Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.07.07

Brian K. Harvey, Roman Lives: Ancient Roman Life as Illustrated by Latin Inscriptions. Focus Classical Library.   Newburyport, MA:  Focus, 2005.  Pp. ix, 198.  ISBN 1-58510-114-1.  $9.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Peter Keegan, Macquarie University, Sydney (
Word count: 2793 words

Designed for courses on Roman civilization and as an ancillary in Latin language classes, the Focus series 'Sources from the Classical World' has previously treated the topics of Roman sport and religion.1 The current volume, the third in the series, collects one hundred and sixty three inscriptions found in the city of Rome, Italy and the provinces of the early Empire. Little knowledge of the Roman world or the Latin language is assumed. The purpose of the sourcebook is to provide the uninitiated reader with a selection of tomb epitaphs, statue bases, building inscriptions and ancient graffiti that reflect the diversity of Roman society during the first two centuries AD. To this end, the volume under review is a useful contribution, both to introducing a wider readership to the relevance of Latin inscriptions to studies of cultural relations in early imperial Rome and to the ancient epigraphic environment more broadly.2

In the introductory essay, Harvey (hereafter H.) explains the nuances of reading Latin inscriptions: the type of Latin and the basic conventions used in tomb epitaphs and honorary (esp. career) inscriptions; the published sources for inscriptions and the conventions used in the collection for epigraphic transcription; and Roman nomenclature. To the latter discussion, H. appends a list of Roman emperors to AD 238.

H.'s introduction is followed by the collection of sources. The collection is divided into ten sections. Each section is organized under a broad social rubric (lacking specific chapter numbers) and further arranged according to a variety of categories. Sources 1-82 record information about the careers of people in public positions; Sources 83-163 relate to private individuals.

Each inscription in the collection is presented according to a similar template:

(1) the name(s) of the person(s) to whom the inscription is dedicated and a brief description of status, position, occupation or other political, religious, military or social indicators;

(2) a CIL (and corresponding ILS) or AE reference, the type of inscription, a provenance and approximate or exact date;

(3) a brief or detailed prosopographical, biographical, and/or social-cultural introduction to the inscription and its subject(s);

(4) a transcript of the original inscription, followed by the unabbreviated Latin text, then a literal translation into English; and

(5) notes explaining select epigraphic, linguistic and cultural features. (H. additionally provides a summary of the senatorial careers of the subjects of Sources 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10.)

A select bibliography follows the collection. It provides the reader with a helpful range of general and specialist reference works. These introduce a variety of subjects keyed to most of the collection's organizing rubrics.

The sourcebook also provides twenty clear and relatively large black-and-white photographs of inscriptions from the period.

I will outline the content of the volume under review, then make a few comments about its usefulness and shortcomings.

Section One, 'The Aristocracy', comprises fifteen inscriptions, organized into examples of members of each of the 'aristocratic' orders: the senatorial (Sources 1-5, pp.16-25), equestrian (Sources 6-10, pp.28-35) and municipal (Sources 11-15, pp.36-42). H. outlines sequentially and succinctly the nature and offices of an imperial senator, the qualifications and categories of members of the equestrian order, and the acquisition of Roman cultural attributes by local aristocrats. The inscriptions chosen illustrate a variety of senatorial careers -- from the late 1st century BC (L. Munatius Plancus) to the early 2nd century AD (the future emperor Hadrian); the range of the equestrian career -- from a recipient of the equus publicus and member of a decuria to a Greek adlected to the senate by the emperor Vespasian; and examples of members of the local town council (a decurio and an aedile), the imperial cult (various flamines), and even a client-king of the British Atrebates. The inclusion of Pliny the Younger, Hadrian, and Sex. Afranius Burrus should please all celebrity-spotters.

Section Two, 'Religion', comprises nine inscriptions illustrating various types of religious official and attendant concerned with the performance of the state cult (Sources 16-22, pp.44-50), the imperial cult (Source 23, pp.50-51) and foreign cults (Source 24, p.52). Inscriptions in the previous section (Sources 1, 2, 4 and 5) also provide (en passant) examples of state priesthoods. H. provides a structural outline of Roman state religion, a concise entry on the worship of ruling and deified emperors in the Roman Empire, and a single sentence on foreign cult worship. The inscriptions chosen emphasize public institutions and practices in the city of Rome (the Vestales, the Lupercalia; augury, haruspicy), a Pompeian flamen perpetuus of the future emperor Nero, and an Ostian priest of Isis and Anubis.

Section Three, 'Military', describes the nature, composition and diverse membership of the Roman army. H. provides a brief outline of the common soldier's privileges and opportunities for promotion, introduces the three military forces stationed in the city of Rome (the Praetorian Guard, the urban cohorts and the uigiles), touches on the career opportunities, recruitment patterns, privileges and exemptions, and status of auxiliaries, and records deaths relating to the dangers of legionary service and of military duty in a city environment. Twenty-four inscriptions illustrate common soldiers in the legion (Source 25-27, pp.54-57) and urban garrison (Source 28-36, pp.58-66), non-citizen soldiers in the auxiliary forces (Source 37-40, pp.67-70), and military officers (Source 44-48, pp.75-82). H. includes 3 inscriptions exemplifying noteworthy deaths (Source 41-43, pp.71-73).

Section Four, 'Slaves and Freedmen', outlines the categories of slaves, their living and working conditions, their social and legal status, and opportunities for manumission. Sixteen inscriptions are included in this section, documenting the lives of urban slaves in wealthy households (Source 49-57, pp.85-90) and of a slave belonging to the state (Source 58, p.91), as well as the relationship between freed slaves (including augustales) and their patrons (Sources 59-62, pp.92-96). Two final inscriptions relate to foreigners at Rome (Sources 63 and 64, pp.96-98).

Section Five, 'The Imperial Household', enlarges on the theme of the preceding section. It comprises sixteen inscriptions (Sources 65-83, pp.99-114) illustrating the diverse nature and activities of the tens of thousands of slaves and freed persons working within the imperial palace in Rome, on imperial estates or in provincial offices scattered throughout the Roman Empire.

Section Six, 'Roman Families', leaves behind the careers of people in public positions and begins to examine the tombstones of private individuals. The eight inscriptions under this rubric (Sources 84-91, pp.116-125) are used to illustrate aspects of the structure of the Roman family as well as data about life expectancy, infant mortality, naming conventions and marriage practices. These inscriptions also reveal something of the manner in which the ancient Romans expressed affective relations within the limits of epigraphic convention.

H. begins Section Seven, 'Roman Women', with two inscriptions (Sources 92 and 93, pp.127-129). The first is the locus classicus of female verse inscriptions (CIL 1.1007, 6.15346; ILS 8403 -- the tombstone of Claudia) and the second is an example of a colonial dedication to a public benefactress. H. then provides ten inscriptions (Sources 94-103, pp.130-136) illustrating some of the occupations of women belonging to the non-elite classes in Roman society.

In Section Eight, 'Children', H. illustrates aspects of the lives and deaths of children in the Roman Empire. Ten inscriptions (Sources 104-113, pp.137-144) record expressions of parental affection, loss and grief; incidental references to the living and working conditions of pre-teen and teenage children; a range of child talents and abilities; and a few examples of unusual deaths.

Section Nine, 'The Games', depicts types of Roman entertainment in the amphitheatre, theatre and circus. Twenty-five inscriptions record the world of beast hunts and gladiatorial combat (Sources 114-129, pp.146-160), dramatic and comedic performance (Sources 130-134, pp.161-163), and chariot-racing (Sources 135-138, pp.164-168).

The twenty-five inscriptions in the final section, Section Ten, 'Men's Occupations' (Sources 139-163, pp.168-184), illustrate the specialization and variety of male work in the Roman world.

A welcome feature of this volume is H.'s logical, straightforward and well-structured explanation of the facets of Roman society introduced in each section of the catalogue. His concise overview of each broad social group -- the longest entry, on the aristocracy, is 3 pages; his shortest, a paragraph on men's occupations -- provides his audience with a foundation of elementary historical, linguistic and cultural information. It would be possible for the interested reader, in conjunction with some judicious bibliographical reference, to use this information to engage with the source material provided more directly and confidently.

Also welcome are H.'s translations of the selected inscriptions. His reading of the Latin is consistent, literal and transparent. This approach would allow H.'s intended readership to recognize in outline the structure of sepulchral and dedicatory epigraphy, to familiarize themselves with its repertoire of conventions, and to begin to appreciate the purpose and effect of any variations. With respect to the latter point, Source 39 (preserved in manuscript; the stone is lost) demonstrates that inscriptions need not always be formulaic or abbreviated, can reflect a use of Latin beyond the functional, and reveal more than structural detail about the lives of the average Roman (cf e.g. Sources 60, 64 and 87).

Of particular use to the reader is the specialist detail provided by H. in the sections of the catalogue dealing with the aristocratic orders, the military and arena entertainment.

