C is for Cuspius

One Pompeian family that has always intrigued me is the gens Cuspia. Besides generally being prolific in civic and political affairs, the family has been memoralised in one of the grand houses of the city, and more creatively, as one of the characters in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii. Bulwer-Lytton always identifies him, a close friend of the protagonist Glaucus, as the aedile, often running off to deal with organising the next round of contests in the amphitheatre or sorting out the aerarium which he claims is in disrepair, typically with a large number of clients in tow. Della Corte identified one of the large houses in Region VI as the House of Pansa (VI.6.i), although according to Bulwer-Lytton, Pansa’s taste in decor left something to be desired:

“‘Well, I must own,’ said the aedile Pansa, ‘that your house, though scarcely larger than a case for one’s fibulae, is a gem of its kind. How beautifully painted is that parting of Achilles and Briseis!–what a style!–what heads!–what a-hem!’

‘Praise from Pansa is indeed valuable on such subjects,’ said Clodius, gravely. ‘Why, the paintings on his walls!–Ah! there is, indeed, the hand of a Zeuxis!’

‘You flatter me, my Clodius; indeed you do,’ quoth the aedile, who was celebrated through Pompeii for having the worst paintings in the world; for he was patriotic, and patronized none but Pompeians.”

However, since Della Corte’s attribution seems to be based on a single dipinto (CIL IV 251) supporting Pansa’s election as aedile found near the entrance of the house, this is somewhat dubious. The house is also believed to have been owned by Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius, and bears a dipinto naming Marcus Cerrinius Vatia (CIL IV 253), so like many of Della Corte’s suggestions, occupancy cannot be determined with any certainty.

What is known from the evidence is that a Gaius Cuspius Pansa did run for the office of aedile in the last years of Pompeii, appearing in at least fifty dipinti (AE 1951: 157d, CIL IV 97, 117, 275 = ILS 6419e, 385, 438, 509, 542, 559, 562, 566, 572, 579, 610, 619, 622, 702 = ILS 6419a, 708, 710, 785, 855, 869, 871, 960, 1006, 1011 = ILS 6419f, 1046 = 7181, 1068 = ILS 6437, 1153, 1172, 2972, 7129a, 7179, 7201 = CLE 2053, 7220, 7242, 7257, 7289, 7320, 7404, 7435, 7445, 7518, 7601, 7630, 7686a, 7742, 7743, 7777 = AE 1937: 127, 7850, 7875, 7919 = AE 1913: 15, 7955, 7963). This man, since he is running for the lowest magisterial position in the local cursus honorum, is not only the last member of the family, but is also likely not the reason the name of Gaius Cuspius Pansa is so ubiquitous in the epigraphic evidence of the city.

The family of the Cuspii is of some importance in Pompeii, and likely first came to the city as colonists as part of the Sullan settlement. There are ten members of the family listed in Castrén’s prosopography, a number of which appear to be freedmen, albeit important ones. Both Gaius Cuspius Cyrus and Gaius Cuspius Salvius (buried in the tomb 17ES at the Porta di Nocera) are magisters in the Pagus Augustus Felix Suburbanus. Gaius Cuspius Secundus, whose legal status is unknown, appears as the first witness on one of the tablets of Iucundus, dated to AD 55 (CIL IV 3340.12). Some members of the family are only attested in a single graffito: Gaius Cuspius Musicus (CIL IV 4166), Gaius Cuspius Crescens Euphiletus and Gaius Cuspius Similis (CIL IV 4165), and the only known female, Cuspia (CIL IV 8850). However, all of these individuals date from the mid-first century AD. The earliest attestation of a Cuspia dates to the Republican period, where a Cuspius, whose full name is unknown, ran for and served as duovir. There is one graffito supporting his election:

CIL IV 23 = I² 1667
[— Cu]spi(um) / [——] // L(ucium) Septum(ium) / d(uum)v(irum).
‘? Cuspius ? and Lucius Septumius for duovir.

