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This webpage reproduces an article in
Classical Philology
Vol. 3, No. 3 (Jul. 1908), pp278‑284

The text is in the public domain.

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 p278  The Tabula Valeria and the Tabula Sestia
By Charles J. O'Connor

There are two passages in Cicero in which he speaks of a certain tabula Valeria as if it were a definite object or spot in the Forum. In a third passage he speaks of a tabula Sestia in the same definite way. The nature and location of these two tabulae have been the subject of considerable discussion on the part of commentators and archaeologists. Platner, in Am. Jour. Phil. XIX (1898), p406, has discussed the current theories, but, it seems to me, has not solved the riddle. The most recent works on the topography of Rome give the traditional account. I wish to offer a new interpretation of the passages involved.

While Cicero was an exile he wrote (Ad fam. 14.2.2) from Thessalonica under date of October 5, 58 B.C. to Terentia and his children, bewailing their wretched lot and his own lack of courage, and said: "Publius Valerius, most dutiful man, has written me — a thing which I read with many tears — how you were conducted from the house of Vesta to the tabula Valeria. Alas . . . . to think that you are thus harassed, thus humbled in tears and mourning." The Latin runs:

Pisonem nostrum merito eius amo plurimum. eum ut potui per litteras cohortatus sum gratiasque egi ut debui. in novis tribunis pl. intellego spem te habere. id erit firmum si Pompeii voluntas erit sed Crassum tamen metuo. a te quidem omnia fieri fortissime et amantissime video nec miror sed maereo casum eius modi ut tantis tuis miseriis meae miseriae subleventur. Nam ad me P. Valerius homo officiosus scripsit id quod ego maxima cum fletu legi quem ad modum a Vestae ad tabulam Valeriam ducta esses.

In his speech against Vatinius (9.21) Cicero addressed Vatinius with these words: "I wish you to answer me whether, when you were leading Marcus Bibulus, the consul, . . . . to prison, and your colleagues (that is the tribunes) from the tabula Valeria were bidding you to let him go, you made a bridge in front of the Rostra by putting together tribunals, over which a consul of the  p279 Roman people . . . . was led away not merely to prison, but to punishment and death" — et a tabula Valeria collegae tui mitti iuberent.

There have been two explanations of the phrase tabula Valeria, and each of them has continued to find acceptance because a chance resemblance has led scholars to seek a connection which does not exist. One view is that the words mean the bank of Valerius, which is suggested by a passage in Cicero (Pro Quintio 6.25) where a tabula Sestia is mentioned. In this latter place the phrase is understood by some to mean a banker's office. Platner, in the article cited, has shown that such a connection is illogical. I hope to show in the second part of this paper what the real relation is.

The advocates of the other view seek to identify the tabula Valeria with a painting of some sort upon the wall of the old senate house. This idea was put in circulation by the scholiast who commented on the In Vatinium passage, saying that this was the tabula wherein Valerius Maximus displayed before the people his exploits in Gaul. This was doubtless suggested by the passage in Pliny (N. H. 35 [7].22) where it is said that the esteem in which painting was held at Rome was increased by Manius Valerius Maximus Messala, who in 264 B.C. had a picture of the battle in which he overcame the Carthaginians and Hiero in Sicily placed upon the side of the Curia Hostilia. The scholiast made a slip in saying in Gallia for in Sicilia. There are various statements in the Latin writers which indicate that the tabula Valeria of the In Vatinium passage and the painting mentioned by Pliny were in the same part of the Forum, but that is all that can be said in favor of the second view. What name, if any, was applied to the picture, we do not know. It was as likely to get its name from the scene represented as from the man who set it up. Platner shows that the picture or a copy of it or at least the name might have existed in the time of Cicero, and to his argument it can be added that if this picture was a tabula picta in the strict sense of that phrase it could be readily taken down from one wall and set up on another. But its existence in the time of Cicero is immaterial in the present discussion, for I think that the tabula was a bronze  p280 tablet or set of tablets on which was engraved a law or series of laws; that the station or tribunal of the tribunes was near this so that they could consult the law when transacting business; that the phrase was equivalent — in some cases at least — to the tribunal of the tribunes. Manutius, according to Tyrrell (Ad fam. 14.2), thought that this designated a sort of tribune's court, but he took the name as referring to the picture on the wall of the senate house.

