Posts Tagged With: Elections

Vote Early, Vote Often

You’d have to have been in a coma the past several weeks to not be aware that today is Election Day in the United States. Being an American in the UK, I voted by post several weeks ago, but for the majority of my fellow citizens, some part of today will be spent in a queue at a polling station. This particular presidential election has been incredibly vitriolic, with one of the many contentious arguments being about electoral fraud and the outcome being ‘rigged.’ The reality is that very little voter fraud has ever been documented in modern American elections, but what about Rome?

One of the issues I keep coming back to again and again in my work on the Roman electoral process is that of identification. How did the officials overseeing a vote know who could vote? How did they prevent someone from voting who wasn’t legally permitted, or how did they keep someone from voting twice? This came up again recently when I gave a paper to the Birkbeck History Society about voting in Pompeii.

In the simplest terms possible, the physical act of voting involved the eligible citizens being divided into their units and tribes, separated in some way from others, who were then called to vote using a ballot (once the written vote was introduced by the Lex Gabinia in 139 BC) which was then deposited in an urn for counting. Voting could be successive or simultaneous, with counting and results read out either progressively or all together once the vote was complete by a magistrate, who would give the name of the candidate and break down the number of votes received by unit and tribe. There is no concrete evidence on how ballots were distributed or how or even if the qualification to vote was ever checked.

Whilst there is no specific evidence checks of voting eligibility were made, it is certainly clear that enfranchisement, particularly in the earlier years of the Republic, was jealously guarded, thus leading to one scholar to conclude that ‘it is impossible that the Romans, who were so jealous of their group voting machinery and of the timocratic class structure of the centuriate assembly, should not have taken some precautions to ensure that a citizen did not cast his vote in the wrong tribe or century nor cast it more than once.’ Some scholars have suggested that tribal leaders carried out informal checks whilst their members were waiting to vote, but as citizen numbers increased over the years this becomes improbable. It is possible some sort of identity token that contained name, tribe, and property qualification was in the possession of every citizen, which then could be shown to a rogator or custodes at some point in the voting process, much like our modern voter registration or electoral roll.

One scholar of Roman electoral processes has suggested this is a possible explanation for a coin minted in the first century BC, that it actually depicts a voter turning in an identity token, but all this is circumstantial – there is no written or physical evidence to support theory.


This coin, a denarius of Publius Nerva dated to 113-112 BC,  is probably the best depiction of voting that survives antiquity. It illustrates the process used both for the oral vote and the written vote, where the voter crossed a pons to either state his choice to a rogator or deposit the ballot on which he wrote. One voter is depositing an object into the urn used to collect ballots, whilst the other, to the left, is handing something to a rogator. This could well be an identity token used to identify an individual’s eligibility to vote. Unfortunately, as good an explanation for this image as this may be, it doesn’t make fraud prevention any clearer. There are no photo IDs, and unless the rogator is keeping a record of who has already presented their token for voting, it is impossible to prevent someone from voting twice, or passing his token on to another.

Ancient literature does provide evidence of fraud at elections, but these instances record the ballot box being stuffed (Varro Rust. 3.ii ff) or numerous ballots appearing in one handwriting (Plutarch Cat. Minor 46.2). I’ve yet to come across an account that speaks to issues of repetitive voting or voting when not legally permitted. On one level, this suggests that it isn’t recorded because it never happened. However, considering the well-documented issues of bribery and intimidation in electioneering (particularly in the later years of the Republic), I find it difficult to believe other kinds of meddling with voting processes didn’t occur.

Whilst I continue to dig for information about ancient voter fraud, let’s all hope (for the sake of my sanity if nothing else) that modern instances are nothing more than the hyperbolic ranting of a desperate candidate.



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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.

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Rock the (Female) Vote



One thing that has always been a bit of a pet peeve in my teaching of the ancient world is when students talk about both Greece and Rome as misogynist societies because women didn’t have the right to vote. Whilst I’m not denying that the ancient world was, for the most part, patriarchal by design, I’ve always found the enfranchisement of women as a rather daft piece of evidence considering that women couldn’t vote in the UK until 1918 (and even then only those over 30 with property qualifications) and in the US from 1919. It seems somewhat ridiculous to my mind to hold the ancient world to a standard that wasn’t met in modern life until the 20th century. Women in ancient Rome certainly couldn’t hold political office or vote, which we know from the laws collected by Justinian (D. 50.17.2), but there is ample evidence from Pompeii that women were very much engaged in the political process.

Amongst the electoral programmata that once covered the walls of Pompeii, there are fifty-four women supporting the candidacies of twenty-eight men. The majority of these women, thirty-three of them in fact, do so alone. That is, the dipiniti for which they are responsible is sponsored by them alone.

CIL IV 3479
Caecilium Capellam // d(uum)v(irum) i(ure) d(icundo) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) / Cornelia rog(at).
‘Cornelia begs you to elect (Lucius) Caecilius Capella duovir with judicial powers.’

