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A Roman engineer’s tales

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I will look at one object, a broken column found in Algeria and dating from the second century AD, from three different points of view, with the aim of exploring the various ways in which we can write the history of ancient technology today. The column is inscribed on its three sides, and tells the story of Nonius Datus, a military engineer who designed and, over the years, guided the completion of an aqueduct in the ancient Roman town of Saldae, on the Algerian coast. Firstly, I will look at how the column can be, and has been, used to derive ‘straightforward’ information about aqueducts, tunnels and water supply administration in Roman times. Next, I will explore the ways in which technology can be considered an instrument of empire, and reveal the afterlife of Nonius Datus’ column in the nineteenth century, when the French army engineers decided to provide Saldae (by then Bougie) with a new aqueduct. Finally, I will focus on Nonius Datus as an individual, and on what he (emphasise he) may have thought he was doing by leaving a ‘technological’ monument behind.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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