BMCR 1995.04.15

1995.04.15, Lintott, Judicial Reform and Land Reform

, Judicial reform and land reform in the Roman Republic : a new edition, with translation and commentary, of the laws from Urbino. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. xxv, 293 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm. ISBN 9780521403733. $95.00.

The Roman habit of inscribing laws on bronze tablets has preserved for us the original texts of many of them. Among the most significant such documents is the tablet generally known as the tabula Bembina, named after the cardinal in whose possession it once resided. On one side is inscribed a law establishing a quaestio de pecuniis repetundis, on the other a lex agraria internally datable to the year 111 B.C. This document is the subject of this rather inappositely titled book (L.’s reasons on p. 3 for rejecting the traditional name for the inscription are rather lame), which is intended both as a textual edition of the inscription and as a commentary on the two laws. Hitherto the only all-encompassing treatment of both inscriptions has been that of Mommsen. His restorations have been the subject of numerous criticisms on various points, but no one has until now attempted to deal with both texts in their entirety. A new edition has long been a desideratum. Let me begin by indicating that there is much in L.’s work that is commendable. His comments are often helpful, and in his text he often reasonably adheres to the preserved text where Mommsen introduced rash emendations. Overall, however, L. is not really an adequate treatment in its own right and certainly does not replace Mommsen’s. In discussing L.’s work, I will first treat the textual aspects and then the commentary.

It is a pity that practical considerations were not given more attention. The book is printed on small pages which has necessitated the displacement of the “apparatus criticus” to the commentary printed after the text. There are two large foldouts, on which are presented photographs of the preserved fragments plus drawings of the proposed reconstructions of fragments now lost. This gives a visual representation of L.’s overall reconstruction of the inscription. Unfortunately, failure to consider how the work might actually be used has rendered consultation very difficult. The separation of apparatus from text means that if the foldout is concomitantly consulted, the reader must keep three separate parts of the book open at once. The foldouts have been printed without any thought for their actually being consulted. The lex rep. foldout is printed first and faces the following lex agr. foldout, that is, the former faces the back of the book. This means that if one wishes to examine it against the text one has to fold it back over itself (a difficult operation since the foldouts are quite large) while simultaneously holding open the text and the commentary (the lack of a blank page where the foldout overlaps with the body of the book being a further hinderance). Even worse is the situation if one tries to find a specific line. In Mommsen’s edition each line of the inscription was numbered both in terms of the overall inscription and in terms of the fragment on which it appears (e.g., line 57 of the lex rep. side consists of lines E13 and D5). In L’s edition the fragment numbers appear only in the lemmata of the commentary, and on the foldouts there are no numbers at all. Indeed, one has to consult a very small diagram on p. xv even to find out by which letter each fragment is known. Since the face of the inscription has 90 lines and the back 105, any attempt to find a given line is frustratingly difficult—experto crede.

The text itself is very carelessly edited. The following errors were found through a simple collation of L.’s text with that of Bruns 7 followed by confirmation from L.’s own photo.

In the lex de pecuniis repetundis :

Line 5: for the second “quious” read “quioum”; line 18: for “sese ex” read “sese eos ex”; line 20: for “seit” read “siet”; line 21: for “quis nomen” read “quisque nomen”; line 24: for “tum is” read “tum eis”; line 25: for “arvorsariumve” read “advorsariumve”; line 27: for “erunt” read “erunt”; line 31: for “dicundo” read “deicundo”; line 38: for “ne quis” read “nei quis”; line 40: for “poterit, quoius” read “poterit, facito quoius”, for “ad sese adveniat” read “ad sese veniat”: line 86: for “vel in in sua” read “vel in sua”.

In the lex agraria :

Line 17: for “re ius” read “re ita ius”; line 21: for “lo c ]um populi” read “lo c ]um publicum populi”; line 28: for “post hace” read “post hac”; for “Calpurnio cos. [ in” read “Calpurnio [ cos. in” (the app. crit. [p. 234] should also be corrected); line 29: for “Ro[ manei fuerunt ] read “Ro[ manei fuerunt civi ] (L. translates civi [in Roman type face as if it were in the preserved text and not a restoration!] and elsewhere the lex agr. always refers to civis Romanus rather than Romanus used substantivally [ll. 3, 15, 21, 58, 76, 83, 94]; L.’s claim that the space in the lacuna is not sufficiently large for civi seems to be refuted by the photo: the spacing of his restoration is obviously too large and in any case there seems to be on the right edge of Frag. Ba room for the letters RO which appear in the restoration); line 31: for “deve senatus” read “deve senati”; line 58: for “commutare liceto” read “commutareve liceto”; line 59: for “de]” read “de ]”; line 65: for “is emptor” read “is emptum”; line 68: for “reddiderit, adsignatum” read “reddiderit, ei adsignatum”; line 72: for “atque atque” read “atque”; line 73: for “non soluta erit” read “soluta non erit”; line 75: for “Africa quei” read “Africa est quei”; line 76: for “locei” read “loci”, for “populei ” read “populi “; line 78: for “oportebit” read “oportebitve”; line 79: for “Romanei” read “Romani” (?the photo is hard to make out, but all earlier edd. read “Romani” without comment); line 80: for “relatum” read “rellatum”; line 91: for “venierit” read “venieit”; line 99: for “aedificei” read “aedifici”.

