Mistaken Identity

I have previously written a bit about my work on abbreviated names as they appear in the electoral dipinti of Pompeii. I had, previously identified thirty-nine men who engage in the practice of campaigning by initials. Last week, I accidentally came across a fortieth. What makes this one, whose attestation is a little tenuous anyway, is that he is one of (now) six men who run for political office who share initials.

Gaius Iulus Priscus appears (perhaps) in only two dipinti. The first provides his cognomen:

CIL IV 107
C(aium) I(ulium) Priscum.
‘Gaius Iulius Priscus.’

The second is a rendering of three initials only, but has the added attribute of the office he seeks, duovir.

CIL IV 108
C(aium) I(ulium) P(riscum) IIvir(um).
‘Gaius Iulius Pricsus, (for) duovir.’

 The only thing that makes it likely that the letters ‘CIP’ here refer to Priscus is the proximity to the first dipinto. Priscus is entirely unattested in any of the epigraphic evidence from Pompeii apart from these two dipinti. This lack of documentation, in some respect, makes it seem unlikely he ever served as aedile, a prerequisite for seeking the higher office of duovir. Who then, could this text belong to? Unlike Priscus, Gaius Iulius Polybius is named in nearly fifty electoral programmata, including one located in Puteoli (AE 1985: 292). His name is both spelled out in full and abbreviated, and he has multiple notices that indicate he has run for both aedile and duovir.

CIL IV 429 = ILS 6412e
C(aium) Iulium Polybium / aed(ilem) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) panem bonum fert.
‘We ask for Gaius Iulius Polybius for aedile, he has good bread.’

CIL IV 134 = ILS 6412ab
C(aium) Iulium Polybium / IIvir(um) muliones rog(ant).
‘The muleteers ask you to elect Gaius Iulius Polybius, duovir.’

CIL IV 316
C(aium) I(ulium) Polybium d(uumvirum) i(ure) d(icundo) d(ignum) r(ei) p(ublicae).
‘Gaius Iulius Polybius for duovir with judicial power, worthy of public office.’

CIL IV 909
C(aium) I(ulium) P(olybium) d(uumvirum) i(ure) d(icundo).
‘Gaius Iulius Polybius for duovir with judicial power.’

I would suggest the abbreviated dipinto attributed to Priscus should instead be seen as evidence for Polybius. There is far greater likelihood he’s the ‘CIP’ running for duovir, and that is simply placement that the reason for assuming it is Priscus.

This issue of initials creating confusion as to whom they should be attributed is not a singular occurrence. This happens twice more in Pompeii. The initials ‘LNR’ appear in CIL IV 315 and 885. These programmata could belong to either Lucius Naevius Rufus or Lucius Numisius Rarus. The same issue concerns a single dipinto, CIL IV 3617, which promotes ‘PCP.’ This could be Publius Calventius Proculus or Publius Caesatius Postumus.

This problem, of course, is not limited to Pompeii, and is in fact the subject of a minor point once made by Cicero, which has led scholars to the conclusion that when voting, Romans wrote initials on voting tablets.

Cic. Dom. 43. 112
‘This gentleman, after realizing that he could bypass the aedileship and have himself pronounced praetor by the consul Lucius Piso if only he had someone as competitor who shared the same initials, put his aedileship to rest in two locations – his strong-box and his gardens.’

I was initially (ha!) excited to discover there was another person using his abbreviated name to campaign in Pompeii, but now that I have looked at it a bit more, I am convinced that CIL IV 108 has been attributed to the wrong man. However, if Cicero’s commentary is anything to go by, maybe that was Priscus’s intent all along.

a.d. III Nones Iulius

Whilst other Americans are preparing to spend the day celebrating our nation’s independence with barbeques, beer, and fireworks, I started thinking about a slightly different colonial experience. Pompeii, like many other towns in southern Italy, rose up in rebellion against Rome during the Social War (90-88 BC). This was a war fought between many Italian territories who had previously been allies of Rome. Much like the American colonialists, they had become fed up with paying taxes, providing soldiers, and supporting the expansion of Rome without receiving benefits like citizenship and voting rights. Indeed, the Italians also had a problem of taxation without representation. The alliance between Pompeii and Rome prior to the outbreak of the war is largely unknown – there is no clear evidence – but Pompeii was, by 90 BC, more or less surrounded by cities that were beholden to Rome, and had been Romanised (at the very least in terms of the adoption of Latin). Regardless, Pompeii did join other Campanian cities in the fight against Rome. In essence, what the Italian people wanted was either full access to the rights and benefits of being a Roman citizen, or a cessation of ties and alliances all together.

