165 out of 410 days: Constitutional Details in Dio

When nothing else would cause them to heed him and they were unconcerned by the fact that the trial had been held in a manner contrary to custom, he ran up to the Janiculum before they took any vote at all, and pulled down the military flag, so that it was no longer lawful for them to reach a decision.

28 1 Now this matter of the flag is as follows. In ancient times there were many enemies dwelling near the city, and the Romans, fearing that while they were holding a centuriate assembly by centuries foes might occupy the Janiculum and attack the city, decided that not all should vote at once, but that some men under arms should by turns always guard that position. 2 So they guarded it as long as the assembly lasted, but when this was about to be adjourned, the flag was pulled down and the guards departed; for no further business could be transacted when the post was not guarded. 3 This practice was observed only in the case of the centuriate assemblies, for these were held outside the wall and all who bore arms were obliged to attend them. Even to this day it is done as a matter of form.

So on that occasion, when the signal was pulled down, the assembly was adjourned and Rabirius was saved. Labienus, indeed, had the right to bring suit again, but he did not do so. (Dio 37.27.3-28.4)

In the spirit of using the blog to dump little bits of information I might want later, here is a passage on the procedure of the centuriate assembly.  It provides a nice parallel to narratives of Bibulus “watching the skies” to annul Caesar’s legislation during their join consulship (59BC).  It illustrates ritualized militarism.  AND, it has a nice allusion to later practice.  Dio is writing in the high empire as a senator under the Severan emperors and he reports: “Even to this day it is done as a matter of form”.  It also makes me think about the function of the filibuster in the US legislative process.  Although, the context of the passage is actually a political trial in 63BC, not a legislative process.  The Senate can be used for certain trials under the US constitution as well.

As an aside, I enjoy how Dio transitions from a discussion of Rullus’ popular legislation to a reflection on what it means to prosecute the 36 year old crime of killing Saturninus thus explicitly connecting the two sets of tribunician legislation.


164 out of 410 days: a Dolabella in Sicily during the 2nd Punic War?


For the type illustrated (RRC 73/1) above Crawford does not speculate in RRC as to the moneyer indicated by the pick-axe = dolabra = dolabella.  The use of this symbol as a plausible indication of the moneyer’s cognomen is demonstrated by these coins of Cn. Cornelius Dolabella (RRC 81, redated and relocated by Russo to 130-128 BC in Spain):


The likely moneyer of the earlier coin seems to me to be lurking in plain sight in Zonaras’ epitome of Cassius Dio:

After Marcellus had left Sicily, Hannibal sent a force of cavalry there, and the Carthaginians despatched another. They won several battles and acquired some cities; and if the praetor Cornelius Dolabella had not come against them, they would have subjugated all Sicily. 

This connection or lack of connection may go back to Münzer in RE.  Here is Broughton on the subject:



Here is the Livy in question:

M. Cornelius was commissioned to select the city and territory for them, where he thought best, and 400 jugera in the same district were also decreed as a gift to Belligenes through whose instrumentality Moericus had been induced to change sides. After Marcellus’ departure from Sicily a Carthaginian fleet landed a force of 8000 infantry and 3000 Numidian horse. The cities of Murgentia and Ergetium revolted to them, and their example was followed by Hybla and Macella and some other less important places. Muttines and his Numidians were also roaming all through the island and laying waste the fields of Rome’s allies with fire. To add to these troubles the Roman army bitterly resented not being withdrawn from the province with their commander and also not being allowed to winter in the towns. Consequently they were very remiss in their military duties; in fact it was only the absence of a leader that prevented them from breaking out into open mutiny. In spite of these difficulties the praetor M. Cornelius succeeded by remonstrances and reassurances in calming the temper of his men, and then reduced all the revolted cities to submission. In pursuance of the senate’s orders he selected Murgentia, one of those cities, for the settlement of Moericus and his Spaniards.

Of course, that then would open the sticky issue of how long this Cornelius (Dolabella?) was in Sicily and the chronology of the early denarii.  This passage about the settlement of the Spaniards in Morgantina is critical because we date the start of the denarius to 211 based on deposits found in the excavation of that site below the destruction level.  Dating the issue is problematic.  It appears in four hoards but all closing in the 70s or later.  Crawford justifies his dating thus:

The Sicilian origin of the four issues is adequately attested by their close stylistic link with the issue with corn-ear, their early date both by this link and by their heavy weight-standard [i.e. 4.5 g.]  (RRC vol 1. p. 17)

Badian did not include Zonaras’  Dolabella in his study of the Dolabellae of the Republic. He mentions in passing the consul of 283, but begins properly with the consul of 159, briefly speculating that his father would be the Cn. Cornelius Dolabella who was made Rex Sacrorum in 208 and died in 180 (Livy 27.36.5).  The rex sacrorum could be the same as Zonaras’  Dolabella.  If he were in his early 40s in 211BC in Sicily, he would have then died in his early 70s.

