Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.10.42

Alison Cooley (ed.), The Epigraphic Landscape of Roman Italy.   London:  Institute of Classical Studies (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies Supplement 73), 2000.  Pp. xiv + 212.  ISBN 0900587849.  L45.  

Contributors: Guy Bradley, Fay Glinister, Edward Bispham, Mark Pobjoy, Valerie Hope, Benet Salway, Alison Cooley

Reviewed by David Noy, University of Wales Lampeter, U.K. (
Word count: 1293 words

This volume is the result of a conference held at Oxford in May 1998, whose proceedings have been published with admirable speed. Most of the papers set out to use inscriptions for topographical studies (although two have an Italy-wide scope), and to interpret them according to their complete physical appearance, not just their texts.

In the first paper, "The colonization of Interamna Nahars", Bradley suggests that this town in Umbria (modern Terni) was founded as a Latin colony (incorporating an existing community), rather than a Roman one as has usually been assumed. The argument is based on archaeological evidence for the walls and the layout of the town and the epigraphically attested existence of the quattuorvirate there after the Social War. The "greatest dangers and difficulties" from which, according to an inscription, a senatorial patron rescued the town in the late Republic could be a water dispute with Reate, or a proposed confiscation of land for veteran colonization.

Glinister, in "The Rapino Bronze, the Touta Marouca, and sacred prostitution in early Central Italy", argues that the Marrucine inscription known as the Rapino Bronze is not, as has recently been claimed, evidence for the institution of sacred prostitution in a cult of Jupiter, but simply, as was previously believed, a set of regulations for how a religious festival should operate. She goes on to demolish other alleged evidence for the existence of sacred prostitution in Italy.

Bipsham's paper, "Carved in stone: the municipal magistracies of Numerius Cluvius", discusses whether two inscriptions, CIL X 1572 and 1573, refer to the same man, a Numerius Cluvius who held magistracies at Capua, Nola and other places, or to two different Cluvii. He concludes that, as Mommsen originally supposed, the inscriptions refer to the same man, and proposes slightly altered readings which restore the town of Cales as the venue for magistracies in both inscriptions. This is all perfectly acceptable and convincing, but I was not sure that it really needed a thirty-seven page article to uphold an argument of Mommsen's which no-one seems seriously to have contradicted.

Pobjoy takes on a rather broader topic: "Building inscriptions in Republican Italy: euergetism, responsibility and civic virtue". He compares obviously euergetistic inscriptions where the benefactor is specifically said to have used his own money with others where a magistrate has carried out the instructions of the local authority. His interest is the grey area in between, where local magistrates acted according to a legal obligation but did not specify in the inscription that they were doing so, giving a false impression of euergetism. In most cases it was probably the officials themselves who decided how to word the inscription. The original readership might be well aware that a building had been erected as a requirement of office rather than a voluntary benefaction, but they could still give credit to the person responsible, and the official would also want to record that he had performed his duty. This paper gives an important reminder of the dangers of reading too much into what an inscription does not say. A magistrate in an Italian town did not need to use his limited epigraphic space to spell out what would have been obvious to the rest of the town.

Hope's paper is also a wide-ranging one: "Fighting for identity: the funerary commemoration of Italian gladiators". Historians using epigraphic evidence usually aim to reconcile it with what is known from literature, but in the case of gladiators the epigraphy contradicts the literature. On the basis of literary evidence it would never occur to anyone that gladiators had tombstones like other people's, particularly like soldiers', showing career details and professional pride, where the title of the style of fighter, such as retiarius or Thracian, took the place of an epithet and was often abbreviated like epithets were. Yet this is the picture which Hope is able to draw from studying how they were commemorated. As she points out, the many recent studies of gladiators have concentrated on the audience rather than the gladiators themselves, but she is able to illuminate some otherwise obscure aspects of their world. It seems that gladiators, like skilled slaves, saw their work as part of their identity. In some respects, their burial practices may have been different: there is only one memorial specifically said to be set up for a gladiator by himself while still alive. There may have been legal restrictions on where gladiators (as people of very low legal and moral status) could be buried, but there are few cases where the original context of a gladiator's burial is known for certain. Some epitaphs show that gladiators had a sort of family life. A few of the tombstones record retired gladiators, and it might be worth asking (although the question is presumably unanswerable) whether it was normal for retired gladiators to be commemorated like active ones, or whether their tombstones might deliberately avoid any reference to their earlier lives.

The book returns to studies of specific localities with Salway's "Prefects, patroni, and decurions: a new perspective on the album of Canusium", which discusses CIL IX 338, a bronze plaque of AD 223 listing the patrons and councillors of Canusium (now Canosa). However, this is an inscription of much more than local significance because some of the patrons were men of empire-wide significance. Although the content was apparently likely to become out-of-date very quickly, it seems that the plaque was still on display in 235, when the name of one of the town's senatorial patrons was erased because of his damnatio memoriae. The reason for its original installation may have been imperial permission to expand the town's ordo decurionum. The councillors are listed according to the highest office they held, and within each group the most senior is listed first. The last two groups are pedani and praetextati, which Salway believes are respectively councillors adlected without holding magistracies and young men who had not yet held magistracies; members of both groups would be the only people eligible to stand for office in the next five years. The inscription lists a large number of senatorial patroni of Canusium, and much of the paper comprises a detailed prosopographical discussion of four men at the head of the list who have been identified as Praetorian Prefects; the book's title will not exactly encourage the unwary to look for that sort of material here. Salway argues (following Pflaum) that these patrons are listed in order of their importance in the imperial hierarchy in 223.

Finally, Cooley on "Politics and religion in the Ager Laurens" studies the local government of the area just south of Rome, especially the town of Lavinium, a place of some sentimental importance to Rome in which Claudius seems to have taken a particular interest. The epigraphic picture is complicated by the existence of a group of equestrian Laurentes Lavinates with an honorific religious status but limited connection to the town itself. She discusses in detail the recently rediscovered CIL XIV 2071, a building inscription erected by the "Laurentine senate and people" with a thanksgiving to "Divus Pius," which she dates to the first third of the fourth century, a time when Lavinium still seems, contrary to the general opinion, to have been thriving.

There is a slightly odd feature of the book's typesetting: the section headings within each paper are set in exactly the same type as the rest of the text, and are therefore not easy to identify. Otherwise the book is well produced, with footnotes and an index of sources giving both CIL and ILS numbers. It provides a number of very useful examples of how a careful study of inscriptions, individually or in groups, can throw light on otherwise unknown aspects of the history of Roman Italy.

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