Posts Tagged With: Names

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.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment




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.


Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scribblers and Scholars

Last weekend I finally got around to doing one of those Oxford things that one living here should do: despite my slight tendency to vertigo I climbed the very narrow, steep and winding stairs to the top of the tower of University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Although it is believed that there has been a church in this location since Anglo-Saxon times, the current building is an assemblage of components built between the thirteenth and eighteenth century. The oldest part of the structure is the Tower, dated to 1280. Tourists (okay, and residents) climb the tower for the stunning views over the skyline of Oxford. Narrow walkways are on all four sides of the Tower, linked by small arched passageways. Within two of these corner passages, I discovered a wealth of inscribed names, initials, and dates. DSCF7643

The earliest date I found inscribed is in the above photo, 1612, carved deeply beneath a less visible 1791. An individual with the initials AR, in the upper right corner, carved his (I’m assuming) initials in 1676. The overlap of names and the wearing over time has rendered most of the scratchings fairly illegible. Whilst I have seen other churches (Gloucester Cathedral comes to mind) with graffiti inscribed by builders and craftsmen, the dates and use of the building suggest to me that the majority of these names belong to students or visitors to the university. The Tower, a few floors below this vantage point, contains the Old Library. Built in 1320, it was the first central university office and library (i.e. not college affiliated), and was used for meetings and research prior to the construction of the Bodlian Library and Divinity School, built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the latest dated inscriptions I found were from 1811, when Messrs. Stone and Godfrey carved their names, well past the time when the Tower rooms would have still been used as originally intended.


One other aspect I found quite interesting is the obvious time and care that was taken in carving these names. Many have the letters blackened, a practice similar to using red paint as was common in Roman monumental inscriptions. In addition, a close look at the lettering indicates that on many occasions there were attempts made at style – adding serifs to the letters, creating the appearance of distinct fonts and handwritings. Compare, for example, the photo below, where both the ‘R’ and initial ‘W’ of the surname have distinct serifs, difference in thickness of the lines of the lettering, and show a replication of a monumental style of inscription. This is at odds with the penciled text beneath, clearly by a more modern hand, which lacks the same level of artistry all together.


I have written before about that overwhelming desire people have to record their name, or leave a mark. It would appear that on some level, the students of Oxford in centuries past were no different. What is remarkable, at least to me, is that such effort went into carving the letters and attempting to make them visible and lasting. This suggests a desire for permanence that isn’t all that surprising – it is exactly the thing that has led people to write on walls – whether in Pompeii two thousand years ago, in a church tower in Oxford four hundred years ago, or on an underpass over the motorway today.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

F is for Festius

Whilst finishing corrections to the manuscript that became my book, I discovered that one of the funerary inscriptions carved into the city wall in an area of poor burials between the Porta di Nola and the Porta di Sarno had been misread. CIL X 8351 was read as Aulus Fistius, but is in fact, Aulus Festius. The ‘i’ is actually an ‘e’.

Photo 1.JPG

The name ‘Fistius’ doesn’t actually occur anywhere else in the Roman world, whereas Festius does – including in Pompeii. There are a series of dipinti (CIL IV 1182-1184) that record a man named Numerius Festius Ampliatus, who was a lanista, organising gladiatorial games. The most famous of the texts naming Ampliatus was written in charcoal on a tomb at the Porta di Ercolano. As this dipinto was recorded alongside an elaborate stucco decoration of games, gladiators, and wild animals, his games are believed to have been quite the spectacle.


The article that discusses my findings and the evidence for the mis-reading of the name of Festius has been published in the latest volume of Epigraphica. If anyone would like a PDF of the article, please email me here.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

E is for Epidius

The letter E has been a bit of a dilemma for me – there aren’t many gentilicium that begin with this letter – but there are two that are considered to be families of distinction. What is somewhat remarkable about both of them – the Epidii and the Eumachii  – is that they have a reputation for importance in Pompeian scholarship, yet the evidence is actually somewhat scarce, but in different ways. The Eumachii are known almost entirely because of one person, whereas the Epidii are known primarily from a single place – the family burial plot. The idiosyncratic nature of the evidence for the evidence thus made me decide to derive from form and write about both.

