BMCR 2007.05.37

The Familia Urbana during the Early Empire. A Study of Columbaria Inscriptions. BAR International Series 1440

, The Familia Urbana during the Early Empire. A Study of Columbaria Inscriptions. BAR International Series 1440. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2005. iv, 115; ills. 28. $65.00 (pb).

The stated aim of this book is “to investigate the lives of servile dependents and their role in the large households of the elite Romans” (p. 1). A number of important studies exist already on aspects of this theme of ‘slavery and household’.1 What Hasegawa (hereafter H.) looks to do is build on the work of these predecessors, focusing on the evidence of the epitaphs from the columbaria of the city of Rome (collected in CIL 6.3926-8397) with respect to the servile dependents of the Roman aristocracy. While there have been many productive examinations of non- columbaria epigraphy,2 the treatment of inscriptions from the communal burial structures particularly popular during the Julio-Claudian period has been confined to material concerns.3 Prompted by the elegant series of mid-to-late 1970s articles by Susan Treggiari on the range of jobs and the family lives of elite familiae urbanae,4 the present study explicitly targets social themes — occupational activities, ties of ownership and household hierarchy, familial relationships, and the implications of corporate burial. In doing so, H. provides a variety of useful detail about patterns of ownership, domestic self-sufficiency and vocational education in aristocratic domus; the epigraphic representation of (servile) women as primarily valued in terms of their reproductive and marital roles; the imperative — subject to the owner’s approval — for slaves of non-Roman birth or heritage either to integrate or emphasize their origins; and the implications for solidarity and autonomy of belonging to collegia domestica.

Chapter One (pp. 1-3) introduces us to the concept of the aristocratic household as the equivalent of the res publica for slaves.5 Addressing the relevant bibliographical antecedents, H. outlines the evidentiary context and basis for her study and indicates the thematic structure of her investigation.

Chapter Two (“The columbaria and the aristocratic families”, pp. 4-29) examines what is known about the sepulchral structure of the columbaria in which the epitaphs of the familiae urbanae were originally placed — their locations; the public careers and family history of the elite owners of the pertinent domus — and the nature of the epigraphic and associated material evidence. In brief, H. surveys the location and topography of the main Roman necropoleis in which columbaria were constructed (on the Esquiline, along the via Appia), details of the relevant columbaria (of the Statilii and Arruntii; the Volusii, the Iunii Silani, and Livia) and surrounding buildings, and provides potted histories of the masters and mistresses identified in the inscriptions. She concludes with a typology of the epitaphs, her criteria for numeration, and the limits of her statistical sample.

Chapter Three (“The occupations of slaves and freedmen”, pp. 30-51) sets out the range of occupational activities represented in the documentary evidence under three (necessarily artificial) categories: private service; production; and property management. Through systematic analysis and detailed discussion, H. argues that such information is useful not only in identifying indicative characteristics of individual households but also as a means of understanding broader social interrelationships based on the beneficial performance of service and skills. Prefacing this is a rationalization of the large proportion of servile epitaphs that fail to record the deceased’s and/or dedicant’s occupation. For H., this failure should not be viewed solely in terms of the stigma to personal identity of associations with menial, undefined, or denigrating work. Rather, various types of work required unskilled casual labour under the supervision of professionals, generating a non-specialized workforce without fixed job-titles. In short, what the columbaria epitaphs offer is tangible evidence for general job descriptions and a case for positing elite familiae comprised of unspecialized ordinary labour and specialized servile positions. Here (and throughout her study), H. makes good explanatory use of the statistical and other materials, tabulated or charted in relation to the major columbaria (Statilii, Volusii, Iunii, Liviae).

Chapter Four (“Legal status and ownership structure in elite Roman households”, pp. 52-61) asks what constituted membership in columbaria and how these individuals as a workforce were being deployed to serve the domus. These questions lead H. to test what she sees as the pervasive but simplistic image of the single master-multiple slave relationship, and to problematize the straightforward application of the terms domus and familia. By clarifying the often ambiguous legal status of those buried in columbaria and interrogating the networks of ownership in specific households, H. posits another reality of ownership structure — namely, an internal hierarchy and small-scale ownership — within elite familiae. This conception usefully complicates the current view of the Roman household, providing an explanation for continuing cohesion in larger domus and a practical structure for managing household security, order and community.