A study of our two passages will lead us by different roads to the same spot — the station of the tribunes. Our way will be easier to follow if we keep in mind one fact which is characteristic of Cicero's writings and of his speeches especially. He is ever quick to point an argument, to embellish a period, by reference to the men and monuments of his own and past generations, especially when he is trying to prop up the crumbling institutions of the republic. He mentions by the names of their builders monuments which others refer to in general terms. We have an instance of this in the speech against Vatinius. The orator is speaking of the events of the year 59 B.C., of the rioting which attended the passage of the agrarian laws. Bibulus and Caesar were consuls that year. The former was one of the chief opponents of Pompey and Caesar. Vatinius was a tribune, an adherent of Pompey and Caesar, and was so aggressive that those tribunes whose sympathies were with the optimates were helpless. The passage in question can be understood best when studied in connection with one from Dio Cassius (38.6) and one from Appian (B. C. 2.11). From these we learn that, during the incident to which Cicero refers, Vatinius, a tribune, disregarding the protests of his colleagues laid violent hands on the consul and dragged him down from the Rostra and, when the other tribunes interfered, broke their fasces and even wounded some of these hitherto sacred magistrates. This unprecedented (according to Cicero) usurpation of power on the part of a tribune and this disregard of the sanctity of the tribune's body Cicero is bringing home to Vatinius, and he emphasizes it by reference to the tabula Valeria, that is, the law proposed by a member of the Valerian gens and ever after guarded by men of that clan.

 p281  Family pride often led one family or one gens to carry on some special kind of work for the public good through a number of generations. At times, for instance, it would be the construction and restoration of a public building, like the Basilica Aemilia, which was so well cared for by one family that it came to be called Aemilia monumenta. According to the history which was believed in Cicero's time, although it may not be today, the Valerian gens had secured and guarded a series of enactments pertaining to the rights of the plebeians and to their tribunes, the best known, if not the most important, being that which imposed the death penalty for violence done to a tribune. Although this set of laws is generally known as the Horatian, or Valerio-Horatian, law, it is more fitly called the Valerian. By referring to these venerable documents, within the shadow of which the colleagues of Vatinius stood on that eventful day, Cicero added force to his charge that Vatinius had usurped authority, whereas there is no point whatever in referring to the picture on the wall of the senate house or to a banker's office.

As for the letter to Terentia and the conjecture that she was compelled by Clodius to go to a banker in order to transact some business or make some declaration in connection with her husband's property, there seems to be very little to support such an idea. Business of this sort probably would have been transacted before a magistrate, not a banker, and moreover, Terentia could not have been forced to leave the protection of the Vestal Virgins. Publius Valerius is called homo officiosus perhaps because he has written to Cicero about the matter, but more probably because he conducted Terentia to the magistrate. If she had been compelled to go by Clodius, Cicero would never have used so mild a word as ducta esses. Then, too, it was not the mere fact that she went to the tribunal which disturbed Cicero but the manner of her going, as the phrase quem ad modum indicates. In going from the Atrium of Vesta to the tribunal she would have gone for some distance through the Forum at a time when there were many men there. The tribunal was probably out of doors so that Terentia would have been exposed the whole time to the insults of the ruffians who were in the service of Clodius. While it is true that in this letter (14.2.3)  p282 Cicero writes about the recovery of his own property and begs his wife not to sell any of hers and again a few weeks later Ad fam. 14.5)º urges her to spare her property, in both letters this seems to be a matter entirely distinct from the transaction at the tabula Valeria. The purpose of Terentia's visit, I take it, was to make some deposition or to observe some legal form which was necessary in securing the recall of Cicero. The mention of her humiliation comes in the midst of hopes and fears concerning the measures adopted by Cicero's friends for his relief. He says: "Piso is very deserving of my love. I have encouraged him as well as I could through letters, I have thanked him as was fitting. I understand that you put your hope in the new tribunes. It will be all right if Pompey's good will endures, but I fear Crassus. I see that you have done things bravely and lovingly, and I do not wonder; yet I grieve that your lot is such that my wretchedness is relieved by yours," and then speaks of the visit to the tabula Valeria. It seems as if Terentia had told of her visit but not of the insults which she suffered during it.

