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The Second Life of a Roman Inscription


[image ALT: A long thin piece of stone with some fragmentary lettering. It is a Roman inscription reused in the Middle Ages as part of the jamb of the main door of the church of S. Francesco in Trevi, Umbria (central Italy).]

This attractive piece of marble was just what the medieval sculptor needed. He didn't seem to mind the inscription, which faces quite visibly into the doorway; but notice that he had no compunction about carving into it, either: the letters are still partly readable even on the ropework. To a 14c stonemason, this was just useful building material.

Transcription

[ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ]
IIII·VIR · AED [·] POTEST [·] Q[VIR]
AERARI · SPOLETI · ITEM
[VIII·VIR ·] IIVIR · POT · NVRSIAE
[ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ]

Expansion:

[ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ]
quattuorvir (cum) aedili potestate, quinquevir
aerari<i> Spoleti, item
octovir (cum) duumvirali potestate Nursiae
[ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ]

Translation:

. . . . . . . . . . . (Someone whose name has been lost) . . . . . . . . . . .
quattuorvir with the authority of an aedile, quinquevir
of the treasury of Spoletium, also
octovir, with duumviral authority, of Nursia
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Comments:

This is the record of a civil servant's career; probably his tombstone. He was commissioner for public buildings, a member of a 4‑man board: young men from good families would often start their political careers as aediles. He then served as a treasury commissioner in Spoleto, and in the last line we have, served as alderman in Norcia. Maybe his career went beyond that.

The Romans themselves needed a bit of explanation in this particular titulature, and the inscription obliges. Normally, a city was run by two men, called duumvirs, or in Rome itself, consuls. The Sabines, who lived in what is now eastern Umbria, seem a bit untrusting, frankly: those commissions get larger as their duties become more important! In Nursia and elsewhere in the area, a board of 8 ran the town in lieu of a mayor: knowing this allows one to supply a piece of the text that has completely disappeared above.

Spoleto and Norcia are about 50 km apart, and the road between them was probably rather good: at one point, it was cut thru solid rock. Trevi, the ancient Trebiae, is about 30 km N of Spoleto on the main trunk of the Flaminia Nova, an even better road. I'm imagining this man, after a modest career in city government, happily getting away from the places he served in and retiring to Trebiae.

Several months after I wrote this page, I got a friendly note from Franco Spellani at the Pro Trevi site, giving me the CIL number of this inscription, and alerting me to his page on it. It turns out to be CIL XI.5006, the epitaph of a man at least 58 years old (so that all the nouns above should be in the dative): a medieval predecessor of mine copied it all down before the stonemason got to it. The full text is also given here, with a different photograph.


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Page updated: 24 Aug 12