Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.12.20 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.12.20

Georges Fabre, Jacques Lapart, Inscriptions latines d'Aquitaine (ILA): Auscii. Inscriptions latines d'Aquitaine, 9.   Bordeaux:  Ausonius Publications, 2017.  Pp. 233.  ISBN 9782356131935.  €40,00.  

Reviewed by David A. Wallace-Hare, University of Toronto (

The latest volume in the epigraphic corpus series Inscriptions latines d’Aquitaine (hereafter, ILA), lives up to the high standard set by its previous volumes, playing out a consistent pattern of improvement with each new instalment. The volume’s greatest attraction, its inclusive methodology, is shared with its 2015 predecessor ILA: Landes et Pyrénées-Atlantiques, in which one of the editors of the current volume, Georges Fabre, also took part. These latest volumes of the series, dealing with those areas of southern Aquitania (southwest France) close to the Basque country of northern Spain and south-western France, mark a shift towards greater collaboration between scholars working on ancient Basque-related, Vasconic, languages, such as Aquitanian (mostly writing in Spanish) and those working on Aquitanian archaeology (primarily French speakers).

In terms of its price (€40), it is a relative bargain considering the wealth of data inside. The introduction is especially useful, as is the comprehensive bibliographic information on individual inscriptions. That said, the publisher, Ausonius Publications, has philanthropically made the inscriptions of the current volume and all previous volumes of ILA accessible online, digitizing all individual entries using EpiDoc. The volumes can be found at PETRAE.

Digital editions have been something requested by previous reviewers of ILA volumes. John Drinkwater requested this when reviewing another volume in the series for the Classical Review and Hagith Sivan did so in her review of ILA Bordeaux as recently as 2011 (BMCR 2011.02.41). 1 The introductions, however, one of the most important features of these volumes, are not free to view. Since the volumes’ inscriptions are openly accessible along with their much-needed bibliographic updates, and since only three of the 117 inscriptions are unpublished (nos. 82a-c, all fragmentary between 1-2 letters in length), mostly in CIL or AE, the bulk of the present review will focus on the expansive introduction.

For a catalogue of 117 inscriptions, the introduction is large (13-84), but necessarily so given the linguistic and cultural complexities of the area. The opening subsection of the introduction examines what is known of the pre-Roman Auscii (13-16) and the infrequency of their demonym Auscii in epigraphic texts. The discussion is importantly prefaced by an examination of the name of the Auscii, entering into the debate of how non-Indo-European Aquitanian fits into the linguistic tapestry of the area. The problematic origin of their name is discussed, which may derive either from Gaulish aus(i) “ear” (Delamarre) or more likely ausc-, which is to be related to Euskara, the modern name of the Basque language (misspelled with 2 rs as Euskarra in the ILA volume), representing an early form of the word.2

The reader receives a good introduction to the formation and subsequent urbanization and commercialization of the Roman town that developed there during the Roman period (16-34), mostly thanks to the riverine basis of the local economy. The section builds on the expert knowledge of Jacques Lapart who coauthored the Carte archéologique de la Gaule (hereafter CAG) volume on the same area, which treated the archaeological remains for the Auscii during the Roman period.3 There follows a section on the types of monuments on which inscriptions in the area appear (34-29), concluded by a useful section on lapidary issues and inscription quality (39-41).

From an epigraphic perspective, one of the most important sections of the introduction is also one of the most sizeable, namely onomastics in the territory of the Auscii. While analysis of Latin nomina and cognomina in the area is routine and of the usual high quality found in the series, what makes this volume particularly outstanding are the subsections on Gaulish and Aquitanian names (44-48).