Besieged by Sullan troops in 89 BC, the city eventually fell to Rome. Evidence of the siege can still be seen in the city wall running between the Porta de Ercolano and the Porta del Vesuvio, and it is not uncommon for excavation in the northern sector of the city to turn up ballista and other projectiles used by the Roman soldiers.

image017The war was over soon thereafter. Despite being ostensibly won by Rome, the Italian allies got what they wanted: full Roman citizenship was granted to the entire population of Italy. There is a fair amount of debate as to what happened in the intervening years particularly as to how the city was governed, but in 80 BC, Pompeii officially became a Roman colony. The foundation of the colony was granted to Sulla, not only because he conquered the city, but as the general responsible for Roman troops in this and many other wars, he had a large number of veterans to provide for. It is from inscriptions such as this that we know the full name of the colony, which included reference to the founding patron:

CIL X 787
M(arcus) Holconius Rufus d(uum)v(ir) i(ure) d(icundo) tert(ium) / C(aius) Egnatius Postumus d(uum)v(ir) i(ure) d(icundo) iter(um) / ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) ius luminum / opstruendorum(!) HS |(mille) |(mille) |(mille) / redemerunt parietemque / privatum col(onia) Ven(eria) Cor(nelia) / usque at(!) tegulas / faciundum coera(ve)runt.
‘Marcus Holconius Rufus, duumvir with judicial power for the third time, and Gaius Egnatius Postumus, duumvir with judicial power for the second time, by decree of the decurions, paid 3,000 sesterces for the right to block off light, and say to the building of a private wall belonging to the colonia Veneria Cornelia.’

It is via Sulla that Venus becomes the patron goddess of the city, as she was also his family’s chosen deity. His moniker as ‘lucky’, a cognomen awarded to him (his full name was Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix) can also be found in the name of one of the districts around Pompeii, as attested in a number of inscriptions of its magister’s:

CIL X 1042
M(arcus) Arrius | (mulieris) l(ibertus) Diomedes / sibi suis memoriae / magister pag(i) Aug(usti) felic(is) suburb(ani).
‘Marcus Arrius Diomedes, freedman of a woman [Arria], for himself and his, in memory. Magister of the pagus Augustus Felix suburbanus.’

Roman colonies were typically founded with veteran settlement, and as far as anyone is aware, Pompeii was no different. This likely meant the arrival of approximately two thousand veterans of Sulla’s wars, with families if they had them, into the territory of Pompeii around 80 BC. Unlike places like Praenestae where soldiers were placed into towns abandoned by the previous inhabitants, it appears that the colonists and natives were integrated, at least physically. Pompeii was, in fact, the only colony of Sullan veterans that didn’t completely breakdown – there are examples of completely seperate cities, relocation of the native population, and at the worst, a significant amount of bloodshed. But that doesn’t mean that all went smoothly.

Approximately twenty years after the foundation of the colony at Pompeii, Cicero was called upon to defend Publius Cornelius Sulla, nephew, and at the time patron of Pompeii, against charges of conspiracy and incitement. The younger Sulla had previously had a spot of legal bother when he was elected consul and quickly removed from office for bribery, but in 62 BC was facing charges as a result of his supposed involvement in the Catiline Conspiracy. The passage of Cicero’s defense which relates to Pompeii is brief, and somewhat ambiguous:

Pro Sulla 60-62
‘Furthermore, I cannot understand what is the nature of this charge that the inhabitants of Pompeii were instigated by Sulla to join that conspiracy and set their hand to this nefarious crime. Do you think that they did join the conspiracy? Who ever said this, or was there even a hint of a suspicion of it? “Sulla,” he says “set them at odds with the new settlers in hope to use the division and dissension he had caused to get control of the town with the aid of the inhabitants of Pompeii.” In the first place, the whole quarrel between the inhabitants and the new settlers was reported to the patrons when it had grown chronic and had been pursued for many years. Secondly, in an inquiry conducted by the patrons, Sulla’s views were in complete agreement with those of the others. Finally, the new settlers themselves realize that Sulla was defending their interests no less than those of the inhabitants of Pompeii. This, gentlemen, you can infer from the large crowd of the settlers in court, men of the highest standing who are supporting and showing their solitude for their patron here in the dock, the defender and guardian of that colony. Even if they had not been able to preserve him in the possession of all his fortune and of every office, it is their urgent wish that at least in misfortune which now prostrates him he should through you be helped and kept from harm. The inhabitants of Pompeii who have been included in the charge by the prosecution have come to court to support him with no less enthusiasm. Although they quarrelled with the new settlers about promenades (ambulatione) and elections, they were of one mind about their joint safety. And I do not think that even this is an achievement of Publius Sulla that I should pass over in silence: that although he founded the colony and although political circumstances caused the privileged position of the new settlers to clash with the interests of the inhabitants of Pompeii, he is held in such affection and is so popular with both parties that he is felt not to have dispossessed the one but to have established the prosperity of both.’

