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.

No Shit

Not long before my trip to Italy last month, a friend asked me about a particular text in Herculaneum. Her question stirred a vague recollection, which of course piqued my curiosity. Not only did I look up the text before I went, but I went looking for it on site.

Little remains of the original painted notice, on the side of a water tower at the intersection of the decumanus and Cardo IV between Insulae V and VI:


Investigations by various scholars, including one using New Infrared Reflectography (NIRR), have revealed the existence of two notices, one painted on top of the other. The earliest, dated prior to AD 60, has been reconstructed thusly:

CIL IV 10489
M(arcus) Rufellius Robia A(ulus) Tetteius Se[verus] / IIvir[i iure] dic(undo) / b(onum) f(actum) ad laev[and – – -]pu[- – -]erte ut[- – -]ipe[- – -]e / [e]dicemus HS XX si [prim]os(?) t[- – -] praesent[- – -] HS n(ummum) servom verberibus coercueramus.
‘Marcus Rufellius Robia and Aulus Tetteius Severus, duovirs [for the administration of jusitice]. We declare a fine of 2o sesterces if free citizens […], we will punish slaves with […] lashes.

The lost portions of the text render it impossible to know what the punishment described is actually for. However, the overlaying text, dated to sometime in the years of the AD 60s to 70s, provides the missing information.

CIL IV 10488
M(arcus) [Alf]icius Pa[ul]lus / aedil(is) / is velit in hunc locum / stercus abicere nonetur n[on] / iacere si quis adver[sus ea] / i(u)dicium fecerit liberi dent / [dena]rium n(ummum) servi verberibus / [i]n sedibus admonentur.
‘Marcus Alficius Paulus, aedile, (declares): anyone who wants to throw excrement in this place is warned that it is not allowed. If someone shall denounce this action, freeborn will pay a fine of […] denarii, and slaves will be punished by […] lashes.’

In essence then, what we have is notices put up by local magistrates warning of the punishment to be meted out in any instances of dumping excrement in the vicinity of the water tower.

There are a number of things that I find really interesting about these dipinti. Whilst I am no expert on health and disease in the Roman world, my first thought was that it was potentially unusual to see a notice prohibiting the dumping of waste near a water supply. The only similar inscription that comes to mind was found on a cippi on the Esquiline Hill in Rome, dated to the first century BC:

CIL VI 31614
L(ucius) Sentius C(ai) f(ilius) pr(aetor?) / de sen(atus) sent(entia) loca / terminanda coeravit / b(onum) f(actum) nei quis intra / terminos propius / urbem ustrinam / fecisse velit neive / stercus cadaver / iniecisse velit.
‘Lucius Sentius, son of Gaius, praetor, by decree of the Senate, has ordered the fixing of this boundary. No burning (cremation) to be undertaken beyond the markers of the boundary in the direction of the city. No dumping of excrement or corpses.’

Added beneath this text in red paint, CIL VI 31615 provides an additional similarity to the text in Herculaneum, as someone added the line Stercus longe / aufer / ne malum habeas (‘Take a shit well away, if you don’t want trouble.’) The pestilent nature of the Esquiline Hill was described by Horace, who was pleased with the effort made to clean up the area, no doubt as a result of such prohibitions.

Horace Satire I.8.12-16
‘Here a pillar marked a width of a thousand feet for graves,
Three hundred deep, ground ‘not to be passed to the heirs’!
Now you can live on a healthier Esquiline and stroll
On the sunny Rampart, where sadly you used to gaze
At a grim landscape covered with whitened bones.’

The inscription from Rome, however, had nothing to do with water source, but was more in regards to the danger of fire and the stench of decaying corpses and rubbish (as well as human waste). The addition to the text suggests it was enforced. This still seems to make the notice from Herculaneum unique.