Perhaps surprisingly, (see above – patriarchal society), only thirteen women offer an electoral notice with a man.

CIL IV 207
M(arcum) Cerrinium Vatiam aed(ilem) / Nymphodotus cum Caprasia rog(at).
‘Nymphodotus with Caprasia asks you to elect Marcus Cerrinius Vatia aedile.’

Four women sponsored dipinti with another woman, and two represent a larger group, as indicated by the word suis.

CIL IV 3294 = 3678
M(arcum) Casellium et L(ucium) Albucium aed(iles) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) / Statia et Petronia rog(ant) tales cives in colonia in perpetuo.
‘Statia and Petronia beg you to elect Marcus Casellius and Lucius Albucius, excellent citizens for the perpetuity of the colony, aediles.’

CIL IV 1053
Polybium / IIvir(um) Lollia / cum suis.‘Lollia, with hers, (asks you to vote) for Polybius, duovir.’

What is particularly interesting, however, is that some of the candidates who are supported by female rogators have an incredibly high proportion of these notices. Gaius Iulius Polybius, for example, is supported by six different women: Cosseia (CIL IV 10051), Cuculla (CIL IV 7841 = AE 1913: 95), Fabia (CIL IV 7189), Specula (CIL IV 7167), Vatia (CIL IV 123), and Zmyrina (CIL IV 7864 = AE 1912: 238). Another candidate popular amongst the female population of Pompeii was Gnaeus Helvinius Sabinus. He is supported by nine women – although the data may be skewed in part because he has far more surviving notices – Aegle (CIL IV 7862 = AE 1912: 236), Biria (CIL IV 9885), Caprasia (CIL IV 923), Iunia (CIL IV 1168), Maria (CIL IV 7866), Parthope (CIL IV 3403), Poppaea (CIL IV 357), Primgenia (CIL IV 3410), and Recepta (CIL IV 1083). What made these particular men so popular and seen as worthy of a magisterial position remains, unfortunately, lost in history. The programmata written by women do not differ in format from those by men, and thus give no specific clues as to why these women chose to support these men.

The evidence for women participating in the electoral process in Pompeii despite not being able to vote or run for office themselves is one that has always intrigued me, and one, as I stated at the outset, that I think challenges the idea of  women accepting a non-civically minded role in the ancient world. In the final weeks leading up to the American presidential election, the idea of the impact of women voting (or actively campaigning for male candidates) has taken on a new importance. Polls have revealed that women alone may be responsible for the defeat of Donald Trump. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but the possibility, in conjunction with the ancient evidence, demonstrates how much women are interested in politics, and always have been.


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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:


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.


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The Name Game

In recent months my research has deviated somewhat from social networks to focus more on the processes of elections in Roman Pompeii – what has become a larger project on how the evidence of campaigning remaining from the electoral dipinti can be used to glean a greater understanding of voting in both theory and practice. As a result, I have been giving a series of papers on small parts of this research. Last week I gave a paper for the Roman Discussion Forum, an informal seminar series sponsored by the Institute of Archaeology here in Oxford, looking at Roman naming conventions and the way names are used in the programmata. Interestingly enough, (and with utmost thanks to a colleague, Maria Pretzler, who first told me about this), I found a truly stunning parallel to a number of the issues facing voters in the first century AD in a senatorial race in Alaska in the 21st century.

In 2010,the incumbent senator for the state of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, chose to run on a write-in campaign after she lost the Republican party primary to Joe Miller, a member of the Tea Party. When she won the election, the fellow Republican she defeated challenged the election results all the way to the state supreme court, attempting to get thousands of ballots thrown out because Murkowski’s name was misspelled. He refuted the idea that a phonetic rendering of Murkowski’s name should be counted as a legitimate vote. As the more than ninety thousand write-in ballots were counted, his representatives questioned them if there was a y for an i, maybe no w, maybe a c instead of a k. They might have seen a smear or just loopy cursive that might — might — be subject to interpretation. As the director of the Alaska Division of Elections said, ‘Not everyone writes perfectly.’ Miller’s claims were rejected, on the basis that Alaska statutes and case law do not require perfect spelling on write-in ballots if voter intent is clear.

Murkowski was well aware of the potential problems a write in campaign would bring regarding ballots themselves, as well as the spelling of her name. She used this in her advertisements which featured mnemonic devices and spelling aids. These not only included information about how to complete a write in ballot properly, but also  featured spelling clinics and a spelling bee with a school child correctly completing her name.

As spelling ended up being the primary component of Miller’s lawsuit, Murkowski’s attempt to forestall major problems in that area is understandable. One Alaskan newspaper went so far as to question whether Miller’s lawsuit was an attempt to enforce a literacy test on voters, something that has been illegal in the United States since 1965. It was suggested this move was particularly aimed at the Native Alaskan population, as some of the districts where more than 70% of the ballots cast were write ins are primarily comprised of native residents.

