Math in Engineering

Mathematics and Architecture

Who was Vitruvius?

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (c. first century B.C.E.) was a Roman writer, architect, and engineer. He was the author of De Architectura libri decem, known today as The Ten Books of Architecture. This Latin treatise, dedicated to Octavian, the heir and adopted son of Julius caesar, was written around 27 B.C.E. (For more about Octavian, see “Mathematics throughout History.”)

Possibly the first works published about architecture, the books entailed a compilation of architectural ideas of Vitruvius’s day and covered the following ten subjects: principles of architecture; history of architecture and architectural materials; Ionic temples; Doric and Corinthian temples; public buildings, theaters, music, baths, and harbors; town and country houses; interior decoration; water supply; dials and clocks; and mechanical engineering with military applications. Specifically, the topics included such forward-thinking ideas as the manufacture of building materials and dyes (material science), machines for heating water for public baths (chemical engineering), amplification in amphitheaters (acoustical engineering), and the design of roads and bridges (civil engineering).

De architectura was wildly successful, and Vitruvius’s architectural advice was followed for centuries. But because Vitruvius’s books were passed down through the ages, they were copied by various people, especially throughout the Middle Ages. Many medieval engineers added information to the texts, treating the books as handbooks, not documents to be preserved. In the end, historians have had to winnow away the added sections to find the true writings of Vitruvius.


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