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p1012 Scribae

Article by Robert Whiston, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
on p1012 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

SCRIBAE. The Scribae at Rome were public notaries or clerks, in the pay of the state. They were chiefly employed in making up the public accounts, copying out laws, and recording the proceedings of the different functionaries of the state. The phrase scriptum facere (Liv. IX.46; Gellius, VII.9)º was used to denote their occupation. Being very numerous, they were divided into companies or classes (decuriae), and were assigned by lot to different magistrates, whence they were named Quaestorii, Aedilicii, or Praetorii, from the officers of state to whom they were attached (Cic. Verr. III.79, c. Cat. IV.7, pro Cluent. 45; Plin. H. N. XXVI.1 s3). We also read of a Navalis Scriba, whose occupation was of a very inferior order (Festus, s.v. Navalis). The appointment to the office of a scriba seems to have been either made on the nominatio of the magistrate, or purchased. Thus Livy (XL.29) tells us that a scriba was appointed by a quaestor; and we meet with the phrase decuriam emere to "purchase a company," i.e. to buy a clerk's place. Horace, for instance, bought for himself a "patent place as clerk in the treasury" (scriptum quaestorium comparavit, Tate's Horace, ed. I. p58). In Cicero's time, indeed, it seems that any one might become a scriba or public clerk, by purchase (Cic. Verr. III.79), and consequently, as freedmen and their sons were eligible, and constituted a great portion of the public clerks at Rome (Tacit. Ann. XIII.27), the office was not highly esteemed, though frequently held by ingenui or freeborn citizens. Cicero (l.c.) however informs us that the Scribae formed a respectable class of men, but he thinks it necessary to assign a reason for calling them such, as if he were conscious that he was combating a popular prejudice. Very few instances are recorded of the Scribae being raised to the higher dignities of the state: Cn. Flavius, the scribe of Ap. Claudius, was raised to the office of curule aedile in gratitude for his making public the various forms of actions, which had previously been the exclusive property of the patricians [Actio], but the returning officer refused to acquiesce in his election until he had given up his books (tabulas posuit) and left his profession (Gellius, l.c.). The private secretaries of individuals were called Librarii, and sometimes Scribae ab epistolis. In ancient times, as Festus (s.v.) informs us, scriba was used for a poet (Ernesti, Clavis Ciceron. s.v.; Göttling, Gesch. der Röm. Staatsverf. p374).

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Page updated: 25 Jan 09