Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.):
Above the door from the orchestra into the East lateral corridor of the Theatre, Lepcis Magna, Libya.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum):
1 CE to 2 CE
Inscribed lintel above the door into the east corridor of the Theatre. The inscription is within a moulded tabula ansata, which are in turn decorated with a rosette within each ansa. There is a relief of clasped hands in the centre of line 2.
Letter height: 0.09 – 0.065m
This inscription is one of three Latin texts that were set up in the Theatre of Lepcis Magna, Libya. It is an important demonstration of how the members of the local, provincial elite in Roman Libya created a distinct character for the building inscriptions that they set up, through bilingual dedications and a creative use of Latin to express localised themes and positions (Cooley, Manual of Latin Epigraphy, p. 255-6). The result is a unique corpus of inscriptions from Lepcis Magna, that reveal a good amount about the leading families of the city during the early years of the Julio-Claudian principate.
The city of Lepcis Magna had come under Roman control following the end of the Second Punic War in 146 BCE. However, once the Jugurthan War broke out at the end of the second century BCE (112-105 BCE) Lepcis allied with Rome, asking for friendship and treaty against Numidia in an association that was to endure into the 4th century CE (for a history of Lepcis Magna’s political history, see Di Vita, Gli Emporia di Tripolitania, p. 515-595; Mattingly, Tripolitania, p. 87-111). Although it was awarded the status of municipium with Latin rights under Vespasian and later became a colony under Trajan, in the early principate it retained some independence, at least in local affairs, operating under Punic magistracies and priesthoods throughout the 1st century CE (Quinn, Reinvention of Lepcis, p. 52.) However, in spite of this apparent independence, certain ‘Roman’ cultural markers began to enter public life, with the adoption of Latin and the emergence of monumental, public epigraphy, a particular ‘phenomenon’ of the Augustan period (Cooley, Manual of Latin Epigraphy, p. 253). This inscription is one such example.
The inscription under discussion here – IRT 322 – is one of three in Latin from the Theatre in Lepcis Magna, and dates to c. 1-2 CE. Two of the three inscriptions (IRT 321 and 322) were placed above the aditus maximus arch (most important entrance way of a Roman theatre), facing the orchestra. They are inscribed within tabula ansata in relief, on grey limestone. The original location of the third inscription, IRT 323, is unknown, as it was found reused above the street door of the East dressing room (Sears, Roman Theatres, p. 282). The inscriptions still in situ above the entrance arches (IRT 321 and 322) have similar, but not identical Latin texts, with two lines of Neo-Punic inscription immediately beneath them, recording the same dedication. IRT 323, the inscription that was later reused, has only the Latin text, which is identical to that of IRT 322.
The text of IRT 322 records a number of interesting details. The first two lines of the inscription are dedicated to the emperor Augustus, whose official titles and divine filiation are given, along with the acclamation of pater patriae (“father of the fatherland”) which, together with the reference to his tribunician power and thirteenth consulship, allows for a secure dating of 1-2 CE for the dedication of the Theatre. In line 3, the dedicator of the theatre is introduced; Annobal Tapapius Rufus. The Tapapii (Tabahpi in Punic) are well documented in the epigraphic record from Lepcis, with more inscriptions attributed to them than any other single family. They appear to have been prominent members of the local elite, who made a number of contributions to the infrastructure of the city – the Annobal Tapapius Rufus of this inscription is also recorded as paying for the original market of the city in 8 BCE – and were also active in the promotion of the imperial cult (Mattingly, Tripolitania, p. 58). Later dedications from the same family include statue groups of the imperial household, a shrine to the Di Augusti in the theatre, as well as being recorded in various priesthoods and local magistracies (see Amadasi Guzzo, Una grande famiglia di Lepcis, p. 377-385).
‘Annobal Tapapius Rufus’ clearly exhibits the adoption of a Roman name (Rufus) alongside one of Punic origin (Annobal), as well as another Punic name that has been Latinised in the inscription (Tapapius). Although the use of the Roman naming system (tria nomina) is usually accepted as evidence for having acquired Roman citizenship, it is important to note that this is not the case here. Annobal Tapapius is represented in the inscription as having added a Roman name to his existing Punic nomenclature, thereby making a reference to Rome without fully assimilating to her practices (see Amadasi Guzzo, L’onomastica nelle iscrizioni puniche tripolitane, p. 21-51). Comparison with other building dedications from Lepcis makes this clear; a Punic name and filiation is always given, but the addition of a Roman-style cognomen is far more sporadic (Quinn, Reinvention of Lepcis, p. 63). In this case, Annobal Rufus has identified with Rome in as much as he has followed the Roman naming practice and through his construction of a public, monumental inscription that records his benefaction to the city – a practice that did not exist previously in the Punic epigraphic habit – but he did not abandon his Punic origins, preferring to use both systems to his own cultural advantage (for the Punic epigraphic habit pre-Rome, see Quinn, Reinvention of Lepcis, p. 63, n. 82).
