The photo above is probably one of the most famous walls to be found in the city of Pompeii. It is one of the few examples still (fairly) legible and in situ of electoral dipiniti. There are multiple individuals and magisterial positions advertised in this one small section of wall, between two doorways on the Via dell’Abbondanza. Despite some measures of protection it has been damaged and faded over the years. Whilst I recognise many of the names on this wall, that’s not exactly the focus of this particular post. Something I have been working on for some time now is instead looking at some of the abbreviations used in the electoral programmata. This is part of a larger project on elections and voting that I have written about before, but as I walked by this wall last week, I had a chance to look again at the way such notices were painted.
The section of wall above contains five abbreviations and ligatures that were commonly used in electoral dipinti. Probably the two most common were simple abbreviations of the magisterial posts that one could run for – ‘aed’ for aedile, and the slightly less obvious ‘IIvir’ for duovir. This latter one is interesting in and of itself for the visual depiction of the word, combining the Roman numeral for two with the word man, which is, after all, quite literally what the post name meant. Two found here, ‘DRP’ and ‘OVF’, can be written in ligature, reducing the three initial abbreviations to one or two letters. Dignum rei publicae (worthy of public office) and oro vos faciatis (I beg you to elect) were very specific to these notices for elections. Whether or not the average man (or woman!) on the street knew what the abbreviated letters stood for or simply, through repetition, had a vague idea of the intention, is somewhat up for debate. (One additional abbreviation of this ilk not visible on this wall is ‘VB’ – virum bonum – a good man.) Two other common abbreviations that appear in dipinti refer to those who are either writing (scriptores) or sponsoring (rogatores) the text that is painted. There is an example of the abbreviation ‘rog’ present here, which again, seems to be specific to electoral signs. The name or identification of a scriptor might also appear in other painted notices such as those advertising games.
The abbreviation that spurned my interest in the dipinti, however, is not common, and one not easily deciphered unless you already happen to know what it is.
The letters CIP are not an abbreviated word, but rather an abbreviated name. These three letters are, in fact, referring to a man named Gaius Iulius Polybius. He is one of nearly forty men that I have identified who ran for public office in Pompeii using his initials rather than any part of his name. This begs all sorts of questions about how one recognised such names, how well known a person had to be to win an election just using their initials, whether or not this was in part influenced by voting practices, and of course, how literate the average person walking down the street might be. The reality is that for a notice such as this to be useful in any way, a majority of the voting public had to be able to recognise that this:
CIP IIvir DRP
actually means this:
CIL IV 7872
C(aium) I(ulium) P(olybium) IIvir(um) d(ignum) r(ei) p(ublicae).
‘Gaius Iulius Polybius for duovir, worthy of public office.’
I remain unconvinced that this would have been possible for a barely or semi- literate society. I also cannot help but think that I have had to explain many of these abbreviations to people who are far better Latinists than I, as the use of abbreviations is not necessarily intuitive, but one that is developed through practice. The same must have been true of the Pompeian voters two thousand years ago, and I suspect, epigraphers one hundred years ago who failed to recognise the random letters for what they are: initials of would be magistrates.