Three additional aspects of these dipinti are worth noting. First, the existence of two texts within roughly a twenty year span suggests that making the public aware of this prohibition was necessary on more than one occasion. True, the first notice could have faded to illegibility hence the idea of reissuing it, but if dumping waste by the water tower wasn’t a problem, there would have been no need. That in itself suggests this was at least a semi-regular occurrence. Second, there is the matter of the different punishments: beatings for slaves, a fine for freeborn. As callous as this sounds, it is quite logical. Freeborn offenders are more likely (in theory) to have cash available than a slave might. But the final point I wish to make goes back to the actual dumping of waste. The location of these notices on a water tower makes sense if the magistrates are interested in keeping the water source relatively clean. However, the physical location of the tower, the notice, and the topography of the immediate area makes the dumping of waste here seem like a rather odd choice. Just look:


The tower is at a crossroads between two insulae and the decumanus. The sidewalk that runs down either side of Cardo IV is quite a steep step down to the street itself, such that there is a ramp leading down to the street level (just visible behind the water tower in the photo). There isn’t actually a lot of room for dumping anything in this location. The only place that seems a likelihood is a small space at the base of the tower on the left side. This is, perhaps uncoincidentally, the only place from which the prohibition is actually visible. How or why this small space became so frequently used to dump waste that the town magistrates felt the need to post a notice outlawing it twice is, frankly, beyond me. Regardless, the repetition of the notice and the specificity of punishment makes it quite clear that the magistrates of Herculaneum took no shit. Literally.

The Oscan Epigraphic Habit

Last week’s announcement of the discovery of a Samnite tomb in Pompeii was a good indication of how much material (both pre- and post- Roman) there is still to find in the ancient city. Whilst many of us eagerly await further excavation and the scientific analysis of what has been unearthed thus far, there is one thing that will never be known about this woman: her name. The Samnites rarely, if ever, marked their graves, and certainly not with the kind of durable stone inscriptions that are found all over the Greek and Roman worlds. But this is not to say that the Samnites (or other Italic peoples) didn’t have written language, or an epigraphic habit. The survival of Oscan texts in Pompeii is actually quite significant considering that the last of the language and the people who used it were subsumed under the Roman umbrella in the first century BC.

Oscan was one of many Italic languages used in the Italian peninsula prior to the dominance of Latin. It first appears in written form on coins dated to the fifth century BC. An Indo-European language, it borrowed elements of both the Etruscan and Greek alphabets, forming a text that was written from right to left. The Pompeian inscriptions in Oscan were first published in Emil Vetter’s Handbuch der Italischen Dialekte (1953). More recently, a three volume collection edited by Michael Crawford et al, Imagines Italicae, comprehensively compiles the evidence for Italic languages from across the ancient world. Volume II contains the material from Pompeii; 147 texts in all. Some are too fragmentary to transcribe enough to translate or identify, but those that are complete include names on pots, terracotta moulds, tiles, stamps, amphora, and dolia, graffiti on exterior walls of houses, and monumental lapidary inscriptions, most often recording building works. Traditionally, these texts have been primarily used for two purposes: to understand the administration of the city in the periods before the Social War and between the fall of Pompeii and its official colonization nine years later, or to trace the involvement (or lack thereof) of indigenous families in politics through the Roman period. There have also been some attempts to use the Oscan inscriptions as evidence for a resurgence Italic nationalism in the first century AD, but this has largely been discredited by Crawford and McDonald.

There are, however, a series of texts that do seem to relate to the Sullan siege of Pompeii. Collectively known as ‘eituns’, they appear to be notices, usually painted on or near corners of insulae, that designate assembly points for members of the neighbourhood. The exact purpose of the assembly points is unknown, but the generally accepted speculation was that these were in use when the city was besieged, serving as emergency rallying points should the city walls be breached. Most of these were found under later layers of plaster, discovered only when the plaster began to flake and peel. A fairly clear example can be seen on a pilaster between the doorways of VI.6.3 and VI.6.4. This text (Pompei 3 = Ve 24) is nearly identical to one found on a pilaster between VI.2.1 and VI.2.2 near the House of Sallust, covered in antiquity with plaster:

Pompei 2 = Ve 23
Eksuk amvíanud eítuns / anter tiurrí XII íní(m) ver(u) / sarínu puf faamat / m(a)r(as) aadíriis v(ibieís)
‘The eítuns from this quarter, between the 12th tower and the Salt Gate [Porta di Ercolano], where Maras Adirius, son of Vibius, commands.’

Other mustering points and commanders named in these notices include a meeting point between the building of Ma. Castricius and Maras Spurius, where V. Sextembrius commands (Pompei 4 = Ve 25, found between VII.6.23 and VII.6.24), between tower 10 and 11 where T. Fisanius, commands (Pompei 5 = Ve 26, located between VI.12.8 and VI.12.1), and by the domus publica near the Temple of Minerva (Pompei 6 = Ve 27, on a doorpost between VIII.5.19 and VIII.5.20).

