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.