Many of the issues raised in Alaska six years ago are the same problems I keep running up against in examining the political processes of campaigning and voting in a Roman town in the first century AD. Names – how they are spelled or written and by whom, whether in dipinti or on a ballot itself, literacy levels of the voting population, ballot legibility, and awareness of who a name represented are fundamental issues surrounding the casting of a vote in the ancient world. A large part of this, is how names are presented, specifically in terms of what we might expect to find, what is actually useful to the voter or the vote counter, and the reality as evidenced in the electoral programmata of Pompeii.

The majority of the electoral programmata in Pompeii are posted for men who have adopted the full tria nomina that became the standard of naming conventions by the late first century BC. (There are a limited number that date to the earliest years of the colony that consist of only two names, using praenomen and nomen.) When using the tria nomina, as Dickey has pointed out, there are eight possible permutations for what name, or combination of names, one could chose to address a Roman man:

– all three names- praenomen + nomen
– praenomen + cognomen
– nomen + cognomen
– cognomen + nomen
– praenomen
– nomen
– cognomen

Ignoring for the moment the men who campaign for magisterial office in Pompeii using four names, thus increasing the number of possible combinations (think, for example, of Gaius Calventius Sittius Magnus or Marcus Lucretius Decidianus Rufus), the number of naming options is going to have an impact on how one is presented in the dipinti advertising one’s candidacy. This is clear in many of the examples found in the electoral programmata. Lucius Popidius Secundus, a candidate for aedile in AD 79, has dipiniti that present his name in four of the possible forms, and with additional abbreviations and shortenings. His name appears as:

Lucius Popidius Secundus
Popidius Secundus
Lucius Popidius
Lucius Popidius Secum
Lucius Popid Secundus
Lucius Pop Secund
Popidius Sec


This sort of list is possible for virtually every well-documented candidate. In addition, there are a large number of single name programmata which could be attributed to this man or a number of other candidates. There are more than a hundred dipinti naming a Popidius (46 in all) or a Secundus (94 texts). Interestingly, when going with the single name option, the cognomen appears, from this example, to be preferable to the nomen. In either case, the use of a single name may be seen as a way to capitalize on epigraphic material that is not your own. Why not let the voting populace assume that you are the same Popidius that ran for office a few years before, or the same Secundus who has already been successfully elected. This concept, of using another’s name or initials to your own ends in an election, is not unheard of in the ancient literature (or even modern elections – case in point – many Americans thought they were electing George Bush the father as president, not George W. Bush the son). A discussion by Cicero of one candidate trying to bypass a step on the cursus honorum all together by having the same initials as another magistrate is, in fact, used as evidence for voting by initials only. Regardless of the form of name or how it is abbreviated, what likely seems to be of the utmost importance in getting elected was that the intent was clear on the part of the voters, and that this could be transferred from the campaign to the voting booth, much like in an Alaskan senate race.

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Duos Annos


It is now two years since I began my Leverhulme Trust funded project looking at social networks in Pompeii. Over the past year, my research has taken me off into a slightly different direction, particularly looking at some very specific aspects of political life in the ancient city, for which the way names are used is a fundamental component. Looking back at what I wrote to commemorate the first anniversary, I am pleasantly surprised by the increase in traffic, comments, and followers for this blog. To date, the site has been visited more than 18,000 times (more than twice the number of the first year), which is, frankly, astounding. I am sure this is in no small part due to the support of Blogging Pompeii and Napoli Unplugged, amongst others, who have frequently shared my posts, for which I am most grateful. I hope that the many people who come here continue to find my work interesting, as I certainly enjoy writing these posts.

And as such, as before, the five most popular posts published in the last year:

5. Losing my Religion (249)

4. Fools & Fakes (275)

3. Samnites in Pompeii (290)

2. Alma Tadema’s Imagined Connections (425)

1. Pompeii & Rome (441)

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C is (also) for Calventius

One of the first families that really piqued my interest in regards to the existence of networks in Pompeii and how they work is the gens Calventia. Part of the reason for this is confusion over how many separate individuals might have bore the name Gaius Calventius Quietus. Unlike the multi-generational occurrences of Gaius Cuspius Pansa, the evidence for the Calventii is considerably more confusing, and fragmentary. There is one example of a monumental inscription for the family, found on a tomb outside the Porta di Ercolano. The remainder of the epigraphic evidence is found in dipinti – electoral programmata for what could be the tomb occupant’s son, grandson, and / or adopted son. The fact that the man had an adopted heir actually creates more problems, as that man, known as Gaius Calventius Sittius Magnus, was born into the gens Sittia, which had other members also run for election at roughly the same time. Whose dipiniti is whose is, in some cases, impossible to determine, as is the actual number of people the dipiniti represents. I have made some attempt to tease apart this evidence, and provide some insight into the difficulty one can encounter in dealing with this material in an article that was just published in the Italian journal Athenaeum. If anyone would like a pdf of this article, please email me for a copy:

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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.

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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.

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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.





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