Marcus Vitruvius Pollio; Vitruvii; (born c. 80–70 BC, died after c. 15 BC) was a Roman writer, architect and engineer (possibly praefectus fabrum during military service or praefect architectus armamentarius of the apparitor status group), active in the 1st century BC. By his own description Vitruvius served as a Ballista (artilleryman), the third class of arms in the military offices. He likely served as chief of the ballista (senior officer of artillery) in charge of doctores ballistarum (artillery experts) and libratores who actually operated the machines. He has been called the world's first known engineer.
Little is known about Vitruvius' life. His first name Marcus and his cognomen Pollio are uncertain. Cetius Faventinus speaks of "Vitruvius Polio aliique auctores" in his epitome; it is possible that the cognomen derives from this mention by Cetius, meaning Vitruvius, Polio, and others. Most inferences about his life are extracted from his only surviving work De Architectura, though he appears to be known to Pliny the Elder through his description of constructing mosaics  in Naturalis Historia, he is not actually named. Frontinus, however, refers to "Vitruvius the architect" in his late 1st century work On Aqueducts (1.25)
Likely born a free Roman citizen, by his own account Vitruvius served the Roman army under Julius Caesar with the otherwise unknown 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 to be the same Publius Numisius inscribed on the Theatre of Heraclea. As an army engineer he specialized in the construction of ballista and scorpio artillery war machines for sieges. It has been speculated that Vitruvius served with Julius Caesar's Chief Engineer Lucius Cornelius Balbus 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, Hispania, Gaul (including Aquitaine) and Pontus.
To place the role of Vitruvius the military engineer in context, a description of The Praefect of the camp or army engineer is quoted here as given by Flavius Vegetius Renatus in The Military Institutions of the Romans:
The Praefect of the camp, though inferior in rank to the [Praefect], 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, bathorses 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 distinguished himself.
At various locations described by Vitruvius, battles and sieges occurred. Of the battlegrounds of the Gallic War there is reference to the siege of Avaricum 52 BC, the Battle of Gergovia 52 BC, the Battle of Alesia 52 BC, and the siege of Uxellodunum 51 BC (all centred on sieges of large Gallic oppida). Of sites involved in Caesar's civil war, we find the Siege of Massilia 49BC, the Battle of Dyrrhachium of 48 BC (Albania), the Battle of Pharsalus 48 BC (Greece), the Battle of Zela of 47 BC (Turkey) and the Battle of Thapsus 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 auxilia unit. During this same time period a Roman military officer Mamurra also served as praefectus fabrum in Hispania, Gaul and Pontus under Julius Caesar. Some have suggested that these two men may be the same, though there is no mention of Caesar's invasions of Britain in De Architectura, nor of other things with which Mamurra was associated, equestrian military practices and personal wealth. Additionally Caesar appears to have outlived Mamurra, whereas Vitruvius dedicated De Architectura to the emperor Augustus. 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.
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.Frontinus mentions him in connection with the standard sizes of pipes. The only building, however, that we know Vitruvius to 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. The Basilica di 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 to visualise it. The early Christian practice of converting Roman basilica (public buildings) into cathedrals implies the basilica may be incorporated into the cathedral located in Fano.
If 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 16th 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. 
Vitruvius is the author of De architectura, known today as The Ten Books on Architecture, a treatise written of Latin and Greek on architecture, dedicated to the emperor Augustus. In the preface of Book I, Vitruvius dedicates his writings so 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. This text "influenced deeply from the Early Renaissance onwards artists, thinkers, and architects, among them Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), 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 strong or durable, useful, and beautiful. 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 Ancient Greek 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, 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 architecture.
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 and 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 (wind).
His description of aqueduct construction includes the way they are surveyed, and the careful choice of materials needed, although Frontinus writing a century later gives much more detail of the practical problems involved in their construction and maintenance. Vitruvius was writing in the first 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. His book would have been of great assistance to Frontinus, a general who was appointed in the late first century AD to administer the many aqueducts of Rome. He discovered a discrepancy between the intake and supply of water caused by illegal pipes inserted into the channels to divert the water.
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, the longevity of many Roman structures being mute testimony to the Romans' skill in building materials and design.
Vitruvius is well known and often cited as one of the earliest surviving sources to have advised that lead should not be used to conduct drinking water, recommending clay pipes or masonry channels. He comes to this conclusion in Book VIII of De Architectura after empirical observation of the apparent laborer illnesses in the lead foundries of his time. 