The Epidii are one of the families of what are typically termed ‘indigenous’ Pompeians – that is – their presence in Pompeii pre-dates the time of Roman colonisation in 80 BC. There is some connection between the family name and a god of the river Sarnus. Members of the family are attested in the Sabellian period in some Oscan inscriptions. Castrén claims, somewhat dubiously, twenty-nine individuals that belong to the gens Epidia. (A number of these names are only partially recorded in the witness lists of the tablets of Iucundus, and thus there could be some duplication in Castrén’s prosopography). The most well known member of the family is Marcus Epidius Sabinus, who was a magistrate in the Flavian period. There are numerous dipinti supporting his campaigns for both aedile (which he won) and later for duovir. What is noteworthy about his electoral programmata is the inclusion of an endorsement of an agent of the emperor Vespasian in six of his notices.

CIL IV 768 = ILS 6438d
M(arcum) Epidium Sabinum d(uumvirum) i(ure) dic(undo) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) dig(nus) est / defensorem coloniae ex sententia Suedi Clementis sancti iudicis / consensu ordinis ob merita eius et probitatem dignum rei publicae faciat / Sabinus dissignator cum Plausu facit.
‘I beg you to elect Marcus Epidius Sabinus duovir with judicial powers, he is worthy. May you elect one who is a protector of the colony according to the opinion of Suedius Clemens, the worshipful judge, and by agreement of the council on account of his merits and his honesty, worthy of public office. Sabinus, the theatre official, elects him with applause.’

There are at least ten different freedmen whose names appear in the wax tablets of Iucundus that belong to the gens Epidia. This in itself is a testament to the apparent size of the family: the tablets are dated to a decade from the 50s to 60s AD, so document a fairly short period of time in which there were ten or more male freedmen of sufficient status to serve as witnesses to financial transactions. None of these men are attested anywhere else in the epigraphic record except Marcus Epidius Hymenaeus, who also appears in electoral notices as a rogator (CIL IV 7509, 7692) and has recorded his name on the walls of the city (CIL IV 9517, 9518.1-5).

What is particularly striking about this family, however, is their funerary evidence. In the early twentieth century, an area was found approximately five hundred meters from the Porta di Stabia, which upon excavation, revealed the burials of more than one hundred and sixty individuals, believed to all be members of the Epidii family. Known as Fondo Azzolini, this four hundred square meter area features two types of burial: inhumation and cremation. Forty-four of the burials are relatively simple interments of corpses in stone lined graves, following the tradition of pre-Roman burial typical of the Samnite period. The remainder consist of burial of urns containing cremated remains, the use of terracotta libations tubes, and grave markers in the form of columellae. Made primarily of tufa and limestone, they are fairly rough in design in comparison to the marble variants found in the city, and many of them are inscribed. In his publication on the original excavation, Matteo Della Corte (NSA 1916: 287-309) recorded funerary epitaphs on thirty-two of the Roman era burials.


Like so many of those whose name appear as witnesses on the wax tablets, those recorded in the funerary inscriptions are unattested elsewhere in Pompeii. However, based on the nomenclature, the majority appear to belong to slaves, women, and freedmen, so it probably is little surprise that these individuals are otherwise unknown. What this does, though, is clearly illustrate the extended nature of the Roman family. Many also record their ages, which is not unusual in practice, particularly for those who die young, but is nevertheless disproportionately high in occurrence in comparison to other burial areas in Pompeii. Some examples:

NSA 1916: 302.4
M(arcus) Epidius / Monimus / vix(it) ann(is) XXX.
‘Marcus Epidius Monimus lived thirty years.’

NSA 1916: 302.7b
Livia Calliope / v(ixit) ann(is) XXX.
‘Livia Calliope lived thirty years.’

NSA 1916: 303.23
Liberalis / vixit XVII / annis.
‘Liberalis lived seventeen years.’

NSA 1916: 303.66
M(arcus) Epidius / Dioscorus.
‘Marcus Epidius Dioscourus.’

NSA 1916: 303.110
Epidiae / Veneriae.
‘To Epidia Veneria.’