Much has been made by modern scholars as to the levels of discord that must have existed between the colonists and the native Pompeians. The reality is that little information is provided by Cicero other than the fact that there was a disagreement over voting rights and a public walkway (this has never been fully understood but I have always liked the idea put forward by T.P. Wiseman and Dominic Berry that this refers to the quadraporticus behind the small theatre), and that in his role as patron Sulla mediated a settlement between the two groups. As proof of this Cicero points out that both Pompeians and colonists are present at the trial supporting him. Others have floated the theory that the small theatre was built specifically to serve as a meeting place for the colonists. Whilst it was constructed, as we know from the dedicatory inscription, by two of the earliest magistrates of the colony, there is no evidence to suggest this purpose was intended or indeed realised. The only actual mention of the colonists that survives epigraphically comes from the amphitheatre, which was constructed by the same two politicians.

CIL X 852
C(aius) Quinctius C(ai) f(ilius) Valgus / M(arcus) Porcius M(arci) f(ilius) duovir(i) / quinq(uennales) colonia<e> honoris / caus{s}a spectacula de sua / pe<c>(unia) fac(iunda) coer(averunt) et colon{e}is / locum in perpetu<u=O>m deder(unt).
‘Gaius Quinctius Valgus, son of Gaius, and Marcus Porcius, son of Marcus, quinquennial duovirs, for the honour of the colony, saw to the construction of the amphitheatre at their own expense and gave the area to the colonists in perpetuity.’

The size of the amphitheatre (unlike the small theatre), in no way relates to the number of colonists, and could never be claimed to be solely for their use regardless of how the inscription is interpreted. The fact remains that if the colonists wanted to present a clear and long lasting physical imprint on the city in order to visually assert their dominance over the native population, they failed miserably. Indeed, not even a funerary monument remains that names a colonist of the Sullan settlement. As to the issue over voting rights, the little evidence there is of longevity amongst politically active families in the pre- and post-colonial periods suggests any impact of a change in regime does not withstand the first generation after colonisation.

The evidence, in all its forms, suggests a true and relatively peaceful integration of veteran colonists and the indigenous population, even though colonisation was a result of war. This was unusual for the time, and as today’s American holiday suggests, unusual even two hundred and fifty years ago.

O tempora, o mores!


There has been quite a bit of kerfuffle in the past week about Senator Ted Cruz’s recent speech against President Obama that was more or less lifted directly from the first of Cicero’s speeches against Cataline (with changes marked in red, the full transcript of the doctored text can be found here):

‘When, O Catiline President Obama, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now? Do not the nightly guards placed on the Palatine Hill border — do not the watches posted throughout the city — does not the alarm of the people, and the union of all good men and women — does not the precaution taken of assembling the senate in this most defensible place — do not the looks and countenances of this venerable body here present, have any effect upon you?’

Delivered to the Senate in 63 BC, this speech focused on revealing the plotting of Lucius Sergius Catilina, a nobleman and senator, to kill Cicero, a number of other senators, and seize power for himself.

Of course, as any Classicist can tell you, the point of Cicero’s speech was to expose the plot of Cataline, and thus Cruz’s use of it places himself in the role of the noble statesman (Cicero, who was consul at the time), and Obama as the treasonous, illegitimate and self-appointed destroyer of the Republic (Cataline). This comparison to the current US president is not exactly a valid one – part of what got Cataline’s toga in a twist was losing what he perceived as his birthright, the office of consul, to Cicero – a novus homo, the previous year. Cataline’s subsequent attempts to get elected were so corrupt Cicero enacted a law to prevent his actions of bribery and forceful persuasion. If we truly want to draw a modern political parallel, G.W. Bush circa the second week of November 2000 would be more apropos than a sitting president in his second term. Regardless, as others have already pointed out, Cruz’s use of this speech is a misappropriation of its true intent at best, and dangerous, threatening rhetoric at worst. Indeed, his likening of a president to a man planning revolution such as Cataline seems far more treasonous an act, regardless of politics.

