I recently read the following complaint from Sex. Iulius Frontinus, who was made curator aquarum (supervisor of the aquaeducts) in 97 and later wrote a comprehensive work on the City's water supply (De aquaeductu urbis Romae, but also cited as De aquis), regarding water that was siphoned off the public network of pipes that ran below the pavement everywhere (De aquis 2, 115):

Etiam ille aquariorum tollendus est reditus, quem vocant puncta. Longa ac diversa sunt spatia, per quae fistulae tota meant urbe latentes sub silice. Has comperi per eum qui appellabatur a punctis passim convulneratas omnibus in transitu negotiationibus praebuisse peculiaribus fistulis aquam, quo efficiebatur ut exiguus modus ad usus publicos perveniret.

Here is my attempt at a translation, but the boldened part gives me trouble:

Also we must end the profiteering by water officials that they call punctures. Hidden under the pavement, pipes run far and wide through the whole city. I discovered that these were breached (through him that was called by punctures??) in many places and, by way of private pipes, provided water to all businesses they passed by, and the effect was that too little water arrived at the public utilities.

I know not how to parse this, but here is how the Loeb edition (Charles E. Bennett, 1925) translates it:

I discovered that these pipes were furnishing water by special branches to all those engaged in business in those localities through which the pipes ran, being bored for that purpose here and there by the so‑called "puncturers"; …

And R. H. Rogers, the foremost authority on Frontinus of our (or perhaps any) time, translates the passage thus:

I discovered that these were furnishing water in privately owned branch pipes to all the commercial establishments located along their path, and that they had been tapped for that purpose here and there by the man known as "the puncturer."

A footnote remarks: “Probably an informal title, but its form is akin to those used by official department-heads in the imperial service.”

Was a puncturer called a punctis? But why? What were those other department-heads called?

  • 1
    Is it possible that he's giving the derivation of the title without actually naming it, saying something like 'the one whose title comes from breaches (that the makes)'? I'm not sure why Frontinus would write in this oblique way – unless there were originally 2 words beginning with punct near each other, and one dropped out during transmission. Does the Latin text that you're using have an apparatus criticus?
    – cnread
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 4:53
  • 6
    “Ab + ablative plural” is a standard job title. The Secretary of State for correspondence is the ab epistulis, the person in charge of petitions is the a litbellis, and so on. So a punctis follows this pattern exactly. Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 8:18
  • @cnread PHI uses Kunderewicz's edition, which has what Sebastian has above.
    – cmw
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 13:22
  • @MartinKochanski. Interesting. I don't remember ever encountering such a thing, not even in Pliny the Younger. Do you know the grammar/logic behind this naming system? I assume some word or words have been ellipsed.
    – cnread
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 16:55
  • 3
    @MartinKochanski That comment would make a good answer.
    – TKR
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 19:13


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