Vitruvius gives us the famous story about Archimedes and his detection of adulterated gold in a royal crown. When Archimedes realised that the volume of the crown could be measured exactly by the displacement created in a bath of water, he ran into the street with the cry of Eureka!, and the discovery enabled him to compare the density of the crown with pure gold. He showed that the crown had been alloyed with silver, and the king defrauded.
He describes the construction of Archimedes' screw in Chapter X, although doesn't mention Archimedes by name. It was a device widely used for raising water to irrigate fields and dewater mines. Other lifting machines he mentions include the endless chain of buckets and the reverse overshot water-wheel, a spectacular example of a sequence of such wheels being shown above. Remains of the water wheels used for lifting water have been discovered in old mines such as those at Rio Tinto in Spain and Dolaucothi in west Wales. The former now is shown in the British Museum, and the latter in the National Museum of Wales. The remains were discovered when these mines were re-opened in modern mining attempts.
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 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.
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 and the Baths of Caracalla.
His book De architectura was rediscovered in 1414 by the Florentine humanist Poggio Bracciolini. To Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) falls the honour of making this work widely known in his seminal treatise on architecture De re aedificatoria (ca. 1450). The first known edition of Vitruvius was in Rome by Fra Giovanni Sulpitius in 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 sixteenth-century Andrea Palladio provided illustrations for Daniele Barbaro's commentary on Vitruvius (which appeared in Italian and Latin versions). However, the most famous illustration remains a fifteenth-century one, Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.
The surviving ruins of Roman antiquity, the Roman Forum, temples, theatres, triumphal arches and their reliefs and statues gave ample visual examples of the descriptions in the Vitruvian text. This book then quickly became a major inspiration for Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical architecture. Brunelleschi, for example, invented a new type of hoist to lift the large stones for the dome of the cathedral in Florence and was prompted by De Architectura as well as viewing the many surviving Roman monuments like the Pantheon and the Baths of Diocletian in Rome.
In book seven's introduction Vitruvius goes through great lengths to present his credentials for writing De Architectura. Similar in concept to a modern day reference section, the author's position as one who is knowledgeable and educated is established. The topics listed range across many fields of expertise reflecting that in Roman times as today construction is a diverse field. It is apparent that many ancient lost works and their authors are known only because they are referred to by other authors whose works have survived. Vitruvius makes the further point that the work of some of the most talented is unknown, while many who are of lesser talent but greater political position are famous. This theme runs through Vitruvius’s ten books repeatedly and here in the introduction to Chapter 7, he illustrates this by naming (in addition to some very well known names), some of the most talented individuals in history:
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (born ca. 80/70 BC?; died ca. 25 BC) was a Roman writer, architect and engineer, active in the 1st century BC.
VITRUVIUS (MARCUS VITRUVIUS POLLIO), Roman architect and engineer, author of a celebrated work on architecture. Nothing is known concerning him except what can be gathered from his own writings. Owing to the discovery of inscriptions relating to the Gens Vitruvia at Formiae in Campania (Mola di Gaeta), it has been suggested that he was a native of that city, and he has been less reasonably connected with Verona on the strength of an existing arch of the 3rd century, which is inscribed with the name of a later architect of the same family name -- "Lucius Vitruvius Cerdo, a freedman of Lucius." From Vitruvius himself we learn that he was appointed, in the reign of Augustus, together with three others, a superintendent of balistae and other military engines, a post which, he says, he owed to the friendly influence of the emperor's sister, probably Octavia (De Architectura, i. pref.). In another passage (v. I) he describes a basilica and adjacent aedes Augusti, of which he was, the architect. From viii. 3 it has been supposed that he had served in Africa in the time of Julius Caesar, probably as a military engineer, but the words hardly bear this interpretation. He speaks of himself as being low in stature, and at the time of his writing bowed down by age and ill-health (ii. pref.). He appears to have enjoyed no great reputation as an architect, and, with philosophic contentment, records that he possessed but little fortune. Though a great student of Greek philosophy and science, he was unpractised in literature, and his style is very involved and obscure. To a great extent the theoretical and historical parts of his work are compiled from earlier Greek authors, of whom he gives a list at i. 1 and viii. 3. The practical portions, on the contrary, are evidently the result of his own professional experience, and are written with much sagacity, and in a far clearer style than the more pedantic chapters, in which he gives the somewhat fanciful theories of the Greeks. Some sections of the latter, especially those on the connexion between music and architecture, the scale of harmonic proportions, and the Greek use of bronze vases to reverberate and strengthen the actors' voices in the theatre, are now almost wholly unintelligible. Vitruvius's name is mentioned by Frontinus in his work on the aqueducts of Rome; and most of what Pliny says (Hist. Nat. xxxv. and xxxvi.) about methods of wall-painting, the preparation of the stucco surface, and other practical details in building is taken almost word for word from Vitruvius, especially from vi. 1, though without any acknowledgment of the source.