I have never held a great fondness for Cicero, despite recent work on his letters, but I do find his use in a modern political setting fascinating, in as much for his own presence as for the profound influence the Roman Republic has had on modern democracy. Most people will trace the American democracy to Athens, who obviously invented the concept of government by and for the people. However, I have always thought, regardless of the original intention of our much revered (and often greatly mis-understood) founding fathers, that the true design of the government is an oligarchy, and one that Cicero would have adored. Apparently I’m not alone in this conclusion. Cicero was, after all, a member of the optimates, a group of men including Sulla, Cato, and others, who were determined to not only safeguard but increase the power of the Senate and the aristocracy, limiting the power of the people’s assemblies, the tribune of the plebs, and restricting access to land, the grain dole, citizenship and debt relief. The opposite group, the populares, (think, at their earliest, the Gracchi brothers) were locked in a political struggle throughout the end of the Republic with the likes of Marius, Pompey, and Caesar fighting on behalf of the people. The assassination of Caesar by other members of the Senate (i.e. the optimates), of course, leads to civil wars, the rise of Octavian, and the eventual creation of the Empire, which was a monarchy in all but name. So I guess if Senator Cruz and his ilk have their way, at least we have a coronation to look forward to.





Cicero Recommends

One of the pivotal studies in developing network theory is Mark Granovetter’s 1973 essay ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’, which posits the hypothesis that weak ties are more beneficial to an individual seeking employment than strong ties. This is in part because ‘those to whom we are weakly tied are more likely to move in circles different from our own and thus will have access to information different from that which we receive.’ The weak tie acts as a bridge, connecting two individuals previously unknown to each other through a mutual friend or acquaintance. Using Granovetter’s example, if you select any two people at random, call them A and B, from a set of all the people who have ties to either or both of them, the stronger the tie between A and B, the larger the proportion of people in the set who will have ties to both of them. If the tie between A and B is weak, then they are less likely to have a significant amount of mutual links. If you add a third person to this example, C, who has a tie to A but not to B, the common ties between A and B and A and C will eventually bring B and C into contact, and a relationship will be generated. A acts as the bridge, and thus a weak tie is established between B and C.

In reading a series of letter’s written by Cicero for another purpose, it suddenly occurred to me that this concept might be applicable to the ancient world. Of the roughly thousand or so letters (plus fragments) written by Cicero that survive antiquity, about ten percent (of what I have surveyed thus far – I’m only about half way through the entire corpus of evidence) are litterae commendaticiae. These letters are written on behalf of a number of individuals (and on a few occasions, a municipium or other group), and sent to one of Cicero’s acquaintances in order to pave the way for the recommendee’s interests to be advanced. In essence, Cicero is recommending these men for a job, and is thus acting as the bridge, creating a weak tie between someone who requires assistance, and someone else who is in the position to grant such favour.

The letters are scattered throughout his collections, but Book 13 (in the pre-Shackleton Bailey edition) contains 79 letters, 78 of which are ‘commendatory’ letters regarding individuals or communities, and as such is the largest concentration of this form found in the literature of antiquity. (By contrast, similar letters found in the works of Pliny the Younger and Fronto are distributed fairly evenly throughout their books). The fact that so many letters are concentrated in one book has led some scholars to view Book 13 as a collection that was compiled and published by Cicero in his lifetime, thus illustrating that Cicero regarded these letters as a definite ‘type’. Whilst this idea cannot be proved, the fact that the letters contain certain features suggest there was a schema or formula to the letters, that this form of writing was an entrenched practice, using set phrases and conventional attitudes. As nearly half of the recommendations found in Book 13 can be dated to 46 BC, this lends further weight to the idea that this book was specifically compiled. It seems as if 46 was a particularly good year for Cicero – he had found favour with Caesar upon his return to Italy, was happily into his second marriage, and hadn’t yet been devastated by the death of his daughter Tullia. Because of his past legal and political career, he was seen as having great influence despite a current lack of power, and was probably one of the most widely known figures in the Roman world besides Caesar. Publishing his litterae commendaticiae from this time would thus serve to heighten appreciation of the influence he was still able to wield through social contacts and networks.

Letter writing in the Roman world was an essential part of political and social life, and that aspect goes some way to explain the nature of the letters of recommendation. Letters were meant to sustain or advance friendship and in the case of recommendations, were ineffective if there was no friendship between the author and addressee. Unlike more modern letters of recommendation, the emphasis in the letters of antiquity is not on the candidate himself, apart from identification, but the letter gets its force from the relationship between the recommender and the recipient. The letter was meant to invoke the obligations and responsibilities to each other which were born on an appeal to qualities of humanitas, liberalitas, voluntas, integritas, mansuetudo, clementia, stadium, and officium. Cicero not only makes note of his respect for the protocols of this obligation but also requests the benefactor to be aware of his deed, which illustrates Cicero’s desire to be seen as influential. These letters were more of a testimonial, recommending someone’s character, trustworthiness, honour, and staking the writer’s own reputation and integrity, as he provided surety for the recommended simply by writing the letter.

