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date: 19 January 2018


A system of marking out the land in squares or rectangles, by means of limites, boundaries, normally prior to distribution in a colonial foundation. (The units above and below the centuria are explained by Varro, Rust. 1. 10.) The practice appears with the second phase of Latin colonization beginning after 338 bce, perhaps at much the same time as apparently similar approaches in such cities of Magna Graecia as Heraclea (1) and Metapontum. (There is no good evidence that in the Roman world the earliest stage involved marking out only in strips, rather than in squares or rectangles.) Centuriation was widespread in Italy between the 4th cent. bce and the early empire, spreading to the provinces with the projected colony of Carthage-Junonia in 122 bce. In so far as a single plot of land in a single location was distributed, the practice was not rational in the normal conditions of Mediterranean agriculture: peasant strategies probably depended then as now on farming scattered plots with different soils, altitudes, and aspects, and therefore minimizing the risk of total crop failure; and marriage and inheritance probably rapidly fragmented originally unitary holdings. Those centuriation systems which remain visible today are on the whole those in relatively homogeneous terrain, especially where the limites between lots were also ditches which served for drainage, as in the Po (Padus) valley. Limites might otherwise be anything from a drystone wall to a row of markers. The limites which run east–west are usually known as decumani, those which run north–south as cardines or kardines. There is an abundant, if often desperately obscure, literature on centuriation and similar matters in the writings of the gromatici or agrimensores, land surveyors, dating from the 2nd cent. ce to the late empire and beyond. The identification, never mind dating, of centuriation systems known only from aerial photographs is often uncertain in the extreme.


J. S. P. Bradford, Ancient Landscapes (1957).Find this resource:

O. A. W. Dilke, The Roman Land Surveyors (1971).Find this resource:

Misurare la terra, exhib. cat. (Modena, 1983).Find this resource:

O. A. W. Dilke, Greek and Roman Maps (1985).Find this resource:

B. Campbell, The Writings of the Roman Land Surveyors (2000).Find this resource:

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