help of which a judgment
is formed of those works which are the result of other arts. Practice
and theory are its parents. Practice is the frequent and continued
contemplation of the mode of executing any given work, or of the mere
operation of the hands, for the conversion of the material in the best
and readiest way. Theory is the result of that reasoning which
demonstrates and explains that the material wrought has been so
converted as to answer the end proposed.
2. Wherefore the mere practical architect is not able to assign
sufficient reasons for the forms he adopts; and the theoretic
architect also fails, grasping the shadow instead of the substance. He
who is theoretic as well as practical, is therefore doubly armed; able
not only to prove the propriety of his design, but equally so to carry
it into execution.
He goes on to say that the architect should be versed in drawing,
geometry, optics (lighting), history, philosophy, music, theatre,
medicine, and law.
In Book I, Chapter 3 (The Departments of Architecture), Vitruvius
divides architecture into three branches, namely; building; the
construction of sundials and water clocks; and the design and use
of machines in construction and warfare. He further divides
building into public and private. Public building includes city
planning, public security structures such as walls, gates and towers;
the convenient placing of public facilities such as theatres, forums
and markets, baths, roads and pavings; and the construction and
position of shrines and temples for religious use. Later books are
devoted to the understanding, design and construction of each of
Proportions of Man
"Vitruvian Man", illustration in the edition of
De architectura by
Vitruvius; illustrated edition by
Cesare Cesariano (1521)
Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, an illustration of the human body
inscribed in the circle and the square derived from a passage about
geometry and human proportions in Vitruvius' writings
In Book III, Chapter 1, Paragraph 3,
Vitruvius writes about the
proportions of man...
3. Just so the parts of Temples should correspond with each other, and
with the whole. The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the
human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands
and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be
described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a
circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by
placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown
of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the
latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to
each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.
It was upon these writings that
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci based his Vitruvian
Vitruvius described the human figure as being the principal source of
The drawing itself is often used as an implied symbol of the essential
symmetry of the human body, and by extension, of the universe as a
Lists of names given in Book VII Introduction
In the introduction to book seven,
Vitruvius goes to great lengths to
present why he is qualified to write De Architectura. This is the only
location in the work where
Vitruvius specifically addresses his
personal breadth of knowledge. Similar to a modern reference section,
the author's position as one who is knowledgeable and educated is
established. The topics range across many fields of expertise
reflecting that in Roman times as today construction is a diverse
Vitruvius is clearly a well-read man.
In addition to providing his qualification,
Vitruvius summarizes a
recurring theme throughout the 10 books, a non-trivial and core
contribution of his treatise outside simply a construction book.
Vitruvius makes the point that the work of some of the most talented
are unknown, while many who are of lesser talent but greater political
position are famous. This theme runs through Vitruvius’s ten
books repeatedly – echoing an implicit prediction that his works and
himself will also be unknown.
Vitruvius illustrates this point by naming what he considers are the
most talented individuals in history. Implicitly challenging the
reader that they have never heard of some of these people, Vitruvius
goes on and predicts that some of these individuals will be forgotten
and their works will be lost, while other less deserving political
characters of history will be forever remembered with pageantry.
List of physicists: Thales, Democritus, Anaxagoras, Xenophanes
List of philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus
List of kings: Croesus, Alexander the Great, Darius
On plagiarism: Aristophanes, Ptolemy I Soter, a person named Attalus
On abusing dead authors:
Zoilus Homeromastix, Ptolemy II Philadelphus
On divergence of the visual rays: Agatharchus, Aeschylus, Democritus,
List of writers on temples: Silenus, Theodorus,
Ictinus and Carpion, Theodorus the Phocian, Hermogenes,
Arcesius, Satyrus and a person named Pytheos
List of artists: Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas, Praxiteles, Timotheus
List of writers on laws of symmetry: Nexaris, Theocydes, a person
named Demophilus, Pollis, a person named Leonidas, Silanion, Melampus,
List of writers on machinery: Diades of Pella, Archytas, Archimedes,
Ctesibius, Nymphodorus, Philo of Byzantium, Diphilus, Democles,
Charias, Polyidus of Thessaly, Pyrrus, Agesistratus
List of writers on architecture: Fuficius, Terentius Varro, Publius
List of architects: Antistates, Callaeschrus, Antimachides, Pormus,
List of greatest temple architects:
Chersiphron of Gnosus, Metagenes,
Demetrius, Paeonius the Milesian, Ephesian Daphnis, Ictinus, Philo,
Cossutius, Gaius Muc
Battle of Thapsus
Battle of Thapsus as depicted in an engraving after Andrea Palladio
The interior of the Pantheon (from an 18th-century painting by
Panini). Although built after Vitruvius' death, its excellent state of
preservation makes it of great importance to those interested in
De architectura was rediscovered in 1414 by the Florentine
humanist Poggio Bracciolini.
Leon Battista Alberti
Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472)
publicised it in his seminal treatise on architecture, De re
aedificatoria (c. 1450). The first known
Latin printed edition was by
Fra Giovanni Sulpitius in Rome, 1486. Translations followed in
Italian (Como, 1521), French (Jean Martin, 1547, English, German
(Walter H. Ryff, 1543) and Spanish and several other languages. The
original illustrations had been lost and the first illustrated edition
was published in
Venice in 1511 with woodcut illustrations, based on
descriptions in the text, probably by Fra Giovanni Giocondo. Later
in the 16th-century
Andrea Palladio provided illustrations for Daniele
Barbaro's commentary on Vitruvius, published in Italian and Latin
versions. The most famous illustration is probably Da Vinci's
The surviving ruins of Roman antiquity, the Roman Forum, temples,
theatres, triumphal arches and their reliefs and statues offered
visual examples of the descriptions in the Vitruvian text. Printed and
illustrated editions of
De Architectura inspired Renaissance, Baroque
and Neoclassical architecture. Filippo Brunelleschi, for example,
invented a new type of hoist to lift the large stones for the dome of
the cathedral in
Florence and was inspired by
De Architectura as well
as surviving Roman monuments such as the Pantheon and the Baths of
Augustus Rode, Berlin
Teubner Edition by Valentin Rose
Teubner edition at The
Bill Thayer, transcription of the 1912
Cesare Cesariano, 1521, Como, Italy, includes illustrations by Cesare
Danielle Barbaro, includes illustration by Andrea Palladio
Jean Martin, 1547
Henry Wotton, 1624
Joseph Gwilt, 1826
Bill Thayer transcription of the Gwilt 1826 Edition
Morris Hickey Morgan, with illustrations by Herbert Langford Warren,
1914, Harvard University Press
Loeb Edition, 1931
Ingrid Rowland, 2001
Thomas Gordon Smith, The Monacelli Press (January 5, 2004)
Drainage wheel from Rio Tinto mines
Books VIII, IX and X form the basis of much of what we know about
Roman technology, now augmented by archaeological studies of extant
remains, such as the water mills at
Barbegal in France. The other
major source of information is the
Naturalis Historia compiled by
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder much later in c. 75 AD.
The work is important for its descriptions of the many different
machines used for engineering structures such as hoists, cranes and
pulleys, as well as war machines such as catapults, ballistae, and
siege engines. As a practising engineer,
Vitruvius must be speaking
from personal experience rather than simply describing the works of
others. He also describes the construction of sundials and water
clocks, and the use of an aeolipile (the first steam engine) as an
experiment to demonstrate the nature of atmospheric air movements
His description of aqueduct construction includes the way they are
surveyed, and the careful choice of materials needed, although
Frontinus (a general who was appointed in the late 1st century AD to
administer the many aqueducts of Rome), writing a century later, gives
much more detail of the practical problems involved in their
construction and maintenance. Surely Vitruvius' book would have been
of great assistance in this.
Vitruvius was writing in the 1st century
BC when many of the finest
Roman aqueducts were built, and survive to
this day, such as those at
Segovia and the Pont du Gard. The use of
the inverted siphon is described in detail, together with the problems
of high pressures developed in the pipe at the base of the siphon, a
practical problem with which he seems to be acquainted.
He describes many different construction materials used for a wide
variety of different structures, as well as such details as stucco
painting. Concrete and lime receive in-depth descriptions.
Vitruvius is cited as one of the earliest sources to connect lead
mining and manufacture, its use in drinking water pipes, and its
adverse effects on health. For this reason, he recommended the use of
clay pipes and masonry channels in the provision of piped
Vitruvius is the source for the anecdote that credits
the discovery of the mass-to-volume ratio while relaxing in his bath.