The treatise De Architectura Libri Decem is dedicated to Augustus. Lost for a long time, it was rediscovered in the 5th century at St Gall; the oldest existing MS. dates from the 10th century. From the early Renaissance down to a comparatively recent time the influence of this treatise has been remarkably great. Throughout the period of the classical revival Vitruvius was the chief authority studied by architects, and in every point his precepts were accepted as final. In some cases a failure to understand his meaning led to curious results; for example, the medieval custom, not uncommon in England, of placing rows of earthenware jars under the floor of the stalls in church choirs, appears to have been an attempt to follow out suggestions raised by Vitruvius as to the advantages of placing bronze vases round the auditorium of theatres. Bramante, Michelangelo, Palladio, Vignola and earlier architects were careful students of the work of Vitruvius, which through them has largely influenced the architecture of almost all European countries.
Bk. i. opens with a dedication to Augustus. C. I is on the science of architecture generally, and the branches of knowledge with which the trained architect ought to be acquainted, viz. grammar, music, painting, sculpture, medicine, geometry, mathematics and optics; c. 2 is on the general principles of architectural design; c. 3 on the considerations which determine a design, such as strength, utility, beauty; c. 4 on the nature of different sorts of ground for sites; c. 5 on walls of fortification; c. 6 on aspects towards the north, south and other points; c. 7 on the proper situations of temples dedicated to the various deities.
Bk. ii. relates to materials (preface about Dinocrates, architect to Alexander the Great). C. i is on the earliest dwellings of man; C. 2 on systems of Thales, Heraclitus, Democritus, &c.; c. 3 on bricks; c. 4 on sand; c. 5 on lime; c. 6 on pozzolana; c. 7 on kinds of stone for building; c. 8 on methods of constructing walls in stone, brick, concrete and marble, and on the materials for stucco; c. 9 on timber, time for felling it, seasoning, &c.; and c. to on the fir trees of the Apennines.
Bk. iii., on styles, has a preface on ancient Greek writers. C. t is on symmetry and proportion; c. 2 on various forms of Greek temples, e.g. in antis, prostyle, peripteral, dipteral, hypaethral; c. 3 on inter-columniation - pycnostyle, systyle, eustyle, &c.; c. 4 on foundations, steps and stylobates; c. 5 on the Ionic order, its form and details.
(The excavations made in 1887 have shown that Vitruvius was right in describing the great temple of Olympian Zeus at Athens as being octastyle. The previously almost universal opinion that it was decastyle had led to the needless theory that the passage containing this statement was corrupt.)
Bk. iv., on styles and orders, has a preface to Augustus on the scope of the work. The subjects of its nine chapters are - (I) the Corinthian, Ionic and Doric orders; (2) the ornaments of capitals, ac.; (3) the Doric order; (4) proportions of the cella and pronaos; (5) sites of temples; (6) doorways of temples and their architraves; (7) the Etruscan or Tuscan order of temples; (8) circular temples; (9) altars.
Bk. v., on public buildings, has a preface on the theories of Pythagoras, &c. Its twelve chapters treat - (t) of fora and basilicae, with a description of his own basilica at Fanum; (2) of the adjuncts of a forum (aerarium, prison and curia); (3) of theatres, their site and construction; (4) of laws of harmonics; (5) of the arrangement of tuned bronze vases in theatres for acoustic purposes; (6) of Roman theatres; (7) of Greek theatres; (8) of the selection of sites of theatres according to acoustic principles; (9) of porticus and covered walks; (to) of baths, their floors, hypocausts, the construction and use of various parts; (ii) of palaestrae, xysti and other Greek buildings for the exercise of athletes; (12) of harbours and quays.
