Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (born ca. 80 BC; died ca. 25 BC) was a Roman writer, architect and engineer (praefectus fabrum), active in the 1st century BC. Little is known about Vitruvius' life. His first name Marcus and his cognomen Pollio are uncertain as they are only mentioned by Cetius Faventinus. Most inferences about his life are extracted from his only surviving work De Architectura.
Born a free Roman citizen, most likely at Formiae in Campania, he served the Roman army under Julius Caesar in Hispania and Gaul. As an army engineer he specialized in the construction of war machines for sieges. In later years the emperor Augustus, through his sister Octavia Minor, sponsored Vitruvius, entitling him with a pension to guarantee his financial independence. His date of death is unknown, which suggests that he had enjoyed only little popularity during his lifetime.
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, is the only surviving major book on architecture from classical antiquity. Mainly known for his writings, Vitruvius was himself an architect. Frontinus mentions him in connection with the standard sizes of pipes. The only building, however, that we know Vitruvius to have worked on is, as he himself tells us, a basilica at Fanum Fortunae, now the modern town of Fano. The basilica has disappeared so completely that its very site is a matter of conjecture.
Vitruvius is most 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 magnificently 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 on 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.
It is something to note that Vitruvius advises that lead should not be used to conduct drinking water. He comes to this conclusion in Book VIII of De Architectura after observing the apparent laborer illnesses in the plumbum founderies of his time. In 1986 the United States banned the use of lead in plumbing due to lead poisonings neurological damage.
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