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Funerary Inscription of L. Munatius Plancus

CIL X.6087 (Orelli 590)

An ancient Roman inscription on stone; the text is given on this page. It is the funerary inscription over the door of the Tomb of Lucius Munatius Plancus in Gaeta in the Lazio (central Italy).
Transcription and Expansion:

Lucius · MVNATIVS · Lucii · Filius · Lucii · Nepos · Lucii · PRONepos
PLANCVS · COnSul · CENSor · IMPerator · ITERum · VIIVIR
Lucius Munatius Plancus, son of Lucius, grandson of Lucius, great-grandson of Lucius,
consul, censor, twice imperator, septemvir epulonum.
He triumphed over the Raetians,
built the temple of Saturn from the spoils;
parcelled out land in Italy at Beneventum;
and in Gaul, founded the colonies of Lugdunum and Raurica.

Photograph © Carole Roach 2000, by kind permission.

The inscription on this page is more instructive than many, and to students at various levels.

At the most basic level, it's a little primer on genealogical abbreviations (F for filius, N for nepos, PRON — elsewhere sometimes just P — for pronepos) and on the cursus honorum, the career stages of the successful Roman public figure, although Plancus skips his earlier posts and only gives us those he feels worth commemorating: he was consul, then censor, then twice imperator, then septemvir epulonum (commissioner on a seven‑man board that regulated public banquets: for that one, some will benefit from the little article in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities).

We get a peek into Roman phonetics: this very carefully cut inscription, on the tomb of one of the most powerful men in the Roman empire, doesn't mind abbreviating trivmphavit rather than trivmphavit; nor writing manibis for what modern Latin students are taught should be manubiis. trivmp suggests that when Plancus died — the date is uncertain, but must have been somewhere around 20 was still pronounced p'h rather than f; and manibis is a witness, one of many actually, to that ambiguous sound between an i and a u that fifty or sixty years later the emperor Claudius thought deserved its own letter: a bit of spelling reform that didn't pan out.

The inscription will be quoted or referred to in Lyon and in Basel as long as those places have chambers of commerce and tourism:​a Plancus founded Lyon (the largest by far of the dozens of places by that name in Antiquity), and the little town of Augst, more important than it seems, since it is an indirect ancestor of Basel, only 13 km distant; the inscription in front of you is the letters patent of those two ancient cities.

And finally the inscription tells us a bit about Plancus himself. About as little as he could tell us, in fact: given the vivid life of the man, "coy" is a fair characterization of it. The many people he betrayed at various points in his career would have had stronger words than what we read here; this is what was fit to put on a tomb, that no Roman could argue or feel uneasy with. Amusingly, he refers to his Swiss foundation as just Raurica; its official name was actually Augusta Raurica (whence its modern name of Augst) — but to Plancus it was doubtless his town, not that of the man he knew as Octavian, whose title of Augustus he owed . . . to Plancus.​b


a Or at least as long as they keep serious content in their websites: both pages have completely vanished off their respective sites.

b See for example Buchan, Augustus, p143.

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Page updated: 28 Jul 18