Annobal Tapapius Rufus is described in the inscription as a priest (flamen), a sufes – the name for local magistracy in Lepcis Magna – and also a prefect in charge of sacred rites (praefectus sacrorum). It is notable here that he fulfilled both Roman and local roles in the administration of Lepcis; the two were not mutually exclusive. Perhaps most interesting, however, are the statements in line 3, that he was an ‘adorner of his country and lover of concord’ (ornator patriae amator concordiae). The first assumption is that these additional titles may be a reflection of Annobal Rufus’s relationship with Rome; patria and concordia are words both implicitly connected to Augustus’s rule of Rome, and their replication here could perhaps be indicative of Annobal Rufus’s desire to represent himself as a loyal ally in the language of the principate. This could be further emphasised by the presence in the middle of line 3 of a relief carving of two hands, clasping each other (a motif that also appears on coinage from this period), which could be understood as representing the friendship that existed between Rome and Lepcis. However, as John Adams has established, these titles are actually a Latinised form of traditional Punic phrases, which could be argued to be an attempt to make an equivalent statement in Latin about the kind of status held by Rufus amongst his fellow Tripolitanians (Adams, Bilingualism and the Latin Language, p. 223, n. 448; Cooley, Manual of Latin Epigraphy, p. 258). Although amator concordiae has been shown to be a poor translation of the Neo-Punic, which Karel Jongeling translates as lover of ‘complete knowledge’, it is perhaps an attempt at replicating the local Punic sense of the title (Jongeling, Handbook of Neo Punic inscriptions, no. 21).
The Neo-Punic version of the inscription is given immediately after the end of the Latin, at the end of lines? 6-7. Although it closely follows the Latin text, describing Annobal Rufus’s titles and the record of his gift to the city, it is not an exact replica. Most strikingly, the Neo-Punic text omits Augustus’s titles at the beginning of the Latin inscription. The inscriptions are carefully balanced in all other respects; although the Latin text takes up more of the space of the tabula ansata in which they are inscribed, both inscriptions are laid out in similarly sized letters and the content of the text that is concerned with Annobal Rufus’s career and benefaction is the same. The decision not to include Augustus’s Latin titles at the start of the Neo-Punic text may be an attempt to deliberately distance the two texts, emphasising the distinction between the two cultural powers at play in Lepcis in the first century CE; although an ally of Rome, Lepcis was still independently organised, at least in as much as could be felt with regards to local identity. By omitting the Latin titles of the emperor of Rome in the language and text most relevant to the people of the city, Annobal Rufus maintained some semblance of local authority. As John Adams has suggested, “the imperial titles were so Roman in character that they should be expressed only in the Latin version; it is a case then of a category of information which was more suited to one language than the other” (Bilingualism and the Latin Language, p. 223). Other interpretations of this fact could be thought of.
However, this is not to say that the Latin version of the inscription and the imperial titles recorded in it were redundant in Lepcis Magna; the obvious bilingualism reflected well on Annobal Rufus, who was able to utilise the Latin text to draw attention to his superior education, cultivation and cosmopolitan status (Quinn, Reinvention of Lepcis, p. 60). The Latin was also accommodating to Latin-speaking visitors to the city, and invoked the presence of the princeps in a way that demonstrated loyalty without subjugation, “alongside but not fully integrated into the local context” (Quinn, Reinvention of Lepcis, p. 62). Although the abundant evidence from Roman Libya has led to much debate as to the extent to which the area was successfully ‘Romanized’, or to which it ‘resisted’ cultural change, the urban civilisation of Lepcis Magna was essentially based upon a Punic foundation, and one that endured throughout the first century CE (Mattingly, Tripolitania, p. 160). The epigraphic record for the city shows that the urban aristocracy were undoubtedly of Punic origin, and that their financial and political superiority remained dominant, even as their contact with Rome developed. Their construction of buildings such as the Theatre, and certainly their dedication of them in monumental epigraphic form, can be said to follow an example long-followed in well-established Roman cities across the provinces, but the insistence on bilingual texts, as well as the deliberate choice as to what information to present in the different languages that they employed is a clear indication of the Punic character of the town. It was not until Lepcis Magna became a colonia of Rome in the second century CE that these bilingual inscriptions ceased to be produced. As Josephine Quinn has stated, these inscriptions align Punic and Latin, local and Roman practices, in a way that emphasised the multiple cultural references of Annobal Rufus. They demonstrate not only the ‘superior’ status of the city’s ‘elite builders’, but also the ‘local reinvention of both traditions in the context of growing Roman power – not in the service of straightforward resistance to it, but as a strategy of nuancing, localizing and exploiting it’ (Quinn, Reinvention of Lepcis, p. 64).
Keywords in the original language: