The Roman engineers were the first in history to discover that proper management of men and resources could greatly decrease the time it takes to complete a construction project. The management structure the Romans employed on their many public construction projects was very simple, but very effective in communicating information through the appropriate channels. Coupling this management structure with previous experience, the Romans were able to increase the efficiency of their endless labour force.
Given that no scriptures on the topic of project management have been discovered, it is hard to know whether the Romans knew exactly what they had achieved. However, even though they are more complex, the processes used today can be quite easily compared with the evidence we have found on Roman engineering methods. The Romans used a simple system for managing large public construction projects. They are referred to as public projects because the Roman writers were men of power and status, and as such would not write about small projects carried out on farms, according to the presentations by Dr.
J. Humphrey. Public projects were well funded by the state and because the state was involved, all of the slaves from conquered lands were available for use in construction, transportation or quarry and fabrication processes of a project (Monteleone, Yeung, Smith, 2007). The best way to describe the different levels of importance and power in a project is to quote the works of L. Sprague de Camp: Roman engineering was mainly civil engineering: the building of roads, bridges, public buildings, and other permanent structures.
A consul, senator, or other magistrate commanded the whole of such a governmental enterprise. Under him the architectus or engineer, in his turn, bossed a crew of minor technicians: agrimensores or surveyors, libratores or levellers, and others. In addition, private builders without special technical training practiced, for private landowners, the craft in which they had been reared. (Sprague De Camp, 1970) The above passage is an excerpt from a book written in nineteenth century, so it is hard to judge whether it is credible. That being said, it provides a reasonable understanding of how the Romans conducted themselves in a construction hierarchy.
There are no ancient sources to back up what was claimed by Mr. Sprague de Camp so it must be presumed that this assumption is correct. An important man in Roman history, Sextus Julius Frontinus, provides records of the men he had under his command including: “a staff of engineers, surveyors and clerks, as well as 700 slaves who worked as inspectors, foremen, masons, plumbers and plasterers” (Rae, Volti, 2001). From these two passages almost every rank that a man could have in a construction project is discussed.
While this hierarchical structure was known to earlier civilizations, the Romans were the first to use education and planning to increase the productivity of some men, and provide others repetitive tasks so that they became very skilled in a limited way. The lowest positions were reserved for uneducated men with no position in society. Most often it was the slaves from other lands that were forced to perform tasks like quarry work or transportation of material. The next level of men had some training or past experience working with construction materials.
This group of men was usually taken from among the infantry of one of the legions. They made up what would be the equivalent of our skilled labour force. Mostly classified into two categories: stone workers or masons and wood workers or carpenters. Even though stone was stronger and used more often as a construction material than wood, the carpenters were needed to erect the scaffolds that supported the workers during construction of stone arches. Likewise, carpenters were needed to build the large cranes used to lift huge stones to heights that would never be reached with simple man or animal power.
Other skilled workers included the plumbers who worked exclusively on high pressure tubes, and plasterers, who mixed mortar, positioned stones and sealed the walls of the tunnels (Rae, Volti, 2001). The next level of men consisted of contractors and foreman that supervised small crews of men. The foremen had to have a very good understanding of what they were being asked to do and how to organize their crews to work as efficiently and fast as possible. Foremen were also required to physically demonstrate to the men being supervised what they were expected to do and probably administered discipline to men for poor work.
Another branch of men , not directly related to physical work, lead to the engineers. This branch contained the levellers and surveyors. They worked under the engineer and maintained communication with the contractor but they did not really fit between either. These men were educated in a variety of subjects but especially math. The surveyors used simple tools to perform very important elevation calculations and with the engineers they plotted the paths of the aqueducts. They communicated with the contractor(s) to explain the path and the slope that the labours were being asked to construct.
The most important people in the construction team were the engineers. Everything that happened on the project fell to them to deal with. For this reason Vitruvius gives many examples of things that engineers needed to know and should have studied, including math and some unusual topics such as philosophy and music (Vitruvius: On Architecture, 2006). The engineers “enjoyed high social status” because of their knowledge and their position in the construction pyramid (Rae, Volti, 2001). Besides being highly skilled in construction the Roman engineers served as project managers.
It was the engineers that communicated everything that was happening on the construction site to the senator or consul that provided the funds. When the Roman civilization started they already possessed a substantial level of knowledge about construction on large projects. The Greeks had left behind considerable knowledge about tunnelling which allowed the Romans to construct their aqueducts under ground. This subterranean construction helped with the sanitation of the entire water system. With a few small changes the Romans were able to increase the speed at which the Greeks had tunnelled.
Roman engineers understood that only a few men could work in the small tunnels at any given time, so they split their work force into small teams of men. These teams became highly specialized with some used for the actual horizontal tunnelling, while other teams composed of masons and plasterers were used to strengthen the walls of the tunnels. Still other crews were used for digging air shafts every 116-120ft (Landels, 1980). This division of labour allowed for a more efficient use of the work force and more productivity.
The Romans also limited the amount of substructio that they constructed because of the time it took to build them. The engineers and surveyors took their time to plan the paths of the aqueducts so that the arcades were limited. However, they still grouped men together (just as they had done in the tunnels) and they employed a repetition of tasks so that these groups became very good at one aspect of building the arcades. Similar to a present-day assembly line, groups of men did the same tasks over and over to increase the construction efficiency of these huge arcades.
The Romans also expanded on the carpentry knowledge that they gained from previous civilizations. Carpenters were very important to building scaffolds for men to work on, bracing platforms for building arches on, and cranes that would lift extremely heavy stones. Heron of Alexandria discusses a variety of cranes that the Romans used to lift material up to the highest points of the arcades. The Romans did not over use cranes or expand on their knowledge of cranes presumably because they feared “technological unemployment” (Rae, Volti, 2001).
Neither Vitruvius nor Frontinus, the two most important ancient writers on the aqueducts, talked about project management, but that does not mean it did not exist. Project Managers do not do a lot of very difficult or highly-skilled tasks so it is hard to identify what they do. Project Managers are probably the most important people on a construction site because they are the main conduits of information between all of the different levels. The engineers of Roman times were the Project Managers, even though they were never referred to as such.
The Roman engineers planned every step of construction from determining the materials to be used and where to get them to the paths the aqueducts would actually follow. Just like today the engineers are the Project Managers on site, however there are many different engineers that work on a project today. There is generally a small team of Project Managers today that organize everyone and everything, including: contractors, trades men/women, structural engineers, architects, material, transportation, site coordination, city officials and the owner(s) of the project.
The Roman engineers would most likely set up daily tasks that had to be done by the different contractors, they would work with the surveyors and levellers if any changes to the path needed to be made, and they would order and coordinate transportation of materials to and from the site. “Along with being a competent designer, an architect-engineer has to be able to accurately estimate costs and stay within a budget” (Rae, Volti, 2001). This is a major part of project management for civil engineers in the construction industry today. Management of people is also part of the
Project Managers job. There is evidence that Roman engineers devised new ways of inspiring their workers; such is the case of an engineer by the name of Nonius Datus who wrote a letter stating that after he “had assigned workers, so that they might each of them know the digging he was to do, I instituted a contest between the marines and the troops of Gaul” (Rae, Volti, 2001). In this case it back fired because the two groups were supposed to tunnel through a mountain and meet in the middle but they both tunnelled slightly to the right.
The main reason for this mistake was the fact that the engineer had so much faith in his workers that he left them alone for four years, essentially hoping the tunnel would finish itself (Sprague De Camp, 1970). If he had stayed on site, as is required now, he would have noticed that the two crews were veering off course. The Romans employed such a simple system of project management that it is very hard to see, let alone try and explain.
It appears to be a simple pyramid of men starting with the consul or senator at the apex funding the project, but who communicates with the engineer (now referred to as the Project Manager), who would then communicate with everyone else. Most of the Roman knowledge for constructing the aqueducts came from previous knowledge on tunnelling and building that they had learned from Greek scriptures. The Romans used this basic knowledge to increase the rate of production by primary means of repetition and secondly by the use of cranes and specialized workers.
Even though the Romans did not worry about such things as scope and time, as Project Managers do today, they did worry about the quality and cost of construction, which are key aspects of project management. So even though they did not know how important it was to construction, the Roman engineers came up with the beginning steps of project management, when all they were trying to do was speed up construction. References Chacon, M. A. (1999). Achitectual Stone: Fabrication, Installation and Selection. Toronto, Ont:John Wiley amd Sons. Heron Alexandrinus Mechanica. (1999).
Retreived February 15, 2007, from http://archimedes. mpiwg-berlin. mpg. de/cgi-bin/toc/toc. cgi? page=28; dir=heron_mecha_097_en_1999;step=textonly Humphewy, J. W. , Oleson, J. P. , Sherwood, A. N. (2006). Greek and Roman Technology:A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge. Landels, J. G. (1980). Engineering In The Ancient World: Ancient Culture and Society. London, Ont: Chatto and Windus. Monteleone, M. C. , Yeung, H. , Smith R. (2007). A review of Ancient Roman water supply exploring techniques of pressure reduction. Retreived February 6, 2008, from http://www. iwaponline. com/ws/00701/0113/007010113. pdf Rae, J.
, Volti, R. (2001). Engineer In History, The. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. Sextus Julius Frontinus: The Aqueducts of Rome. (2003). Retreived February 6, 2007, from http://penelope. uchicago. edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Frontinus/ De_Aquis/text*. html Sprague De Camp, L. (1970). Ancient Engineers, The. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. The Aqueduct Of Segovia. (2000). Old and Sold Antiques Digest. Retrieved February 6, 2008, from http://www. oldandsold. com/articles14/travel-298. shtml Vitruvius: On Architecture. (2006). Retreived February 6, 2007, from http://penelope. uchicago. edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Vitruvius/