Chapter Five (“The women, children, and servile families”, pp. 62-72) explores in what way and to what extent the columbaria epitaphs represent aspects of family life, and what we can construe from the result about familial relationship, gender balance, and work in elite households. Whether dedicatory or self-identifying, the epitaphs represent many more male slaves and freedmen than their female counterparts; more sons than daughters; and, in relation to the latter, women as mothers and wives more than men as fathers and husbands, and more as mothers and wives than as daughters. H. concludes that, in relation to their position in a household unit based on ownership, women were valued more for their familial than their occupational roles. As such, H. relegates most female slaves and freedwomen in elite households to male-dependent occupations and assisting tasks. Intriguingly, H.’s discussion of the commemorative pattern of two servile families (pp. 68-69; cf. Figs. 5.2, 5.3) explicitly identifies women identified not in terms of occupation but in relation to their positions in the household of a member of the domus Augusta (in this case, Loquas, pedisequa of Messallina, wife of Claudius, commemorated by her mother, Aphrodisias); and Primilla, freedwoman of Messallina, commemorated by her father, Hesychus). Though technically outside H.’s categories of representation, this conforms to a mode of identification by association with familia as a mark of distinction. This may offer another avenue for the slave or freed dependent female to express identity within the private environment of a large household’s burial-place.

Chapter Six (“Slave names”, pp. 73-80) analyzes the personal names of servile dependents to determine the extent to which servile onomastic practice provides insight into the question of mixed nationalities within servile populations and how those slaves and freedmen of non-Roman or ‘outsider’ status identified themselves within elite Roman households. H. studies the proportion of Greek, Latin, and other names, the most common male and female servile names, and names which designate foreign origin by reference to geographical area, specific natio or other ethnic connotation. While it seems that retaining traces of foreign origins in servile nomina or freed cognomina was a minority practice, H. feels that the evidence cannot definitively help us to decide whether slaves and freedwo/men voluntarily excised the mark of their non-Roman origins or had their desire to preserve ethnic roots checked by their owners’ dispositions or the potential for social stigmatization.

Chapter Seven (“The burial clubs for slaves and freedmen”, pp. 81-88) interrogates the epitaphs for possible mechanisms by which elite households conducted the burials of a large number of servile dependents. H. formulates her examination in terms of the model of the collegium domesticum represented in a series of epitaphs of the dependents of a certain Sergia Paullina ( CIL 6.9148-9, 10260-4) dated to the third quarter of the 2nd century CE. She surveys markers of collegial activity recorded in the columbaria — the word collegium itself, particular titles identifying officials of a collegium, actions of collective ownership or practice — and considers in detail the functions of the collegia domestica and the manner of funerals as they appear in the servile epigraphic record. Given the fact that aristocratic owners gave permission for the organisation and operation by their servile and freed dependents of these collegia, H. concludes that any qualms they had about domestic security were more than offset by the practical need for adequate burial of a large number of the familiae. Any solidarity or autonomy generated by participation in collegial activity of this kind, limited as it was to funeral matters, served to bolster household self-sufficiency and to reflect the shared privilege accompanying membership of notable elite domus.

H. draws the threads of her presentation together in a brief conclusion (pp. 89-91). She provides a supplementary appendix which reproduces the inscriptions relating to the familia of the Statilii (pp. 92-107) and a useful bibliography of secondary material (pp. 108-115). As noted above, H. incorporates a variety of statistical and prosopographical information in tabulated and graphic form throughout the course of her study.

The text of this B.A.R. title (No. 1440 of the international series) is without significant typographical inaccuracy and the maps, archaeological plans, tables and charts are uniformly presented and of a useful size and clarity. Though perhaps beyond the scope of the publication, particularly given the sometimes prohibitive permission costs, it might have been helpful to provide specific photographic examples of the categories of epitaph incorporated in the study (plaque, pillar, altar, urn, and other), over and against the general views of the columbarium found in the Vigna Codini (p. 24) — if only to contextualize more precisely some of the conclusions in relation to self- and community-identifying commemorative practices, and to establish a relationship between the texts of the Statilian epitaphs given in Appendix I and the material remains.

