While the concept of Title Insurance is a relatively new one, having developed in the past 200 years, the need to prove free and clear ownership of your land is not. Historians and trivia enthusiasts alike would be interested to know that the Ancient Romans also had a system of recording land ownership, however, it wasn’t with paper deeds like we use today. Rather, the Romans inscribed their records of ownership on great bronze plaques. Let’s take a closer look at how the Romans established title.
“You’ve now reached the Saint Petersburg city limits.” Where exactly does that word come from? “Limit” is derived from the Latin word “limes,” meaning “path” (“limites” for the plural). The Roman limes originally referred to the stone boundary separating two property lines. As time went on, the definition broadened to include military paths and boundaries between countries. In some areas of the empire, the land was divided neatly into squares known as “centuriae.” However, in other areas, the divisions weren’t so clear. A centuria was a unit of measurement approximating to about 80-100 men. If your property was a centuria, only your name would be recorded. If your property’s shape were more irregular, your name would be recorded along with the distinct boundaries of your property line.
Individually owned land was known as “beneficia,” whereas government owned land was known as “subseciva.” The government was greatly involved with land ownership and related transactions. There was a one percent land tax for all landowners in the Empire which contributed to the government’s budget. In fact, the Roman government’s official offices were located next to a large, marble model of Rome known as the “Forma Urbis Romae.” This model detailed the layout of all of the land in the city using the information from the limes records. While this model was only 1/240 the size of the city, it was still a massive three stories tall.
A surviving historical artifact of note is the Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum. This manuscript is one of the few surviving scientific manuscripts from the ancient era, and it details Roman land surveying practices. How cool is it that one of the oldest surviving scientific works has to do with title? Even Rome’s mythological Aeneas, who is said to have discovered the land upon his flight from Troy, is known for his surveying practices. Virgil writes in The Aeneid that Aeneas, “marked out the city with the plough and allocated the horses (by lot).” It is certainly obvious that the Romans took title very seriously (pun intended). However, scholars agree that no system can parallel that of the ancient Egyptians when it comes to the registration and recording of land ownership. Perhaps, we will tackle ancient Egypt another day. Until next time. Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you next week with another Title Tidbit!