Celebrating the Imperial Family in Lambaesis (Numidia, January AD 198)

In this day and age, ancient inscriptions are seldom preserved in their original context. Moreover, the monument itself might be damaged or incomplete, so that an object that was on display outside the Museum of Lambaesis without any indication of its origin must first find its archaeological and historical context (photos by H.-G. Kolbe in 1966).

Ideally, the text and the execution of the monument provide us with suitable clues for a contextualization; and a comparison with the local epigraphy of the same time horizon may even permit a historical classification – especially when it is an imperial inscription, as in this case.

The hitherto unpublished inscription, which is presented here, seems to be without any loss of text; framed by fluted pilasters, the inscription field is completely preserved. The monument, however, lacks a crowning at the top and a base at the bottom as well as the statue, that once was placed on it. The inscription is executed in well-proportioned, elongated letters, the decorative ligatures, excess lengths of the letters T and I longae as well as comma-shaped punctuation underline the elegant character of the lettering, which is oriented towards the scriptura actuaria. The first line in larger letters catches the eye with the beginning of the emperor’s name, and so does the 10th line with its continuation after the long fictitious line of ancestors (v. 2-9), as it is quite common for inscriptions of the Emperor Severus.

Honorary inscription for Severus (Photo: H.-G. Kolbe, 1966)

To the Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus Pertinax (with the victorious surnames) Arabicus, Adiabenicus, Parthicus, son of the deified Marcus Antoninus Germanicus Sarmaticus, brother of the deified Commodus, grandson of the deified Pius Antoninus, great-grandson of the deified Hadrian, great-great grandson of the deified Traianus Parthicus, great-great-great grandson of the deified Nerva, the greatest priest, in possession of the tribunal power for the sixth time, for the eleventh time proclaimed emperor, consul for the second time, father of the fatherland, proconsul; at the same time…

An almost identical dedication to the imperial family from exactly the same time and location (CIL VIII 2550 = 18045) makes us think also in this case of a multi-part presentation and hence of a more extensive text. For in the inscription, we do not only miss the sons of Severus and Iulia Domna, but also a high-ranking dedicant figure such as Q. Anicius Faustus, the governor of the province of Numidia in AD 197/198, who is known from many inscriptions of Severian times in Lambaesis: “In African epigraphy, Quintus Anicius Faustus has only emperors and gods as rivals in frequency of attestation” (P. I. Wilkins). 

However, there is nothing spectacular in this dedication to Severus: the fictitious line of ancestors  back to Nerva is well known from other inscriptions of this emperor, and also the elements of his titulature are confirmed by coins and other inscriptions: They lead to a dating at the end of AD 197 or most likely to the beginning of 198, since Severus took over the tribunicia potestas for the sixth time on 10 December  AD 197, but in this inscription he is not yet called Parthicus maximus – a title which he held after the celebration of the Victoria Parthica in Rome on 28 January AD 198. 

This honorary monument was thus set up at a time when Severus was still in Syria; and certainly the Emperor’s victory over the Parthians was the reason for this honour, though: anticipating the celebration of Victoria Parthica, it was set up in January and probably encompassed the imperial family as a whole. It is thus one of many honours that the Severian family received from the military stationed in Lambaesis during this time. Surprising because singular – and treacherous – is the word SIMVL at the end of the inscription, connecting two parts of one text and thus demanding a continuation of the inscription, that is: with the emperor himself, both his sons and Iulia Domna must have been honoured “at the same time”. We can recognize the continuation of this text in an inscription for Caracalla, which also comes from the military camp in Lambaesis and which shows the same fluted pilasters as its framing. This unpublished inscription reads as follows:

Honorary inscription for Caracalla (Photo: H.-G. Kolbe, 1966)

To the emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, our Augustus, son of Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax, our Augustus, (with surnames) Arabicus, Adianbenius, Parthicus <maximus> …

M. Aurelius Antoninus, that is Caracalla, appears in this inscription as Parthicus maximus – however, one can clearly see that maximus was added later in clumsy writing on the erased field as the last word – an addition pointing to the time after the death of Severus (Feb. 4 in AD 211), when Caracalla officially bore this title. There is no reason why the inscription for Caracalla should not be seen as part of an ensemble erected in January AD 198 in honour of the imperial family and in recognition of the conquest of Ktesiphon. It is thus a further testimony to the many honours bestowed upon the Severian House in Lambaesis after the Parthian War.

Bibl.: On the fall of Ktesiphon and the Second Parthian War see Z. Rubin, Chirin 5, 1975, 419-441.