In addition to these difficulties with the actual readings, there are editorial problems. L. seems not to have made up his mind whether he wanted to present a diplomatic transcription, that is, an exact recording of the text inscribed on the bronze, or a regularized text reflecting modern orthography. On the one hand, L. preserves the spellings “dum taxat” ( lex rep. l. 34), “quot annis” ( lex rep. l. 15), “ab alienaverit” ( lex agr. 84) and “inmanu” ( lex rep. l. 51), but constantly divides forms like “nei quid” and “sei quis” even though the inscription regularly omits any interpunct in them. Oddly, he prints “demit(t)ito” in lex rep. l. 53, but “dimitere” in l. 71, as well as “iusei” (l. 63), “essto” (l. 41), “refere” (l. 32), and on the other side “quansi” (l. 27), “deddit” (l. 24), “inperio” (l. 87), “im ious” (l. 94). Why is “descriptos” left in lex rep. l. 14, when “discriptos” appears in l. 18? In leg. rep. l. 14, where the inscription preserves the nominative plural form “vireis”, L. has “virei(s)”, presumably an error for “vireis“.  Yet in the same law he does object to “eisdem” (l. 27) or “eis” (ll. 57, 67), nor on the other side to “facteis” (l. 28).

Collation of L.’s text with Bruns 7 reveals a further difficulty. Major portions (see below) of the inscription are no longer extant, but transcriptions (often dubious) are preserved in MSS. and printed editions from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In editing these sections the procedure to be used is the same as in editing the text of any classical author: the relative merits of the various witnesses to the text must be assessed and the apparatus criticus must indicate to the reader what readings the MSS. and editions offer. (For an example of L.’s inadequacy in this regard, try to understand what readings for lex agr. l. 35 are offered by the MSS. [large central paragraph, p. 240].) While many variant readings are recorded, comparison with the apparatus in CIL and Klenze’s and Rudorff’s editions show that L.’s is not complete. There is no indication of L.’s rationale in choosing normal or archaizing orthography when the MSS. offer both. Furthermore, L.’s presentation of these sources (pp. 66-70) is not adequate. This is a re-working of an earlier article of L.’s ( Athenaeum n.s. 61 [1983] 209ff.), which deals with the methodology of the early-modern scholars and antiquarians who worked on the text. Accordingly, he gives us much undigested and unclearly arranged antiquarian lore. What is first needed is a clear presentation of methods used by the various witnessess. What was their procedure in transcribing the text? How was incomplete text handled? Were supplements or emendations introduced into the text, and if so were they clearly (and consistently) indicated? Next, how independent are the various witnesses? In particular, it seems that many witnesses are susceptible to the influence of Sigonio, both through his edition of 1574 and also (it appears from L.’s article though we are not given the evidence) from his correspondance with other scholars. L. neglects these fundamental questions, without which it is impossible to assess the relative merits of conflicting testimony.

The inscription was at some point shattered and only a small portion of the text is preserved, in fragments often not contiguous. There are five major fragments, designated A-E by Mommsen (another small fragment called F was identified at the end of the nineteenth century); when the fragments themselves are broken the constituent pieces are designated with lower case letters. Unfortunately, not all fragments are extent today, E and Ab (the bottom of A) being preserved only in MS. copies. The major task in restoring the inscription is to align the fragments in relation to each other (in reconstructions the lex rep. is always treated as the obverse). Everyone agrees that A and B are non-contiguous fragments of the upper half of the inscription, and C, E and D are from the lower half, C actually reaching the left margin and the lost E joining directly on the right edge of C. The major issues are: how large is the A-B lacuna, how large is the E-D lacuna, and how do the fragments from the upper half of the inscription relate to those of the lower. In each of these major considerations for the reconstruction of the overall inscription, L’s methods and results are questionable. As we shall soon see, L.’s reconstruction is a moot point, but I will delineate his procedure.