Bk. vi. is on sites and planning, and the preface treats of various Greek authors. C. t is on selection of sites; c. 2 on the planning of buildings to suit different sites; c. 3 on private houses, their construction and styles, the names of the different apartments; c. 4 on the aspects suited for the various rooms; c. 5 on buildings fitted for special positions; c. 6 on farms and country houses; c. 7 on Greek houses and the names of various parts; c. 8 on construction of houses in wood, stone, brick or concrete.
Bk. vii., mostly on methods of decoration, has a preface (as usual) on the opinions of ancient Greek writers, with lists of Greek sculptors, architects and writers on architecture, and of Roman architects. C. t has for its subject pavements and roads, their construction, mosaic floors; c. 2 is on white stucco for walls (opus albarium); c. 3 on concrete vaults, gypsum mouldings, stucco prepared for painting; c. 4 on building of hollow walls to keep out the damp, wall decoration by various processes; c. 5 on methods and styles of wall painting, the debased taste of his time; c. 6 on fine stucco made of pounded marble - three coats to receive wall paintings; c. 7 on colours used for mural decoration; c. 8 on red lead (minium) and mercury, and how to use the latter to extract the gold from wornout pieces of stuff or embroidery; c. 9 on the preparation of red lead and the method of encaustic painting with hot wax, finished by friction; cc. to-14 on artificial colours - black, blue, purple;, c. to white lead and ostrum, i.e. murex purple and imitations of murex dye.
Bk. viii. is on hydraulic engineering, and the preface on theories of the ancients. C. i treats of the finding of good water; c. 2 of rainwater and rivers - rivers in various countries; c. 3 of hot springs, mineral waters, with an account of the chief medicinal springs of the world; c. 4 of selection of water by observation and experiment; c. 5 of instruments for levelling used by aqueduct engineers; c. 6 of construction of aqueducts, pipes of lead, clay, &c., and other matter on the subject of water-supply.
Bk. ix. is on astronomy. The preface treats of Greek sciences, geometry, the discovery of specific gravity by Archimedes, and other discoveries of the Greeks, and of Romans of his time who have vied with the Greeks -- Lucretius in his poem De Rerum Natura, Cicero in rhetoric, and Varro in philology, as shown by his De Lingua Latina. (Vitruvius names Cicero and Lucretius as post nostram memoriam nascentes.) The subjects of the eight chapters are - (1) the signs of the zodiac and the seven planets; (2) the phases of the moon; (3) the passage of the sun through the zodiac; (4) and (5) various constellations; (6) the relation of astrological influences to nature; (7) the mathematical divisions of the gnomon; (8) various kinds of sundials and their inventors.
Bk. x. is on machinery, with a preface concerning a law at ancient Ephesus compelling an architect to complete any public building he had undertaken; this, he says, would be useful among the Romans of his time. (The architect being at that time also the contractor.) The chapters are -- (1) on various machines, such as scaling-ladders, windmills, &c.; (2) on windlasses, axles, pulleys and cranes for moving heavy weights, such as those used by Chersiphron in building the great temple of Diana at Ephesus, and on the discovery by a shepherd of a quarry of marble required to build the same temple; (3) on dynamics; (4) on machines for drawing water; (5) on wheels for irrigation worked by a river; (6) on raising water by a revolving spiral tube; (7) on the machine of Ctesibius for raising water to a height; (8) on a very complicated water engine, the description of which is not intelligible, though Vitruvius remarks that he has tried to make the matter clear; (9) on machines with wheels to register the distance travelled, either by land or water; (10) on the construction of scorpiones for hurling stones; (11) and (12) on balistae and catapults; (13) on battering rams and other machines for the attack of a fortress; (14) on shields (testudines) to enable soldiers to fill up the enemy's ditches; (15) on other kinds of testudines; (16) on machines for defence, and examples of their use in ancient times. (J. H. M.)
The best edition is by Rose (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1899); see also Nohl, Index Vitruvianus (1876); Jolles, Vitruvs Aesthetik (1906); Sontheimer, Vitruv and seine Zeit (1908). There is a good translation by Gwilt (1826; reprinted, 1874).
The name of Vitruvius has been given to several works on modern architecture, such as Campbell, Vitruvius Britannicus (London, 1715-71), a series of illustrations of the chief buildings of the 18th century in England, including many works of the brothers Adam; one of these brothers, William Adam, produced a similar work illustrating the buildings which he had designed for Scotland, under the title of Vitruvius Scoticus (Edinburgh, 1790). Thurah, Le Vitruve danois (Copenhagen, 1746-49), is a similar collection of modern buildings in Denmark.