B is for Barcha

One difficulty in piecing together the names of Pompeians is that names can, and do, take many different forms. The Imperial Roman system of the tria nomina, consisting of a praenomen, nomen and cognomen was not in use during the earliest years of the Roman colony, and even when it was the standard form later, the practice of only using one or two names was not uncommon. Numerous scholars have attempted to discern the patterns of name construction and frequency of use, largely using letters and speeches of Cicero, and to a lesser extent, Pliny the Younger. What this has revealed is that the number of names used depends on the level of formality and esteem one had for the individual, but at the same time, different practices came in and out of fashion. According to Adams, in Cicero’s time it was common to address someone using praenomen + nomen or praenomen + cognomen, but that by the end of the Republic there was a shift to nomen + cognomen. The aristocracy apparently favoured the use of praenomen + cognomen, which is apparent in one particularly interesting example found in Pompeii.

There are three dipinti that record the candidacy of Numerius Barcha for the office of duovir:

CIL IV 26 = CIL I2 1664a
N(umerium) Barcha(m) IIv(irum) v(irum) b(onum) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) ita v[o]beis Venus Pomp(eiana) sacra [sancta propitia sit].
‘I ask you to elect Numerius Barcha, a good man, as duovir. May Venus Pompeiana (be favourable) to your offerings.

N(umerium) Bar(cam) IIv(irum) [oro vos] col(oni).
‘Numerius Barcha. Colonists, I ask you to elect him duovir.’

CIL IV 72 = CIL I2 1644b
N(umerium) Barc(ham) II/v(irum) v(irum) b(onum) o(ro) v(os) col(onei).
‘Numerius Barcha, a good man. Colonists, I ask you to elect him duovir.’

There is a surprising amount of information contained in these texts despite the fact that we cannot identify the man’s family. Like all inscriptions recorded in volume I2 of the CIL, these dipinti are Republican in date. This is also evident in the fact that two of the notices beseech the colonists to ensure Barcha’s election. The Roman colony of Pompeii was established by Sulla in 80 BC, so for any of the colonists to still be around and voting, this election must have taken place between approximately 80 and 50 BC. Further, as Barcha is running for duovir, the second office in the local cursus honorum, he must have previously served as an aedile, and at the youngest, would be in his late twenties at the time of this second campaign, assuming he wasn’t himself a colonist, and thus considerably older.

There is one additional electoral programmata that is also attested to this candidate. Here, finally, we get his gentilicium:

CIL IV 45 = I2 1672a
N(umerium) Vei(u)m I[I] /v(irum) v(irum) b(onum) o(ro) v(os) co(lonei).
‘Numerius Veius, a good man. Colonists, I ask you to elect him duovir.’

This may, at first glance, seem as if it belongs to an entirely different man. The name Numerius was common enough, and identifying any specific individual by praenomen alone would be a highly dubious endeavour. The use of the nomen Veius with the praenomen of Numerius increases the probability of a match, but is still shaky as a concrete attribution. Luckily, especially considering the age of these inscriptions, there is one further graffito, found in the amphitheatre, that allows Numerius Barcha and Numerius Veius to be viewed as one and the same:

CIL IV 75 = CIL I2 1644c
[- – -] Vei Barc(h)a tabes[cas].
‘Numerius Veius Barcha, may you rot!’

Clearly, not everyone was a fan.

Finally, a monumental inscription from a tomb found outside of the Porta di Nocera provides more absolute confirmation that the names of Veius and Barcha should indeed be linked:

D’Ambrosio & De Caro (1983) 3ES
Veia N(umeri) f(ilia) Barchilla / sibi et / N(umerio) Agrestino Equitio / Pulchro viro suo.
‘Veia Barchilla, daughter of Numerius, (built this) for herself and to Numerius Agrestinus Equitius Pulcher, her husband.’


This inscription, still in situ on a large tumulus tomb dated to the late Republican / early Augustan period, attests the final resting place of Numerius Veius Barcha’s daughter. Although female naming conventions can often be more tricky than male, this is a very clear case of adopting the nomen in feminine form for a first name, with the addition of a diminutive version of her father’s cognomen as a second name. With the filiation naming her father Numerius, this becomes conclusive evidence that the man who sought election using his praenomen and cognomen only, is in fact a member of the Veii family. This is a family of some importance who will be present throughout the Roman period of Pompeii, who I will undoubtedly discuss further as I move through the alphabet.

What is most striking, however, in the case of Barcha, is how difficult it can be to rely on one or two texts to accurately identify individual people or their relationship to other family members. In this instance, the survival of just a few texts provides the evidence needed to piece together this father, daughter, and the gens they belong to. For many of the names recorded in the Pompeian epigraphy, the puzzle remains unsolved.

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