One strike against Livy’s Cornelius being a Dollabella is the praenomen Marcus which is otherwise unattested in this branch of the family.  So if Zonaras or Livy is likely to be wrong it is easy to see why Zonaras has previously been dismissed, being so late and so abbreviated. That said, Dio has access to sources other than Livy. An abbreviated praenomen can be miss-transcribed.  And with the coin as extra weight, I’m tempted to lean away from Livy towards Zonaras on this point.

We, of course, are then right to ask what happened to the M. Cornelius Cethegus credited with suppressing the Sicilian revolts after Marcellus’ departure?  We’d have to leave him in the province that was assigned to him that year in the first place, Apulia (Livy 25.41).

As an aside, I am interested to note that one Wikipedia entry on the gens Cornelii lists this Dolabella with no citation, whereas another excludes him.

163 out of 410 days: Roman Turducken?!

I’m spending Thanksgiving on the chronology of food distributions in Rome.  Which led me to sumptuary legislation (laws ostensible curbing expenditure and gratuitous consumption).  Which led me to this reference:

Titius assailed the times in which he lived because people served a dish called porcus Troianus, so named because it was stuffed with smaller animals as the Trojan horse was stuffed with armed men (ap. Macrob. Sat. 3.13.13).

This should not surprise me. But it did draw my mind very suddenly to Turducken.  In case you are unaware of this phenomenon, I provide a celebrity chef recipe link.  Do not consider this an endorsement.   Similarly I fear many Romans would have enjoyed this variation (again no endorsement):

Multi-bird roast

162 out of 410 days: Translation and ‘Modern’ Prejudices

as in many particulars the desire of the multitude and the whim of the people were at variance with the interests of the republic

That is Yonge’s 1891 translation of a clause of chapter 103 of Cicero’s Pro Sestio.  Here is the Latin:

cum multis in rebus multitudinis studium aut populi commodum ab utilitate rei publicae discrepabat

The problem is commodum.  Cicero was a cranky old fart who had no time for the scum of Romulus’ cesspit, BUT he does not here speak of their whims.  [He’ll get to that topic just a few lines later.]  The English connotations of whims include: trivial matters not well thought out of perhaps only fleeting relevance.  That just isn’t how commodum is connoted in Latin.  It means something good and advantageous perhaps arriving at just the right moment.   It is very closely related in meaning to the next noun in Cicero’s passage “utilitate”.  Cicero’s point isn’t that the people don’t know what’s good for them.  It’s that what is good for the people is not good for the state.  It separates the identity of the people from the state.  That’s a pretty important idea to get across in the translation.  Yonge brings his own assumptions about the poor and their relationship to the upper classes to his reading of Cicero and thus sees implications that just aren’t there in the original.  

Now thanks to the public domain.  Many (most?!) readers of Cicero in translation will take Yonge’s prejudices for Cicero’s.

161 out of 410 days: Just a nice visual parallel and an update

Buste af en havnymfe (?). Hellenistisk-romersk ringsten

I was thrilled to find how much the Thornvaldsen Museum has digitized, especially their gems.  To that end here’s a nice illustration of the same subject as this obverse design from RRC 399/1:

In the past week I’ve let go a draft of a chapter to my editor.  A long overdue step.  I became very anxious about the Minucii and their column on which I’ve written many thousands of words that I no longer believe the more I look at the coins. I also wrote some about the coins of Lepidus the future triumvir.  The Minucii material may end up on this blog once I’ve figured out what I think about it all.  The Lepidus material will probably end up as a publication.   I’ve also been reading about written ballots at Rome.  I’ve struggled with the residency permit process and I’ve entertained a dear old friend.  So many words but not much blogging.

The Quaestor and his General

So I was reading about Tiberius Gracchus and came across the account of his dealings with the Numantines in Plutarch’s Life:

After this campaign he was elected quaestor, and had the fortune to serve in a war against Numantia under the consul Caius Mancinus, who was not bad as a man, but most unfortunate of the Romans as a general. Therefore in the midst of unexpected misfortunes and adverse circumstances not only did the sagacity and bravery of Tiberius shine forth all the more, but also — and this was astonishing — the great respect and honour in which he held his commander, who, under the pressure of disasters, forgot even that he was a general. For after he had been defeated in great battles, he attempted to abandon his camp and withdraw his forces by night; but the Numantines became aware of his attempt and promptly seized his camp. Then they fell upon his men as they fled, slew those who were in the rear, encompassed his whole army, and crowded them into regions that were full of difficulties and afforded no escape. Mancinus, despairing of forcing his way to safety, sent heralds to the enemy proposing a truce and terms of peace; 3 but the enemy declared that they had confidence in no Roman save only Tiberius, and ordered that he should be sent to them. They had this feeling towards the young man not only on his own account (for he was held in very high esteem by the Numantine soldiery), but also because they remembered his father Tiberius, who waged war against the Spaniards, and subdued many of them, but made a peace with the Numantines, to the observance of which with integrity and justice he always held the Roman people.  So Tiberius was sent and held conference with the enemy, and after getting them to accept some conditions, and himself accepting others, effected a truce, and thereby manifestly saved the lives of twenty thousand Roman citizens, besides attendants and camp followers.