The photographs included in the body of the catalogue are a helpful reference-point for the reader. This is particularly the case regarding photographs that relate directly to inscriptions in the catalogue (pp.33, 63, 135). The reader should be able to compare the epigraphic format as shown in the photographs with H.'s transcripts. Aspects of detail will remain obscure, but the general template should be clear. A more direct correlation between the visual and textual presentation of inscriptions would be advantageous to this collection. Brief explanatory notes and cross-references to related inscriptions could be provided in the caption spaces.

One particular feature of the catalogue should be noted. As H. observes (Preface: viii), '[t]he texts in this collection have been organized into some broad social categories...' This categorization of texts follows the Roman classification (and CIL registration) of social order. A sourcebook intended to 'reveal...the way scholars infer the facts of Roman civilization from non-literary records' (back cover) should make some mention of the ancient priorities. Why, for example, are Roman women entered as a separate category even though epigraphic instances of female representation are given in other categories -- e.g. a single example under 'Religion' (Source 16); five examples under 'Slaves and Freedmen' (Sources 49, 50, 53, 54 and 57); and three explicit examples under 'Roman Families' (Sources 86, 87 and 88)? That the sources are arranged according to a graduated social scale -- from the elite urban and municipal orders to the lower classes; from the categories of political, religious and military life to those of freed and servile labour, family life and entertainment -- represents without explicit analysis the Roman social order.

A few omissions should also be noted. There is no map of the city of Rome, of Italy or of the Roman Empire of the first two centuries AD. While the absence of maps of Italy and the Roman Empire are surmountable lacunae when attempting to triangulate the many provenances of source inscriptions, it is particularly noticeable when referring to the service careers of soldiers and officers. H. is very particular about identifying where legions were stationed, and a map would provide students and the interested reader with a valuable reference point for these citations. Similarly, the number of references in the 'Slaves and Freedmen' and 'Imperial Household' sections to the location of private tombs and columbaria along important roads in and outside Rome would justify the inclusion of a map of the city and its immediate suburbium.3

Additionally, no indices are provided for Roman and non-Roman names, Latin terms, or specialist items. Further, there is no list of CIL, corresponding ILS, or AE numbers. These indices could prove valuable as an adjunct to study for the general readership and would certainly be useful to an instructor.

Finally, H. omits a list of further reading in relation to the social categories of 'Slaves and Freedmen', 'The Imperial Household', 'Women' and 'Children'. 4

A disappointing feature of this publication is the plethora of typographical inaccuracies. While in most cases the errors are minor, their persistency detracts from the presentation of the catalogue. A list of emendments follows:

p.2 (par.2): '... access to the information contained in collection' should read 'access to the information contained in the collection'.

p.3 (par.1): 'internment' should read 'interment'.

p.8: 'enrollment' should read 'enrolment'.

p.31: Source 8: text -- 'imp' should read 'imp(eratoris)'.

p.32: Source 9: text -- 'proc(urator)' should read 'proc(uratori)'.

p.38: text -- 'Ost(einsis)' should read 'Ost(iensis)'; 'ann(nos)' should read 'ann(os)'.

p.39: text -- 'divi hadriani' should read 'divi Hadriani'.

p.48: notes 1 and 2 relating to Source 19 do not have a corresponding subscription. The relevant information is provided in a brief explanatory introduction to the inscription.

p.48 (Source 20): translation - 'son of Marcus' should read 'son of Manlius' (M'.F in the transcript).

p.49 (Source 21): introduction - 'Quirnal' should read 'Quirinal'; text - l(iberta) should read l(ibertae).

p.49 (Source 22): text -- 'l(ibertus)' should read 'l(iberti)'.

p.51 (Source 23): text -- 'Aug(sti)' should read 'Aug(usti)'; translation -- 'priest for life of the Nero Caesar' should read 'priest for life of Nero Caesar'.

p.52: text -- 'ost(iensis)' should read 'Ost(iensis)'.

p.57 (Source 27): text -- 'Billienus' should read 'Billienius'.

p.59 (Source 29): if 'lib(erti)' is correct in the full Latin text, then 'his freedman' should read 'his freedmen'.

p.75 (Source 44): translation -- '5th legion Macedonica legion' should omit second 'legion'.

p.80 (Source 47): text -- 'claud(i)' and 'britannico' should be capitalized; a note explaining the reference to 'patron of the colony' in this inscription would be useful.

p.100 (Source 65): translation -- 'freedmen' should read 'freedman'.

p.102 (Source 68): transcript -- the original inscription sets out the uicarii of Musicus Scurranus in 3 adjacent columns, not one single column.

p.104 (Source 69): text -- 'caesaris' should read 'Caesaris'.