The majority of the Oscan texts that survive are dedications and commissionings of building works. The majority can be attributed to local magistrates, but one is, perhaps surprisingly, the result of the actions of one of the consuls of Rome. Despite being sixty some years prior to Roman colonisation, the consul Lucius Mummius, who presented gifts of looted booty to various cities after the sacking of Corinth in 146 BC, chose Pompeii as the recipients of one such award. A statue base in the Temple of Apollo, covered with plaster in antiquity, records the gift.


Imagines Italicae Vol. 2, p. 265. Pompei 1 = Ve 61
L(úvkis) mummis l(úvkeís) kúsúl.
‘Lucius Mummius, son of Lucius, consul.’

Another text was recovered from the Temple of Apollo, dated to circa 140 BC, which records the construction of flooring leading into the cella of the temple. This inscription is slightly unusual, as it is formed from the use of small stones laid directly into the flooring at the threshold.

Pompei 23 = Ve 18
Ú(vis) kamp[aniís 1-2 kva]ísstur kúmvbenni[e]í[s] [tanginud] appelluneís eítiuv[ad pavmentú(m) úps]annú(m) aaman[aff]ed
‘Ovius Campanius, [son of?], quaestor, [by decision] of the assembly, from the money of Apollo, had [the pavement] made.’

20150926_161608A similar medium, a pebble mosaic with text, was found on the ramp leading to the Temple of Dionysus.

Pompei 14
Ú(vis) epidiis ú(vieís) tr(ebis) meziis tr(ebieís) aídilis.
‘Ovius Epidius, son of Ovius, and Trebius Messius, son of Trebius, aediles.’

Located about one kilometer from the amphitheatre, the Doric temple at Sain’ Abbondio, dated to approximately 250-200 BC, also houses an inscribed altar with an identical Oscan text on both sides.

Pompei 16
M(a)r(as) atiniís m(a)r(aheís) aídíl suvad eítiuvad.
‘Maras Atinius, son of Maras, aedile, at his own expense.’

Other building works recorded epigraphically include road works beyond the Porta di Stabia  (Pompei 13 = Ve 8), a sundial in the Stabian Baths (Pompei 21 = Ve 12), a small tholos above a well in the Triangular Forum (Pompei 11 = Ve 15), a portico (Pompei 9 = Ve 13), honorific dedications of one sort or another (Pompei 18 = Ve 20, Pompei 24 = Ve 11 et al.) and a variety of building projects that cannot be identified. The biggest problem with the Oscan inscriptions is that many of them were re-used as building material in antiquity. Thus, the original location or structure indicated in the text is lost. An excellent example of this comes from the Porta di Nola.

20150926_150413This limetone slab, now housed in the British Museum, was used in the construction of the gate, and appears to have already been broken / damaged when it was inserted into the archway of the gate, near the keystone, and was covered with plaster. Its location renders it highly improbable that the inscription was still meant to be read, much less was actually legible in situ.

Pompei 8 = Ve 14
V(ibis) púpidiis v(ibieís) / med(dís) túv(tíks) / aamanaffed / ísídu / prúfatted
‘Vibius Popidius, son of Vibius, chief magistrate (meddix tuticus) had this built, the same person passed (it) as completed.’

The re-use of Oscan inscriptions demonstrates the fundamental fact that the language was more or less obliterated with the influx of Latin. That the Romans cared little to preserve the earlier texts is incredibly frustrating for someone like me, but understandable in the context of the ever-expanding empire of the first centuries BC and AD. Even when structures, such as the mensa ponderaria (Pompei 27 = Ve 22) which originated in the Oscan period, were maintained, alterations were made: both the measurement cavities and the text were re-formed to Latin standards in the Roman period. Regardless, the Oscan inscriptions that remain demonstrate that the epigraphic habit was hardly just a Roman one, or one that was introduced to Pompeii with colonisation. Despite the initial non-urbanised culture of the Samnite people, the evidence shows that city life, and recording its civic activities, was not limited to any one Italic population. Perhaps the best example of that comes in a final series of texts, graffiti, found around Pompeii. There are at least eight abecedaria (Pompei 74-81), which, if we view them as the Latin versions are interpreted, demonstrate children (or adults) busy learning their language. 

Pompei 78 = Ve 69, a
Pompei 78 = Ve 69, a

To my mind, there is little else that can illustrate the importance of Oscan in pre-Roman Pompeii so well.