Overall, H. offers a careful, systematic, and cautious analysis of the evidence provided by the columbaria inscriptions of elite Roman households of the first centuries CE. Drawn from a little over 900 epitaphs, H.’s study establishes a useful evidentiary basis for the growing consensus among scholars of the Roman household and domestic slavery — namely, that concepts of freedom and slavery in the Roman domus should be regarded as polyvalent rather than uniform and clear-cut; that collective burial practices among slaves and freed dependents of aristocratic households reflect Augustan policy relating to the importance of the family unit as a model for social cohesion; that domestic hierarchies and ownership structures displayed the flexibility necessary to sustain and distribute effectively a complex workforce; and that commemorative practices in columbaria help us to confirm ways of identifying self and community within a marked social unit.

H.’s ambition is considered and realistic. Her methodological approach is circumspect and verifiable; her sample population, carefully identified and usefully tabulated; and her discussion, historically contextualized and epigraphically nuanced. I believe that H.’s examination of the familia urbana during the early Roman empire will be welcomed by anyone especially interested in the dependent family in terms of household organisation and structure. Those who wish to build on the current perspective of experiences which fall within the category of ‘family life’ — as elite Romans understood it — will find this a useful case-study in the diversity and interplay of relationships within the aristocratic domus. As such, it would provide a substantial reference-point for further research by the advanced undergraduate student or dedicated graduate scholar of social history and is recommended as a modest but salutary example of the riches offered by the epigraphic corpus.


1. M. Finley (ed.) (1960), Slavery in Classical Antiquity; cf. id. (1998), Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology; J. Vogt (1974), tr. T. Wiedemann, Ancient Slavery and the Ideal of Man; K. Bradley (1987), Slaves and Masters in the Roman Empire; (1994), Slavery and Society at Rome; R. P. Saller (1987), ‘Slavery and the Roman family’, Slavery and Abolition 8: 65-87; (1996), ‘The hierarchical household in Roman society: a study of domestic slavery,’ in M. L. Bush (ed.), Serfdom and Slavery; W. Fitzgerald (2000), Slavery and the Roman Literary Imagination.

2. S. R. Joshel (1992), Work, Identity, and Legal Status at Rome; E. Hermann-Otto (1997), Ex Ancilla Natus; F. Merola (1990), Servo Parere; H. Solin (1996), Die stadtromischen Sklavennamen; B. Rawson (1966), ‘Family life among the lower classes at Rome in the first two centuries of the Empire,’ CP 61: 71-83; P. Huttunen (1974), The Social Strata in the Imperial City of Rome; R. Saller and B. Shaw (1984), ‘Tombstones and Roman family relations in the Principate: civilians, soldiers, and slaves,’ JRS 74: 124-156; P. R. C. Weaver (1972), Familia Caesaris.

3. M. L. Caldelli and C. Ricci (1999), Monumentum familiae Statiliorum; Buonocore (1984), Schiavi e liberti dei Volusi Saturnini — le iscrizioni del colombario sulla via Appia antica; F. Bianchini (1991), Camera ed iscrizioni sepulcrali de’ liberi, servi, ed ufficiali della casa di Augusto scoperte nella via Appia.

4. S. Treggiari (1973), ‘Domestic Staff at Rome in the Julio-Claudian period, 27 B.C. to A.D. 68’; (1975a), ‘Jobs in the Household of Livia’; (1975b), ‘Family life among the staff of the Volusii’; (1976), ‘Jobs for women’; (1979a), ‘Lower class women in the Roman economy’; (1979b), ‘Questions on women domestics in the Roman West’; (1980), ‘Urban labour in Rome’.

5. The primary references for this idea: Pliny ( Epistulae 8.16); Seneca ( Epistulae 47.14); and the speech of C. Cassius Longinus in Tacitus ( Annales 14.44).