Rhetorics of Land and Power in the Polla Inscription (CIL I2 638)

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The famous inscription from Polla reporting a Roman magistrate’s management of problems and opportunities in Italian and provincial contexts is a perennial tease: its information is rich but contradictory. In this paper we accept a second century bce date for the inscription and the events it reports but leave the much discussed question of the dedicator’s identity aside in order to focus on the inscription’s rhetoric: by looking at the grounds on which the magistrate claims the esteem of his audience, rather than at how the information he provides ‘is consistent with’ some other set of facts, be it an individual career or a war or a political movement, we gain a clearer understanding of his message and intended audience or audiences. What emerges, we suggest, is a magistrate presenting himself as the ‘face’ of Roman hegemony in southern Italy and Sicily, and in the process revealing the complex processes of cooperation and domination, negotiation and concession that were fundamental to Roman hegemony in that period. More particularly, we argue for the relevance of our magistrate’s actions in Sicily to his reception in Lucania, despite the different status of the two areas vis-à-vis the Roman state.


A Journal of Classical Studies



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Canali di Rossi 2007, 231, with reference to Verbrugghe 1973, 27. Wiseman (1987a, 114) suggested the same thing earlier. Canali di Rossi, of course, dates this event much later than other scholars: in his view the fugitive slaves were remnants of the Marian cause that Pompey tracked down when he was in Sicily in the 80s. But his explanation of Italici reflects a common understanding of the term as used in our inscription. Brennan (2000, 1:151-153) even suggests that Sicily’s praetor might have been operating in Italy.


Fraschetti 1981, passim. For the preponderance of southern Italians among them see Frank 1935.


Prag 2007a, 2011a, 2011b.


Cf. Clemente 1986, 105, noting that “[e]ach time the island was called upon to play this role in a considerable measure, she acquired a central position in the worries of the governing power and enjoyed periods of more intense activity, while she remained in the background of social and economic development of the empire when this role decreased or when she was no longer vital to the government.”


Most of the attestations are late. E.g., Dig. 1.15.4 (on the duties of the praefectus vigilum ) fugitivos conquirere eosque dominis reddere debes ; 11.4.2 (in the section de fugitivis ) simplices fugitivi domino reddendi sunt , etc.


Thus Fraschetti 1981, 59, noting that the unusual Sicilian practice of branding slaves with owner names would have facilitated the process (cf. D.S. 34/35.2.1, 27, 32, and 36 for references to branding in the context of the arrival ‘in droves’, ἀγεληδόν, of slaves in Sicily after the second Punic war). For magistrates using lists cf. Liv. 39.17.4-6 and 39.41.6-7 on the suppression of the Bacchanalian conspiracy, an episode that also involves Roman magistrates first delegating authority to local officials and then enforcing their will themselves.


Cf., e.g., Dig. (on the aediles’ edict) Aiunt aediles: “Qui mancipia vendunt certiores faciant emptores, quid morbi vitiive cuique sit, quis fugitivus errove sit noxave solutus non sit: eademque omnia, cum ea mancipia venibunt, palam recte pronuntianto”. For discussion see Bradley 1992, 127-129.


See, recently, Franciosi 2002; Isayev 2007.


This was suggested earlier in Burdese 1952, 99-102 and Bracco 1960, 158-160, and is assumed without discussion in Pobjoy 2006 and Carlsen 2009.


For a discussion of its extent see Mazza 1981, 21-27. According to Rathbone 2003, 151, Sicilian ager publicus , unlike that in Italy in the pre-Gracchan era, produced income for the state in the form of fees collected by publicani . Cicero offers elaborate financial figures for the profitability of the ager Leontinus in particular at Ver . 2.3.116; for discussion see Pittia 2007, 60-62.


E.g., Carlsen 2009, 306.


Marzullo 1937, 27 is followed by Bracco 1954, 6-7, who makes a connection with the Res Gestae Divi Augusti , and by Luzzatto 1962, 377 with reservations. Panebianco (1963-1964, 4) suggests that it belongs in a class of its own as an autoelogium . Susini (1984, 103-109) gives the question of genre the fullest attention (see below). The Latin term for milestone occurs in both the neuter, as above, and the masculine form, as in our inscription. In the latter it is adjectival, modifying an understood lapis .


Published in Pitimada 1956.


See, recently, Crogiez 1990, with discussion in Salway 2001, 50.


Susini 1984, 110, following Hirschfeld 1913, 708-709. Susini’s point is developed and extended in Salway 2001, 48-58, which connects the mileage list with late antique and epigraphic itineraries, including the recently published stadiasmus Patarensis (Sahin and Adak 2007). But none of the texts Salway cites has a focus on one location (hince , heic ) comparable to that on our inscription. On the stadiasmus Patarensis , for example, distances are given from Patara and from other places as well. And like those on the later itineraries each item seems to be a stage (from X to Y, from Y to Z, etc.). Our mileages represent the total distance from Polla, regardless of how long the trip would have taken. The stadiasmus serves better as a parallel for our inscription’s combination of mileages and cultural advance: erected by the φιλορώµαιοι καὶ φιλοκαίσαρες Lycians to mark the creation of the new province of Lycia under Claudius, it celebrates, among other things, their release from stasis and lawlessness and banditry.


Susini 1984, 108. Franciosi (2002, 195, n. 2) sees this eclecticism as indicative of a late 2nd century date.


As is observed in Bracco 1954, 6-7; Luzzatto 1962, 378; Susini 1984, 103-104.


We see no reason to assume, with Carlsen 2009, 304, that the items are listed in chronological order.


Solin (1983) stresses the preponderance of Lucanian and Campanian individuals in the epigraphic record of the Vallo di Diano in order to counter large claims about Roman influence in the area: “Da questo corpus sembra emergere il ruolo secondario avuto dei Romani nell’urbanizzazione della valle e nella coltivazione delle sue terre” (413). But he makes almost no use of the Polla inscription or the substantial Roman interventions it mentions.


Thus Toynbee 1965, 244, n. 2.


Mouritsen (1998; 2008, 473-474, 479). The state of the question is more fully explored in the essays contained in Jehne and Pfeilschifter (eds.) 2006. Note, in particular, Mouritsen 2006 for the disjunction between ancient and modern approaches to what he terms the ‘Italian question’. Mouritsen observes that modern scholars have tended to view interactions between Rome and the Italian allies as one long, inevitable process of convergence and unification. This has imposed a false logic upon the ancient evidence, which, by contrast, retains traces of a much messier, more heterogeneous reality.


Jehne 2009, 162-166, offering fuller references and discussion of embassies and envoys from the Italian allies in this period, and arguing strongly that the Italian communities received no special treatment from Rome as against other, more “foreign” envoys—in fact, quite the opposite. On Italian cities and their Roman patrons, Badian 1958, esp. 148-153, is still fundamental.


Isayev 2007, 176.


Fracchia 2002, 63.


Franciosi 2002; Gualtieri 2008, 388. Also relevant here is a canal project, possibly contemporary to the Gracchan termini , that aimed to reclaim some of the marshy territory in the Vallo di Diano for agricultural purposes. See Franciosi 2002, 221-222.


Cf. Isayev 2007, 176-177.


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