The onomastic section itself is prefaced by two important pronouncements. According to the editors, onomastic studies concerning southern Aquitania have generally led to two “observations sometimes transformed into certainties” (42). These are, first, that the domination of an Aquitanian substrate is noticeable from the epigraphic record of the area, something also noted by ancient commentators such as Caesar and Strabo (Caesar B.G.1.1.1-2; Strabo 4.1). Secondly, the editors argue that a process of Latinization of indigenous names is visible in the epigraphic record as early as the 1st century CE. The editors wisely qualify these rather general conclusions, noting that we should not reduce study of non-Roman populations to a model of resistance vs. non-resistance. Rather, when studying the onomastic tendencies of Aquitanian or Gaulish speakers, it should not immediately be with an eye to what Latinizing elements feature in the names they choose. Instead, these tendencies should be studied for their own sake, since they reflect Aquitanian and Gaulish features as much as they do Latin ones. This methodological principle is evident in every entry featuring Gaulish or Aquitanian names. The editors consistently employ works now standard in Continental Celtic and Aquitanian onomastic scholarship, namely Xavier Delamarre’s Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise and Joaquín Gorrochategui’s Estudio sobre la onomástica indígena de Aquitania en relación con la de las zonas vecinas.4

This methodological stance is demonstrated in practice in two subsections within this discussion of onomastics. In a section titled “Gaulish-type names” (44-47), the editors point out that although we find 21 individuals bearing clearly Gaulish names in this predominantly Aquitanian-speaking area, it is unclear when and how these individuals arrived there. Further, it is unclear whether they were the descendants of the families of individuals who had arrived previously during the conquest of Aquitania by Caesar or afterwards, being attracted by the “nouveaux développements notamment économiques” that had happened concomitantly with Augustus’ reordering of the area. The editors rightly point out that lack of traditional documentation makes answering such a question difficult. They do, however, offer some workable hypotheses in the form of onomastic arguments revolving around filiation traditions among mixed Aquitano-Gallic families attested in the area, showing, by and large, a demonstrable process of ‘Aquitanization’ of Gaulish names. The editors conclude that the territory of the Auscii was a sort of crucible where such onomastic intermixture was common.

The ensuing subsection, on Aquitanian names effectively highlights several important identifying elements, like the aspiration of the letter h even in the middle of a word (one of the most noticeable features of Aquitanian). To generate this list of Aquitanian name features, the editors relied on two pillars of Aquitanian onomastic scholarship, utilizing Gorrochategui’s 1984 opus, among his other contributions to the study of ancient Vasconic languages, and the work of his PhD supervisor, Luis Michelena, whose pioneering 1954 article in the journal Pirineos began the study of Aquitanian onomastics.5

Immediately following the onomastic section is an unusually placed series of sections on notable figures and proprietors (52-60), issues concerning epitaphs (60-63), religious inscriptions (63-68), the cultural traits of the elite among the Auscii (68-69), the language of the inscriptions, and lastly a section dealing with the formation of the epigraphic corpus of the city of the Auscii by amateur collectors of antiquities (72-80).

The most intriguing of these sections discusses notable individuals and proprietors found in the Latin epigraphic record of the territory of the Auscii, a section devoted almost entirely to one of the most prominent families of the area during the first to third centuries CE (54-57), the Antistii (nos.10, 11, 13, 17, 19, 20, 26, 86, and 102). The family seems to have been involved in sheep rearing and wool production and perhaps pig breeding (57-58) with surplus wool being sold at nearby Lugdunum Convenarum (Saint Bertrand de Comminges) or at the main city of the Auscii. Their link to wool is somewhat tenuous, epigraphically, however, with evidence amounting to a single inscription, no. 17 (CIL XII 47): {uiu}os / [---us] Syneros / [sibi et] Lezbiae con/[tuber]nali lanipen/[diae A]ntistiae Rufi/[nae et] Florae filiae. So powerful was this family that their nomen gentile appears in several modern toponyms spread over the area of the Auscii, Convenae, and Consoranni: Antichan (with 5 examples), Antichan-de-Frontignes, and Antist (55).