However, as there are further inscriptions attesting his public works as a magistrate, it is clear he was successfully elected:

CIL X 937 = ILS 5335
[—?] Cuspius T(iti) f(ilius) M(arcus) Loreiu[s] M(arci) f(ilius) / duovir(i) [d(e)] d(ecurionum) s(ententia) murum [e]t / plumam fac(iundum) coer(averunt) eidemq(ue) pro(baverunt).
‘[—] Cuspius, son of Titus, Marcus Loreius, son of Marcus, duovirs (by decree) of the decurions, approved and saw to the construction of the wall and tower.’

One of his posts, as a quattroviri, is significant as it is one of the only extant inscriptions which name this office, which is often believed to be one of the earliest magistracies in the colonial period of Pompeii.

CIL X 938 = I² 1630 = ILS 06355
[—] Cuspius T(iti) f(ilius) M(arcus) Loreius M(arci) f(ilius) / IIIIvir(i) L(ucius) Sept<u>mius L(uci) f(ilius) / D(ecimus) Claudius D(ecimi) f(ilius) IIIIvir(i) ex / pe<c>unia publica d(e) d(ecurionum) / s(ententia) f(aciundum) curaverunt.
‘? Cuspius, son of Titus, and Marcus Loreius, son of Marcus, quattroviri; Lucius Septimius, son of Lucius, and Decimus Claudius, son of Decimus, quattroviri, oversaw the construction of this work from public money (by decree) of the decurions.’

The remainder of the epigraphic evidence for the family actually reveals that there were (at least) three men in the family named Gaius Cuspius Pansa – the aedile of The Last Days of Pompeii – and two others, all of whom were politically active in the city. There are two electoral dipinti (CIL IV 3605 and 7913) which name a Cuspius Pansa running for duovir, which likely belong the second of these eponymous men. There are a set of four monumental inscriptions – two from the amphitheatre and two from the Forum – which inform us of the success of these men.

CIL X 858 = ILS 6359
C(aius) Cuspius C(ai) f(ilius) Pansa pater d(uum)v(ir) i(ure) d(icundo) / IIII quinq(uennalis) praef(ectus) i(ure) d(icundo) ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) lege Petron(ia).
‘Gaius Cuspius Pansa, son of Gaius, the father, duovir with judicial power four times, quinquennalis, prefect with judicial power, by decree of the decurions under the Petronian law.’

CIL X 859 = ILS 6359a
C(aius) Cuspius C(ai) f(ilii) f(ilius) Pansa pontif(ex) / d(uum)vir i(ure) d(icundo).
‘Gaius Cuspius Pansa, son of Gaius, the son, pontifex, duovir with judicial power.’

These inscriptions were found at the base of two niches, opposite each other, in the east and west walls of the northern entrance to the amphitheatre. The most likely scenario is that father and son paid for restoration work to the arena after the earthquake of AD 62, and whilst there is no specific evidence tying these men to such activities, there is archaeological evidence for structural reinforcement of the spectacula in the post-earthquake period.

Both men were also honoured with statues in the Forum. The statue bases, still in situ (although the statues themselves are not) sit on the west side in front of the Capitolium. The inscriptions read thusly:

CIL X 790 = ILS 6360
C(aio) Cuspio C(ai) f(ilio) Pansae / IIvir(o) i(ure) d(icundo) quart(um) quinq(uennali) / ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) pec(unia) pub(lica).
‘To Gaius Cuspius Pansa, son of Gaius, duovir with judicial power four times, quinqennalis, with public money by decree of the decurions.’

CIL X 791
C(aio) Cuspio C(ai) f(ilii) f(ilio) Pansae / pontifici IIvir(o) i(ure) d(icundo) / ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) pec(unia) pub(lica).
‘To Gaius Cuspius Pansa, son of Gaius, son, pontifex, duovir with judicial power, with public money by decree of the decurions.’


Based on the offices held by father and son, their apparent involvement in post-earthquake reconstruction, and the campaign for aedile being waged by the third iteration of the family name in the late 70s, the political careers of three men have been dated approximately as AD 20-40 for Gaius Cuspius Pansa I, 50-60 for II, and 79 for III. This dominance of Pompeian politics by one family for fifty years or more is, despite the general belief that a small number of families were continuously controlling small town politics, actually surprisingly rare in the epigraphic evidence. The fact that all three men bore the same name may have contributed both to their success in office as well as to the preservation of so many texts recording their activities.