In line 16 of the lex agr. a phrase repeated several times in the law must be restored. Since the phrase spans the B-A lacuna, the restoration allows one to get a good idea of the lacuna’s general size. However, L. restores the phrase in its longest form on the basis of l. 15, but the iiiviri a.d.a. can be designated simply as iiiviri and the expression ex lege plebisve scito can be omitted (ll. 3, 7; L.’s restoration scito in l. 16 actually appears as sc. in l. 15, so he isn’t even following his parallel exactly). (One might note that in L.’s restoration of l. 16 and in l. 15, on which he bases that restoration, the comma should be deleted in the phrase ager publicus populi Romanei, qui … fuit : cf. L’s own punctuation in l. 7: ager … omnis quei supra scriptu [s est; for the construction, see Virg. Aen. 1.573.) Thus, L.’s restoration may well be too long. (L. is prone to assuming that his preference among several equally plausible alternatives must be the correct one and then building logically insecure arguments on the basis of this assumption).

In lines 79-85 of the lex rep. there are very close parallels to lines 72-79. Mommsen argued that the former are a repetition of the latter, and used them to supplement each other. At the same time, since the repeated section is not aligned in the same way on the tablet as the first is, the supplement makes it possible to establish the E-D lacuna. Mommsen was hesitant about the matter, because it is clear that in the case of some parallel passages, the beginning and end of which are preserved in both passages, the total number of letters, including those lost in the lacuna, does not correspond. On this basis L. argues that the repetition is not verbatim, though he grants that the parallel clauses treat similar matters.

Line 72 has clear parallels to line 79. The latter is preserved only in MSS., which provide some variation on the expression … ]vitate iudex deinceps faciat pr[… Two sources indicate a space before iudex, and since chapters are normally separated by a space, Mommsen restored the words iudex deinceps etc. as the beginning of the title of a new chapter. Since the start of the corresponding clause in l. 72 does not have this title, Mommsen hypothesized rather hesitantly that the scribe omitted the title in the early section, and when this was noticed, broke off in mid-sentence in l. 79—hence the (apparent) fact that the sentence before the new “title” ends implausibly in a noun ( ]vitate)—and started all over again from the point where the title was omitted. L. claims that if we do not assume a chapter heading in l. 79, the “case for a gross error by the engraver becomes very weak” (161), and that in light of the discrepancies in the length of some corresponding lines noted above, the hypothesis that ll. 72-79 are repeated in ll. 79-85 cannot be accepted “except on the hypothesis of major errors by the engraver or legislator” (82). L. dismisses this as a possibility, but it is a manifest fact rather than a hypothesis. Mommsen himself was rather uneasy about the repetition, and his explanation for it varied over time. Mattingly, however, clearly demonstrated that the repetition in ll. 79-85 was necessitated by the fact that ll. 72-79 are demonstrably vitiated by many, egregious errors ( JRS 59 [1969] 138). L. nowhere draws the reader’s attention to this fundamental discussion, in which Mattingly also argued convincingly that the parallel passages were equivalent to ll. 2-14 of the so-called lex Tarentina. This suggests that the parallel phrases represent the doubling of a single set of provisions which are repeated tralaticiously in the latter law. L. himself has no very satisfactory explanation of what the second set of parallel passages in the lex rep. are for. Indeed, while at times he feels free to use the later passages to supplement the earlier (surely an unacceptable procedure under his own hypothesis), in l. 72 he retains the meaningless ioudiciove imperiove even though the parallel l. 79 shows that the correct reading is eo magistratu ioudiciove imperiove. Hence, even if L. is correct in his disinclination to follow Mommsen in restoring the title in l. 72, there are ample grounds to believe that ll. 79-85 are a repetition of ll. 72-79.

Finally comes the relationship of the top and bottom halves of the inscription. Here there are two considerations. First, Mommsen joined l. 42 of frag. Ab (… excu]satione primo quo[…) with l. 2 of frag. E (… ]que die deferatur …). Lintott rejects this on the grounds that the join pushes frag. A too far toward to left margin of the inscription. This claim, however, is based on assuming as certain his own reconstruction of the shape of the lost fragments. Leaving aside the question of the reliability in general of the drawing as a reflection of the configuration of the lost fragments, L.’s drawing of frag. E is simply incorrect. The drawing indicates that the edge of the fragment was to the left of the P in PROXSUMOS in l. 66, but in fact the first five letters of that word are restoration. Since L. seems to be reproducing the actual shape of the MSS.’ representation of the text (see p. 81 and illustrations 5 and 6), this misdrawing forces the left margin of frag. E several spaces to the left (the EX in l. 65 should be above the U of PROXUMOS rather than the R as L.’s drawing has it). Second, Mattingly argued that B and D should be joined. L. rejects this without making very clear his grounds (pp. 78-79 and the commentary on l. 54 of the lex rep. refer back and forth to each other). The only substantive reason given is that this reconstruction “involved conflating the last v on D with the first on Bc,” which the photograph suggests is perfectly acceptable.

