Citizenship for an African headsman. The Tabula Banasitana (IAM II, 94)

Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Imperial letter
Original Location/Place: 
Discovered in the East Baths complex of Banasa, Mauretania Tingitana (modern Sidi Ali bou Djenoun, Morocco). Believed to have originally been displayed in the Forum area of the city.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Museum of Antiquities, Rabat, Morocco.
168 CE to 177 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Bronze tablet, polished on one side, on which three distinct Latin texts are inscribed.
Height: 64 cm
Width: 42 cm
Depth: 5 cm
Inscribed surface measures 57 x 38 cm
Inscriptions antiques du Maroc (IAM) II, 94
(AE 1961, 142; AE 1962, 142; AE 1971, 534; AE 1977, 871; AE 1995, 1801; AE 1999, 1860)
This large, elegantly inscribed bronze plaque was excavated from the East Baths complex of the ancient city of Banasa, in modern Morocco. It records two separate grants of Roman citizenship that were awarded to the successive chiefs of Zegrenses, a native tribe in the region, and additional members of their families. Roman citizenship could be granted automatically, through free-birth, honourable discharge from the military and the fulfilment of civic offices in a city that had the Latin Right, the ius Latii. In this case, Roman citizenship is awarded as a viritane grant, which could only be awarded personally by the emperor (see Lavan, “The foundation of empire?,” p. 21-54; see also Pliny the Younger, Letters X.6-7). This inscription is an important document that emphasises the special favour that was extended to this family by the Roman emperors in return for their loyalty and ‘assistance’ towards Rome, whilst also ensuring that their own ‘local’ citizenship remained intact for the sake of keeping them in charge of local affairs.
The inscription consists of three separate documents; lines 1-13 record an imperial letter (libellus) from the joint emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus to the governor of Mauretania Tingitana, concerned with the grant of Roman citizenship to Julianus, the chief of the Zegrenses, his wife and children. Lines 14-21 contain a second letter from Marcus Aurelius and his new co-emperor, his adopted son Commodus, concerning a bestowal of Roman citizenship on the wife and children of the new chief of the Zegrenses, Julianus II, the son of Julianus, who himself had already received Roman citizenship together with his father. The third document, given by lines 22-end, contains an authenticated copy of an extract from the imperial commentarius (legal brief) that made the grants of citizenship valid.
The first letter, sent by Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, can be dated to c. 168 CE, when Coiedus Maximus is first recorded as governor of the province (Seston and Euzennat, “Un dossier de la chancellerie romaine,” p. 473). The letter states that Roman citizenship is awarded to Julianus even though it “is not normally granted to a chief (among) those peoples by imperial indulgence” (civitas Romana non…indulgentia/principali gentilibus istis dari solita sit). Citizenship can only be awarded to members of local tribes “when it has been evoked by very great services” (nisi maximis meritis pro/vocata), which Julianus appears to have provided. The letter states that the governor has confirmed that not only was he an important member of the tribe, “one of the leading men of his people” (de primoribus esse popularium / suorum), but that he has also demonstrated his loyalty to Rome and her “interests” (nostris rebus prompto obsequio fidissimum), which most likely referred to his assistance in maintaining the Roman presence in the frontier region of the province. There has been much debate as to whether or not the traditional boundaries of Zegrenses territory were located within or outside of the Roman frontier, as descriptions of their location in the ancient sources are imprecise, and it is not clear how much the notion of a fixed ‘border’ would have meant to the traditional movement of tribes in the region (Frézouls, “Les Baquates,” p. 95). Adrian Sherwin-White preferred instead to consider the issue in terms of the “degree of suzerainty” claimed by Rome over the tribes, irrespective of where they lived in relation to Rome’s limes (Sherwin-White, “The Tabula of Banasa,” p. 89). In this case, the loyalty demonstrated by Julianus towards Rome’s “interests” must have been in relation to their respect of the nominal ‘border’ and their assistance in controlling the different tribal settlements within it. As the inscription attests, few other families amongst the Zegrenses had also performed such “services” (nec /multas familias arbitraremur apud Zegrenses paria pos/se de officis suis praedicare), thus the extension of citizenship to Julianus and his family was a way of “stirring up fealty” and demonstrating the positive aspects of respecting Roman rule (Sherwin-White, “The Tabula of Banasa,” p. 88). The first letter ends with confirmation from the ruling emperors that Julianus, his wife Ziddina and four sons – whose Romanised names are a further indication of the family’s cultural, legal and political pretensions – are to be awarded citizenship (ipsi Ziddinae uxori item / liberis Iuliano Maximo Maximino Diogeniano civitatem / Romanam) and that it is hoped that this honour will encourage other groups amongst the Zegrenses to follow their example (quamquam plurimos cupiamus ho/nore a nobis in istam domum conlato ad aemulationem Iuli/ani excitari). However, the grant of Roman citizenship did not require that Julianus and his family should abandon their ‘membership’ in the tribe; as the letter states, Roman citizenship is awarded to them with “the law of their people remaining intact” (salvo iure gentis), meaning that their existing local status was not compromised or nullified by the addition,  but also meaning that they continued to maintain their existing obligations towards their local community (see Jacques and Scheid, Rome et l'intégration de l'Empire, p. 212). Many comparisons have been drawn between this statement and the language of the Constitutio Antoniniana, concerning the change of status to existing communities that a grant of Roman citizenship might bring; the Tabula Banasitana appears to confirm the proposed reconstruction of the Constitutio that certain conditions, statuses or privileges remained unchanged, with a form of dual-citizenship thereby extended over the different peregrine people, without immediate assimilation of their communities to municipia or colonia (Sherwin-White, “The Tabula of Banasa,” p. 96-98; see p. 95, n. 56 for literature discussing the history of the debate, and Nicolet, “Euzennat, Seston et la Table de Banasa” p. 49-53 for recent synthesis of the argument).
The second text of the Tabula, in lines 14-21, is also a copy of an imperial letter; it dates to 177 CE, and records a similar grant of citizenship to the wife and children of Julianus II, who had succeeded to his father’s position as headman of the Zegrenses (principis gentium Zegrensium). Commodus is given as the co-emperor of Marcus Aurelius, and both confirm that Roman citizenship should be awarded to Julianus II’s wife and children (uxori filiisque eius civitatem Romanam…dedimus), with the same local status again preserved in a form of dual citizenship (sal/vo iure gentis). Just as in the case of the first letter, the citizenship is granted due to the “favour” shown to him by the governor of the province, now Epifius Quadratus, and because of the “merits and examples which he adduces” (meritis et exemplis quae / allegat), presumably of Julianus II’s continued loyalty to and support of Rome. Adrian Sherwin-White has argued that the insertion of salvo iure gentis in both letters indicates that this was a routine qualification in the promotion to Roman citizenship, that new citizens should continue to enjoy privileges and fulfill their duties in their original communities (Sherwin-White, “The Tabula of Banasa,” p. 91-94). Wynne Williams has further speculated that the statement could have been made in order to reject proposals put forwards by the two procurators in charge at the time that the petitions for citizenship were made, Coiedius Maximus and Vallius Maximianus, that the extension of citizenship came with some form of immunity from local duties, although he too has concluded that it was more likely to be a routine formula than a particular invention aimed at the needs of the Julianus gens (Williams, “Formal and Historical Aspects of Two New Documents of Marcus Aurelius,” p. 67).
The remainder of the inscription’s text, from line 22 to the end, contains an extract copied from the imperial register (ex commmentario civitate Romana / donatorum) through which the grant was made, and followed the measures taken by Roman emperors from Augustus to Commodus, whose names are inscribed below. Lines 30-34 respond to the final line of the second imperial letter, which requested the names and ages of the members of Julianus II’s family to whom citizenship was to be extended (explora quae cuiusque aetatis sit et scribe nobis). His wife Zaggura – whose peregrine status is indicated by her name – and four children, whose Roman names – Juliana, Maxima, Julianus and Diogenianus – again emphasise the family’s cultural, legal and political aspirations.
Following this specification of the grantees, lines 35-39 contain a subscriptio that confirms the citizenship, and further clarifies the conditions by which it was granted. As well as the “law of their people remaining intact,” Roman citizenship was awarded on the condition that there was no “reduction of the tribute and taxes [payable] to the [Roman] people and the imperial treasury” (sine diminutione tributorum et vectigali/um populi et fisci). This explicit condition excluded Julianus and his family from any kind of immunitas (‘immunity’) that might previously have been associated with a grant of citizenship; in the early principate, citizenship was often accompanied by immunitas omnium rerum, which usually meant exemption from the payment of imperial taxes, such as in the edict issued by the emperor Augustus to his sea-captain Seleukos of Rhosus. The Tabula Banasitana makes no such