Ultimately, what I find fascinating about the Epidii, is that unlike many of the other prominent families of Pompeii, far more epigraphic evidence survives for the freedmen and slaves of the family than for the men who would have served as owners and patrons. Because so many are to be found in the family’s burial area, it begs the question whether the more elite members of the family were also interred therein, or have the monumental tomb that would be expected of those of their status elsewhere. The fact that Marcus Epidius Sabinus, when running for office, is the sole evidence of support coming from an external magistrate, much less one in the employ of the emperor, suggests that this was a family to be reckoned with. That they had power and prestige is clear, as is the wealth they must have possessed as demonstrated by the number of slaves and freedmen attested. That they are so unobtrusive in the epigraphic record is an anomaly in comparison to other magisterial families.  I, of course, want to know why. Short of finding another tomb or burial area (hang on, I’ll get my trowel!) I’m afraid we’ll never know.



Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

E is for Eumachius


The letter E has been a bit of a dilemma for me – there aren’t many gentilicium that begin with this letter – but there are two that are considered to be families of distinction. What is somewhat remarkable about both of them – the Epidii and the Eumachii – is that they have a reputation for importance in Pompian scholarship, yet the evidence is actually somewhat scarce, but in different ways. The idiosyncratic nature of the evidence thus made me decide to derive from form and write about both.

In the case of the Eumachii, it is an issue of quality over quantity. There are only four members of the family who are actually known from thirty inscriptions. Twenty-one of these texts are found on stamps on tiles, bricks, and amphorae. Robert Étienne once suggested the family was involved with viticulture, which, if true, would naturally lead to involvement with the amphorae industry as well. These stamps potentially name two different members of the family. The majority are attributed to Lucius Eumachius (CIL X 8042.47a-b, 47d-f, 47h-i, 47k-s). Nothing further is known of this man, although he is typically thought to be the father of Eumachia. Inscriptions relating to her (see below) name her father as Lucius, and his use of two names rather than than full tria nomina suggests a Republican date, which would fit chronologically with his daughter’s rise to prominence in the Augustan period. The remaining stamps (CIL X 8042.48c-g) belong to Lucius Eumachius Erotis. The cognomen Erotis is typically associated with slaves, which makes it plausible that this man was a freedman of the family who came to operate the tile manufacturing business. He is named in one further text, a graffito found in the House of Fabius Rufus (VII.16.22). What I find remarkable about this is that if the drawing is correctly rendered, the graffito closely resembles the style of a stamp as found on a clay object:


$IFabioRufo_00005 (1)

Fabio Rufo 77.


There are six texts that name the gens Eumachia  found in two locations: the eponymous Building of Eumachia (VII.9.1) in the Forum, and her tomb, in the necropolis outside the city at the Porta di Nocera. Eumachia lived during the Augustan period, was a public priestess, and built one of the largest buildings in the Forum during a period of redevelopment that also saw the erection of a temple by her fellow priestess, Mammia. The dedicatory inscription for the building repeats in two locations:

CIL X 810
Eumachia L(uci) f(ilia) sacerd(os) publ(ica) nomine suo et / M(arci) Numistri Frontonis fili(i) chalcidicum cryptam porticus Concordiae / Augustae pietati sua pe<c>unia fecit eademque dedicavit.
CIL X 811
[Eumachia] L(uci) f(ilia) sacerd(os) pub[l(ica)] // [nomine su]o et M(arci) Numistri Front[onis] // [fili(i) c]halcidicum cr[yptam] // por[ticus] // [Con]cordiae Augusta[e pietati] // [sua pec]unia fec[it] // [ea]demque dedicavit.
‘Eumachia, daughter of Lucius, public priestess, in her own name and that of her son, Marcus Numistrius Fronto, built  the chalcidicum, crypt and portico at her own expensein honour of Augustan Concord and Piety and also dedicated them.’

Other inscriptions from the building include a further dedication with priestesses of Ceres (CIL X 812), and the honourific text found on the base of her statue (pictured above):

CIL X 813
Eumachiae L(uci) f(iliae) / sacerd(oti) publ(icae) / fullones.
‘Eumachia, daughter of Lucius, public priestess, the fullers (set this up).’

The tomb itself is sparse, epigraphically speaking. The primary dedication is split across two limestone tablets embedded in the façade of the tomb:

D’Ambrosio & De Caro 11OS
Eumachia / L(uci) f(ilia) // sibi et suis.
‘Eumachia, daughter of Lucius, for herself and hers.’

There are a number of columella associated with this tomb, but only one that names a member of this family.

