So while there is a plethora of words regarding features of urban planning in Latin, is there an actual term or phrase for the act of planning a city? "Urbs designans" and "inventio urbica" seem like poor fits to me, and I feel like a culture with such a civil engineering bent would have had a dedicated word for the urban planning field, but I just can't find any.

In addition, within the field, was there a term for the city grid? I am aware of the terms for the various streets, buildings, etc., but "reticulum urbicum" strikes me as incorrect, as I was under the impression "reticulum" meant more of a "net" than a "grid," and "cancellus" seems to be more associated with literal bars than cities. Again, I find it hard to believe, given the nature of the Romans, that they would not have had a word for a city grid, but I simply can't seem to find it.

  • I like your question. You might like to consult a book called Ancient Rome: City Planning and Administration by Olivia F. Robinson. Her scholarly work comes up on searches of articles about aqueducts and other public works.
    – user1466
    May 23, 2017 at 1:42

1 Answer 1


Vitruvius discusses some aspects of urban planning in the first book of his famous De architectura. However, I do not seem to find a term for "urban planning" there. He discusses the topic but does not seem to give it a name.

This is the closest hit that I found:

arearum divisiones platearumque (Vitr. 1.6.1)
the apportionment of house lots (translation by Morris Hicky Morgan)

If there is no good attested expression in the literature, you should consider coining a new one in classical style. I would suggest designatio urbis or urbs designanda. (Urbs designans implies that the city is the one that plans instead of the one being planned. An active participle sounds like a bad fit here.)

There might be something better, but it missed my eye. At any rate, digging through De architectura is what I suggest doing first in the search for such a word.

There is probably something for a "city grid" too, but I found nothing better than angiportorum divisiones, "the directions of the different alleys" (1.6.13, see the two links above). If I were to coin a new expression for it, I would probably choose rete viarum, "network of roads".

  • 1
    Reading through 1.6.12 gave me an interesting word: vicus. Apparently it technically means quarter, neighborhood, row of houses, municipal section, or ward, which, while not exactly the same thing, is certainly a bit more convenient than angiportorum divisiones. I think its close enough to use for grid, as it has the municipal nature missing from the words I listed in my question. Perhaps used exclusively in the plural, so as to refer to the collection of wards. Insofar as urban planning goes, I think your suggested designatio urbis is suitable. Thanks for the source!
    – James
    May 22, 2017 at 21:51
  • @James You are welcome! Vicus (L&S link) is a good word, but it can mean a number of things. If there is a risk of confusion, something more concrete like rete viarum (road network) might be better.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 22, 2017 at 22:42

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