In the letters of this period the exile harps upon the same subject, the attempts of the tribunes who were favorable to him to bring about his recall and the opposition of the Clodian faction. In the year 59, between Oct. 25 and Dec. 10, he writes to Quintus expressing confidence in the outcome of the struggle and the belief that the tribunes elect are his friends (Ad Q. fr. 1.2.16). On July 17, 58 he writes to Atticus that it is vain to depend on the election if Clodius is a tribune and Metellus, the consul elect, is hostile (Ad Att. 3.12). Aug. 5 he writes to Atticus that his hope is in the tribunes elec (Ad Att. 3.13). In another letter (Ad Q. fr. 1.4) he names several tribunes whom he considers friendly. Aug. 17, 58 he asks Atticus how his recall can be brought about through the people unless all of the tribunes agree to it (Ad Att. 3.15.6). To Terentia, Nov. 25, he says that they need not despair if all the tribunes are on his side and if Lentulus, Pompey, and Caesar are as zealous as they seem (Ad Fam. 14.1). Nov. 29 he criticizes a bill introduced by the tribunes (Ad Att. 3.23). In another letter to Atticus (3.24) written Dec. 10 he is anxious, fearing that the tribunes have been alienated. Jan. 1, 57 a bill  p283 for his recall was introduced in the senate but was vetoed by a tribune. Later in the same year one of the tribunes who was friendly to him was attacked and nearly killed by members of the Clodian faction while performing his duty within the precincts of the Temple of Castor. Here again, if the evidence to be found in the history of Cicero's exile points in any direction, it points to the tribunal of the tribunes, where Terentia observed the formalities necessary to secure her husband's return. Here also the Valerian tablet is a symbol, and at the same time the visible source, of the tribunician power, which is abused by the enemies of the old order of things. Perhaps in speaking of it by this name Cicero has in mind the fact that it was a Valerius who befriended Terentia.

The exact location of this tablet cannot be determined. It is possible that such tablets were fastened to the movable tribunals of wood, but it is probable that they were generally attached to permanent structures near the places where the magistrates who had to consult them were accustomed to preside. The more important tribunals of the time of Cicero were probably found on the higher ground at the west end of the Forum and Comitium. The Rostra, I think, was often used as a tribunal and its outer surface, perhaps, was utilized for the posting of laws and decrees. It may be that many of the numerous tablets which must have been set up in this region were fastened to the foundation walls of the temple of Saturn, the Tabularium, the Temple of Concord, the Carcer, and to the bases of the honorary columns and statues which abounded here. I am inclined to believe that this tablet was in the immediate neighborhood of the early Rostra, which was a few meters north of the Arch of Septimius Severus​a and a short distance in front of the Carcer.

The tabula Sestia is mentioned in the defense of Publius Quintius (Pro Quintio 6.25) as the place where Quintius and Naevius were to meet in order to fulfil the terms of a vadimonium. Naevius by various legal devices had avoided settlement of the affairs of the partner­ship formed between himself and the deceased father of Quintius, refusing even to make a vadimonium. Nevertheless learning on a certain day that Quintius was far enough along on a  p284 journey to Gaul he summoned his friends to meet him next morning at the tabula Sestia: tum Naevius pueros circum amicos dimittit ipse suos necessarios ab atriis Liciniis et a faucibus macelli corrogat ut ad tabulam Sextiam sibi adsint hora secunda postridie. When they met there he pretended that he was keeping the terms of the vadimonium and made declaration that he was present and that Quintius was not. The witnesses signed the declaration and the record was sealed. Naevius then applied to the praetor for an order of proscription of the property involved, which was granted. There is nothing in the context to indicate that this tabula Sestia was a banker's counter or office. The phrase evidently was used to designate a tribunal where public records, tabulae maximae, were accessible, records which guided the praetor in issuing his order. I take this tablet to be one which was inscribed with some law and set up near the court of a magistrate, some of whose official acts were connected with the law. Now the Licinian laws are more appropriately called Sestian. The first plebeian consul elected in accordance with their terms was not Licinius but his colleague in the legislation, Lucius Sextius. Among the provisions of these laws were some relating to the use of public land for stockraising, to the employment of slaves in the country, and to the relief of debtors. The last two points were involved in the dispute between Naevius and Quintius and it is probable that the first was also, since the business of the partner­ship was the raising of sheep and cattle in Gaul, so that this case may have been within the scope of the Licinian, or Sestian, laws. It is possible, too, that, even if this particular case had nothing to do with them, the magistrate who held court near them had cognizance of it. I believe that the tabula Sestia was a tablet inscribed with the Licinian laws. It was probably in the region already mentioned as abounding in such tablets. It ought to be added that tablets of this sort were doubtless moved from place to place when there was need of it, as, for instance, when a tribunal was moved.

University of California

Thayer's Note:

a Newbies to Roman history: the writer fell into an unfortunate anachronism; the Arch, of course, would not be built for nearly 300 years. The main places mentioned in the text are tagged in this satellite view of the Roman Forum:

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