Pompeii and Rome

Romulus.Remus.Wolf On this, the 2768th birthday of Rome, it occurs to me there could not be a better time to take a look at the inscriptions in Pompeii that provide evidence of the connection this relatively small Campanian town had with the one and only urbs, the capital of the world. Though there are a number of graffiti that mention Rome specifically, usually as a place one has been, I am interested in those that mention an emperor. As with a goodly amount of the epigraphic evidence of Pompeii, there is a collection both of official and unofficial texts.

There are a series of inscriptions, as would be expected in any city under Roman rule, found on the bases of statues dedicated to various emperors and members of their families. Typically found a public area such as the Forum or the Triangular Forum, these include dedications to Augustus and his wife Livia (as Julia Augusta, a name she was granted in AD 14), Marcellus, nephew and one time heir of Augustus, Agrippina the Younger, wife of Claudius and mother to Nero, and Nero himself.

CIL X 931
Imp(eratori) Caesari [divi fil(io)] Augusto / [imperatori] XIII trib(unicia) p[ot(estate) X]V patri [patriae co(n)s(uli) XI.
‘To Imperator Caesar Augustus [son of the deified, hailed as victorious general] thirteen times, in his fifteenth year of tribunician power, father of his country, [consul eleven times].

CIL X 799 = ILS 122
Augustae Iulia[e] / Drusi f(iliae) / divi Augusti / d(ecreto) d(ecurionum).
‘To Augusta Julia, daughter of Drusus, (wife) of the deified Augustus, by decree of the decurions.’

CIL X 832 = ILS 898
M(arco) Claudio C(ai) f(ilio) Marcello / patrono.
‘To Marcus Claudius Marcellus, son of Gaius, patron.’

CIL X 933
Iuliae] Agrippinae / [Germ]an[ici C]aesaris f(iliae) / [Ti(beri) Cla]udii Caesaris Augusti [- – -].
To [Julia] Agrippina, daughter of Germanicus Caesar, (wife) of [Tiberius] Claudius Caesar Augustus…’

CIL X 932 = ILS 224
Ti(berio) Claudio / Ti(beri) Claudi Caesaris / Augusti Germanici / p(atris) p(atriae) f(ilio) Neroni / Caesari / d(ecreto) d(ecurionum).
‘To Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar, son of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, father of his country, by decree of the decurions.’

There are three additional inscriptions that refer to Caligula in his role as named patron of the colony. Two are identical, except that the first contains the erasure of the damnatio memoriae whereas the second still retains the disgraced emperor’s name. The third (CIL X 904) is also missing the name of Gaius Caesar.

CIL X 901 = ILS 6396
[- – – ]simus Messi Fausti / [- – – ]rcidus Vei Frontonis / A(ulus) Arellius Graecus / min(istri) Aug(usti) ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) iussu / [C(ai) Caesaris] M(arci) Vesoni Marcell(i) / IIvir(orum) i(ure) d(icundo) / M(arci) Lucreti Epidi Flacci / praefecti / L(uci) Albuci D(ecimi) Lucreti IIvir(orum) v(iis) a(edibus) s(acris) p(ublicis) p(rocurandis) / Paullo Fabio L(ucio) Vitellio / co(n)s(ulibus).

CIL X 902
Phr[onimus Messi] / [Fausti] / Placi[dus Vei Frontonis] / A(ulus) Are[llius Graecus] / min[istri Aug(usti) ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) iussu] / [M(arci) Vesoni Marcelli IIvir(i) i(ure) d(icundo)] / [M(arci) L]ucre[ti] Epidi Flac[ci praef(ecti) i(ure) d(icundo)] / C(ai) Caesaris / L(uci) Albuci Celsi D(ecimi) Lucreti Valentis / IIvir(orum) v(iis) a(edibus) s(acris) p(ublicis) p(rocurandis) / Paullo Fabio L(ucio) Vitellio / co(n)s(ulibus).

‘Phr[onimus slave of Messius Faustus], Placi[dus slave of Veius Fronto], Aulus Are[llius Graecus], attendants [of Augustus, by decree of the decurions, by command of Marcus Vesonius Marcellus, duovir with judicial power and of [Marcus L]ucretius Epidius Flac[cus, prefect with judicial power] of Gaius Caesar, and of Lucius Albucius Celsus and Decimus Lucretius Valens, duovirs in charge of the streets, sacred and public buildings, in the consulship of Paullus Fabius and Lucius Vitellius.’

