James Giles was born in Aberdeenshire, the son of a respected local artist. Following his father's early death he maintained his mother and sister through his painting, from the age of thirteen. Whilst still a teenager he toured the Continent and visited Italy. The present picture, with its grand scale - the figures diminished by the landscape - and beautiful ruins silhouetted against the sun, shows how Giles absorbed the precepts of classical landscape painting. He exhibited widely throughout his career, and his painting The Weird Wife is in the National Gallery of Scotland.
The Aqua Claudia is one of most important Roman aqueducts; it was begun by the Emperor Caligula (37-41 AD) in 38 AD and completed by his successor Claudio (41-45 AD).