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Bill Thayer

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Book IV
Chapter 4

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book IV
Chapter 5

Book 4 (continued)

Vol. III
Note B

On Odovacar's Deed of Gift to Pierius

This document is published (with а facsimile) in Marini's 'Papiri Diplomatici' (Rome, 1805: Nos. 82 and 83)º and in Spangenberg's 'Juris Romani Tabulae Negotiorum Solemnium' (Leipsic, 1822, pp164‑173), and copiously commented upon by both authors.

It is written on papyrus, and has been torn into two parts, one of which is now preserved in the Theatine Monastery of St. Paul at Naples, the other in the Imperial Library at Vienna. Notwithstanding this wide severance of the fragments, there appears to be no doubt of their having once belonged to the same document. The writing is cursive, of a bold and flowing character, without any spaces between the words, and quite undecipherable except by an expert.

To make the document intelligible we must explain the pecuniary transactions of Odovacar (thus his name is spelt throughout the deed) and his Count of the Domestics, Pierius.

The king had promised to bestow upon his minister a yearly revenue of 690 solidi (£414). The larger part of this donation had been already accomplished. Pierius had, before the execution of these presents, received

the Massa (Estate) of the Pyramid​1 in the territory of Syracuse, yielding an annual rental of

450 solidi

and in the Province of Dalmatia the island of Melita (not our Malta but Meleda), yielding

200 solidi
650 (= £390)

This leaves only a revenue of 40 solidi (£24) to provide, and  p151 in order to effect this, and in fact to give him a trifle over, Odovacar conveys to him


the Aemilian farm (Fundus Aemilianus), yielding




the remaining part of the farm Dublus, yielding


and 18 siliquae2
(= ¾ of a solidus)

thus making a total of 40¾


After this explanation we may proceed to copy the Deed itself:—

'(Viro Inlustri) ac magn(ifico) (Fr)atri Pierio Odovacar Rex Ex sexcentis nonaginta solidis quos Magnitudini tuae Humanitas nostra devoverat conferendos, sexcentos (quinquaginta ju)xta nostrae donationis tenorem viri sublimis Comitis et Vicedomini nostri Ardori didicimus (sugges)tione contraditos, id est intra ps (presens) [or ? provincias] Syracusano territorio (Pyramitana Mass.) solidos quadringentos quinquaginta et in Provincia Dalmatiarum Insulam Melitam (du)cen(tos) (so)lidos pensitantem reliquos ergo solidos quadraginta (deº praefatam summ)am in s(upra) s(criptam) Massam fundos, id est Aemilianum prestantem solidos decem et octo et parte(m fun)di Dubli quae remansit solidos quindecim siliquas (decem et octo) nec non et parte(m fundi Puta)xiae qui (p)rest(at p)er (Ja)nuarium et Octedium (solidos) septem s(upra) s(cripto) territorio (con)stitutos volentes supplere (sum)mam superius con(pr)aehe(nsam pr)aesenti donatione in t(e) cum omni jure suo omnibusque ad se pertinentibus jure directo transcribimus adque ad tuum dominium optima profitemur lege migrasse quos utendi possidendi alienandi vel ad posteros transmittendi livero [libero] potiaris arvitrio [arbitrio] quam donationem Marciano v(iro) c(larissimo) Notario nostro scribendam dictavimus, cuique Andromacum v. i(llustrem) et magnificum Magistrum Officiorum Consiliario nostro pro nobis suscribereº jussimus tribuentes adlegandi fiduciam ita ut a tuis Actoribus fiscalia tributa solvantur.

 p152  'Actum Ravenna s(upra) d(icto) quintodecimo Kal. Aprilium Probino v. c. Consule [A.D. 489].

'Et alia manu subscribtio,

'Incolumem Sublimitatem tuam divi(ni)tas tueatur, domine inlustris et magnifice Frater!

'Regestum s(ub) d(ie) et loco quo supra.'

This then was the purport of the deed. These little farms — which were in the neighbourhood of Syracuse and were meant to round off the Magnificent Pierius' possessions in that quarter — producing, however, a total rental of only £24 9s., which we can hardly on any hypothesis stretch beyond the equivalent of £100 in our own day — are conveyed by the king to his faithful servant, with full liberty of alienating the same or transmitting them to his descendants, it being only stipulated that the fiscalia tributa (claims of the Exchequer, chiefly no doubt for land‑tax) shall be duly paid by his bailiffs (Actores). There is something peculiar about the attestation of the document. Odovacar does not sign it himself — probably, as Dahn suggests,​3 because he could not write — but he orders that it shall be signed by Marcian the Notary and Andromacus the Master of the Offices. Marcian gives the dry legal attestation, the place (Ravenna), and the date (18 March, 489). The Magnificent Andromacus (probably) appends the more ceremonious conclusion, 'God have you in His holy keeping, Illustrious and Magnificent Colleague!'

The rest of the document, which it is not needful to set out at length, records the further proceedings in the matter. The Actores of Pierius (who are probably his freedmen, since they call him their patronus)​4 present the 'page of the royal generosity'​5 to the Magistrates​6 of Ravenna, headed by Aurelius Virinis, and pray that it may be received by the proper Registering Officer, read, and entered upon the proceedings.​7 As the Magnificent Andromacus is not forthcoming to attest his own signature, having gone from this city​8 to Rome, they pray that certain of the magistrates​9 will go with them to the Notary Marcian, the other attesting witness. They proceed accordingly, accompanied  p153 by a short-hand writer,​10 to the Clarissimus Marcian. The 'page of donation' is shown to his Nobility​11 and read over. He is asked if he will have any objection to state​12 without prejudice​13 if he and the Magnificent Andromacus subscribed that paper. He replies that they did, by the command of the most Excellent King Odovacar.