Having been asked to investigate the suspected adulteration of the
gold used to make a crown,
Archimedes realised that the crown's volume
could be measured exactly by its displacement of water, and ran into
the street with the cry of Eureka!
Design for an Archimedean water-screw
He describes the construction of
Archimedes' screw in Chapter X
Archimedes by name). It was a device widely used
for raising water to irrigate fields and drain mines. Other lifting
machines he mentions include the endless chain of buckets and the
reverse overshot water-wheel. Remains of the water wheels used for
lifting water were discovered when old mines were re-opened at Rio
Tinto in Spain,
Rosia Montana in Romania and
Dolaucothi in west Wales.
The Rio Tinto wheel is now shown in the British Museum, and the
Dolaucothi specimen in the National Museum of Wales.
That he must have been well practised in surveying is shown by his
descriptions of surveying instruments, especially the water level or
chorobates, which he compares favourably with the groma, a device
using plumb lines. They were essential in all building operations, but
especially in aqueduct construction, where a uniform gradient was
important to the provision of a regular supply of water without damage
to the walls of the channel. He also developed one of the first
odometers, consisting of a wheel of known circumference that dropped a
pebble into a container on every rotation.
Ruins of the hypocaust under the floor of a Roman villa. The part
under the exedra is covered.
He describes the many innovations made in building design to improve
the living conditions of the inhabitants. Foremost among them is the
development of the hypocaust, a type of central heating where hot air
developed by a fire was channelled under the floor and inside the
walls of public baths and villas. He gives explicit instructions how
to design such buildings so that fuel efficiency is maximised, so that
for example, the caldarium is next to the tepidarium followed by the
frigidarium. He also advises on using a type of regulator to control
the heat in the hot rooms, a bronze disc set into the roof under a
circular aperture which could be raised or lowered by a pulley to
adjust the ventilation. Although he does not suggest it himself, it is
likely that his dewatering devices such as the reverse overshot
water-wheel was used in the larger baths to lift water to header tanks
at the top of the larger thermae, such as the Baths of Diocletian. The
one which was used in Bath of Caracalla for grinding flour.
Vitruvian Man - a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci
Vitruvius Britannicus - 18th century work on British architecture
named after Vitruvius.
Den Danske Vitruvius
Den Danske Vitruvius - 18th century work on Danish architecture -
Vitruvius - 20th century work on civil architecture by
William Vitruvius Morrison
William Vitruvius Morrison (1794–1838), the son of Irish architect
Sir Richard Morrison and himself a noted architect of great houses,
bridges, court houses and prisons.
A small lunar crater has been named after
Vitruvius and also an
elongated lunar mountain
Mons Vitruvius close-by.
Design Quality Indicator (DQI) tool for buildings uses Vitruvius's
In popular culture
The leader of the Master Builders in
The Lego Movie
The Lego Movie is named
Vitruvius appears as a non-player character in the 2017 video game
Assassin's Creed Origins.
Pliny the Elder
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LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
The Ten Books on Architecture online: cross-linked
Latin text and
The Ten Books on Architecture at the Perseus Classics Collection.
Latin and English text, but the
Latin text is unavailable. Images.
Latin text has hyperlinks to pop-up dictionary.
Palladio's Literary Predecessors
Latin text, version 2
An Abridgment of the Architecture of Vitruvius
Ten Books on Architecture at
Project Gutenberg (Morris Hicky Morgan
translation with illustrations)
Leonardo da Vincis
Vitruvian man as an algorithm for the approximation
of the squaring of the circle
Vitruvius' theories of beauty – a learning resource from the British
Odometer of Vitruv
Discussion of the inventions of Vitruvius
Online Galleries, History of Science Collections, University of
Oklahoma Libraries[dead link] High resolution images of works by
Vitruvius in .jpg and .tiff format.
digital scans in high resolution of 73 editions of
Vitruvius from 1497
to 1909 from the Werner Oechslin Library, Einsiedeln, Switzerland
VITRUVII, M. De architectura. Naples, (ca.1480). At Somni.
Ancient Rome topics
historiography of the fall
Tribune of the Plebs
Frontiers and fortifications
Decorations and punishments
Conflict of the Orders
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Younger
Quintus Curtius Rufus
Seneca the Elder
Seneca the Younger
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Eusebius of Caesaria
Phlegon of Tralles
Lists and other
Cities and towns
Wars and battles
ISNI: 0000 0001 2130 962X
BNF: cb11928567v (data)