The Janus Augustus in Spain (Baetica, 2 BCE)

It has always been an archaeologist’s dream to discover cities or monuments that have disappeared and whose existence we know only through literary, numismatic or epigraphic evidence.

One of these monuments is the so-called Janus Augustus, known only from inscriptions. Until recently, efforts have been made to localize it; and an archaeological team from the University of Jaén now believes to have found the foundations of this Janus a few miles north of Mengíbar. I will abstain from commenting on this and would prefer to listen to the sources that give us a fairly accurate picture of the border zone between the provinces of Baeticaand Tarraconensis, in which the Janus Augustus once stood.

Further reading on recent research of archaeologists from the Univ. of Jaén:

Augustan milestone from Corduba (CIL II 4701). Photo: M. G. Schmidt.

According to the milestones from the province of Baetica in southern Spain, that impressive monument stood at the gateway to this province, by the river Baetis (Guadalquivir), which also gave the province its name. It is the starting point of the via Augusta , which led from this Janus across the province to Gades (Cádiz) at the Atlantic Ocean: a Baete et Iano Augusto ad Oceanum – “from the Baetis and the Janus Augustus to the Ocean” (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum II 4709-4712; 4715) – the milestones indicating the distances from this starting point, the caput viae Augustae. Another milestone specifies this point as the entrance to the province of Baetica: ab arcu, unde incipit Baetica – “from the arch where the Baetica begins” (CIL II 4721).

Roman arch of Cáparra. Photo: M. G. Schmidt.

The Janus or arch, probably a quadrifrons just like the Janus in Rome and comparable in shape to the Roman arch of Cáparra (Extremadura, Spain), was located at the river itself, at the beginning of the Via Augusta and at the entrance to the province. Pliny the Elder does not mention this arch, but in his geography of Hispania he does refer to the point at which the river Baetis enters the province of Baetica – i.e. he indicates exactly the point at which the Janus stood:

(Baetis flumen) modicus primo, sed multorum fluminum capax, quibus ipse famam aquasque aufert. Baeticae primum ab Ossigitania infusus, amoeno blandus alveo, crebris dextra laevaque accolitur oppidis.

“At first (the Baetis) is rather modest, but ready to take in many rivers, from which the river itself abducts name and water. And as soon as it has entered the Baeticafrom the Ossigiarea, it appears friendly through its lovely river bed and is bordered on the right and left by numerous cities.“

Pliny, Naturalis historia 3, 9.

At the borderline, right at the narrows between the hills of Mengíbar and Jabalquinto (see the map), the Baetis, previously amplified by the influx of the rivers Guadalimar and Guadalbullón, gushes forth into the province of Baetica (infusus according to Pliny), and then in a lovely course flows through this province – Pliny says it in almost poetic words: amoeno blandus alveo. From here on, the river Baetis is skirted by numerous cities left and right, crebris dextra laevaque accolitur oppidis, which Pliny later calls by name: Ossigi, Iliturgi, Ipra, Isturgi, Ucia and so on (Pliny, Naturalis historia 3,10) – these are the first cities of the province of Baetica.

Border zone Ossigitania near Mengíbar. Drawing: M. G. Schmidt – A. Fassbender.

There is only one topographically significant point in the area of Mengíbar which is suitable for an outstanding Augustan monument like this: The Janus Augustus must have been located at the confluence of the Guadalbullón, the border river between the provinces, and the Baetis, exactly where two Augustan roads once met. It is thus fulfilling the actual purpose of such a Quadrifrons, which marks the intersection of two streets: the road of the province of Tarraconensis, leading from Cartagena (Carthago Nova) at the Mediterranean Sea to the prosperous mining town of Castulo on the one side, and the Via Augusta of the Baetica leading to the West.

An Arabic source from the 10th century mentions the remnants of a large building called Al-Haniya – “the arch” precisely at the river Guadalbullón (Arab. wadi Bulyun) on the road to Castulo (Arab. Qastuluna). It is commonly seen as a Roman building that once stood here. Another proof for the location of the Janus Augustus.

Bibl.: M. G. Schmidt, Ab Iano Augusto ad Oceanum. Methodologische Überlegungen zur Erforschung der viae publicae in der Baetica, in: I. Czeguhn al. (ed.), Wasser – Wege – Wissen auf der iberischen Halbinsel, Berliner Schriften zur Rechtsgeschichte 9, Baden-Baden 2018, 35-53. 