p.107 (Source 73): translation: 'Fastus' should read 'Faustus'; 'Agathemer' should read 'Agathemerus'.

p.108n2 (Source 74): 'triclinarch' should read 'tricliniarch'.

p.109 (Source 75): translation -- 'freedmen' should read 'freedman'; n4 -- 'Coliseum' should read 'Colosseum'.

p.110 (Source 77): translation -- 'freedmen' should read 'freedman'.

p.111 (Source 78): transcript -- according to the CIL entry (6.8958), line 3 of this inscription should end with L.

p.113 (Source 82): text -- 'paeadagogus' should read 'paedagogus'.

p.115 (introduction): 'Julia Timotheus' should read 'Julius Timotheus'; the nomen Comozous alternates with usage of the transliteration Comozon (pp.123, 124).

p.116 (Source 85): text -- 'Alex{s}andri' should read 'Alex{s}a(n)dri'.

p.122 (Source 88): translation -- 'Martiloa' should read 'Martiola'.

p.123 (Source 89): text -- 'coiugi' should read 'co(n)iugi'.

p.124 (Source 90): the name of the deceased is represented as Comozon in the translation (also shown in the heading, p.123) and Comozous in n.3 without explanation; n1 -- 'proably' should read 'probably'.

p.127 (introduction): 'benificence' should read 'beneficence'.

p.128 (introduction): 'long "i" are' should read 'long "i" is'; 'The writing of epitaphs' should read 'The writing of the epitaph'; 'was meant' should read 'were meant'.

p.129n1: omit comma after 'Asia Minor'.

p.129 (introduction): 'Irenes the spinner' should read 'Irene the spinner'.

p.131 (Source 96): omit footnote number.

p.143 (Source 113): introduction -- 'in the care or another woman' should read 'in the care of another woman'.

p.144n1: omit comma after '107'.

p.147 (Source 115): text -- mer(erenti) should read mer(enti).

p.148 (Source 117): n1 -- 'Coliseum' should read 'Colosseum'.

p.149 (Source 118): translation and n.2 -- 'Fortuensis' should read 'Fortunesis'.

p.151 (Source 120): text -- 'dacus' should read 'Dacus'.

p.155 (Source 123): translation -- 'Quitillus' should read 'Quintillus'.

p.156 (Source 123): n7 -- 'had decided train' should read 'had decided to train'.

p.157 (Source 124): n1 -- 'These sense...' should read 'The sense...'.

p.170 (Source 139): transcript -- 'pal(atina tribu)' should read 'Pal(atina tribu)'; translation (and heading) -- 'Lepidus' should read 'Lepidius'.

p.170 (Source 140): n2 - 'There were' should read 'These were'; omit second 'baths'.

p.171 (Source 142): text -- 'f(lius' should read 'f(ilius)'; 'Aprhodisia' should read 'Aphrodisia'.

p.178 (Source 155): translation -- 'freedman and freedwoman' should read 'freedmen and freedwomen'.

p.179 (Source 156): n2 -- omit second 'across'.

p.179 (Source 157): transcript and text -- 'GAVIUS' should read 'CAVIUS'; text -- 'subura' should read 'Subura'.

p.184 (photograph caption): 'courtery' should read 'courtesy'.

Despite infelicities of content and presentation, H. has compiled a catalogue of Latin inscriptions that successfully introduces both the nouitius and tiro to a representative diversity of early imperial Roman society. His sourcebook will provide an easily accessed and understandable reference for undergraduate students of Roman civilization and encourage students of Latin to engage directly with a language more familiar to most Romans than Cicero or Tacitus: the rhythms and cadences of the epigraphic environment.


1.   The other issues in the series are Anne Mahoney, Roman Sport and Spectacle (2001) and Valerie Warrior, Roman Religion: A Sourcebook (2002).
2.   H.'s bibliography identifies an excellent sample of further reading on Latin epigraphy to support his introductory collection.
3.   The general bibliographical references to Cornell and Matthews' Atlas of the Roman World and Richardson's New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome could be foregrounded prominently at appropriate points in the catalogue.
4.   H.'s bibliography would benefit from the inclusion of (at least) the following three texts on categories omitted from reference: Sandra R. Joshel, Work, Identity and Legal Status at Rome. A Study of the Occupational Inscriptions (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990); P. R. C. Weaver, Familia Caesaris: A Social Study of the Emperor's Freedmen and Slaves (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972); Elaine Fantham, H. P. Foley, N. Kampen, S. Pomeroy and A. Shapiro (ed), Women in the Classical World: Image and Text (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).

Read Latest
Index for 2005
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:30:10, Friday, 03 April 2009