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.

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