All of this is ultimately moot. In an outrageously inconspicuous postscript, L. disowns his entire argument (pp. 287-88)! He blandly indicates that after completing the book he was shown a cast indicating that Mattingly was right after all: fragments B and D should be joined. That such a significant piece of information should be buried in the very end of the book without so much as a footnote at the relevant discussions of the text to alert the reader that in his own eyes L.’s entire reconstruction has been vitiated is truly astonishing. This new information has disastrous consequences for L’s reconstruction. He is unwilling to reduce his estimate of the A-B and E-D lacunas, which leads to grave difficulties in that the left margin of A would appear to extend beyond the left margin of the inscription preserved below in fragment C. He is left in a state of aporia, and can only make a suggestion that he himself admits is implausible, namely that the inscription was not a parallelogram, but consisted of two unmatched rectangles, the upper one wider than the lower. Such a procedure in inscribing a law on bronze is, as far as I know, unprecedented. It would seem then that one or more of Lintott’s assumptions about those lacunas is wrong.

L. provides a facing translation. This has the merit of distinguishing with italics the parts which derive from restorations of lacunas. However, the fact that already in l. 3 of the lex rep. the extant expression de ea re eius petitio nominisque delatio esto is left out of the translation suggests that it be used only in close consultation with the original (note also the italicization of imperium in l. 72 though that word appears in the text).

Now we should turn to the commentary aspect of the book. The book has introductory discussions of the historical setting of the two laws, and specific introductions to each. These are fine, as far as they go. There is a bibliography, which is divided by topic. This can be a hindrance as books are cited by last name and date, with the result that it is at times less than self-evident under which heading the work is to be found. L. also discusses each line of the text. Textual matters often take up most of the discussion, and the actual content is treated comparatively cursorily. (Space constraints perhaps had a hand in this). In considering a commentary, it is worthwhile to bear in mind the audience for whom the book is intended. L. never says explicitly whom he foresees as his readers, but in the introduction (p. 4) he laments that the inscription is not used more by historians, and indicates that he would be satisfied if the book leads to the laws on it being used “more frequently and thoughtfully”. He apparently has in mind a reader with a fairly rudimentary knowledge of the Roman “constitution”. At any rate, he thinks it necessary to explain the difference between comitia and contiones (pp. 6-7). I doubt that such a person would benefit much from most of the discussion, which tends to allude to earlier views (including his own) without spelling out very clearly what they are. See, e.g., the treatment of l. 11 of the lex rep., where I don’t think anyone who is not already conversant with the issues could understand what is involved. Those who are conversant will not find the rather cursory discussion of this (and other) issues very satisfying.

For a book issued by such a prestigious publisher there are a surprising number of venial errors of proofreading. In addition, there is, as should already have become clear, a certain lack of attention to akribeia on the author’s part. Sherwin-White’s article on “The Lex Repetundarum and Gaius Gracchus’ Political Ideals” ( JRS 72 [1982]) becomes simply “Gaius Gracchus’ Political Ideals”. The reference on lex rep. l. 11 to the non-extant Cic. Acad. 3.74 should be to ND. On lex rep. l. 29, which concerns the continuation of cases against defendants who go into exile or (apparently) die, L. comments “The story that Licinius Macer saved his property by suicide (Val. Max. 9.12.7), if true, may indicate that the lex Cornelia was more generous than either the lex Iulia or the Gracchan law.” Why “if true”? The phrase suggests doubt, but there is no indication of its source. In fact, Valerius is directly refuted by the testimony of Cicero himself, the praetor presiding over the case ( Att. 1.4.2). These errors/omissions are not particularly significant in themselves, but suggest that the details cannot be accepted without being checked, and details are what count in this kind of book.

Overall, the book’s impressive appearance and the author’s seemingly magisterial presentation will lull the unwary into a false sense of confidence. I do not wish to end in a negative vein. There is much sensible comment in this book. Unfortunately, lack of focus in planning and inattention to detail in execution preclude the book from being authoritative. Instead of being a definitive replacement of Mommsen, this book (at $95 a rather expensive one) is just one more work to be consulted (cautiously) by those seeking to understand these very important texts.