D’Ambrosio & De Caro 11OS
L(ucius) Eumachius / Aprilis / vix(it) ann(is) XX.
‘Lucius Eumachius Aprilis, lived twenty years.’

Again, the cognomen suggests a freedman rather than a freeborn member of the family. Only one other family member is attested in the epigraphic record. Lucius Eumachius Fuscus is recorded in two texts put up by a number of Augustales, dedicated to the cult of Mercury, Maia, and Augustus (CIL X 899, 900). He is listed in the inscriptions as part of the fasti, which names the consuls in Rome and the men serving Pompeii as duoviri and aedilis in the year AD 32. He was an aedile. Castrén speculates that he is the brother of Eumachia, but it is not at all clear from the evidence. He could just as easily be the son of a freedmen, such as Lucius Eumachius Erotis, the tile maker. There is no record of the family later than AD 32.

What is interesting here, is that for all intents and purposes, the epigraphic record for the Eumachii family is relatively small. The majority of it comes from stamps on tiles and amphorae – not texts that usually garner much attention when scholars discuss the prominent families of the ancient city. The high status awarded this family is, in reality, down to the prominence of a single building. That Eumachia was able to not only fund such a large scale building project, but also able to obtain the central location it holds in the Forum, is the sole factor contributing to the reputation given to the family for their power, influence, and wealth. Her tomb, being the largest in the city, may contribute to this some as well. But what both of these projects indicate is an extreme amount of disposable wealth, not political power, nor influence of a tangible nature. It is entirely possible that the Eumachii themselves were of little significance in the social and political landscape of Pompeii. Eumachia’s euergetism may be the result of nothing more than a lucky marriage. Her husband, Marcus Numistrius Fronto, served as duovir in AD 1/2 and then died, likely leaving her incredibly wealthy. It has long been speculated that her building programme was thus intended to pave the way for their son’s entry into local politics. If she was successful in this endeavour, there is no record of it. In reviewing the epigraphic material left by her family, I can’t help but wonder if the name Eumachia would be known at all, much less be one that is so central to Pompeian studies, were it not for that one inscription that names her as the sponsor of a building.



Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

D is for Decidius

Unlike some letters, there are not many examples of family names found in Pompeii that begin with a D. There is one, however, the Decidii, that though small in terms of the epigraphic material, is rather interesting for the fact that one member appears to be the subject of adoption. Generally speaking, in the Roman world, adoption was not something that concerned young children, but was an act carried out in adulthood in order to create a male heir when there was none. This could be for financial or political reasons, but was, in most cases, an attempt to create a legacy, perpetuating a family name when no male issue existed. Typically, this was done when one had something besides just a name to leave behind – wealth, power, or influence. This appears to be the case for a Decidius, who through adoption becomes the first (epigraphically) known member of another gens, one that eventually is one of the most powerful in Pompeii.

According to Castrén, the gens Decidia was of Sabellian (i.e. Samnite) origin, indigenous to the region. There are attestations of at least seven members of the family. These are dated in the Augustan and Neronian periods – so presumably represent at least two generations of the family, possibly three.

The earliest attestation of a Decidius comes from a dedicatory inscription dated to AD 3 which names Marcus Decidius Faustus, the freedmen of two men named Marcus – likely a father and son.

CIL X 892 = ILS 6393 = AE 2000: 293
Messius Arrius / Silenus / M(arcus) Decidius MM(arcorum) l(ibertus) / [- – – F]austus VNG / min(istri) Augusti / M(arco) Numistrio Frontone / Q(uinto) Cotrio Q(uinti) f(ilio) d(uum)v(iris) i(ure) d(icundo) / M(arco) Servilio L(ucio) Aelio / Lamia co(n)s(ulibus).
Messius Arrius Silenus, Marcus Decidius Faustus, freedman of Marcuses, perfumer, ministers of Augustus. To Marcus Numistrius Fronto, Quintus Cotrius, son of Quintus, duovirs with judicial power, to Marcus Servilius and Lucius Aelius Lamia, consuls.

A child of this family is found in one of the city’s necropoleis. Inscribed on a columella associated with a large group burial area to the east of Porta di Nocera, it is difficult to date firmly, but is most certainly from the Augustan period or later.

AE 1990: 186d
M(arcus) Decidius / M(arci) f(ilius) / Macer v(ixit) a(nnos) VIII.
‘Marcus Decidius Macer, son of Marcus, lived 8 years.’