The only surviving epigraphic evidence that illustrates direct intervention by the emperor in Pompeii come from the time of the Flavians. Vespasian, as part of an empire wide initiative to generate revenue by reclaiming public lands, sent a tribune by the name of Titus Suedius Clemens to Pompeii. The cippi he erected at the boundary of public land at each of the city gates have been recovered, and contain the following text:

CIL X 1018 = ILS 5942
Ex auctoritate / Imp(eratoris) Caesaris / Vespasiani Aug(usti) / loca publica a privatis / possessa T(itus) Suedius Clemens / tribunus causis cognitis et / mensuris factis rei / publicae Pompeianorum / restituit.
‘By the authority of Imperator Caesar Vespasian Augustus, Titus Suedius Clemens, tribune, made an inquiry into public lands appropriated by private individuals, carried out a survey, and restored them to the Pompeian state.’

What is interesting about Clemens is that once he has completed his duty on behalf of Vespasian, he then appears to get involved in local politics. His endorsement is contained by six dipiniti supporting the candidacy of Marcus Epidius Sabinus, who is running for the office of duovir with judicial power. The most laudatory of these texts appears below:

CIL IV 768 = ILS 6438d
M(arcum) Epidium Sabinum d(uumvirum) i(ure) dic(undo) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) dig(nus) est / defensorem coloniae ex sententia Suedi Clementis sancti iudicis / consensu ordinis ob merita eius et probitatem dignum rei publicae faciat / Sabinus dissignator cum Plausu facit.
‘I beg you to elect Marcus Epidius Sabinus duovir with judicial powers, he is worthy. May you elect one who is a protector of the colony according to the opinion of Suedius Clemens, the worshipful judge, and by agreement of the council on account of his merits and his honesty, worthy of public office. Sabinus, the theatre official, elects him with applause.’

Whether or not Clemens was fully behind this man, or had his name usurped after he had left town, is impossible to determine. However, it does seem to indicate that the tribune was well thought of, or at the very least, that a (if somewhat tenuous) connection with the emperor was viewed as a leg-up in the local election.

If we turn to the non-official texts, the graffiti and dipinti that cover the walls of Pompeii, the honourifics, seemingly at least, continue. One survives from the reign of Augustus, but the majority (unexpectedly due to issues of preservation) date from the reign of Nero.

CIL IV 8277
Octavia Augusti [vale h]abias [pr]opit[- – – ] sa(lutem).
‘Octavia, of Augustus, good wishes and health to you.’

CIL IV 10049
F(eliciter) Pop(p)a[e(ae)] August(a)e feliciter.
Good fortune to Poppaea Augusta, good fortune.

There are a series of graffiti, found in numerous locations around the city, that proclaim support for the judgements of Nero and his wife Poppaea. As she is referred to as Augusta or Poppaea Augusta, these texts post date AD 63 when she was granted that title. With this date in mind, some scholars have taken these texts as demonstrations of a grateful population, pleased that Nero has lifted the ban on gladiatorial games instituted in AD 59 after the riot in the amphitheatre. This is viewed as an economic decision made in the aftermath of the AD 62 earthquake in order to help Pompeii recover from the damage.

CIL IV 1074
Iudiciis Augusti Augustae feliciter / nobis salvis felices sumus / perpetuo.
‘Good fortune to the judgements of Augustus and Augusta, whilst you are safe we are forever fortunate.’

CIL IV 3726 = ILS 234
Iudici(i)s Augusti p(atris) p(atriae) et Poppaeae Aug(ustae) feliciter.
Good fortune to the judgements of Augustus, father of his country, and of Poppaea Augusta.’

CIL IV 3525 = ILS 6444
Iudicis Aug(usti) felic(iter) Puteolos Antium Tegeano Pompeios hae sunt verae / coloniae.
Good fortune to the judgements of Augustus. Puteoli, Antium, Tegianum, Pompeii: these are true colonies.’

Dipinti advertising games given in honour of the emperor also survive. One from the Augustan reign, and another for Nero.

CIL IV 9969 = AE 1992: 270 = AE 2006: 289
Puteo[lani – – – ]V[- – – Id]us Dec(embres) / pugn(abunt) (etiam) Herculanei pro sal[ute Cae]sarum et Liviae Aug(ustae) vela erunt / Iole sal(ve).
‘At Puteoli on the eighth of December, boxers, also at Herculaneum for the prosperity of Caesar and Livia Augusta. There will be awnings. Iole greets you.’

CIL IV 7989a = 7989c
Pro salute / Neronis Claudi Caesaris Aug(usti) Germanici Pompeis Ti(beri) Claudi Veri venatio / athletae et sparsiones erint V IIII K(alendas) Mart(ias) CCCLXXIII // Claudio Vero felic(iter).
‘For the well-being of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, at Pompeii, there will be a hunt, athletics, and sprinklings by Tiberius Claudius Verus on 25–26 February. Good fortune to Claudius Verus.’

There are two additional graffiti concerning Nero and Poppaea that may show the imperial couple in a less favourable light. The texts suggest that offerings were made by both Poppaea and Nero to Venus. Lest we forget, Venus was not only an important deity in the Roman pantheon, but was also the patron goddess of Pompeii.

AE 1977: 217 = AE 1985: 283 = AE 2001: 801 = AE 2004: 404
Munera Poppaea misit Veneri sanctissimae berullum helencumque unio mixtus erat.
Poppaea sent as gifts to most holy Venus a beryl, an ear-drop pearl, and a large single pearl.’

AE 1977: 218 = AE 1985: 284 = AE 2001: 801 = AE 2004: 404
Caesar ut ad Venerem ven<e> sanctissimam ut tui te vexere pedes / caelestes Auguste millia milliorum(!) ponderis auri fuit.
‘When Caesar came to most holy Venus and when your heavenly feet brought you there, Augustus, there was a countless weight of gold.’

Whilst it is entirely possible that these inscriptions could be taken at face value, both their form and their location seem somewhat suspect. These are not lapidary texts on votives found in the precinct of the Temple of Venus or even the Forum, but words scratched into the wall of the House of Iulius Polybius (IX.xiii.1–3). This seems at odds with the manner in which such Imperial gifts would expect to be recorded, particularly if dedicated to the patron goddess of a city. I wonder, if instead, these texts should be viewed as a commentary on the excessive luxuria for which Nero’s court was renown, and not as praise for gifts to the goddess. Perhaps this could be taken as a reflection of a sense of neglect residents of Pompeii may have felt in the years after the earthquake, when the only assistance granted by Rome may have been the resumption of games, a somewhat paltry attempt at economic recovery considering the level of damage.

Regardless, what is apparent from the epigraphic evidence that remains is probably what should be expected of Rome and a subject city such as Pompeii: official honours to the Imperial households in the Forum and other public spaces, and anonymous scratchings that could show dissent from rule, if only in the most subtle of fashions.

Fools and Fakes


Although the tradition of tricks and pranks that marks our modern observance of the first day of the month in April has only a tenuous antecedent in the ancient tradition of Hilaria, the Romans (and more to the point, Pompeians) certainly liked a good joke or two. Clear evidence of this can be found in the number of made up and silly names that can be found in the epigraphic record. I do not mean what are clearly the pet names of lovers, but rather names that are false or made up, seemingly representing a real person but more likely a joke. One particular way this appears is in the electoral dipinti, wherein a number of the scriptores and rogatores, that is, the individual or group asking for the election of a candidate and the painter of the inscription, are seemingly false names. The idea that the name used in a graffito or dipinto is not an accurate reflection of the scribbler is hardly a new one: after all, as many of us with siblings can attest, why claim an act of vandalism yourself when you can write your brother or sister’s name instead? In the case of the electoral programmata, however, it is more difficult to reconcile the use of a nom de plume with an act of writing which was accepted, if not expected, to occur on the city walls. Therefore, whether this was meant as an elaborate joke or as some kind of satirical commentary on the candidate himself is a bit difficult to determine. If we look at some of the examples on a case by case basis, however, it may become apparent, that in some instances, the names chosen may suggest a rather biting assessment of a politician’s suitability for office.

The preponderance of evidence belongs to the programmata of Marcus Cerrinius Vatia, a man whose name is recorded in notices calling for his election both as aedile and duovir. To begin, there are a series of dipinti written by men named Florus and Fructus:

M(arcum) C<i>r<d>ium VVIAM / Cri[- – -]m[- – -] M[- – -]o Florus.

CIL IV 387
M(arcum) Cerrinium / aed(ilem) Capito rog(at) / scr(ipsit) Fructus pycta.

CIL IV 803
M(arcum) Cerrinium aed(ilem) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) scr(ipsit) Florillus.

Fructus is also responsible for one further notice, written for another candidate:

CIL IV 934
Q(uintum) Marium Rufum aed(ilem) [- – -] Fructus cu[pidus(?).

