"When Roman engineers built a bridge, they had to stand under it while the first legion marched across. If programmers today worked under similar ground rules, they might well find themselves getting much more interested in Ada !" — Robert Dewar, President Ada Core Technologies.

The first sentence is an appealing story, but does it have a basis in fact? (The rest of the quote is included to try to establish notability.)

  • 7
    Similar concept, but about fugu chefs: "The licensing examination process consists of a written test, a fish-identification test, and a practical test, preparing and eating the fish. Only about 35 percent of the applicants pass."
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 0:17
  • The claim is repeated by NN Taleb and is a core part of his argument that those who run big risky projects or organisations should only be trusted if the have "skin in the game".
    – matt_black
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 12:50

1 Answer 1


I can not find a positive reference for this claim. But what I've found is the text of the famous roman architect Vitruvius who pities [1] that a certain law in Ephesus, holding architects responsible for their works, does not exist in roman law:

  1. [...] When an architect [in Ephesus] was entrusted with the execution of a public work, an estimate thereof being lodged in the hands of a magistrate, his property was held, as security, until the work was finished. [...] But when more than one-fourth of the estimate was exceeded, he was required to pay the excess out of his own pocket. [...]
  2. Would to God that such a law existed among the Roman people, not only in respect of their public, but also of their private buildings, for then the unskilful could not commit their depredations with impunity, and those who were the most skilful in the intricacies of the art would follow the profession. Proprietors would not be led into an extravagant expenditure so as to cause ruin; architects themselves, from the dread of punishment, would be more careful in their calculations, and the proprietor would complete his building for that sum [...]

The book is dated around 15 BC [2] - certainly not quite the end of the roman empire; so if such a law or customs existed, one should probably look after this date or investigate in military codices.

Another great source for the history of bridge building is "Berühmte Brückenbauer: Ihre Zeiten und Bauwerke" [3]. It's full of trivia and references and deals a lot about ancient roman engineering - but this certain kind of punishment or however you might call the claim, is not mentioned.

  1. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. "De Architectura", Liber X, Introduction, paragraphs 1-2. Translation by Bill Thayer. Undated. URL: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Vitruvius/10*.html . Accessed 2013-12-17. (yes, there's really an asterisk in the URL)
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_architectura
  3. Ditchen, Henryk; Glomb, Jozef. "Berühmte Brückenbauer: Ihre Zeiten und Bauwerke". Logos Verlag Berlin GmbH. 2012. URL: http://books.google.de/books?id=U5iUF7twBBgC . Accessed 2013-12-17.
  • Can you guess at what "idemque probavit" meant on the Pons Fabricius: how did they test a bridge?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 1:45
  • 1
    @ChrisW IIRC it was a formal acceptance phrase which didn't imply that any testing was actually done. How testing was done, if any, I don't know. Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 1:53
  • @ChrisW Even found a reference, though it's not the same I remembered: books.google.de/… Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 8:11

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