In the Neronian period, Marcus Decidius Pauper (CIL IV 3340.107) is the first witness on one of the tablets of Iucundus. He is only known from this single text, so little can be said about him, except that the first witness on one of these documents is generally considered to be of high esteem. There is further evidence of members of the gens in a series of graffiti. These cannot, unfortunately, be dated clearly at all. One (CIL IV 10329) names a man called Decidius Successus, who is otherwise unattested. The other, found amongst the hundreds of texts scribbled on the columns of the palaestra, says:

CIL IV 8740
L(ucius) Dec[i]d[i]us / XXX.
‘Lucius Decidius 30.’

This is the first mention of a Decidius who does not have the praenomen Marcus, but it is not the only one. Though it is a bit of a leap to suppose it is the same Lucius, two texts, found in the Forum, dedicated to the most prominent member of the gens names a Lucius as his father.

CIL X 952
M(arcus) Lucretius L(uci) f(ilius) Dec[i]d(ianus) Rufus dec(reto) dec(urionum).
‘Marcus Lucretius Decidianus Rufus, son of Lucius, by decree of the decurions.’

ILS 6363a = AE 1898: 143
M(arcus) Lucretius L(uci) f(ilius) Dec(idianus) Rufus / IIvir iter(um) quinq(uennalis) / trib(unus) milit(um) a populo / praefect(us) fabr(um).
‘Marcus Lucretius Decidianus Rufus, son of Lucius, duovir, quinquennalis, military tribune of the people, praefectus fabrum.’

The relationship between Marcus Lucretius Decidianus Rufus and the Marci Lucretii named above is unclear, but he also dates to the Augustan / early Julio-Claudian years. What is clear is that whilst he began his life, and presumably came of age, as a member of the gens Decidia, he was at some point, adopted into the gens Lucretia. This is evident from his name. The suffix -ianus was typically added to the original nomen of the adoptee, and it would shift to follow the nomen of the new family into which he was adopted. Usually, this meant also incorporating the cognomina of the adoptive man, unless he had none. In this case, Rufus is likely the cognomon of the Lucretius who adopted Marcus Decidius. This man, unfortunately, is otherwise unattested.

The adoption seems to be one that allowed a man from a seemingly small and relatively obscure family to gain the connections (and likely finances) that allowed him to raise to the upper echelons of Pompeian politics. Marcus Lucretius Decidianus Rufus served in numerous offices, was honoured with multiple statues and dedications in the Forum, including some that were granted posthumously, and is only one of two men known to have served as pontifex in Pompeii (the other being Gaius Cuspius Pansa II).

CIL X 789 = ILS 6363c
M(arco) Lucretio Decidian(o) / Rufo IIvir(o) III quinq(uennali) / pontif(ici) trib(uno) mil(itum) a populo / praef(ecto) fabr(um) ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) / post mortem.
‘To Marcus Lucretius Decidianus Rufus, duovir three times, quinquennalis, pontifex, military tribune of the people, praefectus fabrum, by decree of the decurions after his death.’

What perhaps is particularly interesting about this man is that he is the first epigraphically known member of the gens Lucretia in Pompeii. The Lucretii will come to dominate political and civic life in the Neronian and Flavian periods, when Decimus Lucretius Satrius Valens and his son Decimus Lucretius Valens were holding both magisterial and religious offices and providing lavish gladiatorial games.

The importance of Marcus Lucretius Decidianus Rufus as an ancestor is evident. One member of the family, the last attested belonging to the gens Decidia, Marcus Decidius Pilonius Rufus, is responsible for restoring monuments to his predecessor both in the Forum and the Temple of Isis after the earthquake in AD 62.

image004 (1)

CIL X 788 = ILS 6363b
M(arco) Lucretio Decidian(o) / Rufo d(uum)v(iro) III quinq(uennali) / pontif(ici) trib(uno) militum / a populo praef(ecto) fabr(um) / M(arcus) Pilonius Rufus.
‘To Marcus Lucretius Decidianus Rufus, duovir three times, quinquennalis, pontifex, military tribune of the people, praefectus fabrum. Marcus Pilonius Rufus (set this up).’