In a compelling essay, which at its essence is about social networks though the term is never utilised, Roger Rees refers to this as ‘The Amicitia Triangle,’ a moniker which evokes the earlier example of the links between individuals A, B and C that bridged a tie between the two figures unknown to each other. He argues, I think correctly, that a ‘more persuasive argument than the bald assertion of the relationship between the author and the subject, or between the author and the recipient, was the integration of all three parties.’  This ‘social triangulation’ makes fulfilling the request for assistance that much more attractive to the addressee, because rejecting it would not only refute Cicero’s amicitia but also deny the possibility of a new relationship. The assertion that the subject, by definition a friend of the author (whether or not this is in fact true), will prove to be deserving of the friendship of the recipient, creates a contract of reciprocal obligations, which forms the basis of social system found in the Roman world. In his 1929 Loeb translation of the letters, Williams suggests that the recommendations Cicero wrote show ‘impressive evidence of Cicero’s large-hearted bonhomie, and his unfailing readiness to do a friend, or even an acquaintance, a good turn; in short, of that humanitas which was one of his dominant characteristics.’ I’d argue this gives Cicero considerably more credit than is his due, as the letters are more often about the author than the beneficiary, and the sheer number of letters of this type that survive antiquity, by others in addition to Cicero, demonstrates that this was a standard, if not expected practice, and was an integral part of the patronage system and necessary to ensuring one’s rise up the political ladder. This is particularly clear in a substantial series of letters Cicero writes to a young protégé, Gaius Trebatius Testa.

Ad Fam. 27 (VII. 6)
‘Every letter I write to Caesar or to Balbus carries as a kind of statutory bonus a recommendation of yourself, and not the standard sort but phrased with some special indication of my regard for you.’

Ad Fam. 33 (VII.10)
‘How pressingly I have written to Caesar on your behalf, you know; how often, I know.’

Ad Fam. 29 (VII.8)
‘Caesar has written to me very civilly, regretting that he has so far been to busy to get to know you very well, but assuring me that this will come. I told him in my reply how greatly he would oblige me by conferring upon you all he could in the way of good will, friendly offices, and liberality.’

Fortunately, we also have one letter Cicero wrote to Caesar, so we know that the claim of his efforts on Trebatius’ behalf was true. In this letter, Cicero breaks from form, referencing positions to which Trebatius no doubt aspires, but he does so in a joking manner. I suspect the tone is meant to prevent Caesar taking any offense that Cicero should presume to tell him what to do.

Ad Fam. 26 (VII.5)
‘So observe my presumption: I now want Trebatius to look to you for everything he would have hoped for from me, and I have assured him of your friendly disposition in terms really no less ample than I had previously been wont to use respecting my own… In embracing his acquaintance with all your usual graciousness, my dear Caesar, I should wish you to confer upon his single person all the kindnesses which I could induce you to wish to confer upon my friends…. I do not ask on his behalf for a Tribunate of Prefecture or any other specific favour. It is your good will and generosity I bespeak; though if in addition you have a mind to decorate him with such ambitious trinkets, I say nothing to deter you. In fine, I put him altogether, as the phrase goes, out of my hand into yours – the hand of a great conqueror and a great gentleman, if I may become a trifle fulsome, though that’s hardly permissible with you. But you will let it pass, I see you will.’

There is further analysis to conduct with those letters I have catalogued so far, particularly in regards to the identity and connections between Cicero, the recommended individual, and the addressee of the letters. Deniaux’s prosopography of the letters should be particularly useful for this. From there, my intention is to go forward with the remainder of Cicero’s letters. I am most curious to see if he included recommendations in the correspondence he wrote to those we can undoubtedly view as Ciceros’s strongest ties – Atticus, Quintus, and to some extent, Brutus. Though the evidence certainly will never provide a completed network for any of the authors, the ability to build even a partial network for them should shed some light on how networks of patronage and advancement worked in the Roman world.

Research Seminar: Cicero and Networks


Next week, on the 8th of October, I will be returning to my alma mater, the Department of Classics at the University of Reading, to kick off their Autumn Term seminar series. I am leaving Pompeii behind for the moment, and instead focusing on networks that are evident in the epistolary works of antiquity, specifically Cicero’s letters. He often wrote letters of recommendation for those seeking a position, and these letters can be used, in conjunction with Mark Granovetter’s landmark essay ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’, to examine the types of networks in play in ancient Italian politics and how strongly connected these networks were.

Anyone interested in attending can find more information here. Otherwise, look for some version of my paper to be posted on this blog in a few weeks.