The editors attempt to link the Antistii and their interests in pork production and textiles to a votive dedication made by one of the Antistii to the god Artahe at Malvezie: Ar[t]a[he deo] // L(ucius) Antist[ius] / Syntri[---]/pus / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito) (CIL XIII 73). This hypothesis is predicated on their belief that Artahe is a deity of the wilderness or nature (58). Although the rationale behind this supposition is not explained, it is surely correct. In a recent article, I examined this deity, tying Artahe to the importance of silvopastoralism as a central element of the southern Aquitanian economy, primarily demonstrated through onomastic and archaeological evidence in the territory of the Convenae.6 The god’s name is related to the Basque word for “holm oak” (Quercus ilex). To understand the function of Artahe one needs to look at a wider complex of oak-related deities encountered in the Latin epigraphic record of southern Gaul, all of whom appear to be linked to acorn production and by extension pork production of the sort alluded to by the editors.7

Turning to the catalogue proper, we find an idiosyncratic division of the material largely arising from the preponderance of epitaphs in the territory’s collections. The catalogue is organized geographically, proceeding from the urban zone to the rural hinterland. From the city of Auch and its suburbium we find: 1. Votive inscriptions (nos. 1-4); 2. epitaphs, subdivided into epitaphs to military personnel (nos. 5-6) and epitaphs mentioning municipal offices (nos. 7-16); 3. an epitaph mentioning a profession (no. 17); 4. “pagan” (i.e. non- Christian epitaphs that do not fall into the preceding categories) (nos. 18-55); 5. a Christian epitaph (no. 56), and 6. an epitaph of a dog (no. 57). Next follows a section on fragmentary inscriptions (nos. 58-82c). This is followed by inscriptions from the territorium of the city (nos. 83-112). Concluding the catalogue is a section concerning inscriptions found in the city of the Auscii but whose exact origin is unknown or debated (nos. 113-117).

While there are many notable inscriptions within the collection of interest to social historians, especially the epitaph to the curator of Roman citizens and lusor latrunculorum Gaius Afranius Graphicus (no. 12), or the epitaph to the lapdog Myia (no. 57), scholars of Gaulish or Aquitanian epigraphy will especially benefit from the volume.

In its treatment of Gaulish or Aquitanian names, the series continues to go beyond a typical dichotomy of labelling names either Latin or “indigenous”—too broad a category to be useful. Every occurrence of Gaulish or Aquitanian onomastic material is duly documented and an attempt to break down the individual name components carried out where possible, often with the meaning of an individual component given, as, for example, in nos. 42, 43, 48, and 106. Scholars who work on or employ Celtic or Aquitanian onomastic scholarship in their research will warmly welcome these additions and the methodology that underpins them.


1.   J. Drinkwater, 2000, on B. Rémy, Inscriptions latines d’ Aquitaine (ILA). Arvernes. Bordeaux in CR 50(2): 638-639, and BMCR 2011.02.41.
2.   X. Delamarre, 2003, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, 2e ed. Paris: 62; and J. Gorrochategui and J. Labarra, 1996, “Nuevas aportaciones a la reconstrucción del protovasco,” in Actas del VIo Coloquio sobre lenguas y culturas prerromanas de la península Ibérica, Coimbra, 1994 , Salamanca, 101-145: 123.
3.   J. Lapart, and C. Petit. 1993. Gers, CAG 32. Paris.
4.   Delamarre 2003; and J. Gorrochategui, 1984, Estudio sobre la onomástica indígena de Aquitania en relación con la de las zonas vecinas . Bilbao.
5.   Gorrochategui 1984; and L. Michelena, 1954, “De onomástica aquitana.” Pirineos 10: 409-455.
6.   (forthcoming) D.A. Wallace-Hare, 2018, “Seeing the Silva Through the Silva: The Religious Economy of Timber Communities in Aquitania and Gallia Narbonensis,” in J. Wolf and J. Shack (eds.), Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, 38, Cambridge, MA.
7.   Votive dedications to Artahe: CIL XIII 64, 70, 71, and 73; CAG 31.2, p. 425; ILTG 36, and ILTG 38. For the linguistic interpretation of the name as “holm oak” (encina in Spanish), see Michelena 1954: 437, and Gorrochategui 1984: 309.

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