CIL X 851 = ILS 6363d = AE 2000: 296
M(arcus) Lucretius Decid(ianus) / Rufus IIvir III quinq(uennalis) / pontif(ex) trib(unus) mil(itum) / a populo praef(ectus) fab(rum) / M(arcus) Decidius Pilonius / Rufus reposuit.
‘Marcus Lucretius Decidianus Rufus, duovir three times, quinquennalis, pontifex, military tribune of the people, praefectus fabrum. Restored by Marcus Decidius Pilonius Rufus.’

What I find interesting is the fact that these two monuments were restored by relative of his birth family and not of the adoptive family. Considering the importance of the Lucretii in the period when this restoration occurred, the likely scenario is that the Decidii, who never gained the same prominence as their ancestor’s adoptive family, took it upon themselves to elevate their  social standing by re-establishing the familial link between the two gens by reminding their fellow Pompeians that one man was responsible for the origin of the current generations of both families.




Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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)

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Post No Bills

Last night, BBC4 aired a documentary entitled ‘A Brief History of Graffiti.’ Presented by art historian Richard Clay, the programme explored not just the technical definition of graffiti (scratched, or inscribed texts or images such as those found in Pompeii), but all manner of markings left behind by someone who wanted to leave some trace of their existence. I’ve written before about the ubiquitous nature of recording one’s presence across millennia and thousands of miles. This habit is one hardly limited to the ancient Romans that are the focus of my research, and this programme illustrated this point over and over again.

When one defines graffiti as broadly as possible, as a man-made mark of some kind – painted, scratched, stenciled, written or figural – it quickly becomes clear that the claim that graffiti can be found wherever humans go is a truism. For the purposes of this programme, that ranges from the 30,000 year old cave paintings of southern France to modern street art in New York City. What remains the same is the urge to do this: what one NY graffiti artist referred to as an ‘innate human impulse’ to leave some trace behind. This is true of all the work profiled, whether the graffiti of local rivalries in Pompeii, the words of the revolutionaries of the Commune du Paris of the 1870s on the walls of the catacombs, or the images of the architect turned stencil artist Blek le Rat, whose work has inspired a whole generation of artists.

The element that has perhaps changed over time, again and again, is the attitude towards leaving such marks. A figure of a gladiator complete with sword, shield, and number of victories was inscribed on a wall inside a house in third century Lyon. This suggests a level of not just acceptance but permission for such a thing to appear. This is contradicted in the reaction to what Dr. Clay refers to as the industrialisation of graffiti, that is, the development of lithography and mass produced posters, in nineteenth century France when ‘défense d’afficher’ begins to appear on buildings. This attitude of viewing graffiti as subversive, revolutionary, vandalism, and a challenge to the status quo continues through the twentieth century, but certainly has no real effect on the production of graffiti. Indeed, despite this, street artists who once were at the vanguard of the underground movement, known for acts such as painting entire NYC subway cars, are now shown in galleries, painting on canvas, and selling their art. This is perhaps best illustrated by the ongoing exhibit of Terrains Vagues at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, which developed a specific space for collaborative work by a number of graffiti artists.

What struck me again, repeatedly, throughout the programme, and indeed as I continue with my own research on inscriptions, is this need to record one’s place in the world, as however fleeting as that might be. I find something oddly comforting in the idea that this is an element of human nature, a shared need to leave one’s mark. It makes me want to buy some paint and find a blank wall to make my own.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at

Endangered Syria Heritage

Photographs of Roman Syria

Ancient Noise

Sound & Urban Studies in Antiquity

A Guide-Blog to Rome

– a millenium of guide-books to Rome

Katherine McDonald

Classics, Ancient History, Linguistics, Academia and more


ancient and modern people-watching with historian Kate Cooper

The Alternative Reading List Project

What voices aren't you hearing?

Greek Myth Comix

Explaining the Greek myths, one comic at a time

Dante for All

Reading Dante at Any Age

Monuments of Roman Greece

Statues, space and power in the ancient world


The marginalia of an easily distracted Classicist


Blogging through my PhD in Roman Religion.

History From Below

Musings on Daily Life in the Ancient and Early Medieval Mediterranean By Sarah E. Bond

Roberta Mazza

Faces & Voices: People, Artefacts, Ancient History

Sophie Hay

Just an archaeologist who lived in Rome

Sunday Sol Day by Classics Collective

Your weekly Classics news round-up and comment