All formalities as to this £40‑a‑year farm having been thus duly complied with at Ravenna, the residence of the grantor, it remains to take corporal possession of the property in Sicily itself.

First of all, the Acts of the Court at Ravenna are duly entered on the records of the Court at Syracuse.​14 Then Gregory the Chartarius (an officer whose subordinate rank is indicated by his epithet devotus and his title tua Devotio instead of vestra Nobilitas or vestra Magnitudo) is summoned by the Magistrates into their presence. Inasmuch as their public duties will not permit them to leave the city, Gregory is ordered to go forth with Amantius and the Actores of Pierius, having received the 'royal page' with all due devotion, that it may be completed by 'corporal tradition' of the property.15

The reader will observe the introduction of the name of Amantius. He, as we learn from another part of the document, is 'vir praeclarus Decemprimus,' chief, that is to say, of one of the Decuriae (usually ten in number and containing ten members) into which the local Senate is divided. He is called by the Magistrates 'Frater et Concurialis noster.'

The legal procession walks forth to the several farms named in the deed. Something — a tantalising flaw in the MS. prevents us from saying what — is said or done to the tenants​16 and slaves. Then they go round all the boundaries and traverse every field,  p154 whether cultivated or lying waste. 'Corporal tradition' of all is given to the Actores of Pierius, no man opposing it.17

They return to Syracuse. Amantius reports that all formalities have been duly observed. The Actores are asked if they are willing to undertake the fiscal obligations of the land. They reply that they are willing, and request that the name of the former owner may be removed from the public register, and that of their master substituted.​18 This is done.​19 The laudabilis Amantius appends his signature and the transaction is complete.

The length of the documents relating to so small a property, the particularity of the recitals, the exactness with which the performance of every formality is described, the care with which the various gradations in the official hierarchy are marked, the reverence which is professed for the mandate of Odovacar,​20 all show us that we are still in presence of the unbroken and yet working machinery of the Roman law: though the hand, not of a Roman citizen, born on the Mediterranean shores, but of a full-blooded barbarian from the Danube, is that which must, at the last resort, control its movements.

The Author's Notes:

1 According to Marini there was a pyramid of great height at Thapsus, about eight miles from Syracuse, which was destroyed by an earthquake as recently as 1542. From this pyramid, it is suggested, the Massa Pyramitana received its name.

Thayer's Note: Gaetano Marini does not say that the pyramid was destroyed in that earthquake, but merely that its peak was toppled. He ultimately got his information from the beautifully typeset De Rebus Siculis Decades Duae, III.4 (Palermo, 1558; p79) by the early modern historian of Sicily, Fr. Tommaso Fazelli, often monikered the Father of Sicilian History, who says the pyramid was extant in his time and reports the earthquake. Fr. Filippo Bonanni, Delle antiche Siracuse (Palermo, 1717; I.166), says there are other similar pyramids in Sicily, "in places where one can see that a battle might be fought." The suggestion that the pyramid at Thapsus was what gave its name to the "massa Pyramitana" seems to be Marini's, relying on the speculations of a not very clearly identified friend of his, a man named Daniel descended from a noble house of Syracuse; Marini's note is in p274, col. 1 of Papiri Diplomatici.

2 The siliqua was the 24th part of a solidus.

3 K. der G. II.48.

4 So Dahn, II.48.

5 Pagina regiae largitatis.

6 Decurions (?).

7 Ut eandem a conpetenti officio suscipi jubeatis legi et actis indi.

8 Ex ac civitate.

9 Principales.

10 Exceptor.

11 Hostensa ejus Nobilitati. The office of Notary was recognised in the Theodosian Code as a Militia Nobilis.

12 Si edicere non gravetur.

13 Absquo sui injuriâ.

14 Magistratus dixerunt, 'Gesta Gestis nectentur, adque si quid aliud est agendum, inter acta designetur.'

15 Magistratus dixerunt, 'Quoniam nobis insistendum est in actibus publicis, et non possumus egredi omnes, pagina regia suscipiatur cum devotione, et a Gregorio, Amantioque et praesentibus Actoribus Pieri viri illustris traditio corporalis proventum suum accipiat.'

16 Thus one may perhaps render inquilinos. Is not the word here really equivalent to colonos?

Thayer's Note: Strictly speaking, inquilinos = "inhabitants". "Tenants" seems likely, but up to the reader to judge.

17 Et cum hodie ambulassent et pervenissent ad singula praedia, adque introissent . . . et inquilinos sive servos, et circuissent omnes fines, terminos, agros, arbos [= arvos], cultos vel incultos seu . . . et traditio corporalis celebrata fuisset Actoribus Pieri v. i. nullo contradicente, et alio die ad civitatem reversi fuissent et in publicum pervidissent, etc.

18 Et parati sumus, singulis annis pro eadem praedia fiscalia conpetentia solvere, unde rogamus uti jubeatis a polypthicis publicis nomen prioris dominii suspendi et nostri dominii adscribi.

19 The registers which are first called polypthici are, for some reason or other, afterwards referred to as vasaria publica.

20 Praecepta regalia vel sublimia.

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