exemption to the family of Julianus; two distinct conditions have been laid out that their obligations to the local community of the Zegrenses should continue to be fulfilled, and that their financial obligations as subjects of Rome should also continue to be honoured. The citizenship was not awarded on a merely ‘honorary’ basis to indicate the status of the Juliani in Banasa, however; as rightly noted by Adrian Sherwin-White, the request of citizenship for the wives and children of both Juliani is indicative of their awareness of the “technical consequences of enfranchisment in civil law,” and particularly of the problems of inheritance that children of “mixed marriages” might elicit (“The Tabula of Banasa,” p. 94). Just as the special grant of citizenship awarded by Claudius to the inhabitants of Volubilis, the grant to the Juliani family here legitimised their municipal status and settled future matters of family law (see Favours granted to the city of Volubilis).
Lines 40-54 of the inscription contain the authentication of the document by the freedman of the imperial house, Asclepiodotus, followed by the names of twelve individuals who formed the consilium of the emperor. These twelve imperial councillors are ordered in terms of rank and seniority, with five men of consular rank given first, followed by those in senior equestrian posts (for details of the positions held and their dates, see Williams, “Formal and Historical Aspects,” p. 70-72). There has been much discussion as to whether or not this consilium actually met in person to discuss the petitions for citizenship, or whether or not they simple gave their seals (or names, in the context of the inscription) in authentication of the document sent to Julianus, as “mere witnesses to authenciticy” (Williams, “Formal and Historical Aspects,” p. 71). Seston and Euzennat, in their first publication of the inscription, believed that the names indicated the presence of these twelve men at the actual entry of the grant of citizenship in the official register (commentarius), but others have suggested that they suggest their presence at the actual meeting of the consilium, at which the petition and conditions were themselves debated (Seston and Euzennat, “Un dossier”, p. 483-489; Sherwin-White, “The Tabula of Banasa”, p. 90). However, W. Williams has argued at length that the conditions of the grant were not so special or problematic that they warranted a special meeting of the consilium at which they should be discussed, and rather suggests that any ‘meeting’ that occurred was called as a formal display of imperial diplomacy, with the twelve men called in an act of ceremonial significance (Williams, “Formal and Historical Aspects”, p. 72-78, with discussion contra earlier arguments).
The importance of both grants of citizenship in a local context cannot be disputed; unlike military diplomata, which were issued to the individuals concerned in small, bronze copies of public inscriptions from Rome, the Tabula Banasitana was reproduced on a large, bronze plaque intended for public display. It was an impressive document, recorded in a permanent medium, which indicated the significance and value of its contents. The state of tension that had existed between Rome and the semi-nomadic members of the tribal communities in the second century had led to occasional outbreaks of violence, the prevention of which we can assume was Rome’s continued “interest” in the region, and which the support of the Juliani appears to have maintained (for the conflict in Mauretania in the earliest years of Rome’s occupation, see Cassius Dio, Roman History, 60.9.1-5; Strabo Geography, 4.1.52-56). This support may have been active peacekeeping and enforcement of Rome’s rules and administrative measures; Roman citizenship was the reward for such loyalty, with the express intention given by the text of the first letter stating that it was intended as a demonstration of imperial clemency that should attract the integration of other tribes. Julianus therefore represented a clear example of successful cultural and political integration: a leading member of the Zegrenses who whilst a citizen of Rome, maintained also his local customs, laws and tribal position (see Euzennat and Seston, “Un dossier,” p. 479).
Bibliographical references: 

Rome et les tribus indigènes en Maurétanie Tingitane

Christol, Michelarticle-in-a-bookL’Africa romana. Atti del V convegno di studio. Sassari, 11–13 dicembre 1987A. Mastino305-337Rome et les tribus indigènes en Maurétanie TingitaneSassariDipartimento di Storia - Università degli Studi di Sassari1988

La ricerca epigrafica in Marocco (1973–1986)

Mastino, Attilioarticle-in-a-bookL’Africa romana. Atti del IV convegno di studio. Sassari, 12–14 dicembre 1986, vol. IA. MastinoLa ricerca epigrafica in Marocco (1973–1986)SassariDipartimento di Storia - Università degli Studi di Sassari1987

Tabula Banasitana

Salway, Benetarticle-in-a-bookThe Encylopedia of Ancient HistoryR. Bagnall, K. Brodersen, C. Champion, A. Erskine, S. Huebner6500-6501Tabula BanasitanaOxfordBlackwell Publishing2013
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