These names, Florus (flowered) and Fructus (fruit), are hardly unusual in the ancient world. Both exist as cognomen in Pompeii and beyond. There are a number of graffiti containing the single names of Florus (CIL IV 2223, 3097, 4293, 4298, 4387, 8153c, and 8640) and Fructus (CIL IV 2126, 2244, 2245, 2245a, 3324 = 5042, 4151, and 10033.4), and other examples from the city’s walls which may indicate that there is more than one individual bearing such a name, including a prostitute and a gladiator who was victorious both at Nuceria and Herculaneum.

CIL IV 2409c
Fructus hic cum [?]
‘Fructus was here with ?’

CIL IV 7339
Felix aeris as(sibus) // IV / Florus / X.
‘Felix costs IV asses. Florus ten.’

CIL IV 4299
V K(alendas) Aug(ustas) Nuceriae Florus vic(it) / XIIX K(alendas) Sept(embres) Herc(u)lanio vicit.
’28 July, Florus won at Nuceria; 15 August, won at Herculaneum.’

What makes the combination of Florus and Fructus seem less than above board, however, is the following text:

CIL IV 581 = ILS 6418d
M(arcum) Cerrinium / Vatiam aed(ilem) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) seribibi / universi rogant / scr(ipsit) Florus cum Fructo.
‘All the late drinkers ask you to elect Marcus Cerrinius Vatia aedile. Florus and Fructus wrote this.’

One dipinto, in which a candidate is supported by the late drinkers hardly seems enough evidence to justify the notion that Florus and Fructus were not the actual names of the writers. It is easy enough to envision a scenario where some friends of the candidate left a tavern one night after a few too many and painted this as a joke. However, when taken in conjunction with other messages of (supposed) support appearing for our man Vatia, it seems that there is more to it:

CIL IV 575 = ILS 6418e
Vatiam aed(ilem) rogant / Ma(rcum) Cerio(m) dormientes / universi cum / [- – -?].
‘All the late sleepers ask for Marcus Cerrinius Vatia for aedile.’

CIL IV 576 = ILS 6418f
Vatiam aed(ilem) / furunculi rog(ant).
The petty-theives ask for Vatia for aedile.’

CIL IV 7389
[M Cerrinium Vatiam?] drapetae omnes.
‘Marcus Cerrinius Vatia?. All fugitive slaves.’

The call for the election of a magistrate by a group is certainly not an unusual thing: many examples can be found from the neighbours (CIL IV 852, 6625), to the millers (CIL IV 7273), and the garlic-growers (CIL IV 3485). Some of these groups certainly seem less reputable (at least to modern sensibilities) than others. For example, it is not necessarily clear that either of the following provide a ringing endorsement:

CIL IV 1147
A(ulum) Vettium Firmum / aed(ilem) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) d(ignum) r(ei) p(ublicae) o(ro) v(os) f(aciats) pilicrepi facite.
‘The ball players ask that you elect Aulus Vettius Firmus aedile, worthy of public things.’

CIL IV 7863
C(aium) Lollium / Fuscum IIvir(um) v(iis) a(edibus) s(acris) p(ublicis) p(rocurandis) / Asellinas rogant / nec sine Zmyrina
‘Caius Lollius Fuscus duumvir for looking after the roads [and] the sacred [and] public buildings. Aselina’s [girls] ask you, not without Zmyrina.’

Vatia, in comparison, seems to be supported by a number of ne’er-do-well groups, which either are completely fabricated as a joke, or as an indictment on the character of the man and his supporters. In this context, Florus and Fructus (who also claim responsibility for the more straightforward message of CIL IV 230), seem to be amongst the jokers, and therefore, the veracity of their names can be called into question.

One final example, a notice for the incredibly popular Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus for whom a large number of programmata survive, suggests that the joke may not always be one based on undesirable behaviour, but rather an unwanted body part:

CIL IV 7240
Cn(aeum) Helvium / Sabinum aed(ilem) d(ignum) r(ei) p(ublicae) o(rat) f(aciatis) / Masculus cum codatis ubiq(ue).
‘Elect Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus aedile, worthy of public office. Masculus and all those who have a tail recommend him.’

Though hardly on the same level as the Philogelos, the dipinti advertising some candidates standing for election in Pompeii do suggest a certain level of sarcasm, trickery, and word play. Ultimately, it is difficult to determine exactly what was meant by these made-up names of groups and individuals, demonstrating once again, that when it comes to understanding exactly what was meant by the writing on the walls, the joke is really on us.