Article

The Orientation of Roman Camps and Forts

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Abstract

The angles of orientation of 67 Roman camps were determined from their published plans. There was a marked tendency for them to be aligned close to the cardinal points but they were offset from those points by only 28 of a possible 45 angles and of these six occurred in 29 camps, probably because they were set out by making right-angled triangles whose non-hypotenuse sides were in whole number ratios. Twenty-seven forts on the British frontier walls were similarly orientated by only 12 angles, one of which occurred six times. The apparent accuracy of the layouts suggested that the directions of the meridian and latitude were first carefully determined. The use of a limited number of offset angles was probably due to a religious regard for celestial geometry.

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... In fact, to be sure to obtain the desired azimuth (at fixed amplitude of angle) in tracing the legs, the surveyors had to construct a "local point grid" oriented on the cardinal directions 3) Perhaps some angles with rational tangent may have been preferred to others for symbolic reasons, for instance those corresponding to Pythagorean triangles. This idea has already been proposed for the camps (Richardson 2005) and certainly deserves further studies, since much more accurate measures would be required as well as wider samples of data. ...
... It is the layout of the Trajan forum, constructed around 112 a.D.: the architect indeed conceived it as a replica of castrum military camp (see Fig. 3). Recent investigations have been carried out on the orientation of the Roman camps and forts (Richardson 2005) and, although precise indications are also in this case difficult to be obtained due to the relative low number of data sample (see Peterson, 2007, andSalt, 2007) there is a clear tendency to the orientation to the cardinal points which is hardly justifiable with strategic reasons. All in all, in the author's view it is highly desirable that future research may dispose of a complete database of orientations -including temples -in the Roman world, a huge task which however would be of fundamental help towards a re-assessment of the (usually neglected) astronomical knowledge among the Romans, as well as to a better understanding of his connection with the Roman religion and mentality. ...
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Chapter
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espanolEn epoca romana la orientacion conferida a las construcciones solia tener significados simbolicos, reflejos de una ritualidad, especialmente en el caso de ciudades o santua - rios. Aunque tambien podia responder simplemente a cuestio - nes de tipo practico. En cualquier caso, el beneplacito de los dioses era condicion sine qua non para iniciar la obra y dibu - jar sobre el terreno el diseno de la misma. Frente a la cuestion de su significado, se plantea una pregunta: ?cual fue el proce - dimiento de ejecucion? En publicaciones precedentes, nues - tra propuesta iba encaminada a identificar sistemas utiliza - dos para conferir a las obras una orientacion determinada. En este articulo planteamos un modelo de operar que va en para - lelo con las interpretaciones dadas a las orientaciones, ya sean simbolicas o practicas, proponiendo como modo de ejecucion el explicado por Nypsius en el siglo I d.C. al describir la tec - nica de la varatio . EnglishIn Roman times, the orientation given to the build - ings usually had symbolic meanings, reflection of a ritual, es - pecially in the case of cities or sanctuaries, although the ori - entation could also simply respond to practical issues. In any case, the gods’ support was essential for the beginning of the works, and the drawing of the design on the ground. Besides the topic of the meaning of the orientations, another question arises: what was the procedure? In previous publications, our proposal was intended to identify the systems used to give the works a certain orientation. In this paper we propose im - plementation rules which run parallel with the symbolic or pragmatic interpretations of orientations, proposing as the ex - ecution procedure the one explained by Nypsius in the first century AD when he describes the technique of varatio .
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