The Magic Square from Madauros (Numidia, 2nd/3rd century AD)

Roman North Africa, especially the provinces of Mauretania Caesariensis and Numidia, i.e. the territory of today’s Algeria, is particularly blessed with Latin inscriptions that are written in verses. 

A surprisingly artistic grid inscription has only recently been recognized as such a verse inscription. It is to be regretted that apart from the epigraphic records of some leading scholars of the 19th century, the original has not survived. Nor do I know of any photo of this extraordinary inscription, so that we have to be content with the drawing by Hermann Dessau, the famous Berlin epigrapher, whose notes on Roman inscriptions are still preserved in the archives of the ‘Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum’ in Berlin.

In Madauros, the African city that became famous for Apuleius, the writer of the ‘Golden Ass’, the French scholar Stéphane Gsell luckily had reported the fragments of an enormous square plaque, the original full measurements of which must have been around 1.30m by 1.30m. «Notre table, probablement placée sur le forum de Madauros, était un avertissement donné aux dévots sous une forme ingenieuse». 

The inscription was adressed to the worshippers of the African deities, the dii Mauri. But how was this ‘avertissement’, this admonition designed? In a really sophisticated and elaborate way: 


This phrase is repeated in horizontal, vertical and diagonal script on a chess-board-like grid which originally made up 36 squares (each with sides of 3.5 cm). Gsell first considered this a tabula lusoria, but later corrected this view in his edition, in which he raised the point that the many small squares were scarcely suitable for a game. He rightly restored the whole piece on the basis of the likelihood that the first and last horizontal lines will have repeated the entire phrase: «il est probable que la 1ère ligne horizontale (comme la dernière) repétait toute la formule». And this is how Dessau reconstructed the inscription in his drawing. The grid itself was thus composed of 1,369 (= 37 by 37) small squares, each of which held one letter:

Inscriptions Latines de l’Algérie I 2078. – Drawing: H. Dessau (Archives CIL).

But neither Gsell nor Dessau could provide an adequate explanation of this inscription, its unusual spelling or its composition. I see it as a magic square of letters, which presents a sophisticated play on the number six: the six words Saepae sacrum sanctis Mauris facias libens appear written variously in horizontal, vertical and diagonal script. Three of these words begin with S, three end with this letter. These words, in turn, each contain six letters: sacrum, Maurisfaciaslibensand also saepae. Only the form sanctis, with seven letters, does not conform to this pattern, as it not only begins with S, but also ends with a seventh letter, S – intentionally. For, to present six times six interlinked squares, not six but seven horizontal and vertical lines are required to form the sides of the squares. Therefore, the acrostic formula on, for example, the left-hand-side requires not 36 but 37 letters to provide the same reading on the lowest, horizontal line of letters. 

Further – something which has not been noticed either – the phrase presented in these variations forms an iambic senarius – i.e. a play on the number six in poetic form, too. Thus the spelling saepae  reflects not only a wish for a word with six letters, but also an attempt to insist on a longum in the second syllable of the first iambus by spelling saepeas saepae

Saepáe sacrúm sanctís Maurís faciás libéns.

“Sacrifice frequently and gladly to the Moorish Gods”.

To sum this up: in six times six squares, an iambic senarius is repeated vertically, horizontally and diagonally, the senarius made up of six feet and six words each with six letters (all except sanctis).

For further reading see: M G. Schmidt, Inscriptions from Madauros (CIL VIII 28086-28150), in: A. Mastino al. (ed.), L’Africa Romana XVII: Le ricchezze dell’Africa. Risorse, produzioni, scambi (Sevilla 14-17 dicembre 2006), Roma 2008, esp. 1916–1919.

A Millionaires’ Club in Timgad (Numidia, 3rd century AD)

A second look at an inscription is often worthwhile, even if this seems so trivial at first. A sepulchral inscription from Timgad certainly deserves such attention: some time ago I had presented this text in a Festschrift, and after a fresh review new aspects have arisen. 

This small, neatly smoothened marble panel with elegant and artfully interlaced letters (so-called ligatures) can be recognized as a titulus strictly spoken, a ‘label’, only by the volute-like ansae or double loops on both sides: they were used to attach this panel to a larger monument, – possibly underneath a niche containing a bust or the urn of the deceased.

Année épigraphique 2003, 2018. – Photo: H.-G. Kolbe.

The text reads as follows:

Aeternae securitati | M(arci) Licini Felicis qui et Ballan|tis fl(aminis) p(er)p(etui) qui vix(it) a(nnos) ter tricen|os ternos conviva divi|tum hic sepult(us) est.