This outstripping of one’s commander in diplomacy seems so oddly reminiscent of Sulla receiving Jugurtha’s surrender while Marius’ Quaestor.  Then there is also Scaurus’ claim to have defeated Aretas of Nabatea while Pompey’s proquaestor.  How odd is all this behavior? We could throw into the mix testimony of the decree of Lampsacus honoring their ambassador Hegesias.  Hegesias travels nearly the breadth of the Mediterranean in his efforts to secure Roman favors for his city.  He leave no stone unturned and is usually quoted for his use of kinship diplomacy mythical and otherwise.  For our purposes though we should note that he takes very seriously his diplomatic engagement with a quaestor, even after having dealt with higher ranking officials.

Update 28/11/2013: Or maybe it is a literary topos?  Consider the same characterization by Plutarch of Gaius Gracchus‘ actions in Sardinia as Orestes quaestor.  I owe the reference to the discussion by Garnsey and Rathbone in JRS 1985.  They emphasize how Gaius may have borrowed from his experience as quaestor in his grain legislation.

Update 5/7/2014: Here’s another instance of possible interest.  Snippet from Brennan, Praetorship (2000) 226:


153 out of 410 days: Translating Bread and Circuses

In my previous post on bread and circuses, I used a translation by Kline.  I admire very much Kline’s work making contemporary translations of Latin poetry available on the internet for non commercial use.  Poetry translations suffers perhaps most of all when we default to works that have aged into the public domain. Open source is the ethic way forward.  All that said as I thought about using it in my chapter I found myself concerned about pieces of the Latin not reflected in that translation.  Translation is very much interpretation, especially with such a value laden text as Juvenal’s 10th Satire!  Here are parallel sections of Kline and a much earlier translator Ramsey:

But what of the Roman Mob? They follow Fortune, as always, and hate whoever she condemns. … They shed their sense of responsibility long ago, when they lost their votes, and the bribes; the mob that used to grant power, high office, the legions, everything, curtails its desires, and reveals its anxiety for two things only, Bread and circuses. ‘I hear that many will perish.’ ‘No doubt, The furnace is huge.’


And what does the mob of Remus say? It follows fortune, as it always does, and rails against the condemned. … Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things—-Bread and Games!  “I hear that many are to perish.”—-“No doubt of it; there is a big furnace ready.”

I’ve decided there are a few places I can’t really live with either translation given my sense of the key portions of the Latin. Here’s the Latin:

                                                                  … sed quid

turba Remi? sequitur fortunam, ut semper, et odit

damnatos. idem populus, si Nortia Tusco

fauisset, si oppressa foret secura senectus

principis, hac ipsa Seianum diceret hora

Augustum. iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli

uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim

imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se

continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,

panem et circenses. ‘perituros audio multos.’

‘nil dubium, magna est fornacula.’ 

So right now my own version is looking something like this:

But what of the mob of Remus? It follows fortune, as always, and hates the damned … No longer do we sell votes.  Responsibilities drain away.  Those who used to grant imperium, fasces, legions, everything, now restrain themselves, hoping all the more anxiously for two things: bread and circuses. ‘Many will perish, I hear.’ ‘No doubt, the furnace is huge.’  (Sat. 10.73-82)

The crowd being associated with Remus the murdered brother of Romulus needs to be preserved.  But perhaps most critical is the 1st person personal plural active verb “to sell”.  Juvenal gives agency to the sellers of their votes and includes himself and his reader in that group.  I shy away from reiterating ‘mob’ or ‘crowd’ as the subject of the later 3rd person singular verbs because in the sentence I’m cutting Juvenal uses idem populus  ‘the same people’ to gloss turba; populus is a much less negative terms and might as easily be rendered ‘citizen body’.  Notice especially how the past concerns of “imperium, fasces, legions and everything” are contrasted with “bread and circuses”.  The former evokes not just magisterial offices but particularly foreign policy, the later is standing for domestic affairs, the internal condition of the state.  I particularly like the word order of the last two snippets of direct discourse, but see no fluid way to reflect that in the translation.

Obviously, in places my rending is no more literally reflective of vocabulary and grammar than the other two, but few readable translations are.