To the eternal security of Marcus Licinius Felix, who is also called Ballans, flamen (priest) for life, who lived three times thirty-three years, table companion of the rich; he is buried here.

In the first three lines, abbreviations in the nomenclature such as fl. p.p. for fl(amen) p(er)p(etuus) as well as a multitude of ligatures complicate the immediate understanding of the text: Marcus Linicius Felix, with the agnomen Ballans, was a member of Timgad’s upper class – as flamen perpetuus he stood in social rank directly under the duoviri, the two mayors, and above the other priests and magistrates of the city. The  ‘Album of Timgad’ (4th century AD), an inscribed list of municipal officers and priests, gives us information about the composition of the flamines perpetui and their social standing. The question whether the very elderly Felix could still perform the function of a flamen perpetuus, we will leave for now.

The last two lines manage with far fewer ligatures and abbreviations and are accessible to the reader at first glance. The reason for this may have been that the dedicator of the inscription did not want to obscure the poetic character of this particular section. Anyone who reads these lines aloud will recognize a trochaic septenar in the final part of the text that holds a surprise in store. 

Qui vixit annos ter

trícenós ternós convíva | dívit(um)_híc sepúltus ést

tells of a 99 years old man who was a “table companion of the rich” (conviva divitum). We notice that no relative is named as the person responsible for the funeral. Since the term conviva divitum appears in the sepulchral context (hic sepultus est), the community of divites might have played a special role in the fulfillment of the last duty towards their table mate, for the purpose of such social clubs was not only to hold regular celebrations and business meetings. 

Anyway, in this inscription, for the first time a convivium divitum – casually spoken: a “millionaires’ club” – is mentioned. “Rich” is a term that is not explicitly mentioned otherwise in the assignment of Roman social ranking, but which reflects a tangible reality, as the municipal magistrates had to meet a certain minimum census. Obviously the elite of Timgad was not only strongly oriented toward offices and priestly dignities in their prestige striving, but had also found an appropriate social network in such a “club of the rich”, which probably also took over responsibility towards its members.

Bibl.: M.G. Schmidt, Ein convivium divitum in Thamugadi, in: B.-J. and J.-P. Schröder (ed.), Studium declamatorium. Untersuchungen zu Schulübungen und Prunkreden von der Antike bis zur Neuzeit (Festschrift Joachim Dingel), München – Leipzig 2003, 395-400; here further literature on individual aspects, e.g. H. Pavis d’Escurac, Flaminat et societé dans la colonie de Timgad, Antiquités africaines 15, 1980, 183 sq.; for the text see O. Salomies, in: Année épigraphique 2003, 2018.

A ‘Homemade’ Grave Inscription of a Slave (Rome, 1st century AD)

The recently published catalogue of the ‘Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden’ shows the gravestone of a Roman slave whose inscription has been known for some time:

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VI 9980. – Photo: M. G. Schmidt

Italiae | Cocceiae Phyllidis vestificae | veixsit anneis XX | Acastus conservos pro | pauperie fecit sua (scil. manu).

„For Italia, seamstress of Cocceia Phyllis. She lived for 20 years. Acastus, her fellow slave, made (this inscription) out of destitution by his own hand.“

However, the reference to the execution of the work (fecit sua manu), which can now be checked on the photo, has remained unnoticed till now – not a stonemason had engraved Italia’s inscription, but Acastus, a slave from their common household, who apparently was close to the deceased. 

To the best of his ability and by his own hand, the slave had clearly tried to place the inscription on the centre of the stone in beautiful, even letters, so that Italia would receive an appropriate memory. 

But he made a decisive mistake – not in spelling or grammar (although the Latin seems a little bit old-fashioned, e.g. the spelling EI for long I): Acastus had forgotten to indicate the name of their mistress, the patrona. Apparently by second hand, which shows a more fluid ductus of smaller letters in the so-called Scriptura actuaria, a line was inserted in which her name is now mentioned –  Italia was the seamstress of Cocceia Phyllis: of course, a slave’s grave inscription required the patron’s consent!

After Acastus had made every effort to create a well-balanced layout, now there was this disturbing addendum, after the inscription had already been completed! Thus, Phyllis did herself a disservice, which will remain carved in stone forever.

Bibl.: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden – Skulpturensammlung. Katalog der antiken Bildwerke IV. Römische Reliefs, Geräte und Inschriften, ed. K. Knoll – Chr. Vorster, München 2018, 285 no. 104.